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.

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.