Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book Review: The Queen's Servants

Cover of "The Queen's Servants" by Caroline Johnson
The Queen's Servants by Caroline Johnson

The link above gives a good overview of the book's content, so I'll keep the summary brief. The main differences between The Queen's Servants and The Tudor Tailor is the emphasis on analyzing original garment records: we're taking pie charts of color and material frequency, period yardage/pricing info, and hypothesized cutting lay-outs. Additionally, this book only looks at ladies' clothing* (there are separate volumes for men's and children's), and focuses on the earlier Tudor period (reign of Henry VII and early reign of Henry VIII).  The illustrations include photographs of historic funerary monuments, artists' renderings of clothing from primary source texts, and photographs of reproduced garments.  It runs 56 pages, including references and glossary.

[*Specifically, women attached in the royal household: princesses, queens, the ladies and gentlewomen who attend them, and the occasional court pensioner.]

The description and analysis of primary sources deal with the fabrics and furs used for clothing, discussing the colors, yardage, prices, and customs. I like that the sources are very clearly cited, and that conjectures are explicitly described as such.

The given patterns are for one smock (with neckline variations), one kirtle (sleeve and fastener variations), two gowns (four sleeves and neckline variations), and two bonnets.  The cutting patterns are given on grid paper, and will need to be sized to the wearer; general sewing instructions are also included, as well as marginalia showing relevant hand-sewing techniques. This isn't a beginner-friendly pattern, but I think it's quite clearly written, and would be usable by ambitious intermediate sewists.  Beginners (and people who don't want to scale-up cutting diagrams) may want to consider the related pattern line.

The focus of this book is more narrow than The Tudor Tailor, but I think the discussion of primary sources really makes it worthwhile.  If you're looking for lower class, mid/late 16th century, or men's clothing, this isn't the book you want. But for late 15th/early 16th century English noblewomen, you couldn't get a better reference. 

Stars: 5
Accuracy: High.
Skill Level: Intermediate, tending Advanced
Strongest Impression: Good scholarship; the different time-frame makes it a companion to The Tudor Tailor rather than competition.

Monday, October 15, 2018

To Blacken the Eye Lashes and Eye Brows (1833-1854)

I finally found references to eye make-up, which were not forthcoming in my first foray into the field.  Other than mentioning belladonna to dilate the pupil (do not do this; also, it is apparently only need by those of us with dull grey eyes), the references are all to precursors of mascara/the eyebrow pencil.  Eye-shadow is, still, not a thing.
The Toilette of Health, Beauty and Fashion (Boston, 1833):
To Blacken the Eye lashes and Eye brows
The simplest preparations for this purpose are the juice of elder berries; burnt cork, or cloves burnt at the candle. Some employ the black of frankincense, resin, and mastic; this black, it is said, will not come off with perspiration.
This same receipt appears, verbatim, in The Book of Health and Beauty (London, 2nd edition 1837); it is also repeated in the The American Family Keepsake (Boston, 1849) and One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (New York, 1854). The Amateur (1851) mentions burned cork used as stage makeup.

So, does it work?

Experimenting with burned cloves as mascara, historic recipe from 1833-1854.
Burnt clove applied to my right eyebrow and lashes.
I suspect there's no such thing as a flattering eyebrow selfie.

Experimenting with burned cork as mascara, historic recipe from 1833-1854.
And burnt cork, again on the right.
The cork definitely gives a darker color than the cloves (more char coming off).  After playing around with it a little, I am favoring the cork for my eyelashes and the cloves for the eyebrows. I think the cork is simply too dark for my eyebrows, while the cloves add a subtler color. At the same time, I couldn't tell that the cloves had any effect on my eyelashes, making the cork more useful there.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Long and Short s

I'm working on my roundhand/copperplate script for inktober, and found a lovely discussion of the long and short forms of miniscule s. It's quite informative, and there are graphs of usage frequency (in printed texts)!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Book Review: Historical Costumes of England, 1066-1968

Working through some of the many books I read this year, but haven't had time to write-up. 

Title image of Historical Costumes of England by Nancy Bradfield
Historical Costumes of England, 1066-1968 (revised edition) by Nancy Bradfield

Historic Costumes of England is an ambitious book, covering 900 years of costume history. And, with that in mind, I think it fares adequately.

The costumes are organized by monarch.  Since reigns can range from 2 years (Edward V/Richard III) to 67 years (Victoria), some of the shorter ones grouped together; as a the result, most book sections cover 20-40 years of English clothing.  For each, there's a page of illustrations of men's clothing with a facing page of text, and another pair of pages on women's clothing. Some of the longer time spans get a second page of illustrations, while Victorian women's clothing is divided into three chronological parts (menswear gets one page of illustration with two of text).

Each page of illustrations generally contains eight sketched figures, although some have a dozen or more. I liked how the illustrations were of the clothing being worn, showing different styles on the body. The figures are loosely arranged in groups which hint of tableaux, so it looks contextual, a little more like real people, rather than diagrams

The downsides are that there's lots of material to cover, so most figures aren't full-length, and none have full front and back views (there are figures in profile). Only a few figures have specific dates attached, but the text gives some cues about earlier/later fashions within a reign, and briefly addresses the differences between old and young, or rich and poor. The images are detailed (and in some cases familiar), which suggests that particular historic sources were consulted, but no citation list or bibliography is included.

