Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Accomplished Young Lady

Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Morning Dress 1813
Loretta reports:

I thought it would be interesting to compare William Hazlitt’s remarks about ladies' accomplishments with the exchange in Pride and Prejudice dealing with the topic.

The elegant manners of people of fashion have been objected to us to show the frivolity of external accomplishments, and the facility with which they are acquired. As to the last point we demur. There is no class of people who lead so laborious a life, or who take more pains to cultivate their minds as well as persons, than people of fashion. A young lady of quality, who has to devote so many hours a day to music, so many to dancing, so many to drawing, so many to French, Italian, &c. certainly does not pass her time in idleness; and these accomplishments are afterwards called into action by every kind of external or mental stimulus, by the excitements of pleasure, vanity, and interest. A Ministerial or Opposition Lord goes through more drudgery than half a dozen literary hacks; nor does a reviewer by profession read half the same number of productions as a modern fine lady is obliged to labour through.
—William Hazlitt, The Round Table Vol 1, 1817

Morning Dress, Ackermann’s Repository August 1813, courtesy Philadelphia Art Museum via Internet Archive. Text clippings from Pride and Prejudice online at Google Books.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An 18thc. Woman's Fashion Necessity: One Pretty Pocket, 1737

Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Isabella reporting,

This is another of the special objects I saw over the summer in the Costume and Textile collections at Colonial Williamsburg. All you fans of 18thc. dress will know immediately what it is, but the rest of you might be scratching your heads. What is this oddly shaped article, and how was it worn?

It's a woman's pocket, one of the most common accessories worn by 18thc. English and American women of every class. At that time, pockets were not sewn into women's clothing (as opposed to men's coats, waistcoats, and breeches, all of which had pockets), nor did women carry handbags as we know them today. Instead they stashed all their daily necessities in a pocket like this - a flat bag that tied with strings around the waist.

Most pockets were worn under petticoats (skirts) and dresses, which usually had an opening to make the pockets accessible. Occasionally a pocket might be worn over the skirts for informal or at-home wear. To see exactly where a pocket fit into the process of dressing, see this earlier post; the pocket is tied on right after the stays (corset).

Pockets could be a humble linen bag, or beautifully adorned like this one. The elegant silk embroidery on white linen was probably the work of a skilled, professional embroiderer. Here's the catalogue description from Colonial Williamsburg:

"Teardrop shaped pocket of white linen with a vertical center opening at the front, extending down 8-1/4" from the upper edge. The pocket is embroidered with yellow, blue, pink, and green silk threads through an additional linen layer backing the embroidery. The embroidered design is arranged around a small 6-petal flower at the base of a centered tulip, surrounded by twining scrolls, flowers, berries, and leaves following the shape of the pocket. The date '1737' appears at the lower edge, enclosed by symmetrical scrolls. A chain or guilloche design worked in blue surrounds the opening on each side and borders the curved edges. The embroidery is worked in satin and chain stitches, with some knots. Some of the embroidery threads have worn away, revealing the original design drawn with blue ink [see detail, right]....Originally, waist ties would have been attached on the upper edge; only small remnants of the ties remain."

Pockets fell from favor in the late 18th-early 19th centuries, when the narrower silhouettes and raised waistlines of the Regency era made their use impossible. Instead pockets evolved into the reticules and other small purses of the era. Women began to carry their necessities rather than wear them, and have done so ever since. But the recent popularity of hands-free cross-body bags makes me wonder: are they the 21stc. answer to 18thc. pockets?

Many thanks to Linda Baumgarten, Jan Gilliam, and Christina Westenberger for "opening the drawers" of the collection for me. Colonial Williamsburg has much of their collection on-line here in their E-Museum, and it's constantly being updated as more pieces are researched, catalogued, and photographed. Go explore!

Above: Woman's pocket, silk embroidery on linen, England, 1737. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott with permission of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Miss Tyler's Rug 1825

Monday, September 28, 2015

Loretta reports:

One of many items that caught my eye during my last visit to the Historic Paine Estate, the Oaks, was this rug hanging on the wall of the small dining room (where we previously encountered the table at which John Adams dined). I had assumed this was the work of a skilled adult—until I got a look at the little information card below it, which reads:

This rug was ‘wrought,’ with a needle, in public school, by Elizabeth Tyler of Haddam Connecticut in 1825, she being then nine years of age. Presented to Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter D.A.R. in May 1919 by Elizabeth Reed Brownell.

We often see samplers made by schoolchildren (the Oaks has several on display). This is a rather different enterprise. I’ve had to play with the color a bit, because of problems with reflection from the glass, but believe me, it’s quite vivid in person. Even if it were badly faded it would still be a wonderful example of the artistic heights a girl could reach with her needle. Walter’s close-up pays homage to both the detail and the sweet design.

