Merry Christmas, Jessamine

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You’re never too old for dolls at Christmas! At least I’m not. I’d like to introduce Jessamine, a lovely doll made in the style of Izannah Walker, by the incomparably brilliant artist Paula Walton.

I’ve always longed for a doll like this lovely girl, and waited years before I was able to bring her home. I’ve had her for a while now, but that practice waiting has served me well – because it’s taken over a year to dress Jessamine in her first (hand sewn by me) outfit! But Christmas is here and she is ready.

The chemise came first, and I tried to make it with the same details that a real mid-19th century young lady’s might have had: gussets, gores, and binders. I know, unless you’re used to period costume terms, they sound like instruments of torture. I guess they were, actually, for me! It would have been a lot easier to make a simple doll chemise, and from now on any others will be quite plain. They’ll have to be; this one is so bulky that a dress has to be specially cut to fit over it. Live and learn.

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Next came the drawers. Since Jessamine is an older girl, I decided she would have split rather than closed ones. Well, really I just wanted to make them that way. Of course that means it’s trickier for her to pose with them while retaining her modesty. But we managed. I suppose you can tell from the photo that this wasn’t taken in December? And surprise – it wasn’t this year, either!

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A petticoat was essential, and this one is so full that she wouldn’t need another. It was made from the embroidered ruffle of an early 20th century, mass-produced, low quality, damaged piece. The elderly lady I purchased it from was apologetic over its condition, saying she was told that her great aunt had stood too close to the fire. While it’s sad to take apart anything, thereby tearing it from its history, some things wouldn’t survive at all otherwise. (I’m sounding rather apologetic myself, hmm?) But now this scorched phoenix has a future and a past!

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Every young lady would need a corset, or if she wasn’t quite ready for that, a corded waist or stay-waist (or some other term for the same garment). Even though there are a zillion doll corsets out there for inspiration, I went exploring Cassell’s for a likely pattern.

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I adapted it to Jessamine’s age (@150 or so) and used the fabric from a c1900 scrapped doll corset. What girl wouldn’t love lilac stays? There was a lapse of time between the modeling session below and the actual completion of the corset. Months, maybe? But I eventually finished the eyelets and added the straps.

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After many more months (Pharaby was taking all my time) I began Jessamine’s dress. The fabric was a happy accident: an online store sent the wrong print years ago, and it’s been in my stash ever since.  I made so many mistakes that I lost count. Yep, sleeves again; one went in upside down. Aaaalll the seams and gathers had to be picked out and redone. What’s so embarrassing is that I didn’t even notice it was upside down until I’d done all that unstitching for another reason – to make the gathers match the other side. Duh. Maybe that was why they weren’t even?

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If you spend any time looking at 19th century portraits and daguerreotypes of children, you’ll notice that many (most?) girls wore coral necklaces. I was delighted to find a bargain to finish her ensemble. It was sold as a doll necklace but looks suspiciously like a bracelet. No matter. The graduated coral pieces make it look enough like a necklace to suit us just fine.

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I wish I could claim credit for the  pretty red shoes, but that goes to the her incredibly talented maker. Here’s a peek at Jessamine’s feet – too sweet! Transported back to 1860 as a child, I would have been sooo tempted to take her wading in the summer! (My dolls suffered worse.) But it’s December, I’m grown up, and there’ll be no such mischief. We wouldn’t want St. Nicholas to leave only a lump of coal, would we?

 

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A Peek at the Past

peek-at-the-past-aOld stereoviews have such intriguing sets. They show many articles of everyday life, such as you find today in antique stores or see artfully displayed in historic sites. But there’s nothing quite like seeing them surrounded by the people who originally used them.

I can get lost on Flickr or Pinterest, just playing voyeur. But of course it’s pictures that show sewing that are especially fascinating! The theme of this 1860s photo, an exasperated mother mending her child’s torn pants, was a favorite for humorous stereoviews and postcards for many decades.

