Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Journal Journey into the Year 1811: La Belle Assemblée Fashions for November (October issue), Part 2

Here is part 2 of the fashions for November 1811. Replete with fashions, such as an outfit based on the Great Comet of 1811 and of course, the still-fascinating Prince Regent.

From Wellcome Library, London
Winter is so tardy in its approach, that London affords but little scope for our observations on the head of fashion; we must follow the fair to the different watering-places, or to their country seats, which they appear loth to quit while the golden age seems in part restored, by their viewing blossoms and fruit on the same bough, and we shall in vain search for the arbitration of fashion in the metropolis. The modern world will still delay to leave the smiling scenes which so long a summer has given to either their own rural possessions, or to the more public situations of Weymouth, Brighton, Margate, and Ramsgate.

Simplicity of dress seems at each of these places the order of the day. Fashion has not yet finished weaving her rich and variegated wreath of winter flowers; but, nevertheless, she has began it; and our fair country women are finding ample employment for the London milliners, to prepare their dresses for the promenade, the carriage, the dinner-party, the rout, and public places of evening amusement.

For the former of these, the figure represented in the present Number displays an exact copy of a costume which was given us, and which has been just completed for a lady who ranks high in fashionable life. The comet hat and mantle, made of coquelicot velvet, or fine Merino cloth, claim a place also amongst the most novel articles: the hat is made something in the form of those turbans worn by the Moorish peasantry; it is trimmed with a very narrow silver galon, with a delicate silver flower in front, forming a clustre of small stars, with light and elegant sprays issuing from them, representing the tail of the superb and awe-inspiring stranger. The mantle, trimmed with long tassel fringe, is peculiarly elegant, and falls in starry points over the form. Such fashions as these are merely local, but the elegance and taste of both the hat and mantle are unrivalled, and we think it a pity they had not a title which might have rendered them more durable favourites of the approaching
 winter. The Carthusian mantle of silver grey Merino cloth, with an under spenser of the same, seems likely to be more generally prevalent.

Tippets a-la-pelerine are still much worn; few in fur have made their appearance at present, except some light Chencilla and Angola; white satin, either plain or quilted, and trimmed with swansdown or Mechlin lace, are most in requisition.

The small scollop shell mantle, trimmed with a rich tassel fringe, and thrown quite behind a spenser of the same colour as the mantle, like the ancient Spanish cloak, seems much in favour.

There is but little variation in the mode of the gowns; they are still buttoned behind, with either the frock or military front; when the latter, the stripes across the waist and bosom are composed of stripes of lace and needle-work, alternately let in; it is expected that, for evening parties, trains, this winter, will be the prevailing mode.

For receiving friends at home, or for social dinner parties, Jaconot muslins, made quite plain, or with only a narrow trimming of fine lace round the sleeves, bosom, and bottom of the gown, are generally adopted; and the Merino crape which is much worn also on these occasions, has little other trimming than a neat chain gimp, the same colour as the gown.

At Brighton, Weymouth, and Ramsgate, the costume is simply elegant. White is universally worn, both in the morning and evening; and the ball and concert boast no other scenery than muslin dresses, with pearl or amethyst ornaments; though some few ladies have made their appearance in white gossamer satin, trimmed with swansdown, while others have sported white crape and spangles: for the libraries and music-rooms, the hair well dressed, with a flower, or small satin cap, and a veil thrown carelessly over, and a black lace shawl, fastened with a brilliant brooch in the form of a crescent, has been almost universal at our watering-places this summer; and long sleeves are worn either in dress or undress.

We are happy to find those disguises to female symmetry of form, the long stays, fast losing ground; and while the contour of nature is carefully preserved, the waist is more inclined to the Grecian shortness, than the awkward length of the Egyptian, who has lain buried, bound up in cearments, for above a thousand years!

The hair is generally worn parted on the forehead, with round light curls on one side the face, and a few longer ringlets on the other. Some of our elegantes wear their hair in curls on the neck; but, in general, the neat smart crop, with the hair easily dressed on the top of the head, by its unstudied simplicity seems to prevail over the Sappho and Cleopatra style of head-dress. Some ladies who have fine hair, twist it in a long plait, and round it on the back of the head, a-la-Chinoise; but the Chinese fashions have had their day, and are not much now retained, except in the article of furniture; wherein the light elegance of that style will ever be admired. Caps are worn much, except by very young persons.

Notwithstanding the unusual warmth of the season, the winter jewellery, even about the middle of the last mouth, began to make its appearance; coral and red cornelian have taken place of the white, of pale sapphires, and even of pearl. Different coloured gems, set in four distinct rings of gold, with a spring to vary the form at pleasure, are a new and elegant article in jewellery. to these may be added an ornament of a very novel kind, forming at once a small bouquet and a brooch; it is composed of a cluster of the small Sicilian strawberry, beautifully coloured and enamelled from nature, with leaves and stalks of gold. The watches are something larger than they were last season, and are worn in the sash or belt, with a light Lisbon chain of gold, formed in scallops or festoons, according to the fancy of the wearer. The seals are very small, and generally composed of white cornelian, the best Brazilian topaz, and an unengraved Ceylon ruby.

Flowers, the sweetest emblem of feminine beauty, and the most becoming article of a lady's dress, are, we are happy to say, still in favour: they suit all seasons, for every season enjoys the gift of Flora; and when these, her tributes, are not too glaring by refulgence of colour, they suit all ages, and they employ a number of indigent females. The variegated carnation, the grouped corn-flowers, the geranium, and England's pride, oak leaves with acorns, have now succeeded to the rose or maiden blush, the jessamine and mignonette, and are generally worn in small bunches under the straw cottage bonnet, which has no other ornament than the white satin ribband, with which it is tied; it is worn backward, and not infrequently the face is covered with a black or white lace long veil.