Some of our readers, I know, are experienced needlewomen. And some will recall learning to sew in the classroom. Does anybody recall tackling a project like this in elementary school?

Don’t know about you, but I’m impressed by Miss Tyler.

You can see more wonders like this at the Historic Paine Estate, the Oaks, (previous blogs here, here, here, and here), 140 Lincoln Street, Worcester, MA. Remaining visiting days for 2015: 3 October 1-4PM and the Christmas Open House 5 & 6 December.* Please click here for an idea of how pretty the DAR chapter house looks at holiday time.

*For special group tours, please contact the DAR Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter:

Please click on images to enlarge.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of September 21, 2015

Saturday, September 26, 2015
Fresh for your weekend browsing - our weekly round-up of favorite links to other websites, blogs, articles, and images via Twitter.
• Vintage decorative and fashion ideas: Wright's bias fold tape sewing books, 1931.
• Artist John Singer Sargent and his people.
• In colonial New England, women were forced to confess to fornication outside of marriage, and fined for it.
• What 200 years of African American cookbooks reveal how we stereotype food.
Martha Washington's essential encampment tool kit.
• The belated pardoning of Salem Witch Trial victim Ann Pudeator.
Image: Stowaway cats escape capture and sail to Europe, 1930.
Jane Austen and the art of letter-writing.
• At the Pearlies' Harvest Festival in London.
• The persevering lover and the false wife, 1786.
• This official war artist drew stunning portraits of RAF pilots during World War Two.
• Newly rediscovered early modern Maryland ship was likely built on a plantation by slaves or indentured servants.
Image: Mark Twain in Instanbul, 1867.
• Quick quiz: which character from Thomas Hardy's novels are you?
• Good overview of 19thc. theatre in London.
• The history of the Stamp Act shows how Native Americans led to the American Revolution.
• Rare video footage of artists Monet, Rodin, Renoir, and Degas.
Image: "Wide-Awake" was once a common compliment for boys and men, as this dime-novel proves.
• Alexander Cruden, from Corrector of texts to Corrector of people.
• Why have Indian British suffragettes been erased from popular history?
• Do you adore Dior? How a fashion late bloomer changed the game in 1947 with his New Look.
• Bits of medieval France are incorporated in the Joan of Arc statue in NYC.
Image: In case you missed National Punctuation Day this week, here's a 15thc. manuscript with early pilcrows (paragraph marks.)
• A brief history of London tourism since 1800.
• A marooning scandal in the Royal Navy, 1807.
• We're still trying to figure out what made this poor cat a "badly marked tabby" in 1895.
• Just for fun: modern art simplified.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Video: Lily Elsie, The Most Photographed Edwardian Beauty

Friday, September 25, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Photography was still new in the 1890s, and the notion of building celebrity through photographs was even newer. Long before Instagram selfies (and Photoshop) could make anyone a star, there was Lily Elsie (1886-1962), one of the great beauties of the Edwardian world, and a woman who was called the most photographed woman of her time.

She probably was, and with good reason, too. Born Elsie Hodder in West Yorkshire, the precociously pretty girl first became a child star of the English music hall, and then a chorus girl with the George Edwardes' company on the London stage. Although she was painfully shy and reluctant to take larger roles, Edwardes realized the power of her beauty, and with a makeover aided by the celebrated fashion designer Lucile, he made her a star in the title role of The Merry Widow in 1907.

Despite her success on the stage, it was before the camera where she truly ruled, and the still photographs in this short compilation video prove it. With thick clouds of dark hair, wide-set eyes, an elegant profile, and the required swan-like neck, she epitomized Edwardian beauty, and through her photographs - in magazines and on postcards, the social media of the day - she became famous throughout England and America. There's another, longer video with more photographs of her here.

But fashionable beauty can be notoriously fickle, and when sassy flappers replaced the serene Edwardians, Lily's time was done. Photographers tried to shift her to the new look, tucking her luxurious hair into a close-fitting cloche hat, but the magic wasn't there, and she looks closed-off and miserable.

Her life had lost its glamour, too. In 1920, she retired from the stage and attempted to find contentment in the country with her husband. But the marriage was unhappy and childless, ending in divorce. Ill health and continuing psychological issues finally led to dramatic brain surgery, and her last years were spent in a hospital.

But in these photographs, her undeniable beauty lives on forever. . . .

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Walk In London In 1807

Thursday, September 24, 2015
Cheapside 1813
Loretta reports:

I’ve offered excerpts from Robert Southey's Letters from England* before (here). This one notes interesting pedestrian behavior. Also, those of us who lament the destruction of Carlton House will learn that not everybody loved it.

