Monday, October 31, 2011

Miss Kristin - Finding Fabrics

One of the things holding me back as a new reenactor is good, quality sources for good, quality fabrics and notions. I've found this to be the biggest reason why I've hesitated to start another gown project, and to committing to a gown for our garden party in August. Besides this event, I have two other gowns that I need to make; one I have the gown fabric for (a really lovely yellow taffeta), and the other I have nothing--no fabric, no inspiration. Why? Because I have no idea where to get:

  1. good linen lining (so many questions: what weight? what company?)
  2. really good quality taffeta
  3. and really good silk thread.
I think this is an extremely common problem; newbies don't know where to buy, so they end up going to the "same ol' same ol'" or end up using materials that may be readily available at brick and mortar stores but are not authentic or accurate, not real silk/linen/wool/cotton (hello, people, you are hanging around open fires, artificial fibers can melt into and burn your skin! A 911 phone call can really put a damper on the weekend, not to mention your life), and are of generally poor quality.

For example, I wanted to make a drawstring work bag out of linen to carry around my sewing things with me when at events, and use it as a practice piece before I made one out of silk. I went into my local fabric store that begins with a J and bought 2/3 of a yard of linen at $14.99/yd. At that price, it better be good linen--it was utter crap. I purchased Irish linen from Burnley and Trowbridge for $12/yd to make a petticoat out of and it is lovely stuff. So guess what? I totally wasted my money and have not made the work bag; I borrowed one from Mrs. Winthrop instead (thank you! again!). Even the heavier linen that came with the pocket embroidery kit I purchased was better quality!

So, I'm putting forth a plea, for newbies everywhere, asking our more experienced reenactors amongst us to tell us where to go! Where should be buy our fabrics from? Who has great linen for linings? Where can I buy a good amount of yardage of taffeta that is maybe not Scalamandre but is still quality (though for this project, I will invest in something as amazing as Scalamandre)? Where can I buy good silk thread that I can handsew with?

If vital information such as this doesn't get shared, we can all expect the newbies to never get out of their newbie-ness because of a lack of education. A poor foundation (and let's face it, the materials you use for garments are the foundation!) will cause a house to fall. So share! Open up and tell us so we can get better! The hobby needs you to!

Back to my fabric quest -

--Miss Kristin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Portrait of the Week - Elizabeth Goldthwait Cummings Bacon

Dearest Friends,
I'd like to introduce you to our sitter of the week, Elizabeth Goldthwait Cummings Bacon. This portrait, completed by Copley in 1769 is in the Brooklyn Museum.  She was the daughter of Ezekiel and Elizabeth Goldthwait who also sat for Mr Copley and we'll be featuring her mother's portrait in a future blog.  She was 37 when she sat for this painting.

Elizabeth Goldthwait Cummings Bacon by Copley from the Brooklyn Museum

Elizabeth was married twice, both times to ministers.  Her marriage to Revered Bacon was announced in the Boston News Letter on November 11, 1771

She is wearing the heart-shaped cap seen in the late 1760's / early seventies.   Her handkerchief is exquisite - and once again, we see this lovely sheerness that barely hides her decolletage. And that lace trim!!!!  Is it me or does the neckline of her gown seem really low?

She has about her neck a terrific multi-strand seed pearl necklace, tied in the back with a bow, it's so big it covers most of her neck. Anyone see a pattern here with the gowns we are seeing?  Stomacher front, this one silk satin, with sleeve ruffles and appears, little other ornamentation.

Another wonderful look to strive for!  Enjoy


Mrs. S

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mrs. Hancock's Baby Stays, Part One

I've been working on creating a small pair of stays for my little one. (If you are of the mindset that this is wrong to do to a child and that I must be an evil mother, I encourage you to learn a bit more about my baby stays before jumping to conclusions.)

I'm modeling my baby stays after the baby stays in Colonial Williamsburg's collections (with some help thanks to Mrs. Peabody), and referring to photos of the baby stays that the Margaret Hunter Milliner's Shop created from the same set. (The photos can be found on the MHM's facebook page.)

For supplies:  I need pasteboard, a few feet of reed for the boning, fabric scraps and some heavy linen thread.

I started by tracing my pattern, created from the baby stays that Mrs. Peabody had made, onto a sheet of pasteboard. After cutting out four pieces...

...I went through the dreadful process of making large slightly sloppy stitches to attach the reed to the pasteboard. I had thought I could use running stitches for this part to spare my fingertips (I'm not a fan of thimbles), but that wouldn't hold the reed in place as it kept slipping around. So I had to backstitch the reed. By the time this process was complete, my fingers looked like the header image from our friend Kristin's blog, Stuck in the 18th Century. (If this set of stays doesn't fit her by next summer, I will be tempted to research 18th century glue receipts to try and justify gluing the reed to the pasteboard.)

