Thursday, March 19, 2020

1895 Outfit: A Real 1890s Underskirt With Multiple Stiffening Aids

Well, I'll be. By accident I came upon an 1890s underskirt that employs many of the stiffening methods I've talked about over these last months. Let's visit it, shall we?

We can do, during what is truly an extraordinarily scary and tragic period, with a little escape.

First, if you need to orient yourself, here is what has been published so far in this series:
Here is the underskirt in all its glory.

The skirt is for sale by The Gatherings Antique Vintage on Etsy. It is described as a bustle underskirt, but the skirt silhouette and construction point to sometime in the 1890s. Some skirts did feature underskirts -- there was a mode for it, for instance, around 1893. Alternatively, could this have served as an outer petticoat under a grand silk skirt?

I'll let The Gatherings describe the skirt:

A late 19th century Victorian brown underskirt petticoat. This underpinning is made of brown polished cotton or what I call dress lining fabric. The underskirt is a structured garment with stiffening at the back of skirt, from the waist to hem, for supporting a bustle. A cream band of silk shantung fabric, 9" wide, forms the border of the skirt. This was probably the same fabric the outer skirt / dress was made from. This border, too, is lined in stiffening fabric. At the hem a narrow band of velvet fabric edges the hem. The weight of the velvet would also have given structure to the hem, to keep its flare The fabric at the waist band is flat in front with wide box pleats at the back. Hook and eye closure at the waist band.

Other than the bit about the bustle, the description is helpful. Yes, a small pad in the back could help the shape of the skirt in back, but that's not an 1870s or 1880s bustle.

As we see below, the skirt exterior is largely made of that brown polished cotton that had been so common for decades.

At the bottom of the skirt, on the outside, is an outer layer of silk shantung. The stitches at the top show that the very top of this section wouldn't be seen. The velvet, which serves as brush braid, is visible at the skirt edge: those looking at the skirt would have seen that but not regarded it as a visual issue, as it was so common.

Here's a closeup. Those top stitches are large and made with thick thread, and the shantung is very slubby. The velvet serving as brush braid has been sewn to the exterior with right sides together, turned over to hide the seam, and then folded over the bottom of the skirt fabric to the interior of the skirt.

Let's move to the back of the skirt. There are the common very large pleats. Back in the day they most likely would have been rounded godet plaits, not flattened pleats. There appear to be three of them to each side of the back opening. Note the bit of gathering to the side back. Note too the narrowness of the waistband and that it is topstitched on. Also that the interior seams are not finished.

Moving to the inside of the top of the skirt, we see that the stiffening -- that barred white coarse fabric -- goes from the bottom of the skirt all the way to the waistband, and the plaits are encased in it. The side back panels are not lined. Can you imagine the weight if they had been? The skirt is already heavy enough as it is!

Just as we have seen in illustrations in the last post, there is a band sewn from side back to side back. It doesn't appear to be elasticated, although I cannot tell for sure -- it seems to be made of, or at least covered with, the polished cotton. It's sewn to each pleat with big fat cross stitches in thick thread, for durability. The band would have held the skirt godets plaits in their glorious tube shapes and kept the skirt fullness towards the back.

Remember that this band will be near that skirt back opening, which make me think that the skirt would have been easier to put on over the head. Stepping above the band and through the placket and waist opening would have been a tricky maneuver.

Moving down the to the bottom of the interior, we see that the stiffening climbs at least shin high right the way round the skirt. Of course, as just mentioned, it goes from waist to bottom at the back. The velvet edging is quite wide on the inside. This would have been an extra layer helping with the skirt shape, of course, but I wonder if the fabric would have been easier to handle this way -- less likely to fray and lose fibers, easier to manipulate. Not having tried it myself, I can only guess.

The last picture is a closeup of the interior bottom. You can see that the stiffening is truly coarse, and I'd pretty much count on it being sized heavily. The velvet -- or velveteen, is it? -- has been cut on the bias, and hemmed on the inside by hand.

How delighted I was to find this garment online! Sure hope someone who won't wear it, but will care for it, will purchase it, because it's very nice piece of fashion history. Sure wish I could...