The distance [westward to St. James’s Palace]was considerable: the way, after getting into the main streets, tolerably straight. There were not many passers in the by-streets; but when I reached Cheapside the crowd completely astonished me. On each side of the way were two uninterrupted streams of people, one going east, the other west. At first I thought some extraordinary occasion must have collected such a concourse; but I soon perceived it was only the usual course of business. They moved on in two regular counter currents, and the rapidity with which they moved was as remarkable as their numbers ... Nobody was loitering to look at the beautiful things in the shop windows; none were stopping to converse, every one was in haste, yet no one in a hurry; the quickest possible step seemed to be the natural pace. The carriages were numerous in proportion, and were driven with answerable velocity.

If possible, I was still more astonished at the opulence and splendor of the shops: drapers, stationers, confectioners, pastry cooks, seal-cutters, silver-smiths, booksellers, print-sellers, hosiers, fruiterers, china-sellers,—one close to another, without intermission, a shop to every house, street after street, and mile after mile; the articles themselves so beautiful, and so beautifully arranged, that if they who passed by me had had leisure to observe any thing, they might have known me to be a foreigner by the frequent stands which I made to admire them. Nothing which I had seen in the country had prepared me for such a display of splendour ...
I went on to the palaces of the Prince of Wales, and of the King, which stand near each other in a street called Pall Mall. The game from whence this name is derived is no longer known in England.

The Prince of Wales's palace is no favourable specimen of English
Carlton House 1811
architecture. Before the house are thirty columns planted in a row, two and two, supporting nothing but a common entablature, which connects them. As they serve for neither ornament nor use, a stranger might be puzzled to know by what accident they came there; but the truth is, that these people have more money than taste, and are satisfied with any absurdity if it has but the merit of being new.

*Online at Internet Archive Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3.

Cheapside, from Ackermann's Repository for 1813
Carlton House, from Ackermann's Repository for 1811

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dressing like Dickens's Dolly Varden, c1870

Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Fashion is always on the hunt for inspiration, and often that inspiration comes from popular culture. In the 1970s, the movie Annie Hall sent women borrowing neckties and over-sized trousers from the men's department, 1950s brides wore Juliet caps inspired by Shakespeare's heroine, and the Twilight books launched the pale skin and smokey eyes of vampire chic in the early 21st century.

This is hardly new, of course. A favorite character from a Charles Dickens character inspired a flirtatious fashion craze with an 18th century flair in the 1870s.

Dolly Varden is the winsomely pretty daughter of a locksmith in Dickens' 1839 historical novel, Barnaby Rudge. Set in 1780 against the background of the Gordon Riots,  the book is not one of Dickens' most popular today, but 19thc. readers were captivated by Dolly: "a pretty, laughing girl; dimpled and fresh, and healthful - the very impersonation of good-humour and blooming beauty."

What's surprising, however, is that Dolly's style of Georgian clothing didn't become a fad when the book was first published in 1839, but after Dickens' death in 1869. Among his belongings that were sold after his death was a portrait, right, of the character painted by Dickens' friend, the artist William Powell Frith.

This image sparked new interest in Dolly, and dressmakers and milliners happily obliged with their own interpretations. An overdress with full, looped-up skirts similar to a Polonaise, layers of patterned fabrics and ruffles, and an exaggerated hat tipped low over the face were all features of the style, and offered plenty of room for individual taste.

Women dressed in Dolly Varden attire seemed to have been everywhere, inspiring popular songs and dances (like the cover of the sheet music, lower left) as well as the expected satires. The somewhat melancholy young woman in The Fireplace by James Tissot (never an artist to miss an opportunity to paint extravagant bows and ruffles) wears a spectacularly striped version, Georgian dress as interpreted by the Victorians.

Yet in the fickle way of fashion, the craze was short-lived. By the late 1870s, Dolly's role as a style-setter seems to have passed - but there's no denying she had her fashion moment, no mean accomplishment for a fictional character.

Upper left: The Fireplace, by James Tissot, c1870, private collection.
Right: Dolly Varden, by William Powell Frith, c1842-9, Tate.
Lower left: Sheet music for the Dolly Varden Quadrille, published in Philadelphia, 1872.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tattersall's For Horses

Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Tattersall's 1834-35
Loretta reports:

If you’ve read novels set in the 19th century, you've probably come upon mention of Tattersall's, where Lord This or That would buy a horse. Here’s a bit of its history, as seen from the mid-Victorian era.