Due to scope, this book really functions best for survey purposes. It's really not specific enough to costume multiple characters for a particular year (especially getting into these later times when so much more information is available), but it is a quick start to acquaint your eye with the time.  I could see it being a very useful first reference for theatrical costumers, or a visual guide for people working across multiple eras, but it's not in-depth enough to be very useful for most of the costuming I do.

Stars: 3.5
Accuracy: Good, so far as I can tell, but more citations would be welcome.
Strongest Impression: A breadth book, rather than a depth one.  It's good at what it does, but if you need color images or specific information, it's probably not your best choice.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Original Barred Sheer Dress

This is the only antique dress in my collection. It's entirely hand-sewn, and I am currently dating it to the late 1850s.

EK original 1850s dress, bodice front view.
The bodice, and it's enormous sleeves. By the old stitching lines,
the bodice originally had a 22" waist and 34" bust. The waist is currently 25".

EK original 1850s dress, back sleeve detail.
That fabulously full pagoda sleeve with pointed jockey.
The bodice has an open neckline, center-front closure, and long, open sleeves.  The sleeves are lined in net, the rest of bodice in white polished cotton. The bodice closes with hooks and eyes on the lining layer, only. The neckline, sleeves, and jockeys are trimmed with puffs of self-fabric. That is, the trim is a single layer of the fabric, cut on grain, which has been lightly gathered top and bottom, and stitched down.

The lining fabric is shaped with two darts on each side front (boned), while the sheer fabric is lightly shirred at the front and back. The waistband edge was originally piped, but a self-fabric waistband was later added below this, probably at the same time that the seam side seams were let out to increase the waist measure by 3": these are the only alterations made the dress, and are a much later date based on the extra lining material (apparently a synthetic), and the quality of the stitching (very bad).  The original stitching is tiny and even, with running stitches joining most seams and securing the trim, back-stitches at stress points (shoulders, darts), and whip stitches finishing the shoulder seam allowances.

EK original 1850s dress skirt.
Fortunately, I have a decent amount of experience
wrangling mid-19th century dresses into archival boxes.
The skirt has a detached lining of white polished cotton; the fashion-fabric skirt has a sheer hem facing, and hem tape. The two skirt layers are knife-pleated together, and are whip-stitched to the waistband at 16 stitches/inch. The skirt is ~41" long ( I have not checked multiple points, yet, for insight into the balancing).

EK original 1850s dress skirt pleat detail.
I love the tiny, regular stitches,
even though my wrist just cramped up looking at them.

EK original 1850s dress skirt hem detail.
Hem tape on a sheer! And a sheer facing, which I did not expect.

EK original 1850s dress skirt lining detail.
The polished cotton skirt lining is only joined to the skirt at the waist.
It has a deep self-hem, with more exquisite running stitches.
These are my (awful) pictures, and my garment, so don't use them for commercial purposes. Educational and personal use? Please cite, link, and enjoy.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Starting Conversations

I've been musing a bit this summer about how to start conversations with visitors. I find it easy, now, to answer their questions, but when the visitor doesn't make that first overture, it's up to us interpreters to get things rolling. [If the questions you are getting seem less-than-helpful, check out Liz's post.] Although I'm arguably a professional, what follows are my own thoughts and reflections, rather than a guaranteed method of successfully initiating meaningful conversations. For fair warning, this post has also gotten ridiculously long over the two months I've been re-writing it.

General List of Things That Work

  • Greeting the visitor
  • Offering an explanation of the activity I'm undertaking
  • Asking about the visitor's experiences at the site or event
  • Calling artifacts/props to the visitor's attention (in character or in modern voice)

General List of Things That Do Not Work So Well

  • Acting scandalized by the visitors' clothing or deportment
  • Anything prefaced by "Did you know--"?
  • Pretending to be confused by cell phones and similar technology 
  • Melodrama
  • "Do you have any questions?"

Why I Think So

Greeting the visitors is an easy first step. I find a simple "Welcome", or "Good Morning/Afternoon/Day" to be very flexible--"Hi" and "Hello" also work, but for reasons of verisimilitude, I prefer not to use them in my current settings. Sometimes, that's all I need to do--the visitor will offer up a question or observation in response, and we've already begun a conversation.  More often, the greeting needs to be followed by one of my other techniques.  But, if nothing else, the greeting establishes that I am present, that I am not a mannequin (which has come up surprisingly often this summer), and that I'm available to talk. Singing to myself between groups can sometimes accomplish the first two (and amuse me while I wait for visitors), but I need to stop so that a conversation can start.

I'll often combine the greeting with another technique, to give the visitor more bearings about their situation, and provide context to prompt their questions. So, if they've walked in on me doing some work, I'll name the task, and either begin an explanation of it, or beg a moment's indulgence while I set it down.  I like to keep these short, and offer succinct facts that help the visitor contextualize what I'm doing, and what additional information they might want. Knitting socks, for instance, might lead into discussion of the people who would be wearing them, the materials they are made from, how I learned to knit, how people made or acquired clothing in the 1850s, how people kept warm in the 1850s.  Sometimes, the visitor will offer a statement in return ("My mom used to knit"), as they start to relate your historical pretension to their own lived experience--which is pretty cool and totally what we're about.

