Monday, March 20, 2017

Fort Steilacoom Living History Symposium

Dear Living Historians, Historical Interpreters, and Reenactors:

You are cordially invited to a Living History Symposium on Sunday, March 26, 2017, from 12-4 in the afternoon. Guest speakers will be presenting on a variety of mid-nineteenth century subjects, to share their research and help you 'round out' your impression. The current offerings include:

*Dining in the 1850s & 1860s
*Early Photography
*Food Preservation
*The Genteel Hobby of Gardening
*Yeast and Innovations in Leavening
*Mrs. Mowett's Interactive Etiquette 

A tour of Historic Fort Steilacoom will commence at noon. The presentations will be held in Quarters 2, starting at 1pm. There is no charge to attend; visitors are advised to bring a water bottle. Feel free to invite your friends!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Review: From Field to Fashion

Cover of "From Field to Fashion: The Straw Bonnet" by Anna Worden Bauersmith

(This review is of the 2015 electronic version of the book; it was originally published in 2006)

From Field to Fashion is a resource about straw bonnets, not a guide to making them. Half of the 50-page booklet discusses the whole industry of straw bonnet production: from growing the crop to trimming the finished bonnet.  There's information about how the work was done, by whom, and for what wages; which types of straw were used; how the bonnets were styled; and who wore the finished bonnets. This overview makes extensive use of quotations from period sources, all cited in footnotes. Additionally, there are four pages of bibliography and a fifteen page appendix with recommendations of where to view original bonnets online, charts of the economic statistics of bonnet-manufacture, examples of plaited straw, and descriptions of straw bonnets in fiction and fashion literature.

I'd recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about straw bonnets and how they were made and used in the 1850s and 60s. In particular, it will invaluable to those portraying milliners, informed ladies of fashion, or workers employed in the straw plait industry.  If you're looking for instructions for making a bonnet, this isn't the right book, but if you want to better understand them in context or need ideas for trimming one, this is precisely the book you want.

Score: 4.5 Stars.

Accuracy: High.  Extensive use of primary sources, with quotes, footnotes, and citations.

Strongest Impression: Very good reference material for straw bonnet manufacture and wear, which would be useful background information for certain mid-century impressions.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Original Projects

The Victorian Pattern Box is posting original magazine project instructions; most are from the later 1800s so far, but it's certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Nice Tea

"[Tea] is composed not merely of tea and cakes, but of bread and butter, of various relishes, and of fruits, either fresh or preserved."
Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea, Viewed Classically, Poetically, and Practically (1860) 
" Have in another tray, your biscuit spread, wafers, toast, cake, tongue, beef, or whatever is prepared to send, all neatly arranged, to take round as soon as you have served the tea..."
The Skillful Housewife's Book (1852)

I had the pleasure of hosting a small gathering of friends just before the snow set in, and took the opportunity to revisit some of my old Historic Food Fortnightly challenges.

Returning receipts included Victoria SandwichesTea Cakes, and my standby Dessert Biscuits (which have never actually been used for a HFF challenge). For a new challenge, I adapted Miss Beecher's Sally Lunn receipt (page 101) into buns, which were served with Miss Leslie's Whole Raspberries Preserved in Jelly (also not a HFF challenge, but made as a follow-up to the Pyramid of Tarts this last autumn).

1850s-1860s tea food
CW from top: tea cakes, more tea cakes, cherry jam,
preserved raspberries, Victoria sandwiches,
assorted dessert biscuits, Sally Lunn buns.

1855 Tea Cakes: caraway, orange peel, cinnamon
Tea cakes, from left to right: caraway seed, orange peel, cinnamon.
I didn't figure out what to do for savories this time around, but fortunately several of the guests thought to bring cheese and sandwiches, so we didn't get completely off balanced consuming sugary baked goods.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hem Facing

In preparation for turning* the skirt of my black wool, I removed the hem facing that's been in place these last five years.
Hem Facing: 1860s Dress Component
Hem facing from my black wool dress.
Lessons learned:
  • The interior hem side of the skirt takes a lot of abuse, even when the exterior side shows little dirt or wear.
  • Attaching the facing with tiny stitches just makes more work.
  • White material was a bad choice.  Since making this dress, I've examined more original garments, the majority of which had hem facings of brown polished cotton.  Scraps of cotton prints are another, less common, option.  A few dresses (sheers and a couple odd cotton prints) had self-fabric turned hems rather than applied facings.