Tattersall's history

Tattersall's history

Tattersall's from Tom & Bob

Text from John Timbs, Curiosities of London: exhibiting the most rare and remarkable objects of interest in the metropolis; with nearly sixty years personal recollections (1868)

Above left—James Pollard (1792 - 1867), Epsom Races: Settling Day at Tattersalls 1834-35, courtesy Yale Center for British Art.

Below (the image I believe the text refers to)—Henry Alken, Tattersals. Tom and Bob, looking out for a good –one, among the deep-ones, courtesy Project Gutenberg.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

An Elegant (if Well-Worn) Pair of Woman's Knitted Mitts, 1730-40

Sunday, September 20, 2015
Isabella reporting,

As I mentioned in my recent post about this 17thc. knitted jacket, I'm a knitter myself, and I'm always on the hunt for examples of historical knitted pieces in museums and collections. They aren't easy to find: the wool that was usually used for utilitarian knitting often fell prey to moths, and the pieces that weren't eaten were often worn until they disintegrated. A silk wedding gown, worn once and preserved, is going to have a much higher survival rate than a pair of knitted stockings or mittens that were worn daily.

That's why I was so excited to spot these knitted mitts in the textile and costume study drawers of Colonial Williamsburg. Knitted for a woman or girl (the wearer could well have been the knitter), the mitts are made of peach-colored silk with a diamond pattern of metallic thread, now tarnished to grey-green. The point that covered the back of the hand is reinforced with pasteboard, and lined with brocaded silk.

The mitts entered the collection with a bit of family history attached, too:

"According to the family in which it descended, this pair of mitts was worn by Anne Butler Brayne, wife of Virginia's Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood. Anne Butler Brayne was born in 1698 and married Spotswood in England in 1724. The couple later settled in Virginia."

But the mitts themselves have more of a story to tell. They're so well-worn that they must have been favorites of the owner, and possibly successive owners, too. Despite being made of expensive silk and metallic thread, they clearly weren't reserved for special occasions - at least not after some point of their existence.

Because the sleeves of most mid-18thc. European women's dresses ended right below the elbows, mitts (both knitted like these, as well as ones that were cut and sewn of woven cloth) were worn to protect the forearms from the cold and sun. Given their date, these mitts were likely once longer, too, reaching up over the forearms; here's a similar example. At some point, this pair of mitts was cut off around the wrists, which is why the raw hems curl back on themselves.

That's noted in the Colonial Williamsburg catalogue. But as a knitter (not a scholar - what follows in my own humble opinion), I suspect there were more alterations as well. The pointed tips, lower right, appear to be a later addition. The yarn is different, and the older stitches along the edge were haphazardly picked up to knit the pointed tip. Every knitter's stitches are individual, and whoever knitted the new tips wasn't as accomplished as the original knitter. Her stitches are irregular and a little looser, and the neat twist of the older stitches is missing. (This could be because the tips were knitted back and forth - knit one row, purl one row - rather than in the round - knit every stitch - the way the older parts of the mitts were done.) It also appears that there was an edging of the silver thread along a straight opening. Parts of that edging remain in place.

But I can't tell if that edging was original, or added later. There are some crudely done overcast, sewn stitches along the edging.  On the inside, the edge again curls over on itself, suggesting that here, too, the mitt was cut. Could the mitt at one time been a full glove or mitten? The thumbs are full length, unusual for most 18thc. mitts, which more often left the fingertips uncovered to give the wearer more dexterity.

Why were the mitts altered? No one knows now. Perhaps the upper parts of the mitts became so worn, stained, or stretched that they needed to be cut away. Perhaps a later owner was still wearing the mitts when fashionable sleeves once again reached the wrists in the 1780s-90s, and cut them shorter to accommodate the new look. Or perhaps the owner just wanted a change. What do you think?

Many thanks to Linda Baumgarten, Jan Gilliam, and Christina Westenberger for "opening the drawers" of the collection for me, and for their assistance with this post. Colonial Williamsburg has much of their collection on-line here, and it's constantly being updated as more pieces are researched, catalogued, and photographed. Go explore!

