Lappets and Tuckers . . . Go How?

I know what lappets are, costumely speaking, and with regard to women’s millinery. They’re those long, lacy, streamer things that hang down from a headdress. The fanciest ones were made of fine lace and could be terribly expensive. They were popular in the 18th century but seemed to fade by 1800 when the classical look was in vogue, and then regained favor, at least with “mature” ladies, in the middle to late 19th century. Early ones were usually found in pairs, or occasionally joined slightly shaped in the middle, while 19th century ones could be . . . more creative.

But what have I got here? Two different long strips of fine white muslin, neatly (but probably not professionally) embroidered with whitework. Are they one-piece lappets, or something else?

They appear to date to the late 1700s or early 1800s, judging by the materials and floral patterns. One is 58″ x 4″ and the other is 63″ x 3.” The design on the wider one is mirrored on both edges, while the other is worked along one edge only. All edges are scalloped, and there’s a join on both at 20 inches (not the middle) from one end which the embroidery carries right across. Found together + like  patterns + like materials = same maker? The design was embroidered to fit, which indicates they weren’t cut from another garment. They seem too fragile for a sash and too narrow for a scarf.

So how in the world would you wear them? It seems like draping across the top of your head would be a bit awkward. I’d feel about as graceful wearing a length of toilet paper.

The most fabulous book on accessories of this era is Heather Toomer’s Embroidered with White,  and I searched it for clues. It has beautiful photos of lappets. In pairs. With dense embroidery. Sigh. In her book on the next time period (just as brilliant), lappets appear as extensions of other accessories, such as fichus and pelerines. So I’m still wondering what these were for. Help!

The fabric is joined about 20″ from one end (not centered) on both pieces.
The darning is finer than the embroidery!

While on the subject of long narrow textiles, I’ll present my next puzzle: tuckers. I’m wandering into dangerous territory when discoursing on 18th century costume, since I know so little. However, I had no trouble finding period references to tuckers. Their wearing location on female anatomy guaranteed attention, one way or another.

Tuckers, as defined in 18th century dictionaries:

TUCKER, tuk’-ur. f. A small piece of linen that shades the breasts of women.

-A Slip of Linen or Lace, pinned along the Top of Women’s Stays
-A border of linen or lace on the bosom of a shift
-A fine piece of lace, cambrick, &c. pinned or sewed round the neck of a woman’s shift, gown
-A shred of linen &c., about the neck of a woman’s shift
-A slip of fine linnen, run in a small kind of ruffle, around the uppermost verge of the women’s stays
-A strip or ornament of linen worn by women at the uppermost verge of the stays

Then we have Garsault’s 1771 L’art de la lingère, where I’m up to my tucker in speculation:

Tour de gorge en mousseline festonnée. Il se fait d’une aune de long sur un seizieme de large. Painfully translated: Scalloped muslin tucker. It is made one [≈yard] long by one sixteenth wide. A 1788 French-English dictionary defines “tour de gorge” as “tucker,” and “tour de dentelle” as a lace tucker.

This post is already too long to include Joseph Addison’s slightly naughty essay on the tucker – although if you’re curious, you can find one of many reprints here.

There’s no lack of period illustrations of tuckers, but it’s the logistics that have me baffled. Sure, you can tuck a straight band of fabric around the top of your stays – but then all but a few inches in front is hidden under a gown. You can tuck a straight length around the neckline of your gown – but then you have to negotiate the curves, and my mystery pieces seem awfully wide to do it without looking rumpled.

A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen c.1765-82 Henry Robert Morland 1716-1797   CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0   I don’t presume to know if she wearing a “separate” tucker, or if that’s trimming on her shift. Or neither. But it’s a good illustration of the trickiness of turning corners!
A Laundry Maid Ironing c.1765-82 Henry Robert Morland 1716-1797  CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0  Her frill seems to be a little fuller.

Many paintings show gathered ruffles at the neckline, whether lace or embroidery, although the Lady’s Maid Soaping doesn’t look very frilly.  Of course you could always adorn your own tucker, if you were good with a needle.

A pretty pattern from 1772.

Now here are the four long strips of linen that perplex me, ornamented along one edge, all owned by a woman who lived from 1760-1805, in France. They measure a bit over 40″ long and the linen is @3.5″ wide. If they’re not tuckers, what the heck are they and how did she wear them? Maybe they were part of a headdress. Folk costume. Dresser scarf. Tourniquet with feminine flair.

A closeup of the careful mending. The darns are as fine as the other plain sewing.
There’s a bit of lace on one end only, and a cambric border on one edge. You can see there’s also a good bit of wear.
This one is in better shape, has lace along the edge, no trim on the ends. And her “marked” monogram.
A beautifully simple one, marked with both initials, although the cambric trim on this one didn’t fare so well.

I’ve called these pieces lappets and tuckers, but I truly don’t know. Research didn’t settle anything for me this time, so any help is welcome. Maybe someday in the future our descendants will ask the same questions about our garments. I know I’ve shopped for workout clothes and been just as confounded – these strappy scraps of spandex go how?!