Regency boots, with hussar heels, are sported by some dashing belles; but the prevailing fashion is half boots of purple kid, and the demi-broquin, or quarter-boot, with lacing of the same. In full-dress white satin shoes, with a very small buckle of gold, or plaid slippers, or blue kid. with a buckle, are adopted.

The prevailing colours are faun-colour, amber, and willow green; ribbands of amber colour, richly brocaded, Regency purple and plaids, seem to be the only coloured ribbands worn at present.


Chencilla and Angola: most probably chinchilla fur and Angora goat hair. How the goat hair would be treated, whether with the skin or locks of fleece woven into a hairy fabric, or just a soft fabric, is unclear.

Coquelicot: a bright red.

Comet hat and mantle: Here's a fashion commemorating the Great Comet of 1811. The comet arrived early in 1811 and was visible for most of the year. By late fall it was so bright that those watching the sky could even see its long swallow-like tail. Some watchers claimed that the comet predicted Napoleon's invasion of Russia and even the War of 1812. (See Great Comet of 1811 on Wikipedia.) Dr. Thomas Lucas, a diarist living in Stirling, England, reported on September 7:
Saw a Comet NNW about 4 degrees above the Horizon. The Newspapers had noticed it a week previous. It appears to the naked Eye to be a very considerable one and very Luminous.
He was to report the look and movements of the comet several more times that fall and winter. (Diary provided by the Stirling Council Archive.)

It's no wonder that a society lady might take the comet for a chance to create a memorable ensemble.
 The hat, is described thus: the hat is made something in the form of those turbans worn by the Moorish peasantry; it is trimmed with a very narrow silver galon, with a delicate silver flower in front, forming a clustre of small stars, with light and elegant sprays issuing from them, representing the tail of the superb and awe-inspiring stranger. Here is the ever-popular turban again, trimmed in starry silver galloon, and adorned with what sounds like a silver aigrette trimmed with brilliants, and partly composed of thin wires that would tremble and sparkle when the turban-wearer moved. Here's are a few from the period, courtesy the Lisa Lazar Aigrette collection on Pinterest:

Early 19th century diamond feather and spray tremblant aigrette, c.1810
Aigrette, circa 1810; Lisa Lazar, Pinterest.

Regency aigrette, Lisa Lazar, Pinterest.
Demi-broquin: see note about this in the November issue's first post.

Gown construction: the author writes: "little variation in the mode of the gowns; they are still buttoned behind. Now we know what to do! with either the frock or military front; when the latter, the stripes across the waist and bosom are composed of stripes of lace and needle-work, alternately let in.

Home dress, for receiving visitors, or little parties: plain dresses in white! Per the author: Jaconot muslins, made quite plain, or with only a narrow trimming of fine lace round the sleeves, bosom, and bottom of the gown, are generally adopted; and the Merino crape which is much worn also on these occasions, has little other trimming than a neat chain gimp, the same colour as the gown. Interesting, the wide variation in costliness of dress between formal and informal occasions. I wonder if it was purely style at work, or if the cost of the Napoleonic wars was having an effect.

Mantle: at that time a cape. The year before Ackermann's had shown a "Russian mantle", described like this: "A Russian mantle of bright crimson velvet, lined throughout with the spotted American squirrel skin, with broad facings and high collar of same. The mantle clasped in the front of the throat with silver, gold, or steel."
Ackermann's January 1810,
courtesyCandice Hern
The Carthusian (named after a Catholic monastic order) variety here is described as being made of silvery-gray cloth, that is, wool, most likely fulled for warmth. A "scollop" shell version is might think it decorated like a scallop shell, with a scalloped bottom perhaps. Both are, interestingly, worn over a spenser.

Merino cloth: Here we have politics, economics, and the pursuit of luxuries all mixed together. Merino (mare-eeno) is a very soft and warm type of wool from the Merino sheep. Merino sheep fibers are very fine indeed, although not as soft as cashmere goat hair. The fibers are nicely crimped and spin up into a delightfully springy yarn that now, as then, is perfect for fine, warm fabric. Being a protein fiber like silk, it takes gorgeous, rich and bright colors. 
Merino sheep. Wikipedia.
By "cloth" the writer here meant in all likelihood a high-end broadcloth. Broadcloth is plain woven (tabby woven), the simplest over-and-under weave structure. The cloth would be fulled -- partially felted, essentially -- into a wonderfully warm fabric perfect for outerwear. It's unclear if the clearly luxury fabric meant here was fulled to the degree that it would not fray when cut, although this would make sense for the mantles described in this article. (Najecki Reproductions discusses qualities of broadcloth: it's a useful read.)

Merino sheep had been raised for centuries in Spain. They are rather big sheep, with a heavy growth of a rather short-fibered fleece. Spain outlawed export of Merinos for ages, but by the mid 18th century the breed was being established in elsewhere, significantly Saxony in Germany. Note too that there was a royal flock at Kew Palace, where King George III lived during the Regency, and some sheep had gone to Australia. By the beginning of the 19th century, German merino was considered the best; meanwhile, Napoleon's armies were destroying the Spanish flocks. It's unclear where the cloth discussed here would have come from. Was it a product of English mills? Saxony at the time was allied with France, so it is unlikely to have come from there, and the U.S. was out -- Britain was busy blocking wool product shipments to the U.S. (Read a brief history of the Merino mess at Merino on Wikipedia.)

Merino crape: wool crape fabric! At last, it's good to hear of a pretty wool fabric being used: the Merino crape which is much worn also on these occasions, has little other trimming than a neat chain gimp, the same colour as the gown.  A solid color dress with just a big of gimp trimming: something someone should try.

