Friday, January 15, 2016

Vernet: I Spy Eyelets! Different Qualities of Handmade Eyelet Embroidery

Reverse side of piece of finely produced eyelet embroidery
with new threads laid on top for comparison.
Discussion below. 
The embroidery I've been doing for the Vernet dress has struck me as fairly coarse. I am an occasional embroideress, so no surprise there. Am almost done with the satin stitch portion of the embroidery, and ended up using my most powerful 3x glasses, plus a round-the-neck magnifying glass, and it still required excellent light to get a decent stitch at all. Good embroiderers needed good eyes!

(Remember, you can keep up with all of the projects on the Vernet's 1814 Merveilleuses and Incroyables Facebook page.)

Now, if the satin stitch is coarse, how are the eyelets likely to look after I finish them? I have several examples of handmade eyelet embroidery. Here are two of them: they happen to illustrate well that eyelet work appeared in both coarse and fine qualities. I do not know the age of either of the examples, and one of them may well be quite late or be a re-use of older fabric. Neither is from the early 1800s.

A Piece of Unused Fine Work

Let's start with the fine work. This is a piece beautifully worked across a piece of crisp, very, very tightly woven fabric. It is almost, but not quite opaque. The hand is hard, not soft: there are no tiny fuzzes to soften it, and the few loose threads are so, so fine, and also "hard". It has not been starched: it's naturally crisp. I haven't the heart to do a burn test, but feel that this may be a finely woven linen cambric, or perhaps a percale?

Thérèse de Dillmont's  An Encyclopedia of Needlework, 1886, she recommends readers to embroider with a  "loose, soft make of cotton, the looser the better, and very little twisted, is the best material for embroidery". The work being published by the DMC company, she recommends a coton à broder. They still sell it.

As for the material the embroidery is to be worked upon? She doesn't define it. 

Look carefully at the pictures. Notice that each eyelet is slightly differently shaped and sized. Note that the scallops vary, too. The real giveaway that this is handwork is on the back side, though. Let's look at the reverse of one end of the piece.

What do you know? When you have a chance to look at the messy side, the thread is thicker than it appears on the front side, isn't it? You can also tell that the embroidery thread doesn't have that much twist. We'll talk about that a bit later.

In the image above, I've laid both a regular Guterman sewing thread on top of the work, to the left. To the right, I've laid the type of thread I am using to create the Vernet dress embroidery. As you can see, the original thread thickness is in between the Gutermann thread and "my" thread. "My" thread has more twist, too.

"My" thread is the one on the left, marked 

If I were to try to work at this level of fineness, I'd use a fine coton a broder #25, still made by DMC.

A Less Refined Stitch on a Petticoat

Now that you've seen the fine example, what about the coarse work? Can it be there is coarser eyelet and satin stitch work than mine? Oh yes and glory be.

Here is the petticoat, a museum de-accession I picked up locally. It is closed with a drawstring, and the embroidery may be earlier than the rest of the piece. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to the age? It doesn't feel Edwardian since this sort of work was out of style by then, and in Kentucky patterns were easy to be had except perhaps in truly remote areas of the Appalachian hills.

Examine the pictures closely. To see them really close up, click on the picture, and copy the file source, and open it in a fresh tab or window. I have uploaded large files so you can do so.

Note how thick that embroidery thread is! How slapdash the stitches! Notice the thread is not twisted much, either...once again it may be like a coton à broder that Thérèse de Dillmont's talks about in her book. Embroidery thread can come in different thicknesses, and you can split the strands as well.

Top row of embroidery, at top of flounce.

Second row from top of flounce.

Third row from top of flounce.
Scalloped bottom.
Back side of top row: examine the stitchwork.

Well, My Embroidery Thread Isn't Like Either Example...

Oh well. I should have done homework before choosing thread, shouldn't I? Lesson learned. Still, my thread is far easier to use than the floss I've used in the past, so really, I am not overly dejected :}

Why Not Call Eyelet Work Broderie Anglaise?

In short, I don't know, as yet.

By the time the British work The Dictionary of Needlework, by Sophia Frances Anne Caulfield and Blanche Saward, and published in 1882, eyelet embroidery was often being called Broderie Anglaise. They write that the "work is adapted for trimming washing dresses or underlinen" (p. 49). By this point, it wasn't for best wear, was it? The type of embroidery thread is to be used is not mentioned, and the entire species of embroidery gets only a short entry: it was out of fashion.

In this book, the work was to be done on "white linen or cambric" (p. 48). In another entry, cambric (Kammerack - German; Toile de Cambrai or Batiste - French), is defined as a beautiful and delicate linen textile, of which there are several kinds. Its introduction into this country dates from the reign of Queen Elizabeth." (p. 59). They also mention cotton imitations.

