Tick Tack Tocking, No Clocking on Her Stocking

Stockings

“A Lady’s Leg is a dangerous Sight in whatever Colour it appears; but shewing us your Legs in White, is next to shewing us them naked.”

It’s fun how a search for one thing can lead to other quirky discoveries. That’s what happened when I looked for information on stockings for Pharaby. Who knew that clocked stockings were the subject of a racy little song in 1902? (Will F. Denny, on archive.org)

I’m sure ornamented stockings were worth a peep in the 18th century as well! And did you know that wearing silk stockings could be hazardous to your health? At least during a thunderstorm.

Met Stocking

A late 18th century stocking, metmuseum.org.

According to the Scots Magazine in 1773, a lady in Switzerland nearly suffered a shocking fate:

Her disease, like all others which the doctors can make nothing of, was decided to be a nervous one; but it was afterwards discovered to be owing to her wearing silk stockings, and wires in her cap. How little do our ladies imagine, when they surround their heads with wire, the most powerful of all conductors, and at the same time wear stockings, shoes, and gowns, of silk, one of the most powerful repellents, that they prepare their bodies in the same manner, and according to the same principles, as electricians prepare their Conductors for attracting the fire of lightning.

Ladies may laugh at all this, but it is too serious a matter to be made a joke of. A very amiable lady, a Mrs Douglas of Kelso, had nearly lost her life by one of those caps mounted on wire. She was standing at an open window during a thunder-storm: the lightning was attracted by the wire, and the cap was burnt to ashes. Happily her hair was in its natural state, without powder, pomatum, or pins, and prevented the fire from being conducted to her head.

A good strong head of hair, if it is kept perfectly clean, and dry, is probably one of the best preservatives against the fire of lightning. But so soon as it is stuffed full of powder and pomatum, and bound together with pins, its repellent force is lost, and it becomes a conductor.

Hmm… personally (and modern-tastefully) I find the “loaded” hairstyle more repellent!

But I digress. Pharaby most certainly wanted stockings, and I wanted to make them. Well, I wanted her to have them. To be honest, I was at a loss for how to make stockings, so first I spent some time searching for ready-made.

What would fit her? Her limbs are not exactly the same size and shape (well neither are mine), and her feet are shaped to stand flat on the ground. Or table. So off-the-rack doll stockings, unless I was willing to accept nylon tubes, were not an option.

Stocking Foot

I know what it’s like to have baggy socks around my ankles.

I decided I’d have to make them after all. Knitting was out of the question since I don’t know how. The stockings would have to be cut and sewn. Pondering a source for slightly-aged stretchy silk one day, I experienced a flash of brilliant resourcefulness. Gloves! With silk lining! Ebay! I found a worn vintage pair that were just right and managed to extricate the lining from the leather.

Next I found and adapted a pattern on this lovely site and practiced fitting it, using an old t-shirt so I wouldn’t waste the silk. That took a while, but once I settled on the size, I had another idea. Why not embroider clocks on her stockings? My brilliant ideas are often followed by some real flops, and so this one proved.  I made three attempts to embroider a half-inch design on thin stretchy silk. It looked horrible, no matter what thread or stitch I tried. There would be no clocks this time.

Fortunately Pharaby didn’t know I was even trying, so she suffered no disappointment; she was pleased to have any stockings at all. They may be her only pair. We have a lot of thunderstorms.

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Aprons, No Strings

Apron 1854

An apron pattern, c.1850 for the 19th century layette.

At three months old, it is usual to commence the use of aprons, which are made of bird’s-eye diaper, or, just now, brilliante, a firm, close-figured cambric, which will wear nearly as long. These last are bound with cambric, in solid colors, as pink, blue, buff, &tc. Bird’s-eye linen is usually trimmed with tatting or anything that wears well. At present, button-hole scollops, either plain or filled with dots, eyelets, &tc., are much used; they are made in this way ornamental, as well as useful. For an infant, the “bib-apron,” round front, coming a little below the waist, with a little shoulder strap buttoning around the arm (see cut), is the most suitable. From six months to two years of age, a similar front, with back to correspond, cut of bird’s-eye also. A large variety of shapes, however, are constantly to be had. The material and length is our province; no child needs an apron coming to the end of the dress skirt, as we have seen them made.

So says Sarah Hale, in a little instruction book written for new mothers in 1854. It amazes me that such a functional item could survive 150 plus years, but I come across them from time to time.  If you’d like an actual-size pattern of the one below, send an email to me, m at twothreadsback dot com, and I’ll send you a pdf – free. Gratis. No strings attached!

Apron 1A

An apron for a very small baby, made of cotton diaper by a mother who was cutting the pattern with one hand and holding the baby with the other.

The hems are almost invisible, so I assume Mother was able to use both hands for that. The tiny buttons are made of delicately carved mother of pearl.

You can see the tiny mother of pearl buttons.

A close-up of the buttons and narrow hem.

The photo(s) are slightly underexposed because the apron is so white it's hard to see.

The photo(s) are slightly underexposed because the apron is so white it’s hard to see.

Apron 1D

The fabric is still so strong that the fold-down part in the front refuses to fold down – and I refuse to press it that way. Not a good idea for preserving old textiles!

Another common pattern, made for an older child, is like the one pictured below. It’s also made of diaper – but in linen – and trimmed at the armscyes and hem.

