Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mid-1790s Hair Tutorial and Hat Precis

Channeling 1794-1795.
Late eighteenth cenrtury hair was big, wasn't it? First we had Marie Antoinette and her giant poufs topped with sailing ships and whole birds. Then we had giant boufs with tails in back, as if ladies had slept in the poufs for months and then just teased them out in frustration.

By the mid 1790s, fashionable women transferred their passion from big frizz to big, long locks. A spiral-curl lock or two might hang fetchingly over a shoulder and inspire plays like The Rape of the Lock earlier in the century, but now those curly long locks multiplied until the head was covered with them.

The locks could be pulled up into messy masses, or sometimes woven more carefully with ribbons,or headbands, or left au natural. For this era was the prelude to Romanticism, and what is more romantic than tendrils around the face and shoulders?

Here are two mid-1790s fashion plates from The Gallery of Fashion that show two variations on the look.

As alway, please click the images for larger versions.

Please also pardon any typos...for an experiment, I typed the whole thing on my Blackberry...excepting image code, which I set up earlier. Um, sore fingers ahead.

By 1796, high fashion began to take the hair high up onto the head again and while curls were still the rage, they became sparser, set closer to the head, and kept more controlled, more in emulation of the Classical than of Nature's Child.

The Hair

My problem for the 1790s picnic we held Saturday was translating this look onto a 21st century head of hair, bobbed and straightened. Not good "lockige" material.

Lauren of The Lady of Portland House and her friends at the Oregon Regency Society, who favor the same decade our group does, seem to have gone for full wigs as a solution. There are variations on the Hair Metal theme out there in wig world, with names like "Lionness". Teased and shaped a little, these do admirably.

I had neither the money nor the chutzpah to go for a wig, though; I like my own hair, and wondered if I could do a variation on Vivcore's Georgian pouf wiglet (Google it for a great tutorial). Then I could use my own front and back hair.

But midway through making it, it began to look too poufy, and I had a Eureka moment. Are you familiar with the Paris Hilton headband wiglet that some stores sell? Have you seen the Costumer's Manifesto tutorial for hair for the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses? I have, and, a day before the picnic, the lightbulb blinking on after months of intermittent mindless musing, I pulled out a Scunci 1.5-inch-wide elastic headband bought years ago, some brown thread and a needle, and 10-12 curled wefts of imitation hair some 22 inches long, from Sally Beauty Supply that I bought for 5 dollars, again years ago.

The wefts I had cut into slices some 2 or 3 inches wide early this summer. I had found a wooden dowel a half inch in diameter, and had, one by one, wound wefts around one end of it like one winds hair around a curler, pinned the hair ends in place with a bobby pin, and plunged the dowel and its hair into a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds, enough to make the strands on the weft take a permanent curl. Once gently worked off the dowel and dried, each weft was now a long sausage curl. Left alone, the ingredients for any formal look that requires sausage curls -- mid-eighteenth century, 1830s, 1850s, 1870s. Pulled out with the fingers, loose long locks.

You can see the wefts above, bobby pins run through them.

Certainly you can just pin the wefts onto your head with bobby pins, mixing wefts with your own hair, I tried that and it works -- just think hair extensions.

An easier route, the one I ended up taking, is to sew the tops of the wefts to the headband. I set a weft to the outer edge of the band, and sewed it to the band with a few stitches. Then I set a weft next to it and did the same...repeating until I had gone almost halfway round the band.

Then I sewed another row of wefts on a half an inch in from the band edge. That proved to be enough hair for me, but you might add as much as you like.

You can sew how rough the sewing is, below.

If you wish, cover the sewing with shorter locks or a period head wrap: since I was wearing a hat, I did not.

Put the headband on, bobby pin it to your hair to hold it in place, and style it as you like: push some towards the front of your head, other parts to the sides, pile some of the locks up on your head and pin in place as I did... If thick enough and of a similar color to your own hair, it blends with your hair nicely.

Remember to pull your own natural front hair forwards towards your face and to spiral-curl it with curlers or curling iron or foam curling rods. Using setting lotion on dry hair, and blow-dry your hair to speed things up. When you take the curlers out, your front hair will be curly, too. Now you can blend it with your new locks. If you have long hair, looping some of it up for slightly shorter by-the-face face curls looks nice. 

