Monday, November 30, 2015

Braid Styles of the 1850s (and 1880s): Cable Plaits

Fancy braid variants show up frequently in the elaborate coiffures of the late 1850s.  Having found instructions for some of them in The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine (1856), I'm going to try a few. While style descriptions featuring Grecian Plaits, Basket Plaits, and Cable Plaits/Twist are plentiful in the late '50s, they appear to fall out of favor in the '60s.

These different braids make a comeback twenty years later: Sylvia's Book of the Toilet (1881) has almost identical instructions to those Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine.  [Additionally, there's an amusing denunciation of the frizettes and chignons common in the 1860s.]

But back to the task at hand: a cable plait or "cable twist".
"Take three pretty thick strands of hair of equal size, place one in the centre, take the left hand strand and lift it under the centre one, and over it, and back to its own place; take the right hand strand and lift that under the centre one, and over it, and back to its place; work on thus alternately to the end.  The best way of weaving this is to divide the back hair into two equal portions, and then make two "cables", and, having twisted them round each other, to wind the double cable around the head."
Step 1: Divide hair into three equal sections.
Hair divided into three sections for a 1850s/1880s "cable plait"

Step 2: Take the left hand section under the center strand, and bring it around back to its starting place.
Left strand brought around center strand and back to the left.

Step 3: Take the right hand section under and around the center strand, and back to its starting place.
Right strand brought around center strand and back to the right.

Step 4: Repeat with the left strand, then the right, until the desired length is reached. Tie off the plait.
1850s/1880s cable plait in progress

Here's the same process with multicolored yarn instead of hair, for easier viewing.
Three colored strands of yarn.
Step 1: Three strands; orange on the left, pink in the middle,
 purple on the right.
First strand goes under the center, and around back to its place.
Step 2: Purple strands goes under and around the pink one,
coming back over the pink to it's spot on the right.
Second strand goes under the center, and around back to its place.
Step 2: Orange goes under the pink strand,
then goes back over the pink to its place on the left.
Cable plait in progress with multi-color yarn.
Step 4: Continue alternating between taking the purple strand
around the pink one, and the orange strand around the pink one.
The yarns always end up back where they started:
orange left / pink center / purple right.
Three color cable plait.
For comparison, here's  standard "three plait" braid:

Step 1: Divide hair into three equal sections.
Hair divided into three sections for a basic braid.

Step 2: Take the left hand section over the center strand, making it the new center (the old center strand is now on the left).
Basic braid: left strand moved into the center, then right strand moved into center.
Step 3: Take the right hand section over the center strand, so that it is now in the center.
Step 4: Repeat with the left strand, then the right, until the desired length is reached. Tie off.
Basic "three plait" braid in progress.

And with the yarn.  Note how each strand ends up left, then center, then right, then center, and so on. In the cable plait, however, the initial left strand is always the left-most, the right strand is the rightmost.
Three colors of yarn for basic braid.
Step 1: Start orange/pink/purple as before.
Right-most strand moved to center for basic braid.
Step 2: Take the purple strand over the pink one, and place it between
the orange and pink strands.  Purple is the new center strand.
Left-most strand moved to center.
Step 3: Take the orange strand over the purple.
 Purple is now the left strand, orange is the middle, pink is the right. 
New right-most strand moved into center of basic braid.
Step 4: Take the right strand into the middle, again (this time, it's pink over orange).
Then the left (purple over pink).
Three-plait, simple braid, in three colors of yarn.
The three-plait braid.
The cable plait went almost as fast as the regular three-strand braid, which is fairly impressive, considering that I was doing it for the first time, while I've done normal braids every day for over a decade.  The cable is distinctly "round", as promised; I think the slightly "unbalanced" look will correct itself with better tension (ie, practice and using both hands).  For the minimal amount of effort required, I think it's a worthwhile plait to incorporate into one's repertoire, adding some subtle variety to the hairstyles one already wears.
Comparison of flat and round (cable) braids, three strands each.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: Textiles in America, 1650-1870

Cover of "Textiles in America 1650-1870" by Florence M. Montgomery

Textiles in America by Florence M. Montgomery

I put off writing this one for a while, on account of the scope of this book. It's massive: a veritable encyclopedia of over two centuries worth of fabric.  The book has two distinct sections: first, an overview of furnishings from the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries.  The second portion is a massive glossary of fabric terms, which is decidedly a reference volume, and not meant for reading straight through.

