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Behind the Beautiful Dress: Making Cloth and Clothing in the 19th Century” at LaSalle Public Library

On Tuesday, April 6th at 6:00 p.m. central time, the LaSalle Public Library virtually will host Erika Holst, Curator of History at the Illinois State Museum, when she presents, “Behind the Beautiful Dress: Making Cloth and Clothing in the 19th Century.” 

It is hard to overstate the role of textiles in early American life. For families, the making of textiles and clothing required countless hours of labor. On the other hand, the purchase of textiles could consume a large portion of the household budget. For the nation, textiles drove the American pre-Civil War economy. They provided a money-making opportunity for a few and exploited the labor of countless others.

In this virtual presentation, Erika will explore cloth and clothing production in the 19th century and textiles’ impact on pre-Civil War life in Illinois and will discuss the cotton economy impact on the home production of textiles and how it involved the entire United States, explore how ready-made clothing industry grew out of the American textile industry, and why making and caring for 19th-century clothing was labor-intensive.  The presentation will showcase examples of garments and artifacts from the Illinois State Museum’s collections.  After the presentation, the virtual audience may ask Ericka questions using via the chat feature.

Erika Holst is the Curator of History at the Illinois State Museum.  Her most recent exhibition, Fashioning Illinois: 1820 – 1900 is currently on view at the Museum and is a collection of 19th-century clothing worn by Illinois women.  Holst has worked in the public history field for more than 15 years and is passionate about telling the story of people and history through material culture. Holst’s publications include Wicked Springfield: Crime, Corruption, and Scandal During the Lincoln Era; Edwards Place: A Springfield Treasure; and Historic Houses of Lincoln’s Illinois, as well as several scholarly and popular articles.

Funding for this program is made possible through the Illinois Humanities.  The program is free and open to the public but does require registration. To register for this program, please copy and paste the following link into a web browser:  If individuals prefer to connect to this program using an iPad or smartphone, need more information, or have questions, please call the Library at 815-223-2341.