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:
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:
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="">--magic>
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!