Use fashion plates and paintings of the era to help decide how to arrange it into a coiffure with hat, hair wrap, turban, ribbons, feathers. (See my Research Resources in menu at blog top, to find fashion plates.) 

Here above is the sewing; rough, eh?

Here above is the completed wiglet.

The Hat

This is just a precis, for the hat was very simple.

You see the fashion plate above in which the young woman is wearing a hat with a band around it, tied in a 3-way bow in front and with the fringed end pointing obliquely up, and a plume set behind the bow? That was my model.

I used a hat bought my freshman year of college and modified it. The base hat is a boater of sorts, the brim width the same all the way around, with and three-plus inch straight crown.

I sewed two lengths of millinery wire to the inside from crown out to the edge of the brim and bent the wire to bring the hat equally down on either side, which style was also popular in 1795.

Then I tacked a scrap of shot pink and cream silk-cotton around the brim, tucking raw edges under the scrap for a more finished look.

Next, another scrap was formed into a bow, and one end, longer than the other, brought up obliquely in back.Because the fabric frayed naturally, I took advantage of it and frayed the bow's sides for a two-tone effect. Again, an idea from fashion plates, and you see fringing in trim of the day.

The bow was pinned with a silver hatpin to the front of the hat.

Finally, I took two medium ostrich feathers, tacked them together with thread to make a single fluffier plume, and inserted it behind the hatband, tacking it into place. Should have tacked it more: it twisted. The plume should be set so the top cuves forward -- that means the back of the feather faces front.

The Results

Here you go. A pretty 1790s look, with minimal outlay of construction time or funds. The research and thought time? Months and months. I have a slow brain.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A September 1790s Picnic

Come with us as we  wander the estate.
September cries out for picnics. This morning the air was washed clean for the first time in almost six weeks, the sky was the deep blue of early fall, and around us the foliage, so tired and dead just yesterday, had shaken itself off and perked up a bit. Not but that we could see real fall coming: most of the black walnut trees are bare except for their decorative green orbs, and underfoot we had to watch for their staining husks and the detritus of other trees who had given up some of their leafiness a little early, in the face of drought.

(As always, click the images to see larger versions.)

In honor of September and 1795, the year Jane Austen's first novel, Pride and Prejudice, was published, our little Jane Austen Sewing Society met at Henry Clay's Ashland Estate to picnic, and stroll under the trees and in the formal garden afterwards.

A formal portrait, with baskets.

There were just four of us today, and we missed everyone else, but what a time, what a time! Imagine sitting down to a table, properly clothed and decked, to Polly's cheese pie, and salad from Caroline's garden, with little glasses of rosewater flummery just waiting for the conclusion of that first course. A second, almond flummery, made in small pats like jewels, says Jenni, and dressed with gold leaf, to go along in case rosewater was not to taste. To finish up, a true antique cheese cake. These three dishes Jenni had worked up from eighteenth and early nineteenth century cookbooks, and she has told you you all about them in her blog, Living with Jane, for they were excellent, soft and smooth with cream, the flavoring just present enough to make you want more. I had forgotten the muscat in the flurry of packing all the baskets, but we had two excellent teas, and fresh-squeezed lemonade, both by Caroline.

Here are some shots of the event. You can see more -- and far better ones -- at Living with Jane. Jenni studied photography in college, and you can tell.

As usual, the morning was somewhat hurried. The tots were good ducks, as they mostly are, but Christopher had an accident as I was ironing my dress, and cleanup took awhile. Potty training takes time for a little boy when he has things to do and people to see.
1790s dress, from Collection Maciet.

So I was behindhand when Caroline and Polly arrived to dress, and still fussing with hair. We dressed with more dispatch than for the JASNA festival in July, being a little more confident and experienced, but despite the new modesty panels that line my 1795 cream silk dress and take the strain off, the pins to close the dress would keep coming undone, silly things. So, as last time I have gaposis. I will beat those pins yet.

Then too, the new fichu, made of the embroidered skirt from a vintage child's dress that was so scorched and stained that it qualified as a cutter to me -- and as trash to unkind others, had a dear friend not rescued it some years back -- wouldn't sit well without a brooch. I had set it in one of the ways it could be worn during the 1790s, as shown in the Gallery of Fashion fashion plate example on this page.

