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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Currant Jam

At the Fort's new Harvest Home event, we made three flavors of preserves from our on-site produce. Currant Jam ("Common Black Currant Jam", p. 482) from Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery (1854); Yellow Plum Jam ("Green Gage Jam", p.66) from The Confectioner's and Pastry-Cook's Guide (1854); I also made more Apple Jelly and re-boiled the previous batch, which has now set very nciely.

Jelly and Jam from 1850s receipts.
Finished jams and jellies: apple, currant, and yellow plum.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sally Lunn Buns

Sally Lunn buns, based on 1856 recipe in Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book
Sally Lunn Buns

From Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book (1856)

Sally Lunn is supposed to be baked in square tins. Not having any, I've made it up twice as buns, instead.  It makes a very rich, soft bread, but which tends to get hard very quickly once cut.

As I made it:
Seven cups of flour
2 oz butter
2 cups milk
2.25-tsp of active dry yeast ("two tablespoons of Brewer's yeast" should be equivalent to a scant 3 tsps)
1 tablespoon salt
3 eggs

I let the dough rise for 3 hours, then formed it into rolls, and after another short rise (another 10 minutes), baked them at 350F until brown (about 15 minutes).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Loaf Cake

When you're having a quilting party with two Elis/zabeths, there's only one receipt that will suffice:

The Elizabeth Loaf Cake
from The American Matron: or Practical and Scientific Cookery (1851)

1/2 cup (1 gill) yeast*
3 lbs flour
1 1/4 lb sugar
1 1/4 pounds butter
5 eggs
10 oz currants (substituted zante currants)
2 tablespoons cinnamon**
1 tsp mace

This made two loaf cakes, both rather dense.  I think that more yeast or a longer rising time should make for a slightly lighter bread.  More importantly, I discovered that, like a 12th Night cake, this cake really needs a long baking time in a slow oven; at 350F for 40-50 minutes, the crust was very well-browned, but the center barely cooked.  The spice was palatable, and on the light side.



*I used 1/2 cup of sourdough starter for this. The cake turned out fine, though I think it would be interesting to try it again with a some different types/quantities of yeast.

**"Spice to your taste" gives a lot of leeway.  I intended to use cinnamon and nutmeg, but substituted mace when I couldn't find the latter.  The other loaf cakes, when flavorings are named, call for nutmeg (alone, or with cloves and rosewater), or allspice and cinnamon. I think my choices are congruent with these.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Book Review: Fanciful Utility

Cover for "Fanciful Utility" by Anna Worden Bauersmith
Fanciful Utility by Anna Worden Bauersmith

FYI: All of the author's other publications are on sale this weekend (including the limited-time "recovery" pillow pin cushion pattern, which I have purchased but not yet made-up*). If you haven't yet stocked up on From Field to Fashion, Paisley, Plaid and Purled, or fun winter hood patterns, now's your chance.

This review is long overdue--the book's been out for years, and I've made several projects from it already--but I like it, and think it's worth discussing. For anyone unaware, The Sewing Academy has bonus content, ie two more needlebook templates (see one made-up here).  Normally, this is where I'd recommend checking out the free projects to get a feel for the author's style, but in this case, the instructions are in the book, so it's not the best example.

It is, however, an excellent introduction to how the book is formatted.

The initial chapters serve as an introduction to period sewn sewing tools, including the materials used to make them, and the items used to outfit a sewing kit/housewife.  All of the techniques used in the book are also described up front, so that when you actually get to a project, it mostly gives you the templates needed, and an overview of what order to built the item in.  Everything else--plain sewing, embroidery stitches, design transfer, covering pasteboard, hinge-making methods--is dealt with earlier.  While this is certainly is expedient for the returning reader/maker (and keeps the 157-page book from ballooning with repetition), first-timers should be sure to read all the introductory materials.

All of the templates and illustrations are line drawings in black and white; the templates are all full-sized, with only a few of the largest pieces spanning two pages. I found the illustrations adequate for explaining processes and steps; there are also 4 pages of color photographs at the beginning, which show fun examples of most of the completed items.

