Monday, March 24, 2014

A Finished Tape from the Tape Loom, and Spinning Wool...What Are We Up To?

It's done, the first handwoven tape from the tape loom -- actually an English trim loom -- and I report that making it was a pleasure.

J. K. Seidel, who made my loom, prewarped it for me and started a tape so that I could learn from the already woven bit. The pattern is reminiscent of the American flag, and is just right for the boys to use as lanyards, bows for their stuffed animals, or ginormous bookmarks.

Weaving these tapes does take a little thought and care; beating the just-woven row at an angle or not keeping an even tension on the warp threads will cause the result to lean and the width of the tape to vary. It's also good to be on the watch for feline paws; Muffin has become expert at nabbing the finished end of my work.

Nevertheless, after awhile the fingers do learn their work and you can chat or, as I do, monitor the boys as they do their homework, while weaving. It's a meditative, peaceful activity, and it doesn't mind interruptions.

Here we are, at the end of the warp threads: they are knotted to a narrow brass bar. The ribbon tucked into the loom is used as a strap to keep the loom stationary during weaving.

Here's a sample of the tape in the process of being pawed, and then test-chewed, by Muffin. You can see small variations in the width of the tape. The pattern is achieved by the warp threads pretty much alone. The warp on a trim loom is all pulled together and held that way by the turns of the weft through the outer threads of the warp. There is nothing to keep the warp threads spaced out so that the weft shows. Thus the warp is all one sees, except at the very edges of the tape. The result is a very strong, durable fabric.

So, what next? Another tape, natuerlich, but this one using a fine linen thread, probably a 20/2 thread suitable for fine weaving, or maybe a 16/2 thread. Note: the higher the first number, the finer the thread; the second number refers to the number of plies in the finished thread. A "1" means there is no plying and the thread is straight from being spun. It's not too strong and thus not right for tapes. A "2" means 2-ply, and that can be used in fine linen weaving.

A Tape to Close a Petticoat...and Where the Costuming Hobby Is Heading

Ah, you say, so that's it. You're weaving tapes for a period costume. Well, so I am. These next tapes will be the ties for a late 1760s-early 1770s petticoat, and the two under petticoats that support them. I've got the design well in hand for the gown to go over them, and Hallie Larkin's 18th century English gown pattern to construct it with. The cap and the handkerchief for the ensemble are done. I'll be writing more about the ensemble as the months pass.

At this juncture in my experiments with period dressmaking, I am interested in the bones of the textiles that make up an ensemble. It's as if I started costuming, years ago, at the top of a tree, all fascinated by fluff and flutter among the leaves and blossoms. Then I turned to the construction, how the branches and the trunk created the tree's shape. Now I am interested in the bark and sapwood, the heartwood and the sap itself, the fibers and fluids that form the tree and make it live and grow.

Why are tapes strong? How does linen thread feel? Why is it so "crunchy" when it's first woven, and how is it softened up? How are patterns made? What about color? These are the questions this next project asks.

Other Bone-sy Projects: Spinning and Indigo Dyeing

Detail of one of the spinning wheels Dad and Letitia gave me.
Couldn't I leave well enough alone with the tapes? No, no. Weaving and spinning go together; they are the backbone of women's work throughout recorded and pre-recorded history. If I am going to weave anything, and handle thread, I should understand how the threads got the way they did and why they act the way they do. Enter spinning.

Learning to spin, I begin to understand fibers, and how over the ages humanity has learned to take advantage of each fiber's nature to make yarn and threads durable, shiny, soft, tough, cushy-cozy, and mirror-smooth. I learn about twist, and how it affects everything that is woven or knitted or knotted.

Will I use the spun thread? Of course: off it goes into tapes, at least.

Actually, there's another, simpler reason for testing out spinning. I have a spinning wheel, and another arriving next week, both gifts from my parents, and two drop spindles. Really now, should they sit as decor to be dusted? That would be a shame. The wheels want to be used, and when I see friends Jane and Caroline spinning, the urge to join in is so strong.