Thérèse de Dillmont's book, first published in France and circa 1886, lumps eyelet work under White Embroidery. She calls the holes "eyelets", and spends a bit of time, including nice clear pictures, on how to produce it. See the chapter five section on eyelets.

However, I have yet to find out what this work was called before then. We learned last post that the Journal des Dames was referring to the embroidery in April 30, 1814, as more a découpure, a cutting, than an embroidery. That leads me to suspect that this was rather a new type of work, but I don't have full evidence yet...more reading to do!

In Other News

This week I've been plagued by fatigue and a busy schedule. Life is about to get even more interesting, because to help diagnose one son's digestive issues, we're about to start a 4-6 week trial of life without any dairy products or soy products. We don't eat much meat (I hardly at all), and we do eat a lot of yogurt and cheese, so this will create a great deal of extra cooking and a deal of experimentation, and nibble away yet more of any moments that used to be somewhat leisurely. Best to roll with the punches: what else can you do?

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Vernet: Ninon declares, "Vive le Roi!"

Arrival of Louis XVIII at Calais, 1814; Edward Bird.
Courtesy BBC Your Pictures. More info.
Are those angels on the stairs? No, sailors on the shrouds.

It was lilies, lilies, everywhere, "Vive le Roi" in fashionese:

Ce 4 mai 1814.
Le costume de cent quarante dames choisies dans les douze arrondissemens, pour offrir leur hommages à S. A. R. Madame la Duchesse d'Angoulême, au moment de son entrée au Palais des Tuileries, étoit une robe blanche, en soie, crêpe ou mousseline, une coeffure en lis et un bouquet de lis.

"This May 4th, 1814: The costume of 140 ladies chosen from the 12 arrondissements to offer their homage to the the Duchess d'Angouleme, at the moment of her entrance entrance into the Tuileries Palace, was a white robe of silk, crape or muslin, the coiffure with lilies and with a bouquet of lilies."

This, the first paragraph in the May 5 Journal des Dames et Des Modes. Not a peep about N. Bonaparte, and no sign of bees anywhere. It's lilies and rose color:

Une guirlande de lis, ou un bouquet de lis, orne le devant de beaucoup de coëffures en cheveux; et l'on voit les fleur de lis brodées non-soulement sur les écharpes blanches, mais sur des écharpes  couleur de rose...

"A garland of lilies, or a bouquet of lilies, ornaments the front of many coiffures en cheveux (without a cap); and one sees fleur de lis embroidered not only on white scarves, but on rose-colored scarves." (Ibid., May 5, p. 200)

It had been lilies for at least a week, at first rather quietly, as Paris became used to the idea that Napoleon was going, going, gone and that King Louis XVIII was returning. The April 30 issue's fashion plate pictured a young lady, her hat adorned with lilies, tending a lily plant.

Chapeau orné de Lis, Robe de Perkale.
Journal des Dames et des Modes, 30 April, 1815.
Image courtesy Sabine, Kleidung um 1800.
Please see her reproduction of this hat! 
In the weeks following, lilies proliferated along with the celebrations.

So, naturally, my Ninon must celebrate along with the rest of the Bon Ton. Her dress is white and she wears folds across her bosom, and she keeps fleur de lis in peekaboo embroidery close to her heart. Vive le Roi!

If he is King, I am Queen, purrs Miss Blueberry Muffin. Eyelet embroidery in progress.
Of course, this is imagining. Vernet didn't draw the neckline details clearly. It could be folds in the fabric. However, the underdress bodice is tightly cut across the front, making drawstring folds less likely, and given how the fabric stands out and is opaque, it feels like percale to me, percale being the popular fabric for spring 1814. Fleur de lis would be a natural embroidery. Now, eyelet embroidery across the lowish neckline, as we'll read below? Mmmm, maybe, but this is a latter-day Ninon de L'Enclos we're channeling, and no mere mortal.

Finally, Journal des Dames mentions a certain English fashion for tight bodices:

Il faut de même beaucoup de grâce et de belles formes pour adopter une nouvelle façon de robes introduite par les dames Anglaises. Le corsage très-juste et sans plis, dessine parfaitement le taille, sur-tout par devant. Comme ces robes montent moins que les robes à guimpe, on adapte un plisse de tullè à leur corsage, ou l'on croise un fichu de gaze sur la poitrine.
(Journal des Dames, 10 May 1814, p. 202)

Roughly: "One must have plenty of grace and a pretty form to adopt a new fashion of robe introduced by the English ladies. The well fitting bodice without folds, delineating the waist perfectly, all over the front. Because the robes rise less high that the "wimple" robes, one adapts a fold of tulle on the bodice, or one crosses a fichu of gauze over the chest."

