The Story of a Seamstress & Her Family Who Live The Traditional American Homesteading Dream

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About two years ago, not long before this blog was born, I was curled up in bed reading the book to my favourite film, ‘Gone With The Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell. Intrigued by the hooped skirts and corseted dresses, along with the old-style Southern etiquette and chivalry I love so well, I turned to Pinterest for a few more pictures. Little did I know that I would stumble upon this fascinating lady and her family – Atlanta Goodwin, husband Jordan and little ones Marian, Alan and Elsie. I have followed their various sites ever since, sharing everything from her period 1860s wedding to the building of their 19th century-replica log home. Their Tennessee country lifestyle has inspired me to write this post today in honour of small-hold traditional American homesteading, as well as their ability to bring it to life with a quintessentially modern twist.

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Atlanta, pictured here, is a talented seamstress who has a well-established historical costume business, sewing and custom-designing period clothing for her customers all over the world. But what really caught my attention was the way in which she met her husband, Jordan, and their beautiful 1860s period wedding. As I began to explore their respective websites documenting various handmade projects, I realised that here was a young lady and gentleman, along with a whole host of close friends and family, who believe in keeping ‘the old ways’ of home-making and farming alive whilst remaining as close and respectful to the land as possible. Thanks to The Story of a Seamstress and Home at Winshaw, they give a glimpse into a life that is totally self-sufficient and enviably at one with the Tennessee countryside, where old skills are preserved and the days pass with the seasons – a life that, for me at least, seemed almost, just almost, to have ‘gone with the wind’.

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Atlanta met Jordan at a reenactment with her family back in 2008. Reenactments have always fascinated me and it is an ambition of mine to see one here in England. In keeping with traditional modes of courtship, Jordan and Atlanta’s relationship before they got engaged was centred at first around visits with their families or talking on the phone. With Atlanta being from Texas and Jordan from Tennessee, it was sometimes longer stretches of time before they saw each other again. When Jordan proposed whilst watching the sunrise with Atlanta, it was on a family trip to the 150th Shiloh reenactment and they are pictured here the morning after their engagement in historical dress.

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Their wedding, along with the location, decorations, music, and transport, was all in the traditional 1860s period style. I think you can see why it first caught my attention!

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They were married at the Nathan Bedford Forrest Boyhood Home in Chapel Hill, Tennessee. This is the restored, historic childhood homestead of one of the South’s most famous military generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is also significant for another reason – as an ancestor of the bride, Atlanta. Nathan was cousin to her great-great-grandfather Elisha Franklin Rainey and it is thought they even fought together in the American Civil War.

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Interestingly, the fairytale photo shoot of bride and bridesmaids that first captured my imagination was set in the grounds of this historic home and included a long-forgotten, moss-lined sink-hole – a sink-hole that Atlanta tells us was originally used by the ladies of the house to store their milk and butter!

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The bride and bridesmaids made their own gowns, adapting dress patterns to create styles that were in keeping the wedding itself. Many of the pictures here are to be credited to Smile for Sophie, whose website can be found here, and Atlanta’s mom, who clearly has a good eye for photography!

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The work and attention to detail that went into both male and female guests’ wedding clothes alike I think makes it a most historically-accurate, realistic time capsule event – I wish I had been a guest! It really does feel as though you have stepped back in time.

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The details in the wedding itself were stunning and homely, with many items being gathered from the surrounding areas, repurposed or handmade. White pear blossoms cut fresh from trees in the neighbourhood were used to decorate the house on the morning of the wedding, achieved by knocking on people’s doors to ask whether it was okay to use the flowering branches in their gardens as the bride’s and bridesmaids’ bouquets! Thankfully, those they asked said ‘yes’ and even provided them with the tools needed to cut them cleanly.

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Old jelly jars used as lemonade glasses for the guests and handmade quilted decorations adorned the house.

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The canopy used for dancing and celebrations afterwards was also built completely from scratch. This must be one of the ‘greenest’ weddings I’ve ever seen!

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I love how everyone knew how to dance the period dances. I wish it was more common for groups to get together and automatically know these steps now.

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Can you imagine this being your transport on your wedding day?!

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Even before they were married, Jordan set about building a log house in the 19th century American country style for both he and Atlanta to live in and start their own self-sufficient homestead, complete with chickens, a farm garden, a creek that runs through the land, and a workshop where Jordan does metal- and wood-work. The house has a porch and three levels – an upstairs, downstairs, and an attic. To get it ready in time they needed a little help, so friends and members of both Jordan and Atlanta’s families all chipped in valuable hours to make sure it was perfect.

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From the ground up!

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They chose the trees, cut them and shaped them themselves.

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One of the things that is so admirable about this house is that much of the furniture and, in fact, parts of the house itself were either bought second-hand or up-cycled from antiques or scrap. Their antique kitchen table, for example, Jordan found in the dump and restored it to its current polished standing. Their replica 19th century farmhouse windows with the true-to-form old-fashioned pulley system to open them were found on Craigslist – a lucky find indeed as these were only available due to the owner of a period restoration house changing his mind at the last moment.

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The most beautiful house nestled in the Tennessee countryside that they built and designed themselves. I don’t mind saying that I am a little bit jealous!

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Atlanta sketching by their creek.

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The house is often lit by lamplight rather than electricity, there is a wood-burning stove, and the laundry is done by hand – outside!

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Daily activities include gathering eggs, tending to the kitchen garden (whose traditional method of using wood chips as a kind of blanket to the soil you can read about here), picking seasonal fruit and wild vegetables, sewing, baking and metal- and wood-working. It seems like an idyllic lifestyle, but I am sure it is really hard work! It always pays off if you are enjoying it though.

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This is Jordan working on their joint business venture Dream Come True Beds – miniature beds for pets, children and dollhouse collectors. Jordan also has an online store that sells his hand-forged wrought iron products made using traditional techniques called Axe & Anvil. You can find all their online stores on the Shops page of their website Home at Winshaw.

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Gathering blackberries for pies.

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Mushrooms are in abundance.

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Atlanta still sews and designs historical clothes for all ages and clients the world over and now she has a dedicated sewing room in their log house. She also makes her own clothes, as well as clothes for the little ones and Jordan. The old designs are often still the best for getting everything done around the house and for warmth or lightness as the seasons change.

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The About section of their website ‘Home at Winshaw’ pretty much sums up their hands-on and self-sufficient lifestyle:

“We feel that learning to work with your hands is very important, and should be an irreplaceable part of childhood and daily life. We have an especial fondness for the hand trades of the 18th and 19th centuries, and hope to revive many of them in our own little homestead. These interests include woodworking, blacksmithing, sewing, painting and much more. We hope to eventually combine the ‘old ways’ with new technology such as solar power to create a uniquely productive and healthy homestead and lifestyle”.

You can see why I admire them so much, can’t you? Perhaps I’ll get to to go and visit myself someday. Here’s dreaming…

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Be sure to check out their websites Home at Winshaw and The Story of a Seamstress, as well as Atlanta and Jordan’s Instagram pages, as there were so many beautiful pictures and stories I couldn’t possibly fit them all here! You can also buy their handmade products at any of their dedicated Shops.

 

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