Unlike the “fancy goods” made only for sale, the clothing and textile items made for sale differed little or not at all from that made for the Shakers. Goods made for the Shakers’ own use such as stockings, gloves, and aprons were made in sufficient quantity to furnish enough to sell. Wool cloaks made for the sisters beginning in about 1870 became popular among the women of the world, and sisters produced them for sale until the 1940s.
The cloak manufacturing industry proved especially rewarding for the communities at Mount Lebanon and Canterbury. The E. J. Neale Company, established by Sister Emma J. Neale of Mount Lebanon’s Church Family, helped rescue the family from catastrophic financial misjudgments and helped to keep the family stable for decades. These industries also gave the sisters greater status and leverage; their work provided needed income as the population of the Society grew older and fewer males stayed past childhood.
Moreover, materials left over from the production of clothing items could be repurposed into attractive items for sale, so that the work of the sisters was doubly fruitful. Dolls were dressed in Shaker costumes made from fabric remnants. Scraps left over from the manufacture of cloaks were cut and fashioned into skirts attached to small bisque dolls to be used as pen wipes. Although Shaker fashion adopted worldly fashion very slowly, if at all, the quality of their goods held commercial appeal.
Shane Rothe (they/them) joined Shaker Museum in July 2023, working with independent curator Maggie Taft on an exhibition for the new museum space in Chatham. Shane is an artist as well as a curator and continues to create in the mediums of painting, sculpture, writing, and performance. Shane holds a BFA from CalArts and an MA in art history and curatorial studies from the University of Chicago.