Similarly, I can point out an object that may be of interest to the audience, even if I'm not using it.  The curtains in the Tolmie house (Damask ordered from England, at a cost of over 5 pounds for 60 yards), is a favorite: it tends to start conversations about trade routes and the availability of goods, but also prompts conversations about social status, wealth, and currency.  In the store, I'll often overheard visitors reading the explanatory plaque aloud before entering the building; when this includes confusion about an item, I'll prepare to point out the lusterware dishes, Jew's harp (or jaw harp, a small musical instrument), or other object of interest. A favorite variant of mine is to greet the visitor, and suggest all of the things they may be interested in purchasing, as a softened version of an eager salesclerk (most of us react poorly to pushy sales pitches, so keep it light).
After the activity or object gambit (or instead), I'll try to ask the visitor a question; after all, this is a conversation, not a lecture. The idea with asking questions is to get the visitor comfortable talking to you, and to suss out what they want to hear more about--this isn't the place to pop quizzes (more on that later). Likewise, rhetorical questions aren't my favorites, because they don't tend to further the conversation. Answers do.

If I'm early on the itinerary (or just saw the group come in and turn towards my usually-later-in-the-experience station), I might try "Is this your first visit to [site]?" This gives me a chance to drop some necessary background information to first time visitors (such as that we're an HBC trading post, not a military fortress), which will reduce confusion during the rest of the visit. Returning visitors will often venture a remark on how often they've attend/when they were last here (a school field trip 30 years ago, the last living history event, the fundraiser concert a few years back), which gives me an opportunity to thank them, and to single out some attractions that may be new since their last visit, or special activities that are happening today, such as:
  • The current temporary exhibit
  • The renovation of a [now centerpiece] historic building, which occurred 15 yards ago (we do get visitors in who remember touring with a school group 20 or 30 years before)
  • Daily programming, like a visiting artisan's demonstration
  • The spaces currently being interpreted (blacksmith shop, kitchen, orchard, woodworking area, etc.), and that these are good places to ask any questions they think of while visiting
  • Where the restrooms are (it's a new-ish building)
  • Attractions and amenities suitable to the group's interests: a group with young children might be especially interested in the game area; making sure groups with strollers/wheels are finding the ramps, etc.
With children, I might try "Are you having fun?", and when they answer "yes", follow up with "what was your favorite thing you've seen so far?"  When they inevitably answer the chickens, or the bastion, or the games, I can validate the response and offer an interesting fact or two. ["Yes, there was one chicken taller than the others. His name is Buster, and he's the rooster.", "This house is also my favorite building.  When the Tolmies lived here, all three of their sons shared this bedroom."]

Other favorites include "What do you think of [current building]?", and "Does this [kitchen/bedroom/house] look like yours? (mostly a kid question). I've seen "Where are you folks from?" used very effectively to discuss travel times and transportation in the 1850s, leading into a discussion of the store's clientele, and shipment of goods.

With the exception of "Is this your first visit?" and "Are you having fun?", I try to avoid yes/no questions. A lot of people won't take this as an opportunity to start a conversation, as though they don't want to inconvenience the interpreter. While "Do you have any questions?" seems nice and broad, it's really too broad, and doesn't give the visitor much to work with.  When I've used it, I usually get "we're just looking", or "not really", which ends the conversation instead of starting it.  They people who have questions will manage to ask them.  In you must include it, establish the connection and conversation first, so that "Do you have any [more] questions" serves as a bridge between your proposed topics and the visitor's.

On the subject of other questions to avoid, I find "Did you know [fact]" to be inelegant, at best.  At worst, it can alienate your audience and undermine your credibility.  If you pick an obscure fact, the visitor may feel stupid or isolated; pick an easy one, and you're insinuating that they are ignorant; get it wrong, and you've absolutely destroyed any trust they had in you.  This can also happen if the 'fact' appears to reveal an agenda, or offers a overly-simplified view of a complex situation. [If you start a conversation with me by saying, "Did you know the Civil War was actually about states' rights?", you've just seriously undermined my trust in any information presented at your site.]

Other less helpful tactics includes haranguing the visitors about their modern clothing, and fussing about modern devices. Getting the vapors from women wearing pants, may successfully convey the idea that women in the 1850s wore dresses (with bonus points for miasma theory). You are also quite likely to have put your visitors on the defensive, making them less likely to ask questions or otherwise interact with you.  Really, any verbal prodding or teasing needs to prodding back--used on a case-by-case basis where the visitor has already indicated that this is how they want to communicate.  Getting back to the dress example, I have seen and played with a few variations on the theme of pants and dresses--taking the visitors for dress reformers, or trail emigrants, or simply people who must be here to buy fabric--but I try to keep it non-confrontational and focused on the information content. Less "Women in trousers! I will avert my eyes from this immodesty!", and more "Ah, you must by disciples of Mrs. Bloomer, or perhaps have adopted this costume for ease of travel. If you are looking for dress goods, we have a large selection of cotton prints and delaines..."  Even so, this method can be hit-or-miss.  Use with caution.

Time spent pretending you don't know what a cell phone is, is time in which you are not talking to the visitor about  the year you are trying to interpret. Except for the youngest children, the visitors already know cell phones didn't exist in the year 1855, and belaboring the point isn't adding anything to that knowledge. You will get people trying to 'trip' you up on occasion--I usually respond by answering a related, sincere question (Liz's post again). So, if they bring up cell phones, I might talk about telegraphs, letters, and the amount of time it takes to communicate across distances.  If I'm not in first-person, I might mention that telephones are over two decades in the future (and portable ones over a century).  If someone's really being snarky while I'm in character, I'll give them a smile and parse the Latin or Greek roots of the word ("Telephone--sound at a distance? That could be extremely useful, unless it's just a fancy term for "shouting").