Because the book is set up to teach methods and offer a variety of design ideas, it's hard to say just how many "projects" are included.   By my count, there were nine basic needle book shapes, five soft case/pocket designs, two structured boxes, one scissors case, and four doll-sized projects.  For each of these, different options for materials and embellishments are suggested.  At the extreme, the rectangular needle book has illustrations for fourteen different versions, plus a padded/quilted variation.

There aren't many downsides to this book, in my opinion, and I think that most Victorian sewing enthusiasts will enjoy it.  I will note that pin cushions are not included (excepting the ones built into some of the rolls/boxes); perhaps a sequel will be forthcoming at some point. I also would not mind more colored pictures of completed projects. The two main obstacles would be if you need explicit step-by-step instructions without flipping between pages, or if you tend to get paralyzed by indecision when presented with many options.  Otherwise, I expect that most people will find this book versatile and useful.

Stars: 5 stars.

Accuracy: High. As far as I can tell, every project is taken from an original (with a few extrapolations from multiple original items), or from instructions in a period publication.

Strongest Impression: There are a lot of projects here, but I find them approachable, and fairly quick to make (sans embroidery).  The structure of the book empowers the reader to replicate period techniques and styles, while providing plenty of ideas for customization.


*Bonus review of the pillow pin cushion: The instructions appear quite thorough, and each step of the process is illustrated with a color photograph.  The reader is referred to Fanciful Utility, but unless you need to review stitching techniques, I don't think it will be necessary to consult the book.  Also included in the pdf is a page about the original pin cushion (including multiple pictures and commentary on the materials/construction), a page of period instructions for other 'segmented' pin cushions, and color photographs of three different reproduction pin cushions.  There's also a materials list, and a note from the author.  I'm looking forward to trying this project, and rather like the version with the black ribbons.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Two More Sewing Cases

Several deserving young ladies of my acquaintance being lately married, I decided period presents were in order--and that it was time to try some more designs out of Fanciful Utility. This time, I made up the other structured sewing kit design: it has a rectangular pocket instead of a scissors case, and no pincushion in the thread box.

Two Victorian-style cotton print sewing cases from "Fanciful Utility" by Anna Worden Bauersmith
Sewing cases with thread box, needle pages, and
pocket. Fitted with bone thread winders, brass thimbles,
cakes of beeswax, emery strawberries, and pins.

Sewing the box to the base/cover was a little trickier in the center (compared to the box being at one edge), but the lack of a pincushion with its extra wall made the box construction easier.  I do like the extra stability that that wall provides (the long edges of the box tend to bend in slightly without it), but it was a bit of a pain to sew.  I also appreciate the convenience of having a pincushion right in the box, but I suspect this design will have other trade-offs: the large pocket and longer box compartment have space for various larger tools (button hole scissors, seam rippers, awls, a spool of thread, etc.).

I may add a loop and button closure to the left one; the ribbon
on the right works well, but obscures the fun striped material.

Per the book, the original this design was taken from had no closure, just the two fold-over flaps. I added the ribbon to the pink-and-green case (tacked to the center bottom) for more security while transporting the case. I think a button-and-thread-loop or two small ties might make a nice closure for the other.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pink Print Half Apron

Less pretty, but highly useful: another apron. The material is a reproduction print from the Old Sturbridge Village Anniversary collection. One-and-a-half fabric breadths (~66") in the apron, two calico buttons at the waist closure, and two small pockets concealed within.

Pink reproduction print half-apron, all hand sewn.
New apron.
The buttonholes are ok (though still not as lovely as the ones on my nightgown), but my point of pride on this piece is the run-and-fell seams.  While I still think sewing machine is faster on the long seams, the hand-sewing is nearly neat, and considerably getting less slow.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dotted Swiss Basque, c.1855-1856

"A simple white dress of spotted muslin has been made up the skirt trimmed with three deep flounces with a border of pale blue ribbon set on in a vandyked pattern. The corsage is high with a low inside body and has a basque as well as revers or bretelles of the muslin drooping very low on the shoulders. These the basque and the three frills which form the sleeves are trimmed with ribbon to correspond with the skirt below which is a fall of Honiton or Valenciennes lace. A blue sash ribbon with bow and flowing ends." -Godey's, June 1856
Mine isn't nearly so fancy, but I like the elaborate details that went into this "simple" dress. Also, it documents the use of swiss dot in basques.