Above: Woman's short mitt, Great Britain, England; worn in Virginia, 1730-1740, Collection, Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott with permission of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of September 14, 2015

Saturday, September 19, 2015
Breakfast Links are ready for your weekend browsing! Enjoy our weekly roundup of fav links to other websites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Jack and the flagpole: what to call the British national flag.
• Did medieval executioners really wear black hoods?
Drinking in early America.
• "Lest We Perish": the campaign that raised over $117 million for refuges, 1915-1930.
Image: Liverpool "Reserves", wives of soldiers on parade in 1915.
• Death at sea: 18th-19thc. mourning jewelry and nationalism.
• The gallant and heroic Madame du Frenoy, 1785.
• Remade brocade: 18th c. wedding shoes made from an earlier dress.
• Five women booksellers and printers in London in the 1660s.
• Would this 1850s skeleton alarm clock help you wake in the morning?
Image: golden lions from Her Majesty's rowbarge Gloriana.
• Fit for a falcon: an elaborately beaded and embroidered 17thc. falcon's hood.
• Seventeen things George Washington never said.
• Not exactly earthshattering: scholars discover earliest use (so far) of the f-word in 14thc. court case, and another point of view that says it's not that easy.
• The 430 books in Marilyn Monroe's library: how many have you read?
Image: the Lady Chapel at Lichfield Cathedral.
• Happy Rosh Hashanah! Images of Jewish New Years' long past.
• The story behind Francis Scott Key's The Star-Spangled Banner.
• A brief history of stitched samplers.
• Teaching high school American history with cookbooks.
• Old London trade cards.
Image: A rare 18thc. portrait of a Mohawk chief.
• Gossip, news, and manners: the barber-surgeon in 16thc. Italy.
• Humble yet stylish thrift: a feedsack dress from the 1950s.
• Public toilets in the middle ages.
• Strange rain: why frogs, fish, and golf balls fall from the skies.
Video: watch Japanese workers pick up and move a 400-year-old castle.
• Instructions for chambermaids in 1675.
• For National Piano Month: five historical pianos from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
• Prevention before a vaccine for tuberculosis: a daily health guide for boys and girls, 1920.
• Just for fun: the stylish, useful, and sometimes absolutely necessary Oxford comma.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Video: The Robots That Couldn't

Friday, September 18, 2015
Loretta reports:

What does a robot competition have to do with history? Erm...
Back to the future? This is what it might have been like, watching early attempts to fly. Or early attempts at many achievements we now take for granted.

Anyway, it’s Friday, and the video is short and amusing.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Beautiful Georgian Doll, 1740-1760

Thursday, September 17, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I'll admit it: I love old dolls. Yes, they're glimpses into the everyday past as well as fashion, and often beautifully crafted, but what I like best is knowing that they were the confidantes of some long-ago little girl (or girls.)

Dolls were partners in games and theatrics, allies in wars with obstreperous brothers, and comforting friends to keep away monsters in the dark at night. Although they were outgrown and put aside, they're still survivors, and all those whispered secrets and pretend experiences imbue them with a special aura ordinary antiques just don't have. They're powerful with little-girl magic.

Yeah, a little woo-woo, I know. But when I saw (or met?) this elegant doll in the study drawers of Colonial Williamsburg's costume and textile department earlier this summer, I couldn't help but imagine the special place she must have held in at least one girl's imagination. She must have been an expensive plaything for a privileged girl, and she has miraculously kept her elaborate wardrobe over the centuries, down to her tiny brocade shoes, lower left.  (Click on the photos to enlarge them for details.)

Here's the CW's catalogue description:

"This large doll is beautifully carved, gessoed, and painted, and represents the best of doll production in the eighteenth century. The doll retains her original clothing, complete with the underwear out, fastened in place with sixteen period straight pins with wrapped heads, just as a grown woman would fasten her clothing. The doll's first layer is a white linen shift with knee-length skirt, underarm gussets and a low neckline trimmed with a ruffled that showed above the gown. 

"A pair of stays is worn over the shift, closely fitting the doll's fashionably shaped torso, with its small waist, bosom flattened and pushed upwards, shoulders placed well back, and flat shoulder blades - a shape resulting from girls wearing stays since childhood. A quilted petticoat, pleated to a tape waistband and backed with striped worsted, is tied over the shift and stays. The silk gown has a bodice opened at the front to show off the stomacher (in this instance made as one with the stays). Cuffs have removable white sleeve ruffles at the elbows. The skirt is opened at the front to reveal the petticoat. The doll wears knitted stockings that reach above the knees, held in place by ribbon garters tied around the upper leg. Accessories include a silk apron (possibly a later addition), square handkerchief, kid mitts, and a white linen ruffled cap."

It's an impressive wardrobe. I only wish she could talk....

Many thanks to Linda Baumgarten, Jan Gilliam, and Christina Westenberger for "opening the drawers" of the collection for me, and for their assistance with this post.

Above: Doll and original clothing, Great Britain or Europe, 1740-1760, Collection, Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott with permission of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dinner in the Early 1800s: What & How To Serve

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Loretta reports:

When I came upon the listing of courses, I’ll admit I was a little daunted, even though I’ve encountered far more elaborate 19th C menus. But when I saw the map of the table setting,* I wondered where the people were supposed to fit.

