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.