The first portion (about 140 pages) deals with British and American textile furnishings: in general room overviews first, then with specific focus on bed draperies, curtains, and upholstery.  Period images, designs, and surviving examples are used liberally throughout.

The main appeal of this book, in my opinion, is it's 238-page Fabric Dictionary. The fabrics are arranged alphabetically, by their most common name (with cross references for related fabrics, alternate names, and types). So, when you come across an unfamiliar term in your period reading, like Clara Solomon mentioning her "barege dress" in her 1862 diary, Textiles in America will helpfully provide that this is "a dress material of gauze weave with a worsted warp and silk weft." The gauze entry will further clarify that "a thin light, transparent fabric woven in a crossed-warp technique" is meant. While only a few of the entries have pictures adjacent to the descriptions, most include quotations from period sources to help provide dates as well as price, usage or design information. Depending on the information available, one entry may range from a single sentence up to an entire page. Alternative spellings or names are included for many of the fabrics. Entries on textile finishing processes are also included, such fulling and copperplate or woodblock printing. Images within the dictionary are black and white; sixty pages of color plates are included between page 140 and 141.

Textiles in America quotes extensively from original sources over two centuries, including textile references from the period, store ledgers, and letters.  It also does a lovely job of citing its sources in-line and through footnotes.  The final portion is a thirty-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources, some of which are annotated.

Stars: 5
Accuracy: High, and well-cited.  The year range is extensive, so check the dates when looking up a fabric.
Strongest Impression: This probably isn't the first book you want to buy for learning about period textiles for garments.  Additionally, the price and size may be prohibitive to some.  However, it's a wonderful reference for delving deeper into the varieties of historic textiles, and for deciphering unfamiliar fabric terms in period writings.  I can see it being especially desirable for historic household furnishing or textile production enthusiasts.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Teen or Adult Wool Hoods, 1850s/60s

These are the ones that I cut previously; they're for the Fort's lending wardrobe, specifically to keep heads dry during winter events.  As I mentioned before, it's Liz Clark's sunbonnet pattern, done up according to her instructions for a tufted winter hood.

Tufted winter hood from Sewing Academy instructions.
Red Hood

Woman's winter hood (1850s-1860s) from Liz Clark's instructions
Plaid Hood

Hood laid out flat, with tufting.
A Whole Lot of Tying

They're not quite as cute as the original, but I think they'll work fine.  Exteriors are wool remnants from the Ft. Nisqually Sewing Guild's stash, interiors are cotton prints, ditto.  There was no batting on hand, so I made a mosaic of odd-shaped scraps for the interior, hence the close tying. As promised, the pattern is easy to follow and goes together quickly, but the tufting part takes a while: close to three hours per hood, in my experience, with the rest of the cutting and construction clocking in around an hour each. The first one (blue/red girl's hood), with no inner layer, actually went very quickly because I was able to join the facing to the lining, and the lining to the outer layer by machine, turning the seams to the inside and finishing by hand.  For hoods quilted or tufted through all layers, this turning isn't possible, so you'll either need to finish the edges by hand, or have visible machine top-stitching all around.

The plaid hood follows the instructions as given; for diversity I played the with red, turning over the lining to bind the edges and using contrast-lining for both the front and back ties.  I like the effect, except for the the brown lining clashing with the black yarn spots (I didn't think that one through all the way).

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hairdressing: Twisted and Plaited Chignons; Or Basics, Part II

Since the one braid "bun"* is difficult and/or looks unbalanced with short or very thick hair, here are two more simple ways of doing the back chignon.

First, the two-braid version.  Liz Clark suggested this, and it's now my favorite way to do the back hair. It takes a minute or two longer than with one braid, but it's much neater.  As someone with thick hair, I like it because it gives me twice the length of braid to work with, at half the width; this means a bun that doesn't stick out from the head as far, but instead has more visual volume against the head, and a more consistent width of braid.  For shorter hair, it gives a more workable braid length vs. width (just as a short section of a thin rope is easier to tie than a piece of very thick rope the same length.)

