Helping Mama

Helping Mama 1

It’s time to jump forward a hundred years from the subject of my last post. Here’s a peek at a pleasing, albeit staged, scene of domestic happiness. I love these old stereoviews because the photographers often took such pains with the props, trying to tell a story. And if the subject is sewing or 19th century domestic life, that makes me very happy!

Helping Mama 2

The photo on the right side, because sometimes they’re slightly different.

In this picture, it looks like Mama is mending Papa’s pants. Her daughter seems barely old enough to hold a needle, but is earnestly attempting to help. Is Mama wearing an apron over her silk dress? It certainly looks like she’s sporting a fashionable chignon. (That late ’60s, early ’70s hairstyle was sometime over-the-top and subject to ridicule.)

She may be seated in a woven cane chair, and she definitely has a sewing basket beside her on the table. It looks like the kind with small pockets fixed to the sides. The little girl’s checked dress may be an apron or pinafore, though I can’t quite tell.

This card is dated 1872, but I’ve seen another version dated 1871. Mama sewing, daughter sewing: seeing double indeed!

Helping Mama 3

The stereoview card, full size.

Alas and Alack, I Take It Back

Alas and Alack

A cotton chemise, unlike either the French or English styles below. I’m going out on a limb here and guessing… American, 1853.

Wouldn’t you know it? Maybe there’s a Murphy’s Law of blogging. Just after proclaiming in my last post that there were no noteworthy distinctions in French and English chemises, I came across the illustrations you see below.

The only difference mentioned in the accompanying text is that the English style is for “skinny persons.” There may be more clues in the cutting directions, but with no knowledge of French, I’ll have to let that pass. The book was published in 1847, and is surprisingly primitive, at least compared to the detailed and beautifully illustrated French magazines of the same period.

However, I still can’t determine that English-made shifts were of one particular pattern, and the French used another. It seems more likely that a lady cut her shift and its gores according to the size of her fabric – and herself! But in the interest of Truth in Blogging, I submit the following:

Chemise Francaise

Chemise Francaise. Of course it looks more complicated – they have a reputation to uphold.

Chemise Anglaise

Chemise Anglaise. No nonsense, for skinny persons.

The Shift to Chemise

Shift to Chemise 1

Shifting from shifts to chemises.

Language is a funny thing. I suppose we’re all guilty of following fads in our choice of words, and we all have particular phrases we find irritating or amusing – in other people.  I recently came across an example by Jane Austen, written in 1817, just as the polite name of a woman’s undergarment was changing.

Your Anne is dreadful – . But nothing offends me so much as the absurdity of not being able to pronounce the word Shift. I could forgive her any follies in English, rather than the Mock Modesty of that french word…’

So presumably Miss Austen was still wearing shifts, when other ladies were beginning to wear chemises. She wasn’t alone, however, in her annoyance with linguistic affectations. Pantalogia, a New Cabinet Cyclopaedia, Comprehending a Complete Series of Human Genius, Learning, and Industry, Alphabetically Arranged; with a General Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Words (1819) has this to say:

CHEMISE, the French word for that article of linen under dress which when worn by men is called a shirt, by women a shift. Some few modern English ladies, with an affected squeamishness of delicacy, restrict the term always so as to denote the article of female dress chemise de femme; but as every one knows what they mean by the expression, and we see no reason why every one should not know what they mean, we recommend the use of the old English term, and the abandonment of the corresponding French word.

Was there really any difference between a shift and a chemise? Well, yes and no. No, because they both referred to the same lady’s undergarment. Yes, because when the word “shift” was used (up until the early 19th century), the garment was usually made of linen and was simpler in cut.  As the word “chemise” became standard, variations in pattern and trimming were increasing and the chemise was more often made of cotton.

So much for the term; now was there any significant difference in the French and English methods of making this garment? I haven’t found anything consistently, unmistakably,  irrefutably, definitively identifiable. When I examine an old chemise, whether in a book, online, or in person, I can’t raise an eyebrow knowingly and say, Ah yes, English, 1832.

