Wednesday, December 31, 2014

HFF #15: Sacred and Profane

Last Post of 2014!

The Challenge: Make a food with religious significance, associated with a sacred celebration, or with a thematic name.  [I'm late on this one, which was set to end last Saturday the 27th, because I had trouble finding something suitable.]

The Receipt: A Bishop (Protestant) from How to Mix Drinks: Or, The Bon-Vivant's Companion by Jerry Thomas
183. A Bishop 
4 table spoons of white sugar 
2 tumblers of water 
1 lemon in slices 
1 bottle of claret 
4 table spoons of Santa Cruz or Jamaica [rum]

Year & Region: 1862, American

How Did You Make It: Sliced lemon and stirred in with all other ingredients.  Served over ice.

Time to Complete: 5 minutes

Total Cost: Varies with the quality of the wine and rum.

How Successful Was It: Good.  Tasted like cold, slightly sweet wine.

How Accurate Was It: Substituted a cabernet sauvignon for claret (budgetary reasons).

"A Bishop (Protestant)" from "How to Mix Drinks", 1862

Monday, December 29, 2014

Woven Placemats

Happy 5th Day of Christmas!  My parents have unwrapped their presents, so it's now safe to share my latest weaving project: plaid placemats (an unfortunate camera malfunction prevented the planned 'in-progress' post).

Handwoven plaid placemat.

I haven't tried weaving a plaid before, and this seemed just the project to start on.  The dining room in question is primarily done in blue, with some accents in green, gold and red on the curtains. With that in mind, I opted for a neutral blue and white as my main color scheme, with hints of green and yellow to add visual interest without becoming too loud and/or busy.  They're meant to look nice in the room, without looking ridiculous in the event of a future remodel.

I experimented with a few designs in Plaidmaker, and eventually decided on this one.  In the interest of keeping my selvages neat, I decided to confine the accent colors to the warp (I am still fairly new at this, and know that color changes in the weft are one of my sticking points).  So, this plaid is basically a check with two extra color stripes down the warp columns.  I'm using a tabby (plain) weave, because the yarn I selected already had some visual interest and texture of it's own, and I thought the simple weave would set it off better than a complex one.

Warp: (8 blue 4 yellow 8 blue) (8 white 4 green 8 white), repeated.  No special selvage treatment.
Weft: 20 blue, 20 white, repeated.  Hem-stitch with a short fringe.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Due to camera difficulties, I'll be taking a short hiatus from the blog.  It's hard to discuss projects without pictures. :(

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Dating Fabrics, A Color Guide 1800-1960

Cover of Eileen Jahnke Trestain's "Dating Fabrics, A Color Guide, 1800-1960"

Dating Fabrics, A Color Guide 1800-1960 by Eileen Jahnke Trestain

Dating Fabrics is, as the name states, primarily a fabric guide.  Its more particular focus is on the prints (usually cotton) used in quilting. The 160-year span is divided into 20-30 year sections (each about 30 pages long); for each era, there are general notes on the period, an explanation of the contemporary color and printing technologies, and notes the popular quilt styles.  Most importantly, each section contains several pages of fabric examples.  Each page has 12 samples, in uniform 1.25" squares; within the section, they are arranged by color, and where appropriate by design as well ('shirtings', 'diaper prints and stripes', etc.).

Where Dating Fabrics stands out from other, similar titles like Textile Design or America's Printed Fabrics is in the commentary on print design trends which accompanies each section; it also discusses the fugitive nature of certain dyes, and how the appearance of an antique fabric today may differ from its look when it was new.  Compared to Textile Design, the main difference is in size (Dating Fabrics is half as long, with smaller pages), and in the divide-by-time format (which it shares with America's Printed Fabrics).  Compared to the latter, Dating Fabrics has less discussion of quilts and more fabric examples; both books date the fabrics within a 20+ year time window, which makes their usefulness variable.  As I mentioned before, pinpointing an 1845-style fabric would be difficult with this format; it is, however, easily laid out for estimating an antique quilt's age, or familiarizing oneself with the aesthetic of the era.  

The main change I'd like to see in this book is larger-sized samples for some of the prints.  The small-scale ones work fine as they are, but some of the larger prints are severely truncated, and only a small selection of those the get bigger images.

Stars: 4 Stars
Accuracy: High.  All original fabrics.  Discussion includes information about characteristic fading of fabrics.
Difficulty: N/A
Strongest Impression: Although apparently intended for quilt-dating, this book is also an excellent resource for the reenactor looking for information on period-appropriate prints for reproduction quilts and clothing.  It gives a better over-view of period textile printing and dying technology than other books I've encountered.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Review: The Civil War Diary Quilt

Cover image: The Civil War Diary Quilt by Rosemay Youngs

The Civil War Diary Quilt by Rosemary Youngs follows a similar idea to Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler; both books explore women's history of the American Civil War period through quilting.  In both cases, stories from the time are paired with modern quilt blocks which the reader can sew, ultimately making a quilt.

The Civil War Diary Quilt contains 121 quilt squares, each of which is presented opposite an original diary entry from one of ten women.  Each diary author has a one-page biography and a page of pictures at the start of her section. Also included is an applique doll label/block (with a non-diary story, the subject being a 3-year-old), 9 different quilt project using various blocks, and a short gallery showing the full 11 x 11 quilt made up four different ways.

The strength of this book lies in its pretty patchwork designs.  The diary entries are all primary sources, so the history is spot on.  Compared to Brackman's book, you do get more quotations from each woman featured, which I think helps their voices come through more clearly.

On the flip side, the designs are all modern, so this book doesn't function well as a source for historic quilting information.  The limited commentary on the individual diary entries also puts it into a sort of awkward middle ground: if I'm looking for a period diary for my own reading, I'd opt for a 'whole' published diary, rather than a dozen selected entries.  On the other hand, if I was trying to introduce someone to primary sources without intimidating them, I'd probably try one of Brackman's titles, as they incorporate the diary excerpts into a straightforward narrative.

