Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Vernet 1.0: Summertime Edition. Part 1: The Wearing

Vernet Robe a la Ninon 1.0: Summertime Edition, with hat by Shocking Bad Hats

After so long waiting for this dress, gracious, nearly 1 2/3 years, why not see it being worn for a first try and a first critique at the Louisville, KY Jane Austen Festival before we dig into the construction?

[Yes, that's the Vernet dress: see the embroidery?]

From top to toe, then, here we go.

A Shocking Bad Hat -- No, A Strikingly Good Hat

There's really no getting around it: I do not make hats well. Having found a vintage dressage hat of real beaver, I'd thought success pretty likely if I added my best plumes, held them in place with thread to applied antique velvet ribbon across the top and around the crown's base, their bottoms camouflaged with a composed silk ribbon knot.

I was after minor theme running through the Vernet plates, the Chapeau Anglaise.


The result was heavy and amateurish, the black emphasizing the circles under my eyes, the plumes overlarge and always tending to sway too one side rather than over the top of the hat, and the knot too floufy, rose-like 1790s to fit the tailored base. I hadn't dared to use a large satin bow. If you too lived through bow-head time in the 1980s, you'll forgive me. I had some massive ones, including a red silk satin so big that its red tails stuck out to either side of my head -- get the image? --  like a devil cat's ears.

Moreover, the hat, designed for equestrian wear, was sturdy and heavy, and it squashed my ears until they complained nearly incessantly.

A batty, hatty mistake.
The hat offers two lessons in following fashion plates:
  1. Recreate the original as exactly as possible. A shortcut can be an expensive path to a sloppy result.
  2. For real wearing as opposed to a fashion plate photo shoot, find the hat that suits you.

So, about the darling hat in summer sky blue and grain-gold (my fancy name for mustard) in the top image?

The hat was not a planned purchase...but, follow me into Rebecca Burnham's shop, Shocking Bad Hats, and see why it was foregone that it'd end up toppling the other topper.

My friend Polly found the shop first. We walked past the camp and crew of the HMS Acasta, and I eyed their tiny, primping and prancing rooster Nelson with amusement, and there was the shop, set up in a former smokehouse.

I thought the shop assistant, who's neat and I now know is named Megan, had an awfully good as well as unusual hat...and look at those on the table. Ooh, nice design. We're lucky at the Jane Austen Festival to have several good millinery choices: The Bohemian Belle and Lydia Fast among them. This shop was new.

Photo courtesy Rebecca Burnham.

Inside stone walls, whitewashed, it was pleasant after the brute heat outside, and so a courtesy stay lengthened into a real examination of what was on offer.

A partial view, dappled with high-contrast midday sun through the narrow windows. Photo courtesy Rebecca Burnham.

It wasn't long before the blue hat against the wall had me over looking at it, then trying it on, then going all pink-faced and sparkle-eyed, and forgetting a self-imposed no-buys injunction. Then out came the reticule and the payment for Promenade, as the design's called, and a little light-headed maybe, I bid everyone goodbye, head high. The rest of the day went delightfully, and really, some of the credit goes to the hat.

Besides, this hat fit: no ear squishing :}

The Vernet 1.0 Summertime Dress: A Critique

Meeting Lauren Marks for the first time: so many years anticipated!
That's the meh hat. Plumes were meant to go over the hat to the back, not to the side.
Plumes and I: we have a tough relationship.

The Vernet Robe à la Ninon was designed for springtime, I am fairly sure, not for deep, deep summertime in a sultry riverside city in America, where humidity can hang in the air until it almost forms a haze, unless a stray breeze should travel through.

Therefore, the dress' first outing was in an abbreviated style: short puffed sleeves replacing the long ones and no bust poufs. Really, can you see me wearing those full-size poufs in company outside of a show?

First, the good parts.

With Emily and some anachronistic, and welcome, lavender lemonade.
The handkerchief is offering coverage and concealing a far wider, almost off the shoulder neckline.
The necklace? I hadn't meant to wear it! It's on me daily in summertime and I forgot it was there.