This thread at the Sewing Academy inspired me to make a sheer, white basque for summer Fort wear. For reference, the first two photogaphs on the conversation are these:

Attributed to "Albert Bisbee, OH, 1850s"
Posted at Jessica Dean By Design

"A Brazillian Woman and Her Baby, 1855"
From The Wikimedia Commons

The basques are both quite sheer, and the top one shows separate 'bodice' and 'skirt' portions on either side of a self-fabric waistband.

My white basque.

As darting the material seemed untenable, I opted for a waist-band on mine as well: it allowed me to control the bodice fullness with a series of small pleats.  The 'skirt' portion was drafted off my velvet basque, and flares a bit more when worn than it appears above. It is, however, a bit scantier than I would like. The lace along the sleeve, neck, and skirt edges is from Fine French Laces, and is based on the finishing shown in Looking for the Mail Packet. Per that painting, I left my basque unlined, and wear it over the detached lining that I use with my yellow sheer dress.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Apple Jelly

Blogging through the August project backlog. Last week, I attempted to make Mrs. Beeton's Apple Jelly (II), and also started my first batch of apple cider vinegar.

Oak barrel for cider-making, twelve apples, and cutting board.
It begins.

The cider barrel is from Oak Barrels Ltd. Basically, I peeled and pared ten of the apples, set the apple-flesh on the stove to boil down, and put the cores/peels (and two whole chopped apples) in the barrel. The peels were covered with water, and set aside to form the vinegar (with a light cloth cover in place of the cork, so pressure doesn't build up).

Two tin pans of apples boiling on a wood-burning stove.
Boiling apples on Bessie.

After an hour, I strained the apple-mush through a cloth (which took forever, as I used muslin rather than cheese cloth or a hair sieve), mixed in sugar (about 2 1/4 cups for 3 cups of liquid), and set it to boil again. After 45 minutes, I took it off the stove and bottled it.

Apple Jelly from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861)
Apple Jelly.
The stove wasn't quite hot enough, in my opinion, particularly during the final boiling phase. Not-at-all-coincidentally, the jelly didn't set properly.  It is very viscous, but even in the refrigerator it failed to fully solidify.

To improve for next time:
  • Hotter fire
  • Smaller jelly pots
  • Cheesecloth, sieve, or (imagine it!) a jelly bag for straining
  • Different saucepans.  The tin ones resisted cleaning, rather strenuously.
I'm still waiting on the vinegar, and look forward to the results.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Blackberry Jam

Three pints of blackberry jam from an 1837 English recipe.
Blackberry Jam, from
The Magazine of Domestic Economy (1837)

Delicious seasonal food preservation: Blackberry Jam, from The Magazine of Domestic Economy (1837).  The receipt is quite simple: blackberries, sugar, and optional lemon peel or juice. Simmer for 45 minutes.

For this batch, I used 4 pounds of blackberries, 2 pounds of granulated sugar, and the peel of 1/3 of a lemon. It yielded 3.5 pints, and is quite tasty. The canning jars are, of course, modern. I opted to follow current food safety standards and process the jars for 10 minutes in boiling water.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Straw Bonnet

I'm slowly photographing and writing up up my recent projects, as there may have been a bit of a rush to get ready for English Camp last weekend.  One long-awaited wardrobe addition was a new straw bonnet.
Low spoon straw bonnet c.1859-1862, of 1/2" hemp plait, from the pattern by The Dressmaker's Shop
Straw bonnet blank, made of 1/2" hemp plait
It's from the same pattern as before (the Low Spoon Straw Bonnet from The Dressmaker's Shop), though I daresay my shaping worked better this time. Instead of hand-sewing the whole thing, I used a machine on the flat portion of the brim, then switched to hand-sewing when I joined the back and started spiraling the straw in to form the crown.  For this step, I skipped the pressing ham, and simply drew up each row of braid by sight, which I think produced a neater curve. I also took the precaution of applying full-strength fabric stiffener to the brim, which has definitely improved the bonnet's stability.