But with the interest and expertise I see popping up in blogs and books, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has – or will – come up with a list of distinguishing features.

If you are curious (or courageous) and would like to compare for yourself, below is a pattern and description, 1840, from a French periodical. (Please excuse my awkward translation. If you are fluent in French and English, I beg you to let me know and help me correct it!) English patterns and instructions of the same date are available in the Workwoman’s Guide.

Shift to Chemise 2

A pattern for a lady’s chemise, 1840.

No. 8 is a woman’s chemise. For ten chemises, purchase 25 meters of percale; take off a meter, and cut the rest into ten pieces; fold these pieces into two; on side No. 1, cut the gore that you add to the other side, cut by a thread as shown in No. 2; inside cut two gussets; indent around the neck; this is shown in No. 3; the sleeves are cut on the bias. Gather slightly on top of the arm and hem the bottom with backstitching. The armholes have to be a little curved under the arm. Take the remaining meter, measure a narrow band along the edge, then cut twenty pieces for double shoulder straps; these pieces are indicated by dotted lines; place a narrow piece of tape between the shoulder strap and its lining, there you insert the sleeve and backstitch, and you fold the lining over; gather the top of the chemise, as indicated, and insert a narrow tape of a meter in length; then cover this piece of tape with a band of percale; using backstitching and hemming, then fold under. Mark the chemise over the left gusset.

Copy That?

Christie Patent 2

1893 “Improved Stand or Holder for Sewing Requisites and the Like” by Clara Christie, London Court Dressmaker.

Copyright can be horrendously confusing. Most of us who write, sew, craft or create anything strive to be original. Of course, when we historical sewing fanatics are trying to reproduce something very old, whether it’s a pin cushion, a style of writing, or a baby gown, original takes on a whole “‘nother” meaning. We’re trying to be true to the original pin cushion, style of writing, or baby gown. The closer we get to someone else’s original, the greater the achievement!

But what about copyright and patterns? Once upon a time, I sewed things to sell. And occasionally still do. However, I’ve always been terrified of trespassing copyright. For years I’ve heard all sorts of “rules” concerning the use of patterns designed by someone else. You must buy a pattern for every item you make. You must buy a pattern for every five items. You may not sell items made from patterns. You may sell items made from patterns if you buy a license. You may copy a pattern for your own use. You may not copy a pattern for your own use. You may change a pattern X percent and consider it your original. And the list goes on….

I simply avoided the issue by making my own. Rather absurd for someone who collected patterns and squirreled them away (unopened) like acorns before a heavy winter. Or maybe not that surprising. If you’ve read some of my past blogs, you know that I read and write about making things more than I actually do it!

It seems like I may have been overly scrupulous. I recently came across a terrific article on debunking pattern myths, which you can find here, and a follow-up article here. The author makes a clear distinction between selling things made from the pattern (ok) and selling copies you made of the pattern itself (not ok). For even greater detail and Genuine Legal References, see the pages of pattern copyright info here. If you’ve been perplexed by the rules of sewing to sell, you might want to check them out.

I suppose I should follow all that with my own disclaimer: I am not qualified to give professional legal advice (not that anyone ever thought I was). But make no myth-take: do your research and I hope you’ll find you can relax and open those patterns!

Christie Patent 1Now what about the picture at the beginning of this post? Well, that’s a patent (a cousin of copyright) by Clara Christie for a “Stand or Holder for Sewing Requisites and the like,” which she designed in the 1890s.

It was meant to hold pins and needles in the weighted base, have a tape measure built in, and a spindle for spools of thread. Personally, I think the tape measure is overkill, since it would be pretty awkward to use without making a mess of the pins. But surely as a London Court Dressmaker she knew what she was doing?

As a reward for your fortitude in reading to the end of this post, if you would like to have the patent pages for your own (and live in the US), be the first to write and let me know. I’m cleaning out stuff that needs a new home and will send them to you free!

