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

Rome State Custodial Asylum PC

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.

Rome Sewing Class 1Rome Sewing Class 2

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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Mother’s Day and Night

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In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share one of my happiest memories. I don’t have many things saved from my childhood, but I do have this beloved dress made by my mother. Barbie was the doll when I was growing up, and oh how my sister and I loved playing with ours!

We put them through the tortures and triumphs of every book or TV plot we knew – and invented even more. They pioneered across raging rivers, got lost in space, and escaped drowning in  birdbaths. Once we discovered that flour paste hardened into the perfect cast for a broken limb, our poor Barbies fell out of so many trees that they looked like mummies on crutches.

But best of all was dressing them. You hadn’t really played Barbies until you’d changed their clothes at least a dozen times. One special Christmas my mother made Barbie clothes for us – and if you have two little girls close in age, you don’t make a few different ones for each child. You make two of everything, both alike.

To a seven year old, surprises just happen. I never wondered how the splendid array of doll costumes came to be under the tree. But my mother told me later that she had to sew late at night, after we were asleep. Two. Of. Everything.

Here’s the skating costume that she made out of red satin, lined with white flannel. She couldn’t have known the night she sewed this that her work would still mean so much, so many years later. I’ll be sure to tell her today.

Skating Costume 2

 

Pharaby Sets Her Cap

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Actually, that should be “Pharaby Sets Her Cap Aside” – for now, anyway. I haven’t completely neglected Pharaby all these months, but sometimes remembering to take photos, and then remembering where I saved them, delay my writing about her wardrobe’s progress.

This project also took longer than I thought it would. It was hard figuring out what I wanted her to wear. Most surviving Queen Anne dolls just have little bits of lace and silk gathered and stuck atop their heads, or if they’re wearing more constructed caps, the photos don’t show sufficient details for me to copy. And sometimes the surviving headwear is not original to the doll, being so obviously 19th century that even I can tell!

In the end I decided on this style, because it was easy to make a pattern and I’m familiar with the sewing techniques. The cap is formed from a simple half circle gathered at the base of the neck and the crown and trimmed with plain frills.

Pharaby Cap 1

I did experience one of those aha moments when attaching the headpiece/band/brim to the crown. It was easy to “set in” the little gathers on the top thanks to the fact that the band was double. It worked just the same way as setting a gathered sleeve into a cuff! Maybe that’s why they so often had double brims?

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My attempt at narrow hems was a flop, at least compared to what 18th century women could do. But I did manage a very nice tiny eyelet for the back drawstring. It would have been nicer if I’d also remembered to put in the strings and tack them in place before I hemmed the casing down! Did you know that you can thread a large needle and retro-fit a string into a casing?

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Pharaby Cap 3

Perhaps you’ve noticed none of these pictures show Pharaby wearing the cap? That’s due to my inadequacies as a perruquier. Every time I place something on her wig and then remove it, a few mo-hairs (groan) come loose from the carefully arranged style. In order to keep it all together until her final dressing, I had to limit the try-on’s. Pharaby won’t be modeling her cap for a while, so I let a wineglass serve as a mannequin – and then serve to celebrate one more project done!

Flower Patches 8 and 9

Flower Patch 09
Maybe with a button-down and sport coat?

Perhaps I should have titled this “What Do You Do When Old Looks New?” These stripes are from the same early 19th century quilt as all the other Flower Patch samples, but they look so modern to me that if I weren’t completely sure about their age, I’d think someone was sneaking in new fabric. However, I’m convinced that all the different fabrics date to within the same few years. (Any fabric experts passing this way are welcome to call and opine!)

I could easily see this pattern on a man’s shirt today. But what would it have been used for then – gowns, aprons, children’s clothes? These have the same glazed finish that many of the others do, and I’ve added the very last picture to try to show that.

Flower Patch 09 Back
The same piece from the back.
Flower Patch 08
Another very contemporary looking pattern.
Flower Patch 08 Back
How appropriate for a blog: Opinion Opinion Opinion…
Flower Patch 08 Glazed
I’ve tried to show how shiny the sizing is, but you may only see a really bad photo.