What do we find here? Mother sits on a stool by the fire with her sleeves pushed up while she works, wearing one of those pretty headdresses that fill the pages of Godey’s and Peterson’s. She’s mending the pants which already have one patch (badly done to be obvious, since no neat seamstress would ever flaunt that), and glancing sternly at the culprit.

The little boy waits shame-faced on the table, wearing only his shirt, stockings and shoes. His little sister sits on the floor against a three-legged stool, playing with her doll. The older brother is wearing a suit and lying on the floor with a whirly wooden toy.

The image on other side of the card.

The image on other side of the card.

Clothes are drying over the fire, and the mantel holds candlesticks, plates and an unidentifiable object. Bowls are stacked on the table and the bellows hang below dippers and a frying pan.

But wait! There’s more! Why waste the carefully staged scene on a single card? A quick search turned up a superior version, which was also tinted. The photographer captures more of the props in this one.

Here the family has moved a bit. Now Mother’s pagoda sleeves are down (no visible undersleeves), little sister has recrossed her legs, and older brother is sitting on a crate. You can clearly see the saw by the door, and a lamp and dried vegetables (?) hanging from the ceiling. A wooden bucket waits under the table for slops (or perhaps a trip to the well), a colander hangs by the chimney, and a covered dish just shows behind the bowls.

What have I missed? Something, I’m sure. Or just my time-traveling self, peeking in the door to say hello!

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A version with more goodies and – yes – color! (Courtesy W. Wiggers)

Flower Patch 10

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This flower patch is all dressed up as a leopard for Halloween, shown with a thimble and a ruler (inches) for scale. The edge by the ruler is about 1.25″ long. Like the others in the quilt, it dates to the early 19th century.

I haven’t forgotten the plan to keep adding early prints to the Flower Patch collection here at Two Threads Back. I just lost sight of it for a little while. Literally.

Occasionally I get hit by a frantic cleaning frenzy and start to clear out and organize everything, almost compulsively. Yet every time I do, I forget where I’ve moved stuff. Out of sight, out of mind. The “out of mind” part is especially fitting.

Anyway, I opened a box today and there they were, the quilt pieces, waiting reproachfully for some attention. So I selected a wild little print, an early calico reminiscent of an animal pattern: leopard, amoeba, tortoiseshell? Hmm. I prefer the feline. Like the others, it dates to the first quarter of the 19th century, probably c.1810.

But really, what Regency lady would dare to wear it? It’s certainly not for the fainthearted, a milk-and-water miss. Or am I being too…catty?

Happy Halloween!

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Front view – very vivid colors!

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From the back.

And a close up with flash to show the heavy glaze.

And a close up with flash to show the heavy glaze.

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Poofy, Floofy, and Slightly Goofy

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What on earth is it? This wildly ruffly confection that conforms to no known human shape? Where would you wear it, on your person or on your lampshade? How? Why? Take a look at the photo above and see if you know.

Fashion history lovers might recognize it right away, but if you haven’t, here are some hints. It’s cotton (obviously), it’s hand sewn (of course), and it’s old (or it wouldn’t be of interest here).

It measures about 10 x 11 – in certain positions, anyway. I mean, how do you measure something shaped like that? It has one button and four loops, and it uses three basic plain sewing techniques: hemming, seaming, and whipping.

A view from the rear.

A view from the rear.

With one loop & button fastened.

With one loop fastened to the button.

With two loops fastened. Like we're doing a strip-tease in reverse here.

With two loops fastened to the button. Like we’re doing a strip-tease in reverse.

A peek at the loop.

A peek at the loop.

A peek at the insertion. Notice the embroidery was meant for an edge rather than the center of a pattern. You use what you've got, right? Or maybe she had one of those "Aarrgh!" moments once she sewed it in. I'm familiar with those.

A peek at the insertion. Can you tell that the embroidery was meant for an edge rather than the center of a design? You use what you’ve got available, I suppose. Or maybe the maker had one of those “Aarrgh!” moments once she sewed it in. I’m familiar with those.