Military style: per the author: "little variation in the mode of the gowns; they are still buttoned behind with either the frock or military front; when the latter, the stripes across the waist and bosom are composed of stripes of lace and needle-work, alternately let in. Interesting that lace designs could be interpreted as a military style. (N.B. Lace was still at this date worn as part of a Royal Naval Officer's uniform, for instance, at the neck and cuffs, so the issue is not that lace has purely feminine connotations.)

Stays: Well, they mentioned them at last: "We are happy to find those disguises to female symmetry of form, the long stays, fast losing ground; and while the contour of nature is carefully preserved, the waist is more inclined to the Grecian shortness, than the awkward length of the Egyptian, who has lain buried, bound up in cearments, for above a thousand years!" What all this means is a bit of a puzzle. Here the writer is clearly talking about where the waist is positioned, and is saying that shorter-waisted look is most in fashion. Whether the stays to procure this look not only push the bosom up but end at a high waist, or whether they are cut lower, at the natural waist or at the hip, is unclear.

We know from Sabine Schierhoff's work that staymakers were producing a variety of stays styles around 1810. We also know that they were still at it in 1815. Witness a prolix advertisement in Ackermann's, June, 1815.

It reads:
Patronized by the Royal Family.
At this gay season, when every eye and every inclination is in pursuit of Novelty, Fashion, and Pleasure, the attention of the Fair Sex has been ____ by the Attractions of Marston's curious and splendid Assemblage of PATENT STAYS, which in design and execution infinitely surpass his former Inventions, and seem calculated to gratify the expectations of the Fashionable Circles, who are most respectfully invited to honour him with a visit to his very extensive Repository, where convenient Rooms are appropriated for the reception of the Nobility and Gentry, with respectable Females to attend them. The GREAT ADVANTAGES resulting from this Establishment can only be appreciated by comparing the Quality and Price of his Stays with those of other Houses.
Great pleasure will be felt in submitting for their inspection, his superb French, beautiful Spanish, improved Greciain, Italian, a la Diana, Circassian, and every other Stay (for which he has been favoured with the sanction of the Royal Family), in the greatest variety of shapes, and of the upmost exquisite materials and workmanship.
 The short Parisian Stay and full cottoned Bodices are admirable and prevailing articles of dress.
Sold by the Inventor and Patentee, at 25 and 24, Holywell-street, Strand; and retail by one respectable Milliner or Dressmaker at every principal town in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. 
Several ____ and pair of children's Stays at half the usual charges.

Marston's advertised in Ackermann's several times. For example, see Christmas time 1813, when the advertisement touts its "PATENT STAYS OR CORSETS". Each time the advertisement speaks of lower prices at the same time it touts the quality of its clientele. I wonder a bit about the real quality of its products. Anyhow, the advertisement does focus on the breadth of its offerings and those of other businesses, leading me to believe that there were many shapes of stays to be had at that time.

A side note: the street itself was close to The Strand, which at that time, while lined with palaces, was decaying, at least in parts. Holywell Street itself, writes Andrew Whitehead, was in the early 19th century a place patronized by pamphleteers and freethinkers. The Slang Guide to London talks of the street being business-oriented: first mercers, then second-hand clothes, then books and pamphlets, and the radicals described by Whitehead.

Tippets a-la-pelerine: A shame we do not have an image, but our magazine spoke of them before, in February 1807 (p. 106), and gave this description:
Opera tippets a la pelerine, of white satin, or velvet; the latter trimmed with swansdown, the former vandyked with coloured velvet, with full puckered collars, are very distinguishing, and particularly well adapted for slender figures.
The object sounds very like a tiny cape, with or without a collar, lined with a luxurious fabric and made with luxurious outsides -- fur and swansdown -- rather like what today we might call a shrug. Not the far longer boa-like tippets seen in the 1790s and very early 1800s. Pelerines and tippets would be become very fashionable later, in the 1820s, as sleeves and shoulders broadened; a quick Google search brings up quite a number of references.

Weymouth, Brighton, Margate, and Ramsgate: All seaside resorts in the south of England, facing the English channel. To give an idea of distance, from Weymouth in the county of Dorset, through Brighton, then to Ramsgate and finally Margate, both in Kent, is a 240 mile drive.  All are in relatively flat areas with sandy beaches, and relatively clement weather with few snows and freezes and more sunshine than the rest of England, courtesy the giant Gulf Stream ocean current. This is not cliff-side, rugged England.  It is little wonder that a warm fall would make resort-goers loth to leave the beach!
Google Earth view of the drive from Weymouth to Margate.

There is a lot packed into these magazine issues, isn't there? Would have loved to have dug in a bit more, especially on the jewelry, but research time is limited...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hand-cleaned, handspun, handwoven Alpaca and wool scarf: measuring and chaining warp

Ladybug: "Where does this yarn go and
what happens if I pull on it with my teeth?"
[No picture available of disaster
Weaving = math + mechanics + art + time x patience / more or less

If creating yarn is a multi-step process, weaving it is that times 5. Holy cats, what a lot of steps. They say that if you only like actual weaving you had better like measuring warp and "dressing" the loom with it, too, for many times you'll spend more time preparing the loom than weaving on it. 

Good thing that's true for me so far. I like winding, and rewinding, and pulling and coaxing string. Of course, I've only got as far as measuring out the warp and readying it to be put on the loom, and a multitude of steps await on the loom itself: getting all the warp on there and through the wee slots in the reed and the wee holes in the correct harnesses, and all tied up and tensioned evenly. Ai, yi! 

One of the slowing factors, aside from teaching myself, is that I am working on a shoestring (ahem) with ad hoc tools. It's good to learn  -- by tangles, slowness, failures, and banging up against physical impossibilities -- why tools designed in one of several ways are sensible. Besides, you get to fiddle around and invent, and that's just plain fun.

