Thursday, September 11, 2014

Flag Needlebook in Berlin Work, part II

Step 1: Berlin Work.  Based on the originals discussed in part I, I made the flag 42 stitches long x 28 stitches tall.  Each stripe is 2 rows of cross stitch, the blue field is 17 x 14.  I opted to do the stars as single cross-stitches, and went with a simple grid of 32 stars.  I actually meant to do a 33-star flag, on the presumption that my 1860s unionist persona was on a patriotic kick during the spring of 1861, but realized too late that I did the rows as 6/7/6/7/6 instead of 7/6/7/6/7.  So, I now have an 1858-59 style flag.  Go Minnesota! (Sorry, Oregon.)

Step 2: Making the cover.  I used a scrap of my 'candy-cane' silk to back the berlin-work, sewing around the flag motif on three sides (fabric right-sides-together) and turning the seams to the inside.  The double thickness of canvas and silk is fairly sturdy, but I decided to stiffen it further by adding a piece of pasteboard between the fabric layers.

To make the back, I covered another piece of pasteboard with blue (tropical weight) wool.  I experimented with using an unsupported back--either flannel or the suiting weight, but decided I didn't like the floppy back with the solid front cover.

Step 3: Pages. The two "pages" are each made from red wool flannel, cut smaller than the cover and edged in white or blue berlin wool (blanket-stitching edge).

Step 4: Assembly.  Both covers were finished (raw edges folded in and closed with a running stitch), and then joined with whip-stitches along the formerly-raw edges.    The "pages were laid inside the open cover, and fastened with small stitches.  Silk ribbon was added to the opening edge to make a closure; additional ribbon was laid over the spine to hide the assembly sewing.  More ribbons on the spine for decoration.

Needle-Book Front Cover

Inside View

Back Cover
Excepting the star miscount, I'm largely satisfied with this project.  Next time, I think I'll stick with one flannel page, as this material was fairly bulky, and two pieces folded in half is a bit fluffier than I would like.  Alternatively, I could effect a sleeker appearance by using silk for the back cover.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

HFF Challenge #7: Innovative Food

Mea Culpa.  I'm a day late on this challenge, having been mistaken that #7 was canning & preserves (it is, in fact, #8).

From "The Principles and Practice of Vegetarian Cookery" by John Smith (London, 1860)

Root, Herb and other Savoury Pies 
420 Potatoes two pounds; onions two ounces; butter one ounce; water half a pint. Pare and cut the potatoes, put a layer of onions cut small between the layers of potatoes, season with pepper and salt lay the butter at the top in small pieces, pour in the water, cover the whole with paste and bake. 

The onions may be replaced by mushrooms cut small. Hard boiled eggs cut in slices or small pieces may be distributed between the layers. Half an ounce of tapioca or sago is an improvement; these should be well washed and steeped in cold water before they are added, or they may be reduced to a jelly and added to the pie when baked. When mushrooms are not used the flavour may be improved by the addition of a little ketchup which may either be added when the pie is made or poured in with a little melted butter,etc., after the pie has been baked. Some add a little celery or powdered sage, sliced turnips, carrots, asparagus or other vegetables.

I'm justifying this for the "improvements in cooking" challenge, as vegetarianism was a sort of new fad diet/lifestyle option among mid-19th century reformers.

The Challenge: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

The Recipe: Vegetarian savoury pie of potatoes and onion (receipt 420), given above

Date/Year & Region: British, 1860

How Did You Make It:  I halved the recipe, using 1 pound of russet potatoes and one ounce white onions.  For variety, I also added one sliced carrot, a stick of celery, a pinch of parsley from the window-box.  Paste prepared according to receipt 190 for puff paste in the same volume (again, halved to 8 oz. flour, 4 oz shortening, 2 egg yolks, and 1/4 c. water).  Bake at 350F until crust is browning on the edges, took about half an hour.

Time to Complete:  A little over an hour.

Total Cost: About $2.00 (excluding eggs and flour).

How Successful Was It:  Fairly.  It was just a touch bland, and would probably benefit from a little more salt and pepper (maybe slightly more parsley).  The paste and veggies both baked very nicely.  I will likely make this again.

How Accurate Was It:  Only real deviation from the recipe was in the amount made and shape (I opted to make up the half-reduced pie as two rather generous 'personal' size ones).  Otherwise, I believe all the ingredients and methods conformed to the period.

One personal-sized pie. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pattern Review: HMP-400, Historic Moments Cloth Doll Pattern

As I can only wear one historic outfit at a time, I decided to make a clothing demonstration assistant.

Meet Nelly:

She's made from Mrs. Clark's "Great Aunt Maude's Cloth Lady Doll" pattern.  Her first outfit, above, consists of the chemise, corset, drawers, apron and high-necked dress (all from the pattern), with an additional apron of my own design, and a sunbonnet based on Mrs. Clark's free sunbonnet pattern (as drawn from memory, scaled down to fit a 15" doll).