I ended up trimming the bonnet on-site (it may have lacked floral decoration at the Saturday cricket match), but will be re-working it before wearing it again.  First, because the lovely 5" wide pink silk ribbon curtain/ties started shredding as I attached it, and second because I miscalculated the lace circumference, and ended up with a lopsided pile of pleats to one side. The straw flowers work well with it, though, so I'll be keeping those in some configuration.  I'm tempted to aim for '62 on the re-trim, and wear it to Snoqualmie in September (and, likely, shift things around again for '59 wear next summer at English Camp).

Initial trim placement: wide silk ribbon bavolet and "brides",
pink, blue, and gold straw flowers under the brim and along one tab.

Monday, July 31, 2017

English Camp, 2017

The Pig War is one of my favorite summer reenactment events. In addition to being my only event which happens on the original site, it is also marks a reasonable and pleasant resolution of a situation which was, at the time it occurred, very serious and worrying.  In addition to sharing some interesting local history, it means we get to do a no-casualty war reenactment with more cricket games than skirmishes. Also, San Juan Island is lovely in July.

Refreshments for the cricket players. I made the tea cakes.

Home, sweet home.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Pence Jug, Getting Started

I'm (rather belatedly) joining the pence jug knit-along.  Having never used size 00 needles before, this should be interesting.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

In the kitchen

Messing around in the historic kitchen again this week, with generally positive results. I planned to make Mrs. Beeton's Beef Cakes, using some left-over roast beef and pork shoulder. The meat didn't grind up as easily as the the chicken croquettes, and the texture of the finished beef cakes showed it. The flavor was alright, though I added too much salt to both the cakes and the gravy. Next time, I would also either use beef drippings or lard, not bacon fat (which tended to overwhelm the other flavors). Taking advantage of the garden's seasonal offerings, I served the beef cakes with Boiled Turnip Greens, and followed up with a Red Currant and Raspberry Tart, utilizing our local sort-of-black currants. The turnip greens were fine; the tart also, though I used a larger proportion of raspberries and should have used either a shorter tumbler or more berries (or both).  Having some cherries to use up, I turned the extra short crust into Turnovers.


Cherry turnovers, based on a receipt in Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861)
Cherry Turnovers

Beef Cakes, from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861)
Beef Cakes

Currant and Raspberry Pie from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861)
Currant and Raspberry Tart

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Bonnet Veils

Sun protection, and garish colors all at once.

1860s reproduction bonnet veils of silk gauze, and cotton net lace
Net half-circle net on bonnet, with silk gauze veils in
black, blue, and green.

Black and white lace comprise the majority of museum collection veils, with the odd smattering of green.  Period documents, however, refer to blue, brown, black and green veils (even used by men).  Non-lace materials, including barege, grenadine, and gauze, are also named; these marginally more utilitarian materials appear to have been favored as dust-protection in the event of travel and/or bad weather--Mary Chestnut's diary mentions ruining a lace veil while travelling, as no cheaper veil could be procured after several years of blockades.
"White veils have a tendency to promote sunburn and freckles, by their increasing the power of the sun's light. They are also very injurious to the eyes.  Green is the only color which should be worn as a summer veil." -The Lady's Guide to Perfect Gentility (1856)
The surviving lace veils that I've seen are rectangular or half-circular* in form.  In general, the decoration is concentrated toward the bottom and/or sides of the veil, leaving the face--and especially the eyes--clear.  The half-circle or "D" shaped veils are mostly black, though the Met and Smithsonian each have at least one white veil of this sort. The VAM has an adorable black veil with yellow trim (and BEES!).