The loom is the little pine thing dwarfed by the big pine thing.
Yes, there is a tiny homemade Tinkertoy loom next to it.
That's toy the boys and I made. It works!
Because I am weaving on a Swedish Glimakra loom (the 1970s-vintage Pysslingen above), it seemed fitting to take The Big Book of Weaving, also from Sweden, as a guide. For those who may be curious, the ways the Scandinavians tend to dress their looms differ a bit from the way it's often done in America. There are assumptions that one is using string heddles, not metal ones, and that parts of the loom can be broken down and removed for easier setup. The simple but subtle mechanics of these looms are so beautifully worked out...

Oh, that large pine 19th century clothes press? Ultimate source unknown, but found it locally a few weeks back. It might not be American: so many things are imported and exported. It's rather beaten up: original button drawer knobs gone, cupboard handle gone, back of the cornice looks as if it's been left in the rain or chewed by mice, it's water-stained in front, and inside, boards are shrunken with time. No matter. It is happy and cozy and sturdy. It will hold all the toys as well as the television, doesn't mind if small basketballs and small children bump it, and will be a good foundation piece for one of the boys down the road. I love pine. Cherry is warm and handsome and very local to where I grew up and here in Kentucky, walnut is tough, poplar is useful, butternut and fruitwoods are rare lovelies, old mohogany is serious. Pine is softer than these, softer in color, softer in surface, but oh, so good.

Here are pictures, as much to document for my fuzzy brain as to entertain you, showing what is going on.

Measuring Out the Yarn

The warp, a commercial alpaca-wool blend. My handspun is not strong enough to be warp. It would break. It's in a skein measuring 110 yards -- all I will need for the scarf's longways warp threads -- tied at intervals with kitchen string to keep it in order.

First, last November, we measuring out the total yardage with a Tinkertoy skein holder Noah and I made and a skein winder Dad and I made of scrap lumber measuring exactly one yard per turn around the four arms.

Skein holder and 1-yard skein winder. Collapsible into pieces.
Yes, that's a different breakfront cupboardin the background.
That one has gone upstairs to the master bedroom,
and a new-to-us pine one is now downstairs. Both 19th century,
but only the cherry one from Kentucky.
Christopher and I did the measuring together.

Now that Christmastide is over and the new year begun, it's time to measure again and this time, get the warp in order.

 The skein ends are tied together with a visible knot so it's easy to find the ends.

The skein has to be unwound. It will be divided in half, and wound on two spools because the warping method I use measures out warp for the loom with two strings of yarn, called ends, at a time. It's easier to keep tension even with a pair of ends and saves time measuring.

Here is the skein on the big Tinkertoy skein holder. How to get it onto two spools? One at a time.

First, measure out half the yardage needed, on the skein winder. Cut the yarn, pull off the new skein carefully, then do it again with the second half.

Now to get the skeins onto spools since skeins tangle easily and don't unwind an even rate of tension -- as me how I know.

Wind, wind. Yawn, cramp. This is too slow. Egad. No go.

A bit of tinkering with Tinkertoys later, we have a weighted arm to hold the spool, and a handle taped onto the spool to speed winding. Push your finger against the handle and it turns, winding the spool, while your other hand guides the yarn so it winds evenly. An already wound spool waits on the table.

Measuring the Yarn for the Loom With Warping Pegs

If you have cash and space, you purchase a warping board, which looks like a square window frame with giant pegs stuck in it all around, or better, a warping mill, which is simply a reel made to stand and spin upright. I have neither, so it's warping pegs for me.

Each warp thread is measured out to the length it will be on the loom. The yarn goes from one peg, at the left, to the other end, around an intermediary peg in a figure-8 pattern called the lease cross. It's that crossing of yarns that keeps the warp in line.

You can only have a warp as long as your longest clampable surface -- the pegs have to be clamped in place to hold tension, so you generally can't weave a very long length.

The yarns have to stay perfectly evenly tensioned and one yarn cannot cross over another yarn except at the lease cross. That means that the spools should unwind below the pegs -- on the floor for me, because your fingers have to be able to pull the yarns evenly and also guide them over the pegs in the proper pattern. Ask me why I know this.

The warping pegs have to be in a straight line, or one side of the warp threads will be longer than the other. Um, yeah, I learned that, too.

Also I learned that it's easiest if you are going to measure out two ends at a time and they go there and back again to the end peg, that it's best to measure everything divisible by four for the whole warp part of the project. If you want clean measurements. Just saying :}

When you have measured out all your warp on the pegs, for goodness' sake please tie nice, tight bows with kitchen string around the end peg...

...the middle of the warp on both sides...

...and at the lease cross and both sides of it. See the cross in the picture?

Then I took the warp off the loom and "chained" it: formed it into a crocheted chain using my hands as the crochet hook. No picture because I had no hands available.  Also because it required a visit to a YouTube video to learn how ( Desperately needed moving visuals :}

So there we are to date. Now I have to clean a rusty reed that guides the warp in the loom and also serves to beat the weft into position as it's woven. Then we can start actually dressing the loom. When, I wonder?

Next up, the last of November 1811's journal journey.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Journal Journey into the Year 1811: La Belle Assemblée Fashions for November (October issue), Part 1

As you know well my now, my having repeated it like a parrot each month, La Belle Assemblée reported on fashions one month ahead of the date of publication.

As 2014 moves towards its finis, and given that I am behind and really should be reporting on December fashions -- it being December and all -- I've decided to focus on the fashion month being reported, not the publication month. So this month we'll read about November fashions (October issue), and in a week or two, if I have time, I'll wind up with December fashions (November issue), Poor dears, you'll miss January 1812. Confused yet? So am I. Writing this was squirrely for some 15 minutes while my logy brain attempted to sort out 2015 time, 1811 publication time, and 1811 fashion time. What with how long it's taking me to complete these entries, this month is split into two posts, of which this is rather obviously the first.