But I’ve Got a Sewing Machine!

Punch, 1895

Gertrude. “My dear Jessie, what on earth is that Bicycle Suit for?”
Jessie. “Why, to wear, of course.”
Gertrude. “But you haven’t got a Bicycle!”
Jessie. “No: but I’ve got a Sewing Machine!”

Reading old magazines. Really old. It’s what happens when you’ve been stuck at home too long.

VIRTUE UNREWARDED

Melissa Melinda McCann
Projected a laudable plan
To reform woman’s dress
On a standard no less
Than the models affected by man.

She invented remarkable ways
Of belaying her garments, and praise
Was distinctly her due,
For the neighbours she threw
Into constant and breathless amaze.

Unmindful how some might deride,
She determined her skirt to divide;
No change was too radical—
Transient—nomadical—
Each idea new should be tried.

All draping she wholly abhorred—
Her vials of wrath she outpoured
Upon tailors and dress-makers
Calling them mess-makers,
Banded in fiendish accord.

Point de Venise was as bad—
Never a trimming she had;
For her no chimerical,
Cheap, millinerical, Passementerical fad.

And so she elected to go
Unadorned from her crown to her toe;
A strong common sensible—
Quite indefensible
Funny old feminine crow!

These were the thanks that she got;
From naughty newspapers, hot shot;
From her friends, levity—
Hints of longevity—
Tragical, quite, was it not?

(PICK-ME-UP, 1890)

 

What’s in Your Pocket?

Pocket Book 01

It seems like even hobbies go through seasons, and mine has certainly been in a slow one. However, there’s nothing like a new book to start things stirring again.

Ever since seeing the online Pockets of History exhibit, I’ve been wishing for a book with more on the subject. So of course I was delighted when I learned about this one! The Pocket – A Hidden History of Women’s Lives, 1660-1900, by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux, was published in May by Yale University Press. I’ve just started to explore it. How could I resist? It touches on all my favorite subjects, not only textiles, costume, and needlework, but fascinating little bits of material culture and stories (sadly too brief) associated with them.

Who knew that a pocket could have a “heart-bit” too? But it makes good sense because the stitching was a decorative way to reinforce an opening.

The book offers a great close-up of a heart-bit on a pocket, which looks much like the one on this muslin child’s gown, circa early nineteenth century.

There’s also discussion of marking and learning to mark, and the importance to women of claiming ownership. The Pocket even touches on needlework education, which thrills my plain sewing pedagogical heart no end!

Pocket Book 03
Pockets show the same style of marking as other plain sewing items, like this schoolgirl’s practice marking piece (c1850) with an unfinished “H.” The ruler shows how small the marking could be.

The book is full of beautiful photos that reveal the diversity of pockets. I even got a patchwork fix, thanks to these made with colorful prints. Other illustrations include period art, engravings, advertising, and some splendid close-ups of the textiles and embroidery.  And wonder of wonders: doll pockets!

Pocket Book 04
A section of paper piecing (you might recognize a few from the Flower Patch posts) laid across some of the gorgeous illustrations. I’m always hoping for a pattern match, yet always disappointed.

I think the most delightful part of the book is learning about the little treasures and scraps that were pocketed. Or wait – maybe it’s the stories? The authors’ research reveals fascinating bits of women’s lives, and the pocket contents added to their stories as well. The list is extensive: money, gloves, books, pencils, medicine, “characters” (an employment reference), food, jewelry, handkerchiefs, clothing, charms, combs, cosmetics, tickets, snuff boxes, cutlery, letters, and even pilfered goods. Hmm… barring the last mentioned (one would hope), it’s really the same as you might find in a handbag today. Ok, maybe not the snuffbox.

The only pocket I’ve made is a miniature one for Pharaby. I’ve never made a people-sized one. I rather like the idea of sewing a pocket for myself. No particular purpose, just fun. It would be a terrific way to practice plain sewing skills and experiment with some fancywork as well.

If you find these topics as fascinating too, I highly recommend The Pocket. It provides such a wealth of information that you won’t actually find yourself … out of pocket.

Pocket Book 05
Too tempting! I gave in and created a collection for a pocket-to-be: scissors, thimble, whist counters, love poem, ribbon, pattern, love token (look closer, it’s really NOT Billy Bones’ black spot!) and a broken coral necklace awaiting repair. Still. Waiting.

 

Mystery of the Misfit Mitts

Misfit Mitts 01

It’s wonderful when old clothing comes with a provenance and a story, but when those are lacking it requires a deerstalker, a magnifying glass, and powerful reasoning skills. OK, maybe not the hat.

These mitts caught my eye because they are so different from the 18th century linen and silk embroidered beauties that I’ve seen in books and museums. Having never seen anything like them before, I was intrigued by their plain sewing simplicity. Time to look for clues. Ready, Watson?

They were meant for working rather than fashion because they were made of an ordinary quality muslin and show a good bit of wear.

They were worn during the era of very short sleeves (early 19th century) since they are a veeeery long 22 inches from hand opening to upper arm.

