Thursday, November 23, 2017

Book Review: How to Read a Dress

How to Read a Dress by Lydia Edwards

This book is basically an illustrated timeline of western dress, with an emphasis on the "dress".  It doesn't really delve into material culture theory or methodology (like The Dress Detective) or the specifics of a particular era, or go into lots of detail.  Instead, it's a succinct visual overview of changing silhouettes and styles.  The book is arranged chronologically, not divided by region, and focuses only on women's dresses--accessories are only incidentally addressed, while men's and children's fashions are not covered. The commentary is decidedly subordinate to the pictures: while not being left to "speak for themselves", the commentary accompanies the pictures, rather than the pictures illustrating the discussion.

The book is divided into 11 chapters, based on silhouette: the shortest covers a mere 11 years (1918-1929), the longest, almost a century (1610-1699). Each starts with a few pages discussing the popular materials, stylistic trends, and the particular foundation garments in use during that time, liberally illustrated with a mix of portraits, advertisements, fashion plates, and photographs of surviving garments.  After the introduction comes 4-12 original garments with commentary.  These pages follow the cover design: each dress takes up about 3/4 of a page, with 6-12 comments of 1-3 sentences each, and a short (2-3 sentence) description above. Most examples have a second, inset picture related to the main one--a detail shot, a contemporary accessory, or an old photograph of the dress being worn.  Once or twice, a second, full-page image is also included.

I think the strength of this book lies in the many examples--69 featured dresses and extras included in the introductions--and in its neat, chronological organization.  Between the examples and the glossary, I think this books is a valuable tool for developing the vocabulary to discuss different fashion eras. I'm also impressed at how much information does end up being included in the single-page allotted to each garment, though I wouldn't mind if the page sizes (and pictures) were larger.  Most dresses only have a single picture, but I think the varied use of side-on, front-on, and 3/4-front views allow each dress to be shown to its best advantage.  I do wish, however, that the rare two-image dresses used different views*.  I think the comments do a good job of pointing out each dress's unique attributes and suggesting topics for further study, without derailing the overall flow of the work. 

If you're focusing on a narrow time frame or eager for lots of detail, this probably isn't the book you want. It's worth a chance if you're interested in long-term dress trends, moderate amounts of detail, and/or historic eye candy.

*To be fair, one of the dresses does have a front and back view.

Stars: 4 stars.

Accuracy: High. The pictures are all original dresses--with some original portraits to round out the earlier years--and most of the commentary is annotated.  Occasionally, there's a remark or generalization that I would liked to have found a note for, but that's pretty rare.

Strongest Impression: This book is pretty, interesting, and has a lot going for it.  I think it does a good job of balancing the level of detail with the scope of the topic, and successfully delivers a thorough, tidy look at four centuries of western dress(es). 

Bonus: The cover dress!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Mood Board: Indian Influence on English Style, 19th Century

[Class Project!] 
The following are visual references related to the VAM's Style Guide: Influence of India.

Kashmir and Paisley

When discussing Indian influence on English dress, the Kashmir shawl is an obvious starting point.  These handwoven shawls, with their dazzling colors and vivid patterns, were in demand in Europe and North America over most of the nineteenth century; they spawned derivative industries in France and Scotland, where mechanical jacquard looms and modern fabric printing technology made cheaper shawls available to a wide variety of people.  Even the term "paisley", used to denote the shawls and their pine cone or leaf-like boteh/bota motif, comes from the Scottish manufacturing town of Paisley. This "paisley" pattern found its way onto dress goods, and even embroidery designs. The popularity of the motifs and style outlasted that of the shawl as a garment, with some early- and mid-century cashmere shawls cut and sewn into fashionable mantles and gowns at the end of the century.

Other Indian styles and decorative elements, while noteworthy, did not have the same wide impact on English dress as the Kashmir shawl.  The banyan--worn for gentlemen's undress, like the powdering gown and smoking jacket--in an unusual example of a style of Indian garment being adopted, rather than the decorative motifs being appropriated and applied to English dress.  As an example of the opposite, the final piece is an English-style evening gown which had been trimmed with a particularly Indian style of embroidery, incorporating thousands of iridescent eyltra beetle-wings. 