In any case, as the advice makes plain, the courses depend on what the host can afford as well as who the guests are.

Fancy Menu

Table Map

Simpler menu

Map for simpler menu

 *You'll notice that the table settings don’t match the September menu. This is because The Female’s Friend didn’t provide settings for every month. However, the 1811 London Art of Cookery  table setting for a simpler September menu comes close.

Black & white images courtesy Google Books.
Photograph of table setting at Victoria & Albert Museum courtesy me.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

An Intricate 17thc. Woman's Knitted Jacket

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Last week I shared several fans that I discovered in the study drawers of the Donghia Costume & Textiles Study Center at the RISD Museum in Providence, RI. Today I'm featuring another piece from the drawers that completely captivated me: a women's knitted jacket dated from 1630-50.

As a long-time knitter myself, this jacket immediately caught my eye. It's knit of silk in a beautiful green and metal-wrapped thread, with the elaborate floral pattern knitted in, and modern knitters will recognize some of the familiar patterns still worked today. The gauge is very fine by today's standards, probably about 15-17 stitches to the inch. For comparison's sake, the finest modern hand-knitting is worked with lace-weight cotton thread on 000 needles at a gauge of 8-10 stitches to the inch.

The construction of the jacket is simple: knitted rectangles form the sleeves, fronts, and back, and were sewn together, and despite the skill of the knitting, that somewhat clumsy construction probably means it wasn't a luxury garment. There aren't any buttons or other closings, and it's likely that the jacket were pinned together like many other garments of the time. The jacket was likely made in Italy, possibly for import to other countries like England, and was probably hand knit by professional knitters. From the size, it was probably made for a woman.

I know that's a lot of "probably" and "likely", but the jacket's exact provenance isn't known. There are several others similar to it in other collections, but many questions remain for scholars about who wore such jackets and who made them, their purpose and roles as garments (fashion? warmth? masquerade?)

Here are a few notes about the jacket, generously provided by Laurie Brewer, Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles, RISD Museum:

"This jacket is knitted in stocking stitch, a combination of knit and purl stitches using green and gold silk thread, with some of the outlines floral motifs in reverse stocking stitch. The floral motifs were skillfully made, with the gold thread only loosely stranded across the back of the stitches. The basketwork around the hem is in alternate blocks of stocking and purl stitch, and the front edge is in garter stitch. 

"We know of two other related works: one at the Cleveland Museum and the other at the V&A....The Cleveland Museum has the most closely related example, in both construction and patterning. Of special note, all three examples employ the basket stitch at the hem of the jackets, and all embrace the Italian design impulse of the meandering, meandro floral motif. The floral motif that decorates the RISD Museum's garment is influenced by contemporary woven silk designs, which nearly always featured flowers."

If you're feeling really adventurous, you can knit yourself a similar jacket with the pattern derived from the V&A jacket in Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns by Jenny Tiramani & Susan North. (Thanks to Samantha McCarty for reminding me of this!)

Many thanks to Lani Stack of the RISD Museum for her assistance with this post. 

Top: Woman's knitted jacket, 1630-50, Italian, artist unknown. RISD Museum. Photograph ©RISD Museum.
Bottom: Detail, Woman's knitted jacket, RISD Museum. Photograph ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Garden Decor for 1821

Monday, September 14, 2015

Bridge & Temple 1821
Loretta reports:

Prose of the early 19th century can be dauntingly indirect. When reading periodicals of the time, I find myself wondering whether there were rules like “Avoid the active voice” and “Never come at a sentence straight on, but wind your way in by means of numerous clauses.”

“An elevated class of decoration” had me scratching my head. Did they mean classy? Or reaching skyward?

For fun, you might want to rewrite the Bridge & Temple description in a modern style.

Meanwhile, we now know to make sure there’s a quarry on our estate, so that we can build our garden ornaments with stone rather than the too-rapidly-decaying wood or plaster.

Bridge & Temple Description 1821
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of September 7, 2015