This month we have just one fashion plate, a rather wild study in velvet and romanticism. You can spot a Romantic outfit a mile off, because it often involves velvet, rich colors, gold, braiding and lacing and a floppy hat with a feather, and what do you know, this one includes all of those items except the gold. No wait, there's a gold watch. Check. Not surprised that a rather lengthy and overblown poem by Sir Walter Scott is featured in the same issue.

Now, please don't forget to read the London report from Ackerman's, and those from Weimar and Paris. At this point we're all at different points in the calendar, but no matter, it should even up.

Sabine in Weimar: Journal des Luxus und der Moden
Alessandra in Paris: Journal des Dames et des Modes
Maggie, in London: Ackermann's

So here we go. Here is page 212, with notes afterward, per usual. Happy reading!



Promenade, Or Carriage Morning Costume.

Morning walking dress, La Belle Assemblee, November 1811. Source: Collection Maciet,
Mode. [XIXe siècle]. 1801 à 1811.
NB: The colors in the plate appear to have faded; if you look carefully the velvet trim on the pelisse and bonnet is purple, not black.

A fawn colour or amber velvet three quarters pelisse; faced and ornamented round the bottom and sleeves with Regency purple velvet, and laced down the waist, shoulders, and half way down the sides of the skirt, with rich cordons of purple; terminating with a tassel: a purple velvet collar stands up, is rounded behind, and comes down to a point below the throat: the cuffs are of purple velvet, trimmed with fine white lace. Over the sleeve is a demi-sleeve divided; between which division small purple ornaments, in the form of aiguilletes, but without the tags, are sometimes introduced when this dress is made of twilled sarsnet instead of velvet. The pelisse is trimmed all round, and up that part of the sides which are not laced with the cordon, with white French lace; and worn over an high dress of fine jaconot muslin, with a demi-train: this dress is made something in the chemisette form, with a single lace ruff. A Queen Mary's bonnet of the same colour and materials as the pelisse, trimmed round the edge with quilled ribband of purple satin, or rich fancy trimming of silk; and surmounted by a long flat ostrich feather of purple, turned from the face, half drooping towards the crown, which is puckered, and of a conic form. A gold watch is worn on the outside of the pelisse, with small gold chain, and very little ornament. Ridicule of faun colour or amber, with purple strings aid tassels; purple kid gloves, and demi-broquins, or quarter boots of the same.


Aiguillettes: properly, the little ends to braided cords that one finds on uniforms. Here, probably referring to braided cords connecting the divided sleeves, and very much complementing the rest of the outfit.

Cordons: braid trim.

Demi-broquins: "quarter-boots". "Broquin" is a term that might come from brogues"  "Broquin" as a word doesn't appear at all in standard dictionaries of the early 19th century, so it's surely purely a fashion term. Because it so closely sounds like "brogue" I suspect the term is borrowed. Brogue is Gaelic for a low-heeled shoe. Surely Imagine: from Gaelic to English to French referring back to Gaelic. Wow.

What is curious is that it appears the boot fronts are cut through in triangles in the front, or feature appliques of a contrasting color. It's too bad more detail was not provided.

Demi-train: short train that barely drags the floor, as shown in the plate. Now that we are sure of that one, we can move on!

High-necked (under) dress: there were a lot of these during this period. Really a much more suitable style for much of Europe than much of what was worn. In the case of this month's plate, the top is described as being in the chemisette style, which we can clearly picture...and it's even described as having a single ruff, a ruff being a common chemisette fashion. Wonder if a number of the high-necked extant dresses that we see were meant to be worn under a pelisse or at least a spencer? Something to think on.

Ostrich feather: described as long and flat. This means that the tips have not been curled, as they so often were, and it gives a rather clean, fresh effect.

Pelisse: the front-closing upper garment, here used also as the outdoor garment, with a light muslin dress underneath, which peeks out at both the bottom and through the divided sleeves. Gracious, the ensemble doesn't seem that warm to me. There is no discussion of there being any sort of lining.

Queen Mary's bonnet: in this plate, we have a fanciful rendition of the Tudor-era coif worn by Queen Mary  in the early 1600s. Here's a painting of the Queen, by Rowland Lockey, painted between 1610-20.

Mary, Queen of Scots, by Rowland Lockey. Source: BBC - Your Paintings.
Painting dated 1585 at top right.
The general shape is there, even the heart-shaped dip that was to be so popular on and off through the 19th century and even into the 20th. However, the look is a bit heavier and the crown is quite a bit longer than the original coif would have been, since this is a different era and an outdoor affair. Really, it's rather another take on the scoop bonnet, but with a few changes, so wearing it would not have been so very out of the way.

Now, add a feather:
Mary, Queen of Scots, painted by the British (English) School. Source: BBC - Your Paintings.
More information from the National Trust.
In this painting Mary is wearing a flat cap above her coif, so feathers fancifully fit the look of the 1811 version.

Quilling: a pleated trim. "Quill: v. a. to plait; to form in plaits." (From Joseph Emerson Worcester.
A Comprehensive Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language: With Pronouncing Vocabularies of Classical and Scripture Proper Names. Collins and Hannay, 1830.)
When modern costumers talk of pleated trims on Regency-era items, the term to use is "quilling". The term survived deep into the 19th century: it appears over and over in descriptions of dresses with pleating, and even appears in 1888describing the pleats of lace on a lampshade.  (Peterson Magazine, 1888., p. 180.)

Ridicule: a contemporary term for reticule. Well, more evidence that the ridicule-ish term was used in all seriousity.

Watch: sadly, there is no indication of where the watch is fixed to the dress. Is it on a chain, pinned, or on a necklace? The model holds it in her hand so this is unclear.

