Scamp-work

Felling 05

And now back to plain sewing, in excruciating detail. A teacher’s sample of felling, dated 1900.

Do you know how to write instructions in such a simple, straightforward, concise manner that anyone can follow them perfectly? I wish I did.

I was working on a project that required an explanation of “felling,” and reached the point where a little testing of the prototype was in order. I found a Reluctant Victim, and with mild apprehension, gave her the draft to read and check for clarity. She read, pondered, frowned, sighed.

Fail.

Felling 12

The fabric prepared for the first line of sewing: either running or backstitching.

Felling 07

The fabric after it has been sewn together, and the fell is being hemmed down.

After some discussion, I realized that there was more to this little bit of plain sewing than could be covered in my one-sentence description. Why? Because there are a couple of variations, as well as some similar stitches that our g-g-grandmothers used (e.g., French seam, counter-hem, German hem, mantua-maker’s hem) to confuse things. Too much info for a sound bite project.

Sure, felling is just a method of joining two pieces of fabric so that the raw edges are enclosed and hemmed down. But there wasn’t only one way to fell a seam: it was that first line of sewing that made the difference.

The first line of sewing joins the two pieces of fabric. The second one (it was always hemming in hand work)  fastens down the folded edge. So for the first line,

You could use a running stitch.
You could use a backstitch (called stitching in early English texts).
You could use a half-backstitch (variation of the above).
You could use a very shallow overcasting stitch (called sewing or seaming in early English texts).

This difference in the first line of stitching made all the difference in understanding period instructions on how to fold it and how to hold it. (Sorry, Kenny.) That’s what gave me real problems when trying to condense my instructions.

Methods that use a running stitch or a backstitch are easier to explain, and they’re the ones most people use today when hand sewing. You place the pieces right sides together and sew. Then spread the work open, fold the edge over, and hem it down.

Seaming

It’s the last method that gets a little tricky, the one that uses seaming (I’ll use that term since that’s what I called it in Plain Needlework) for the first line of sewing.

Felling 11

The work held properly for seaming, from a period manual.

Seaming was a sturdy method of joining two pieces that utilized every inch of fabric. When you spread the seam open, the edges look butted together.

Linen used for underclothing early in the century had nice selvages that could be joined this way. Therefore, it’s easy to see how a seamstress would be inclined to use the same stitch if she had to join two “cut” (non-selvage) edges. Because you should never use selvages that have unsightly little holes!

An excerpt, dated 1821:

SECOND CLASS.

Q. How should you fix a seam? – A. I turn one paper down once, and the other once on the right side, and turn it back again the same width to form the fell.

Q. What do you do next? – A. I pin the two pieces together.

Q. What should you do before you fix two selvages together? – A. Examine them, to see if there are any little holes in them.

Q. If there are, should you sew them together? A. No, cut them off, and fix a fell seam.

How do you prepare and hold the fabric if you want to use seaming? Most of the old manuals say the fabric is held wrong sides together and worked on the right side. And that’s how all the illustrations show it. After all, if you’re turning down the edges before you seam them, you don’t want those pesky folded parts in the way while you work, right?

But there are a few sources that say otherwise. A Sewing Course for Teachers advises placing right sides together for seaming, because the slanted bits of thread will then be inside, and the straight bits will be hidden in the grain of the fabric on the right. (See the pics in the Flower Patch post for an example.)

And in that venerable text, The Workwoman’s Guide, A Lady states

The work for sewing is thus prepared: the two selvages are placed together, or if there are no selvages, the raw edge of one piece is turned down once, and the edge of the other piece is turned down double the width, and then half the width is turned back again for the fell. The two pieces are pinned or basted together, with the parts turned down face to face and held firmly between the finger and the thumb…

At first I assumed she meant to place both whole pieces of fabric face to face. But after considering a century’s worth of other sources, I think “A Lady” meant that only the folded down parts are face to face. The two pieces of fabric are actually wrong sides together.

So what was “the rule” back then? I believe that seaming without felling was done either on the right or wrong side of the fabric – assuming there was a difference in the right and wrong sides! And I think seaming for felling was usually done on the right side with the little folds tucked inside. But does it really matter? Maybe I’m the only soul on earth who finds it interesting?

Felling 06Folding for Felling, the old-fashioned way:

If, however, you also like picayune sewing trivia, below are some images showing the method of folding for felling.  I’m really surprised that such consistent, detailed instructions and examples have survived. And very, very grateful!

 

Felling 01

Children learned by first folding paper in preparation for felling. Lancaster’s manual, 1821.