Wearing this dress was a pleasure. It moved easily, armscyses and sleeves did not bind. It did not drag the ground; 1814 dresses didn't, as a rule, so it was practical. The embroidery looked very pretty. The percale wicked away perspiration and the silk gauze overskirt and sleeves hid any perspiration stains: providential when it's 92+ and feels like 95% humidity. The white reflected the light rather than absorbed it, and it gleamed in the sunshine due to the silk gauze. The neckline was flattering. I could see wearing it with a ruff on another occasion, or using the original sleeves, or in fact, many another type of sleeve to create multiple effects. You know already that I like a multi-functional dress.

On the other hand, this was truly a 1.0 outing, for the fit needs work. Because I don't sew too frequently, and because this blog is all about essays, trials, learning, and learning by mistakes, the below looks at what went wrong and how it might be improved.

Here is the original dress plate, below. Compare it to the photos above. Just take yer eyes off that gargantuan bust and giraffe proportions, will you, and stop laughing?

  • The neckline gapped. This was partially due to me losing weight. The mockup fit well when Jenni fit it: her mockups always do. My darling Muffin kitty, constant companion and friend, became ill way before her time with heart disease, and passed away recently. Her illness and loss were awful and sad, and my appetite was nil for many weeks and hasn't recovered. I will write about her, but not yet, it's too soon, too soon. 
    • The bodice already being complete and the festival only a week away, I took it in -- a lot -- at the side fronts, but needed to pull it in more at the top. 
    • I'd consider adding a minute drawstring across the front but prefer total smoothness at the front if I can do it through fitting. 
    • And remember to sit with shoulders back.
Great hat, but mind the gap!
  • The bodice should pull in right above the high waist so that we have at least a modest "waistline". In this first wear, there isn't any at all. I didn't tie the back strings tight enough, but the sides should be taken in more radically at the bottom of the waist to help.
  • I should wear different stays to help the waistline effect. I wore "short" stays for this, but they are thick and paddy, and while they contain the bust well, they do not create the line beneath the bust that they should. 
    • Have stays patterned up, but not done. Remember to keep the stays fabric thin as possible, but strong.
    • Make the stays straps narrow and ensure that they sit at the shoulder edges, not near the neck, so that the neckline can be broad and not play peek-a-boo with underthings.
    • Do note that a very high bust at this date was not de rigeur, according to Jane Austen. Darn if I can find the quotation in her letter to her sister!
  • The dress is too long for the Vernet plate. Because I'll want to wear the dress for other occasions post-Vernet, am taking tucks in the skirt rather than cutting it. Not exact to the plate, but there's a line between following fashion and being sensible.
There was also another neckline issue. Our Ninon wore her dress without a handkerchief. However, she was French. I felt undressed outdoors at a British-style festival without some sort of coverage, although this dress is modestly cut. Funny that I've internalized the concept of covering up: not only was I following contemporary British custom, but as I age, nowadays I cover up in real life, as well, for social reasons as well as to avoid further sun damage to the chest, a thin-skinned spot prone to wrinkling and skin cancer.

I'd planned a ruff and chemisette, but time ran out, so a small gauze handkerchief stood duty instead, soon as I found one at the festival, anyway. It worked fine although it lacked panache. Next time I wear the dress short-sleeved, it's a wuverly ruff of antique lace and silk gauze over a mull base.

Hair: Emily did my hair, and it was beautiful: a crown of curls behind, and side curls before to keep the face looking elongated and the cheekbones highlighted. More curls to the side appeared as the day went on, so next time pomade will help keep them patched to the head, but overall the look is attractive and so simple.

The gloves worked well, and are the over-the-elbow length popular in 1814, though they're not kid. I am not going to spoil kid by exposing it to high humidity. Ninon may have been a fashionista willing to sacrifice her duds in the name of gorgeousness; I played her frugal French housewife cousin, instead. The gorgeous embroidered wool shawl, the gift of a sweet friend, was just right. The black shoes and their tied-ribbon straps were functional fakes, the earrings good for the period.

JaneFest 2016: a Feast of Lovely People

Janefest was, as always, mostly about the people. This year Polly, Jenni, Emily and I stayed over, had the beloved night-before girl-talk fest and last-minute costume prep session, and shared the festival's formal tea together. You must understand that Bonny Wise, who with JASNA Louisville created and manages this festival and has made it the terrific success that it is, understands how to put on a proper afternoon tea better than most people in the U.S., and pulls it off -- at a museum, out of a catering kitchen. With vintage bone china. Bingley's tea. Handmade everything. Beautifully and gracefully served. There's a reason it's famous among American Janeites.