The block instructions here are a bit terse; there are instructions at the beginning for copying out each block and sewing it together, but the individual blocks are presented on their own, diagram only, without specific instructions for cutting and piecing.  Seam allowances need to be added. For a knowledgeable quilter, this does get the information across succinctly, without wasting time and space repeating what one already knows (and leave more space for blocks).  The beginning quilter could possibly make use of this book, but would likely benefit from something with more explicit explanations.

Stars: 3 Stars
Accuracy: Period diary entries are fully cited; quilt blocks are modern.
Difficulty: Intermediate.  Instructions are clear, but concise (a little sparse for the beginner).
Strongest Impression: Many lovely designs, but unfortunately  little of the quilting material is useful for historic recreation.  The diary entries are interesting, of course.  It fills the same niche as Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler, but I prefer Ms. Brackman's instructions and templates.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nineteenth Century Schoolbooks Online

Painting: The School Exam (1862) by Albert Anker
The School Exam (1862) by Albert Anker

Collating free period primary sources.  This time, it's school and text-books.  Fair warning: there's a ton more out there.  I'm primarily focusing on American (then English) works.

Swinton's Primer and First Reader (1883)
The First Reader (Minnesota Series, 1889)
The Normal Course in Reading: First Reader (1892), Second Reader(Alternate) Third, Fourth
The First Reader of the School and Family Series (1861), Second ReaderThirdFourthFifth
Second Lessons in Reading and Grammar (1831) and Third Lessons

Cobb's Spelling Book (1842)
The Spelling Book Superceded (1860, 66th ed.)
Spelling and Language Book (1887)
The Student's Spelling-book (1853, 11th ed.)
First Lessons in Composition (1868)

Theory of Spencerian Penmanship (1874)
The Science of Practical Penmanship (1850)
A Text-book on Penmanship (1862)

First Lessons in Arithmetic (1848)
Another First Lessons in Arithmetic (1853)
Arithmetic: Being a Sequel to First Lessons in Arithmetic (1824--note, this is not the same author or sequence as the two above)
Second Lessons in Arithmetic (1888)
The Standard Arithmetical Copy Book (parts 7 and 8 of 9) (1803?)
Euclid Arranged for Examinations or The Geometry Copy Book (1860)
A Text-book of Deductive Logic (1886)
Marks' First Lessons in Geometry: Objectively Presented (1869)

The First Book in French (1855)
First Lessons in French (1898)
First Lessons in German (1898)
Ollendorff's New Method of Learning to Read, Write, and Speak The German Language (1859)
First Lessons in Latin (1874)
A Series of First Lessons in Greek (1876)

First Lessons in Ancient History for Young People (1869)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of English History (1873)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of Bible History (1875)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of Greek History (1876)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of German History (1878)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of Roman History (1881)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of American History (1883)
Outlines of Medieval and Modern History: A Textbook for High Schools (1894)
The Student's Textbook of English and General History (1858)
Textbook of English History from the Earliest Times for Colleges and Schools (1898)
A Textbook of Indian History (1894, not this is India, not Amer-Indian history)

First Lessons in Human Physiology (1846)
Maxwell's General Geography (1869)
First Lessons in Geography (1878)
First Lessons in Geology (1881)
First Lessons in Zoology (1892)

Pedagogy and General School Information
School-Houses (1873) page 16, "Fig. 4. A Dilapidated School-House" says it all, really.
The Village School Improved (1815)
The Teacher's Hand-book (1874)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: Textile Designs

Cover image: "Textile Designs" by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers.

Textile Designs: Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns Organized by Motif, Style, Color, Layout, and Period by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers

This is the encyclopedia of fabric prints.  Hug it and keep it close.


What you see on the cover is basically what you get: 450 pages of fabric patterns, ranging from the late eighteenth to twentieth centuries.  The patterns are divided into four general groups (floral, geometric, conversational, and ethnic) which are in turn subdivided by more specific types, each of which has a single or double page of examples.  The commentary is minimal--no more than a paragraph per type--with the bulk of the space given over to the images.  Dates, country of origin, any re-scaling information, and a fabric description*  are included for each sample.  To accommodate the scale of the patterns, differing sample sizes are used: the smallest repeats might get a single 1" x 1" square (allowing, for instance, 36 examples of diaper prints alongside the commentary), while the largest have an entire page (8" x 10.5" image size).

*Many of the examples are from industry pattern drawings (a "gouache") and are noted as such.  Those taken from surviving textiles are be labelled with the fiber content ("cotton", "silk", "linen" "wool challis", etc.), and some of them have notes on the printing technique used (block, copperplate, or roller printed).

The examples' arrangement by design element rather than by year makes it easy to look up a particular motif if you want to evaluate a  fabric for reproduction use, or to see how a style changed over time.  I've also heard of people testing their 'period eyes' by flipping to a page and trying to pick out which examples fit the desired time period (the information is given in small margin notes, so it's easy to look at a sample without automatically seeing the date).  You will have to do some searching if you just want to browse designs from a particular year.  My copy is full of color-coded sticky notes to facilitate that.  

Stars: 5 Stars
Accuracy: High--it's a compilation of primary sources.
Difficulty: N/A  Potentially overwhelming in magnitude, but a good reference.
Strongest Impression: A very complete reference book.  The trickiest bit is figuring out which types to check when investigating a particular design, but the alphabetical table of contents helps with that.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: Civil War Women

Cover Image: Civil War Women by Barbara Brackman

Civil War Women by Barbara Brackman stands out from her other selections in that it's explicitly aimed at reenactors.  As with Civil War Sampler and Facts & Fabrications, Civil War Women uses the device of quilts to explore women's lives during the Civil War.  Where this book differs is in the depth of each story and the historical provenance of the designs.

In another departure, instead of pairing each story to a block, these chapters each feature an entire quilt project (so you can't do one of each and end up with a sampler at the end).  Additionally, a sample reenacting activity is included with each chapter--so after you've read up on Confederate spies such as Lizzie Powell and Belle Edmondson, you can devise an impression smuggling goods and information.  The accompanying quilt to this chapter, of course, is a secessionist design inspired by the Confederate flag--one corner of which makes the cover illustration for this book.