 

Deconstruction

Skirt Hook

No, I’m not delving into postmodernism here, I’m talking about sewing – and unsewing! I was sitting on my porch last week, relishing the warm spring breezes and taking advantage of the bright afternoon light to salvage a sad old black silk skirt. As I worked, I realized that most of the sewing had been done by hand, and that I might pay tribute to those hands by sharing pictures before it was gone forever.

Skirt Damage
Silk damaged beyond repair.

Lest you think I cannibalize antique textiles lightly, let me assure you there was no saving this piece. It was a silk faille gored skirt – of such a generic cut that I hesitate even to date it – which had begun to shred and shatter all over. The lining was in excellent condition though, so I wanted to preserve that for reuse.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture of the whole skirt before I began. Although it might not have added much to this post since solid shiny black is notoriously hard to photograph! The cut was smooth and somewhat fitted across the front, tapering slightly toward an “A-line” silhouette, with tight gathers in the back. It had a narrow waistband, and two tiers of ruffles trimmed the hem.

Skirt Seam
Side seam of skirt, running stitches with a few backstitches piled on for good measure.

The silk fabric was about 21″ wide with white stripes along each selvage. The skirt was completely lined with the standard brown cotton, and then an extra piece of darker glazed cotton was added to the bottom ten inches. A velvet binding strip protected the edge of the hem. There was one deep pocket which looked like a later, rather clumsy, addition.

Skirt Linings
The extra lining along the lower part of the skirt is neatly hemmed down.
Skirt Pocket
A view of the pocket from inside. Maybe added later?

I hadn’t expected to find hand sewing in this piece, so I was intrigued to note the different types of stitching and thread. The long side seams used a basic running stitch made with a heavy brown cotton thread. Although the finished skirt was nice and sturdy, some of the stitches weren’t particularly neat or even.

Skirt Overcast
The only seam finishing, overcasting, was done where the lining edge was raw. I don’t think the maker was too worried about raveling.

Raw edges of lining were roughly overcast with a light colored thread. The waist was “gauged” in the back. Machine work was limited to the top stitching of the waistband and the hems of the bias-cut ruffles. The only careful handwork was the finishing in some places on the lining. A brass hook and eye were the only fastening, and two loops were attached inside for hanging.

Skirt Gauge Out
The skirt back was tightly gathered using the gauging technique.
Skirt Gauge In
Here’s a view of the gathers from the inside.
Skirt Ruffle Out
The ruffle was hemmed by machine, but gathering stitches were made by hand.
Skirt Ruffle In
And it looks like they were done at high speed!
Skirt Selvedge Finish
The seamstress took extra pains when hemming down the inside of the placket opening with a finer weight thread.
Skirt Velvet Out
It was common in the 19th century to finish skirt hems with a sturdy braid, wool or velvet, to protect them from wear. It could be purchased ready-made, but this velvet strip appeared homemade.

The deconstruction process was predictably tedious, but there was one moment that’s hard to describe. I was working on the old velvet at the hem when out spilled sand and bits of twigs. The debris had obviously been locked inside for a more than a century. It was as if a shadow passed by while I worked. Who was the woman who wore this skirt? Where was she walking, what was she doing, what was she thinking on the day when her shoes kicked up that sand? I don’t suppose I’ll ever know. But I hope her afternoon was as lovely as the one I enjoyed.

Skirt Velvet In
I tried to offer a peek inside the velvet, but it’s too dark to see. I couldn’t hold the crease open with one hand and take a picture with the other!

 

In This Corner

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And in this corner we have the challenger: an 18th century pattern of a floral sprig from the Lady’s Magazine, 1776!

When I read about the Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off a few weeks ago, I knew it was something I wanted to do. Firstly, because I love early women’s magazines; secondly, because of the Jane Austen connection; and finally, because I could suit my project to my skill level – dabbler seems fitting.

A two-inch flower on a plain muslin pocket handkerchief, worked in a simple chainstitch with some wonderful Au Ver à Soie, would be just right. And perhaps some historical touches to set the mood.