P.S. To answer a question about the copyright notice on the images on my blog – feel free to pin them, that’s what the button is there for. And to make it official, you may save them for your personal study as well. Want them for something else? Send me an email!

She Sews Sea Shells

An original Victorian era pin cushion, courtesy of AmericanaAntiques.

An original Victorian era pin cushion, courtesy of AmericanaAntiques.

Summer will be coming to an end soon, although temperatures here in the south will be summery for many weeks yet. Collecting keepsakes to remind ourselves of happy places is nothing new. Victorians made it into quite an art. Literally!

I was browsing an 1860 book of toys for little girls, and came across these directions for a charming pin cushion. Hmm … a new project? Victorian shell art reached heights that defy description, but this little trinket is so simple and sweet that every workbox deserves one!

Shell Pin Cushion 1Shell Pin Cushion 2

PSPSROM

The reward of merit: a token of our appreciation.

P.S. If you make one, please share a picture? You will receive a token of gratitude (inscribed with your name) from the Plain Sewing Preservation Society!

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!

Googling Poonah in 1907, or What’s in Your Workbox?

Theorem Painted Box 1

19th century paper box with theorem-painted velvet lid. At least I think that’s what it is, I don’t know for certain. Additional information welcome!

I’ve always had a thing for little boxes, and when I came across this one I was delighted. I’m not sure why, because it’s not especially pretty now. It probably wasn’t a whole lot better in its own day! But it’s just the sort of trinket I like to put in a workbox to add, um, character.

The painted velvet on top was intriguing, and it didn’t take a lot of searching before I began to see the term “theorem painting” pop up. Apparently it was all the rage with crafty ladies in the early to mid-nineteenth century. It was a type of stenciling that was supposed to be very easy to do, although it wasn’t held in high esteem by the Genuinely Artistic.

While browsing some ladies’ magazines of the era, I finally made the connection between theorem and Poonah painting. And I learned that it doesn’t take long for a fad to fade! What on earth was a body to do in the days before search engines?

Well, in 1907 J. A. H. Murray of Oxford went to the Google of his day, Notes & Queries, a Medium of Communication for Literary Men (cough cough), General Readers, Etc. 1907.

Poonah Painting—I want information about this. I can remember that there was something so called in vogue about 1856, but have quite forgotten what it was. I find the following references:—

1821, Examiner, p. 272: “To Ladies—The Poonah Taught in a superior style, Ladies instructed in the above Elegant Art, together with a variety of Fashionable and Ornamental Works.”

1829, ‘The Young Lady’s Book,’ 469: “A piece of tracing-paper, of a peculiar manufacture, which is sold at the stationers’ shops as Poonah-paper.”

1840, Thackeray, ‘Paris Sketch-Book’, 153: “What are called ‘mezzotints,’ pencil drawings, ‘poonah-paintings,’ and what not.”

1861, Sala, ‘Twice Round the Clock.’ 179: “An eight-day clock, two pairs of silver grape-scissors, a poonah-painted screen, a papier-mache workbox, an assortment of variegated floss-silk.”

1889, Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin, II. 48: “If the plate be a large one, it may be applied by using a strong hog-hair or poonah brush charged with vermillion.”

After all this, the word does not, so far as I see, occur in any dictionary, and is even entirely missed by ‘ The Encyclopedia Britannica ’ and The Times Supplement. What were poonah painting and poonah paper? What is a poonah brush? Speedy information is desired.

J. A. H. MURRAY. Oxford.

Don’t you just love how he came up with the same kind of snippets that Google does? What on earth would he think of how fast “speedy” is now! His search wasn’t over, however. Readers speedily came to his aid with more information, just like a special interest forum today.