From there, I used a scrap of striped linen to cover the pasteboard and act as the lining.

I then grabbed some wool for the fashion fabric, but as I tried folding it I realized that it was too bulky and probably wouldn't be comfortable to wear.

Time to dig through my fabric stash and find another scrap for the fashion fabric!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Portrait of the Week - a Beauty from Brown

Found another New England lovely to add our portrait collection -- though she is a transplant - originally from New Jersey. This one is from Brown University in Providence, RI.  She is Margaret Stites Manning (1740-1815), wife of the first president of the college painted by Cosmo Alexander in 1770.

"James is said that his wife, who had been Miss Margaret Stites of Elizabethtown, was lovely in person and possessed of those "elegant accomplishments and superior qualities which well accorded with her husband's character and happily fitted her for the discharge of duties inseparable from public positions of honor and usefulness."....."*

*The New England Magazine' May 1899 Vol XX No. 3, pg's 293-314 - 'Brown University' by Henry Robinson Palmer.

She was born in Oct 16, 1740, so she was thirty when this portrait was painted.

She's dressed a bit more conservatively than our Boston beauties (could that be an 18th century Jersey girl thing or just that she was a Baptist minister's wife?) with her lappet cap fastened under her chin, but her gown is similar, complete with a rosette fastening her handkerchief. Her shift and cuff ruffle peak out from under her sleeve flounce like our other subjects.  I just love how sheer her handkerchief is -- covering but not quite covering.  Too bad we don't see whether or not she is wearing an apron and if that apron is tied over her gown -- rats!  Lots to emulate here.  Enjoy!

Mrs. S.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Shift Updates

Dearest Friends,
Last Saturday I had the opportunity to spend the day with my BAR friends at the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, CT. It was a positively glorious day!  May I once again extol the joys of handsewing -- I made tremendous progress on my shift on Saturday.  Since this kind of sewing just requires good light and only a handful of brain cells, it's perfect work to do when sitting and visiting with friends.  By the way, the gores are all done and I'm ready to start getting the sleeves sewn.  I'll post pictures next week.

While enjoying the lovely landscape around the Hale Homestead, it brought to mind an important part of the linen production process.  After linen was woven it was still a brown color --to whiten it, the sheets were washed and laid out in fields for months to be bleached by the sun, weather and chlorophyll from the grass.  Now a days linen is bleached through a chemical process, but no doubt the Copps family shift's linen was bleached in a field.

Here are a few pictures of bleaching fields....
Bleaching Ground in Countryside new Haarlem - van Rusidael c 1670

Ireland early 20th century

So if you wash your shift on a sunny day,  don't put it in the dryer.  Just lay it out right on the grass in the sunshine to dry. (but not under a bird feeder ;)

Your humble and obedient servant,
Mrs. S

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another New England Role Model

Found this wonderful portrait from Historic New England's collection.  Another New England role model - lovely in her simplicity. Don't you just love that cap!
She's Hannah Choate Lathrop from Norwich, CT.


Mrs. S.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mrs. Hancock's Completed Baby Cap

Little Miss Hancock models her new cap.
Remember that baby cap I couldn't complete because of lace issues? Well I am happy to report that, after receiving some expert guidance from Ms. Boylston, the project is done!

I purchased insertion lace and matching lace to trim the cap from Martha Pullen.

I ripped out the cottony insertion lace and added a strip of the new stuff.

The picture below offers a peek at the inside:

I added the lace to the edge of the cap and... was done!

Above, Miss Hancock models her new cap which was made by following the direction on Sharon Burnston's website. (Please excuse the modern high chair and PJs.) It fits her well, though at the rapid rate she's growing, I think I will soon have to make her a new one.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Manual Shifting

Dear Friends
Why make a garment, that is rarely seen, by hand? Good question.  It would be faster maybe even easier.  So why bother?

Lots of reasons, but the most important is the interpretive value that the garment has when made by hand. As I mentioned in my last post, nothing makes more of an impression than the words,  "I made it myself, all by hand".  This phrase opens the doors to the most interesting and educational conversations! Try it -- you'll be surprised.

The other equally important reason is that it's the proper way to make the garment. It is impossible to make most 18th century garments correctly by machine.  Machine sewn seams look like machine sewn seams. In addition, lots of the work can't be done by your sewing machine -- like stroke gathers, flat felling, etc.  Yes, there are ways of "cheating" but it's just not the same.