White lace D-shaped veil from Belgium, early 19th century.
From the Cooper-Hewitt/Smithsonian Design Museum.
Black lace veil from France, early 19th century.
In the Met.
My simpler version is made of cotton net with lace sewn along the curved edge (net from Mill End in Portland, lace from Fine French Laces). I dyed it with forest green fiber reactive dye from Dharma Trading Co. While this veil worked very well for me, I am considering dying it black and embroidering spots on it.  I started with green because 1) I like green, 2) I'm tired of people deciding my black veil is mourning attire, and 3) colorful veils existed in the time period but aren't represented in any of my usual reenactment venues. However, I haven't found an example of a green half-circle veil, yet, so it may be necessary to dye it the better-documented black (though it still won't be quite so sheer and lacy as most of the examples).

The rectangular veils I made are silk gauze with silk ribbon (dyed "forest green" and "mountain blue" with the Dharma dyes, though the silk gives a brighter and yellower green than the cotton net did). Both are loosely based on this brown original veil posted to the SA by Pam Robles some years ago.  I also used it as the basis of my first bonnet veil (in black), though I could not duplicate the narrower stripes, and merely sewed ribbon to the silk gauge to imitate the thicker lines. I attempted something similar with the green, and blue, but the ribbon I dyed for the project snags and runs very easily, so I only put one stripe on each--I may add the other three if I can find a better way to sew it. I did hand sew the new ones, which went much more easily than the machine sewing on my first veil. The black gauze, however, though nominally the same weight, seems more light and delicate than the dyed material.

While I would like to find more diaphanous materials for future veils, these three have performed adequately at shielding my eyes from sun glare, while not impeding vision (and, as a bonus, distinctly reducing the number of people declaring me a widow). They've also sparked some interesting conversations with visitors and other reenactors.

*More like a half circle with a two-inch strip added to the flat side.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Hard Pomade and Macassar Oil

Some sort of oil or pomatum is absolutely necessary to be used. Not only does it add to the glossiness of the hair, but it contributes to hold the hair in position. Some little care is necessary in order to impart to the oil or pomatum the necessary medium between limpidity and adhesiveness.
--Godey's, November 1855
I'm experimenting with a few more hair-styling preparations.  First, Macassar Oil from Mrs. Bradley's Housekeeper's Guide (1853). Like the "common hair oil" mentioned later in the Godey's article*, this is basically just colored, scented oil:
"Any quantity of sweet oil, and alkanet enough to give it a splendid red color. Scent with oil of bergamotte, lavender or lemon." 
I used 2 oz of sweet almond oil, with a generous spoonful of chopped alkanet root. After soaking overnight, I strained out the alkanet and stirred in four drops of essence of bergamot.

Maccassar hair oil from Mrs. Bradley's, 1853
Hair oil.

So far, I've used it once. I dabbed some oil on my hand, and brushed it through my hair, as I would apply a pomade. It seemed to give a similar sleek look, while dispersing easier. I couldn't say whether it is more or less effective for sticking the hair to itself. At some point, I should try one of the castor-oil-based receipts for comparison.

I also tried making the (second) hard pomatum from Mackenzie's Five Thousand Receipts (1854):
 Another--Take 6 oz. of common pomatum, add to it 3 oz. of white virgin wax, scraped fine. Melt them in an earthen pan immersed in a one containing boiling water both being over a clear and steady fire. When properly incorporated, keep stirring, until it is nearly cold, then put it into small pots, or make it up into small rolls. Perfume it according to taste.
I was a little concerned here, since the first recipe given has 20:1 ratio of fats to wax, while this second one was 2:1.  Nonetheless, I tried it, and rather like the results.  As expected, it set much stiffer than the soft version; practically, this limits how much you can get out of the jar at a time. When I tried it on a friend's fine hair (which was only moderately responding to the soft pomatum I previously made), it did seem to hold better. I think I prefer using the soft version on my own hair, as it holds well enough, and is a bit faster to dispense. I used the same scent ratios for this hard pomatum as for the soft pomatum.