The rest of that spinning wheel. You see why it's wanting to be loved and used? It's pretty in a cozy sort of way.
Simplest of all, I HAVE to learn. I've been tapped to help with our church's Vacation Bible School this summer. One of the responsibilities includes demonstrating drop spinning. Not knowing diddly squat, since a short spinning class when I was a teenager hardly counts, my friend Jane and I had a lesson a few weeks back from a professional spinner (what a nifty person!), with more to come, and now am practicing up for this summer, so the resulting yarn won't fall apart immediately, like last year's did :}

An eastern European drop spindle. Am slowly filling it with wool yarn spun from
some handsome creamy wool "top". Some of the yarn is nice, some
is pretty slubby.
Fruits of the spin: a fuzzy slub and some decent yarn.
Then there's indigo. Jane wants to dye with indigo again, as she did years ago, and I started hopping up and down, begging to be able to help her. So, yay! Sometime before it gets to hot out we're going to set up the process outdoors, and I'll dye enough linen for a petticoat, plus a bit extra for some throw pillow backs. From all I've read, it's a strange and fascinating process, and reminds us just how involved the creation of non-bleedy colors can be.

So there we are, a nice big bunch of different skills to mess with. I wonder where they will lead, these paths?

(By the way, I haven't forgotten about the cap and what I learned from its construction. The post is mostly written, but needs editing and for some reason, I just can't seem to get going on it.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

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

The March issue of La Belle Assemblée is reporting on April, and it's clear that in 1811, April was definitely springtime. There's lots of color, lots. Here though, here in Kentucky, right now the snowdrops are still blooming under the onslaught of yet another round of sleet. Yesterday was so warm we went coatless and played in the sunshine. Today is leaden. A good day to curl up with a magazine and consider colors like jonquille, don't you think?

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

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

The March issue includes three articles spanning pages 156 to 158. The articles are transcribed below, with a few notes and comments.



No. 1. -- A Ball Dress.

A white sarsnet or satin petticoat, with short sleeves; over which is worn a body and drapery of light-blue gauze, formed in three points, or vandykes over the petticoat, reaching nearly to the bottom, the ends finished with white silk tassels; it is crossed over the figure in front towards the left side, and fastened in tufts, or bows, of the same colour; a short sash, tied in a bow on the left side; sleeves looped up in the front of the arm. The bottom of the petticoat trimmed in vandykes to correspond. White silk stockings, with blue kid shoes. The hair twisted up behind, and dressed in full curls, ornamented with a bandeau of light-blue twisted crape and roses. White kid gloves.

No. 2. -- A Walking Dress.

Round dress of cambric muslin, with a ruff collar, trimmed round the bottom with narrow purple ribband; cassimere crimson mantle, confined close to the neck, lined with purple silk, embroidered round the neck, cape and sides with purple fancy border; a deep cape falling from the shoulders, sloping to a narrow point, with tassels. A crimson velvet bonnet, turban front, and trimmed with purple to correspond. York tan gloves. Yellow kid boots.


Independent of the season of Lent, which, among the serious and well-judging, is never entirely delivered up to the idle dominion of fancy, Fashion herself seems to have put on a more sedate and consistent aspect, and to have discovered that in the production of such an endless variety of new and contradictory modes, she has submitted to the wild vagaries of fancy, rather than followed the dictates of good taste. It is an incessant desire of novelty that leads the manufacturer and milliner into inventions full of absurdity which are, nevertheless, adopted with the most extravagant applause, but are as quickly followed by satiety and disgust. A new set of artificers start up, invent new methods to please, still more grotesque than the former, and depart still further from simplicity and nature than those who first ventured from its paths into the wilds of fancy, till overwhelmed with new inventions, which succeed and efface each other with incredible rapidity, we scarcely know where we are, and cast back our eager eyes to that period when true taste reigned under the empire of nature. It was this momentary self-possession, this retrograde motion, which led us to adopt the simple and graceful costume of the Greeks and Romans, and thus extricated ourselves at once from a labyrinth of folly and fanciful extravagance. 

