Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in 18th Century Boston

Dearest Friends,
As Christmas approaches, it's fun to imagine an 18th century home festooned with greenery and fruit with candles aglow, waiting for the flaming plum pudding to be served.  Colonial Williamsburg has pretty much franchised this concept of Colonial America. Don't get me wrong, it's beautiful, but not representative of the 18th century in the colonies, especially, if you lived in Boston.

Strolling the streets of this city in the 1770's on Christmas morning, you would be hard pressed to find a pineapple swag hung over the any doorway in the city.  Besides being an incredible waste of precious fruit, the residents of this New England city did not keep Christmas as most of us imagine a Colonial Christmas to be.  For starters, it was considered a "papist" holiday. Secondly, Christmas, as we celebrate it today, is a relatively modern concept, started in the 19th century and brought to new heights of shopping mania in recent times.

So for my holiday post, I thought it fitting to share with you a few entries from the diary of Anna Green Winslow to see how she celebrated the holiday in 1771.  Perhaps after things calm down this Sunday and I get a peaceful moment, I'll finish the wristband of my shift in homage to Miss Winslow!

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas!

Mrs. S.

December 24th
"Elder Whitwell told my aunt, that this winter began as did the Winter of 1740. How that was I dont remember but this I know, that to-day is by far the coldest we have had since I have been in New England. (N.B. All run that are abroad.) Last sabbath being rainy I went to & from meeting in Mr. Soley's chaise. I dined at unkle Winslow's, the walking being so bad I rode there & back to meeting. Every drop that fell froze, so that from yesterday morning to this time the appearance has been similar to the discription I sent you last winter. The walking is so slippery & the air so cold, that aunt chuses to have me for her scoller these two days. And as tomorrow will be a holiday, so the pope and his associates have ordained, my aunt thinks not to trouble Mrs Smith with me this week. I began a shift at home yesterday for myself, it is pretty forward. Last Saturday was seven-night my aunt Suky was delivered of a pretty little son, who was baptiz'd by Dr. Cooper the next day by the name of Charles. I knew nothing of it till noonday, when I went there a visiting. Last Thursday I din'd & spent the afternoon at unkle Joshua's I should have gone to lecture with my aunt & heard our Mr Hunt preach, but she would not wait till I came from writing school. Miss Atwood, the last of our boarders, went off the same day. Miss Griswold & Miss Meriam, having departed some time agone, I forget whether I mention'd the recept of Nancy's present. I am oblig'd to her for it. The Dolphin is still whole. And like to remain so."

December 27

John Henry so pray mamma, dont mistake me."
"This day, the extremity of the cold is somewhat abated. I keept Christmas at home this year, & did a very good day's work, aunt says so. How notable I have been this week I shall tell you by & by. I spent the most part of Tuesday evening with my favorite, Miss Soley, & as she is confined by a cold & the weather still so severe that I cannot git farther, I am to visit her again before I sleep, & consult with her (or rather she with me) upon a perticular matter, which you shall know in its place. How strangely industrious I have been this week, I will inform you with my own hand—at present, I am so dilligent, that I am oblig'd to use the hand & pen of my old friend, who being near by is better than a brother far off. I dont forgit dear little John Henry so pray mamma, don't mistake me"

December 28
"Last evening a little after 5 o'clock I finished my shift. I spent the evening at Mr. Soley's. I began my shift at 12 o'clock last monday, have read my bible every day this week & wrote every day save one."

December 30
"I return'd to my sewing school after a weeks absence, I have also paid my compliments to Master Holbrook. Yesterday between meetings my aunt was call'd to Mrs. Water's & about 8 in the evening Dr. Lloyd brought little master to town (N.B. As a memorandum for myself. My aunt stuck a white sattan pincushin for Mrs Waters. On one side, is a planthorn with flowers, on the reverse, just under the border are, on one side stuck these words, Josiah Waters, then follows on the end, Decr 1771, on the next side & end are the words, Welcome little Stranger.) Unkle has just come in & bro't one from me. I mean, unkle is just come in with a letter from Papa in his hand (& none for me) by way of Newbury. I am glad to hear that all was well the 26 Novr ult. I am told my Papa has not mention'd me in this Letter. Out of sight, out of mind. My aunt gives her love to papa, & says that she will make the necessary enquieries for my brother and send you via. Halifax what directions and wormseed she can collect."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Miss Hancock Models Her New Stays

Upon completing the baby stays, Miss Hancock happily modeled them. While she was not a fan of holding still while they were laced up (what 15 month old wants to hold still?) she quickly adapted and had little trouble performing her favorite activities... 
 Like rearranging mommy's spoons...

 ...and banging them on the floor.


She could crawl just fine. 

 And she quickly partook in her other favorite dining room activity -- organizing the wooden bowls.