Saturday, September 12, 2015
Breakfast Links return! Here's our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, gathered for you via Twitter.
• The marvelous historically-based book illustrations of Hugh Thomson (1860-1920).
• Fabulous: a 17thc woman artist's butterfly journey.
• That time the Roosevelts threw a toga party in the White House.
• Slenderizing salons and reducing machines: not-so-fit fitness crazes of the 40s & 50s.
• According to the Oxford Dictionaries: how accurate was the language in Blackadder?
• Hannah Snell: the Amazons and the press gang.
Image: Miniature books with maps for dolls, 1690-1710 from the Rijksmuseum.
• A modern couple chooses to live a Victorian life, and a more reasoned reply.
• Wonderful story of WWI soldier discovered via a mudlarking find.
• Recreating an Elizabethan-Jacobean petticoat and bodice.
• Nineteenth century Americans and their knowledge of good tea.
Image: Ducking stool shown on 1727 map of Richmond.
• Does Edgar Allen Poe's cane hold the key to the mystery of his death?
• How Louis XIV invented fashion as we know it.
• In honor of Labor Day: ten films about garment workers (and why there aren't more of them.)
• Criminals or celebrities? Life and death in a Georgian prison.
• A survivor recalls the first day of bombing of the London Blitz, September 7, 1940.
Image: Bright pink flamingos from a 15thc. Italian chasuble.
• Women, recycling, and the War in England, 1918.
• How Anglo-Saxon personal names reflected societal changes.
• Drunk confessions: women and the cliches of the literary drunkard.
• An argand lamp was at the forefront of lighting technology in 1790.
Image: Seriously doubt headlines get any better than this one from the Minneapolis Journal, 1906.
• Fascinating reading: a historian's thoughts on why Americans have come to dress so casually.
Queen Victoria's watercolor of Lord Melbourne holding her pet dog Islay; neither looks happy.
• The Arbatel: a 16thc. grimoire (textbook of magic) with a surprisingly positive message.
Image: This waterproof bag for your swimsuit was a must-have accessory for the beach in 1925.
Charles Dickens and his dogs.
• Dead men's eyes: a history of optography.
• Built in 1910, this once-elegant men's store still stands on Broadway in New York.
• Learning the hard way: New York Parental School for habitual truants and troublemakers doesn't look like much fun, c1914.
• Just for fun: Dante casually running into Beatrice in art history.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Video: Creating Modern Textiles on 1870 Looms

Friday, September 11, 2015

Isabella reporting,

What must it be like to be the last in the world to do something – a craft that once was common, but now is nearly lost?

Today's short video documents the work the weavers of John Boyd Textiles of Castle Cary, Somerset, England. They're a very specialized kind of weaver: they have made horsehair fabric since 1837, and continue to do so on looms that date from 1870.

Woven from tail hair from live horses with cotton or silk warps, horsehair fabric was once the standard for long-wearing and lustrous furnishings, and was used by designers like Thomas Chippendale and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. While now the fabric is considered something of a luxury textile, it's still specified by high-end design firms. John Boyd Textiles is one of the last companies in the world continuing to produce horsehair fabric, and pride itself on using only traditional methods and materials.

In fact, what captivated me about this film was the understated pride of the John Boyd Textiles employees. It's clear that every worker in the labor-intensive process is proud of what they make, and how they make it - something that's rare indeed in the modern world.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Victorian Mourning Jewelry at the Oaks

Thursday, September 10, 2015
Loretta reports:

In a place like the Historic Paine Estate, the Oaks, treasures can turn up anywhere, as Jennifer Willson has discovered. In this case, she opened a teapot and found this white sapphire hair bracelet inside. This is one of many items which leave us wondering: Whose was it? When was it made?

Unfortunately, details on many of the treasures are lacking, but my research indicates that hair jewelry became especially popular from the 1850s. In some cases, it was a craft practiced at home. Godey’s was no doubt one of many magazines offering patterns and instructions.  However, the making of hair and mourning jewelry was a commercial enterprise as well.

Something new in hair work.—Madame L. Kampmann, of this city, has undertaken to get up for us, mourning pins composed of hair. Weeping willows, tombs, trees, &c., on ivory , making a very pretty picture. They will be furnished set in gold, for a breast pin, for $12.00
Godey’s Vol 52-53 1856

Why mementos made of hair?  The following, from an 1825 New Monthly Magazine piece, “Criticism on Female Beauty,” is extensively quoted (without credit to the source) well into the late 1800s.

Hair is at once the most delicate and lasting of our materials; and survives us, like love. It is so light, so gentle, so escaping from the idea of death, that with a lock of hair belonging to a child or a friend, we may almost look up to heaven, and compare notes with the angelic nature; may almost say, " I have a piece of thee here, not unworthy of thy being now."
The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 14 1825
The set at left, in better condition—although the bracelet is missing its stone—is dated to about 1860. as always, if anybody can shed further light on any of these items, the help will be greatly appreciated. Jennifer is trying to catalog the items, with the aim of eventually making the collection available online.

