When Carma deJong Anderson was a child, she would gaze in wonderment as her mother took an old dress and made it into a new one for the young girl to wear.
Rather than disapproving of hand-me-downs, she eagerly watched her mother work miracles with clothing that today would have been discarded for something "better.""As a little child I was living out my life in the early 1930s just pulling out of the Depression," recalled Sister Anderson, a member of the Edgemont 14th Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont Stake. "My mother, Rosabelle Winegar deJong, would take one of her dresses or one of my older sisters' dresses and cut out a beautiful dress for me. That was for me a marvelous thing. I thought that was a highly skilled accomplishment."
Not only did her mother teach Sister Anderson the value of thriftiness, but also the importance of fine work. Now years later those lessons have carried into Sister Anderson's life.
A historic clothing expert, Sister Anderson, 63, has worked for years as a freelance designer, consultant and costumer for the Church, primarily for the Historical Department and the Museum of Church History and Art.
She is known for her expertise in clothing of the Joseph Smith period, having done her Ph.D. at BYU in historic clothing. Her dissertation was on "A Historical Overview of Mormons and their Clothing, 1840-1850," and is available in the Church Historical Library and at the BYU Library.
Sister Anderson's work with the Church includes doing historic restorations in clothing for museum displays and Church historic sites. For example, she designed and produced (with a crew of seamstresses, milliners and shoemakers) costumes for docents at the Museum of Church History and Art.
She also worked on the restoration of the historic Cove Fort in Cove Fort, Utah, located about 35 miles south of Fillmore in southwest Utah. She designed the interior of the fort (such as draperies) as well as the clothing representative of that worn by 25 people living at the fort from 1870-77.
The interior of the Newel K. Whitney store, Kirtland, Ohio, with its authentic clothing and textiles is a result of Sister Anderson's first restoration work. The bolts of fabric in the store are authentic to the period.
The Lyon Drug and Mercantile store in Nauvoo, Ill., is also another project in which she was involved. She worked on the clothing and textiles, including bonnets, shoes, gloves and bolts of fabric and trimmings.
In addition, Sister Anderson works to restore textiles for her own collections or for others, and consults with artists and sculptors in clothing portrayed in their art work.
"The important thing in a restoration is that it looks like you could walk in at the date you are working toward and this is how it would be," she explained. "There must be absolutely nothing of the present day.
"When we make clothing for historic sites, we have to have the right fiber, color, design, the weaving texture and the thickness or thinness of the fabric so it will drape right on the figure. Otherwise it does not look like the period."
A major part of restorations is to de-stress items that have been replicated so that they look like they have been well used, Sister Anderson noted. Much of that work is done with dye, scissors and sandpaper.
To make sure clothing is accurate to the period, Sister Anderson turns to the sources of the time such as books and newspapers that were printed in that period.
Her education has taught her that there are three alternative sets of clothes for any one event. She also considers the clothing over a five-year period because a complete cut of clothing changed every five years.
Then she turns to resources of folk art, which is a prime source for design detail and an indicator of what the common people wore. From there she looks at fine art resources of the time which indicates what the wealthy people wore.
"I have gathered this information assiduously for 20 years, always looking for pictures," she explained. "Cameras were not widely used before 1850 so sometimes that is difficult, but photos give the most accurate information of clothing worn in a certain time period."
She also consults private journals surrounding a certain time period to learn about the textiles, colors, descriptions of clothing, what was needed to make an item and what the people of the time were happy to find and buy.
Costume books are valuable, she continued, but only costume books that give exact historical data are those which show pictures, give dates and come from original sources.
The last and most important ingredient in her accuracy comes in personal research at museums throughout the United States and Great Britain wherever historical clothing collections are found.
She has gained permission to research personal holdings in numerous museums, photographing items with a macro lens to document the color of the garment, the design and details. She has handled clothing made before 1800.
"By handling real clothing of any period and carefully photographing it, you become intimately acquainted with it," Sister Anderson said. "That was necessary for me to teach present-day seamstresses how to sew in the 19th century style by hand."
Sewing by 19th century seamstresses was so fine and done with great expertise, she continued. "You realize that it was in poor times when many were poverty stricken and a seamstress sewed well or she starved."
Seamstresses today sew six stitches per inch compared to the clothing of the 19th century which has 15 to 20 stitches per inch, Sister Anderson explained.
"When you pick up a simple farm woman's dress and see the quality of construction that lasted so many years you realize that we today live in a throw-away society."
Her experience traveling to various museums has been a rewarding one, she noted.
"Every museum has given me the best treatment possible. Some of these people are the most exacting people, but everywhere I have gone they went to the greatest degree of graciousness and help for me to find what I needed.
"When I would tell them I was researching the first half of the nineteenth century, that would always lead to discussions about the Church and my desire to make proper, quality images for portrayal in Church historical films and for publishing and teaching."
Sister Anderson's interest in the arts began at an early age, she noted. Her mother was a painter and her father a composer and linguist. Her father, Gerrit deJong, was founding dean of the College of Fine Arts at BYU. Sister Anderson learned to sew and paint as soon as she could handle a needle and paintbrush.
"I have always been interested in the dramatic effect that costume has upon people," she explained. "And then I fell in love with my own genealogy and my ancestors. It was because of that that I began to take good care of my little grandmother's clothes.
"They were in the basement in a costume barrel. I would dress up in them as a little girl, but mother told me to be careful because they were real clothes. That caution set something up in my mind. I saved those clothes through my marriage and have treasured them."
Learning about American history and Church history has continued to be a big part of life for the Anderson family. When their children were young, Sister Anderson and her husband, Richard Lloyd Anderson, a BYU religion professor, would take family vacations to historic sites.
"I saw from my education that the clothing wasn't accurate for the time period. I began to wish that the Church that I believed in so devoutly could present to the world a visual image of its history that was absolutely authentic. I knew it could be beautiful and dramatic and still be authentic historically."
It was from there that she focused on the Joseph Smith time period including the clothing worn by the poor to the wealthy, folk clothing, childrens' clothing, ritual clothing (for weddings and funerals) and clothing worn while crossing the plains.