Kashmir Shawl, c.1855
Victoria and Albert Museum

Kashmir Scarf, 1867
Victoria and Albert Museum

Shawl design, goache, c. 1850, English
Victoria and Albert Museum

Paisley Shawl, Scottish, 1865-1870
Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Paisley Shawl, Scottish, c.1865-1875
The Metropolitan Museum

Paisley Dress Fabric

Paisley Print Wool Challis Dress, c.1842-3.
Manchester Art Gallery

Wool Paisley Print Dress, c.1846-9.
Fashion History Museum, Cambridge.

Dress of paisley print, c.1850
From the Metropolitan Museum

Fabric detail.

Dressing Gown, English, 1866.
Kyoto Costume Institute.

Fabric detail.  And those buttons!

Dressing Gown, c.1875
The Metropolitan Museum

Beyond Dresses

Paisley Print Cotton Coat, c. 1830-1840
Manchester Art Gallery

Paisley Vest, c.1860-69
The Metropolitan Museum
Petticoat with broderie anglaise boteh pattern, c.1855-1865
The Metropolitan Museum.

Dolman with embroidered botehs, c.1883-1890.
The Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Recycled Shawls

Dolman, c.1875
The Metropolitan Museum

Cloak, c.1880-1890, made from an 1860s shawl.
Manchester Art Gallery.

Tea gown, c.1891, made from a cashmere shawl.
The Metropolitan Museum


Banyan, c.1880
Los Angeles County Museum


Evening Gown, c.1850, possibly from India.
Kyoto Costume Institute.
Detail of the elytra beetle-wing embroidery.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Quilted Petticoat, Part 3: Finished

Continued from here, there, and everywhere.

Victorian, Pre-Civil War Quilted Petticoat
Reproduction Quilted Petticoat, c. 1835-1860.

And voila!

My finished petticoat is slightly shorter than the original (35" versus 36.5"), because I have short legs; it is 87" at the hem circumference.  The quilted panels are knife-pleated into the waistband, with the batting cut away from the top edge seam allowances and the raw edges encased in the waistband.  It ties closed at the waist; note that these are ties attached to the fixed waistband, not drawstrings.

This petticoat is entirely hand-sewn; the quilting took about 40 hours in total, with another 5-6 hours in the hemming, seaming, and pleating.

Overall, I'm happy with how the petticoat turned out.  It's wide enough at the hem to allow easy movement, but stiff enough to keep away from my limbs (just like my corded petticoat).  It's also deliciously warm.  If I were making this again, I would cut back the batting even further from waistband, as the bulk at the hip makes it hang a little weird--stiff and jutting out directly from the top then hanging down straight, rather than flaring out as it goes.  I wonder if the top row of quilting on the original marks the upper boundary of the batting.  I was gratitifed to note, in reviewing the description from Sturbridge, that the placket is knife-edged on one side and has the lining folded over on the other--I ended up doing this to deal with the felling of the lining, and now feel vindicated in how that portion went together.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Neck Bow

Two inch silk satin ribbon, constructed bow, with my little coral brooch at the center. I like how substantial the double bow is compared with single loops.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Quilted Petticoat, Part 2: Seams

After quilting the panels this summer, I finally started assembling the petticoat. First, I seamed up the panels.  This was slightly complicated by the multiple layers--I made the placket by folding in both fabric layers and top-stitching through them; the rest of the seam was made by sewing the print and batting right-sides-together, then folding the lining over the seam and stitching it down. 

Once the seam was done, I added a facing along the bottom of the petticoat.  This is just like the facing I put on my skirts, except that I let the facing go over the bottom edge, as with the inspiration petticoat from Old Sturbridge Village.

Reproduction mid-19th century quilted petticoat.
Quilted petticoat, hemmed and seamed.

Hem facing and diamond-quilting on reproduction Victorian petticoat.
Interior of petticoat with facing over the quilted lining.

Hand-sewn placket on reproduction quilted petticoat.

Now, to finished the upper edge and gather it all on a waistband.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Warm Undersleeves, 1855: Part 1

It's now November, and a bit past due to pick up last winter's knitting project.