Felling 02

A close-up of the folded paper that has come unglued.

Felling 03

Even closer-up! You can just barely see the double fold in the top paper.

Felling 08

This 1890s manual illustrates the fold on the first piece.

Felling 09

The fold on the second piece.

Felling 10

The pieces aligned and basted together for seaming.

Now, what method do I use? Mostly run-and-fell. But sometimes I use seaming because it’s my favorite stitch to work. I recommend doing what suits your project or suits your fancy. Anyone who sews two left sleeves on a blouse, twice!!, can’t be too snooty about setting standards.

Although some 19th century sewing teachers were! Writing in 1884, Miss Jones insists,

“Run-and-fell is not allowable in plain needlework. It must be called ‘scamp-work.’ If properly done, it takes as long as the seaming and even then is not very secure….”

Tackling this topic helped my muddled mind, and made me decide to simplify that project. Run-and-fell only for that one. I guess that makes me a shameless promoter of scamp-work!

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Cuff Links – to the Past

The Mystery! Cuffs? Undersleeves? What the heck are they and what did She wear them with?

The Mystery. Cuffs? Undersleeves? What the heck are they and what did she wear them with?

It’s summertime, as you can tell by the artfully posed hydrangea, and time for a little mystery. Every now and then I come across examples of plain sewing that are rather puzzling. This pretty pair of sleeves (or cuffs) are not like any I’ve seen before.

They certainly do look early nineteenth century. The gathered section is a very delicate white muslin with stripe pattern. The flat section is an extremely fine linen, the kind of linen used for infant clothing and men’s “shirt bosoms.”

On the muslin end of the sleeve there’s a triple row of gathered cording, a feature that was popular in the early 1800s. The linen end has a narrow hem and is divided all the way to the gathers, almost like it was meant to fold back. The sewing is neat and tiny, with an occasional clumsy stitch, just along the gathers.

Sleeve Cuff 7

Gathers from the inside.

And speaking of the gathers… the method used to attach them is not commonly used for joining a flat to a gathered part in most of the plain sewing I’ve seen – a type of felling? It appears the linen and muslin were half-backstitched together, then felled, with a stitch in each gather.

Gathers from the outside.

Gathers from the outside.

Well, silly me. Of course the usual method of inserting gathers into a band and then sewing them on both the inside and outside wouldn’t work here: there’s only one layer to the band!

The blue cotton marking thread is almost invisible now, but it is miniscule. The height of the letters is .4 centimeter (just over 1/8 inch), and each stitch is made over two threads. Early marking charts and samplers did not have a “J” but used the letter “I” instead. So was the owner “J R” or “I R”?

Sleeve Cuff 2

Blue cotton marking, “I R” – who was she?

Sleeve Cuff 8

It’s easier to see when held against the light.

I think my favorite bit of handwork here is the mending. These sleeves were worn enough to fade the marking, but I don’t know if the repair is due to a worn spot or a tear. Either way, the fix is a work of art.

Sleeve Cuff 5

The mend from the inside.

Sleeve Cuff 4

The mend from the outside.

Sleeve Cuff 9

A cord to tie.

Just above the marking is a fine cotton cord, obviously meant to attach the sleeve to another garment. Both are still in place and appear original.

Well, so much for my observations and (right or wrong) interpretation. On to my questions.

Why are the sleeves so big? The circumference of the linen end is about ten inches, the muslin cording about nine inches. My scrawny wrists are less than five and a half, and so the sleeves look absurdly baggy when I slip them on. And even men’s shirts of the era don’t usually have cuffs that big, so it can’t be just me!

What were they worn with? The total length is about seven inches, so they’re really too long to fit the end of a long sleeve anyway, without some peculiar looking bunching up. Were they not intended for ladies’ apparel? Were they worn with some special type of  clothing, religious or a costume?

Sleeve Cuff 3

Open slit in the upper band.

Why is there a slit in the linen band? It’s configured so that the hems are not meant to be turned back. Why is there no way to adjust the corded gathered end? They are a fixed size.

Hmm. As I was trying them over my hand and onto my wrist, I tried slipping them up my (correspondingly scrawny) arm, past the elbow. Aha! A perfect fit! And the opening in the linen allows for movement or shifting around a bit on my arm. So is that the answer?

I’m so accustomed to seeing the underleeves that were worn in the mid-nineteenth century, or the cuffs that have been worn for centuries, that I wasn’t expecting something different like short sleeves. Were these intended for wear with the short sleeved gowns of the Regency era? I don’t know.