The maker knew something about sewing, since she cut them on the bias for a hint (barely a hint!) of stretch.

The stains were made by the lady when she wore them, rather than acquired during their decades in a trunk, since they don’t reflect storage folds.

The owner was thrifty because she mended them.

She was left-handed, since the left mitt has the worst stains, both mends, and the heaviest wear.

The owner either 1) washed them in hot water, 2) gained weight, or 3) didn’t try them on until she finished making them because the seams have been let out.

And here I’ve reached the end of my observations. What do you think, Watson?

Ah. Well. The lady wore them to protect her long sleeves and bedclothes while wearing beauty treatments overnight. The pattern would only fit the material on the bias. The left mitt was torn in the laundry mangle and stained when dropped on the dirty floor. They were darned by the laundress because she didn’t want a scolding from her mistress. And they were a hand-me-down from a sister who had skinnier arms.

Thank you, Watson.  I confess that I have been as blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.

Misfit Mitts 07
The right mitt, palm side up, showing the light gathers of easing for the thumb.
Misfit Mitts 04
The inside stitching on the thumb.
Misfit Mitts 08
Marks where stitches were removed to make the arm wider.
Misfit Mitts 02
Interior view showing the seamed piecing that was added to give sufficient length, identical on both mitts.
Misfit Mitts 03
Close-up of the above; you can see the silk thread used for seaming and overcasting. Those are actually the same stitch; the seaming is shallow and close over two layers of cloth, and the overcasting is deeper and wider over the single layer to prevent raveling. The long side seams were backstitched and their edges left raw.
Misfit Mitts 05
Inside view of the the one-inch opening at the top of a mitt.
Misfit Mitts 09
Small mend or darn on the palm of the left mitt, seen from the right side.
Misfit Mitts 10
Darn at the base of the thumb on the left mitt, seen from the right side.
Misfit Mitts 11
Close-up of the darn at the thumb, seen from the inside – very neat and tidy. The close focus makes the fabric look coarse, but it’s not. It may not be fine, but it is fairly light, tight, and smooth to the touch.

Misfit Mitts 12 In the last photo, we have a final view of the mitts, as if their ghostly wearer were raising her arms in surrender, palms forward. But if she read Watson’s and my deductions, she’s probably raised her arms while hooting with laughter!

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What I Didn’t Wear

1910s A
A cautious venture into costuming by someone who doesn’t do costumes.

As much as I adore historic (and historical) costume, and as much as I loved playing dress-up when I was a child, I confess that I haven’t dressed in costume myself. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, at least a little. But I lacked Means, Motive, and Opportunity. It can cost an awful lot, I’m not much of a seamstress, and I’ve had nowhere to wear it.

Last month, however, I planned to attend a Heritage Day celebration and dinner-on-the-grounds, where everyone was invited to dress in clothing from anytime during the past 175 years. Finally – Motive and Opportunity!

1910s E
The modern skirt, way beyond my skill level.
1910s F
A view from the back, with lots of pretty pleats.

I solved the Means problem by using stuff I already had: a modern skirt which looked somewhat appropriate for the 1910s, the classic “Armistice Blouse” Folkwear pattern, and a good supply of white muslin to make it.

The last ingredient I needed was persistence. And it took some, seriously. While an ordinary seamstress can sew that shirt in an afternoon, it took me a whole weekend, not counting the hand finishing. And I even put the arms in the right way, first time! Maybe I could sew faster if I sewed more often?

The fit was nice, the collar lay smoothly, and the tucked front went together easily. The cuffs were the only disappointment. I didn’t like the way they looked when buttoned and turned back, because there was no allowance for the overlap in the pattern. Removing the lace trim helped, but if I ever make another one, I’ll have to fiddle with the cuffs.

1910s B
Martha Mary, a dress form born in 1916, was perfect for modeling the shirtwaist.

The pattern is easy to adapt to different trimmings, but I wanted to keep it simple so that I could wear a little lingerie pin set (see my Etsy store) on the vestee.

1910s C
A closer view, showing the triple chain set of lingerie pins on the front.

Tiny bar pins were very popular in the early 1900s, and went by many different names: baby pins, cuff, collar, waist, lace, lingerie pins, etc. I think most people now use them for dolls or christening gowns, but I’d always wanted to try them out on a shirtwaist.

With a hat, a vintage handbag (or pocketbook, as my grandmother would have said), gloves, and black oxfords, I was all set!

1910s D
A nice plain back: my skill level.

Of course if you noticed the blog title, you can guess where this is going. I didn’t get to wear my costume as planned. Between the weather forecast and volunteering to help with food, all this work wasn’t going to work. Too dressy. Did I let it spoil the day? No way! I transferred the accessories to a more “picnic-y” vintage-looking dress (that I didn’t sew), and had a wonderful time. I’ll save this outfit for another day. Minus the hat and gloves, it would probably pass unnoticed in a room of gray business suits and white shirts!

1910s G
Dinner on the grounds in the South requires a hand fan. I couldn’t resist a chance to speak for the ladies.