In Other News

On February 27 I wrote about kicking the exercise habit into higher gear, so that I could fit once more into favorite costumes. I wrote "Maybe something will go very wrong: it has in the past."

It seems the unconscious had been busy with worries. I work in public health. Because of some pretty trying chronic health conditions and the immunocompromised status, I only work part-time now, in health communications, not as an epidemiologist or biostatistician or something of that nature. Still, I was already involved with small-scale, task-based communications research on coronavirus.

For several weeks now I've been self-quarantined, and recently the entire family retired into our home, like a hermit crab into its shell, only there are several hermit crabs sharing the same shell. The infrequent trip to the grocery is followed by careful wiping of all the enters the house, and all surfaces in contact with hands or objects that had been out there.

Exercise continues, for all of us, although its nature has changed. Workout videos, crazy bouncing around on the part of the twins, walks in our suburban intown neighborhood. Any neighbors met mutually keeping 10 feet away.

Our town is reeling, and we're doing our best to support the many small businesses that to date have graced our lives. It's not a wealthy town to begin with, but I am grateful to see businesses that can and those with deep pockets help those citizens who are in bad straits. So far we're okay, but being careful...fear of massive medical expenses lurk in the back of my mind.

As for the virus? Like a lot of people, the pit of the stomach churns for the elder members of our family, and for all of us really, as the most recent case data show hospitalizations affecting a wide swath of ages. For myself, I have been through several near-catastrophic health events over the years, and have long had a mindset more akin to people in third-world countries today, or people of past centuries: grateful for each day and ever-mindful of mortality. It does wonders for faith, my friends, although it is also fodder for malencholy.

I hope to heaven that folks get the message to keep distance but keep the love flowing, that we will support those who work in healthcare, emergency response, police, pharmacy, essential retail, food production, essential manufacturing, childcare for these groups... Theirs is a road needing fortitude, but if we see a chance to help, no matter how small, let us take it, shall we? 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 4, Skirt Godet Plaits and Interior Ties

Where are we in this research? Getting towards the end, really. Here is the entirety of what has been published so far:
This time, let's remain on the outside the extravagant skirt held out by the underpinnings. An interlining wasn't the only way to help give the outer skirt the proper set. Oh no, modistes had more to add to the game.

Skirt Fluting and "Godet Plaits": Making A Skirt Flare in Back with Pleats and Elastic or Ribbons

Skirts with "flutes" in the back, or "godet plaits", or "organ plaits", or "funnel plaits", were a popular way of giving the back of a skirt a handsome fullness, in the shape of undulating folds. They apparently appeared in the latter part of 1893, just when skirt circumference was really taking off. I find first mention of them in fall newspapers, such as The Progress:

The Progress, November 25, 1893. From Chronicling
America newspaper archive, US Library of Congress.

I love how the newspaper compares godet plaits to organ pipes, but ones that get wider at the bottom. In this early definition, the godet plaits are held with "straps on the under side" of the skirt. So far as I can tell, these pleats were always held to their funnel shape by some sort of interior tapes/straps/elastic.

Mentions of godet pleats occur repeatedly in all the magazines I consulted, and they appear repeatedly in American newspapers. Along with the name of the pleats, the number varied: there could be two, three, or more of these pleats, and there would have to be ties/straps/elastic for each pleat.

The Ladies Home Journal, in January 1894, (p.21), explained how godet plaits should be constructed:
Make the back of the skirt in three organ or godet plaits, which are simply single box plaits, an inch and a half wide at the top and spreading at the bottom to five or six inches; they must keep a rounded look, so cannot be pressed, but must be kept in place by inside tapes. Gathered backs are still in favor, though the plaited ones are newer.
As the text makes clear, these are emphatically not flattened box pleats like we make for skirts of other eras.

Demorest's Family Magazine (December 1894, p. 121), stated that the box plaits at the top flow out into the godet folds: "the back fullness held in box-plaits at the waist, rounding out into godet folds below. These plaits are held in place with elastic bands."