1. Part the hair T-style (see Hairdressing Basics ), giving two sections of side hair and one of back.  Divide the back hair into two bunch (right and left).  Braid the back bunches.

Back hair divided in two sections for 1850s/1860s braided bun/chignon.

Two back braids for plaited chignon.

2. Take the top of left-hand back braid and position it in the center-back of the head, right where you want the chignon to be.  Take the right-hand braid and begin to wrap it tightly around the other. Secure with pins as you go.
Wrapping one braid around the base of the other.

3. Finish coiling the right-hand braid and tuck in the ends.  At this point, you should have a small braided bun with a second braid spouting from the center.
Half-way to a braided bun.

4. Take the remaining braid and bring it along the outside of the existing bun.  Wrap it around, securing with pins as needed, and tuck in the loose ends when done. Voila:
Two-braid bun or chignon.

Even though my hair was mis-behaving rather badly, the final result is still fairly neat and tidy.  It's also the single most secure way I've found to get my hair up.

Option two, the twisted and not-braided coil.  This gives a different visual when done neatly (no braids obscuring the line of the coil), and goes quickly, but I find it a little less stable than the braided options.  Lay on plenty of pins.

1. Part the hair into two side sections and one back.  Apply a small amount of pomade to your hands and run it through the back section, smoothing with a brush to spread it around and keep the hair neat.
(I didn't do a good job on this step, and it shows.)

2. Gather the back section in your dominant hand and hold it near the top.  Give it a twist (CW in right hand, CCW in left).  Continue twisting until you have a workable length of twisted hair; for me, this about 6"-8".

Gathering the back hair into a smooth bunch.

Twisting the back hair.

3. Start coiling the twisted hair, using your free hand to add pins every time you get half-way around the circle.  I find it easiest to alternate which hand is twisting the hair as I go around. The direction of the coil should be the same as the twist: you can check this by over-twisting the hair so that it kinks up and doubles over itself.
Winding the hair into a twist (bun).

4. Once all the twisted hair is coiled up, tuck the raw ends underneath the chignon.  Add extra pins to secure the ends and the outer edge of the coil, and wherever the hair feels loose.
Back coil (chignon) for 1850s/1860s hair dressing.

*Browsing the primary sources, the term "bun" does not appear.  Instead, we see reference to "knots" or "twists" for the back hair, as well as "chignons" (which term includes waterfalls) and "coils".  Both braided ("plaited") and twisted chignons are period.

Twisted chignon in Peterson's, 1856
"The back hair, which may be either plaited or twisted,
is fastened in a chignon very low down... "
-Peterson's, 1856

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

1861 Union Rosette

Based on this original from the Minnesota Historical Society:

1861 Union Rosette in the Minnesota Historical Society Civil War Collection
It's box-pleated silk ribbon (possibly with too much fabric stiffener...), with a uniform button at the center; the backing is buckram.  Based on the size of silk ribbon available, mine is about 1.5 times the size of the original (3" across instead of 6 cm).

Reproduction 1861 union cockade: red, white, and blue silk ribbon with uniform button.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Girl's Wool Hood, 1850s/60s

Today's Fort project: cutting out hoods for winter wear.  I even got one finished:

Girl's wool hood, 1850s-1860s, from Sewing Academy "Quick Tufted Hood" project

The pattern is Liz Clark's Quick Tufted Hood (instructions and the sunbonnet pattern it's adapted from).  The first one I made has no batting, just wool with cotton lining and a wool contrast facing, so I skipped the tying step.  It works on this small of a garment, but a larger hood would probably benefit from the added stability tufts or quilting.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Dressing For One's Station, 1859