Melodrama wastes everyone's time.  Even if you find a receptive audience, we mostly aren't professional actors, and we aren't working from professionally written scripts--there are plenty of media options which do it better.  The strength of living history lies in truth, and in the specific details we can present to the public. Let's focus on what we can uniquely do well, instead of mediocre dramatics.

Making stuff up? Just NO. Say that you don't know. Refer them to another person or a reference book. Validate the question and express interest in figuring it out. Answer the nearest related question you can. Offer what relevant information you do have. Retreating in shame and horror isn't very welcoming, but it's less of a disservice than lying to people who are trusting you. 

I'd also advise against co-opting other people's impressions: talking about what that interpreter over there is doing robs your colleague of the chance to do their own interpreting. Also, they can almost certainly do it better. While I could point out the basics of the carpenter's tools or the blacksmith's forge, the actual artisans can give more detailed and accurate information, as well as actually demonstrating. I shouldn't spoil their audience.  And on the other side, as a textile interpreter, I really don't need another person making up facts about my clothing and crafts.  Given the choice between lying to the public or contradicting another interpreter...well, I don't do the former, but we just lost credibility either way.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Two Victorian Shirts (Past Patterns #011)

Revisiting Past Patterns #007, after a fashion, with two shirts made from its updated view B, aka pattern #011.

Shirt the first:
Linen shirt for 1850s 1860s reenacting, from Past Patterns #011.
Linen shirt

And shirt the second:

Cotton shirt for 1850s 1860s reenacting, from Past Patterns #011.
Cotton shirt.

The first shirt is made entirely from linen, the second from pimatex cotton.  At the request of the wearer, I made a few alterations to the basic pattern:

  • Reducing the length by ~8".  Last time I made this up, the recipient also requested it be shortened.
  • Using all one fabric (calls for linen bosom and cuffs, with the rest of the shirt in cotton)
  • Adding a third button at the top of the pleated bosom. The cravat, in theory, holds the collar in place, but after trying the first shirt out, the wearer requested an extra button at the top to stabilize things.
  • For the cotton shirt, the collar was lengthened.
Thoughts on this pattern:

Generally, I like this pattern. The shirt has a good shape, and there's some customization options presented (alternatives to the center front pleats), with citations.  It's also copied from an original shirt, with all the instructions for hand-sewing it. That being said, the pattern is not without it's quirks--such as the tiny triangles pieced into the sleeve, which serve no discernible purpose* except for making the seam hard to fell.  The instructions are mostly clear about each step, but there are times when additional information would be useful. For instance, it's never specified where the front bosom pieces should lap left over right or right over left; the pleats themselves are to be basted, but no future step mentions permanently stitching the pleats or removing the basting thread.

Twice I've made it up, and struggled to get everything cut from the allowed material; the third time, I had a lot left over.  For future use, instead of following the pattern envelop guides, I would establish the wearer's preferred length in advance, and then lay out all the pattern pieces to determine the amount of material needed.

*These are not gores for increasing mobility at the shoulder: they attach flat the sleeve, to make it more of a trapezoid shape. The same result can be achieved by overlapping the pattern pieces and cutting out the sleeve as one piece (less seam allowances). My only guess is that the original garment was pieced due to fabric limitations.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Hourglass Autograph Quilt, Piecing

After some fun with the ink (always test for water-fastness), I have finally assembled all of the squares into a quilt top.  The inspiration is an c. 1830-1850 quilt from Pennsylvania (options considered here, first update here).

Detail of hourglass quilt top
Cascading hourglasses just felt appropriate for this
(very meta about living history) quilt.

Mine is somewhat scaled down from the the original; I originally intended to make a 13 x 13 block quilt top, with striped border, which would work out to the full 105" square quilt.  When I actually started laying out the blocks, however, I realize just how overly generous such a quilt would be, and decided to scale it down to 11 x 11 with the border.  It's still quite large, and should prove comfortable when I next find myself sleeping on the ground at an event.

To start, I cut out sixty 6.5" white squares for the signatures.  I then cut some 244 4" squares (61 white, the other 183 out of reproduction fabric scraps, mostly dress left-overs).  These were each cut in half diagonally, giving the 488 triangles needed to make 61 hourglass blocks:

Hourglass patchwork block (broken plated variation) for reproduction 1850s quilt.
A sample block (sideways). This one is made from Elise's dress scraps, 
to accompany her autograph square.

As previously mentioned, the 'hourglass variation' here is basically a three-print broken plate with the white upper right and lower left corners merging into the background.  The trickiest bit was laying out the blocks to piece the top together--I kept shifting things around to avoid concentrating the darker or light prints in one area, or placing several blocks with the same print near each other.  Where I had dress fabric from a particular individual, I tried to put at least one piece of it adjacent to their signatures (and briefly tried to match favorite colors, though that endeavor was soon abandoned).  Of course, by time I actually started sewing the block together, all of the prints had migrated into clusters.

Victor Hugo quote on reproduction album quilt
This block of text was written in one attempt.
My name required three.

