Transcribed from the 5 January 1861 Rural New Yorker
There is a certain class of persons who seem to be inveterate foes of decency, as far as the returning of borrowed articles is concerned. Have you ever, gentle reader, been blessed with one of these “borrowers” for a neighbor? If you have, you doubtless know what it is to measure out homeopathic doses of tea, starch, sugar, and all the et ceteras of housekeeping. If “trials bring strength,” your patience charity, and other Christian graces are undoubtedly largely developed. Exercise has probably not been neglected, as you have daily to “just step across the way” after your washtub, smoothing iron, or most vexatious of all, your newspaper. Sometimes one is tempted to exclaim “blessed be nothing,” for then at least one is free from all importunities to lend.
It seems to be an established rule with these borrowers, that book and papers are purchased by their friends “pro bono publico,” instead of their individual, gratification. Perhaps from this misapprehension arises all those inconveniences wherewith they so annoy the reading part of the community. And it certainly is an annoyance, just as you have settled yourself for a quiet evening’s looking over the paper, to have your neighbor step in with his stereotyped “Good evening, Mrs White–thought I’d just run over and look at your last paper a few moments.”
Well, there is no use in crying, so you hand him the paper, inwardly hoping that his few minutes may be few indeed. But no, he sits immovable, until hastily glancing at the clock, he perceives it is rather an unseasonable hour. Then comes the crowning trial for you as he coolly says: –“I beg your pardon for staying so late, but really this story was so interesting I didn’t mind how fast the evening was slipping away; guess I’d better take it home and finish it.”
Away he goes, paper in hand, and after it has been read and re-read by the whole Smith family, after the news is old, the jokes stale, and the recipes cut out, your paper comes home, if you choose to bring it.
This is about a fair specimen of newspaper lending; and if my experience is any criterion to judge by, lending books is not much better. Now and then one is returned uninjured, but the majority come home with broken back and leaves that suggest at once the use of Spalding’s glue. Others, like the Dutchman’s hens, “come home missing.” But it will not answer to be too severe upon this army of borrowers. We must give, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little,” and wait patiently for that “good time coming,” when every man shall be the possessor of his own Bible, his own tooth-brush, and his own newspaper.
If you, like the Cousin S from Vermont, are plagued by Borrowers, consider giving either them or yourself the gift of a new copy of The Dressmaker’s Guide, Second Edition, for Christmas!
I was tickled to read this very concise look at how gentlemen can improve their mid-19th century impression… you’ll want to visit and read it, too! With the expansion of citizen living history, more and more men are exploring the wide range of mid-century clothing styles, but one thing they all have in common is the need to wear those trousers at the right height! This, as with so many physical details, is another spot where looking at images of The Original Cast is a huge help; you’ll enjoy some great images in the article. My thanks to Mr James Williams for making it available!
I count eight.
All four cloth dolls were made using our Great Auntie Maude’s Favorite Cloth Doll Pattern, available in the Marketplace. It’s so much fun to see the individuality each girl’s doll has!
A simple cloth doll can be a great Christmas gift, and definitely works well in the toy basket for living history events. These girls are all set to do some high quality historic interpretation, just by sitting under a tree and playing together. They can also undertake their own doll sewing and gain useful historic stitching skills (to the delight of mothers everywhere!)
Thanks, girls, for sharing your dolls with us!
From the Sewing Academy @ Home Forum, here’s an excellent topic:
Help! My oldest, almost 12, needs new everything. We haven’t made her stays of any kind yet but I am sure it is time. She is starting to develop, has a small bust-to-waist difference, but is still very short-waisted.
a) Use the Girls pattern (#200) and make it stop at her waist, resulting in something very similar to a sports bra in look.
b) Use the Girls pattern (#200) and ignore her anatomical waist and make her waist about 15″ where her pants end.
c) Use a corset pattern and ignore the busk (button the front closed) and using cording instead of stays with lacing in the back.
d) Make her a real corset (Please say no, I’m not sure I’m up to the expense or have enough time to order stuff before I need it.)
e) Some other option I am completely overlooking
This is a very common position for families with girls in the 9 to 13 age group!
