Clothiers Are Making History For 1790


Couple Is Targeting Re-enactment Market

December 31, 1991|By William C. Ward | William C. Ward,Staff writer

Talk about out of fashion. Bell-bottoms faded away in the 1970s, Nehru jackets died in the 1960s, but the clothes Neal Redmond makes wentout in the '90s -- the 1790s.

Redmond, head of Crofton-based Druid's Oak, makes 18th-century -- and Renaissance -- clothing from original patterns for re-enactors of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.

"Basically what we do is go to museums, use illustrations and deserter reports from the period and try to reconstruct clothes the way they did it back then," Redmond says.

With these sources and the help of historical societies, Redmond re-creates snappy knee breaches,stately waistcoats, colorful dresses and martial military regimentalcoats that approximate the originals as closely as possible.

"What we're really concerned with is a garment's construction.A lot of fabrics will come apart if not made properly," Redmond explains.

Druid's Oak sells clothes by mail order and as an 18th-century travelingshop, known as a sutlery, which followed vast armies on campaigns. Today, Redmond and his wife, Margie, haul their wares to re-enactment events ranging from the Great Lakes region to Florida.

"We're carrying along the tradition of the French coureurs de bois (literally, "runners of the woods"), who traded from their canoes to the Indians in Canada to get beaver pelts," he says.

The entrepreneur says he does things the old way, although he's traded up from a canoe to a compact station wagon and trailer.

In a small room stuffed with boltsof colorful fabric, two high-tech sewing machines and two intimidating "four-coned sergers" used to stabilize seams, Redmond works an average of 18 hours a day. In 1991, Druid's Oak shipped more than 1,000 garments, all made by the Redmonds and three seamstresses.

After sewing garments on the machine, the couple go over the stitch by hand for authenticity, one of the many personal touches Redmond adds to his business. He deals with every customer personally, hand-calligraphies every shipment and does orders to custom specifications.

Re-enactors are very specific.

"They provide the buttons, tape and sometimes the pattern for their particular regiment," Redmond says.

He supervises the operation, free-lances work out to three local seamstresses, buys fabrics, designs patterns and takes orders.

"You have to be part draftsman, pattern-maker and bargain hunter -- it takes a lot of hats to be in this business," he says.

Redmond got the ideafor his company at the Eastern Rendezvous, an annual gathering of aficionados of black-powder weapons circa 1700 to 1840. The event, spread out in an area of woods outside Middlesex, N.Y., drew more than 3,000 re-enactors.

"There were 520 merchants there in this portable city, and they were charging pretty high prices. People kept coming up to me and asking where I got my clothes, which I had made myself," he recalls.

Redmond moved Druid's Oak to Crofton from Catonsville in June, and business has taken off. He sends orders to a shop in Lodi, Ohio, has contracts with several re-enactment regiments and ships internationally.

"People in our business are extremely busy. It's quite refreshing that with the economy the way it is, people are still buying these luxuries," says Redmond.

When the couple aren't on the road on the way to an event, they may be in Colonial Williamsburgdoing research or trekking to fabric mills up and down the East Coast searching for 18th-century prices on wool, silk and linen.

But despite their sometimes hectic lifestyles, the Redmonds seem to love their work.

"It's a very interesting business to be in. You have tolove history," Redmond says.

Redmond plans to expand the company,adding employees and stock. He hints at preliminary negotiations to set up shop in a local historic site to re-create the lifestyle and workings of a colonial-era tailor shop.

"What we're really part of is living history," his wife says. "We want to teach people other things besides microwaves and Nintendo."

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