- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

LOWELL, Mass. — The clanking sounds of a loom at the American Textile History Museum take visitors back to a time when clothes were hand-woven and textiles drove the New England economy in this historic mill town and others.

“Textiles are such a basic part of everybody’s life,” says Diane L. Fagan Affleck, the museum’s senior research associate. “And yet I think partly because of the technology that we have today, we just don’t even think about where they came from or how they came to be.”

In the lobby sits a late 19th-century cotton picker, used to remove burrs and other such contaminants from the cotton fiber. This was the first step toward producing the dresses and coverlets on display.

The regimented workday of the factory workers is brought to life by a bell cast by Revere and Son in Boston in 1802 for a church in Castine, Maine, and later used at a mill in North Andover. A church bell tolls as visitors stroll by.

A more whimsical history lesson is the focus of “Finishing Touches,” an exhibit of fashion accessories on view until April.

Lending her voice to the exhibit is Bess Drest, a fictional character developed by the exhibit’s curators based on a tintype — the 19th-century version of a photo — of an unknown young woman in about 1870.

She wears a small flower-trimmed hat tipped low on her forehead, drop earrings and a ribbon choker.

Bess’ insights can be found on first-person missives throughout a gallery devoted to hats, gloves, shoes, hair ornaments, fans and other objects from different fashion periods.

Miss Affleck says the collection is meant to convey a sense of the customs of various times, guided by the fashion wisdom of Bess Drest.

“She says something about her mother telling her to be sure to put her gloves on before she went outside. You wouldn’t go out without a hat on in the 19th century,” Miss Affleck says.

More modern looks evoke the 1960s. Three mannequins model different looks for the classic little black dress — each striking in a Jackie Onassis kind of way. One wears a pink hat, another a yellow hat and scarf, and the third has red shoes and handbag and a black hat.

One collection of accessories was worn by a cabaret singer. Her photo in the display shows her holding a wood-handled macrame bag in shades of red, blue, yellow and green that itself is part of the exhibit. Also shown are a pair of the singer’s high-heeled ankle-strapped shoes — white with red polka dots.

The museum is near Lowell National Historical Park, which was established to commemorate the history of America’s Industrial Revolution.

National Park Service sites in Lowell include canals; textile mills and other 19th-century commercial buildings; boardinghouses where the “mill girls” lived; and the Boott Cotton Mills Museum.

American Textile History Museum, 491 Dutton St., Lowell, Mass.; visit www.athm.org or call 978/441-0400. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday ;10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Adults, $6; students, seniors and children 6 to 16, $4; children under 6, free.

Lowell is about 35 miles northwest of Boston. Take Route 495 to the Lowell Connector, Exit 35C, to Exit 5B, Thorndike Street. Commuter rail service also is available from Boston’s North Station to Lowell’s Gallagher Terminal (800/392-6100 for schedule).

Lowell Regional Transit Authority shuttles run between Gallagher Terminal and downtown Lowell every half-hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Lowell National Historical Park; visit www.nps.gov/lowe or call 978/970-5000. Visitors center open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, but hours vary for other attractions. Boott Cotton Mills Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday; 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

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