I had visions of myself sitting at my worktable to pounce the pattern, then deftly working the little sprig with an elderly tambour hook. That might occupy me for an hour or two, then I’d pop it in the mail to the Chawton House Library “Emma at 200” exhibit. How hard could it be?

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Here’s my fantasy, what I wanted to happen. Note the 18th century embroidery I was looking at for inspiration – carefully folded so the damaged areas don’t spoil the effect.

Well, Fantasy was introduced to Reality fairly soon. I realized that the pouncing powder I’ve had (unopened) for 20 years required a little more research and practice to use than I wanted for such a small project. What’s so bad about using a disappearing marking pen after all?

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Here’s the reality, modern day all the way. Notice anything glaringly wrong here?

So next came the tambour hook I’d been dying to try. It seems there’s more to using one than just picking it up and poking it in and out. Not to mention that the ancient point had a tendency to shred a few threads along the way. What’s wrong with using a needle?

Ok, I started with the needle and made it about halfway before I thought: ick! No two chainstitches were alike. I picked it out and decided to try a sort of running/darning stitch, also common on period pieces. Bleh. It looked worse than the first attempt, so I picked all that out and decided it would have to be chainstitch after all.

Well, I did better on the third try. But when I was almost done, I felt something didn’t look right. Maybe you spotted it already? I had put the muslin back in the hoop underside up. And there it would remain. Six hours into this two-inch project, I was not doing it over.

The hemming went better than the embroidery. I didn’t really mind that one side had a wider hem than the other three. But the flower centers looked a little plain. I thought I’d try some microscopic drawn thread work. Isn’t it amazing how fearless ignorance can be?

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You can barely see the drawnwork in the flower centers. At least I hope you can barely see it!

Another six hours later I was done. Then I remembered my calling. Plain needlework! I could not send this handkerchief out into the world without marking it. A silk monogram was beyond my ability, and turkey red thread would be out of place on this mouchoir de poche. So I used blue cotton (I’ve seen real examples) and started on my initials in the opposite corner.

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A mono-(in the most literal sense)-gram letter “M” worked in cotton from a period pattern. Most early marking charts I’ve seen had letters seven X’s tall.
It hurt. Not just squinting to see the threads, but to realize I’d placed the “M” too close to the corner to add my other initial. It kind of looks like I meant it to be that way, so I won’t tell anyone.
P.S. Check out the Stitch Off Facebook page too, you’ll see some gorgeous examples of embroidery by people who really know how. In color, no less! Maybe you’ll be inspired to participate?

If Mr. Darcy’s Wet Shirt Shrank

Mini Shirt 01

Yesterday a friend sent me a link to the most exciting news I’ve seen all year. Mr. Darcy’s Shirt is coming to the U.S.! Yes, you can forget Tutankhamun’s treasures or the Beauty of Xiaohe. Mr. Darcy’s shirt outranks them all.

Who can forget the (totally not in the book) scene from the 1995 Pride and Prejudice film where Mr. Darcy rises from the lake at Pemberley after his swim, only to run into the startled and stunned Miss Elizabeth Bennett? Be still my heart.

Unfortunately I won’t get to see the celebrity shirt on display, so I’ll have to content myself with a miniature version. This is a tiny “sampler” shirt dated 1838, very much like the square-cut linen one that embarrassed the soggy Colin Firth and melted the rest of us.

It measures 7 inches from the top of the tall collar to the hem. The cuff is 1 and 3/8  by 1/2 inch. The backstitches per inch are so small that I cannot count them. There are microscopic gussets on the collar, the sleeve openings at the wrists, and the side flaps. Oh, and of course there are the underarm gussets that are a whopping 1 inch long.

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The back – notice the “binders” which line the armscyes inside the shirt.
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Here you can see the tiny collar gusset, over which the “shoulder strap” lies.
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A view of the shoulder strap which is backstitched on both edges.

