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?
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.
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!
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
It might be a stretch, but these Flower Patches of yellow, white, and brown reminded me of a photo I’d seen in a costume history book. I just couldn’t recall where! All I could remember was that it was very yellow and had something to do with parasols and a theme exotic to western eyes, like something from the “Orient.”
Finally, I found this illustration from Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915, by Sharon Sadako Takeda. (Fabulous book!) It’s definitely yellow. And the pattern is certainly exotic. The quilt fabric, however, is heavily glazed, and I have no idea whether it was used for apparel or furnishings. I re-read the section on yellow dyes in Susan Greene’s Wearable Prints hoping to identify the type, but decided I’m too inexperienced for that.
As for date, the little bit of text printed on the back of one of the pieces was an enticing clue. I was surprised to see how many early publications appeared after a keyword search. Even after I filtered the results by spelling and phrasing, there were way too many to pin it down. And I found that many publishers “borrowed” and reprinted much more often than I would have expected – even for that era. But I did get it narrowed to circa 1808 or ’09, the British Register, Political Register, Annual Register, Literary Register, Cobbett’s Register…. At that point, I guess it registered with me that the exact source would remain uncertain.
Here’s a flower patch for the lovely month of May since it is (now!) a pretty spring color. The print is similar to the others I’ve posted, but the mint green color is unusual. Actually, I’m not sure exactly what the original shade was, because you can see that it has faded unevenly – dyes of the era were notorious for their fickleness! Unlike the other fabrics, it does not have a shiny new glaze, since it must have been washed and worn earlier in its life.
Time for a short post before Christmas! Here is a patch in Christmas red and green, with a little black accent. Once again it has the peculiar (to my eyes anyway) mouse-squiggle-alien creature-seed pod-flower design. Buti? Boteh? “Shawl pattern”? Indian import or English version? I don’t know. But I do know these patterns on calico show up a lot in the first decade or so of the 19th century. If you search for Ackermann’s Repository, the plates with fabric swatches attached, you’ll see them in many dress prints.
I chose another pattern for the season, and in honor of Thanksgiving week, it’s one with leaves! But to be quite frank, it’s pretty much… not pretty. Perhaps the whole pattern was nicer, and it’s only this snippet that is less than attractive to me.
The maker was certainly wanting to use it though, because she had to piece the piece. You can see just how tiny the scraps were, and it amazes me that she made the effort. Keep in mind the whole hexagon is only 2 inches across!
Something else that I find surprising in these sections is just how many of them have their original glazed finish, or sizing. Perhaps they were only cutting scraps, not from worn out garments. Even though times were changing, fabric itself still had more value than the average worker’s time. And it’s not just the fact that the scraps retain their glazing, I’m really surprised that so many of the pieces have it at all, enough to make them very shiny. I have to angle the photo “just so” to limit the reflection. Hmm… something to reflect on….
It’s time for another bit of calico, and in keeping with the season I chose one with fall colors. I’m afraid the close-up photo doesn’t convey just how smooth, crisp and tight the fabric is – but if you’re like me, you’d rather see it larger!
This time I’m also including the back, with “The Examiner” now being used by the lady of the house. But who knows? Perhaps she was the subscriber as well. I like that thought.
Welcome to the Flower Patch! Back in the olden days when I was a child, my sister and I would sometimes take our afternoon naps on “pallets.” These were great-grandma-made quilts, all soft and worn, laid on the floor in front of an electric box fan (we lived in The South). Compelled to be still and quiet, we’d make a game of picking out our favorite patterns. Of course it sometimes degenerated into squabbles: “You can’t have that first favorite, ’cause it’s my first favorite!” We’d usually fall asleep and wake up best friends again.
I’ve recently come across a few little quilt bits – can’t afford whole garments or quilts – from my favorite era, the early 19th century, and thought I’d post a picture of a patch now and then. I wanted to record all the patterns anyway, and this seems like a good way to share them at the same time. If you happen to recognize a print, or are blessed enough to have the whole garment (which might give me the vapours), I’d love it if you’d let me know!
These patches are from an “English Paper Piecing” set. I believe it dates to the early 1800s, not only because of the patterns but because some of the paper that’s used on the back is c1808-1812. There are a few pages from English newspapers (London National Register, Monthly Magazine, etc.), private letters, and a whole lot of pages from an old copybook. Of course that doesn’t make a certain date; some fabrics could be earlier or later and it all could have been pieced later. But I’ll leave that to the experts.
The first patch I selected has a peculiar pattern. It reminds me of poor old Mousey Mousey. Mousey Mousey was a beloved toy that I still treasure, though heaven knows how anything so small (less than an inch) could survive the many decades and almost two dozen moves he has (we have) been through.
Pictured above is Flower Patch #1. By the way, it’s not my first favorite.