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.