I supplemented the autograph blocks with quotations from period songs and favorite novels. The block right below center has a Victor Hugo quote which I have adopted as my living history motto:
L'histoire néglige presque toutes ces particularités, et ne peut faire autrement; l'infini l'envahirait. Pourtant ces détails, qu'on appelle à tort petits—il n'y a ni petits faits dans l'humanité, ni petites feuilles dans la végétation—sont utiles. C'est de la physionomie des années que se compose la figure des siècles. (Les Miserables, 1.3.1)
There's also one anachronistic quote which serves as my cheeky alternative living history motto:
Le seul courage est de parler à la première personne.
After the blocks were joined, I added chintz border.  At the moment, all three layers are basted together, and the long process of hand-quilting has commenced.  This quilt is about three times the surface area of my quilted petticoat, so I would estimate 180 hours of hand-quilting...except that I chose a triple diamond pattern which is much denser than the diamonds and lines of the petticoat.

Reproducton hourglass album quilt top
I pin with a little help from my friends.
Who happen to be books and/or bricks.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Quilting Patterns

Still a work-in-progress, but I might as well post it.  Last winter I started hunting up all the pattern names/descriptions I could find for period quilting; that is, the motifs used for the actual quilting stitches, not the patchwork or applique designs.  Here are the ones from contemporary fiction:

"Oak Leaves" and "shells" are named in an 1859 story--"The Minister's Wooing"--in The Atlantic Monthly.

In, "My Economy Quilt" (The Lady's Repository 1860) , a grape leaf motif is used.

Vines in the border and diamonds in the body of a silk bridal quilt "Stray Leaves In An Old Journal" (The Literary Garland, 1850).

Octagon (hexagon?) patchwork in calico, quilted in "rectangles". Recollections of a Lifetime (1856)

(Note: hexagons tessellate with themselves, but octagons would require squares to fill the gaps).

Half-circles traced with chalk around a teacup form a "shell" motif, in Cedar Brook Stories (1864)

In another story, the young quilters are apparently working the corners of a quilt in "hearts and arrows", at their own initiative. "Judging From Appearances" (1855)

I think the description of a quilt as potentially "composed of stars or stripes, rising suns or crescents" refers to the patchwork, but it could also describe the quilting pattern. Clovernook.

A story in the American Agriculturalist (1847) has discussion about whether a quilt is to be quilted in "shells or diamonds, waves or feathers".

The American Girl's Book (1854) gives instructions for hexagon patchwork, with the finished piece quilted around the hexagons.

Quilting patterns in
Arthur's Illustrated Home Magazine
October, 1858. Page 154.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Eau De Cologne (1824)

The New Family Receipt Book (1824), pg 233-4
504. Eau de Cologne
Mix rectified spirit of wine, thirteen pounds; Hungary water, three pounds and a half; spirit of wine distilled from balm leaves, two pounds; essence of bergamot, three ounces; orange flower water, one pound; essence of lemon, an ounce; and essence of rosemary, a drachm. Shake this mixture well together in a large bottle and the liquor is made. It will in this ready way be very delicate and answer every requisite purpose but if superior delicacy be desired it may be obtained by distilling the above mixture or rather double the quantity of each ingredient in a gentle sand heat so as to draw off all the liquor with the exception of only two quarts left behind in the still.
Proportionately, that's 1 part rosemary to 8 parts lemon to 24 bergamot to 96 orange flower water to 192 balm to 336 Hungary water to 1248 spirits of wine. [See Hungary water post for apothecary measures]. For my initial batch here, I used 1 drop of essence of rosemary (in pipette that deliver 1/20 ml drops), and the rest in proportion.  Lacking a still (still), I ended up soaking lemon balm leaves in alcohol for a week to serve as the "spirit of wine distilled from balm leaves".  The result smelled nicely of lemon balm.

Eau de Cologne from 1824 receipt and Hungary Water
Eau de Cologne and the Hungary water used in it.
The cologne has a slight pink tint from the alkanet in the Hungary water.
The overall effect is interesting. I discovered that putting the liquid on a handkerchief makes a huge difference in the scent (the alcohol evaporates, so the others come through clearer)*.  I definitely picked out the rosemary and citrus elements, but overall it's hard to describe the scent--to me, at least, it's not so much a bouquet of recognizable odors, but rather a new scent, where whole > sum of parts.

I did find it interesting that this receipt duplicated the rosemary, which is both in the Hungary water and added to the Cologne as an oil.  The single drop of rosemary oil, however, initially overwhelmed everything else present.  In some other Hungary water receipts, the only scent is rosemary, which could be interesting to experiment with, and see how the Cologne differs in such a case.

I like this Eau de Cologne, and will definitely be using it as my scent of choice for history events (though the Hungary water on its own is very nice, too).

*Also, about 30 hours later, the handkerchief still smells like Eau de Cologne; the Hungary water handkerchief lasted an evening, but had faded by the next.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Hungary Water (1824)

From The New Family Receipt Book (1824)

510. French and much improved Method of making Hungary Water 
Take a large handful of the flowers and tender leaves of rosemary with a few of thyme lavender and sage then putting all of them into a thick glass bottle pour in a quart of spirits of wine; afterwards, merely to give it colour, put in a few pieces of alkanet root; instantly recork the bottle and shake it briskly till the water obtains a purple tinge. This is far preferable to any other Hungary water and particularly so if it be placed for at least a month exposed on sand or gravel to the heat of the Sun.
(page 235)
Rosemary, sage, thyme and "spirits of wine."
I initially forgot the lavender and added it later.

After two days in the sun, the liquid is pale yellow
and smells of rosemary and alcohol.