Ladies Home Journal specifies in the "The Skirt of Today": "the back laid in three or four godets or narrow round plaits, which are held by elastic straps five and fifteen inches below the belt" [my emphasis]. (Ladies Home Journal, "Gowns for Occasional Use", January 1895, p. 22)

The Illustrierte Frauenzeitung (February 1, 1895, p. 35) shows a clear illustration of the inside of a skirt, with the tapes clearly visible. Towards the top of the skirt, the tapes are short, so that the funnel shape is narrow. A second row of tapes further down are wider, so that the funnel shapes expand.

Important note: look at the interior frill or balayeuse with a pinked lower edge at the bottom inside of the skirt! Here's another tool for the toolbox.

The Ladies Home Journal offered another solution in April 1895. The pleats were tied in place by ribbons. The ties would lie on top of the exterior of the petticoat, and hold the exterior fabric in its funnel shapes.

A Fluted Skirt Back Could Also Be Achieved With Gathering and Tapes

The pretty fluted effect could also be attained without box pleating it. The Kirkland skirt, illustrated below, was gored as most skirts were, and "the fullness [was] held in graceful flutes" using the elastic straps, per normal. However, the making-up directions directed the seamstress to gather the back of the skirt, not pleat it. The illustration shows a back that is clearly gathered.
The Kirkland skirt with gathered back and skirt fluting. Demorest's Family Magazine,  April 1894, pp. 375, 376, 379.

Preserving the Godets or Flutes, with...What, Stuffing?

In June 1895, The Ladies Home Journal described another way to handle fluting. It sounds rather hot to wear, especially in June under duck fabric, white or not!

Yes, you read that right: "The skirt has the usual fashionable flare, and the organ plaits which are in the back are stuffed with cotton over a quarter of a yard below the belt, so that the round shape is preserved" (my emphasis).

Here's the image of the outfit involved. You can see that the skirt at front is relatively narrow. It's only at the sides and back that there is much width.

An Alternative to Godet Plaits

Not everyone wanted the back side of their skirt to fall in large rounded shapes, especially if those godet plaits were stuffed or one had to worry about the shape of their skirt while traveling. In May of 1895, Mrs. Hooper wrote of an alternative, "rival" style that would be effective for women who preferred a less bountiful effect. In this skirt the godet plaits were dispensed with in favor of just two box pleats that have simply been pressed into position, not held by tapes "caught into place". The skirt is still interlined, the end of the quotation below Mrs. Hooper warns her readers to avoid extra long skirts, because they are "to heavy to lift comfortably". Egad. The New Woman still had to contend with carrying a burden around with her.

For Costumers...

Let's review. To give a skirt handsome back fullness in the form of fluted folds, popularly known as godet plaits, we should:
  • fold the fabric into a box pleat at the top, but NOT flatten it by pressing;
  • at a first point further down the skirt, attach either ties or elastic tapes to the lining to create a narrow funnel shape, or flute, on the outside;
  • at a second point even further down the skirt, do the same, but with a wider tie or elastic.
Another costuming note: Truly Victorian's Ripple Skirt from 1895 features the godets and the interior tapes.

Amid all this thinking and writing, meteorological spring has arrived in the Bluegrass. Snowdrops have been blooming for a while, and Lenten roses, and crocus, and witch hazel, but those are the very earliest harbingers, and they handle snow and frost with aplomb, although not ice.

Now, the -- well, it's name escapes me, but it's an invasive bush -- is just beginning to put out wee leaf buds.

I am standing at one of our local lakes, a previous reservoir hand-dug at the turn of the 20th century to provide water for the town. Fishermen and women are casting lines, the Canada geese are honking, and somewhere there are herons blending in with the shoreline, fishing. Nearby, there are probably kingfishers doing the same thing. The waters are planning against the shore in that pleasing way they have. The road nearby is a bit of a distraction but doesn't spoil the feeling of aliveness and the knowledge that the next six weeks will green our landscape once again.

Next time we will continue our exploration of the forms of stiffenings that made mid-1890s the architectural shapes that hold our attention today. Hint: think wire and rattan.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Reckoning, and Reckoning Up

Last fall in the closet, several costumes and I had an unpleasant reckoning.

Pulling out the 1795 cream silk robe and petticoats and the 1790s transitional stays that go with them, I pulled the stays around me and tugged, and tugged, and tugged. Oh, were they uncomfortable. Did I feel like I was compressed into a barrel, splorging out top and bottom. Ug, unappetizing, too.