Most girls, at the very beginning of their development, go through a stage where their bodies store some reserves to use during the major growth of puberty. Since she’s likely to hit a lot of development in the next two years (visible and invisible), I’d go with making her comfortable corded stays now, rather than a fully boned women’s corset. Go for something for support and *minimal* torso control, just enough to help her feel modest and secure.
You could absolutely go with a child-shaped stay, or if she would prefer, and a more generous figure shape warrants it, try the curvier lines of an adult’s shape (control down over the top of the hip), and consider adding straps for now. Does she have a preference at this point? If so, I’d try to follow her preference as to shape, and make this as inexpensive as possible: buttoning closure in the back, or possibly front, cording rather than boning, very minimally compressive… something to give a stable platform for her clothing.
Anticipate that even if she doesn’t get a lot taller in the next few years, she will most likely change shape a good deal, so use inexpensive cotton sateen for the stays (or another inexpensive, lightweight, fairly firm fabric), and cording, etc, to keep the stay updates both very affordable and very period-correct.
Many girls in living history are making their way into their teens lacking appropriate support. As they get taller, and move toward ever-lengthening skirts and petticoats, the weight of their clothing can become oppressive. Adding supportive stays and light corsets to their historic wardrobe is the best way to get a finished look consistent with images of The Original Cast, and it will also help support the increasing weight of their clothing, allowing them greater freedom of movement and far more comfortable historic living.
Between the ages of 12 and 20, a girl may go through two, three, four, or even more corseting changes, as her figure develops: all the more reason to undertake these supportive endeavors at home!
In the Marketplace, you’ll find some resources to help you keep your teens and pre-teens correctly supported. Our Girl’s Linens pattern has simple corded stays that are very easy to fit for support. Practical Prinkery and The Dressmaker’s Guide both include chapters on corsetry, and how to make both a customized pattern, and finished corded or boned corsets.
Beyond comfortable corded stays, here’s one last tip on keeping this age group well-turned-out: Growth Tucks! They’re vital for drawers, skirts, and petticoats!
Some time ago, a writer for the Education section of National Geographic’s site contacted me about participating in an article on Civil War reenactment… and of course, being a life-long reader of the magazine (and a home-schooling-Mom user of the site!) I said yes. The article was published today. Pop on over and take a peek!
This story is somewhat diminished without pictures (which, thankfully, I do not have), and I confess myself a bit hampered when limited only to the written word, and deprived of the ability to gesticulate and pantomime the adventure. Nevertheless, I share my horrific tale in the hopes that someone may be edified, and spared a similar fate.
When I started out in Living History, I presumed myself to be a fairly Smart Girl. When I heard that to be historically accurate, a woman should wear drawers that lack a sewn-closed crutch seam, the Smart Girl in me cringed. How immodest! thought she. How inconvenient! Surely, this is beyond the pale.
And so, Smart Girl that I presumed myself to be, I held fast to a decision to wear that ultimate in modest apparel, cotton-lycra bike shorts, beneath my skirts.
Sure, it meant I had to carefully plan my beverages, and necessitated some fairly convoluted acrobatics just to use a porta-loo, but it was worth it, right? To avoid those dreadful split drawers, I’d do just about anything. Besides, the one pair I’d worn for five or six minutes (borrowed from a shorter friend) would have given me a permanent double wedgie, and that couldn’t be good, right?
I continued with my acrobatic endeavors for a few events. If you’ve not done it yourself, the process of trying to use a porta-loo, whilst wearing a hooped skirt, and a corset, and cotton-lycra bike shorts tucked up under that corset… well, let’s say that quantum entanglement theory is relatively simple, comparatively, and leave it at that. One key feature of the process is needing to hike the the dress skirt, several petticoats, and hoop skirt well above one’s shoulders, catch the hoops together with one hand and pull them toward the front of the body, and proceed with business with oneself as the rather sweaty, huffy cheese in the middle of a hoopskirt taco.
This tends to limit one’s peripheral vision.
