Monday, March 31, 2014

Knit Garters, 1862

I lost my elastic garters again last week; undoubtedly they'll reappear in some unlikely locale next autumn. Meanwhile, I made some simple replacements (cut elastic to fit comfortably around the calf; stitch ends together) and started thinking about upgrading to a more period option.

My usual on-line haunts (MFAMetHistoric New England) showed a number of lovely specimens from the 18th and early 19th centuries, ranging from ribbons to elaborate woven and embroidered bands.

I eventually settled on this design from Godey's (June, 1862).*  I selected it because the loop at one end makes it look easier to tie than the earlier designs, which are, after all, single flat pieces.  I picked my smallest practical needles, size 2**, and some fine 'baby weight'/zephyr/scotch fingering weight wool out of my stash. It's triple ply, and just a little larger (c.200 yd/oz) than the wool I use for Berlin work.

Godey's 1862 directions for a "New Style of Garter".The first part is nice and straightforward: Cast on 6 in the first color (I used pale pink), and knit plain, ie garter stitch, for 45 rows:Loop of garter on two knitting needles.

Next, the end is picked up, forming the loop and putting a total of 12 stitches on the needle.  The second color (white) is added, and one row of twelve stitches is knit.  The next row is all purled; continue knitting one row and purling the next (stockinette) until 6 rows are complete. During this, I wove in the loose ends (from changing the color) because I didn't want to deal with them flapping about:

To get the "ribbed" effect, the next six rows are reversed (purl the first, knit the second, etc.); this continues for 33 such sets of 6 rows each.  Finally, the first color is reintroduced.  Knit plain (garter stitch) one row of 12 stitches; then decrease at the end of each row: 11, 10, 10 (this row not decreased), 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

 The first color is re-introduced for the point of the garter.

When there was only 1 stitch left, I set the knitting aside to make the tassels.  Using a plastic card as the base, I wrapped the pink yarn around the it short-wise twelve times, and then brought a separate piece of yarn under the hank at one end, and tied it with a square knot.  Next, I took one of the long, trailing ends and wrapped it several times around the knot, fastening it with two small half-hitches and letting the tail fall into the tassel:
Tassel knotted at the top.

Then, the card was removed, and the other trailing end knotted around the yarn-cluster, slightly below the first knot.  This strand was subsequently wrapped around the knot, making a the tassel 'head', and finished as was the first wrapped strand.  The bottom loops were then cut and made even:
Uncut tassel.
 Cut and un-cut tassels.

To attach the tassel, I threaded the top 'cord' through the loop of the final knit stitch, knotted the loose ends of the cord and knitting yarn together, trimmed the edges.  Here's the final garter, modeled by a convenient potted plant:
Completed knit garter with loop and tassel.

I was surprised at how stretchy the finished garter is.  I suppose I shouldn't have been.  In addition to the 'stretch' of the knitting itself, the ribs created by the alternating patches of stockinette allow for a lot of expansion, making it a fairly 'one size fits just about everyone' article.  By knitting a sample piece to test the stretch-gauge, it would be very easy to adapt the pattern to very large or very small legs.

*Apparently, every progressive re-enactor of the early 1860s has tried this pattern at some point in time.
**After commencing, I read on the Sewing Academy that size 1 or 0 needles may be more appropriate.  I'll try these next time on a size 1.  I think they work fine on the 2's, but could look slightly daintier on 1's.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Starching Petticoats in a Studio Apartment

Well, not just petticoats.  Sheer sunbonnets, collars, cuffs, white aprons, and undersleeves can all benefit from a judicious application of starch.  Petticoats benefit from the extra 'loft', sunbonnets don't collapse over the face, and white dress trimming look more crisp and neat.  Starched items also repel the dirt.

For collars and cuffs, or sizing silk, I will occasionally break out the spray starch (aerosol bottle found the laundry aisle of your favorite store), but--as it's meant for tidying up modern men's shirts, etc.--the instant stuff just doesn't keep a petticoat in shape.  For these, I use a heftier cornstarch mixture, adapted from the recipes found here.

Unfortunately, living in a small apartment means no private laundry room and no spacious yard with a clotheslines from which to drip-dry petticoats.  What I do have: a stove, bathtub, and clothes hangers.  A clean bucket/basin (I use a plastic garbage can otherwise designed for clean recyclables) also helps with the petticoats.  In a pinch, a clean sink could be used.  If you have roommates, butter them up, or wait until they're gone for a weekend.

First up, dissolve about a quarter of cup of corn starch in 2 cups of water, adding water to a total of 4 cups (this will get 2 plain petticoats and whatever accessories; doubled, using the largest saucepan I have, it'll take care of the my corded petticoat as well).  Place on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it boils.  When the entire thing has the appearance and consistency of pale snot, after about 1 min of boiling, it's ready to use.
Starch and saucepan.
 Starch solution heating on the stove.

Next fill the bucket/basin/garbage can with  4-ish cups of cold water, dump in the starch mixture, and submerge the first petticoat.  Mind the boiling starch mixture is HOT, and take care with your hands; let it cool a bit before using if necessary.  When the first petticoat is thoroughly soaked, wring it out over the basin, and hang over the tub using a clothes hanger.
Petticoat in starch solution.
 Starched petticoat hanging to dry.

Continue with the rest of the petticoats, wringing them out above the basin--else, you'll run out of starch very quickly.  I usually run my sunbonnet full-strength (if there's enough starch left), then dilute it with more water before dipping aprons, collars, etc.

If you don't have a towel bar above the bath, or need space for more petticoats, hang the garments from the shower curtain pole (place towels or dirty clothing along the floor side of the tub to catch drips, or you'll be cleaning starch off the floor).

As they dry, the clothes will go from wet/limp to crunchy and somewhat sticky.  Every couple of hours I'll 'rotate' the hanging petticoat: pulling apart the fabric that's stuck together and hanging it again from a different place on the garment.  The topmost point dries first, so I usually start by hanging it up from the waist band twice (once with the buttons to the side, once with them folded to the center); when the top half is dry, I'll switch to hanging it by the hem, switching the connection points two or three times.
Starched sheer corded sunbonnet drying.

The sunbonnet gets draped over the inverted garbage can, so that it doesn't end up with a crease along the top.  Fans, dehumidifiers, and opening the window may also help dry things quicker, depending on your exact situation.  I try to starch petticoats the day before I'll be ironing them; my bonnet and cuffs/collars need only a few hours to dry, while a corded petticoat in winter may take a couple of days.

When the item is dry, it will be crunchy and stiff.  Petticoats can be worn in such condition, but for neat accessories (and nicer pettis), ironing is required.  Some people sprinkle garments before ironing; I usually just mist with a spray bottle and iron as usual.  Do not try ironing while the item is still damp from starch; it won't set right.  You're better off letting the starch FULLY DRY, and then re-wetting the garment to iron.
Starched petticoat with iron and spray bottle.