Yacolt costumer finds niche in historical looks

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Yacolt historical costumer Rebecca Morrison-Peck got an early introduction to what would later become her career. Growing up in San Diego, Calif., her mother and grandmother taught her to sew at a young age. By the sixth grade, she was making her own clothes.

Historic costuming combines Morrison-Peck’s love of clothing and history. She made her first reproduction costume for a Renaissance fair in the late 1960s. It was a midnight-blue, velvet, Elizabethan-style gown covered in pearls and gold brocade.

Morrison-Peck, 58, majored in British history and literature in college. She did take one class on the history of costumes at San Diego State University but primarily learned through library research.

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“I just pored over everything I could get my hands on,” she said.

Morrison-Peck moved to England in 1979 and met Nick Peck, whom she married in 1984. Morrison-Peck worked in market research in London but kept feeding her passion for design by selling patchwork quilts at craft fairs and studying costumes in the Victoria and Albert Museum and Bath’s Fashion Museum, then the Museum of Costume.

“To see the real thing, even behind tinted glass, was just mind-boggling,” she said.

In 1991, the couple moved to Vancouver to pursue a job opportunity in Portland for Nick. Here in Vancouver, Morrison-Peck delved deeper in historic costumes by getting a job in the Fort Vancouver gift shop.

“That was perfect because I was surrounded with history, and there were even a few of the rangers and volunteers who would dress up in period clothing to tell the story of the fort,” she said.

Morrison-Peck, her husband, and their son, John-Luke, began volunteering as historical re-enactors at the fort. They also joined the Vancouver Heritage Ambassadors, a nonprofit organization that researches and portrays Clark County’s history from the perspective of prominent former citizens. Morrison-Peck plays turn-of-the-century Vancouver dressmaker Cordelia Ingles Bartlett. Nick assumes the persona of Michel Damphoffer, a native of France who played trombone in the American Army and later opened a saloon and brewery in downtown Vancouver.

Morrison-Peck estimates she volunteered to make between 20 and 30 reproduction costumes for the fort during the 11 years she worked there. She also was volunteering with the Clark County Historical Museum, and left the fort in 2002 to concentrate on curating the museum’s clothing and textiles collection.

While volunteering at the museum, Morrison-Peck discovered a business niche.

“Everyone wanted to play in the (museum’s) dresses and wear them,” she said.

So Morrison-Peck started Lacings, a business named after the lacings used in corsets and other period clothing. She made and sold reproduction historic women’s clothing and undergarments, focusing on styles from 1790 to 1940. She also gave weekly classes teaching people to make these garments themselves.

Two years ago, Morrison-Peck decided to take a break from teaching clothing construction to focus on her educational programs and new online business, The Thatched Cottage (http://www.etsy.com/shop/thethatchedcottage).

Her Thatched Cottage store on etsy.com is a nod to a cottage in the yard of the Yacolt home where she and Nick have lived for the past 13 years. They tried to re-create an English country garden here in Clark County, complete with seven chickens.

Morrison-Peck buys and sells vintage clothing through her website and also makes custom reproduction items. Her store is popular with historical re-enactors, and she’s surprised by how many of them hail from Southwest Washington.

“There’s just so much re-enacting going on, it’s astonishing,” she said.

With the popularity of the Oregon-based International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Morrison-Peck has discovered a demand for pirate clothing and has even gotten into the craze herself. She and her husband participate in the annual Portland Pirate Festival; Morrison-Peck goes as Captain Red, a nod to her fiery locks.

Morrison-Peck also is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. The group is having its annual convention in Portland over Halloween weekend. The focus is Austen’s Gothic parody “Northanger Abbey,” and Morrison-Peck will chair the fashion display.

Morrison-Peck has attended the conferences before as a vendor, and is excited to have the event so close to home this year, especially since one “Northanger Abbey” character, Mrs. Allen, was a clotheshorse.

“It’s going to be so much fun,” she said.