Hard pomatum from Mackenzie's 5000 Receipts, 1854
Hard pomatum.

*The extract from Godey's goes on to state that "Common hair oil is nothing more than olive or salad oil colored red with alkanet root, and scented. It is far too thin to be useful, and it soils more than enough", while Macassar oil is supposedto belong to a superior class of hair products (scented castor oil dilluted with wine spirits). This may be a case of a specific name (Macassar oil) being applied to the more general category (hair oil).

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Roast Fowls

A few more historical cooking adventures from the past week.  First, I tried using the Fort's reflector oven, and roasted two chicken according to Miss Leslie's instructions ("To Roast a Pair of Fowls", page 142). I used Mrs. Beeton's receipt for the forcemeat, The crust turned out delicious, but I will need to work on pinning the birds to the spit more effectively.

Reflector oven containing two chickens, next to fire.
Roasting chicken in a reflector oven.

Since I was cooking outside, I also fired up the clay bake-oven, for a tart, a few loaves of bread, and some iced fruits [cherries and blueberries were both successful, but the raspberries disintegrated into a tasty mess].
Open tart with pastry leaves, from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861.
Open tart with yellow plum preserves.
I made the preserves last autumn from "Dr. Tolmie's" yellow plum tree.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Treadle Sewing Machine

My new sewing companion, a Singer Model 27 treadle sewing machine:


The serial number indicates that this machine was made in Elizabethtown, NJ between 1904 and 1913. It's in a "No. 3" cabinet (five drawers, with embossing), and has the "Memphis/Egyptian" Sphinx decal. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Strawberry Ice Cream

Strawberry Ice Cream from Miss Leslie's Complete Cookery (1851).  Page 325.

A molded ice cream, made from an 1851 recipe in "Miss Leslie's Complete Cookery".
Molded strawberry ice cream, ready to serve.

The ingredients were straightforward: strawberries, sugar, and cream. I ended up wringing the strawberries through a cloth to extract the juice--a scant 2 cups from 1 quart of berries, after standing 1.5 hours with the sugar. Then, it was simply a matter of stirring in the cream and freezing it.  I halved the receipt, and ended up with enough cream to fill one 4-cup mold and nearly fill a second.

Not having a proper ice cream freezer, I tried using a two-bowl set up with salt and ice in the outer basin and the cream mixture in the inner bowl.  That proved ineffective, so I opted for the old standby of putting it in the modern freezer, and stirring at half-hour intervals. This worked moderately well, but the ice cream still didn't fully set until I left it overnight. At that point, it was a soft solid, so I stirred and froze it once more, then transferred it into the molds and let them set until needed.

I used hot water on the outside of the mold to loosen the ice cream: the short one worked easily, but the taller took several tries and came out a little more melted than anticipated. Both went back into the freezer for a half hour--I should have wiped off the excess a little sooner, as they were quite solid again in short order.

Another molded ice cream, made from an 1851 recipe in "Miss Leslie's Complete Cookery".
The second mold didn't come out so nicely.
The flavor was sweet and rich; the texture was pleasantly smooth, though I expect it would be even better with a proper freezer to provide continuous air incorporation while freezing. The molds worked better than they usually do for me, so I'm optimistic that they will become even easier to use with more practice.

Update: I have now tried this recipe with blueberries (moderately succesful, though more fruit is needed to get a balanced flavor), and with vanilla (milk making up the extra liquid). Both times, a hand-cranked freezer was used, and it produced a very smooth ice cream. This is definitely a receipt to hang on to.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fancy Dress

I really need to attend a fancy dress ball (or three), if only to use some of these awesome costume ideas:
Fashion plate excerpt: two women in late 1860s "fancy dress" as the harvest and a ship.
Yes, I want the dress on the right:
a ship with open gun ports and an anchor necklace.
Though the little hat should probably be a wheel...

