Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Your Requisite Kerchief: HSM #3: Protection

What do you think of you when you think of protection and historical clothing?

I'll admit, when I think about the clothes we 18th century folks wear on a regular basis, I tend to think of protecting my *clothes* more than protecting myself.  A big apron to keep spatters and smudges off  my nice clothes.  Shifts, shirts, what we might call "body linen"--what protects my clothes from my own sweat. Caps--protecting my hair from dirt and debris. Maybe I consider a short cloak, or perhaps quilted garments or mitts, for protection from the cold.  

But we should all consider protecting ourselves, too.

That's right--this is a lecture-y post.

This?  This is top-notch protection right here:

From what?

The sun.

Maybe I'm being a little overdramatic here.  But a few years ago, I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from the curve between my right shoulder and my neck.  The spot had not-quite-healed and reopened multiple time, and was constantly a little scabby, and so I had it checked out.  My brush with cancer was a pretty minor one--the nurse practitioner I saw was as suspicious as I was, had it biopsied, and a couple weeks later, using just local anaesthesia, it was removed.  I'll always have a dime-size scar of shiny, whitish skin, but so far I haven't had any other spots crop up.  For this I'm thankful--but I know having had skin cancer already means I'm at more risk in the future, and that I have to be vigilant and careful about sun protection.

What does this have to do with historical clothing? I'm convinced that I earned that skin cancer by skipping wearing a neck kerchief for years in my younger, stupider, less-authentic reenacting days.  I'm careful about sunscreen, I tend to avoid the sun anyway, and I'm usually pretty covered up.  But eight to twelve weekends a year, for many years, my shoulders--and pretty much only my shoulders--baked and burned as the only thing exposed in my 18th century clothes.  I have had very, very few sunburns or even, um, color, over the rest of my pale self, but those shoulders? Abused.

I'm smarter now.  And more worried about authenticity as well as sun safety--you don't see many women, upper or lower class, in their regular daytime clothing without a kerchief tucked, tied, or pinned on their gowns, jackets, even just their bare stays.  (You see *some* of course--but this relates back to my focus on representing norms.  Kerchief? Norm.)

What the item is: A kerchief
The Challenge: #3 Protection
Fabric/Materials: Some Italian cotton "book muslin" (cotton organdy) acquired from Wm Booth Draper. That's it--easy peasy.  But oh, this stuff is lovely to work with!
Pattern: None, really.  I wanted to try a shaped kerchief after experiencing quite a bit of "bunching" using folded squares, so I used this diagram from the 18th Century Embroidery book:

Year: 1770-1780
Notions: Linen thread.  That's it.

Techniques: I added a section here called "Techniques" because I often find myself wanting to talk about the sewing, fitting, or other methods I used for a project--and this time I couldn't resist.

You guys, rolled hems are magic.

No, seriously.  The only technique used on this piece is rolled hems.  And I swear, after a total of something like two yards of rolled hems on this thing, I didn't get tired of watching that awkward zig-zagging stitch roll up tight into a neat little hem.

I used to be really daunted by rolled hems--they looked so neat and perfect, and I figured it must be really far beyond me--but it's not.  It's one of the easiest techniques I've ever learned.  This explanation is pretty good--and you can make your hems *even narrower!* <--magic .="" p="">
How historically accurate is it? I'll give myself a 95%--the materials, techniques, and shaping are all correct, but I have not, I confess, documented this particular shaping method to the colonies.  However, after experimenting with the stiffer fabric--it just makes sense.  For the kerchief to lie properly, it needs the slit.  Otherwise, it bunches around the neck like an unflattering and uncomfortable balloon.  I'm going to make a shaky pronouncement and say--we know they had kerchiefs of cotton organdy, so they were probably making them using a shaped method.