Detail of nurse and child from James Cameron's "Colonel and Mrs. James A. Whiteside" c. 1858-1859
Servant and charge, from a painting by James Cameron, 1858-9
"The youngsters of the present day, both male and female, seem to think themselves very much on a par with their superiors, and have little notion of giving them that deference which is due to them. And as the present race of servants have first been taken out of the position in which the Lord has placed them, by the super-education which has been given them at the city or village school, so do they mount up in the ever-ascending scale of pride and arrogance by the dress which they assume. The servants of the last generation, who had been properly educated for their after life, dressed themselves according to their station: their gowns were neatly, made without any attempt at fashion or finery; their hair was put simply in bands on their forehead, and the neat cap which they wore, was made to cover the head; they dressed simply according to the station which they occupied, and their mistresses respected them for so doing. 
 But such is the change which has come over them in this our day, that now it never enters into their minds to dress themselves as servants. Their bonnets must be trimmed with lace, their cloaks made with hoods, their dresses with hanging sleeves, most unsuitable and inconvenient for household work, their petticoats trimmed with edging, their bonnets and caps made to come only on the very back of their heads for fear of hiding their hair, which must of course be dressed in the very tip-top of the fashion... They would surely think it strange beyond measure if they were to hear of their mistress going to the Queen's mantua maker, and saying to her--"I wish to have my dress made in every respect like Her Majesty's; and although I cannot afford the same costly materials that the Queen has, yet be sure to let the style of the dress be an exact imitation of hers." Servants would have discernment enough to see the folly of their mistress thus aping the Queen; but they have not discernment enough to see their own folly in thus aping their mistress....A servant with all her fine attire and mimicry of the dress of her mistress, can never succeed in making herself appear like a lady. Her walk, her manners, her mode of speaking prove what her position is; and in spite of all her outside show, she is known to be just Clara B., the servant girl at Mrs H's. Nobody mistakes her for one moment for being one of the family though she aims to be so like them in her style of dress. Then what is the object of it? What is the result? Simply this that she exposes herself to the contempt of all right minded persons who now despise her for the foolish attempt to appear what she is not by dressing above her station and who would greatly respect her did she simply keep the position in which God has placed her by dressing according to it."
--Introduction to Why Do The Servants of the Nineteenth Century Dress As They Do? (1859)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reform Literature

1853 Painting "Abolition Meeting Held at Willis' Rooms in Honor of Harriet Beecher Stowe"
Abolition Meeting Held at Willis' Rooms in Honor of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1853)

Here are a few titles available on-line for American (and some British) radical left-wing causes of the 1840s-60s.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1852)
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South by Angelina Grimke (1836) Also here.
Autobiography of a Female Slave by Martha Griffith Browne (1856)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs (1861)
Annual Report of the American Anti-Slavery Society (1861)
The Constitutional Duty of the Federal Government to Abolish American Slavery (1855)
The Abolition of Slavery by William Lloyd Garrison (1861)
Colonization and Abolition by J. H. B. Latrobe (1852)
The Philosophy of the Abolition Movement by Wendel Philips (1860)
A Dissertation on Slavery; With a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of it, in the State of Virginia (1861)
Slavery: Letters and Speeches by Horace Mann (1855)
The Unconstitutionality of Slavery by Lysander Spooner (1860)
Miscellaneous Writings on Slavery by William Jay (1853)
The Slavery Question by John Lawrence (1854)
The Anti-Slavery Movement: A Lecture by Frederick Douglass (1855)
The Anti-Slavery Alphabet by Hannah and Mary Townsend (1847)
Slavery vs. Abolition (1860) [An opposing view, see also Anti-Abolition Tracts (1863) and Abolition and Secession (1862)]

Women's Rights (Property and Suffrage)
The Responsibilities of Woman by Clarina Nichols (1851)
Woman's Rights Tracts by Wendell Phillips, et al. (1841)
Proceedings of the National Women's Rights Convention (1854)
Proceedings of the Women's Rights Convention Held at West Chester, PA (1852)
A Scriptural View of Women's Rights and Duties (1849)
The Condition, Influence, Rights, and Appeal of Women (1845)
A Treaty on the Legal and Equitable Rights of Married Women by William H. Cord (1861)
A Book For The Times: Lucy Boston; Or Women's Rights and Spritualism (1855) [An opposing view; for more, see Punch]

Dress Reform ("Bloomer", "Reform Dress", "American Costume")
Dress Reform by Ellen Beard Harman (1862)
"Female Dress in 1857" in The Foreign Quarterly Review
Report of the Proceedings of the Third Annual Meeting of the National Dress Reform Association (1858)
"More Testimony for the Bloomer" in Heath: A Home Magazine (1853)
"Dress for the Garden, etc." in The American Agriculturalist (1863)
"The American and French Fashion Contrasted" in The Water-Cure Journal (1851)