About one year into my living history exploits, I took a well-planned trip to confessional at Our Lady of Blue Waters. I re-enacted the hoopskirt taco arrangement, and backed into a standard-sized porta-loo to perform my endeavors. It wasn’t until I was seated, and commencing my endeavors, that I noticed the entire interior of the porta-loo at been “decorated” by a veritable Poo Picasso. Everything I was wearing was now covered with human waste that I had not been able to see, because I was too busy wrangling my modern layers the Smart Girl Me had insisted on using, against the advice of very clever living history friends.
I survived. I burned all my clothes, but I survived. I also borrowed some books from those dear friends, applied some drafting and geometry, and worked out a good math plan to create historically correct split drawers for myself, that fit in the length (to avoid the Mother of All Wedgies), fit in the width (with a nice bit of overlap for customized privacy and convenience), and could be worn comfortably in all weather.
With well-adjusted split drawers, visiting Our Lady of the Blue Waters is as simple as stepping in, lifting skirts straight up, and taking a wide stance before sitting and commencing any needed endeavors. No more hoop tacos. No more Poo Picasso striking without warning.
And that, friends, is why I wear split drawers.
How important is historical accuracy in an interpretive plan?
Pardon me a moment while I hop up on this handy stump and share a few thoughts…
Patrons to any historic site (and extrapolating, to any history-focused event) have the very reasonable expectation that the site is “doing it right”–in other words, that the site is presenting them with historically-consistent information all the way through, from plants in the flower beds, to items in the gift shops, to household furnishings, to the details of material culture in clothing and accessories, and definitely including the information presented through entertainment.
Therefore, it is vital that any on-site entertainment be continually looking for ways to upgrade the historical content, becoming “edu-tainment”–something that patrons can enjoy, and also walk away having learned things that accurately reflect the historic record. The good news is, small changes can be free (or very nearly so), and change can happen over time.
Historic clothing plays a tremendous role in all of this. It’s a primary visual component of any historic interpretation, and deserves weighty consideration. The Original Cast did every single activity we might interpret while wearing a full complement of accurate clothing; there is no reason we should endeavor to do less. More after the jump… Continue reading
The fast-approaching event season presents families with many options for living history activities. You might find yourself contemplating local “smorgasbord” events, historic house events, civic commemorations, semi-immersion events, or even full-immersion events designed to be functional laboratories for living history enthusiasts. Immersion events post some unique challenges to families with infants or very small children. With planning and determination, it is possible to combine immersion and infancy, without accuracy compromises. Continue reading
If you’ve been involved in living history for any length of time, you’ll have run across The Dreaded Snood (often in chubby rayon crochet iterations), and the Dreaded Snood Question (should I be wearing one? and if so, how, exactly?) You’ll have seen women with poofy bangs, and long, undressed hair swirled into an elasticized doily swiped from Grandma’s side table, like so much cooked pasta. You’ll have seen them worn low on the brow, a’ la Lunch Ladies. You’ll have seen them used and abused (mostly the latter.)
Here’s a somewhat controversial opinion, though: wearing an actual snood for the mid-19th century is just fine in some settings, for some women.
I know. I just typed that out loud. Just breathe for a minute, while I explain.
The Oxford English Dictionary has a few options for figuring out the mystery of the Dread Snood, and how it might relate to mid-19th century living history wardrobes. (I love the OED. Such a useful publication!) According to the OED for “snood”, we have a few options, style-wise:
1: Several sources refer to the Middle English “fillet” or ribbon tied around the hair of a young, unmarried Scottish woman as a sign of her chastity and maiden status, and
2: Most of the derivations in multiple languages and eras come from words meaning ribbon, cord, string, or band, or
3: It’s the floppy bit of fleshy appendage that dangles and covers a turkey’s beak.
Let’s go with the former two, rather than the slightly ooky latter, shall we?
Setting aside fleshy turkey bits, we’re left with something shocking: the snood isn’t the net part.
I’m a big fan of dancing, and am so glad it’s such a prevalent form of entertainment at mid-century! If you’re interested in learning more about mid-19th century dancing, and even dancing for a good cause, you’ll want to check out The Victorian Dance Ensemble’s website.