And we do have an interesting reference from The Old Bailey--a woman caught stealing a "half handkerchief" of book muslin in 1784.  I don't have any proof for this, but it does seem reasonably possible to call a triangle-shaped kerchief a "half."
Hours to complete: Evenings in front of the TV last week.  Maybe three hours total? I really stink at estimating time because it's always stolen in bits and pieces from other parts of my day.
First worn: Not yet!
Total cost:  The book muslin goes for $16, so it's not cheap, but given that a yard easily yields enough for a kerchief like this or a cap, it's a worthwhile investment.   I used maybe half a yard, so $8 total.

This stuff really is delicious to work with--highly recommended!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Riding Habits: In Prints, In Action, In Satire

My latest costuming adventure? Making a riding habit.

I chose this project for three reasons.
  1. Pretty!
  2. For (one of) my reenacting persona(s), an officer's wife and woman of upper-middling to upper-class, who is not "following" per se but rather visiting a semi-permanent encampment, the use of a riding habit as a traveling suit makes a lot of sense.
  3. Pretty! But also somewhat under-represented, at least in my corner of the reenacting world.
Riding habits were worn by upper-class women not only for riding, but for traveling and sporting.  Based on men's suits, with a waistcoat and jacket tailored to be worn over stays and a petticoat in place of breeches, they were a status symbol (clothes for specialized purposes!) but also pragmatic (hard-wearing wool and minimal froofy decoration).

You see riding habits cropping up in military camps--presumably women visiting the camp wearing a riding or traveling ensemble.

Of these four images, the first two depict fictional scenes, the third could potentially be a realistic rendering of a real event, but we (at least, I) don't know what, and only the last provides a corollary for real-world situation.  Following the 1780 Gordon riots in London, troops were encamped in and around the city.  Artist Paul Sandby seems to have made hay out of this development, and many of our images of British camps from the period come from sketches he made of these encampments in St. James Park and elsewhere. We can add this image to the list of nifty London-area camp images--whether these ladies are out for a sporting drive or deliberately aiming to visit someone in the camps, it's kind of neato-keen to see the habit in action at a particular historical junction (even fictionalized in the print itself).

But habits aren't just for visiting military camps, of course.  This oddly diminutive riding-habit wearing woman seems to be playing unsuccessful gooseberry to this lover's tryst (dog also not included in riding habit ensemble):

Women driving is another motif that highlights habit-wearing:

Nice images of habits, both, and are they possibly satirical commentary on gender-bending misses? Jabs at gender norms--and the breaking of them--show up in plenty of prints.  Could the habit be a visual symbol adding to the joke?

Of course, use as a symbol doesn't mean the garment didn't exist, or even that it wasn't worn in the contexts it is shown in.

Here, a sporting pair at their favorite hobbies.  Miss Trigger wears what appears to be a habit (that looks like a habit shirt from her neckline).

Finally, a satirical print aiming at a different joke entirely:

So, what do we see? It's often hard to parse out the reality from the symbolism in satirical prints, but since we know from other sources that it was normal for women to wear habits for these activities (portraits, etc), they are likely a good source for the garments themselves.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Dress-Up Play: DIY Dress-Up Station

The proverbial apple doesn't fall far from the tree, so it should be no surprise that my three-year-old likes playing dress-up as much as her mom does.

Of course, she has her "camping" clothes, which, believe it or not, are her favorites:

Cheesy grin indicative of loving "red camp dress."

At home, she took to wrapping blankets and towels around herself to simulate the "dressing up" experience, so we decided to make a dress-up station for her for Christmas.

The husband crafted a wooden clothing rod, including decorative brackets as "feet," and I painted it white to coordinate with her room:

The addition of her dresses:

Then we added a basket for accessories (a girl needs accessories, right?), including tutus, animal masks, a pirate hat, and fairy wings.

E loves that she can pick her own "outfit" from the rack--now to work on putting the clothes away between costume changes!

PS--Where to find inexpensive dress-up options? After Halloween sales at discount places like Marshall's or TJ Maxx.  I cleaned up!  I'd love to sew her more dress-up clothes, but it's hard to find time!