I’m not (always) shy about sharing my costume and sewing blunders and misunderstandings. So if you have the answer up your sleeve, please – do tell!

Nourishing Juices

Diaper 1

Diaper cover, late 19th century. Plain sewing in flannel! Could those red cotton stitches be laundry marks?

There is an odd Notion enough entertained about Change, and the keeping of Children clean. Some imagine that clean Linnen and fresh Cloaths draw, and rob them of their nourishing Juices. I cannot see that they do any thing more than imbibe a little of that Moisture which their Bodies exhale. Were it as is supposed, it would be of service to them; since they are always too abundantly supplied, and therefore I think they cannot be changed too often, and would have them clean every Day; as it would free them from Stinks and Sournesses, which are not only offensive, but very prejudicial to the tender State of Infancy. – Dr. William Cadogan, 18th century author of An Essay upon Nursing

Plain sewing examples are usually cotton or linen, but here’s one of wool flannel:  a baby’s diaper (or napkin) cover. Maybe this one is similar to what Mrs. Bakewell meant in her 1836 Mother’s Practical Guide. “I cannot too strongly recommend the use of a flannel napkin over the diaper for the very young babes, when they are carried out. The chest, too, should be guarded with flannel, especially if there be any constitutional or hereditary predisposition to inflammation.” Wool, the cure for what ails you!

Instead of the herringbone stitch, this has been bound with a cotton facing and trimmed with a blanket stitch in neat scallops. Herringboning, the stitch recommended in period manuals for anchoring seams on heavy material, wouldn’t have been sufficient to secure the edges, considering the laundering required.

Diaper 2

Cotton facings, hemmed with tiny stitches.

In the days before modern heating, wool flannel was often part of a baby’s wardrobe. Although warm, it seems like wool would be awfully heavy and itchy if worn close to the skin. Maybe that’s just my modern-day sensibilities? But at least the wearer of this diaper enjoyed the relative comfort of buttons for fastening, rather than pins. And I don’t mean safety pins! Babies in earlier times weren’t always as fortunate as the owner of this diaper. Advice books often warned against pins and the possibility of terrible consequences when they pinned the baby instead of the clothing! William Buchan, writing in 1808:

It would be safer to fix on the clothes of an infant with strings than pins, as these often gall and irritate their tender skins, and occasion convulsions. Instances have been known, where pins were found sticking above half an inch into the body of a child after it had died of convulsion-fits, which, in all probability proceeded from that cause.

Diaper 3

Closeup of the button and scalloped trim. Better than straight pins, any day!

Unless the fits resulted from trying to scratch the wooly itches!

 

It Seams French

French Seam 1

Once upon a time, I thought every seam that was sewn, by hand or machine, had to be finished. By that I mean it could have no raw edges. Raveling? Horrors! Unthinkable. What would happen when the garment was worn? When it was washed? And so I zig-zagged, overcast, or French-seamed every seam so thoroughly that I might as well have used Super Glue.

I also assumed, when I first started to explore the history of hand sewing, that French seams must have been part of the basic sewing repertoire. After all, they didn’t have Super Glue back then, did they?

However, as I studied antique clothing I quickly learned that all seams weren’t finished. The only seams to match my hermetically sealed standard were felled, like those in shirts and shifts, and felling was used because underwear (or family linen, as they called it) had to withstand tortures that would have impressed Vlad the Impaler.

After scrutinizing sewing techniques in antique clothing, it also dawned on me that French seams didn’t show up in anything older than late-nineteenth century. Hmm. So when did French seams become common? I don’t know for sure, but out of all my sewing instruction books, the earliest (definite) explanation of the method I could find appears in a French dressmaking manual, circa 1860s, as shown above. Ah, French!

Perhaps it was used earlier in particular garments, by particular seamstresses, or in particular countries. My experience and resources are pretty limited, so if I come across more information on this stitch, I’ll certainly update.

But by the early 1900s, the French seam was common enough to appear in most sewing manuals. It was well-suited to the ubiquitous sewing machine, sheer waists and dresses yearned for neat seams, and it was soooo easy to do. Or teach. Or learn. And since efficiency was so very, very modern … pourquoi pas?

French Seam Sample

This sample by Miss Beulah H., early 1900s, shows a bias-cut French seam.

French Seam  Woolman 1

Instructions from Beulah’s book for making the sample…

French Seam Woolman 2

… and the conclusion.

 

Picking a Pocket

Pocket 1

Pharaby’s pocket’s been picked!

(If you expected the Lucy Locket quote on this one, maybe I succeeded in surprising you?)