Then the all-important visits with Janeites and costumers I so forward to seeing. It seems a little much to name everyone here as if I was composing some sort of list, but let me say that it was a joy to see so many of you again, and to meet some you for the first time, especially after having followed your blogs, in some cases for 7-8 years.

If you want to see what the festival was like and you're looking for pictures, check Facebook, but also The Pioneer Times.

So it's over, and the dress is to be spot-cleaned and all the accessories freshened, and now it's on to describing the dress construction, as long promised for the Vernet project, and then it's time for a break until the dress calls me to complete it in its original vision.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Vernet: Embroidery Done and Bodice Mocked Up and Cut Out

Completed Vernet embroidery. Upside down, I've noticed. Pray it doesn't end up that way on the dress.
It could, you know. I'm the sort to do that, thinking all the while I have it right.

Well, well. Done. Is it as smooth as the work of experienced hands? Why no. Will it look better when washed and pressed? Yes.

A Few Embroidery Tips

A few tips for cleaner embroidering:

  • Don't knot the floss threads when starting a new thread. It's knotty and messy. Instead, run end through previous work to anchor it.
  • Cut floss that you will embroider with no longer than about 15 inches. This reduces the chance that the floss twists and knots on you while you embroider.
  • Make the floss lie flatter and cover more fabric at each stitch:
    • Floss typically comes in threads of six strands lightly twisted together, and has done so for many years. After cutting it, divide the floss into two pieces of three strands each. 
    • Then pinch the floss between your thumbnail and first finger and run your nail the length of the thread, watching the end of the floss as it flies about. It's losing the twist among the three strands. You will have to do this several times until you have almost untwisted floss. 
    • After every few stitches, repeat the process, because with each stitch the action of your hands as well as of the floss running through the fabric generally introduces twist back into the floss. Remember: floss is like any thread: it's created by twisting fibers together. When you get down to individual strands, there is a little energy stored in the fiber as twist, and it wants to be active and to untwist. When the floss strands are twisted together, the energy among the strands is distributed and balanced. When they are pulled apart, there's a little energy there...not much, because cotton floss is pretty loosely spun, but it does exist. 
    • When embroidered into place, this flattened floss will lie with the three strands next to one another, making them appear to be been sewn separately, and filling space very neatly and smoothly.
Mocking Up the Bodice

Where does the embroidery go? Not at the hem, where it was so common to embroider. On the bodice. More than half hidden by boufy drapery. Peeking through the gauze will soften the edges.

Jenni of Living with Jane and I mocked up the bodice. I took a dress from the book Die Kostümsammlung der Familie Bassermann-Jordan, an excellent book of 18th and 19th century extant clothing and patterns from an upper-class German family. (Sabine, it has been invaluable).  The dress design dates to 1804-07, but bodice designs changed slowly, and the smooth front and overlong sleeves were just what I was looking for. Thanks too to Diary of a Mantua Maker, who showed how a cotton Regency dress can be made mostly out of oblongs.

Then we did what is now natural to us, as it has been to women for centuries. I pulled out an old draw-string dress that fits well, put pattern paper atop, marked the bodice lines, and cut out a base pattern.

From there it was looking at the Basserman-Jordan dress and its pattern pieces and making cuts to the pattern. I cut the back in half and ignored the old seam lines, making the common center-back opening with gathers.

In front I substituted a straight front, flanked by straight straps that go up over the shoulders and meet at the back, as so many 18th century gowns and Regency dresses do (this observation from Diary of a Mantua Maker). Separate side pieces went away after Jenni reminded me that I had excess.

All that was left of the old pattern was the sizing and a few helpful curves at key seam spots.

I basted it up, and Jenni fitted it: the dress is more snug than a regular scoop-front drawstring dress, so there was a good bit to remove.

The fabric is now cut and awaits sewing up.

Next time I'll introduce you to the details of the Bassermann-Jordan dress and its writeup in the Sammlung. We'll do a quick comparison to the dresses worn by the French greeting contingent as they met their returning King Louis...there is much in common in the silhouette.

Then it's on to cutting the skirt and sleeves. The skirt is austere, an attractive, crisp A-line I am familiar with from the 1960s. The sleeves are bohemian! Sleeves and overskirt are in silk gauze. We'll save the war on the gauze with starch and needle for another time.