And I let the front wrap loosely outside the dress, which was allowable then, but it did look like a collar, and I won't be doing that again. Why did I not mirror-check before we left? We were late, of course, in leaving for the estate and I didn't care for the idea of Jenni wandering around looking for friends who weren't there.
Happy with the thought of a pleasant
lunch. Those are Jenni's antique
cheese tarts behind her, and a flummery.

To finish the rush, while I had packed the baskets the evening before, the fruit was still a-fridge, along with the wine, and it remained there...while we left without it.

Lunch itself as was described, was very, very good, and all of us agreed that the bar is very high for tea rooms these days, to match what we have learned to do. Cheeky little statement, but you get women together who enjoy cooking and who have access to local fresh ingredients, and nice things tend to happen. Why then no pictures? Not for modesty, sure...we shared camera duty, and my camera was asleep at the moment, because I was too busy with a fork.

The cups of tea brought Caroline to the subject of poetry and over the last of it, well caffeinated, we listened to some Wordsworth, a piece about going nutting in the fall. As you might expect of an early Romantic poet, the piece was a peaen to Nature, a celebration of the wild harvest, and a reaction against the practical gathering of nuts and what it wreaks. A conflicted poem, to say the least, but good.

At lunch. Image courtesy Jenni of Living with Jane blog.
Off to stroll afterwards, like any smart picnicker who doesn't want to leave for home over-full and sleepy.

Down a garden path slowly.
Through the formal garden, where the bare walnut outside
warns of cool weather to come,
and Christmas. Do you see the mistletoe?

The mandatory rose photo because
the blooms match the dress
Wouldn't you know, by this time the fichu had a life of its own. At least it was covering the gaposis.

Leaving the garden for a wilder walk... the woods, watching for walnut hulls and other dangers.

The last of the stroll, back among the shadows.
Image courtesy Jenni of Living with Jane blog.

And so to home and naptime for the tots, although I was too full of tea and happiness to sleep, so here I am.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Renovation Tidbits

We are renovating our kitchen. Any thoughts of doing much else during this period have evaporated, pretty much. Sewing, blog posts...pouf. It's taken forever just to write this post; I 've done it in bits and drabs. Sans kitchen, and with a part-time job and 3-year-old twin boys, life must perforce simplify or Mama will collapse.

I rather like living without a real kitchen, because it forces creativity and also a visceral understanding of what it took great-great grandmothers to get meals to the table. I have few pots, limited heat sources, and as of today, no running water outside of the bathroom. Counter space is part of a table. I walk to to the basement to or to the fridge in a back room to get all but the most frequently used items. If I forget something, it's another trip. One learns to carry a tray everywhere.

Photo: A kitchen in transition: to the left, a door moved, to the right new windows, the old cabinets largely gone, the ceiling down and the new wiring and lighting in progress. Since this picture, the sink has gone bye-bye, too.

Most of the china, glass, and silver went to basement storage, and that has been a delight: it is very clear just how much mental effort went in, over the years, on selecting proper dishes and so on. Now the essentials are to hand on open shelves, and in the pretty, light-filled dining room that I've always enjoyed, so that table setting is a pleasure and dinners more elegant than in the family dining area in back, now taken over by drills, nails, and dust.

The blessed crockpot does its thing all day, and provided I have planned ahead and start in the morning, we have a relatively good dinner. A dinner not too far from the sorts that cottage folk would have provided nightly for their families. Read the early part of Lark Rise to Candleford and you will know what I am talking about. I have merely substituted stews and braises with pastas added an hour before serving for boiled meats and vegatables and puddings cooked in nets.

Photo: Household archaeology: the white tubes are ceramic spacers that neatly guided old fabric-covered wires carrying power to the original outlets, one or two per room. Houses were more dimly lit and more people used central overhead lamps hung from a chain. Curte had just removed the wires, in this picture; I rather wish he had left them for history's sake, for they weren't attached to anything. Curte's dad , a former contractor, says no one has done nice neat electrical work like that for fifty or sixy years.

The dark beams are the original 1923 beams; the gray lines showing on them are where the lath was nailed up, and the lines themselves are remnants of the innermost -- roughcoat - plaster, that was strengthened with horsehair.