 The only thing she somewhat struggled with was squatting and standing up. But don't we all have those issues when wearing stays? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Portrait of the Week - Deborah Malbone Hunter

Dearest Readers
It's back to Rhode Island and artist Cosmo Alexander, we give you his portrait of Deborah Malbone Hunter of Newport for your consideration.  This portrait painted in 1769 is owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County.  Deborah was 30 when this was painted, eight years after her marriage to William Hunt (my guess also the age of her daughter in the painting).

Lots of things to notice here.  It almost looks like our artist is trying to adopt that "classical studio look" that Copley so often used, but doesn't quite get it.  From the neck up, he captures it -- that no jewelry, natural hair look, but from the neck down, we have a perfect example of a period gown rather than the drapey robe you frequently see in the classical type portraits.  Who knows whether this was the artist's choice or that of the sitter, but either way, there are lots of clothing details to ponder.

We see the ribbon trim on her sleeves -- set several inches above the sleeve flounces - similar to the sleeve treatment we saw in Eunice Devotion's portrait

Again we see the sheerest linen used for her handkerchief, and her very finely made shift sleeves showing from under her sleeve flounces.

We also have the opportunity to look at the clothing of her daughter.  The artist shows us the seaming in the bodice of her back fastening gown and the simple but lovely sleeve treatment.  Of particular note is the daughter's beautiful posture and the width of her chest - possibly the result of wearing stays since birth as well as the watchful eye of her mother - making sure her daughter carried herself in an manner appropriate to her station. Her gown is simply adorned and she wears no handkerchief, which is pretty typical in portraits of young girls.

So are you seeing a trend in the clothing of our New England woman?  Over the coming weeks we will look at women from the other colonies as well as to compare them to English women of the same time period.


Mrs. S


Monday, December 12, 2011

Mrs. Hancock's Completed Baby Stays

As you may remember, I have been struggling with the baby stays project. My last conflict centered around the appropriate fashion fabric (I had used green linen which I learned isn't an appropriate color).

So I removed the green linen...

...and choose Burnley & Trowbirdge's cinnamon camlet. It's a more appropriate weight (the green linen was a little sheer) and a more appropriate color.

I attached the new fashion fabric...

...and whip stitched the panels together.

I then bought an awl and marked where each eyelet should go.

Punching the eyelet holes was much easier than I had antiticapted thanks to my new tool. (Which much be the best $6 I ever spent!) 

For making the eyelets, I basically had to make two eyelets for each hole--one on the front and one inside.

I then added a scrap of printed cotton on the center front (to create a little cushion for comfort)...

...and laced them up with some cotton tape.

The shape of this pair of stays was rather boxy. I bent the pasteboard so it would better reflect a rounded body shape and would be more of a natural fit for Miss Hancock.

Up next - my little one will model her first pair of stays!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Portrait of the Week - Seeing Double Redux

Dearest Friends,
There was so much story surrounding our two portraits last week, that we really didn't take much time to examine the details of these paintings. So this week, let's revisit our two lovely ladies -- The woman in gold being Mary Lathrop and the woman in blue either Susannah Botencou or Sister Botencou Lathrop

On closer examination, we can see that the artist didn't merely switch heads and gown colors, there are subtle differences -- and if you look close enough, you can play a round of "one of these things is not like the other".  For example, one woman wears an apron, one is thinner, one sleeve flounce turns up, one holds a fan, etc., However, lets look specifically at the clothing elements.

Notice, that even though these paintings are folk art in genre, the artist was still was accomplished enough to show us things like how the fabric fits to the body.  There are ripples in the silk around the sleeve and on the robings, illustrating that the fabric did not necessarily fit the wearer like it was sprayed on, giving us a hint as to how our gowns might fit.

Though the specific item I'd like to bring your attention to, is the piece around her shoulders that looks very similar to one worn in one of our pervious portraits.  Is this a lace tippet? is it a kind of handkerchief? mantle?  Don't know, but it's really pretty and fits around her shoulders in a very flattering manner with its box pleats shaping it so nicely.  Let's keep an eye out for another.  Have any of our readers seen another example? And any thoughts as to what it might be called?

Just another question from two portraits surrounded in questions!

Mrs. S

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Challenge: Save the Date August 25, 2012

Mark your calendars -- The Challenge Event - A Muster Day in Concord 1773, will take place on August 25, 2012. (rain date August 26th) at Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, MA.

What will you do to take your impression to a new level?  Some may choose to tweak their existing kit, while others will take this opportunity to create a new hand stitched outfit. Whatever you opt for, if you start now, you have 9 months to make it happen.

We're finishing up the website and will have all of the details for you shortly.  In the meantime, how do you want to turn out at the Muster Day next summer?