Visit the Instruction section for some basic terminology, and a chance to request a completely free PDF historic dance manual.
And be sure to sign up for their email updates. I did, and because I did, I can now sit and writhe in a fit of green jealousy that those in the East have the chance to attend some really cool dancing events in the upcoming months. Not that I’m bitter. But the Rockies don’t have a lot of refined dancing going on!
Here are just three:
- February 26, George Washington Ball in Winchester, Va., to benefit the Old Court House Civil War Museum.
- March 19, 8th Annual Civil War Preservation Ball in Harrisburg, Pa., to benefit the Gettysburg Monuments Project Endowment Trust Fund.
They will also be offering totally free dance classes on 16 January, 13 February, and 6 March at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA.
Dancing plus preservation fundraising, and free lessons: what could be better, really?
Sign up to participate in any or all of these great dancing efforts by contacting them through their website.
And please: do a polka for me!
What’s the best way to stay comfortable and confident in period clothing?
Have an adequate supply of chemises (or shifts) and switch to a fresh one as needed during your living history activities!
Chemises are most often made in tight-woven cotton or linen for the 1840-1865 era. The generous fit makes them easy to wear, and plain white textiles keep them very easy to launder. When you get a pattern that fits you comfortably, you can use like-sewing or “railroading” techniques to sew a whole batch of chemises quickly. With like-sewing, you complete the same construction step on each garment, one right after the other. Making a batch of chemises from our free Make a Simple Chemise pattern (just scroll down!), you’d:
- Draft and test the upper portion of the pattern (waist length, just to make sure you don’t want to fiddle with things),
- Cut all the chemises,
- Sew all the shoulder/sleeve seams,
- Sew all the side seams,
- Put in all the hems (sleeve and lower edge),
- Put on all the neck bands,
- Have a cup of tea, and enjoy your accomplishment!
Like-sewing also lends itself well to sewing with tight schedules. If you will commit to sewing for 15 minutes a day (by machine) or 1 hour a day (by hand), you’ll make steady progress on your wardrobe! Work to complete each construction step on every garment of that type before moving on to the next step. You gain efficiency by repeating the same process multiple times.
It’s just one strategy to get you well-dressed for the 2011 event season!
If you’re looking to add a bit of mid-century flair to your modern decor, what about some fantastic silhouette ornaments?
These Regency silhouettes from the Magic Bean have me thinking hard about doing up a set of 1840, 1850, or 1860 silhouettes, with appropriately altered millinery shapes.
What a great addition to a mantle, tree, or even as a special seating placecard for a fine holiday meal! Please, someone craftier than I am, make a set and take snapshots. (I may have to break down and get out the glue… but only after I get all the small handwork projects for my own children out of the way! After all, a warm winter hood, or cozy shawl, or new flannel drawers can be used no matter what the century!)
Petticoats are indisputably important to mid-century fashion! Here are the top reasons you may want to consider adding one or more to your list this year:
10: If you like to walk easily, petticoats help. The layers of fullness baffle one another at the waist and hip, which helps them hang away from your body a little bit further down your legs. Two or three layers of skirt are less prone to wrapping entirely around your legs during movement or with wind, too.
9: They’re an ideal “practice” garment. You’ll practice seams, simple hemming, gathering, waistbands, and closures, and if your stitches are uneven, or you have some wonky seamlines, who cares? And imperfect petticoat is still historically accurate (not everyone sewed perfectly then!), and eminently functional.
8. They cross economic boundaries. Working class women need petticoats; so do leisure class women, and the basics of construction are the same for each. Petticoats are one wardrobe item that can easily span a wide range of economic levels for your impressions, so they’re very multi-use.
7. Climate Control. Petticoats shield you from heat, as well as from cold. In fact, if you do cool or cold-weather events, you might want a quilted petticoat or a wool petticoat, as well as your regular cotton petticoats. (Learn more about cold-weather petticoats at The Academy @ Home Forum, or do one of the projects in The Dressmaker’s Guide.)