Warm Undersleeve illustration, from Godey's, November 1855
"Warm Undersleeve", Godey's, November 1855

From the November 1855 issue of Godey's (page 456):
       Materials  One ounce of white single Berlin wool; quarter of an ounce of blue wool; pins, No. 14.
      Cast on 60 stitches, and knit in brioche stitch till the length required, about half a yard, is completed; cast off; join up the sides with a rug needle and wool, and knit the frills as follows:
      Cast on 90 stitches with white wool, and knit 3 rows before commencing the pattern.
      1st row Slip1, knit 1, a pearl 1; knit 2 together three times; repeat from a, finishing with knit 2.
      2d. Slip1, knit 1, a pearl 1, knit 12; repeat from a.
      3d. Like 2d row.
      4th. Slip 1, pearl 1, a knit 1, pearl 12; repeat from a.
     Repeat rows 1-4 5 times (total of 3 rows plain and twenty rows pattern) in white, and then once (4 rows) in colored wool.
     These four rows form the pattern, which must be repeated five times with white, then once with blue, and cast off loosely. Two frills are required for each sleeve: the upper is placed about an inch and a half above the under, which is sewed by the edge of the sleeve.

So, the first step is a rectangle in brioche stitch, 60 sts (really 90) wide and about 18" long. Brioche stitch is "yarn-over, slip, knit two together." This Brioche tutorial on youtube helped me get it going.

Brioche stitch, 1855 knit undersleeve from Godey's.
Sleeve in progress.

I used size two needles and fingering weight white wool; there's an old SA thread where Colleen Formby sad that berlin wool is about a fingering weight, and her article on period knitting indicates that the "size fourteen" needles of the period compare to a modern size 2 or 3, depending on which period standard is being used. [I've since acquired a set of Virginia Mescher's knitting reference cards, which agree on the fingering weight wool, but suggests that size 14 needles are closer to a modern size 0.]  Nonetheless, I'm satisfied with how with the weight/feel of the piece so far.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review: The Dress Detective

The Dress Detective by Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim.

The Dress Detective, as subtitled, is "a practical guide to object-based research in fashion".  After a short introduction to material culture research applied to garments (with descriptions of six important researchers in the field, including the great Janet Arnold), the book goes on to explain a method for investigating garment artifacts. The bulk of the work is a series of case studies which walk through this process with seven original garments from the 19th through 21st century.  The appendix has a series of worksheets to prompt one's own research.

The method consists of three phases: observation, reflection and interpretation.  The first is very straightforward: the reader is are prompted to consider what material a study garment is made of, how it has been constructed, if it is labelled, how it has been worn or altered, and what information is already known about the garment.  The reflection portion deals with the reader/researcher's personal responses to the garment, as well as prompting one to consider the context in which it was made and used.  The interpretation section is highly individualized, as it is about relating the content of the first two phases to the unique research question being addressed.

I think this book offers an interesting way of organizing observations/research into original garments.  Someone with extensive experience analyzing garments may enjoy this book, but is unlikely to find it new and informative.  On the other hand, I think it that it will be very useful to people who are just starting to look at original garments or who want help organizing their thoughts and approach.  The case studies include lovely detail shots of the garments being investigated.  While they do an excellent job of illustrating concepts, the the content is too diffuse for this book to stand out as a visual resource.

Stars: 4.5

Difficulty: Amateur costume researchers and beginning material culture students are most likely to benefit from this book.

Accuracy: Highest. Original garments, and guidance for primary source research.

Strongest Impression: It's a nicely thorough material culture research guide. The pictures are deliciously detailed, but the more useful for suggesting details to look for that in providing them.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Cream Pie

Receipt #251, Cream Pie, from The Improved Housewife (Boston, 20th ed. 1855).

Cream Pie with nutmeg and raisins, from an 1855 recipe.
Cream pie: fresh out of the oven, and slightly out of focus.