Alkanet added, and set overnight.
Decanted liquid is red, with a mild odor of rosemary and sage.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Macassar Oil Revisited

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. Castor oil is a far better application. but in its natural state it is as much too adhesive as olive oil is too thin. Castor oil, however, has the curious property of combining with spirit of wine by which elegant addition we may make it as thin as we please. The celebrated Macassar oil is of this kind.
--Godey's, November 1855
I previously made some of this "common hair oil", using the receipt denoted "Macassar oil" in Mrs. Bradley's Housekeeper's Guide (1853). As noted in Godey's, 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." 
The first batch I made (already mentioned) was sweet almond oil, scented with bergamot and colored with alkanet. For Brigade, I prepared a larger (16 oz) batch using olive oil, alkanet, and a few drops of rose oil. It worked just as well as the previous version, and the rose scent paired nicely with the light red color.  It was observed that the light red-pink tint of the oil did not actually effect the color of any of hair (black, brown, blond, or gray) that it was used on.

I've come across a number of other olive oil receipts which call for different scents, such as rosemary or orignanum oil, sans coloring agent (orignanum is the genus of oregano and marjoram); a macassar oil receipt calls for both of the proceeding (and repeated here); another macassar oil has colored olive oil scented with cinnamon, cloves, and thyme; rose hair oil with otto of roses and rosemary oil. Several of these appear to have been copied from the 1847 Household Book of Practical Receipts.

Anyway, I finally decided to try one of 'celebrated' castor oil versions of Macassar oil for comparison. An Introduction to Practical Pharmacy (1856) calls for mixing 30 fluid ounces of castor oil with with 2 fl ounces of "very strong alcohol" and 2 fluid drachms of oil of jessamine.  Translated from apothecary notation*, that's 1:8:40 ratio of essential oil to alcohol to castor oil. The "spirits of wine" named in Godey can refer to ethanol itself (generally distilled out of wine, in this period), or to brandy.  Since the receipt I'm working from uses the expression "very strong alcohol", I decided to use vodka.

Macassar hair oil, 1856 receipt
Macassar Oil
The thinned oil is a bit more viscous than the sweet oil version, but I noticed no difference in using it.

10 grains = 1 scruple (϶)
3 scruples = 1 drachm (ʒ)
8 drachms = 1 ounce (ʒ with an extra 7 on top)
12 ounces = 1 pound (lb, line crossing the l)

Incidentally, the scruple sign is a reverse lunate epsilon, the drachm is a lowercase ezh, and the other two I have yet to find on a windows character map.

Thursday, August 30, 2018


Quick little project: labeling a canteen cover for an acquaintance. As far as I can tell, this isn't quite a historic treatment, but I tried to emulate period laundry markings by using a bright red floss. The lettering is Spencerian, worked in back-stitch.

Reproduction civil war canteen with embroidered label on cover.
Customized canteen cover.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Semi-Open Undersleeves, 1855-1860

Sheer white cotton lawn; slim bishop shape, slightly gathered into a band, with a deep ruffle at the wrist. All hand sewn (on location at English Camp), with the seams felled to keep the lawn from fraying. I'm pleased to report a 15 stitch/in running stitch on the ruffle hem.

Reproduction 1860 lawn undersleeve, ruffle.
Lawn undersleeves, open at wrist.

Inspired by this set of original sleeves:

Undersleeves, American, c.1860
The Met/Boooklyn Museum Collection

I'm still working on (read: reading up) a good term for this style of sleeve, which is open at the wrist, but not continuously so from the top. I toyed with "banded" because several examples that I've found have distinct arm-band with a flounce or ruffle below. But there should be a way to distinguish undersleeves that are fully open (like these or these) from those that are close/gathered at some point and open further down (exhibit one, twothree and a fourth for fun).

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Quantifying Original Undersleeves

A question on the Sewing Academy forum prompted this little research project. Mrs. Watkins was trying to decide whether her new sleeves should be elbow-length or longer. I decided that  this was an excellent excuse for too!much!math!, because I like using statistical analysis to understand trends of 19th century dress. Also, it makes me look really closely and systematically at a large sample of original garments, which is always fun and edifying.

The spreadsheet is here.  The amount of information available on each item varies; the percentages of each sleeve and decoration type reflect this.

These embroidered, lace-edge cuffs
fold over the plain, buttoning ones.
c. 1850, The Met/Brooklyn Museum Collection

Like so.
c.1860, The Met/Brooklyn Museum Collection
Basic Summary: Of the 93 sets of sleeves, 80.6% had fabric as their base material; these were mostly very fine cottons, with 12/75 (16%) of the fabric sleeves identified as linen. Net was the base material of 16.1% of sleeves, and lace for 3.2%.

Embroidery was the most common adornment (49.5%), with cut work embroidery (including broderie anglaise) accounting for a further 15.1% of the sleeves; all told, 64.6% of the sleeves had some sort of embroidery. Just over 1/3 (34.4%) had lace or net present, aside from the main fabric of the piece. Self-fabric elements, such as tucks or puffs, appears in 19.4% of the sleeves, and 9.7% had ribbon. Six (6.4%) had no decorative features, while four lacked information.

Most (59.1%) of the sleeves were closed at the wrist; 12.9% were open at the wrist; 24.7% were open at the wrist, but set close further up (often with a band near the forearm and a flounce below). The remainder lacked information.

The most common top finish was a narrow hem (43%), though this may include narrow casings that have lost their drawstring or elastic; a third (33.3%) finished with a wider band at the top, often with this band fitted smooth and the full sleeve gathered into it; 15.1% had drawstrings or elastic present; one sleeve had a band with buttoned to itself along the upper edge.