The outdoor gas grill doesn't work for frying, as the gas is too far from the pan to heat it efficiently, but Curte's mother thoughtfully sent his Dad over with her mother-in-law's old electric frying pan recently and so now sautes and johnnycakes are back in the picture. My mother lent me a microwave, and I have had to play about-face with an old prejudice against them. We've not had one for seven years, and I distrusted them before that, and was always bold to tell Mom that I didn't like what came out of them. Well, guess who is eating her words, now it comes down to scratch? No, I am still not fond of them, but if we want separately cooked vegetables or potatoes or hot oatmeal, the machine does a nice job steaming the former and a gluey but edible job of the latter, and I am very thankful.

Now that the water source has gone today, it's out with the pail* and dipper. I've used one before: at the family cottages I grew up visiting on a pretty little lake, if you stayed at the red cottage you walked with your pail a minute or so to the square well, lifted the metal lid, which had a nice, scratchy-bell screech althat everyone knew, and dipped in your pail. An artesian well, the water bubbled inside in a three-cubic foot space, gravel and sand bottomed, visited by newts, and cooooold. The well would breathe a dank air in your face when you leaned down. I loved the smell. An outlet at the bottom sent the spillover running between the path's stepping stones and down a minute cress-lined stream to the lake. All of this shadowed in dappled woods. So beginning tomorrow, I have those memories every time I dip water to cook. I am looking forward to them, so long as the twins don't try to play water boy. Oh dear. Just thought of all the possibilities. How to keep them from thinking of them too?

Photo: More household archaeology. The bit of wall jutting out to the left of the door is the original brick flue. We discovered that the original wall color was a soft green then very popular for kitchens and other utility areas. That round mark? That's a portion of an old cover to a stovepipe. Now that was a discovery. We knew that the house was heated with coal, because the old coal chute it just outside the kitchen window. The coal man shoveled coal down the chute into a cellar bin. We did not, however, know that the earliest kitchen stove was coal-fired. I expected gas, for some reason. Between the kitchen stove and the coal chute nearby, no wonder there was so much old coal dust above the plaster ceiling!

(*Note: I live in Kentucky now and married into a Kentucky family here since this was Virginia. It's "bucket", in Kentucky. I've been saying bucket now for years, but when it's time to fetch and carry liquid, it's "pail" that I remember, just as "Did you check down cellar" or "The ash can's full" will come out once in awhile rather than "basement" or "garbage can". Curte has a good time with that, but he says "I reckon", so there. Once in awhile, staring at that thing we sit on together, I cannot recall any word at all except "davenport", when it's "sofa" everyone knows, or "couch", and when putting away laundry, it's to the "bureau" it goes, as much as to the "chest". And when I am dog-tired, darned if "broughten" and other strange past tense usages worm their way up from child-speak or the idiom of my birthplace, I don't know which.)

Light talk and funny talk aside, let's quit the cooking and get to the real cause of why I haven't finished documenting the dresses made for the Jane Austen Festival. Here's the dirt: it's dirt. Literal piles of it. First it was lath and plaster and coal dust when Curte took the old cracked ceiling down. Maybe if I am feeling chipper sometime I'll regale you with the coal dust caper. Then it was lumber dust and drywall dust, and soon it will be plumbing mess and who knows what. This is an older house, built in 1923, and the kitchen is in the middle of a three-rooms-deep layout (not original), and whether Curte or workmen enter from front or back, they are tramping through other rooms, and they've been working in the cellar too, where the clean laundry is, and my pantry.

Photo: the rest of the kitchen. The wall moves back, and it's sayonara to the sink for a new one goes in another corner, to save space. Later owners colored the walls lime green. It was actualy a really sunny, pretty color. The original floor? Resin pine, painted bluey-green around the edges, with a rectangle of linoleum laid in the center. Years of water trailing off the linoleum and later stains from floors tacked on top left the original strong, but too stained to refinish. So we are painting it once again, a bluey-green, but in a checkerboard pattern. The original ceiling? Apparently either a mustard (unless that was a primer), or a soft robin's-egg-blue, a gorgeous color. I saved a little piece. Our porch ceiling we painted that color, so it's good to know that the first owners liked that color, too.

So we get to clean all of it, over and over and over and over and over. Curte and Mom and I split this work; I am expecially grateful for Mom's help, since it's not even her house. It takes an unholy amount of time and effort.

At this juncture I think I have a pretty good grasp on what living in a town where coal fires heated homes, or on a farm during a drought, would have been like to those who had to maintain the house, whether mama or maid. It's good to understand this. I am going to understand it very well indeed when the two-three months this job will take is over.