Then, fitting both arms into the gown sleeves, I eased into the gown...and stuck fast. Arms pinned back behind me, sleeves half on, movement restricted by the stays.

For a few minutes it was a toss up whether I'd have to call down to my husband for help in escaping, or rip the sleeves getting them off-- they never did make it to my shoulders. With lots of slow wriggling, I worked the gown off in one piece, bummed but philosophic. The dress is over a decade old, and I am closing in on 60. Bodies change.

If that dress didn't fit, the 1870 dress surely wouldn't, and I didn't bother attempting to squeeze into it, even though the stays still fit decently.

What about the 1880s pink lawn dress I bought fairly recently after falling in love with the rosy color? That ought to fit. Nope...I tried in front of the mirror but the buttons at the bust would never kiss the buttonholes.

A bit of panic, a bit of self-disgust.

Now for the 1780s gown, from Verdanta on Etsy, purchased because I loved the striped silk and was time-crunched in front of an event, that I trimmed with some of my antique lace at neck and wrists. Good ---, we'll let that moment slide. The sleeves were like sausage casings and the front only worked if the bodice was set as a flyaway with stomacher.

And so it went. Out of everything I love, only the 18th century English gown, made in 2015 from the Golden Scissors pattern, still fit, thanks to the stomacher and a more generous cut. And the unfinished 1895 outfit.

Age, Illnesses...

If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I live with multiple chronic illnesses. Lack of energy for physical activity, medication side effects, and age-abetted settling of fat, have slowly morphed this body.

For whatever reasons, perhaps some of you are in the boat with me. It's a very human phenomenon.

For long I accepted decay of my abilities as inevitable and frankly lacked the energy to exercise to make it even a whit better. After all, if a trip up the stairs entails a stop midway, to muster muscle energy for the rest of the steps, even a walk is exhausting to mull over, much less attempt.

I wrote last year about regaining strength after a 2018 skiing accident (it was wildly stupid to go back to the slopes to begin with), and until last fall had rebuilt some strength, but the body? Well, the Reckoning showed I had a long way to go.

Fighting Back Harder

Enter Pilates, on Reformer machines, which are bizarre contraptions. I added this class to the mix, and the body responded surprisingly rapidly. I am much stronger, the areas from bust to feet are slimming and toughening slowly. Brain fogs and sad moods which used to hit every few days are rarer now. It's slow going, and I compare myself to a box turtle for speed, but tell myself that turtles know that incremental change is safest.

Still, the clothes are not yet at fitting point. Darned if I will make any more in bigger sizes. Some of these, and some beloved summer clothes, Are. Going. To. Fit.

It's the moment to kick exercise up a notch. Two years in, time for a good push.

Time is scarce. Thus, I am scaling back on hobbies, except for finishing the research on the 1895 outfit and some peaceful moments spinning Lana and Nina's wool, oh and maybe some desperately needed napkins.

When some of the garments fit again, we can reassess. They won't all, and setbacks happen -- have had two interruptions for small surgeries in the last 10 months. Maybe something will go very wrong: it has in the past. That's fine. Yet a mission's a good thing: it gives a person an end point to work towards.

Perhaps you have your own mission of one sort of another. I salute you: allons-y!

Off we go!


Next time, more on holding out those 1890s skirts. Or that's the plan, anyhow :}

Thursday, January 16, 2020

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 3, Skirt Interlinings

Now that the Advent and Christmas seasons are over, it's time to take up the pen again -- okay, plop the keyboard on the lap again -- and continue with the articles about how fullness was added to skirts in the mid-1890s.

Here is the entirety of what has been published so far:
The 1890s was also the age of heavy linings and interlinings. In some ways, the mid-1890s remind me of the Tudor era, when doublets were stiffened and stuffed and molded. Open any sewing guide of the decade and it will advise the use of stiffening in the form of a variety of interlinings to achieve the fashionable flare in the sleeves and skirt. Columnists had some humorous things to say about them and how they affected the women encased in them, as you'll read.