Today I leave you with peace. May it pervade your day, even if, as for me, it started out rocky. May we learn to breathe and rest like cats do.

Ladybug napping and ignoring my artistic draping to see how the embroidery looks in black and white.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

What, That Eternal Vernet? Mais Oui, On Ne Peut Pas L'Oublier

Vernet is alive and well in this household, thank you. I may be more than a year behind, but it's a wonderful dress that should see the light, and so little by little it moves ahead.

First, Different Embroidery Thread: Choice Number One Was Poor

Let's have a look at some embroidery stitches, shall we? In I Spy Eyelets, we discovered that my first choice of embroidery thread, a high-twist, dense thread, produced some pretty coarse work. It really was not very nice. Each stitch produced one thread, since this was not floss, and even working as carefully as I could the stitches looked messy.

First round of embroidery with the high-twist thread.

Up close: ugh: oh dear. Really just poor embroidery.
Methought, this is not efficient, and thus that extant research and the realization that all three of my original eyelet pieces used soft, low-twist thread. As importantly, the embroiderers used more than one thread at a time to gain more coverage per stitch and to help more stitches be nicely lined up together. 

Thus it was that I switched mid-project to a vintage German floss. Thank you, Sabine. It's ducky stuff.

The embroidery continued. Late winter, in a sunny spot, sitting in my favorite chair, whose maker lived before eyelet embroidery was popular, an interesting thought.

As winter turned to spring, more embroidery upstairs to an equally sunny corner in the guest room. Always sunny, because my eyes hurt so every time I embroidered, and the migraines that have made for so many unhappy, unproductive days and nights in our household were trying to return.

I took a break and turned to sheep, and the headaches mostly left me alone. Poor dress, she appeared doomed to wither.

Then I couldn't get her out of my head. Isn't that the way it happens so often? That what isn't good for us is the very thing we desire to do the most?

Embroidery, hardly a vice, until it interferes with health and thus the smooth running of family and work life. Anything good intself, cannot be a good if it harms anyone.

Dumb dress, silly dress, sillier fashion plate. I couldn't get her out of my head. The dress is, after all, a classic, eminently wearable design, timeless, and worn in just the right conditions, almost contemporary.

Thought to change the way I worked. I needed not just sunshine, but very short sessions, 15 minutes or less. Just one or two little eyelets at a time.

This has worked, and so the dress comes back. With improved embroidery.

Three threads of floss per stitch.

As of today, just a few little eyelets left. Just a few.

Jenni of Living With Jane just left a little while ago, after fitting a bodice mockup to me. I took an old dress designed in the so-common round-gown-with-drawstring mode, and cut out a copy bodice. Then we looked at a more "modern", 1814-ish dress (in Die Kostuemsammlung der Familie von Bassermann-Jordan), and I adjusted the cut. I basted the pieces together and then Jenni fit the mockup to the more streamlined cut. Now it awaits cutting out in percale and sewing up. 

Jenni is helping our friend Emily design and make her own Regency dress, in much the same way. It's the way we know to build dresses now, and apt to the Regency period. Though Curte's mother recalls that her mother could look at a dress on someone, go home, take an old dress and with it, old newspapers as pattern paper, and a fitting, make just about any dress. Some dressmaking skills just carry on, generation to generation.

That, however, is for another day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Meet Nina, Lana's First Lamb

Nina. Eight pounds. Fuzzy, warm, adorable. The first for Lana. The first for us. The boys' own lamb.
Here she is not long after birth, barely dry and already up and

This morning as I write a wood thrush is singing outside the open window, the song one of the most beautiful of any American bird. The thrushes are migrating to the northern woods. May his or her trip be safe and successful, and may they nest and bring beautiful babies, like this baby, to add happiness to the world.

Lana is a good mother, protective and loud when she protests us holding her baby. Nina is almost as loud, but up a few octaves. in calling for her mama. Here she is:

Mama sheep tend to check on their lambs when they nurse, and nudge them around with their noses so that the lambs remain near their sides. Sheep wag their tails madly when happy and Sara Dunham of Punkin's Patch up in Cynthiana says that a lamb who is nursing successfully nursing will wag its tail while drinking. No tail wag? He or she may be having trouble latching on.