*Turning: remaking a dress by taking it apart and rotating/reversing the fabric so that stained and worn portions are out of sight.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Original Wool Quilts

I've been very busy with school and work lately, but haven't given up on textile projects (in fact, I've made a lot of progress on the knit undersleeves I hope to be wearing next winter).  One project I would like to do before the summer reenacting season is another period quilt. Sleeping on the ground, as I often do, wool layers are indispensable for staying warm through the night--even in summer.  To that end, here are some original wool quilts from the International Quilt Study Center and Museum:

The two designs I'm most interested in are this mildly complex ninepatch (c.1865), and this
touching stars quilt (c. 1850-1870).  There's also a nine patch/Irish chain (c. 1820-40) that's simply elegant and would be easy to piece by machine.

Touching Stars wool quilts c. 1850-1870, IQSCM
"Touching Stars" wool quilt, c. 1850-1870
From the Ardis and Robert James Collection,
IQSCM object 1997.007.0422

Of the three, I'm inclined to try the stars.  It fits my reenacting year range nicely (1855-1865) and uses three different fabrics.  The diamond pieces give me a chance to try some trickier piecing (not all straight edges and right angles), while still admitting use of a machine.  Depending on how the fabric shakes out, I make omit the border or play with the design by incorporating additional fabrics.

As I already have a hexagon patchwork in progress (and it'll likely stay that way for sometime, considering the amount of hand sewing, and the fact that I acquire fabric for it by finishing other projects), I won't be doing my wool quilt in hexes.  There are, however, a number of lovely options: diamond hexagons (c.1855), Flower Garden (hexagon) (1850s), a hexagon mosaic (1860s), and hexagon star mosaic (1860s).

The beauty of these whole cloth quilts (and another one) is in their elaborate quilting.  I would love to make one, when I'm feeling on competent about my hand quilting.  Squares make a simple pieced quilt (Civil War Quilts also features an original wool quilt made up of different size squares, in that case cut from military uniforms.)

There are also two fancy wool quilts in the IQSCM online collection: an 1855 album-style "Crimean Quilt" and one only (aptly) titled "original", with diamond mosaic and applique (c. 1850-70).

Log cabin quilts made in wool also seem to be quilt popular after 1860, particularly after 1865. While this would be a great use for all the small pieces of fabric* left over when cutting out garments, the events I need blankets for are largely pre-1860, and wholely pre-1865. Still, here are two log cabins c. 1860-1880, and five log cabin variations from 1865 to the 1880s.

*The Tudor Tailor calls these left-over pieces of new fabric "cabbage", and I'm in love with the term.  "Scraps" is less elegant, and also allows for reused cloth.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

HFF 2.26: Descriptively-Named Food

The Challenge: Descriptively-Named Foods We all know those recipes that come attached to interesting and imaginative names - slumps, crumbles, buckles, trifles, flummery. Pick a historic recipe that has a descriptive title.

The Receipt:  Whipped syllabub, from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management
INGREDIENTS – 1/2 pint of cream, 1/4 pint of sherry, half that quantity of brandy, the juice of 1/2 lemon, a little grated nutmeg, 3 oz. of pounded sugar, whipped cream the same as for trifle No. 1489.
Mode.—Mix all the ingredients together, put the syllabub into glasses, and over the top of them heap a little whipped cream, made in the same manner as for trifle No. 1489. Solid syllabub is made by whisking or milling the mixture to a stiff froth, and putting it in the glasses, without the whipped cream at the top.

The Date/Year and Region: 1861, London

How Did You Make It:  Blended together the cream, wine, brandy, lemon juice, nutmeg (1/4 of a nutmeg, fresh grated) and powdered sugar.  Given prior misfortunes with sherry, I tried using a white wine, as per the basic syllabub receipt.  I omitted the whipped cream topping, having run out of cream.

Time to Complete: 10 minutes

Total Cost: Ingredients on hand.

How Accurate Is It? Wine substitution and whipped cream omission noted above.

How Successful Is It? Not very.  This wasn't the worst dish I've tried to make, but it just didn't taste very good.  I was expecting the result would be somewhat like eggnog: creamy and nutmeg-flavored. It did have that, but the wine really struck a sour note and I gave up after two sips.  I think this has the potential to work with a different wine (maybe a moscato or other sweet dessert wine), but today was not it.  I was a little concerned that the lemon juice would curdle the cream, but that was not the case.

Whipped Syllabub, Mrs. Beeton's, 1861
Whipped Syllabub: not great, but it has potential.