During the past month short pelisses, for the most part of purple velvet, lined with white sarsnet, have been most prevailing; they are made with plain collars, and exactly to meet from the throat to the bottom; the waists of the pelisses are joined to the skirts, which admits of their fitting closer to the bust, and is a considerable advantage to the shape; a band of the same, pinned before, confines the  waist; they are trimmed round the bottom with a deep French lace. Short mantles are also considered very elegant; and spencers, as usual, with the return of spring put in their claim for fashionable approbation; we have observed several of dove-coloured velvet, trimmed with swansdown, and many in blue satin, and as the season advances we expect to see them yield to those of sarsnet or muslin lined. Variegated chip hats in the cottage form seem to be advancing into notice, the small cottage shape, sufficiently raised from the face to admit underneath a rosette of lace or a small bunch of hyacinths, primroses, or other spring flower, whether in chip, satin, or straw, is decidedly the most admired. In carriages, caps are very numerous, they are made in broad yellow sarsnet ribband and lace, brought forward on the face, flat on the head, and projecting behind in the form of a cone, the crown is formed by a round of lace, the cap must be formed so as to give the appearance of length to the head, the crown rather tapers, the ears are left uncovered, strings confine it under the chin, and a small knot of flowers, or long rosette of lace, ornaments the front; a deep black lace square veil thrown over the head is much worn by elegant people. A hat in the form of a crown, with a broad band of gold above the temples, and rich gold tassels suspended from the top, either in dove, coloured beaver or green velvet, is much worn in carriages, to which they are exclusively confined, call the Regency hat.

Spencers and pelisses are worn trimmed with rich silk Brandenburgs.

For morning dress the gowns are made high in the neck, to button up the back, without collars, mostly in cambric or moss muslin, they are considered equally elegant, either entirely plain or much let in with lace and work; a small jacket, set in to the band, is a graceful addition to the dress. Caps are indispensable, as are Roman boots of white Morocco. Small muslin aprons are greatly admired.

For home or dinner dresses, sarsnets, Merino crapes, Opera nets made high, with long sleeves, and small falling collar of lace, trimmed round the hands with the same, are by far the most approved, imperial and Spanish bombazeens may probably be considered of too close a texture for the season, they are, however, as is also velvet, still worn among the most fashionable circles.

In full or evening dress, the bosoms of the dresses are cut square and rather low, the backs inclining higher, the sleeves universally short, the trains of moderate length. Coloured satin or sarsnet bodies are very numerous, with a narrow shell edging laid plain on round the bosom and sleeves. White satin dresses seem to meet with the most fashionable approval, or black lace over white satin; coloured slips seem to be reserved for a more advanced season. Gossamer nets, figured white gauze are in high estimation.

The small lace Opera tippet is a reigning favourite, particularly in full dress. In public, where you are liable to be exposed to a current of air, the satin or swansdown tippet may be more appropriate. Beads are much worn on the hair, a double row twisted across the temple, terminating in tassels on one side; as are Spanish turbans, or Scotch hat, with a point in front confined down with a brilliant pin, the hat trimmed and edged with beads; full tiaras of flowers, pearls, or silver foil. Small lace handkerchiefs tied behind the ear, the point disposed so as to fall on one side of the face.

Among the newest articles worthy of the notice of the fashionable world, are the Regency Spots, or the beautiful Bottilla grounds, for ladies' morning dresses; these have an agreeable effect, having a pleasing fall, and giving a graceful effect to the shape. Also a new style of Doyles, of rich and elegant designs, adapted both for dinner and super parties. A superior article of this description has long been wanted, and were happy to announce its appearance; these articles are bought at the house of MILLARD, in the City.

No change has taken place in the mode of wearing the hair; we think it something between the Sappho and Madona; it is combed smooth over the forehead, divided and curled in large flat curls on each side; it is twisted as low in the neck behind as possible, rolled or braided round, and confined with gold or other ornamental combs.

The Roman boot of white morroco, and Kemble slipper, are the only varieties in part of the dress.

There is no variation in the style of jewelry. Necklaces in sapphire, emeralds, garnets, topaz, amber, pearls, or diamonds, &c. blended with gold, or long gold chains, with a variety of trinkets suspended, and earrings in the drop form to correspond, are alike worn. Our [italics]belles[italics] begin to exert their taste in the choice of bracelets, those of large pearl with emeralds, clasps, or elastic gold are at present the most admired. The watches are worn small, richly chased, with gold and pearl chains, with transparent Ceylon seals.

The prevailing colors for the season are, purple, primrose, jonquille, green, pink, blue, and dove.


Some velvet demi-pelisses are yet worn, and the most elegant thing of this kind, which we have yet seen, which seems determined, in spite of the unusual warmness of the weather, to assert the wintry prerogative of the generally boisterous month of March, is a kind of green pelisse made of fine Merino cloth, its color is between the deep Spanish fly-green and the Pomona; pelisses and mantles of this beautiful colour are generally trimmed with sable or Astracan fur.