With only nine chapters to cover, more room is allowed to each story and project; instead of half a page of history, you're getting four to six pages, and consequently more fun detail and period quotations (and images).  The projects are all based on originals, and come with the usual templates and instructions. Between the history and the patterns, there are a large number of beautiful original images included.

The activities suggestions are also a welcome addition.  We civilians are often overlooked in mainstream reenactment planning, so ideas of accurate activities in which to engage while attending existing events is helpful.  The proposals require varying levels of preparation, participation, and sanction--from sewing a tobacco pouch for your sweetheart to running a charity bazaar.  Considering the book's focus, it is not surprising that 5/9ths of them involve sewing in some capacity, but there are also ideas for speech-making, writing and more.  [Break From Review: For additional ideas on civilian reenactment activities, see Liz Clark's "Value-Added Events"]

Stars: 5 Stars
Accuracy: High. Researched, cited, & full of period illustrations.  All the quilts in this book are period appropriate (but mind which side you're meant to represent).
Difficulty: Varies from simple ("Kansas Troubles", "Free State Album") to complex ("Rocky Mountain"/"Crown of Thorns").  An advanced beginner could certainly make some (but not all) of the designs, but an absolute quilting novice would likely struggle.
Strongest Impression: A well-researched and well-cited book.  This would be a great introduction to reenacting for the quilter, and a valuable resource to the reenactor who's looking to incorporate quilting into her impression.  As with Civil War Sampler and Facts and Fabrications, the seamless inclusion of original images and quotations makes this book a good introduction to those intimidated by primary sources.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Facts & Fabrications

Cover of Barbara Brackman's "Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts and Slavery"
Barbara Brackman's Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery.

Facts & Fabrications is very similar in design and aim to Civil War Sampler; both books use evocatively-named quilt blocks to introduce historic persons and events. The stories are a bit longer in this book (having only 20 blocks to cover instead of 50), with all the primary sources and beautiful quilt pictures one expects from Ms. Brackman's books.  Instead of focusing on women's stories, this book focuses on the experiences of slaves--as the thematic element is quilting, many of persons featured or quoted are women with a connection to the 'peculiar institution': slaves, escaped slaves, freed slaves, plantation owners, abolitionists, and so forth.  As in Civil War Sampler, the blocks featured are not necessarily appropriate to the 1860s and so should not be used for reenactments (though there is a pretty picture of an original Jacob's Ladder quilt dated to the period).

The first two chapters set up the historical context for quilts associated with slavery; the author offers a basic explanation of historic documentation (to the end that 'underground railroad signal quilts' make for good stories, but do not have supporting primary sources), and gives information from period diaries and memoirs about of slaves making quilts.  The included "Poetic License" to make your own quilts as meaningful and symbolic as you like--without assuming Victorian quilters necessarily used the same symbols--is a cute addition.

The projects start in Chapter 3, with a sampler several different setting options which use the featured blocks.  Chapter 4, which accounts for over 2/3 of the book, actually gives the twenty different blocks with their stories.  For each, there are 1-3 pages of history, a page of block construction information, and (where appropriate) a page of templates.  Some of the blocks have additional projects associated with them, such as a fun pieced/applique combination built around 5 "Jacob's Ladder" blocks, or an interesting combination top which alternates "North Star" and "Catch Me If You Can" blocks for beautiful visual effect.  Each block is also rated for difficulty--beginning, moderate or skilled--to help the reader to select projects suitable to their level of experience and comfort.  The beginning blocks exclusively feature squares and rectangles joined with straight seams; the skilled blocks have trickier requirements such as Y-seams.

Chapter 5 offers activities and advice for teaching children through quilts, including sample discussion questions and a child's project based on the "Underground Railroad" block.

Where Facts & Fabrications really stands out from Ms. Brackman's other books is the quantity of example projects and the educational focus.  You get to see several different quilts made up with the given blocks.  The final chapter offers some good advice and project ideas for working with children using quilts as a teaching tool.  It could be a valuable resource for teachers, camp directors, or scout leaders looking to introduce children to history through quilting.  

Stars: 4 Stars
Accuracy: Well-documented stories; most blocks are post-Civil War and not suitable for reenacting.
Difficulty: Easy and Up.  It is mentioned several times that this is a history book rather than a technique book, so additional titles are recommended for the novice quilter looking for extra help.
Strongest Impression: As with Civil War Sampler, this is a fun project book which teaches history through quilting and offers fun projects for history-minded quilters.  The blocks themselves are not all appropriate for reenacting purposes, but the stories offer good starting points for one's own research and the projects are beautiful.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Table Runner

Red, green and white table runner in Finnish Birdseye pattern.

Finnish birdseye pattern woven on a handloom.
Table runner, 14" x 41".  Woven on a four-harness, jack-style table loom.  Warp 5/2 perl cotton (red and green); weft 5/2 perl cotton (white).  Pattern: Bird's Eye.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: America's Printed Fabrics

Cover image: Barbara Brackman's "America's Printed Fabrics".

Next up: America's Printed Fabrics, 1770-1890 by Barbara Brackman.

This book is divided into four broad chronological sections: 1770-1820, 1820-1840, 1840-1865, and 1865-1890.  Each section starts out with a short (2-3 page) history lesson--primarily focused on textile production and decoration--and illustrated with the expected period illustrations, photographs and textile samples.  Next up, there's brief (half to one page) descriptions of popular motif or style categories; each of these has two pages of fabric examples accompanying--one of original textiles and one of reproductions.  A page on a popular quilt design/layout from the era follows (medallions, stripes, etc), and then one to three reproduction quilting projects, with the appropriate templates and step-by-step instructions.

The main strength of this books are its beautiful pictures and accessibility.  I like that the sample textiles are given in large pieces: the smallest images are about 1 1/4" x 3" (unfortunately, this means you get as few as four examples for the larger chintz and toile prints, but closer to a dozen on the smaller designs).  The inclusion of reproduction prints opposite the originals makes for an interesting presentation.  The arrangement of technology-->examples-->project makes it easy to immerse oneself in the visual aesthetic of the period and to plan for a reproduction or historically-inspired quilt.