For some reason that description rather recalls Ninon, does it not? Or am I out of my head? A tight-fitting bodice with folds of tulle across the chest. Vernet could have a great deal of fun with that idea, especially when he adds an English hat to underscore the idea. A Frenchwoman dressed almost entirely English fashion, but looking very, very French.

Where Do We Get the Eyelet Embroidery?

Across the channel, purple prose:

Here, at last, is the reviving charter of the happiness of the world, the golden fleece, which the champions in the holy cause...have, with the valor of their sword, extorted from the execrated tyrant in his very den. 
(Ackermann's, May 1814, p. 288)

After this breathless beginning, the unnamed author in the May, 1814 issue of Ackermann's Repository, a popular British magazine "of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics" -- a magazine of everything, really -- goes on to describe Napoleon's capitulation. His pen appears to stumble; he is that happy to be rid of a decade of truly heinous bloodletting and the insult of bearing with an emperor who had crowned himself:

We confess, however, that the task is beyond our powers, humble in themselves, but at this time scarcely sobered from the marvel, the stupor, the intoxicating delight, into which the intelligence so recently plunged our senses. (Ibid.) 

Feel on the scene yourself and read the article: pages 288-297. I promise you fireworks and an apparent engagement at the end.

London dressed in fleur de lis, too:

For evening dress white is of course the predominant colour, and evinces its prevalence not only in dresses, but in every article of dress; and is constantly attended with the fleur de lis whenever it can be introduced. The lilac and sea-green are, notwithstanding, occasionally visible, ornamented with the same emblematic flower, embroidered around the bottom of the dress without exception...Some ladies wear their dresses festooned...the Blücher and elegant scarf mantle are spoken of in terms of high approbation...(w)hite silk shawls and scarfs, richly embroidered at the corners and ends with fleur de lis, have an elegant and novel appearance, and are much in vogue.
(Ackermann's, May 1814, p. 303)

By the way, Blücher was one of the German Allies generals, and was already having clothing named for him. In Paris there was a Blücher hat, and so on.

To help Englishwomen celebrate, Ackermann's published what I think are two very pretty fleur de lis patterns in this issue. Can you imagine the sprigs as the olive branches of peace?

Not finding a fleur de lis embroidery pattern in French magazines, I appropriated the lower pattern for Ninon. It suits her well, I believe. It's elegant, restrained, symbolic, and half hidden under its gauzy bust festoons.

A Early Drop in a Coming Flood of Eyelet Embroidery?

I am only speculating, but this pattern just may be one of the early droplets in a flood of patterns in years to come featuring eyelets. If you examine patterns previous to spring of 1814, the patterns work better as satin and tambour and similar stitches, and in fact when Ackermann's includes commentary on the patterns, they're usually talking about embroidery without holes. This pattern, by contrast, is very clearly and obviously an example of what lots of people now lightly term "broderie anglaise", or English embroidery.

Strange, that, when in the April 30 Journal des Dames issue, the author remarks:

Quelques robes de perkale ont des remplis depuis le genou au coude-pied. Peut-être faudroit-il appeler trouées plutôt que brodées, les garnitures qui consistent en festons; car sur ces festons, les roues, les croissans, les losanges, qui forment autant de jours, donnent plutôt  l'idée d'une découpure que d'une broderie.  
(Journal des Dames, 30 April 1814, p. 192)

Roughly: "Some percale robes are filled from the knee to the instep. Perhaps one must call it "be-holed" rather than embroidered; the trimmings which consist of festoons; because these festoons, the wheels, the crescents, the diamonds, whatever form of the day (??), give rather the idea of a cutting than an embroidery."

It is around this year or so that the French fashion plates, and the English too, really start to feature heavily eyelet embroidery, which is so successfully done on a nice, tightly woven textile like a cotton percale. Again, this is my speculation, since it would need a careful examination of patterns, journals and extant garments spanning a series of years, but it really does seem as if this is what is happening.

The embroidery is progressing nicely. The outlining, in backstitch, is already around all the sprigs and flower forms, preparatory to cutting the eyelets and whipping round each one. The fleur de lis and the poix (peas) above them are satin-stitched, and the winding sprig stem is next. The eyelet work will be left to last because it weakens the fabric.

The Embroidery Materials

I've done the embroidery in a vintage German 3-ply (?), tightly spun, low-gloss, long-staple-cotton thread close to a button-hole thread. Someone I know just might recognize her gift, so prized! It's delightful stuff. It does not knot up, it lays evenly, and draws through the percale neatly. I have several extant 19th century embroideries, and have looked at others. The earliest in my collection uses a super-fine thread, though it's on a very fine muslin, and others seem to use pretty fine thread. At 52, even with strong glasses, my eyes can no longer handle such white on white work without strain, so I've opted for the thicker thread of one of my later embroideries, an embroidered petticoat from the latter half of the century. The results please me, even though they're clearly not remotely close to professional work.