Now they share a maternity pen with both outdoor and indoor spaces with their relatives, and the lambs, just days old, are bouncing around. Now I understand what gamboling means: springy hops with front legs, back legs, all legs! Sidesteps, mincing, prancing and fidgety dancing. It's adorable and hypnotic. 

You can read all about Laura and Chris' new flock babies at Square Peg Farm. You'll see Kelly's just-born lamb and its first steps, and meet all the mamas and their little ones.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Early Spring Means Sheep Shearing...Or, How Lana and the Flock Took To Their Heels

Holding Lana before she's sheared. Some of that dual coat is six inches long, and it's almost as dense as felt,
without being felted. Lana's fleece is a crofter's dream: there's wool in there for every purpose, from soft sweater to rug.
Yesterday was shearing day number one at Laura's Square Peg Farm and so the boys and I headed out to help. Leeloo was still on the shearing stand, and the boys packed her shorn wool into bags,and wandered happily around the farm after being asked to please exercise Izzie the Adorable. More on her later.

Lana, my Shetland, was waiting in a fenced-off portion of a pen in the barn, where she and Lily stood gazing at us, as sheep will. Lily appeared patient, as she is a sweet and patient sort. Lana was guardedly quiet. You could tell she felt that Something was going to Happen. Then she figured out that she was to be haltered and that was it. She did Not want to be caught; she's not socialized, so she might be considered almost feral.

As soon as Laura's father entered the pen, she morphed between high-flying ping-pong furball with skinny brown legs to a cocoa streak of lanolin greased lightning in the confined space until Mr. Bullins wrangled her with main strength into her halter. At which point she sat down, wouldn't budge, and had to be carried to the shearing stand. In the mayhem a temporary fence fell, the other pen of waiting sheep saw their chance and within five seconds were out of the barn and skipping around in the back yard. Huzzah, freedom!

Noah and Christopher were playing with Izzie, when all six pounds of her Chihuahua mix spied sheep, loose. Fun! Time to be a big dog. The flock was now grazing in the back yard, so Noah, who had Izzie on a leash, allowed her to approach, but not too close, and she wiggled and barked and jumped and looked big as she could, and the sheep, disgusted, trotted back to the safety and quiet of the barn. They're not afraid of her, but they don't like being yelled at :}

She was one happy dog, and Noah, the shepherd, was one proud boy. Sheep at his bidding, you know.

Shearing took a while. If Laura hadn't had the unenviable bum area, and her mother one side while I had the other, it would have taken hours. As it was, I left a good deal of fleece on Lana in trying not to get near her skin, so she looks perhaps a little lopsided. Laura says in a few weeks you won't be able to tell. Good.

After shearing, I felt Lana's side, just to see. Her tummy gurgled...those multiple stomachs were doing their thing, thankfully...but then suddenly there was a tiny, sharp movement inside. A kick!  I am a mama and I know a baby kick when I feel one. Laura's mother tested and the baby kicked for her, too. Alas, no kick for Laura, but she's expecting and that's old hat for right now:)

After giving Lana her oral medicine and shot, not appreciated by the sheep at all, and trimming her hooves, which she might have been happy about later, and at which I was a tiny bit better, we let her race away to her mama, crafty Etta, and buddy outside and went to wash up and hang out on the screen porch with a glass of very enjoyable, timely wine and some manchego and boucheron...on saltines. Actually, excellent cheese on saltines is quite good. It was warm out, the air caressing and teasing, and sprinkling under damp clouds, and the view was marvelous, daffodils and trees and meadow and sheep and barn, and the boys relaxed with us, and life was about as lovely as it gets.

We came home so happy, and singing

Brown sheep, brown sheep, have you any wool,
Yes sir, yes sir, one bag full.
Part for my master and part for my dame,
Part for the little twins who live down the lane,
Brown sheep, brown sheep, have you any wool,
Yes, sir, yes sir, one bag full.

I have a pillowcase stuffed with Lana's gorgeous chocolate fleece with blond tips.

Noah says he wishes every day could be like that day. Christopher just grins.

Curte says the boys need a dog.

I look at my pillowcase and dream of washing it, carding it, and spinning it, to accumulate until Lana has given enough wool to weave into two moorit Lana blankets, one for each boy.

Thank you Laura, for another memorable day. Thank you, Lana, for being your wild sun-washed brunette self.