The limitations of the book, in my opinion, largely relate to the wide date ranges.  As someone whose activities fall mostly into a single section (1840-1865), I'm left wanting for some nuance--what makes a quilt, or even a given print, say "1860" versus "1840".  I suppose this is rather a specific concern; a reproduction quilt for 1860, after all, might include fabrics 'stylish' ten or twenty years before, but a dress for 1860 needs to avoid blatantly 1850- or 1840-style fabric.  Likewise, a quilt for 1840 needs to avoid the obviously later fabric.  That being said, it's more a difference of priority than a fault in the book.

Of all of Ms. Brackman's books, I think this one is coming up as my second favorite.  Between it and Quilts From the Civil War, you should be in a very strong position to make accurate reproductions of 19th century quilts.

Stars: 4.5-5
Accuracy: Lots of period images, both of fabrics and whole quilts.  The projects are taken from reproduction quilts of each era, which usually cite a specific original quilt as inspiration.
Difficulty: Beginner and up.  A short tutorial at the end explains basic quilt techniques, but you may get more out of this book if you already have some familiarity with quilting.
Strongest Impression: A nice reference for nineteenth century fabrics, though not the most specific one.  Gives a lot of good information for getting started in reproduction or historically-inspired quilting. Would also be enjoyable for a quilter looking for 'old' new ideas to add to his or her repertoire.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Book Review: Patterns of Progress

Cover image: Barbara Brackman's Patterns of Progress

Continuing my December blog-every-day-challenge with another book review: Barbara Brackman's Patterns of Progress: Quilts in the Machine Age (1997).

This volume is rather different from Ms. Brackman's other books--it's the only one I've seen which doesn't have project instructions and templates included.  Instead, it's arranged in two parts: a 20-page history of the sewing machine and its use in quilting, followed by a 100-page gallery of beautiful quilts.  As per usual, original images (paper quilt patterns, sewing machine trade cards, period photographs) are used throughout for context.  A bibliography is also included.

The gallery shows 50 quilts, arranged chronologically, with a fit-to-page color image of each and a short description facing.  Most of the quilts are from the twentieth century, including some beautiful art quilts from the 1980s and 1990s, several of which evoke earlier designs.  The earliest examples (and only completely hand-sewn ones)  date from the second quarter of the nineteenth century, one in patchwork and the other applique.  Several late nineteenth century and early twentieth century quilts are also included, showing changes in design and technique--notably, the transition to machine quilting.

While Ms. Brackman's other books feel directed at reenactors-who-quilt or quilters-who-like-history, this book instead presents a short history of machine quilting, which accounts for its format and tonal shift. It's an interesting read, but not the best volume to reference for planning your re-enactment sewing. However, if you want a book of beautiful quilt images, this is it.

Score: 3 Stars as a re-enactor reference, 4 Stars as a an introduction to quilting history.
Accuracy: Lots of citations and original images, but over a wide range of time
Level: N/A
Strongest Impression:  Good, succinct over-view of quilting trends during the advent of the home sewing machine and the first century of machine quilting.  Lots of pretty quilt pictures; most are twentieth century.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Review: Encyclopedia of Applique

Cover image: Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique

Next up: Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique (2000, 2009).

This is a two-part book: the 45-page first chapter offers a history of applique and five different applique projects (with templates).  The usual pictures, etc., are included with the history, though this time the projects are grouped together at the end and not mingled throughout it. The remainder of the book is a 130-page index of applique patterns, arranged methodically according to design elements. Each design is designated with its appropriate century, and, where possible, its year.  The author notes that the designs run from 1835-1992 (most are pre-1960s).  Definitely read the "How to Use The Index" advice on pages 48-49.

As someone with minimal applique experience, there very little I can say about this book on that level.  What I can say is that I liked the straightforward presentation of the history section (another good overview for people quilting at reenactments), and that I now really want to get my hands on her encyclopedia of patchwork designs.  Also, I am awed by her organizational skills in categorizing the applique patterns--how does one even start on such an immense topic?  However she got started, the system seems to work.  It's also precisely the sort of easy-to-use, logically-arranged format that I like in my reference books.

Stars: 5 Stars (I don't do much applique, but now I really want to)
Accuracy: Beautifully specific.  Sources are cited in the history section. As always, look carefully at the date information if using for historic re-creations.
Difficulty: Intermediate and up (It's hard to say).
Strongest Impressions: I recommend this book to anyone who likes doing historic applique.  It's a comprehensive reference.  The patterns are grouped very broadly (mainly 19th v. 20th century), so care should be taken in selecting designs for historic reproductions.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Book Review: Civil War Sampler

Cover of Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler.

Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler by (of course) Barbara Brackman (2012).

All the usual strengths apply: good, cited research; pretty pictures; hands-on activities; easily read history lessons.  This book is a bit different, in that it's arranged into 50 short (two-page*) sections. Each consists of two pictures of the completed block (done by different persons, in different color schemes), a half-page story including pictures and quotations from original 1860s sources, and instructions for cutting out and making up the square.  These mini-sections are grouped together based on difficulty and general design features (4-patch, 9-patch, applique), with the simple blocks at the beginning and the trickier ones towards the end.  The blocks primarily relate to their stories through their names (eg, "Lincoln's Platform" is paired to a first-hand account of Abraham Lincoln's first inauguration), though many of these names date to the 1920s and 30s.

The one thing I find frustrating about this book is the lack of documentation attached to the blocks themselves.  A few are explicitly noted as being pre-war, or coming into popularity in the 1860s; "Courthouse Square", for instance, is given as being from the 1840s, but was 'named' in 1935.  I understand that quilt patterns aren't the easiest thing to date definitively, but this book would be utterly perfect it each pattern had a "documented as early as X year" or even just a tick box labelled "appropriate for pre-1865 reproductions". The author does mention in her introduction that few of the blocks are from the period itself.

That being said, this book does give you a lot of pretty blocks to work with, and once you've found your documentation for using one in a re-enacting quilt, this book will show you how to make it up. Cutting instructions are given for 8" and 12" square blocks.