If you’re in the area, you can examine the house's treasures up close and personal at the Oaks on 12 September and 3 October 1-4PM as well as during the Christmas Open House in early December. For special group tours, please contact the DAR Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Beautiful Leaded Glass Lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany, c. 1905-1910

Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Isabella reporting,

This afternoon I visited a vibrantly beautiful new exhibition at Winterthur Museum. Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light is exactly that - a glowing selection of some of the most iconic leaded glass works designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Organized by The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, the exhibition includes several large windows as well as the justly famous lamps, some anchored by bronze bases or suspended like brilliant lanterns in the air. Forget all those cheesy bad replicas in casual dining restaurants - the originals are breathtaking works of art, like jewels of light.

While I'd known that the Tiffany shades were leaded glass - small pieces of colored glass fitted together and held together with strips of copper and lead - I hadn't realized that the process was much like making a mosaic. There was no additional painting or tinting of the pieces of glass. Each piece of specially made opalescent glass was chosen individually to fit the design by skilled craftspeople. It must have been painstaking work, but the care and artistry showed in every item.

One of the things that really brought the lamps to life were the "jewels," molded pieces of colored glass in various shapes that were used as accents along with the pieces of flat glass. The jewels were a Tiffany speciality, and added texture as well as color. The jewels are particularly evident in the dragonfly shade, above left - they're the rounded bubbles of luminous blue glass. Magic!

I'm going to share more about the fascinating process of creating the shades in a future blog. The exhibition runs now through January 3, 2016; click here for more information.

Top left: Dragonfly hanging shade, c.1905. Tiffany Studios.
Right: Peony library lamp, c.1905. Tiffany Studios.
Bottom left: Poinsettia Border reading lamp, c. 1910. Tiffany Studios.
All lamps from The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass.
Photographs ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fashions for September 1905

Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Evening Dress

Loretta reports:

Finding color fashion plates online for the Edwardian Era/Belle Époque/Progressive Era has turned out to be a bit trickier than finding color images for the Regency & Romantic eras.

Evening Dress Description
Luckily, The Delineator ( from which I showed you fashions for 1921 here) was in print for quite some time. I returned to it to bring you fashions for 1905—a few years before Downton Abbey's first season, and nearly a decade before the Great War (WWI) changed the world irrevocably.

Images from the Delineator 1905 courtesy Hathi Trust.
Street Costume 1905
Street Costume Description

Sunday, September 6, 2015

We're Back - with a Trio of Lovely 19thc. Fans

Sunday, September 6, 2015
Isabella reporting,

We're back! Loretta and I hope you enjoyed your break as much as we did, though we know that you didn't neglect us entirely while we'd gone fishin'.

How do we know? Because according to our stats, last month you continued to visit this blog even while we were away, making us pass the amazing (at least we are amazed!) milestone of three MILLION page views since our launch five years ago. As we've often said, we began this blog to amuse one another, never dreaming that there'd be so many of you willing to come along for our meandering ride. We're so glad you did, and thank every one of you for your continuing support.

While I was away, I visited one of my favorite small museums, the RISD Museum in Providence, RI. As part of the Rhode Island School of Design, the museum was founded in 1877. At the time, Rhode Island was one of the most heavily industrialized regions in the country, and the museum's founders hoped to inspire better design in manufacturing in general as well as inspiring their students. As the liberal arts in modern colleges and universities are facing charges of irrelevancy in a high-tech world, it's ironic that these 19th c. New Englanders understood that even the manufacturers of humble screws and files would benefit from viewing the finest examples of painting, sculpture, and decorative arts. (Read more about the museum's mission and history here.)

One of my favorite galleries in this favorite museum is the Donghia Study Center. Here pieces from the sizable Costumes and Textiles collection are rotated through the large, flat glass-topped drawers. I never know what I'll find when I roll out a drawer: a 17thc. knitted waistcoat from Italy, a length of a 20thc. African textile, high-button shoes or beaded flapper hats. For someone like me who's fascinated by the history of clothing, it's one discovery after another, and it's probably just as well I was the only one there that day so that I could ooh and ahh without disturbing anyone else.

Among the treasures this visit were an assortment of 19thc. fans. Readers who follow my Instagram account - which can be found here - will recognize this trio, since I already shared my own pictures the day I saw them. These photos of the fans are from the museum's web site, without the necessary protective glass over them. They seem like both the perfect way to wave good-bye to summer's heat, and as elegant examples of transforming a mundane necessity in pre-air-conditioning days into a beautiful fashion accessory.

Top left: Brisé fan, George Keiswetter for the Allen Fan Company, American, c. 1890. Painted feathers, wood sticks, silk ribbon. 
Right: Nosegay fan, Marie Vincent for S.Levy, manufacturer, French, c. 1898. Silk with wooden sticks.
Lower left: Folding fan, unknown artist, Japanese, 19thc. Painted paper, wood sticks.
All fans from collection of RISD Museum; all photographs via RISD Museum.
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