The French have lately manufactured a trimming which they called tulle, and we believe it is the same which we call patent lace, but of a much finer and more valuable texture. This tulle is not made on a cushion, according to the tedious process of lace-making; but on a machine, in the same manner as our British lace; and we rather imagine that our idea of making patent lace was taken from it; for the Sieur Genton produced the first specimens of this invention thirty years ago. In 1791, a brevet of invention (similar to our patents), was given to Monsieurs Jolivet and Cochet, of Lyons, for the fabrication of tulle.

The hair elegantly dressed seems to be preferred in evening costume to any other headdress; yet we have remarked some caps of embroidered chenille on white satin, ornamented with an embroidered ribband of the same pattern, in a large bow; this bow is of various forms; chiefly long, and forming two distinct rows; between which a large oblong curl of hair is introduced. Black caps are also much worn, both in plain velvet, or with lace elegantly introduced between, which gives them a light and airy appearance; but for full-dress, the chief covering for the hair is mostly flowers and velvet, on rich caps of patent lace; the gossamer Merino crape in a light wave over one side of the head; or a turban a la Turque, of fine India muslin or white crape.

For public spectacles, however, and large evening parties, a bandeau of different coloured gems, or the hair full dressed, without any ornament, is most prevalent. Those ladies whose hair is not naturally fine, and who do not wish to have recourse to false hair, wear much the Minerva cap, ornamented with a plume of white ostrich feathers; and to the turbans and demi-tubans, they add flowers of crape, velvet, or foil; the only established rule for varying the fashion, is to suit the colour of the flowers and jewels to that of the hair and the gown.

White gossamer satin and crape caps are also worn; they are made to fit exactly to the head, with an half wreath of full flowers, of roses or jonquille. And we cannot dismiss this article without saying one word of the Egyptian head-dress; two large plaits of hair cover the top of the head from one ear to the other; these braids are mingle with a ribband of the same thickness, and their hair and ribband are drawn together in the middle; and between the twisted curls in front and the plaits, are a few light ornaments of pearls or diamonds. Some black velvet caps seem to rival these head-dresses, and have a trimming of gold lace next to the face. During the spring weather experienced in March, a few green caps made their appearance, with a wreath of white roses.

The Swedish tippets, and the fur pelerines, vanished with the cold. Merino shawls, and even the thin Pekin wrap, spensers, and scarf shawls, made their appearance during the mild weather.


Aprons: once again this month aprons appear. The General Observations article says in the paragrah on morning dress that "small muslin aprons are greatly admired". I assume that these are more an accessory than a work apron :}

Ball and dinner dress: both the fashion plate and the General Observations article show that it's the bodices (bodies) that sport the color. White satin dresses are the "most approved", or black lace over white, or white net or figured (embroidered) gauze. In the case of the fashion plate, the bodice is separate from the petticoat altogether: it's blue gauze, while the petticoat is either white satin or white gauze. Colored slips that would show through a net or gauze or lace layer are not worn and "seem to be reserved for a more advanced season" -- late spring or summer, it seems. So, at least in full dress, colors are restrained, like the fashion for spring pastels that comes up fairly often in the 20th and 21st centuries. Stronger or more overall colors are for warmer, more colorful seasons.

Boots: for outdoor wear they are very popular. Last month we read about nankeen boots. This month "Morocco" -- I assume a type of leather -- boots are mentioned.

Brandenburg: what is this? In the General Observations article the Brandenburg trims outerwear: spencers and pelisses.

Buttoned dress: the general observations section remarks that morning dresses have high plain necks and button up the back. I am assuming that the buttons are confined to the bodice, as we see pretty often in extant garments?

Caps: carriage caps, as described in the general observations section, sound really strange: close-fitting, flat on top, and sticking out at the back in the shape of a cone. I have yet to find a picture of one of these. Caps (the nature undescribed) are a must with morning/day wear. This is right in line with what we see in paintings and fashion plates.

Colors this month are shifting. While the purples and reds of earlier remain, spring colors are appearing: dove (a warm gray), blue, yellow, jonquille (a bright yellow), green, white.