In many ways, I think the real strength in this book comes from the friendly, un-intimidating way in which it presents stories from history with extracts from primary sources.  I think it's a great tool for exposing research-shy reenactors to original references, as well as showing a broad array of different stories which are all part of the larger one--these are stories from schoolgirls, nurses, spies, housewives, aid society volunteers, slaves, authors, actresses, rebels, unionists, refugees, and first ladies.  This is a great introduction to the diversity of people and events which make up American History 1861-1865.

Stars: 4 Stars
Accuracy: The stories are all well-documented, but most of the blocks should be researched further before being included in a reproduction quilt.
Difficulty: Easy and Up
Strongest Impression: An approachable primer on Civil War history (particularly women's history), which also features fun quilt blocks to make.  While I am not comfortable using it as a sole reference for historic quilting circa 1860 (too many of the blocks don't have definitive dates attached), this book would be a great introduction for someone interested in civilian/women's history 1860-1865.  In particular, the use of primary sources (quotations and images) is seamlessly worked in, making it a good introduction for those who are intimidated by primary sources and research.  This will be the second book added to my proselytizing efforts.

*Ok, there seem to be 4 single-page blocks.  Maybe 6 if I missed a pair.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Review: Quilts from the Civil War

Cover Image: Barbara Brackman's Quilts from the Civil War.

Book Review: Quilts from the Civil War by Barbara Brackman, who apparently also blogs on this platform. (Warning: lots of pretty pictures, very dangerous).

This is probably my favorite of Ms. Brackman's books.  It has all her usual strengths (original images, good research, user-friendly presentation, hands-on projects), and in my opinion has the greatest sheer amount of information about period quilts.  It also has a lot of fun history, such that an alternate title could be "A Women's History of the Civil War, With an Emphasis on Quilts".

This book is arranged thematically into 8 chapters (with 9 projects included), which span the war. Arranged chronologically, these run from pre-war abolitionist fundraising quilts to post-war commemorative ones, and include quilts associated with all walks of life and diverse occurrences: aid society quilts, patriotic quilts, quilts hidden from occupying armies, quilts associated with the Underground Railroad, etc.  The last topic is covered more fully elsewhere, but the chapter here does give a good factual background on the topic, which will be very useful for handling all the visitors who see you quilting at an event and want to come tell you about coding secret messages to help escaped slaves.

But I digress.

In addition to the history lessons and eye-candy, Quilts from the Civil War also gives a lot of useful information on getting started with historically accurate quilting.  The projects themselves give different patchwork and applique patterns (with step-by-step instructions and templates), and the book's appendices include advice on selecting the right batting, quilting in an appropriate design, binding in a period manner, and inking blocks.  For the latter, nearly two full pages of period sketches and verse are included.

Stars: 5 Stars
Level: All.
Accuracy: High.  Be sure to check whether a given image is labelled "original", "copy", "adaptation", etc. when citing.
Strongest Impression: Probably the best over-all book for solid research on quilts c. 1860.  Highly recommended for someone who wants to get started in historic quilting with a thorough, yet approachable research base.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

HFF #14: Fear Factor

The Challenge: Make a food that scares you.  I'm stepping out of my comfort zone to prepare a meat dish.  It's also one of those lovely 'no quantities or baking times given' receipts.

The Recipe: Chicken Puffs from Godey's (1867); puff paste once again from Practical American Cookery (1860); white sauce from The Treasury of French Cookery (1866)

Date/Year & Region: 1867, American (components American and British-French)

How Did You Make It: Prepared puff paste as before.  White sauce--browned 4 oz butter with 2 Tbsp flour on the stove, added 2/3 c. water, removed from heat just before boiling, added pinch of salt, dash of pepper, and juice of 1/2 lemon.
Chicken filling-- Minced chicken breast, 1 large shallot, rind of 1/2 lemon, and about 1-1 1/2 Tbsp fresh parsley.  Added 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp each ground black pepper, ground mace, ground cayenne pepper.  Poured white sauce over and stirred it all together.

Cut squares of puff paste, placed on the paste 1 spoonful of the chicken mixture, folded edges up to form a 'puff', pricked with a fork and baked 20 min at 350F.

Time to Complete: 20-ish minutes to prepare, 20 minutes baking time per pan.

Total Cost: Estimated $9.00 for butter, chicken, shallots, lemon.  Staples and trace spices to hand.

How Successful Was It: The opposite of bland.  Possibly a little strong on the lemon, but it's nice and spicy (ok, maybe use a hair less cayenne as well).  The pastry is light and flaky.  Will not be winning any beauty pageants, but worth feeding to guests.

How Accurate Was It: I subbed in a little wheat flour with the all-purpose, and used margarine for half the butter (ran out of the good stuff); more importantly I omitted the ham (didn't have any or any way to use up the inevitable excess) and half an anchovie (because NO seafood goes into my kitchen).  The shape was entirely on my own initiative.

White sauce and chopped vegetables.
White sauce and flavorings

Chicken puff filling.

Chicken puffs, from an 1867 Godey's recipe.
Chicken Puffs

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Book Review: Period Costumes for Stage and Screen, 1800-1909

Book Review Time!

Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1800-1909 by Jean Hunnisett (1991, 2013)

Cover for "Period Costumes for Stage and Screen" by Jean Hunnisett.

This is an interesting costuming reference.  It covers a rather large span of well-documented time including great changes of silhouette and dress construction.  It's one thing to write a single book covering a century or more of medieval costumes, for which there are few surviving garments, no photographs, and only a limited sense of portraiture in extent illustration.  It's another thing entirely to address a century of fashion for which we have copious quantities of original garments from all ages and stations; fashion magazines with illustrations of each month's trendy designs; sewing instructions; photographs; eye-witness descriptions; and cartoon satire of fashionable caprices.

Which is to say, this book has a lot of ground to cover in a field with a great deal of nuanced information available. And it does a good a job of getting through it.

What this book is not, however, is a guide for historic re-creation.