Apron 2A

This one is less like a bib and more like what we’d call a pinafore today.

Apron 2B

A view of the back to show the tape threaded through the neckline and the pretty buttonholed trim.

Apron 1854 Thumb

Flower Patch 2

Flower Patch 02

A bright yellow and blue calico patch, early 19th century.

Here we are with another patch from the same collection. There are a LOT of them, so I’ll probably not even mention that in future posts, but simply add the photo.

This one is bright and cheery in yellow and blue, with an absolutely bizarre design. It’s also reminiscent of Mousey Mousey – but perhaps when he was feeling blue on a bad hair day.

 

Fluffy Ruffles

Fluffy Ruffles 1

Engaging engageantes for Pharaby.

I’m not sure how I got distracted and neglected to let Pharaby show off her new sleeve ruffles, but we shall make amends. Here they are!

Fluffy Ruffles 2

From that same stash of unsold ebay scraps I selected a pretty little bit of muslin. Now I admit I’ve handled a lot of fine muslin and can usually tell when it’s wearing Sizing of the Ages. But this piece had me stumped. It was originally an unfinished embroidery project with a homemade pattern marked in blue ink, a typical edging design, and I’m pretty certain it was mid-19th century. But washing – a lot – didn’t affect the nice bounce at all. So we got the effect of nicely starched ruffles without any stickiness.

Fluffy Ruffles 3

Fortunately, it was also forgiving. I managed to whip the edges with no problem, but one little ruffle had to be attached three times before I was satisfied with the linen band.

Fluffy Sheet Music

Fluffy Ruffles, 1907.

So now Pharaby has some fluffy ruffles. By the way, it was a family joke that my aunt named every pet she had Fluffy Ruffles. A little googling showed me why!

Fluffy was born in 1906, the creation of artist Wes Morgan, and featured in stories with verse by Carolyn Wells. Pretty, stylish, and spunky, she became a heroine of her era and the next few decades (that’s longevity for a fad!) saw her as a paper doll, a book, in music, on the stage, and yes, her catchy name was shared with crochet patterns and flower hybrids – and pets.

Fluffy Ruffles Contest

Fluffy Ruffles, the Perfect American Girl.

 

 

 

 

The Flower Patch

Flower Patch 01

An early cotton calico from English Paper Pieced Patchwork. (Say that really fast.) It measures 2×2 inches. The odd thing on the left is my embroidery scissors holding down the edge.

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.

Mousy Mousy

Mousey Mousey: a survivor.

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.

 

All Dressed Up & Nowhere to Sew

Sewing in the Parlor

Sewing after dinner.

Except the parlor, perhaps? Well, it’s identified on the back as the boudoir, but the meaning of words changes according to time, place, and whim, so we’ll accept her terms. This is a charming stereoview image of two circa 1860s ladies in full dinner dress, sitting down to play with their new sewing machine.

I can’t identify the machine, but I see the seamstress has a music stand and harp close to hand, just in case she wearies of needlework. And a friend with a manual close by to instruct and advise. (Ok, it’s not a manual – what could it be?) A picture-perfect postprandial occupation while the gentlemen are smoking: a lamp, vases of flowers, elegant furnishings, and a congenial companion – what more could you ask?

Sewing in the Parlor Stereo

Full stereoview of the new sewing machine.

Little Biggin Two

18th C Cap 2a

Another 18th century baby’s cap – with frills.

This little cap is a favorite. Yes, the linen is coarser than the lovely smooth cambric in most of the other really old baby things I’ve found. The slubs are noticeable, and they show even more due to washing and wearing. But there’s just something about that little ruffle around the brim. And the extra gathers right in the center – can’t you just see them sticking up, stiff with starch? Rather like a little plume or crest!

18th C Cap 2b

A perfect frame for a baby’s face.

The measurement around the brim, including the ruffle, is about 12 inches; the center front to the back is about 9 inches.

18th C Cap 2f

Baby’s cap with the two-part brim folded open.

It seems like every time I examine a garment to write about it or list it for sale, I find something I’d overlooked before. And sometimes it’s unusual, a feature I haven’t seen before. That happened here, too.

The little crown was stroked and gathered and attached to the upper brim with backstitches, the same way cuffs or collars were attached to shirts. Then the under-layer-brim was hemmed to the crown from beneath. That does make the technique look like “setting in,” a construction process taught from (at least) the 18th to the early 20th centuries – if you’re one of the rare people who’ve seen my book Plain Needlework, you know what I’m talking about.

The strangest thing though, is how the upper layer is hemmed. It’s backstitched! But not securely on the folded hem itself; instead the stitching rests along the very edge. In fact, I really don’t see how it holds. I’ve looked at it with magnification because it’s so different from what I’m used to seeing. But that’s right. The hem is barely caught with the backstitches.

The under layer is normal – if you can call a 1/16 inch hem normal; it’s simply hemmed. Then the ruffle is whipped and gathered on both. The back of the cap is gathered and set in a narrow band, also with backstitching.

18th C Cap 2c

A closer view of the “plume” – and you can see the backstitched hem.

Like last cap I wrote about, this one is in remarkably fine condition and there are no vestiges of ties. Unlike many other fine linen bits, it’s lost its starch. I think the wearer would have approved. Floppy ruffles are more comfortable.

18th C Cap 2e

A back view of the cap.

18th C Cap 2d