Where is Vernet, you ask? I have a post waiting, but have had to stop embroidering for a bit. Since I stopped, I've had not a single headache, not one migraine. Could eye strain along with work stress be the causes of so much unbelievable pain these last 4-5 years? We may have a hiatus on sewing, then, to test the theory.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Not Shaun the Sheep, but Lana the Sheep!

Once upon a time there was a Shetland sheep, almost a year old. Her name was Lana, and she had long, tawny wool, almost like hair, and she was beautiful, and I fell in love with her.

Lana was born and lived at Square Peg Farm* nearby, and with the blessing of Laura, a sweet friend and her shepherd, soon she was mine. Our town allowing horses to live inside city limits, but not sheep, and ovines, that is, sheep, being creatures who do not thrive away from their flock, she continued to live at Square Peg, where she is still today.

(*Laura's blog is lots of fun, and you'll meet everyone and learn all about Laura and her husband Chris' adventures in farming. There's only one picture of nature in action that might be inappropriate for young readers.)

She is not alone. She belongs to a delightful flock, of whom Elizabeth is the leader.

As a lamb, she was loved by children and attended 4-H events and so she is as social as they come. She'll actually leave her flock to visit with people and to follow them around.  Her happy wagging tail and sweet face melt hearts, and a melted heart usually means a nice big treat handout, so everyone is contented. She is even famous, since Laura and her mother wrote a children's book about her and an incident with some laundry. You'll have to read The Story of the Unique Sheep.

Then there are Lily, a tiny, delicate dark chocolate wonder of a friendly girl, and Toffee, the visiting ram who looks a little lopsided because he lost part of a horn, but who doesn't care a whit and likes to hang out with people, too, looking for handouts and nibbling nearby grass in a friendly way. These three are perfectly willing to become a mini-flock with my boys. The latter couldn't be more delighted. Peek carefully at the below: one boy is dreaming and the other has a joyful grin ear to ear.

Elizabeth, Lily, and Toffee in the background.
Getting close to Lana is not easy. She's as keen for treats as Toffee -- in the lead here -- and Elizabeth -- who seems to run so fast her ears are flattened to her head -- and is that Etta behind her, and Elizabeth's sweet and friendly son Larry afterwards, with Lana off to the side? She's a fey, shy girl though, so I've only touched her once.

That was during shearing last year. Shetlands are small, about knee high, 50-75 pounds. It'll be less sore on your back if you harness your sheep to a stand to shear them, give them their shots, check and trim their hooves, and do an all-over check. Once they know they'll not be ending their life on that stand, they'll, well, stand it, pretty okay. Young Lana thought her life was over, and trembled almost continuously, the day Laura and I sheared her. It probably didn't help that I was petrified of hurting her -- my nerves surely magnified her fear.

Laura shears one side of Lana. I was shearing the other.
It was treat time afterward. Lana, now much smaller -- she's the tiny skinny girl in the far back, circling unsuccessfully while the older, higher-status sheep (like her mother Etta at front left) and the goats and Grace the guard llama get the goods, hung back. She'd been butted some after her shearing. The rest of her flock was not ready to recognize her yet in her new 'do. Getting used to ovine behavior takes a bit of doing. Sweet they are, but they're a little like kids on a playground, and so they have a pecking order.

Ooh, what does Laura-Shepherd have here?
Lana's lamb fleece was so soft, so lovely, and I brought a bit home. Her moorit wool is bleached blond at the tips. Muffin and Ladybug were taken by its tantalizing scent. Not long after that Muffin had a luxurious roll in it.

Looking at the wool, in the basket and on its creator, you might wonder why she's got what looks like long, waving hair while her flock-mates are covered with long, crimpy, wool? That's because Shetlands are a "primitive" breed. On their native islands, their keepers have valued their variety of colors and coats, and the variety wasn't bred out of them. Lana is the very primitive "dual coat" variety, her long outer hair shedding rain easily and the warm super-soft down underneath helping her to laugh at cold and wind and damp. Elizabeth is a large version of the "kindly" Shetland variety, with pretty much one type of nice soft wool, rather long, all over. Lily may represent a third type. She's actually more normal-sized for Shetlands, and she has shortist, super-soft crimpy wool. If you look up Shetland sheep on Google you can find out lots about them.

What next in this story? Does Lana look a little less lean under all that wool, compared to last fall?

Why are we so concerned? We're hoping she'll have a lamb in April!

Happy anticipation...

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?