The embroidery is on a 220 thread count pure Egyptian cotton, plain (tabby) weave, percale. Percale was and is by definition a closely woven cotton. It's hard to find yardage, so I bought a sheet. La.

You Can See Already That This Vernet Dress Takes Liberties

Eyelet right at the bustline rather than the hem, a joke about folds and festoons across the bosom, you can see already that my Vernet recreation has its tongue firmly in its cheek. Really, what can you do, when you have such a dress, looking like it does and labeled almost certainly after the demi-mondaine, wit, and letter-writer Ninon de L'Enclos?

As you know by now, having had a year of Vernet and his Merveilleuses and Incroyables, Vernet was a past master at both the subtle and the outre. So, why not have some fun with this recreation? I'm underpinning it -- pun intended -- as much as possible with research, and taking flight from there.

Oh, and did I promise to dissect the dress in this post? Ah, yes, that promise.

Go look that up among Ninon's more famous phrases :} Ciao!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Vernet's 1814 Marveilleuses and Incroyables: A Robe a la Ninon

What? A post? Yes indeed. Brief, but a post...about the Vernet project! The Chapeau à l'Anglaise, Robe à la Ninon is the plate I selected to recreate, and it's a honey of a dress, rather different than the other plates, and full of possibilities for my murky version of sparkling wit.

For reasons far too tedious to relate, excepting a bit about a certain tawny sheep and another about some delightful Bhutanese ladies, this was not a year that allowed for costuming, or really much of anything other than responsibilities. The project languished and all I could do was to close the year with the following...

Even hot chocolate had no power to keep the needlewoman awake.
Now I take needle in hand again in the hope that 2016 will be a little kinder. We shall see.

Next up, let's dissect the plate. All is not as it immediately appears, or is it? Or is it not? 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

More Than a Snowstorm, More Than a Cold Snap

The most snow since 1998, at least. The coldest since 1936, at least. Mardi Gras almost forgotten, Ash Wednesday celebrated at home, except for the bravest souls. School out all week, just about everything closed or on shorter hours, with a couple of exceptions...women's UK Basketball must go on!

Right now we have about a foot of snow on the ground, and it's heading towards -11 tonight. Cold creeping in any gap, the exterior walls cold. Muffin extending full length in front of heating vents or finding warm laundry to sit and purr in. Ladybug napping on a bed the entire day. Our hallway upstairs cleared of much of its furniture so the boys can run and play a sort of soccer. The boys studying a bit during the day, and us all getting out for air when we the boys and Curte going with brother and niece to the basketball game.

Even growing up in Ithaca I didn't experience cold like this very often, although plenty of snow like we have, which is just delicious and brings such light and joy into the house. Dead grass has no poetry and doesn't reflect.

We've never had this much snow to play in!


Stuck in the dimmed light, a driver places cardboard under his wheels to gain traction. Our street remained
unplowed for four days. We did not mind. The beauty, the silence.

"Slow down"? No fear this morning. A sign posted down the street, to deter drivers
speeding on warmer days.

Extra pair of gloves a must.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Handwoven Alpaca and Wool Scarf: Spreading the Warp

Spreading the warp together.
While the boys sort small change, looking for the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. quarter to put in their coin collection, I grab the tail of this moment for a little post about the everlasting scarf.

Everlasting in that it's everlastingly under construction :}

Christopher and I are learning harness weaving together, the same way that we spin alpaca and wool together. He's just about as interested as I am. Unexpected and fascinating, since he's 7 years old and otherwise spends his days whenever possible with a basketball, football, soccer ball, baseball, or bouncy ball in his hands. He's a pragmatic, careful learner and enjoys process and practice. To say that I'm happy to have such a sweet companion on the fiber journey is an understatement...

Spreading the Warp

In Swedish methods of setting up a loom the reed is used not only to beat back the yarn into place as new cloth, but is also an aid to spreading out the warp threads to the right width when setting up the warp threads on the loom.

The chained warp threads are temporarily set on top of the loom and each pair of threads is sleyed (pulled) through the reed at a predetermined distance apart so that it can be threaded onto the apron rod at the back of the loom.

Our sleying hook? A bent metal paper clip. More homemade tools :}

Christopher sleys the warp through the reed as part of spreading it.

Detail man.

Warp spread and ready to thread onto the apron rod.

Worried about the warp slipping back through the reed? Thread a string through it :}
That's all for this time. This afternoon we may get a chance to work on it some more, but the boys are each designing a board game for school, and we need to run around some, and I have June's Vacation Bible School work to do...already!

Next up, I hope: the Vernet project -- Bernhardt stays!

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.