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The sleeves are set into the body with gathering and stroking.
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You can barely see the diminutive gusset at the end of the sleeve opening. Its purpose was to allow ease, so the shirt would be less likely to tear at that joined seam.
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This cuff has come unstitched, and you can see how tiny the sewn gathers are.
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Here is a view of the gusset for the side flaps of the shirt, also meant to reduce tearing and the seam.

Colin Firth in a wet linen shirt, or a sampler made by tiny fingers in days long gone? I don’t know which one makes my heart beat faster: the man-sized or the miniature. But who would shrink from a closer examination of either?

Pin Money

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PIN MONEY – money allowed by a man to his wife to spend for her own personal comforts. When pin money is given to, but not spent by the wife, on his death it belongs to his estate. ~A Law Dictionary: Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States, 1843. (You may detect some irony here.)

Pin Money 1Most of us are familiar with the important social justice issues of the 19th century, causes like abolition and child labor. But there was another one that became quite fashionable to champion: the plight of workers who fashioned fashions. Women who worked as seamstresses, dressmakers, and milliners were vulnerable to exploitation, and as the pathos and romance of their situation caught public fancy, there was a flurry of response in literature, art, “committees,” laws, private philanthropy and even investigative journalism.

The seamstress who sewed shirts was the poster-child for the cause; you can see one period image I used in a post a few years ago here. Shirt-making was tedious and poorly paid, but the pattern was simple and most of the women who could sew knew how to make one. There was also a steady market for the product, at least until the sewing machine and mass production made hand sewn shirts obsolete.

Dressmaking was different. It required greater skill and was more susceptible to the whim of the patron (and employer if a woman worked for a dressmaking establishment) and vagaries of the trade. But it retained some shreds of respectability as a way to earn a living for those women who were not born to the working class, and yet found themselves with no means of support.

The images here are from a set of stereoviews, the one above titled “Pin Money,” with the model carelessly displaying her wealth of finery. The other is called “Needle Money,” implying that the plainly dressed lady in shabby surroundings must be earning her bread with her needle.

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Apparently public sympathy didn’t quite translate into action – or not enough to bring about significant change. A decade or two after Thomas Hood’s famous poem The Song of the Shirt appeared, the image of the genteel but impoverished worker persisted. The poem below was by Francis Charles Weeden, c1860s. It was republished with the explanation:

* These two poems are printed, as written by the author, in juxtaposition, to make the contrast more striking.

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I haven’t copied the whole poem, since the point and tone are pretty obvious. Victoria was reigning, but so was sentimentality!

Many bloggers have covered the subject, so if you’re interested try a search for “song of the shirt” – it will get you started. If you prefer the old-fashioned-read-a-book way, try The Ghost in the Looking Glass, by Christina Walker – not recent, but fascinating!

Pin Money 2

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Notice anything about the models?

Sadly, the days of sweatshops aren’t gone forever. If you want to help, here’s one place to start.

Helping Mama Quilt

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Mary’s neat sewing, with the squares joined by “seaming.” The finished block measures 5 1/2 inches square.

There once was a lady who lived and sewed in New England, way back around 1810. She had a little girl who wanted to help, and so she taught her how.

This lady (I’ll call her Mary because there’s a 27.4% chance that was her real name) was making a simple quilt out of four patch squares. Calico was dear, so she used every teensy scrap she had to make the patches.

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This is a view of the back showing Mary’s careful piecing. The narrowest blue striped bit measures 3/8″ inch, not including the seam allowance.

She gave Betsy (I’ll call Mary’s daughter Elizabeth because there’s a 14.3% chance that was her real name) some squares to practice on. Betsy wanted the pretty patterns to work with, but Mary was reluctant to use those for lessons, so she compromised. One print, one plain.

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Betsy’s finished square. Do you notice something a little odd here?

Well, Betsy finished her block, and Mary finished 89 others. Then she packed them all away. They were never made up, but remained in a box in the attic for 200 years. Don’t you wonder why?

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Betsy’s work from the back. Yes, her stitches are a little clumsier than Mary’s, but she was learning. And they’re straighter than mine – go Betsy!

Helping Mama

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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!

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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!

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The stereoview card, full size.