Next time, Part II and the fashion observations for November.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Weaving Handspun Yarn: Increasing Fascination, Research Extension

Measuring out 50 yards on the homemade skein winder.
Christopher and I spin together. Now we are weaving together. Months ago we made yarn from Tuesday the alpaca's so-soft-you-bury-your-face-in-it hair. Since his brother has a woolen scarf I knit for him, Christopher has been agitating for one too, and we've agreed to learn to weave it together.

Will it be finished by Christmas? Since we must learn to size the yarn with starch or a milk solution, measure out the warp threads on warping pegs, and then dress a harness loom with them -- a process with 20 pages worth of steps in my big Swedish weaving book -- weave the scarf, and then finish and full the resulting fabric, probably not. Maybe by Easter and lambing time? Who knows? Doesn't matter. It's experimenting with this most ancient and respected craft that is the point right now. Later Christopher can enjoy wearing the piece of heaven that is partly the work of his own 7-year-old self.

From Tuesday's back to Christopher's neck, our hands, using tools so ancient some of their sources are lost in time, will have touched each step. To this day I have never felt such happiness and satisfaction with anything I have ever sewn or produced. This is getting to the source of things.

Christopher unskeins the commercial wool/alpaca yarn from the homemade skein unwinder, while I continue
measuring out a total of 110 yards for the scarf warp (lengthwise) threads.

Here's the loom. It's a Swedish loom, a Glimåkra Pysslingen table loom on legs from the 1970s. Like most Swedish and Finnish looms, it's ingenious and to my eyes, handsome. You'll be seeing it on and off as time passes.

Glimåkra Pysslingen loom, up close, along with skeins of the fluffy, chunky handspun
alpaca Christopher and I have produced.
Little note: you might recall the trim loom. It's in use. It's got cotton warped on it now, and I am about a third of the way through making a petticoat tape. A nifty, handsome machine and good way to begin to understand weaving movements. Plus make trim. But when? Again, who knows. Whenever the path winds there.

You Know Why I Spin, But Why Weave, Not Knit?

First, my knitting is poor. Garter stitch is fine, purling okay, but any combination beyond knit and purl and it's all too easy to get confused. This brain has a hard time with numbers anyway. Dates, sums, prices, equations, they get turned around in my mind so easily, mixed up together in jumbles. Long experience has taught me that all number sequences and calculations must be written down, then checked to make sure they weren't garbled even during their writing. Knitting sequences? Germs of frustration.

Then, weaving has appealed since a high-school-era class in a sunny old room introduced me to the big harness looms and the amazing things they can accomplish. Now is the time to return to that magic, even though it involves hordes of potential calculations and our loom is by no means large. At least those can be written down in logical order. I can avoid patterns made by complicated harness sequences and keep to the simplest weave structures while turning to manual warp-by-warp inlay techniques for figures and patterns beyond stripes and checks.

At the last, like many costumers, trying to find modern equivalents to or substitutes for historical fabrics has led naturally to curiosity about them.
  • What were the fibers like when the original garments were made? 
  • Were the silk worms the same species as raised today? Who raised them? 
  • Who herded the sheep for the wool and what did the sheep look like, smell like, act like? 
  • Where did the fine Indian muslins sold in Europe and the Americas come from? What plants, animals, and minerals were developed into paints and dyes?
  • What tools and machines made the yarns and threads and fabric and who developed them and used them?
  • What is calendaring, and is it true that the "scroop" of late 19th century silk depended on treating the silk yarns to a bath in caustic soda? How is brocade made?
  • What linen thread counts are good for shifts? What weaves look nice in a wool petticoat?
  • How was reeled silk produced in the 18th century? What about the 19th? How about now?
  • If England made American colonists buy so much of their wool, how come spinning wheels from the era are common? Who used them and what for?
  • When was ninon silk invented and why was it apparently named after Ninon l'Enclos?
  • What happened to fabric after it was reduced to rags, and what's the difference between mungo and shoddy?
Questions like these have bedeviled me for years. The answers have a great deal to do with what fabrics and designs were popular and where, and how people constructed and wore clothing, and they impacted fashion designs more than we costumers tend to think about.

So, as I've learned to spin Americas-style with a handspindle and now to weave, bedtime reading matter has been mostly historical accounts of the dawn of sheepherding, of spinning, of weaving among the Egyptians, of the English wool industry, and of revent ideas about how Medieval spinning in Europe may have been accomplished. I've eaten up books about spinning on wheels and spindles, and have read and reread Learning to Weave, a bible among American weavers, and The Big Book of Weaving, another bible recently translated from Swedish and my favorite reference so far, probably because the Swedish and Finnish looms are such clever, elegant structures almost entirely constructed of wood and cord, and capable of producing amazingly fine fabrics.

Booky, bloggy, wiki knowledge hasn't been the only benefit of all the reading and experimentation. When I read letters like those from Anna Briggs' accounts of spinning, weavers, and fabric conservation in American Grit: A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier, her descriptions and concerns have made much, much more visceral sense than they once did. Same for My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams. Books like Rural Pennsylvania Clothing: Being a Study of the Wearing Apparel of the German and English Inhabitants, take on a different feel when I can begin to visualize some of the decisions the makers made when constructing clothing. Concepts become tangible and are tested, the sense of time shifts, resources are appreciated more, and the skills within bone and muscle and empathy in the mind and soul develop, even if just a little bit.

By the way, I am far from alone in this. There are historically minded spinners and weavers all over, in the United States associated with institutions like Colonial Williamsburg, tiny firms and larger companies like Thistle Hill Weavers or Devere Yarns or Pallia Mittelalter Hautnah in the U.K. Reenactor and SCA folks too, many of them in Europe and a number of them sharing their experiences on sites and blogs: Arachne's Blog and In deme jare Christi in Sweden, 15thcenturyspinning in Australia, Medieval Silkwork, in the Netherlands, and Hibernaatiopesäke in Finland, or Odette's Obsessions here in the States.