There are so many images available online that it was hard to choose a model for her pocket. I finally settled on “the look” of a sweet little doll version in the online Pockets collection at the VAD. (Click the link and then search for “doll´s pocket Nottingham.”) It resembled a couple of others, also worked in yellow thread, that were made for women rather than dolls. And it only required a backstitch!

The pattern: traced, pricked, and pounced. The fluff of canary-colored silk is the remains of

The pattern: traced, pricked, and pounced. The fluff of canary-colored silk is the remains of my fight with the floss.

The design I used was loosely based on an 1770s pattern from The Lady’s Magazine. I scanned the original pattern and scaled it down to Pharaby-size. Then I raided a stash of old 1890s embroidery silks. I tried using the thread as it came from the skein, but it was way too thick – using only one ply made it almost small enough. And I can tell you that it did NOT work like the illustration on the wrapper!

Pocket 4As you can see from the remaining yellow fuzz, it was a struggle. But once that was done, it was pretty simple to cut out the front and back, then bind them with some matching yellow silk.

Pocket 6

I tried. It didn’t work like the picture.

To finish the pocket, I added narrow tapes on the ends. Yes, one MORE thing to go around her waist. But now she has a place to carry her handkerchief – when I make her one.

Pocket 5Oh! And while she was showing off her pocket, I took a picture of her wearing her marked shift. I neglected to do that in the last post, and she let me hear about it.

Pharaby's Marked Shift

X Marks the Spot

Pharaby's shift is now marked.

Pharaby’s shift is now marked.

“The art of marking was brought to perfection many years ago, and if our great grandmothers could but see the meagre attempts made by us now-a-days, I fancy they would have some contempt for the system by which our needlework abilities are tested.”

– A. K. Smith, 1892

They would certainly have some contempt for how long it took me to mark Pharaby’s shift, regardless of the quality of my work! I should have tended to this little essential when I first made it, but better late than never. We can’t have her single shift getting lost in the laundry, can we?

X Marking 2

A lovely linen baby shirt marked with Turkey red cotton; note the quarter next to it for size. I’ve kept the image full size, for anyone who wants to view beautifully done original marking up close – just click the image.

First I had to do some practice stitching. Sampler collectors and makers would laugh at how astonished – and intimidated – I am by the miniscule cross-stitches made during the past 200 years. You can see from this little baby shirt (last quarter 19th C) how blithely they marked countless linens. I’m guessing at the “blithely” part, but since I have many shirts from this baby, somebody was doing a lot of marking!

Making it to Pharaby’s scale would be impossible, since barely matching ordinary period work would be the best I could hope for.

I used a pretty little c1900 linen collar to experiment on (damaged – I wouldn’t inflict my needle on it otherwise), as you can see in the picture.

X Marking 3

A linen collar marked with ink that I used for practice. “No textiles were harmed during the making of this experiment.”

Since the threads in linen are not all exactly the same size, my stitches over two threads looked a bit messy. I tried sewing over four (too big) or over however many made a perfect square (too awkward). By this time I was just about ready to use ink, like the collar owner! But hey, I’m all about plain sewing, right?

A lot of trial and error showed that to be small enough, I’d have to work over two threads, no matter how lumpy my letters looked. I found that just like many projects, things that look pretty awful as I’m working, look a little better when I’m done. Or maybe I’m just cross-eyed by then!

X Marking 5

The baby shirt, Pharaby’s shift, and the practice piece, all together. The little birds I tried were from a pattern by the most knowledgeable sampler collector I’ve ever met. Maybe Pharaby will make a sampler one day….

 

Flower Patch 4

Flower Patch 4

Early 19th century English paper pieced patch – with ugly leaves.

I chose another pattern for the season, and in honor of Thanksgiving week, it’s one with leaves! But to be quite frank, it’s pretty much… not pretty. Perhaps the whole pattern was nicer, and it’s only this snippet that is less than attractive to me.

The maker was certainly wanting to use it though, because she had to piece the piece. You can see just how tiny the scraps were, and it amazes me that she made the effort. Keep in mind the whole hexagon is only 2 inches across!

Flower Patch 4 Back

A view from the back, showing part of an  old copybook page that was used for the pattern.

Something else that I find surprising in these sections is just how many of them have their original glazed finish, or sizing. Perhaps they were only cutting scraps, not from worn out garments. Even though times were changing, fabric itself still had more value than the average worker’s time. And it’s not just the fact that the scraps retain their glazing, I’m really surprised that so many of the pieces have it at all, enough to make them very shiny. I have to angle the photo “just so” to limit the reflection. Hmm… something to reflect on….