There is an odd Notion enough entertained about Change, and the keeping of Children clean. Some imagine that clean Linnen and fresh Cloaths draw, and rob them of their nourishing Juices. I cannot see that they do any thing more than imbibe a little of that Moisture which their Bodies exhale. Were it as is supposed, it would be of service to them; since they are always too abundantly supplied, and therefore I think they cannot be changed too often, and would have them clean every Day; as it would free them from Stinks and Sournesses, which are not only offensive, but very prejudicial to the tender State of Infancy. – Dr. William Cadogan, 18th century author of An Essay upon Nursing
Plain sewing examples are usually cotton or linen, but here’s one of wool flannel: a baby’s diaper (or napkin) cover. Maybe this one is similar to what Mrs. Bakewell meant in her 1836 Mother’s Practical Guide. “I cannot too strongly recommend the use of a flannel napkin over the diaper for the very young babes, when they are carried out. The chest, too, should be guarded with flannel, especially if there be any constitutional or hereditary predisposition to inflammation.” Wool, the cure for what ails you!
Instead of the herringbone stitch, this has been bound with a cotton facing and trimmed with a blanket stitch in neat scallops. Herringboning, the stitch recommended in period manuals for anchoring seams on heavy material, wouldn’t have been sufficient to secure the edges, considering the laundering required.
In the days before modern heating, wool flannel was often part of a baby’s wardrobe. Although warm, it seems like wool would be awfully heavy and itchy if worn close to the skin. Maybe that’s just my modern-day sensibilities? But at least the wearer of this diaper enjoyed the relative comfort of buttons for fastening, rather than pins. And I don’t mean safety pins! Babies in earlier times weren’t always as fortunate as the owner of this diaper. Advice books often warned against pins and the possibility of terrible consequences when they pinned the baby instead of the clothing! William Buchan, writing in 1808:
It would be safer to fix on the clothes of an infant with strings than pins, as these often gall and irritate their tender skins, and occasion convulsions. Instances have been known, where pins were found sticking above half an inch into the body of a child after it had died of convulsion-fits, which, in all probability proceeded from that cause.
Unless the fits resulted from trying to scratch the wooly itches!
“The art of marking was brought to perfection many years ago, and if our great grandmothers could but see the meagre attempts made by us now-a-days, I fancy they would have some contempt for the system by which our needlework abilities are tested.”
– A. K. Smith, 1892
They would certainly have some contempt for how long it took me to mark Pharaby’s shift, regardless of the quality of my work! I should have tended to this little essential when I first made it, but better late than never. We can’t have her single shift getting lost in the laundry, can we?
First I had to do some practice stitching. Sampler collectors and makers would laugh at how astonished – and intimidated – I am by the miniscule cross-stitches made during the past 200 years. You can see from this little baby shirt (last quarter 19th C) how blithely they marked countless linens. I’m guessing at the “blithely” part, but since I have many shirts from this baby, somebody was doing a lot of marking!
Making it to Pharaby’s scale would be impossible, since barely matching ordinary period work would be the best I could hope for.
I used a pretty little c1900 linen collar to experiment on (damaged – I wouldn’t inflict my needle on it otherwise), as you can see in the picture.
Since the threads in linen are not all exactly the same size, my stitches over two threads looked a bit messy. I tried sewing over four (too big) or over however many made a perfect square (too awkward). By this time I was just about ready to use ink, like the collar owner! But hey, I’m all about plain sewing, right?
A lot of trial and error showed that to be small enough, I’d have to work over two threads, no matter how lumpy my letters looked. I found that just like many projects, things that look pretty awful as I’m working, look a little better when I’m done. Or maybe I’m just cross-eyed by then!
It’s so much fun to read housekeeping manuals and other domestic how-to books from days gone by. You come across many strange things in cookery, cosmetics, and cures: some fun, some funny, and some frightening. I found this delightful mixture in an old book on my shelf, The Complete Dressmaker, 1907.
A very highly recommended cleansing fluid may be made from the following:
Gasoline . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 gallon
Ether . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 teaspoonful
Chloroform . . . . . . . . ..1 teaspoonful
Ammonia . . . . . . . . . . . .2 teaspoonfuls
Alcohol . . . . . . . . . . . . ..1 gill
Mix well and do not use near a fire or light, or in a closed room. (Seriously?) This fluid cleans silks and woolen materials, leaves a new finish and does not shrink the fabric or give white goods a yellow tinge. It may be used on the most delicate colors and fabrics and is very inexpensive.
Pour into a china washbowl sufficient of the fluid to cover the material or article to be cleaned; wash as you would in water, rub the soiled spots with an old, soft brush; a toothbrush will answer this purpose on a flat surface. Wring the material out of this fluid and rinse in a second portion. Wring out again and hang out in the air until the fluid evaporates.
Or the haz-mat team arrives.
In all fairness I should admit that the contents, if I knew them, of many products we use today would be just as shocking to a non-chemist like myself. Still, this is one recipe I’ll let pass.