The use of skirt stiffenings and petticoats was interrelated: in general, we can say that if a skirt's material was too lightweight to admit of a heavy interlining, then the petticoat, or petticoats, would pick up the slack. If the skirt was heavier, it would become more likely that other expedients would be found to create the flare. Interlining a skirt was a key method.

Skirt Interlinings and Facings

The admonition to interline a skirt with something to give it the proper fullness -- or to do the opposite and NOT interline it -- was nearly incessant during the period.

As we have seen, if a skirt was of a very lightweight material, such as a cotton, or a light silk, a lining and interlining, would be omitted. Our old friend Isobel Mallon, the regular fashion columnist for The Ladies Home Journal magazine, wrote, "I have before this described the haircloth petticoat, the wearing of which makes it possible either to omit lining the cotton skirt, or the having a very soft, thin one." (July 1895, p. 21).

If the skirt was of wool, duck, serge, or any non-lightweight fabric, a lining would be standard, plus a facing, which is a small-scale stiffening, plus if needed, interlining. To repeat a quotation from the first article in this series, from The Elements of Modern Dressmaking for the Amateur and Professional Dressmaker, p. 135, by Jeanette Davis and Cora Holahan in 1894:
It has been stated that the bottom edge of a well-cut skirt should flow outward (sufficiently so, in fact, to quite shadow the feet when the wearer is in a standing position -- and a skirt which does not fulfil this condition is never quite satisfactory). To maintain this effect, frills, flounces, ruches, linings of crinoline and horsehair, balayeuses (or inside frills), wadded hems and rolls, etc., are all used in turn, and anything in the choice of lining or in the finishing of the bottom edge of the skirt that allows it to fall soft, or that draws it in in the slightest degree, is at once rejected as not meeting the requirements of the work. Methods of finishing which leave the edges thin are, therefore, less favoured than those which leave them firm and full, and all hems, stiffening, etc., are cut amply wide, and bindings, etc., well eased on, to guard against the danger of drawing in.
What a valuable set of information in one concise packet! Materials used to line the skirt should be "firm and full", with wide hems.

The Art of Dressmaking by Sophie Klug treats the facing and interfacing method in detail. So that you understand what is going on, I will quote pages 30 and 31 at length:
When the lining is ready, cut out the outside fabric and then the facing of linen canvas, haircloth or cross-bar crinoline. The canvas and crinoline should both be cut bias, from five to fifteen inches wide and to fit around the bottom of the skirt. Where the latter is not in one piece, cut the facing to fit each section. The depth of this facing is ascertained by the prevailing fashion, or shape of the skirt being made. If the style requires an interlining of stiffening, the above facing is only put on five inches deep, it being otherwise nine to fifteen inches wide, according to one's fancy. Baste this across the bottom of the lining one-half inch from the lower edge of the skirt, and fasten to position by stitching with the machine across its top edge. When haircloth is used, the edges must be bound with some firm material to prevent the hair from gradually working through to the top surface. If an interlining of stiffening is needed, there is for this purpose organdie, grass linen, moreen, fibre-chamois, haircloth, etc. The latter is often used for the back of skirts, while crinoline or fibre-chamois will be found quite sufficient for the front. This is chiefly done to lessen expense as only good haircloth should be employed. If the haircloth is to be entirely omitted use fibre-chamois throughout the whole skirt. (All haircloth must be shrunk before using.) To join any of the above named linings lap the edges one over the other, and sew together with short basting stitches, the haircloth having strips of firm lining stitched over each seam. Do this work very smoothly and press well to avoid seams showing on the outside material.

The stiffening is basted on the foundation after the canvas facing has been added and before the outside fabric is to be adjusted. The latter is then basted on smooth and even; under no circumstance should the baster allow the outside to be fuller than the lining, as this would cause the skirt to show puckers in the seams after being finished. Now baste the sections of the skirt together, stitch and press open the seams, which are then bound, over-casted or pinked.

An 1890s skirt in my possession features a lining and interlining made in this manner. Please see An Antique 1890s Black Skirt With Brush Braid In My Collection and check the lining and facing sections.

With three to four layers involved, even if some were lightweight, it is no wonder that wearers would complain of weight.