By means of explanation, Period Costumes for Stage and Screen really means the "for stage and screen" part.  And I highly recommend it for anyone attempting to costume a period piece, especially for those who don't do a lot of historic costuming and/or need to get started without an extensive research phase.  Ms. Hunnisett does the research, and gives you accurate shapes on which to base your costumes, with multiple variations for visual diversity among the cast and numerous tips and tricks for getting unfamiliar pieces to look right.  Each section (and there are seven, plus a techniques portion) covers ten to twenty-five years of history, and includes an overview of the period's aesthetics, appropriate undergarments, and various bodice, sleeve (and where appropriate skirt) variations for each.  Patterns taken from original garments include a year or year-range for further specificity.  There are even examples of costume studies from contemporary plays and recommendations for fitting actors who aren't used to historic garments.

I repeat: if you are a theatrical costumer, get this book and keep it close at all times.

If you're an historical seamstress, however, you'll likely have a more mixed experience.

In it's favor, all the garment designs in this volume are taken from extent garments, with the year given (in the 1500-1800 volume many of the designs are based on surviving portraits).  That being said, this is really a breadth book and so you'll find very limited descriptive information on each garment--a few sentences in overview, not a whole page of technical data on each.  The illustrations are line drawings (of originals), with cutting diagrams on a grid, and the occasional fashion plate. Additional research would be needful for making an outfit for a specific year and occasion, but the pattern shapes given should be helpful for figuring out and adapting other original designs.

You will need some drafting/draping and a great deal of fitting experience (or be willing to learn) to use this book effectively.  These aren't graded patterns--they're diagrams.  A photographic tutorial of fitting bodices is included, for those ambitious individuals attempting to teach themselves draping. The sewing/construction technique section primarily consists of modern costuming methods, which may differ from period construction methods, but does cover useful concepts like cartridge pleating. I award full points for explaining that zippers really change the look of things and shouldn't be used.

Score: 4 stars
Accuracy: Very accurate patterns (being taken from originals), but does not teach period sewing techniques.  Good advice for getting the general look of the periods and costuming period pieces, but seamstresses looking to recreate historic garments will want to consult additional sources for their specific projects.
Difficulty: Advanced.  You get the general shapes to work with, but need to know how to fit, draft and sew.
Strongest Impressions: It's not The Dressmakers' Guide, but Period Costumes for Stage and Screen will get you started in a variety of fashion eras, and offers good period shapes for use in drafting your own patterns for the (extended) nineteenth century.

Monday, December 1, 2014

HFF #13: Foreign Foods

The Challenge: Make a foreign food.

The Recipe: Krumkake

Date/Year & Region: Norwegian-American, uncertain date*

How Did You Make It:  (Full recipe given; I halved it) Mix 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 tsp salt.  Add cream and mix to the right consistency (thick batter); in my experience this is 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cream.  Stir in 1 tsp vanilla.  Whip the left-over cream with some sugar.

Warm the krumkake iron on the stove, at medium heat.  Place 1 spoonful of batter on the iron, cook about 1 min per side (decreases to 30 secs towards the end of the batch); I like them just starting to brown, still pliable enough to roll, but cooked enough to dry crisply.  (The underdone ones tend to stay soft and droop, the overdone ones get brittle almost too quickly to shape).  Remove the krumkake from the iron and roll around the cone-shape.  Let it dry while the next one cooks.

Serve with whipped cream.

Time to Complete: A bit under an hour for the half-batch: the krumkakes are cooked individually, and the half-batch made 14, less the 'sacrificial' first one (the first one always ends up either under-cooked or burnt).

Total Cost: Price of a pint of cream ($4-ish), if baking staples are to hand.

How Successful Was It: Delicious.  This recipe calls for fewer ingredients than the modern recipe we usually make (as it's considered richer and gives very clear amounts), for instance using butter, eggs, and cream instead of just the cream.  I do appreciate that the fat-content of the cream keeps the iron well-seasoned (no need to use cooking spray between every third krumkake in order to keep them from sticking).

How Accurate Was It: Made in the usual fashion?  Afraid I don't have much to base this on.

*Note on the date: this is a family recipe, attributed to a great-grandmother born c. 1905, and written down by her children in the third quarter of the twentieth century; the dates I have for family immigration from Norway are from the late nineteenth century.
Krumkake iron on stove.
My Krumkake Iron

Krumkake next to iron.
Yummy Krumkake!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

HFF #12: If they had it...

The Challenge: Make a food that is older than you expected.

The Recipe: To Make a Fondue (From Mrs. Beeton's)

Date/Year & Region: 1861, British

How Did You Make It:  (Made half-scale) Weigh 1 egg for reference(2 oz); measure out 2 oz of butter, 2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese.  Separate two eggs, beat the whites to a light froth and set aside. Beat egg yokes with grated cheese and chopped butter.  Salt and pepper added to taste (guessed). Fold in egg whites.  Bake 15 min at 350 F.  Serve immediately.

Time to Complete: 20 min

Total Cost: $1.92 for a half-size (cost of eggs, butter, cheese)

How Successful Was It: Yummy; like a very light and cheese-y omelette.  Next time, I would cut the butter a bit finer before mixing, or possibly reduce the amount (there were some little pockets of melted butter which hadn't incorporated.

How Accurate Was It: Directions followed to a nicety.  As noted, I did make this batch half-sized, and opted to bake it in a glass bowl (the receipt called for a souffle pan or cake tin).  The definition of "fondue" has evidently changed a bit in the last 150 years.

Fondue from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

HFF #11: Foods Named After People

Going the easy route with Mrs. Beeton's Victoria Sandwiches (ie, Victoria Sponge/ Victoria Cake, not that either of those terms is showing up on Google books up to 1890).

The Challenge: Make a food that is named after someone.

The Recipe: Victoria Sandwiches

Date/Year & Region: 1861, British

How Did You Make It:  Weighed 4 eggs (10 oz including shells for 4 AA large eggs).  Beat the eggs.  Creamed 10 oz. of butter.  Added 10 oz. each of sugar and flour to the butter and incorporated thoroughly.  Mixed in eggs and continued mixing the entire thing for about 10 minutes, making a fluffy sort of batter.  Baked at 350F for about 30 minutes (called for 20 on a moderate oven, could have probably used a few more minutes).  Sliced cake in half, spread with blackberry preserves, and replaced upper portion; cut into slices (sandwiches).