POONAH PAINTING- ​Two well-remembered accessories of my golden age were a tubby little copy of ‘ The Boy’s Own Book,’ inherited from an earlier generation, and a smart, red-coated, gilt-edged volume which offered itself as ‘The Girl’s Own Book,’ and was, compared with the other, “ as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine.” It was, however, of it that I thought when I saw Dr. Murray’s question, for I believed that it conveyed the mystery of Poonah painting; and, having obtained the loan of the book from a working nursery, I am glad to find that I was right. I have before me a copy of the fourteenth edition of ‘ The Girl’s Own Book,’ by Mrs. Child (author of ‘ The Mother’s Book,’ ‘ Frugal Housewife,’ ‘ Mother’s Story Book,’ 820.), which was published by William Tegg & Co., Cheapside, in 1848.

The directions for Poonah painting are set forth on pp. 208-9. I read :—

POONAH PAINTING. This style of painting requires nothing but care and neatness. The outline of whatever you wish to paint is drawn with the point of a needle on transparent paper, and then cut out with sharp scissors. No two parts of the bird, or flower, which touch each other, must be cut on the same piece of paper. Thus on one bit of transparent paper I cut the top and bottom petal of a rose; on another piece I cut the leaves at the two opposite sides, &c. Some care is required in arranging the theorems, so that no two parts touching each other shall be used at the same time.

It is a good plan to make a drawing on a piece of white paper, and mark No. 1 upon all the leaves you can cut on the first theorem, without having them meet at any point; No. 2 on all you can cut in the same way on the second theorem, and so on. After all the parts are in readiness, lay your theorem upon your drawing paper, take a stiff brush of bristles, cut like those used in velvet colours, fill it with the colour you want, and put it on as dry as you possibly can, moving the brush round and round in circles, gently, until your leaf is coloured as deep as you wish. Where you wish to shade, rub a brush filled with the dark colour you want, carefully round and round the spot you wish to shade. Petal after petal, leaf after leaf, is done in this way, until the perfect flower is formed.

No talent for drawing is necessary in this work; for the figure is traced on transparent paper, and then the colours are rubbed over the holes, in the same manner they paint canvass carpets. In the choice of colours, you must be guided by the pattern you copy. The light colour which forms the ground-work is put on first, and the darker colours shaded on after it is quite dry. Green leaves should be first made bright yellow; then done all over with bright green; then shaded with indigo. A very brilliant set of colours in powder have been prepared for this kind of painting; if these be used, they must be very faithfully ground with a bit of glass, or smooth ivory.If the colours are put on wet, they will look very badly. The transparent paper can be prepared in the following manner: cover a sheet of letter-paper with spirits of turpentine, and let it dry in the air; then varnish one side with copal varnish; when perfectly dry, turn it, and varnish the other side.

I hope the above description of Poonah-painting method may satisfy DR. MURRAY, but I should require something more lucid if I wished to practise the spurious art. The part about the paper is clear enough. I possessed some which I inherited with an old paint-box. They were round, flat ended, and perhaps from a quarter to half an inch in diameter. I think DR. MURRAY postdates the vogue of Poonah painting by about twenty years. It was not fashionable in 1856. ST. SWITHIN.

Do I detect a slightly snippy tone in the last paragraph? The comment about the date is certainly interesting. Here’s one more response:

My recollection of Poonah painting as a boy is that it was a kind of stencilling. Poonah paper was a sheet of some rather thick, semi-transparent substance. Out of this were cut the shapes of leaves, petals of flowers, &c. The Poonah paper was laid on the paper to be ornamented, and colour applied to the cut-out spaces with a stiff brush cut flat at the end. The apertures were moved about till a perfect flower had been formed. SHERBORNE.

Sherborne House, Northleach.

So concluded my search for Poonah painting. Of course I had to locate a piece of white velvet to add to my stash, and maybe one day I’ll make an attempt at it myself. After all, “no talent for drawing is necessary in this work,” although “I should require something more lucid if I wished to practise the spurious art!”

Theorem Painted Box 2

Another view with the flowers turned the other way. I’m not sure what kind they are, and I don’t know which is right side up! Maybe it doesn’t matter.