Another off-season treat for the sewing party. I improvised (ie, didn't measure) a puff-paste for the crust, then made up the filling with 5 eggs, 2 cups of cream, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup of raisins, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp mace, and about 1/3-1/2 of a nutmeg (freshly grated).  The flavor and sweetness worked well at these proportions, and the amount of filling very neatly filled the pie pan (it threatened to slosh, but did not). I cooked it for about 50 minutes at 350F; the pie was still a bit wobbly at that point, but solidified nicely at it cooled.

The raisins, about which I was skeptical, actually added a nice flavor/texture to the pie..  I found the texture somewhat unappealing (not soggy, but sufficiently reminiscent for my taste buds to rebel), but everyone else in the party loved it. I will definitely by making this receipt again for events.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Chocolate Cream

I revisited Mrs. Beeton's chocolate cream receipt a few weeks back (it previously appeared at the CLT dinner in 2014).  It makes up very quickly--basically just the time needed to melt the chocolate and incorporate it into the cream/eggs, I usually improvise a double-boiler with a saucepan of hot water and a metal mixing bowl, and substitute 1 packet of gelatin for the 1/2 oz of isinglass.

Chocolate Cream, 1861 receipt from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management
The guests got to it before I could take a picture.
The remainder didn't last much longer.

The chocolate cream is quite rich, and (despite the gelatin) has a texture closer to a frozen custard than a jelly or aspic.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Knit-Along, Week "2"

Somewhat belatedly.
Nineteenth century pence jug knit along, two weeks in.
Two steps down, three to go!

The stringing took a couple months longer than it should have.

Friday, October 6, 2017


Reproduction newspapers and magazine, Puget Sound, October 1855.
The news of the day, October 5, 1855.

Open page of reproduction issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, August 1855.
I hand-bound the Harper's in nine pamphlets of 16 pages each
(four pieces of paper, printed two pages to a side),
with the cover glued at the spine.

I'm rather proud of these, though there's still improvements to be made.  October 5, 1855 editions of the Pioneer and Democrat (Olympia), and Puget Sound Courier (Steilacoom). The former explicitly announces the arrival of the August issue of Harper's Magazine, via express from San Francisco, so I decided to give the Tolmies a copy as well.  Still working on cleaning up a Godey's, so it won't be appearing at Candlelight tonight.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Antique Coin Purse

Here's a cute piece from my collection; I haven't positively dated it yet, but it has some stylistic similarities to 1860s pieces.  The main attribute which attracted my interest was the push button clasp--rather than the slide-past style which, I understand, showed up in the 1870s/80s and has since become ubiquitous.  The purse is quite small, about 2" across, and fully beaded, though the looped bead edge/fringe is coming off.  There are large stitches joining the material to the frame on the inside; the frame also has a divider, with no fabric attached to it.


Interior, with frame for divider,
and view of clasp apparatus.

Compare with this illustration from Der Bazar:

Beaded round purse with metal frame, from Der Bazar 1861.
Der Bazar, 23 September 1861
Or this crochet purse from Peterson's:
Crocheted round purse with metal frame, from Peterson's 1861.
Peterson's, April 1861
Or this original 1860s beaded purse in The Met:
1860s silk purse with beads, from The Met.
Silk and bead purse, American,
1860s. No dimensions given.
The Met also has two cute French purses of a similar style, both fully-beaded, and one labelled as "2 3/4 inches".

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Book Review: Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

Cover of "Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques" by Jill Salen

The closest comparison I can make is that Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques resembles a more focused sequel to Nora Wraugh's classic Corsets and Crinolines, or a corsets-only companion to Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion books.  It surpasses these both in the number of specimens and the quality of its color photographs.  When I finally doubled back to read the introduction, I discovered that supplementing these specific texts was the reason for the book's existence--so, I'd say the author succeeded in her mission.

But dealing with only one type of garment, Corsets is able to investigate each example thoroughly: four pages a piece for 25* different corsets or stays, dated from c.1750 to 1917. For each garment, there is a color photograph, a half-page written description, a line drawing showing front and back views (the color images often being limited to half the corset), and half-scale diagrams of the garments' component pieces on a grid.  For each of the two corset projects (adult "jumps" c. 1790, and a girl's corset c. 1900), there are also two pages of instructions for constructing the garment. There are also ten pages of techniques, offering a brief introduction to stitches, lacing, and specific techniques such as inserting a busk or flossing around the bones.  Suggested books and supply resources are also listed.