Many would argue that most people just don't have the time to do it by hand.  Wrong!  Think of all the time you spend with idle hands -- watching tv, waiting at the doctor's office, waiting for your kid at soccer practice, town meeting, taking the train to work.  Hand sewing is portable, you can take it anywhere and make progress. Try that with your sewing machine!

Finally to those who physically can't hand sew due to a condition like carpal tunnel or arthritis or bad eyesight -- why not consider an 18th century custom -- bartering.  Is there something you can do for someone else? -- perhaps buy some fabric for them, give someone a ride to an event,  swap your modern expertise for some sewing time,  offer an item you are no longer using - be creative - it worked then, it can work now.

Back stitch

Finally, I know I've been doing a lot of babbling lately and you are wondering where my shift is -- I confess, I took a diversion -- I'm working on a gown for an event a few weeks from now and will probably jump to finishing my quilted petticoat this week, but if you see me sitting around someplace in the near future, trust me, I'll be working on that shift.


Mrs. S

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mrs Winthrop's Pocket Problems

Mrs. Winthrop is Bedeviled

In considering a new outfit, the modern Mrs. Winthrop realizes that like her sister chick-lets she would love to begin with new undergarments…especially a very fine linen shift.

Of more immediate need, though, was the completion of a pair of pockets - Mrs. Winthrop has made do with a single pocket for far too long.  
A bit of research reveals that most eighteenth-century pockets are lavishly embroidered:
Met 1979.346.107, linen pockets, America

Unfortunately, the modern Mrs. Winthrop needs a simple pair, and she finds very, very few, late in the century, which are simple linen:
CW 1964-411, white [cotton/linen] dimity, New York, c. 1785-1810
Met C.I.40.159.4, striped linen pocket, America1789
MFA 99.664.22, women’s cotton pocket, Lexington, MA, late 18th  to early 19th century

The modern Mrs. Winthrop also wondered if perhaps a block print cotton could be used in place of embroidery.  The pocket below seems more utilitarian, although the small print seems early 19th c than late 18th:
PVMA 1915.18.05, cotton calico, America, second half of the 18th century 

Finally, voilà – in the MFA, Boston:
MFA 98.1802a, block print cotton pocket “English, used in America, last quarter of the 18thc.”

Coincidentally, Mrs. Winthrop had some block printed cotton scraps of just the right size.  After making some adjustments to the pattern, four pocket shapes of the Indian print and two pocket shapes of stiff linen, (which she ordinarily uses for gown lining) were cut.

One each of the cotton print and of the linen were stitched together along the hand slit, right sides together, then turned and pressed.  On each one, the wrong side of the back block print cotton print was stitched to the wrong side of the front, (now two ply) linen/cotton piece, then turned and with right sides together, stitched again to make a fully enclosed felled seam (Mrs. Winthrop hates pulling items out of her pocket along with a handful of unraveled fibers!)

Each pocket was turned and pressed.  Mrs. Winthrop is constantly bedeviled by her single pocket inching forward during the day from the rear side of her waist to the front - so she measured the distance that she would prefer the pockets to lay, marked on the 3/4" cotton tape to be doubled over the tops of the pockets and stitched the top of each pocket to the waist tie.

But...Mrs. Winthrop was once again bedeviled by fabric (or in this case cotton tape) which stretches as it is worn...although the pockets seemed to be in the correct location when she dressed, (see photo) at the end of the day, both pockets had crept along to the front!

Fortunately, Mrs. Winthrop does not give up quite so easily...she plans to remove the pockets from the flexible cotton tape at the waist and use a linen tape in its place.
Take that, cotton!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tippet, Tippet, Who's Got the Tippet?

Dear Mrs. Peabody,

How do you know that the items you cite were called tippets and not something else? We know that tippets could be fur (although were not always fur) and that they went around the neck, but for all we know, there could have been several sorts of fur things that went around the neck. As for furs for the neck, we also have Two ladies, one holding a fan and the other a rose, at the Bowes Museum:
(is that a fur tippet and a lace tippet? a fur tippet and a lace something else? two things neither of which are tippets?) and Antoine Coypel's Marquise de Lamure, née Charlotte-Philippine de Chastres de Cange, at the Worcester Art Museum:
(This image from Grand Ladies as the image is not on line at the Worcester Art Museum website.)

Going beyond the neckwear, I also admire the equipages, hair ornaments, and sleeve ruffles with a simple lace edging in Two Ladies...and the Marquise de Lamure's gloves, her earrings, and most especially her awesome muffatees.

Your affectionate servant,
Miss Boylston