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A peek at the gathering cord. It’s different from the tiny flat tapes used for the loops. You can also see the “seaming” (a plain sewing term) where two selvages are almost invisibly joined.

A peek at how the tie is tacked on - and by now, you know what this is.

A peek at how the tie is tacked on – and by now, you know what this is.

Yes, you’re right. It’s one of those crazy caps that were popular during the Regency (to use the term loosely) era, outré beyond belief, and probably subject to a little ridicule. I suspect they were for morning or afternoon wear.

This little cap manages to achieve its frothy excess with an ingenious pattern. There are four points, fairly simple to cut, which are then looped around a single button on the top. The result is lots of muslin bling for the stitching.

And that’s not all. It reminds me a tiny bit of one in the Workwoman’s Guide (see Pl. 9, Fig. 10). The author’s comment reveals its practicality.

This shape is particularly liked by the poor, from the ease with which it is made up and washed, as, upon undrawing the string, it opens readily at the top, and lies quite flat to be ironed.

As an Artifact Rescuer, I certainly appreciate the ease of laundering! But the most surprising thing of all? It doesn’t look so silly, but rather charming when worn. The effect is extremely flattering. So caps off to the creator of this one!

An easy pattern. And that's saying something, coming from yours truly.

An easy pattern. And that’s saying something, coming from yours truly.

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Pharaby’s Photo Finish

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Pharaby, all 16 inches of her, is finally dressed. And contrary to my original intentions, this may be her only outfit! No Pharaby, it’s not you, it’s me.

Since I haven’t posted our progress on the gown and final accessories, I decided to say it with (mostly) pictures. For the gown, I’d purchased a red and white cotton that proved not to be colorfast. Guess who has a cute little pink spotted ironing board cover now? However, I’m so in love with the fabric that I’d choose it again. It reminds me of the dress on the Dudmaston doll, seen here.

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We started with the usual nightmare of pattern-making misery, as I tried to draw a bodice that would fit her form. Yes, I know some people can do this in 3 minutes or less.

It looks so simple. I cropped out the empty wine bottles on the table.

It looks so simple once it’s cut. It wasn’t.

You wouldn't know that I took a dressmaking workshop at Williamsburg once upon a time. The nicest memory I have of it is their relaxed attitude toward mistakes. Yaroo! as Flavia De Luce would say!

You wouldn’t know that I took a dressmaking workshop at Colonial Williamsburg a lifetime ago. I was too dazzled for much to stick. The nicest memory I have of it is their relaxed attitude toward mistakes. “Yaroo!” as Flavia de Luce would say!

When it starts to look like a teensy little gown I begin to get excited.

When it started to look like a teensy little gown I began to get excited – motivation to see it through!

Do you know what the "B" and "F" on the sleeves stands for?

Do you know what the “F” and “B” stand for?

I had to sew the skirt to a paper strip in order to get the pleats even.

I had to sew the skirt to a paper strip in order to get the pleats even sort of even.

At last! The gown is finished. Or is it? Maybe you'll notice the alteration in the final photos.

At last! The gown is finished. Or is it? Maybe you’ll notice an alteration in the final photos.

And here's the petticoat, the only really easy part to sew.

And here’s the petticoat, the only really easy part to sew.

A close-up of the the gown open, showing the linen lining, pieced just like originals could be. Theirs were probably due to a scarcity of fabric. Mine was due to inept fitting.

A close-up of the gown folded open, showing the linen lining pieced just like originals could be. Theirs were probably due to a scarcity of fabric. Mine was due to inept fitting.

Gown with matching petticoat.

Gown with matching petticoat.

A closer view from the back.

A view from the back.

I was complaining earlier about the accumulation of stuff around Pharaby's middle. At this point I decided to replace the waistband on her under petticoat to make it more to scale - and reduce her girth.

I was complaining earlier about the accumulation of stuff around Pharaby’s middle. At this point I decided to replace the waistband on her under petticoat to make it more to scale – and reduce her girth.

