Interview With Joan Thomsen

From the interview with Joan Thomsen conducted by Clio Ward on January 22, 2013 at Ms. Thomsen’s home in Kala Point, near Port Townsend. Ms. Thomsen and her husband George led the Heritage Group, the organization responsible for managing the Commanding Officers Quarters in Fort Worden, for nine years. Here she recounts the story of how the group acquired authentic reproductions of period costumes.

Edited transcripts and verbatim recordings of this and all interviews conducted for the Fort Worden Oral History Program are available at a nominal fee to cover duplicating and shipping. Inquire at or 360.344.4481 for details.

“ There were women doing all of the work in the house. Women do their special thing, they keep things. We had a lot of period dresses available. We got forms and they were all visible in rooms and upstairs. George said one day, “There is no evidence of a man in this house and this is the Commanding Officers House, we’ve got to do something. Let’s see if we can find an officer’s uniform.” Well, men don’t keep them. They were worn from 1902 to 1911, which was the period we wanted to use in the house. Anyhow, we tried to find a uniform and the only thing we found was a moth eaten wreck, and we only brought it home because it had the buttons, the original buttons on it. That started it. George said, “Do you think you could make one?” I took tailoring courses years ago in New York from a wonderful woman. I said, “Well, let’s give it a try.” That’s what happened. That’s how the uniform came about. I was just wearing a skirt and a blouse and all of a sudden we got very active with all of this. We got active with the Victorian group, the Victorian festival, we were on the original committee and all of this happened. We never expected it. The thing with George’s uniform was interesting. We were just going to hang it on a hanger in the office because the office has an outside door. I was making the uniform and Betty Kuller said to me, “What are you doing that for? Why don’t you just make it so it fits.” and that’s how it came about.

I got a connection with a company that reproduced historic old patterns. I picked out a pattern from 1898. It was a walking suit. Actually I picked up the catalog in the Jefferson County historical museum, found the catalog of all the dresses they wore then. I got the pattern which is just pieces of paper. It’s a dandy to work on. I made this 1898 walking suit and I copied things. I lined it with silk and did all that stuff. I still have it. I still wear it.

I have two hats. One’s a winter hat and the other is a summer hat. The summer hat I made. I copied that from the old catalog. It had flowers all over it. The winter hat is very interesting because it was in the movie “The Titanic”. I found it over in Seattle at a company on the second floor of the Pacific building. The company comes out of Kentucky. They reproduced a lot of old costumes, like for “Out of Africa” and for“The Titanic.” My daughter and I went over there. We tried all the dresses and had a ball. We brought friends over there to see the place, because they had furniture and chairs and everything that were original to “The Titanic.”
But anyhow, they had this hat, it’s felt and it has all kinds of feathers all over it. It’s absolutely stunning. It was stuffed back in a corner where no one could see it, but I could. I looked at it, it was in “The Titanic” exhibit and its original cost was $325. When I saw it there it was $29.95. I got it and ran out of the store. I’ve worn it constantly. It is stunning.

The thing that we did for the docents was we had a couple of people make skirts. We bought reams and we cut them out of fabric. There were black skirts and then we had colored tops. We fitted them in outfits, basically skirts and tops and pins, all the things that would go with it like jewelry,belts, gloves and slips. We made it for them so that they could dress and be comfortable. We got a lot of people going on that and we made whole bunches so that whoever came to work at the house could fit their size. Everything is up in the master bedroom closest which is very large. So that’s how we fitted the docents out, and they loved doing it.”

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