Or maybe I just need to make all my Halloween costumes period fancy dress...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review: Designs for Printed Textiles in England from 1750 to 1850

Cover art for "Designs for Printed Textiles in England From 1750 to 1850" by Wendy Hefford

Designs for Printed Textiles in England From 1750 to 1850 by Wendy Hefford

Though not a recent book (1992), this one was new to me.  And I was missing out by not knowing about it sooner!

I've reviewed fabric design books before (see here, here, here, and here), and where Designs for Printed Textiles stands out is in the size and quality of its images.  Written information is brief, concise, and in 10pt font (or smaller). The 236 samples are spread over 118 pages, allowing each image considerable space--most have an entire 10" x 12" page, or at least half of one; the handful of pages with four or more samples are all copies of period albums and sample books.  Some unusual specimens were included such as printed shawls and patchwork quilts containing many printed fabrics.

Compared to other works, this book has relatively few examples and a narrow scope: as the name indicates, it's all British printed fabrics from 1750-1850 (which are now in the The Victoria & Albert Museum).  Within that, various types of printed fabric are featured: furnishing fabrics, dress goods, shawls, etc.  The book seemed to contain more pages covering the late 18th century than early 19th (maybe 60% to 40%), so it may be more useful for people interested in the early part of the year range than the later.  While the bulk of the book is colored plates, there were also 7 pages of background information on styles/processes/technology, 17 pages of captions for the plates,  2.5 pages for a fabric glossary, and 3 pages about the history of different British fabric printing companies.

With all that in mind, I'd say this book is very useful for looking at changes occurring in British fabric printing over a hundred-year period, and fairly to very useful for looking at designs within that time period.  In most cases, you won't be finding multiple examples of a specific type of material for a narrower year range--but the one or two pictures that you do find will be lovely and detailed. I won't be making this my primary textile print resource, but I think it's a very useful addition to the library, and a good choice to consult before embarking on a late 18th (or early 19th) century project.

Score: 5 stars

Accuracy: High. All original examples

Strongest Impression: A pretty book which gives good, detailed examples of textile prints over a century.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Strawberries and Cream

Off-season (and in-season) HFF training.

The Challenge: None. Just trying things on my own until season three starts.

The Receipt:  Strawberries and cream from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management

The Date/Year and Region: 1861, London

How Did You Make It:  Removed strawberry tops, arranged berries in a bowl, dusted with powdered sugar, and and poured on cream.

Time to Complete: 5 minutes

Total Cost: Ingredients on hand.  About $1-$2 for 1/3 c. cream and 1 c. berries.

How Accurate Is It? Half scale, but with no deviations from the instructions.

How Successful Is It? 
Simple and tasty.  I prefer whipped cream with strawberries, as the cream flavor was largely lost in this form, but the dish was perfectly palatable. I would certainly make it again for an appropriate occasion.

Strawberries and cream from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861.
Yes, it's literally strawberries with cream and sugar on top.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Quilted Petticoat, Part 1: Quilting

The first (and longest) step is complete: quilting the petticoat layers together.  The outer fabric is a paisley floral stripe (#2829-0116) from the Old Sturbridge Village Anniversary line; the back is a solid green cotton, and the batting is wool.

The main source of inspiration a petticoat from the OSV collection (26.35.31). The quilting pattern used is 2" diamonds along the bottom 1/3 of the petticoat, with horizontal lines 2" apart above the diamonds, and horizontal lines spaced 3" apart nearer to the waist. This is a hybrid of the graduated horizontal lines from the OSV petticoat, and the diamonds on this petticoat in the Met.

With two of us working, it took three days (at approximately 6 hours per day), with one worker on the fourth day.  Admittedly, this was not without interruption.  I expect that a repeat of the project would progress much more quickly (I, for one, was sewing faster by Tuesday than I had on Saturday or Sunday).

Quilting under the locust trees.

The stitching is more visible on the back.

With thanks to Elise (stalwart sewing companion, keeper of lore, and mistress of the quilting frame), Quinn (vanquisher of the hunger-dragons), Jessie (slayer of tedium), and the various persons conscripted into snapping chalk lines.