The number of examples per time period varies: the largest groups are six corsets dated 1780-1800, and nine from 1890-1910.  In contrast, only three corsets are included for 1830-1880, and none for 1800-1830.  While my particular costuming interests would benefit for more examples from these years, I suspect their low inclusion had more to do with the number and quality of surviving originals than intentional omission.**

I think that the main strengths of this book are its close attention to detail, and beautiful photography.  I feel that it would be a useful resource for someone attempting to date original garments, or for an accomplished sewist who wants to use authentic historic shapes.  The lack of grading and brevity of the instructions will make it challenging for someone without corset-making experience to reproduce the garments therein.

Stars: 5

Accuracy: High. All original garments.

Difficulty: Advanced.  These are diagrams of original garments, not patterns, so making a corset to wear will involve grading/fitting, and well as knowledge of construction methods.

Overall Impression: Plenty of historic corsets to admire/ogle, and the drafts show not only how a given garment is made, but taken together also show the evolution of supportive garments. Very pretty, and useful for research and/or building your own corsets, though examples are more plentiful for some eras.

*Twenty-one of the corsets are adult sized, two are for children, and two are for dolls.  The doll corsets are graphed at full size.

**Approximately 1795-1820 being that "one time when corsets weren't popular, and underwent some weird changes", and approximately 1850-1870 being "that time we started using metal instead of whalebone/cord and weren't necessarily good at it yet."  At least, that's one plausible explanation I've heard for the relative scarcity of 1860s corsets compared to the 1840s or 1880s.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Thick Gingerbread (1861)

Revisiting a perennial favorite from Mrs. Beeton (and, if I recall correctly, the first period receipt I ever tried to follow). 

Thick Gingerbread recipe, from Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861
1760. Thick Gingerbread from The Book of Household Management (1861)
Also here, with better search functionality, but fewer illustrations.

Rarely having treacle on hand, I've often substituted molasses, to good effect, with slight variations of color/flavor.  One iteration of this receipt will fit an 8 x 12 baking pan, or generously fill a loaf pan-- carefully check that the center is baked when using a loaf pan; the sides may be well done by time the center is cooked.

Pan of thick gingerbread, from Mrs Beeton's, 1861.
Thick gingerbread.

For reference, 1.5 lbs of all-purpose flour is about 5 cups, and 1 lb of molasses or treacle is about 1.3 cups; 1/4 pound brown sugar is between a generous half cup (packed) and 7/8 cups (loose).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Quilting Bee

Elizabeth and Elisabeth had a quilting bee--or two--over the summer, so I did some reading about period practices. Here is my belated attempt to synthesize that reading into a coherent summary.

The short version:
  1. A "quilting bee", "quilting party", or just "a quilting" is a favorite topic for reminiscences and historical fiction in the 1840s-1850s. They are considered to be old-fashioned and nearly extinct; after 1860, these mentions dwindle.
  2. The quilt should be pieced and placed on the frame before guests arrive. With enough workers, it will be done in a single afternoon.
  3. The order of events is: quilting, a meal (tea/supper), dancing or parlor games, optional snack. The first part is for women; men are added at either step 2, 3, or 4.
  4. Common times to have a quilting are on winter evenings in New England, or when a young lady is about to be married.  Quiltings are not limited to these circumstances, however.