An example of chip construction in an 18th century hat.
From the Snowshill collection: The Hidden Wardrobe blog.
Cottage hats: these are made in straw, satin (buckram underneath?) and chip. Chip means, as you might guess, long thin strips of wood, woven into a hat. Chip was used at least from the 18th century. Apparently the brim was set high enough to have flowers or lace pinned there. I need to find some examples.

Fabrics are changing too. The magazine remarks that while velvet is still worn ("still worn abong the most fashionable circles"), as it's not terribly warm yet, after all, and Merino crape (a wool fabric), and satin,, thinner fabrics like sarsnet and muslin will take over. I find it interesting that velvet is worn in March and April. In our current era, we tend to drop very wintery fabrics a little earlier, though we wear wool right up until warm weather arrives.

Flowers, a sure sign of spring, appear in the hair and on hats.

  • In this month's ball ensemble, the hair is worn with a bandeau of "light blue twisted crape and roses". Looking at the plate, it appears that a narrow, long length of the crape is fairly tightly twisted -- it's not puffy -- and then a few roses -- most likely of paper -- are tacked at the crown, so that the leaves are at the center and the flowers just offset. Simple and effective.
  • Flowers also appear on chip hats, under the brim and not on top of it: hyacinths, primroses, or other spring flower". In this case the flowers are specifically spring flowers. This tells me that the fashion must be for naturalism and colors and shapes directly referencing the current season more than abstract designs of flowers.
  • Flowers in the hair are just as popular in Parisian fashion.

Hair: pretty much the same as last month. Note the hairstyle names, one Greek, one Romantic: Sappho and Madona.

Jewelry: both plates this month show small-scale jewelry. The ball ensemble model wears tiny drops, the day dress model wears small-scale hoops. This is in line with last month's note that the fashion is moving towards smaller scale. The description in General Observations also mentions small scale.

Lace rosettes: last month introduced a new fashion for lace made into rosettes. It's still a thing. This month, lace rosettes appear under cottage bonnets and carriage caps.

Moss muslin: as in "gowns...mostly in cambric or moss muslin". Assuming that the "moss" is not a color, but a treatment of the fabric.

Net and tulle: Nets were mentioned in January and February and again here. So far this year, they are perennial. They seen generally for more elegant occasions, although the General Observations states that Opera net may be for "home or dinner dresses". By "home" I am thinking this means a nice dress worn to be ready for visitors (callers).

Regency hat: The Prince Regent has a hat named for him already, less than a month into his reign. This one is crown-shaped -- no surprise there, and is worn in the carriage. Carriages are for the gentry and upper classes, and carriage wear is ornate, so this is a fancy hat.

Regency Spots: advertised this month as a fashionable fabric along with the "Botilla" ground. Both of these appear to be fabrics with either a pattern woven in or printed on.

Round dress: this month's day dress is a round dress. By that is meant that that the dress isn't a wrap dress or a dress that buttons down the front or back, but is closed all the way around. It's too bad that we cannot see the entire thing, but it does have a standing pleated lace "ruff" collar.

Spencers and jackets: the magazine says that spencers are warmer-weather garments, where pelisses were what was popular in wintertime. A useful note for costumers. The observation that a jacket to accompany a plain morning dress is "a graceful addition" is interesting. How is a jacket different than a spencer? Does is have or lack buttons? Or is there really no difference? Is it of the same fabric? Note that a similar shift is occurring in Paris, per Le Journal des Dames.

Tippets: they're still around, they're in satin and swansdown or lace, all lighter than winter fur tippets.

Tulle: the article copied from Le Journal des Dames highlights the introduction of a new fabric, tulle, which remains popular for formal and bridal wear even now. Until this period net fabrics were a bit more rudimentary; tulle, by contrast, is finer, and less expensive, because it's machine made. In the Regency era, tulle would become a favorite.

Turban: note that the almost whelk-shaped turban in this month's day dress is called a bonnet, not a turban. Perhaps this is because the turban is sewn together and not wrapped fresh each time? Hard to say.

Vandykes are still hot, as are pointed edges in general. I would ascribe this to the fashion for "Oriental" designs that the other magazines in our 1811 project are also noticing. In this month alone both the ball dress and the day dress are arranged so that the outermost layer falls in points, tasseled or plain.

That's it for this month. Hoping you enjoyed your trip into the magazine-land of another time.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

A Haiku on March the Ninth

Hello, sweet springtime. 
Last week's snows are melting fast.
A mirage, you say?