With the gown and petticoat finished, I moved on to her apron. I wanted to use some original 1770s patterns for the embroidery. However … with my limited fancywork repertoire, I had to choose REALLY SIMPLE designs that could be done in a couple different stitches. Like chainstitch. Buttonhole. Running.

I scanned the original pattern and then scaled it to different sizes to find one that would work. Ok, it's really still too big, but it worked for us.

I scanned the original pattern and then scaled it to different sizes to find one that would work. Ok, it’s really still too big, but we settled.

The edges are buttonholed, the leaves are simple running or darning stitches, and the sprigs are chainstitch. The leaves looked horrible when I was working them, but once they were all done it wasn't quite so bad.

The edges are buttonholed, the leaves are simple running or darning stitches, and the sprigs are chainstitch. The leaves looked horrible when I was working them, but once they were all done it wasn’t quite so bad.

The apron, modeled by Pharaby.

The apron, modeled by Pharaby.

Next came her handkerchief (or fichu, or half-handkerchief). I didn’t do any lace or embroidery on it, since she planned to wear it tucked in. It’s made of the same lovely muslin as her apron. It’s different from her sleeve ruffles, which were salvaged from an antique piece. The older stuff just can’t be matched today, although this came pretty close!

Her fichu, tucked in place.

Her fichu, tucked in place; tiny brass pins keep everything secure.

And from the back, with her falling wig curls.

From the back, with her hircine wig curls wimping out in our Georgia humidity.

Most all of my silk ribbon was for embroidery and too narrow for Pharaby's cap. So like everyone else in the colonies, we had to wait on the latest imported goods to find just the right ribbon.

Most of my silk ribbon was for embroidery and too narrow for the cap. So like everyone else in the colonies, we had to wait on the latest imported goods to find just the right ribbon.  A couple of little thread loops were required to hold the ribbon in place on the back, since I wanted it removable. And without having to pick out tacking threads!

Last of all were the shoes. I hadn’t a clue how to do them and I’m afraid it shows. This time I didn’t even bother reading or watching tutorials. I just jumped in with both…hands. Pharaby’s poor little feet are only an inch and a half long, and unique. I don’t mean compared to other doll feet, I mean compared to each other. So I made paper ones for patterns, and then used silk scraps and lined them with linen. They’re green because that’s what I had, and I happen to adore green shoes. They’re bound with blue ribbon because the only ribbon wide enough was some left from her cap!

She has Cinderella tendencies. The right shoe likes to go its own way when we're not looking.

She has Cinderella tendencies. The right shoe occasionally goes its own way when we’re not looking.

The soles are made from bits off a leather apron. These shoes are probably the least well-done (excepting perhaps the wig or the face painting or...) of the whole project. But I lam so relieved to have them done that I don't really mind!

The soles are made from bits off a leather apron. I’m a little embarrassed to show them since they fall so far short of the exquisite slippers I’ve seen done by experts. But everybody needs shoes to relax in and not worry about spoiling. Right?

Pharaby gazes blankly at a wall of ivy, so you may see her from the back. She's wearing her bum roll under there somewhere!

Pharaby practices directing traffic or perhaps gazes blankly at a wall of ivy, so that you may see her from the back. She’s wearing her bum roll for a little poofiness in the petticoats.

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So Pharaby’s finished, for now anyway. She’s very dear to me, after this long adventure.  And she’ll always be a reminder of my father’s love of fun – and love for me.

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Beulah Lands a Job

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Beulah Hosley did indeed land a job as a sewing instructor – for $30 a month! Her date of assignment was June 17, 1912. But she resigned three days later. What happened to Miss Hosley and why am I curious?

It’s because I found her name inside the cover of a sewing manual from 1911. The textbook is a neat little edition, with all her samples carefully worked and attached to the pages. Most versions of this book that I’ve come across are larger with more samples, but it appears that Beulah learned all that was necessary to become a sewing teacher.