A key point, too, in Mrs. Klug's directions: how far up that interlining went was at the discretion of the maker and the wearer, and the interlinings could be very high indeed. In March 1895, The Ladies Home Journal column "The Gowns of the Spring" (page 19), written as usual by Isobel Mallon, wrote, "Facings that are light, and which, at the same time, stiffen, are put in the back breadths quite up to the belt, and in the front and side breadths to just above the knees."

Whether Sophie Klug would call these facings an interlining, I don't know.

A Bit About Interlining Materials, Including Fibre-Chamois

In the quotations above, we have heard of a variety of materials being used as interlinings: organdy, "grass linen", moreen, haircloth, crinoline, and "fibre-chamois". Organdy is still used as a lining and interlining, as are crinoline, and haircloth, which we met in the last post, and which is still made and sold in different widths. What about the rest?

Grass Linen

In June 1896, The Ladies Home Journal article by regular columnist Emma M. Hooper, titled "The Latest Summer Gowns" (p. 20) recommends grass linen for collars, blouses with cuffs of the same, and entire gowns and blouses and says that the fabric is very popular. A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods and History of Silk, Cotton, Linen, Wool and Other Fibrous Substances (1892) offers a neat definition of grass linen as "a fine grass-cloth". Grass-cloth, in turn, is defined as being both "a heavy, buff-colored cotton muslin, used at present for children's underwear", and "China grass-cloth, beautiful, fine fabric made from the fiber of an India nettle" (p. 170). Well, another example of the all-too-common problem of the same name being applied to very different fabrics.

The 1894 Bulletin of the National Association of Wool Manufacturers said that grass cloth was made from a fiber in the nettle family.  The book Fabrics and How to Know Them, dating to 1923, has the best definition I have found (p. 26), and one that clears up our problem:

Canton linen. Commonly called grass cloth, Chinese grass cloth or grass linen. A fine, translucent fabric which looks like linen. Made of ramie fiber (china grass). It wrinkles like linen, but has a distinctive, clear, oiled appearance due to luster of ramie fibers when not twisted. Much worn in China in the stiff (or natural gum) unbleached state. Mostly hand woven. Cool and durable. Bleached or dyed blue. Sold usually in Oriental shops. Uses: lunch-clothes, doilies, blouses. Weave--plain. Width: "12, 18", 32", 36".

Aha! It has a linen look, so that's why it was popular for summer gowns, but, and here's where we can see its use in skirt interlinings: it can be woven in the ramie fiber's natural, gummed state. Ramie is a bast fiber, like flax, and like flax, it has a natural gumminess. I know that from hand-spinning! When a person hand-spins flax fiber, they keep their fingers wetted in order to dampen the fibers as they are drawn out and twisted, to wake up the gum and make it help the fibers stay twisted. The gum is washed out later. Ta-whoom-boom, a mystery no more.

You know, that only took me an hour or so to solve, with the help of Google Books and the Internet Archive. I am continually grateful for the internet and the decision some years ago to digitize old texts; doing so expanded our research abilities by a factor so large that I don't know what number to assign to it. A far cry from 1989, long afternoons when I photocopied pages from books and journals, and kept track of citations kept on index cards, as a graduate student working as a research gofer to a professor.


This was a woolen or wool and cotton fabric with a watered surface.


Now we get to the fun stuff. Fibre-chamois. What is it, a plant-based version of chamois-skin that's still available for car buffs to buff their cars with? (What's up with "buff" meaning someone who has a particular hobby, anyway?) Or what was it?

It was an interlining, and it was a scam. Eh, not a complete scam or sham, but a product that the early marketers went wild with, which turned out to be made of pretty ordinary, cheap materials, as it came out.

Here it is, conveniently visible as a large advertisement next to the home dressmaking column in the pages of The Ladies Home Journal, March, 1895 (p. 35):

Sometimes the advertisements included instructions for how to use it in specific garments. In the New York Journal, (Sunday, March 21, 1897, p. 38) the company's advertisement included two illustrations showing how to interline a skirt. The left illustration shows the front-side of the skirt. It is interlined about halfway up. The right illustration shows the back of the skirt with its many folds. Here, the interlining is set all the way up to the waistband.