Ten Nights in a Barroom and What I Saw There by T. S. Arthur (1855)
Temperance Pamphlets (1841)
The Triumphs of Temperance: A Discourse (1855)
First Words on Temperance: A Lecture by Rev. Robert Maguire (1861)
The Temperance Cause: Past, Present and Future (1865)
Illustrated Temperance Tales by T. S. Arthur (1850)
The Youth's Temperance Lecturer by Dr. Charles Jewett (1861)
The National Temperance Magazine (1850)
Temperance and Total Abstinence by Spencer Thomson (1850)
Temperance: A Sermon by W. P. Tilden (1856)
Tracts: Prize Tracts from the Scottish Temperance League (1850) are all 4 pages long, and easy to print out in pamphlet form (they were also re-printed in 1861).  There's also the Edinburgh (1854) and Ipswich (1865) temperance tracts

Health Fads (Water Cures, Diets)
The Water-Cure Journal (1852, 1853, 1854, 1863)
The Water Cure; Applied to Every Known Disease by J. H. Rausse (1850)
Hydrotherapy, or The Water Cure by Joel Shrew (1851)
The Water Cure Manual by Joel Shew (1852)
"The Science of Diet" in The People's Review (1850)
Vegetable Diet by William Alcott (1859)
"Graham's Lectures on the Science of Human Life" in The Eclectic Journal of Medicine  (185)
The Vegetarian Advocate (1848)
The American Vegetarian & Health Advocate (1850)
The Vegetarian Messenger (1851)
Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Meeting of the American Vegetarian Society (1860)
Principles and Practice of Vegetarian Cookery by John Smith (1860)

Songs and Plays
Seven Night in a Barroom [A Temperance Entertainment] (1863)
Temperance Song Book (1841)
The Temperance Melodeon (1850)
The National Temperance Songster (1853)
Thompson's Band of Hope Melodies (1860)
The Anti-Slavery Harp (1846)
Anti-Slavery Songs (1849)

Monday, November 2, 2015

When to Wear a Jacket (1858)

Over or morning jacket, Godey's, October 1857
Over or Morning Jacket, Godey's, October 1857
Hints on Jackets--When to Wear Them
by Mrs. Damas

Few things that we wear are, in my opinion, more comfortable than a jacket. There are various sorts, morning and evening-jackets, for young and old; but what I would first wish to call attention to is a comfortable jacket, one that can be worn at any time, the first thing in the morning, and the last thing at night. Mothers of families would do well to have such a one. It is a common practice with many to draw on a shawl; and, as this is generally done in a hurry, it rarely covers the chest, and requires one arm to hold it on. The jackets I now speak of are within reach even of the poor. The skirt of an old gown, washed, will make a very good one; and to a poor woman it would be a very charitable gift, not to mention the great comfort of it. There can be no difficulty in deciding which looks best, an old shawl put on in a hurry, or a tidy-looking loose jacket, even if made of an inferior material. For the bedroom or house, a washing material should be chosen. If colored flannel is too expensive, a thin wadding put in between the lining and outside is warm and comfortable. Brown calico is sufficiently good and warm for lining, should that be preferred to wadding; but for invalids, wadding is lighter. These jackets are by no means intended to fit the figure, but merely to sit easy and comfortable. To invalids, they are a great comfort to slip on if they have occasion to go into a cold room, or to wear under a shawl. A girdle or ribbon may be tied round the waist where additional warmth is required. Many ladies, as the winter comes, on give presents of warm petticoats, which are certainly a comfort. But still a substitute is wanted for the woman's thin cotton body at top; and what better substitute could be offered than a warm jacket? For children nothing can be so good as a jacket. It leaves their arms free, which is of great importance to them. Indeed, to obtain this freedom, they frequently throw off a cape or shawl, and thus expose the chest and neck, both of which require to be kept warm. Many persons have only one fire to sit by, in which case, should there be four or six in the room, it is almost impossible for one or two not to feel cold. Let those that do slip on a jacket, and they will then feel as warm as those near the fire. I by no means advocate wrapping up too much; but when occasion requires a little extra warmth, I think that all who know the comfort of it would say that nothing can surpass the jacket.

-Godey's Lady's Book, September 1858  (page 268)