Beulah 1She was, if not exactly ahead of her time, at least up with the times. At age 21, her graduation in Domestic Science from the State School of Agriculture in Canton, New York qualified her to teach or to … keep house very nicely!

 

“The fourth annual commencement exercises of the State School of Agriculture were held at the opera house yesterday afternoon, and proved intensely interesting. The State School of Agriculture and the Domestic Science department are advancing by leaps and bounds, and the entering class is expected to largely exceed any prior one.” – The Ogdensburg Journal, June 12, 1912.

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Don’t you love their names? It’s easy to date the popular ones. But I do wonder about the difference between “Domestic Science” credentials and “Homemakers.”

Beulah Hosley learned how to hem, tuck, herring-bone, darn, mend, gather, and do all the other stitches required for handwork. I would guess that she also learned to use a machine and perhaps some basic garment cutting, but I didn’t find any further information on those classes.

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But why so short a tenure at her first job? Homesickness? It was far from her home in St. Lawrence County. Or perhaps it was where she was teaching: the Rome State Custodial Asylum in Oneida County New York. The name conjures Dickensian images of miserable people living in wretched conditions. But when I read more about the early years of the home, I realized that  Charles Dickens and Nellie Bly had prejudiced me somewhat. Somewhat.

The institution was founded in 1827 as the Oneida County Poorhouse, and it remained in existence until 1989. As I scanned circa 1910 reports from the Board of Managers, it was evident that much care and effort went into the enormous task of providing for and educating the people who lived there.

They had a dairy, a hennery, a piggery; an orchestra, a baseball team, a choir; a menagerie, fairs, and concerts. Everything was recorded and reported, from the number of cases of tuberculosis to pink eye to syphilis, as well as how many quarts of blackberries and currants were consumed. And of course, sewing classes! Still, to read the reports is to glimpse the struggles, the suffering, and the shame found even in an “enlightened” institution in the early 1900s.

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But back to Beulah’s story. I haven’t learned why she didn’t stay there, nor whether she found another teaching job. I do know that she went on to live a comfortable life; she married a couple of years later and had children. Her name appeared in the college alumni publications for many decades after. Did she use her sewing skills at home? Quite possibly. She certainly left a lovely record of the skills she acquired, beautifully preserved for our admiration!

Beulah E. Hosley Gibson

Beulah E. Hosley Gibson (Courtesy David Jones)

 

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Token of Esteem

Vintage paper from Russia on the outside, and scrapbooking paper on the inside.

Nineteenth century ladies, the ones who were fortunate enough to have time for crafts, didn’t only do needlework. The local “Ladies’ Warehouse” must have been as packed with goodies as our craft stores today. Just scanning a list of genteel amusements is pretty overwhelming: shell work, bead work, feather pictures, seaweed art, leather flowers, potichomanie (I dare you to guess that one!), wax fruit, plaster casting, Japan painting, fern printing, glass staining, and countless other projects kept hands busy.

For this project, I was inspired by the little paper boxes that have survived, usually rather tattered and worn, and the quaint phrases that commonly appeared on souvenirs and gifts. Suitable for buttons, needles, etc., it only required a papier-mâché box, glue, paint, Dresden trim, and patterned paper. Oh, and I used a purchased label, gussied up with a gold pen.

Paper Box MakerAt first I thought I’d hit on something fun to sell at craft fairs, but like all my endeavors, this one took at least five times longer than expected. Assuming I sold any, I’d be making a few cents an hour – probably less than this woman did. The picture is from Harper’s Bazar, 1868, and illustrates various occupations of modern women.

“A large number, 1400 or 1500 females, are employed in the manufacture of paper-boxes. These are mostly very young persons, and the average of wages paid is about $50 per week. The work is simple and requires little practical knowledge, and girls are worth as much to an employer in their second week as in their second year at this work.”

Well, I’d like to think my worth would increase with my practice, but I doubt I’ll find out. This box will serve decorative rather than functional purposes, and express my esteem rather than enhance it – I hope!

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Aiming for pretty rather than practical and now expressing my regard for a friend.

 

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