6. Creating the silhouette. The mid-century look is essentially an inverted triangle (bodice) on top of a bell of skirts. You can’t get the bell without the petticoats for support! This is an era where even robust figures add a bit more upholstery to the hips through petticoats. Just remember: everything below your waist is skirts, and no one can prove otherwise! Relish the boof! Just about any impression could use another petticoat.
5. Creating a tidy waist. Notice, that said tidy, not tiny. Mid-century torsos are controlled and tidy, and look small by comparison with the skirts. If you don’t have petticoats, you can’t get the skirt boof, and without skirt boof (see #6), your waist won’t look as tidy as it could.
4. Protect your dresses with petticoat layers. Though petticoats are hemmed just a tad bit shorter than your dress skirts, they’re going to take a lot of abuse from shoes and ground when you move around. Petticoats, combined with starching, pressing, and nice facings on your dresses, all work together to protect your hems.
3. Individual expression. I know, it doesn’t seem that stacks of white petticoats are anything terribly interesting at first glance, but just consider the wide variety! Petticoats with plain hems, or whitework hems, or quilted hems. Horizontal tucks, vertical or diagonal tuck insertions, sets of tucks large and small. Whitework insertions, puffings, and braidwork on the “for show” petticoats. There’s a white petticoat to delight any personal inclination, and then you get to wear it, too.
2. They’re dirt cheap. Even splurging on great fabric (try Kona or Egyptian cotton for petticoats that will last decades), you’ll spend between $5 and $25 for a plain, gathered petticoat, and only slightly more to embellish it with some gorgeous tucks that add body around the hem. (The low cost makes petticoats a great addition to loaner gear, too. Even a merchant-row make-do dress will look more historically correct if it has nice petticoats for support.)
And the number one reason to make petticoats?
They Did. In trying to replicate the look of the Original Cast, we’ll do best when we use the systems and shapes they used. Petticoats are an integral part of the wardrobe for babies, toddlers, girls, and grown women. Without them, we just don’t look like They did!
If you need just one more reason to make yourself some great petticoats?
This lovely tutorial comes to us from Joanna Jones, one of the Sewing Academy @ Home forumites. We’re tickled to share her project! Joanna used the instructions on making a cage found in The Dressmaker’s Guide.
Joanna started by deconstructing an older, cloth-covered hoop that had rusted. This was the common type, with 1/2″ buckram-covered pairs of steels. She split the steels out (slitting down the middle to free the individual, narrow steels), and sanded the rust off, giving them a light coating of shellac to help prevent rust in the future, then encased them in twill tape. Harvesting the steel from her old hoop yielded 12 lengths of narrow steel… a very frugal option!
Twill tape casings
The casings are made of about 30 yards of 1/2″ wide cotton twill tape, purchased at JoAnn’s in the ribbon and trim section, and folded in half. Most of the casings are secured along the edge with a very narrow zig-zag (note, this is a non-period technique that Joanna used after much thought and consideration), but the last ten yards or so were secured in half with a straight stitch very close to the edge (which would be a period technique). The casings could be sewn by hand or by machine.
(One thing Joanna found as she inserted the sanded and shellacked steels was that they seemed to go into the zig-zagged casings more easily than into the straight-stitch casings. This may be due to the rather more flexible formation of a zig-zag stitch. To get the flexibility without using a zig-zag, the casings could be hand-whipped (with fairly large, sloppy stitches!) around the steels.)
An additional 16 yards of twill tape was reserved for the vertical suspension tapes, supporting the rungs from the waist. Joanna cut the tape into eight lengths, and folded up about 36″ from the bottom to create a doubled section for the channels that hold the steel rungs in place. The first three channels were arranged fairly close together for better support of the lower hem area of the dress. Each channel is about 1/2″ wide, which allows for both the steel, and the bulk of the steel’s twill-tape casing.
Showing the channels in the vertical tapes
The next step was to make a waistband from scrap fabric. Joanna has previously made a dress dummy of her own corseted shape, so she was able to fit and balance the cage on a replica of her own body. (Customized dress forms are another technique detailed in The Dressmaker’s Guide!)