Measurements were not available for most of the sleeves (see below). For those that were, the average length was 17.4", with a minimum length of 9", a maximum of 22", and a mode of 19".

I found a number of sleeves gathered into a smooth band at the top.
c.1850 The Met/Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection
Parameters: I included extent undersleeves from museum online collections, with dates listed in the 1850s and/or 1860s, as well as those labelled “Mid 19th century”, and “3rd Quarter 19th century.” This potentially includes pieces from the 1840s to c.1875, but generally concentrates on 1850s and 1860s.  I did not include sleeves only labelled as “19th century” or “second half of 19th century,” even when they resembled pieces dated in the target time period (and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston has some lovely examples, if you want eye-candy).  One sleeve each from Nancy Bradfield's Costume in Detail, and Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1 and Patterns of Fashion 2 were included. I may add to this in the future.

I used decimals for spreadsheet ease, though measurements were listed in fractions of inches; I also rounded to the nearest 1/8", with proportions rounded to nearest ¼"; where needed measurements were not given, but could be inferred from the proportions in the picture, those proportions/inferences are given in bold text.  Since measurements are usually given as the object's maximum length and width, while I needed length, cuff and upper arm sizes, I used italics to denote measurements that are tentative (usually a width measurement applied to the widest part of a open undersleeve where the upper arm and wrist measurements are similar).  All measurements and proportions are of the sleeve lying flat: so a cuff measurement of 3.5” would be approximately 7” circumference around the wrist. When no measurements were given, I took the smallest of the three (usually the cuff) as "x" and give inferred proportions off of that; for sleeves opening suddenly with a flounce, "x" is the smallest wrist/forearm measurement above the flounce. Analysis of these proportional 'measures' has not yet been done.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Further Adventures in Kirtle Laces

I've only broken three this year: linen yarn, braided linen yarn, and plied linen cord.  The lucet cord appears stronger, but the friction of making it causes the thread to weaken and break (resulting in joins, which weaken the overall cord). So, I tried another square lucet cord, this time of fine wool.  The only complaint so far is that it's a little bit stretchy; here's hoping it holds up better than the linen.

Olive green wool square lucet cord.

Tudor Tailor side-lacing kirtle with wool lucet cord.
Ladder-laced on the kirtle.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Hair Tapes

The band loom returns, with another round of less-than-photogenic white linen. I'm sort of proud of this from an endurance perspective: each tape is over 2 yards long.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Friday, August 10, 2018

Book Review: Living History

Title Image from Living History by David B. Allison

Living History: Effective Costumed Interpretation and Enactment at Museums and Historic Sites by David B. Allison.

This is an interesting little overview of past and current interpretation methods.  It's not a long book:  98 pages divided into seven chapters, plus introduction, bibliography and a little poetry.  The tone is conversational; the content intermixes personal anecdotes, descriptions of previous interpretive techniques, research study results, and interviews with the staff of living history sites.  All in all, it's an approachable look at how living history interpretation has developed and changed through the 20th century, and what current best practices look like.

I mostly value this book for its retrospective of living history as museum practice: what seems to work with modern audiences and what does not. While reading, I found the shift between research and story a little jarring at times, but that's possibly because I was expected a denser, or more theoretical work (my fault). I did end up enjoying the peeks at how other sites operate their interpretive programs, though there were other partss I'm not sure I care for it. For instance, the section summarizing living history in popular media, ie South Park and The Simpsons, was longer than I found interesting or useful.

There wasn't a lot of 'how to' included, but there was a certain amount of 'this works well, that less so.'  I very much appreciated seeing someone else agree with me that 'feigning ignorance of the present' and/or 'mocking the visitors for their modern clothing and accouterments' is not a productive way to start conversations.  Personally, I find that approach annoying, and a distraction from the actual topic of conversation: Allison puts it more pedagogical terms, that making the audience feel stupid puts them in a defensive mindset which is not conducive to learning.

This isn't a book that will teach you how to interpret effectively, but it's a quick read that's likely to help you refine your methods and/or your site's approach to the interpretation.

Stars: 3.5

Accuracy: Encourages it.

Overall Impression: An interesting perspective on the development and direction of living history interpretation, but neither the most in-depth theoretical assessment nor a how-to guide. Approachable language makes it a good choice for a layperson interested in the hows and whys of living history and museum "enacting".  If it convinces even one person to stop using 'ignorance of the present' as their interpretive hook, it will be a job well done.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Original Cotton Dress, 1852

Cotton Dress, American, 1852
From The Met (Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection).

An eye-candy reminder that cotton print dresses don't have to break "the rules" in order to be pretty. Yes, it's the usual gathered-to-fit bodice with bishop sleeves and a gauged skirt.  But this cotton dress still has a wealth of detail without piles of trim: the very full bodice front is neatly shirred at the waist; the equally generous bishop sleeves are gathered neatly into the piped armscyes and button-closure cuffs; those cuffs are finished with delicate self-fabric ruffles.  The dropped shoulders, full sleeves, and tidy waist all conform to the fashionable silhouette of the 1850s, despite the modest fabric. And either that material has a ton of body, or the mannequin arms have been padded very well...

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Waistcoat, 16th Century

Blog backlog continues, because the universe conspires to ensure last-minute event sewing, but doesn't always allow time for photographing the results.