A Quilting Party (1876) by Enoch Wood Perry

From the dictionaries:
BEE, a collection of people who unite their labor for the benefit of an individual or family, as a quilting bee.
--The English Language In Its Elements and Forms (1850)
The term 'Bee' although now almost obsolete, was but a few years since the fashionable title given, in the backwoods of America, to tea or scandal parties.
--Hogg's Instructor vol. VIII (1852) 
BEE. An assemblage of people, generally neighbors, to unite their labors for the benefit of one individual or family. The quilting-bees in the interior of New England and New York are attended by young women who assemble around the frame of a bed-quilt, and in one afternoon accomplish more than one person could in weeks. Refreshments and beaux help to render the meeting agreeable. Husking-bees, for husking corn, are held in barns which are made the occasion of much frolicking. In new countries, when a settler arrives, the neighboring farmers unite with their teams, cut the timber and build him a log-house in a single day; these are termed raising-bees. Apple-bees are occasions when the neighbors assemble to gather apples, or to cut them up for drying.
--The Dictionary of Americanisms (1848)

The second edition (1859) adds an additional entry to the above:
Quilting-Bee or Quilting-Frolic. An assemblage of women who unite their labor to make a bed-quilt. They meet by invitation, seat themselves around the frame upon which the quilt is placed, and in a few hours complete it. Tea follows, and the evening is sometimes closed with dancing or other amusements.
As many of these explanations indicated, the quilting bee is outdated by the 1850s. From a century and a half onward, it is an interesting experience to read so many authors lamenting the dissipated entertainments of their present day and reminiscing about the innocent amusements of their youth.
"The Spinning Wheel", an opinion piece that appeared in The Ladies' Wreath in 1852 asserts that: "We were as busy as bees to be sure, but then we were as blithe as a lark, and as merry as a cricket all the day long. We never even heard of the thousand ailments common now among young folks, and as to recreation, why we had more heart gaiety and frolic at a quilting bee, a sleigh-ride, or a paring match, than one of your fashionable belles enjoys in a whole year." These writers are quite explicit that the quilting bee is rarely found by the mid-century; a story in The Lady's Album (1846) exclaims: "Reader--were you ever at a Quilting Party--an old fashioned quilting party? If not--you will do well to read our description, which, of course, must fall far short of the reality--and this reality, as the thing is now nearly obsolete, you may never have the satisfaction of witnessing."  Eleven years later, another short story refers to quilting parties as  "quite old-fashioned", and goes on to relate a story from fifty years past, in which a quilting figures prominently.

Another interesting note is how often the non-fiction references to quilting bees are explanations aimed at urban readers, especially Europeans.  The overall impression is that quilting bees/parties are largely a phenomenon of rural communities in early-19th-century America/Canada. Consider:
There are "quilting bees." where the thick quilts, so necessary in Canada, are fabricated... At the quilting, apple, and shelling bees there are numbers of the fair sex and games dancing and merrymaking are invariably kept up till the morning."
--The Englishwoman in American (1856)
The women have their bees as well as the men such as sewing been or quilting bees. A quilt is thus completed in a day that would otherwise be unfinished for months. The beverage of every meal, even of dinner, is tea; and how much better it is than whiskey or beer I need not say. I have heard in deed, that naughty things are said of the absent over the teacup; and I fear that sewing and quilting bees are not altogether innocent, but I am sure that a little female tea cup scandal is infinitely less than the evils of beer drinking and whiskey drinking. It may be necessary for me to hint that a ladies bee includes of course something nicer in the dietetic department than an out-door bee.
--Canada: Its Geography, Scenary, Produce, etc. (1860) 
Among the home productions of Canada the counterpane or quilt holds a conspicuous place not so much in regard to its actual usefulness as to the species of frolic 'yclept a Quilting-bee in which young gentlemen take their places with the Queen-bees, whose labours they aid by threading the needles while cheering their spirits by talking nonsense. The quilts are generally made of patchwork and the quilting with down or wool is done in a frame. Some of the gentlemen are not mere drones on these occasions but make very good assistants under the superintendence of the Queen-bees. The quilting bee usually concludes with a regular evening party The young people have a dance. The old ones look on. After supper, the youthful visitors sing or guess charades.
--Twenty Seven Years in Canada (1853)
The quilting described by 1850s writers mostly look like this:
industrious amusements from a simpler time (ie, the writer's youth).
[The Quilting Frolic (1813) by John Ludwig Krimmel]

A few stories allude to specific quilting parties in preparation for a wedding, but the majority do not. Excepting one story in which fifteen "misses" aged 14-20 gather to quilt for a friend's wedding, most of the descriptions explicitly describe both single and married women holding and attending quilting parties.  That being said, the after-dinner amusements and flirtations are especially directed for the former.  The need for gentlemen to escort ladies to and from the quilting also lends itself to flirtation and gossip.