She pinned the vertical tapes at the waist, spacing them evenly around with the exception of the back two tapes, which were closer together at the waist. Threading the twill-covered steels through the channels to meet at the back, she used blue painter’s tape to hold them in place temporarily, and began balancing and adjusting the shape of the hoop.
The top three rungs were arranged to open at the front, for greater ease getting in and out of the hoop.
Beginning to shape and balance!
Then, she began playing with the overlaps at the back until she had a nice, belled shape. Joanna used the pictures from Katherine’s “Koshka” cage crinoline for some additional guidance (and I can ditto that–Katherine does lovely work!) This process took about a day on and off, as she took breaks and made small adjustments with fresh eyes.
Then, she had a short epiphany:
I finally decided that it did not have to be perfect since I would have at least three layers of fabric over it. I never did get a great back thrust. I figure I will put a little pad back there.
And that, Dear Readers, is a grand realization! Even with “perfect” cages in the mid-century, women often used small pads at the back hip to give the ideal “boof” at the back of the skirts.
From the Sewing Academy @ Home Forum, other members offered this advice on getting a nice back-thrust to the 60’s cage:
The two tapes in front (either side of the front opening) will parallel to each other down to the floor, the next set over the hips will flare out a bit more but still run closely to the front tapes and so on. By the time you get to the back the tapes will be set fairly wide with a center back tape anchoring everything in place. This positioning causes the steels to push to the back.
~ Liz W.
If you decide to play with getting the back thrust, try this: the tops of the tapes on either side of the center back tape should be moved in towards the center back tape, and then the next set of side tapes should also be moved towards the back. The bottoms of all the tapes are evenly spaced around the bottom rung, and the side back and side tapes are moved closer to center back… so the tapes are diagonal from the bottom to the waistband, rather than straight.
~ Denise B.
Once Joanna had the bottom nine rungs adjusted to suit her, she took strong thread and tacked the steel casings to the vertical channels so they wouldn’t shift. Then, she trimmed the steels to let them overlap by, at most, 6″. She tucked the raw twill tape ends to the inside a bit, then laid one steel in front of the other, and sewed the casings together firmly by hand. Sewing the folded ends over keeps the steels securely inside.
The top three rungs get trimmed to end on the front vertical tapes. The raw ends of the twill tape casing are tucked in and sewn closed, and the rungs sewn firmly inside the vertical tape channel.
From the forum, Liz W. added a very important note:
The hoop may need to be “balanced” before attaching the waistband permanently by adjusting the lengths of the tapes so the bottom hoop is parallel to the floor.
We all like to think we stand up straight all the time but we don’t. If for example you tend to lean forward, it will cause your hoop to thrust out and up in the back. So shorten the front tapes and lengthen the back a bit to account for it. A similar adjustment may be needed if one hip is higher than the other.
~ Liz W.
This balancing is the last step before firmly sewing the vertical tapes to the waistband, and adding a closure! A good finished hoop or cage (this style is an open cage, rather than a covered hoop) will end about mid-calf, for good skirt support and greater safety. If you look at original images, you’ll notice that many dresses hang roughly straight down from about the mid-calf; that often indicates the lowest circumference of the hoop.
If you’ve been wanting to upgrade from an older, steel-hooped “bridal” cage, using the instructions in The Dressmaker’s Guide can be a great option; you can also start with fresh steels, and build one from scratch with the same instructions!
If you’re wondering just what to do with your child’s outgrown clothing, or are looking for a quick piece or two to round out the wardrobe, here’s a good option!
Organized by Jessica Craig, the list is a free-to-use service for those seeking or selling highly accurate children’s clothing and accessories on a private basis. Listings are requested for historically-accurate items only (or, in the case of shoes, historically-unobtrusive.)
(And, as a few people have asked, though we do not currently license our patterns for ready-to-wear sales, it is absolutely okay to sell off your used, outgrown items made from our patterns.)
This new list is a grand option for growing families all over the country!