My Tudor kit, such as it is, is largely comprised of light-weight linen (being primarily used in August). Thus, my first June event fell on a cool, damp weekend, which saw me sewing a single wool garment by campfire-light, as the rain closed in.*

Tudor Tailor 16th Century Woman's Waistcoat
Waistcoat. It's actually a burgundy color.

The waistcoat pattern was drafted from The Tudor Tailor. I opted to include the wings, and the used the straight collar/cuffs. The material is a dark red wool from Pendleton, with a full lining in linen.  I used black size 2 hooks for the fastenings, inspired by the Amsterdam examples.

*I proceeded to wear the said garment next day (pinned close for lack of hooks), while helping start a new fire in the said rain.  A month and a half later, I finally managed to sew on the 12 hooks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Monday, August 6, 2018

SA Cloth Girl Doll

Meet Nelly's new little sister: Harriet. She is made from Liz Clark's 13" cloth girl doll pattern.

Sewing Academy 1850s/1860s Reproduction Cloth Girl Doll
Harriet in new dress and pinafore.
Not visible: chemise, drawers, petticoat.
I don't have a lot to review here, as the pattern instructions and format closely resembles its predecessor, the cloth lady doll (15").  If you liked that, you'll like this.* The differences are in the doll size and garment types: the girl doll is two inches shorter, and her wardrobe includes children's style variations, as well as few different outerwear pieces, such as a sunbonnet and pinafore.  The girl doll pattern also has instructions for making dress and bonnet forms to display additional garments. 

The garments in common between the two dolls are nicely differentiated: the girl doll has a slightly different style of chemise, while other garments (drawers, stays) are cut in children's styles. The main reason for adding Harriet to my kit is to show the differences between womens' and girls' wardrobes.

The other notable difference is that the girl doll pattern is a pdf rather than a paper pattern.  While this felt a little weird to me, I appreciate the ability cut out pattern pieces without having to trace them.

What You Get With This Pattern: 

  • 1 pdf, containing 20 pages of instructions and 8 pages of doll/clothing pattern pieces
  • Patterns include the doll, a dress form, a bonnet form and the following garments: chemise, drawers, stays, petticoats, dress variations (yoked, gathered or pleated bodices cut high or low; 5 sleeves), jacket, basque, pinafore, and bonnet. 

Rating: 5 stars
Difficulty: Varies from easy to intermediate
Accuracy: High. Some background is included about cloth dolls; the clothing rings very true for girls' dresses of the 1850s/1860s.
General Impression: A nice doll, from a pattern than is easy to use and encourages customization.  In quality and user-friendliness, this pattern is the equal of its predecessor.

*I really love using Liz's patterns, finding them straightforward and intuitive to use. Occasionally, someone disagrees with me on this; check out the free compendium articles if you want to get a feel for the writing style.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Fancy Dress Article

Mrs. Watkins has a fun article about fancy dress parties. Makes me wish I were in Minnesota this autumn...

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Undersleeves (Bishop with Frill)

Not my project, but last weekend's sewing did include this pair of undersleeves:

Long undersleeves of lawn.
A friend had cut them out already, and I sewed them while she made some final adjustments to dress and collar. The material was a smooth lawn with moderate body (from Mill End, if I recall correctly); the shape is a moderately full bishop sleeve, with a ruffle set in the cuff, and the upper edge hemmed (not gathered into another band). The cuffs close with hooks and eyes.

I'm really please with how the
ruffles' rolled hems turned out.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


No photogenic projects lately, but I did finish another chemise--it's patterned off one of my old chemises, and ultimately started as the Simplicity 2890.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

July 4, 1852

"What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and more bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour. "
--Frederick Douglass, "The White Man's Fourth of July", reproduced in Frederick Douglass the Orator (1893)

[Full text at Teaching American History.]

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Findings and Sewing Implements, Renaissance Amsterdam

First off, I want to applaud the design of Amsterdam's Below the Surface online exhibit. It has a really nice chronological listing of all the artifacts (with an intuitive and powerful search functionality), as well as a virtual copy of the exhibit with tour. So, you can float around looking at the different objects, or follow a highlights tour with labels, or click any item you like to more information, or skim through a time line (and click any item you want for more information). The integration of these different parts--chronological organization, object type display, and a text search function--make it very versatile, and a power research tool.

Anyway, I was browsing artifact timeline, and stumbled upon something very familiar:
Iron garment hook, dated 1350-1650.
A timeless design. I've read about hooks-and-eyes/thread-bars being in use back to the 14th century, but was surprised at how modern the round-wire hook looked (compared to the 19th century versions I've seen, which tend to be flattened rather than truly round).  A moment later, I came across its buddy:
Iron garment fastening eye, dated 1350-1650.
 At which point, my browsing became a scavenger hunt for garment findings and sewing implements.  Like these alternative eye designs:
Iron garment fastening eye, dated 1350-1650.
Brass garment fastening eye, dated 1300-1700.
And some sewing tools:
Brass thimble, dated 1450-1550.
Brass sewing ring, dated 1450-1550.

Silvered brass pin, dates 1400-1700.

Bone needle case, dated 1300-1700.
Iron needle, dated 1300-1875.

Iron scissors, dated 1400-1600.
There are also all manner of buttonsshears, buckles (with and without leather belt fragments), garment hooks, and purse frames/fragments.  It's a really fun, varied exhibit of the detritus of ordinary life from about 1350-2005.  Now if only the Arabia had a similar website...