"Coverlids [sic] generally consisted of quilts, made of pieces of waste calico, elaborately sewed together in octagons, and quilted in rectangles, giving the whole a gay and rich appearance. This process of quilting generally brought together the women of the neighborhood, married and single and a great time they had of it--what with tea talk and stitching. In the evening, the beaux were admitted so that a quilting was a real festival not unfrequently getting young people into entanglements which matrimony alone could unravel."
--Recollections of a Lifetime (1856)
The quilting generally began at an early hour in the afternoon, and ended at dark with a great supper and general jubilee, at which that ignorant and incapable sex which could not quilt was allowed to appear and put in claims for consideration of another nature.      --"The Minister's Wooing", The Atlantic Monthly (1859)
Some of the quilting parties corresponded with a wood-chopping party for the men.  Their separate work concluded with the daylight, both groups then meet up for dinner, which is followed by parlor games or dancing, with copious flirtation in either case. While the quilting portion was largely the domain of women (and the odd helpful brother), men are often invited for the concluding festivities, even when not preceded by a working party of their own.

Not all quilting bees produced a completed quilt. "My Economy Quilt" in The Lady's Repository (1860) deliberately emphasizes things not going as intended, and has the namesake quilt only half-done after an afternoon's work, thereby requiring another week of the maker's time to complete. Putting the quilt on the frame before the party started was one way to help ensure that a quilt was finished by the end of the day:
Here we found a collection of women busily occupied in preparing the quilt, which you may be sure was a curiosity to me. They had stretched the lining on a frame and were now laying fleecy cotton on it with much care; and I understood from several aside remarks which were not intended for the ear of our hostess, that a due regard for etiquette required that this laying of the cotton should have been performed before the arrival of the company, in order to give them a better chance for finishing the quilt before tea, which is considered a point of honor.
--Forest Life (1842)
This and most other sources indicate that the quilting party was only for the actual quilting: any patchwork or applique was completed by the hostess well in advance.  One story seems to allude to patchwork being done as a group activity: "The 'old married folks' have 'quilting parties' occasionally. They meet to sew together little bits of calico, and at the same time take the characters of their neighbors to pieces." (Burrillville: As it was, and As it is, 1856)  However, this could just be a verbal counterpoint to 'taking their neighbors to pieces'.

In "My Economy Quilt", the quilters' evening meal ("tea") includes 'nice biscuits, boiled custard, cold tongue and cheese and  pickled peaches and preserved citrons and mince pie and loaf cake and sponge cake and tea and coffee', with a final serving of 'apples, and nuts, and raisins' before the guests disperse.' In another story, an afternoon's quilting ends with a "sumptous supper" served at dusk, which is then followed by dancing, and ends at 9 o'clock with cider and dough-nuts.  The 1853 book Clovernook describes the preparations for a quilting party, including the purchase of "calico for the border of the quilt, with cotton batting and spool thread, but we also procured sundry niceties for the supper, among which I remember a jug of Orleans molasses, half a pound of ground ginger, five pounds of cheese and as many pounds of raisins". It goes on to note that "...before the appointed day every thing was in readiness--coffee ground, tea ready for steeping, chickens prepared for broiling, cakes and puddings baked, and all the extra saucers filled with custards or preserves."  In a description in the American Agriculturalist (1847),  it is stated the "bread and cakes are baked and every nice thing made ready for the feast the day before" the quilting party; in this case, men are not included in the supper, but they are "allowed to partake of the cakes, apples, and cider before the party breaks up"

While I could find little information about the proceedings, it appears that even enslaved women gathered for quilting parties.

P.S. For those looking for quilting pictures, Barbara Brackman has compiled some lovely images of women quilting, with commentary; she also discusses quilt frames of the 1860s (twice).