I've been enjoying making doll clothing so far.  The small pieces let me use up scraps from my other projects (this will be great with the wools and silks that aren't appropriate for my quilting activities), and they items go together really quickly.  All of Nelly's clothing has been handsewn--so far--and working on them has been a great opportunity to practice my hand-sewing in a low-stress way; doll clothing also makes for a very portable period project, and gives a great sense of accomplishment as it gets finished very quickly.  The downside to the small garments, in my opinion, is making the tiny eyelets.  Miniature piping is the other tricky bit.  For easier sewing, many of the instructions call for decorative buttons with functional hook-and-eye closures, instead of functional buttons with tiny button-holes.

The doll herself and the undergarments are made exactly as given in the instructions (save that I added a functional button and loop on the petticoat).  I think I made my seam-allowances too small on the corset, as it turned out a little loose.  It would also have benefited from some ironing during production (which it would have had, were I not sewing it in the car on my way to an event...). For the dress, I made some changes to the basic high-neckline bodice pattern.  It's gathered, rather than darted, but I didn't get the bulk down quite enough, making for a front that 'poofs' a bit above the waist.  The bishop and cap sleeve options were both among the given variants (there's also a pagoda sleeve, a puff sleeve, a bias sleeve, and with the wrapper, a coat sleeve).

What You Get With This Pattern: 

  • 39-page instruction booklet
  • 2 sheets of pattern pieces--done on writing-weight paper, not tissue--with pieces to create one doll and twenty garments/accessories, plus variations.  The dress pattern includes 3 bodice options and 5-6 sleeves to play with.

Rating: 5 stars
Difficulty: Varies from easy to intermediate
Accuracy: The shapes and methods are all good for the mid-19th century, based on my knowledge of women's clothing.  No pictures of original dolls are included, though the author provides some background information.
General Impression: A very complete pattern for a doll and her wardrobe: there are dress variations, underclothes, nightwear, and accessories included (no bonnets, per se, though there are two caps and a hood).  The clothes are all (almost entirely) pre-fit to the doll, making this pattern the easiest introduction to mid-century clothing that I've seen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Voile Undersleeves

I had a slow day at the Fort yesterday (at least in the morning), so I decided to sew some undersleeves by hand.

The voile is delightfully light, but starts looking wrinkled the second I take the iron off of it.  It didn't fray very much, and so far was more pleasant to work with than the batiste I used on my last set of undersleeves--it was also less droopy, so I am hopeful that it will wear a bit more nicely.  The ease with which it wrinkles is a bit disconcerting, however...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Historic Food Fortnightly Challenge #6: Seasonal Fruits & Vegetables

The Challenge: Seasonal Vegetables

The Recipe: Economical Vegetable Pottage accompanied by A Plain Salad (& Egg Dumplings, roughly based on the recipe from Godey's, reproduced in Civil War Recipes)

Date/Year & Region: English, 1852; American, 1860s

How Did You Make It: Started a broth with 4 oz. butter in 6 pints of water; added salt, pepper, winter savory*, parsley* and thyme*.  Allow that to boil while cutting vegetable: red potatoes*, gold potatoes*, golden beets*, tete noir cabbage*, carrots*, welsh onions*.  Added the shallots and (some type of) fresh bean whole.  Allowed the whole thing to simmer for a while, adding mint near the end.   For the salad, I layered green and red cabbage leaves, added some red lettuce, and decorated with slices of golden beet and mint leaves.  Dressing of apple cider vinegar & olive oil (ran out of butter) with salt and pepper.  Dumplings made of flour & salt, worked to a dough with egg* yoke and then boiled.

Time to Complete:  From digging the potatoes until the dishes were washed, about 5 hours.  I was making this in order to demonstrate the period kitchen in use, so it filled the time wonderfully.

Total Cost:  All ingredients to hand.  Asterisked items were from the Fort's period garden (or period chickens residing therein).

How Successful Was It: My best stew yet (probably because the instructions informed my seasoning choices, and I didn't put in too much pepper this time).  The visitors commented favorably on the smell, and the reenactors seemed to favor the dumplings.

How Accurate Was It: I confess I just hunted through the available recipes looking for guidelines by which I could justify improvising (having not exactly prepared for the task at hand).  That being said, the period instructions offer great latitude to use whatever vegetables are available--and for what it's worth, veggies and herbs used were all heirloom varieties dating no later than 1855.

Soup on the Stove

Egg Dumplings

Historic Food Fortnightly Challenge #5: Pie

The Challenge: Pie (made during the challenge fortnight, August 9th)
The Recipe: Open Tart of Blackberry Preserves from Mrs. Beeton
Date/Year & Region: English, 1861 (Crust: American, 1860)
How Did You Make It: Made up the puff paste from Practical American Cookery just as in Challenge #3.  Rolled it out and lined the bottom of a pie pan (having no tart pan), then cut stars from the scraps using a cookie cutter.  Baked about 15 min at 350F until the paste appeared to be cooked.  Before serving, I spread the preserves over the crust and topped with the stars.
Time to Complete:  Half an hour, at the outside.
Total Cost:  $5.00 for the nice preserves (no HFC), on sale.  Flour & butter on hand.
How Successful Was It:  Took it to a potluck, and didn't even get piece.
How Accurate Was It:  Very, though I did purchased the preserves, rather than making them.