As Christopher and I make his scarf, and I consider a fun and modern rya-knot-woven pillow for the den, and perhaps a linsey-woolsey petticoat someday, it's good not only to enjoy the process, but to begin to feel and experience physical, mental and emotional movements made generation after generation after generation since people became people, and to begin to glimpse how the arts we are practicing are so closely meshed with with not just fashion, but with so much of the rest of life.

It is such fun getting down into the roots of it all.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Journal Journey into the Year 1811: La Belle Assemblée, September

This month's La Belle Assemblée issue reports, as usual, a month ahead. I, on the other hand, am very late in posting. This fall's workload has been unusually heavy, and we all have come down with assorted bugs to the point that it's a wonder the washer is still working, so many extra loads of laundry have been degermified.

Please don't forget to read the London report from Ackerman's, and those from Weimar and Paris.

  • Sabine in Weimar: Journal des Luxus und der Moden
  • Alessandra in Paris: Journal des Dames et des Modes
  • Maggie, in London: Ackermann's

This month there are no special fashion articles, just the normal plates with their explanations, plus some commentary on trends. They appear on pp. 156-157 of the July-December collection. Here they are below, followed by notes. Personally speaking, I find this month's plates especially pretty, rather than some of the over-the-top ensembles we've seen at other times this year. This month, too, is thematic: it's all about twists and pearls and beads: both plates make use of them and the general observations section mentions that beads are popular, as they have been at other times in 1811.



No. 1. EVENING DRESS. A sea-green crape dress, vandykcd round the petticoat, and ornamented with large beads; a full drapery over the shoulders, and confined in to the back with a pearl band, ornamented round the neck and down the back with beads. A full turban fillet tapered, worn on the head. Pearl necklace, white kid gloves and shoes.

No. 2. BALL DRESS. A fancy dress of undressed white crape, worn over a satin slip; the waist of the dress in the boddice form, scolloped and bound with pink satin ribband; the bottom of the dress scolloped in a similar manner, and caught up with small bunches of artificial flowers, the centre bunch of an increased size. The hem of the petticoat trimmed twisted satin and beads. Short Spanish sleeves composed of satin and lace; the back and shoulders of the dress trimmed with vandyke lace; a bouquet of artificial flowers worn much on one side. The hair ornamented with a fillet of twisted satin and pearls, placed twice round the head, and left to fall in a tassel, finished with beads. Pearl necklaces and earrings. White kid gloves and shoes, with small pink and silver roses.


During the last month, we have observed several little elegant trifles, but nothing strikingly new, or decidedly prevailing. Whoever can display most taste in transforming a handkerchief into a mantle, or a shawl or veil into a becoming head-dress, is entitled to the palm of taste and elegance. Less seems to depend on the skill of the milliner than on the fancy of the individual; every lady is in some measure her own artist; thus her cap it not only adapted to her figure and features, but even to the air and humour she puts on for the day; she has nothing to do but to look well, and no matter in what. For the promenade, an elegant mantlet is formed with a square of yellow crape, bound with satin ribband of the same colour; it is turned over from the neck, so as to form a sort of cape, the corners ornamented with small elegant silk tassels. White satin spensers, with a white silk scarf thrown over them, are well adapted to the season, and have a fascinating appearance. Satin tippets lined, and edged with swansdown, or spensers, will be well suited to the latter end of the present month. The pelisse of lace or crape, if still retained, will shortly require the addition of a scarf in conformity to the season. Short pelisses of rich twilled sarsnet are much worn over a dress trimmed with a full cambric edging. Satin and lace Grecian or cottage caps, are the prevailing mode of head-dress. Feathers seem less worn for the promenade, and have consequently appeared in greater numbers in the drawing-room.

Morning Dresses are frequently made in the pelisse style, buttoned down the front with small raised buttons, and trimmed round the bottom, the collar, and down the front, with a full cambric frill, delicately plaited. This style of dress is very fashionably prevailing; it gives us that idea of neatness, delicacy, and innocence, always interesting in a female; neatness is most bewitching, not merely as a pleasing quality in itself, but as a certain indication of many others; a well regulated wardrobe is not unfrequcntly a mark of a well regulated mind; of a conduct marked with propriety, and "thoughts void of offence." It is a never failing sign of economy, and of all those qualities so requisite for the well arrangement of a family.

For dinner or borne dresses, Merino crapes, Opera nets, sarsnets, and cambrics are most in request. They have not varied at all in their make. The waists remain much shorter than at the commencement of the summer; they are made entirely plain, to fit the shape. Trains are considered fashionable, but it is a fashion which, except in full dress, is in a great measure superseded by convenience. Cloth dresses have already appeared, but these we cannot help considering as premature. Velvets are very numerous; in fact, there is scarcely any season at which velvet may not with propriety be worn, warm as it may appear, it has the sanction of custom, which no one ventures to arraign.

For full or evening dress, figured gauze, white satin, coloured crapes, short lace dresses, and gossamer nets are considered the most elegant. Fine India muslins, with satin bodies and short satin sleeves, with a loose lace sleeve, brooched with diamonds worn over, and satin slips, are likewise very elegant. Coloured satin bodies are not so much worn, but will probably be more approved at a more advanced season; they give an appearance of dress, and contribute to the variety of the drawing-room, very pleasing at a less genial season. It is imagined that soft India mull muslins, wrought in small sprigs, with coloured cruels, will be found in great request fur the end of autumn and winter; they may not be probably considered to belong to full dress. Silver turbans are a very prevailing head-dress; satin caps, blended with lace, and ornamented with the Highland plume, are also much approved. Pearl cords and tassels are extremely elegant; beads are more worn than during the last month. Crape dresses ornamented with coloured satin, fancifully displayed in sprigs and wreath patterns, or for full dress, in silver foil or spangles, are considered of the very first order of dress. The hair is worn curled in full round curls round the face; the hair behind turned loosely up without any twist, and left to fall in irregular ringlet curls in the neck; no ornament worn in the front of the hair; a full blown rose placed much on one side a-la-Phoebe, seems to have many admirers; as has a knot of white or coloured ribband, mixed negligently with the falling ringlets in the neck.