Friday, September 15, 2017

Mince Pie

And now, to finish up the food posts from the Labor Day Weekend quilting event. I used the quilting party 'spread' from "My Economy Quilt" as a guide for the quilting event. With only two quilters (and a handful of other volunteers), we scaled down from "'nice biscuits, boiled custard, cold tongue and cheese and  pickled peaches and preserved citrons and mince pie and loaf cake and sponge cake and tea and coffee" to "biscuits, cheese, [preserves], mince pie, and loaf cake", with mint tea and raspberry vinegar to drink.

Partial Tea Table Spread for 1850s Quilting Event
Rolls, preserves, cheese, and loaf cake. A tasty day!

Mince Pie
* from The American Matron (1851).

1 lb boiled beef
1.5 lb apples, pared
10 oz zante currants
about 6 oz suet/tallow
2 tablesppons mace, 1/2 tablespoon cloves, 2 tsps ground nutmeg
1/3 c brandy, 1 1/3 cup cider, 2 cups white wine

The liquor and spice amounts were at my own discretion, not being specified in the receipt.  The final product was a bit runny, so I'd definitely use less wine next time.  The proportions given make a large amount filling: I'd estimate three pies worth.  The flavor worked, however--I say that as someone who doesn't overly care for meat, and really doesn't like mixing "sweet" and "savory" foods (in this case "beef" and "everything else").  Everyone who tried it seemed pleased, so this is likely to go into rotation for period events.  One thing I'll be tweaking is the crust, as the 1:1 ratio of flour and shortening made for a pretty heavy pastry.

1851 Mince Pie
Mince Meat Pie

*Page 86, last receipt

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Favorite Publications

Portrait of Eliza Leslie, 1844, via The Athenaeum
Portrait of Eliza Leslieie,
My favorite advice-giving Victorian.
Said to be 1844, but the bonnet looks more 1854.
There's a lot of period literature available on-line (thanks, Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and Internet Archives).  Here are a few of my favorite stories and books for period mores and material culture.

10. "Why Do the Servants of the Nineteenth Century Dress As They Do?" (1859) Yes, you're getting above your station. Stop it. An interesting look at changing class markers in England, as well as being impressively long-winded for such a short pamphlet.  It also deliberately spells out that imitating high-fashion in cheap materials is vulgar.

9. "My Economy Quilt" (The Ladies' Repository, 1860): All the details that go into making a patchwork quilt, and throwing the party to assemble it (told in the form of "and then this went wrong").

8. "My Patchwork Quilt": The life-cycle of clothing through a patchwork. A good overview of not only changing dress styles, but also of a girl's sewing education and growing up.

6-7. (Tie) The Lady's Guide to Perfect Gentility (1856) and Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society With a Glance at Bad Habits (1844) Both of these etiquette manuals have their uses: the latter is more succinct, and somewhat addressed to gentlemen; while the former includes extensive notes on beauty rememedies, section II has a lot of good (and highly quotable) lady-specific information about comportment in various situations.

5. "My Velvet Shoes" (Harper's, 1860): A story chockful of prices and priorities at the lower end of the middle class. I was particularly impressed at how quickly fashionable hoop shapes apparently changed (every 2-3 months).

4. Half A Century: by Jane Grey Swisshelm follows her life from childhood, through various careers as a teacher, lecturer, newsaper publisher, and nurse in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C.  It's very informative, especially on the Lyceum circuit and on women volunteers in wartime hospitals, but is also a retrospective written some years after the events took place. (Crusader and Feminist contains some of the author's contemporary writing).

3. "Dress Under Difficulties" (Godey's, 1866): While specific to the blockaded South, this article not only gives a number of ingenious home-made make-dos, but also offers some insight into how long clothing was normally expected to last, and the importance placed on keeping garments up to date.

2. Letters to Country Girls (1853) by Jane Grey Swisshelm. Cheeky, practical advice that's almost as informative for its suggestions as for its assertions of how you are managing your home and garden all wrong.

1. The Behavior Book (6th Edition 1855) by Eliza Leslie covers etiquette for all occassions, which ends up incorporating lots of information about everything from arranging a tea party to buying ribbons to tipping servants.  I particularly like the the insight into how shops, omnibuses, and boarding houses operate.  The conversational style is (in my opinion) makes for a more engaging read than most other etiquette books.