Time to Complete: About 20 minutes prep, 30-35 to bake, and another 5 to arrange.

Total Cost: Uncertain.  About $4.

How Successful Was It: Tastes alright. Plain and somewhat dense for a cake (as expected, given the ingredients), but nice.  I could see this making a lovely strawberry shortcake.  The density made the cutting step neater and less crumbly than I expected it to be.  The preserves did squish around when sliced, so I'd be tempted to slice the piece next time before halving and adding the filling.

How Accurate Was It: Pretty good.  Lacking a 'yorkshire pudding' tin (which has apparently changed shape in the last 150 years), I opted for a square glass cake pan.  Based on how long it was taking to cook through, I would next time try it with a casserole dish or sheet cake pan, making a thinner cake.  I also realized half-way through that "pounded sugar" probably meant powdered rather than granulated, but it turned out alright.

Victoria sponge cake sandwiches, 1861 recipe.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Experiential History: Moving in Long Skirts and Dropped-Shoulder Dresses

Crinolines (1863) by Eugene-Louis Boudin
Crinolines (1863) by Eugene-Louis Boudin

This is branch off of my corset musings; typing up the list, I realized that most of my reduced/changed movements involved not my corset, but rather limited limb mobility.

Long skirts are the big thing.  Except for one formal outfit, I don't think I've ever worn an ankle- or floor-length gown for modern attire.  In my living history wardrobe, the shortest work dress is barely above the ankle (the dress reform outfit is still in the planning stage).  Take a long step and you wind up standing on your hem. Climb the stairs too quickly--same thing.  Haven't had the chance to climb a ladder yet, but...  

What to do?  Use one hand to slightly raise the front of your skirt when ascending steps (lift 'up', don't push the fabric towards you); take small steps; 'kick' the hem past your foot as you walk; slow down so you have time to notice if you tread on your hem; look up as you go (bending forward lowers the front of your skirt). Walking around puddles or into the chicken coop, I find that gathering my skirt fabric to the sides with my hands (and raising the excess above the ankle) keeps it from sweeping into the muck.  Haven't tried a skirt lifter, but that might be a good project for the winter.  Raising your dress skirt and letting the petticoats take the damage is an acceptable and document-able period option.

One thing about bouncing between 1855 and 1861-5 is the difference between billowing skirts supported by hoop-steel, and billowing skirts supported by other skirts.  With hoops, you need to allow them to collapse and compress when sitting down or moving through a narrow space--and take into account that displacement.  You can sit gracefully on a bench, stool, side chair, or sofa in hoops provided you take enough time to left your skirts settle.  Sitting in an armchair doesn't work so well--those hoops need to spread out and for want of space will stick up awkwardly.  Similarly, you can just walk through the narrow doorway or between the row of dancers--provided there's space before and behind for your hoops.

Sans hoop, petticoats can collapse inward--allowing you to sit in the armchair.  They don't stand out quite as far as a hoop (at least not with the number I'm using--having tried no more than 4 at a time), so your area of effect can be much tighter.  I've still managed to knock over chairs by turning too quickly, but I have to be closer to them for that to happen.

In either case, long skirts get much more manageable with practice.  At this point, I'm so used to the petticoats that I only really think about them when dealing with novel situations--walking is second nature, climbing stairs nearly so.  I haven't done as much dancing, though, so there's some care necessary to avoid tripping myself.  Switch back to the hoop, and suddenly I'm re-learning otherwise intuitive movement, like gauging space around strangers, or remembering not bend over to pick up an object when standing at the top of a staircase.

The dropped shoulder seams of mid-century clothing also poses some challenges, but these I find don't become easier with practice.  The seams lay below the shoulder, sometimes as far as the upper bicep, and are fit fairly snug.  On my ballgown bodice, this prevents me from raising my arms past shoulder height (tricky when dancing with tall gents).  My work dresses have slightly higher/looser armscythes, but still don't allow the full range of movement that loose modern clothing does.  Opening the windows in Ft. Nisqually's period kitchen is almost impossible for me--I'm short, and the hooks are at my maximum modern reach.  So, what to do?

In matters of reaching, I can find something to stand on, or ask a taller person to assist.  In dancing, I can adjust my frame and trust my partner to compensate.  I can style my hair before putting on my dress (it's possible to do so later, though not always so easy).  Very little is actually impossible, though I've come to appreciate that servants may be a necessary convenience--other people can do the reaching for you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Experiential History: Living in a Corset

When I started reenacting/doing living history, I was looking for a reason to dress up.  Over time that rationale has morphed into dressing up as a way to teach others about history (creating 'the look' of a time), and--as I've lately come to realize--to teach myself more about how people lived and performed various activities.

Exhibit A: Wearing a Corset.
Corset from Der Bazar, February 1865

When I started living history, I expected to be somewhat hampered by the clothing: that I'd need to learn a different way of moving, and that some activities would be difficult or even impossible.  As it turns out, very little is impossible (no back bends), and the operative d-word is actually 'different'.   

Even among living historians corsets have a reputation as uncomfortable, problematic, or even downright dangerous.  They've been out of mainstream wear for a good 3 generations, leaving a nebulous mythology of Scarlet O'Hara's tight-lacing, professional invalids, professionals of another sort, and 'fainting couches'.* I've seen visitors (who had just commented on the group's good posture) visibly flinch when it's mentioned that the ladies present are, in fact, wearing corsets.  Others have assumed that I'm not wearing one because I'm doing 'X' activity, or that women of the period didn't do 'X' because of corsets, or that corsets of the period must be different from the one I'm wearing because I can do 'X' while wearing it.  (For the record, the following list is largely based off my experience wearing 1850s/1860s corsets--either gored or shaped-seam styles--which are somewhat shorter in the torso and less heavily boned than some other time periods).