We have observed no very new devices in jewellery; pearl necklaces with a diamond clasp, without either locket or brooch are the most prevailing; necklaces in emeralds and amber, are considered very fashionable; the short sleeves have again introduced that elegant and becoming ornament the bracelet.

The prevailing colours for the season, are jonquille, violet, amber, celestial blue, autumnal yellow, and rose.

It is from good authority we announce the present assortment of superb India shawls, gold and silver muslins, the admired Angola and Arabian shawls, together with the choicest India muslins, and all the new articles for ladies' autumn dress, now on sale at the house of Millard, in the city, far exceeds even that of any former season; and, although we understand there is to be no sale this autumn at the India house for India muslins, yet the immense stock of that house will still afford a rich treat to the lovers of that truly valuable article, where they are regularly obtained by the piece, or demy, at the first price.


Bodice and petticoat combination. This month's ball dress is not made in one piece, but two. Harking back to earlier jacket-and-petticoat styles from the later 18th century and earlier Regency, this dress has a separate "boddice", back-closing. Sure wish we could see the back closing. Had we reached the point of a back lacing? The fit makes me think so. A separate slip and over-petticoat are worn with it. It's unclear if the slip includes a bodice, but I would assume that it does not since the bodice may not be taken off. The separate combinations are more common than one might think and under-represented in today's recreations.

Fancy dress. The ball dress this month is described as a "fancy dress". Normally the term fancy dress means masquerade dress. That may be the case here: our model may represent the goddess Flora or spring. It's not entirely clear.

Hairstyles. Both plates this month show hairstyles clearly. Both hairstyles make use of twisted fabric and pearls for headdresses -- see tuban fillet, below, for more on that. Both hairstyles are constructed similarly. The hair is brushed towards the back of the head with no apparent partings, and braided into a coiled bun. Additional braids -- and false hair would be common -- are arranged either atop the bun, in the case of the ball dress, or swagged from the face to the bun in the case of the evening dress.
The hairstyles end up looking quite different.

The ball dress model wears her bun rather low, and her hair is smooth, something we don't always see. She sports just two sets of curl wisps to the side of her face. This style would be good for a woman whose hair was naturally quite straight.

The evening dress model wears her bun quite high so that the coiled fillet is accentuated. Her front hair was probably parted from side to side and then curled in tiny hanging ringlets with papillotes or a curling iron, for a softened Roman matron effect.

The observations section of the fashion column talks about a related but simple evening hairstyle:
"The hair is worn curled in full round curls round the face; the hair behind turned loosely up without any twist, and left to fall in irregular ringlet curls in the neck; no ornament worn in the front of the hair; a full blown rose placed much on one side a-la-Phoebe, seems to have many admirers; as has a knot of white or coloured ribband, mixed negligently with the falling ringlets in the neck."
Imagine the front curls from the evening dress model. Now, take the rest of the hair, pull it to the back loosely, bunch it, and without twisting it, push it up against the back of the head and jab a wide comb into the bunch to hold it in place. Allow the ends to curl back down over the comb and to the neck.

India muslins. Featured heavily this month. Clearly imported, as they had been for many years; note the advertising for particular shops carrying them in the last paragraph. My favorite mention -- "soft India mull muslins, wrought in small sprigs, with coloured cruels". By "cruels" the writer means crewel embroidery done with wool floss. Here would be a nice variation on the little white dress for evening: the sprigs would be in full color rather than in whitework. The designs would be variations of the pretty stylized florals so popular for over a century, by this point.

An example from the Deutsches Historisches Museum, of a dress that I believe is of India muslin. See how attenuated the sprigs and winding vines are. Widely spaced, small motifs are common at this juncture; they would become bolder as time passed until they turn into the full-and-fluffy Victorian styles.

From "La Fleche", a member of the Napoleon 1er forum.

Here is an example using the boteh pattern, the paisley design which appeared about now and is still popular.

Cotton dress with wool embroidery, 1810. Met: 11.60.226.

Pearls. The pearls used in this month's plates were in all likelihood faux pearls, perhaps glass filled with wax, the so-called Roman pearls written about in the Two Nerdy History Girls blog. Real sea pearls were fabulously expensive. In the evening dress plate the pearls outline portions of the dress, and even add weight to the vandykes at the dress hem.

Pearl necklace. The pearl necklace in the evening dress plate is clasped with a metal clasp rather than tied with ribbon as common earlier.

Turban fillet. For a change, just what you might imagine: a "fillet" is normally a narrow ribbon or wire wound round or encircling the head, while a turban is a, well, a turban. In this month's evening dress hairstyle, we have a length of fabric well gathered to make a narrow, round, gathered tube, wound round the head. The turban is wound with pearls for extra measure. Handsome and I hope that someone will take up this style for a ball before long! The ball dress plate uses a similar design; it encircles the head more like the fillets we remember from Medieval fairy tales, but ironically, the effect is more turban-like to my eyes than the evening dress example, yet isn't called a turban. Fashion, fashion.
That's it for September's journey. I sure hope to be able to get to October before long! So behind...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Very Veird, Very Vun, Very Vernet

Odd shoes, strange proportions, fantastical topknots, attitude.
On the streets, along the avenues, it's just verveilleuse!

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