Baked Paste; I can't find my picture of the completed tart

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: The Dressmaker's Guide by Elizabeth Stewart Clark

A good seven/eight years after I started reading at her website, I finally got a copy of Mrs. Clark's "The Dressmaker's Guide".  I hadn't done so at first, as I was 1) at college, with little spending money, and thus 2) on hiatus from the hobby.  By time I got back into the swing of things, I felt confident on the basics, and didn't think I'd have much to learn from this particular source.

This turned out to be--very much--not true.

The book is divided into twelve chapters, detailing how to drape or draft and then make up each of the layers* which goes into women's wardrobes c. 1840-65.  The first three chapters cover preparation for sewing and context for one's living history: a year-by-year timeline of events, approaches to progressive reenactment and documentation of research, a timeline of dress styles, and a 50-page tutorial of stitches and fabric terms.  Chapters 4-11 go through each garment or element, discussing how to fit it, what materials to use, and how to make it.  Chapter 12 is a quick-reference appendix, with three "croquis" in different body types (instructions are given in chapter 2 for using these paper dolls to plan your outfits and play with styles).

For a preview of style and content, the free women's patterns found at the Compendium are mostly taken from the book (except for the sunbonnet, shawl, and apron).  The chemise chapter, for instance, includes the personally-drafted banded chemise found at the Compendium, as well as instructions for a gored chemise, and a discussions of the different fabric choices.  Similarly, the basic drawers and petticoat are given free on-line, but the book offers additional design choices, including decorative tucks and whitework insertions, and instructions for corded and quilted/wadded petticoats.  If you can follow the directions given on-line, you'll have no trouble with the book's instructions.  Additional book content includes a whole chapter on draping a personal corset pattern, cage crinoline instructions, a self-drafted sleeve pattern with 8 different variations, and a chapter on personal accessories.

What I found most valuable were the bodice and sleeve drafting instructions.  Several variants were included for each, with the time period when each is popular, and instructions for personalized fitting. To get an idea of the breadth of the bodice chapter, take the "Having a Fit" article, then add sketches of each step for the draping, advice for fitting commercial patterns, and instructions for creating 6 different bodice variations from the basic pattern (high or low, gathered or darted, V-necks or rounded, and some beautiful pleated/shirred "fan fronts").  The sleeve portion follows, and I'm excited to experiment with some of the variations shown.

I expect this book will prove valuable to sewing enthusiasts of all skill levels.  Despite extensive reading on the subject, I was surprised by new elements like the diagonal tucks.  At the same time, all the basics are present.  A person with no experience in mid-19th century women's clothing could go through every step from selecting an impression to finishing a completed ensemble with the instructions given here.  It may take a while, by the information is all given in a clear manner which should be accessible for beginners.  Additional help is available through the author's website, or at the attached forum.

Looking for downsides, the main things which come to mind are the overall size: there are 100 pages of information before any garment instructions show up.  This is possibly overwhelming, but also provides interesting background information and useful techniques.  The instructions can at times 'run-on' in my opinion (separate tables for calculating yardage for each type of petticoat, for instance, instead of just adding or subtracting from the basic plan), but this may be useful to those not mathematically-inclined or who need to take some things in 'baby-steps'.  Erring on the side of more information and simpler explanations isn't a bad thing.  For those that need visual instructions, there are nice sketches included with most of the techniques, but no photographic images of garments or steps.  I liked the drawings as given; your mileage may vary. The table of contents give page numbers for the chapters, but the one thing I would change about this book is adding a topical index, so you can look up "coat sleeve" or "petticoat: whitework" and go directly to the page.

Score: 5 Stars
Difficulty: Absolute beginner & up.  Basic sewing skills are useful, but not strictly necessary.
Accuracy: No original garments are presented, but the variations and techniques are all very accurate as far as I can tell.  Read Janet Arnold if you want details of original garments, this is more a summary of the the period and its aesthetics.
Strongest Impressions: This is a book to reference.  It's not meant to be the end of your research, but the beginning.  Find an original for inspiration, then use the sketches and instructions in here to reproduce the elements you like.  The introductions and instructions in chapters 1-3 are a good basis for making one's first forays into historic clothing--and will put you miles ahead of the non-fitted, ready-mades found at most reenactments.  Should I even become an eccentric millionaire (half-way there!), I would be giving these out like Bibles.

*On further reflection, stockings & garters, shoes, gloves, and millinery are not included as topics.  All trunk garments from the chemise outward are covered, however.**
**Ok, not aprons.  But you should be able to figure one out from the all the techniques given.