Activities I have done while wearing a corset:
  1. Dance (ballroom, contra, swing...)
  2. Cook over a fire or on a stove
  3. Split kindling with an ax
  4. Start a fire
  5. Sing
  6. Pick apples
  7. Scale a low fence
  8. Jog/run (not recommended)
  9. Wait at table
  10. Move furniture
  11. Shoot arrows (also tried throwing a tomahawk once, but I'm apparently very bad at it)
  12. Nap
  13. Eat
  14. Dig potatoes
  15. Play games (rolling hoop is a bit tricky, see #8)
  16. Strike tents
  17. Act in a theatrical
  18. Drive a car
  19. Style hair (own or others)
  20. Help others to dress
  21. Ride the bus
  22. Jump over puddles
  23. Tie my shoes**
Things that I can't do in a corset:
  1. Slouch
  2. Overeat
  3. Some Yoga poses
'No slouching' is the really noticeable bit, in my opinion.  It can be bit weird and somewhat tiring to sit up straight all the time--and it makes modern car and movie theater seats really annoying, as leaning backward isn't comfortable--but the corset also provides ample back support.  I can and have sat down to elaborate dinners in period dress, and enjoyed many of the delicacies offered, but learned that you need to take small portions if you want to try everything.  You can even do a number of yoga poses while wearing a corset--just not all of the ones involving lots of torso flexibility (though I can still touch my toes).  

In all cases, the different ways of moving become more intuitive with practice.  You can't bend much at the waist, so you bend at the knees when tying your shoes or lifting an object. You walk briskly rather than running because it's easy to get out of breath (though, even with snug laces I can sing or do moderate exercise without trouble). Stretching to pluck an apple is no problem--from the corset at least, dropped armscythes are another issue.  Straight-back period chairs are actually really comfortable when your only option to sit up straight. 

The other thing that gets easier with practice is actually wearing the thing.  When I was dressing 5+ days a week this summer, I found myself getting dressed a bit faster each time.  The 'comfortable snugness' also changed with practice: I adjust my laces based on feel rather than measurement, and by the end of July most of my dresses were getting loose at the waist because my comfortably laced corset was tighter than it had been in June.

For a while there, not wearing a corset actually started feeling really strange; I remember taking a walk one day and just feeling really weird about my posture and carriage, only to realize that it was the just second time in ten days that I'd been in modern attire. It was certainly a different perspective: not so much 'liberated' as 'awkward and somewhat exposed'. A feeling shared, I imagine, by those dress-reformers who went without stays (not all of them did) in the 1850s, by some of the women adopting the early regency/directoire fashions of the late 1790s, and by many young women after WWI.

The only time I've found a corset really uncomfortable is when I've laced it too tightly (not worth, won't repeat), or when a bone works it's way loose and started poking me in the hip or shoulder.  Bits of metal hurt.  The plastic's better in that respect--my first two corsets had plastic boning--but in all other ways, 1/4" spring steel really is more comfortable.  It gives better support than featherlight or zip ties, and is much less bulky than the latter.

One thing that's stayed true over time: however comfortable a corset is to wear, however good the support (think your favorite bra times about a million), taking it off always feels really nice.

*The true purpose of a chaise lounge is, of course, posing dramatically.  For maximum effect, clutch at your pearl necklace with one hand, while dramatically holding the other up to your forehead. Employ smelling salts as desired.

**Nonetheless, I prefer to take care of my shoes and hair first when getting dressed in period attire, particularly the shoes

Monday, October 6, 2014

HFF #10: Let Them Eat Cake

The Challenge: Make a cake.

The Recipe: Lemon Cake with Almond Icing from Mrs. Beeton's.

Date/Year & Region: 1861, British

How Did You Make It:  Separated 10 eggs; beat the whites, then added orange-flower water, 1.5 cups granulated sugar, minced lemon rind, and mixed well.  Stirred the juice of 1 lemon into the 10 egg yokes and added to the preceding mixture.  Slowly stirred in 3 cups of flour.  Baked in an oiled bundt pan for 55-60 minutes at 350F.

For the icing, whipped 4 egg whites (used pasteurized egg whites since this is to be served uncooked), added 4 cups powdered sugar, about 1 tsp almond extract and 1 tsp rosewater.  Poured over cake (letting it set made the icing runny), and garnished with fresh lemon wedges (Friday) or strips of candied peel (Saturday).

Time to Complete: About 90 minutes.

Total Cost: Uncertain.  Probably on the order of $6.

How Successful Was It: It seemed well received.  The cake came out a bit dark, having been cooked in an aluminum pan--the closest one I had to a period cake tin.  It was also a little bit dense, which I'm attributing to the lack of chemical leavening.  The lemon, almond and rosewater flavors were very interesting together, and I think I would use this recipe again.  However, I would not make the icing early as it became very viscous.

How Accurate Was It: Fairly.  I already mentioned the "make do" pan; again, I used converted volume measures instead of weights.  In the icing, pasteurized egg whites were an intentional decision, as was using almond extract instead of grinding up almonds in rosewater--which I considered, but dismissed because I had a lot of other things which needed to be done (this being part of my first big dinner).  Using an electric mixer was also a compromise, but I'm not quite mad enough to voluntarily beat than many egg whites by hand.

Separated eggs, egg whites beaten until fluffy.
So many eggs...
Batter for Victorian lemon cake in pan.
The yellow color is actually from the eggs, not the lemon...
Baked cake.
All baked!
Plated cake.
The other side is a little darker.
Lemon cake with almond (glaze) icing and lemon wedges.
Garnished with lemon wedges on Friday night.
Lemon cake with almond glaze and candied peel.
Saturday's cake has candied lemon peel on top.

HFF Challenge #9: The Frugal Housewife

The Challenge: Frugal cooking.  Unfortunately, the dinner party I cooked over the weekend didn't quite fit the bill (budgeting was a factor, but I didn't have historical documentation); instead, it's time to play with leftovers.

The Recipe: Fried Squash from Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book

Date/Year & Region: 1846, American (used the 5th edition, 1871)

How Did You Make It: Took a few pieces of boiled squash leftover from dinner, and fried in a small amount of butter.  Salt added to taste

Time to Complete: Less than 10 minutes.

Total Cost: N/A. Used leftovers only.

How Successful Was It: Tasted like squash.  It's hard to go wrong with butter and salt.

How Accurate Was It: Followed the instructions as given.

Squash in cast iron frying pan.