The small print under the two illustrations reads "Here we show how to support a skirt with "GENUINE" Fibre Chamois, and when the folds are gathered at the band the result will be as handsome as the finished dress shown above."
Here's an 1895 double endorsement on a trade card, from Lillian Russell, star actress, who has her name paired with it, and does Redfern and Sons, the upscale British tailoring establishment with offices in New York and Paris.

Boston Public Library. Permanent link:

I just love this bit of iffy advertising, pulling in the lawyers to give evidence that the Fibre-Chamois product, and only the patented product, was legal, making all other lookalikes mere shams -- oh, I can't resist -- shammies. There were indeed patent infringement court cases.

Full-page advertisement in The Clothier and Furnisher, 1895.

As we have read, fashion columnists promoted the product, too. I am unsure if they were paid to do so, or not. The Ladies World for March, 1896, included a full-page article (p. 13) by a Madge Preston, titled "Fibre Chamois Is Awarded the Verdict of Superiority". Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly,  and The American Magazine, and probably others ran the same article.

What was it made of? Vegetable or wood pulp. That according to Rob Schoman, in Selling Style: Clothing and Social Change at the Turn of the Century (p. 57). You might have a look at the book to learn the rest of the story.

Oh well, horsehair, wood pulp? Fabric made from a plant in the nettle family? What's new? It wasn't so long ago we were putting cane into stays and beach grasses into farthingales.

Humps and Bumps: Too-Large, Too-High Interlinings

The advice about using interlinings as stiffening varied from journal to journal, and month to month.

The November 1894 Demorest's Family Magazine Mirror of Fashions promoted a blue and red house and carriage gown with a skirt 7 yards around, "lined to the waist behind, and above the knees in front, and on the sides, with horsehair crinoline."

A month later, the same magazine wrote (page 121):
Study to attain a pleasing conventional of outline, avoid eccentricities and extremes of cut or fabric, and you will pass as a well-gowned woman anywhere.
From this you may conclude that if you have the strength to carry great weight, and like to sit down on stiff lumps or humps, you may line your skirt to the waist behind with haircloth or the new chamois lining, but if you object to the weight and like your comfort, you can secure just as perfect style for your new gown by omitting the interlining, or, if a heavy cloth, you may finish it with only a facing.
That's a strong opinion!

In April 1895 Demorest's Family Magazine, page 360: "Skirts of gowns are severely plain, but as full and rippling as heretofore; and the latest word from Paris is that positively no stiffening is used!" Well. After the above, are you surprised? Skirts were soon to deflate, after that.

Because interlinings and facings are so integral to other methods of achieving skirt fullness, further coverage of them will be interspersed in the next posts.

What Interlinings Might We Use Now?

When I made the 1890s skirt last summer, I used a very lightweight modern interfacing under the skirt facing as an 1890s-style facing/interlining. It did little to nothing to give the skirt body. Now that we understand that light cotton skirts didn't need such things, helps at the petticoat level being more the thing, that's what I'd suggest for a cotton or lightweight silk skirt.

For tailored linen skirts, wool or heavy fabric skirts, what's available? Commercial modern interlinings, of course, which have the advantage of being easy to find and test. Buckram in various weights, and you could size your own linen or canvas to achieve whatever level of bendability/stiffness you wanted, although that takes experimentation. You can also use a player from the original cast: haircloth. Again, this comes in various degrees of stiffness, so you will want to think hard before shelling out the money. Ramie interlining appears to be made still, as references to it pop up in Google, but I can locate no sellers.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Midwinter Spinning, Midwinter Sheep

Joining an end of yarn to fleece ready to be spun.
Every winter for getting on quite a few years the urge has come to sit and spin. In the Kentucky Bluegrass the days are faded, however blue the sky, or gray and so dim the streetlights sometimes come on, and we seem to orient ourselves towards the windows, or towards the lamps when the windows leak in only a moody, sometimes bitter light.

In that time for some reason handling wool is comforting. Spinning yarn requires attention and care, but the slow, thoughtful movements, the repetitive treadling of the wheel or the flicking of the supported spindle in the hand, and the drawing out of soft, washed fleece, watching as twist runs into the fibers and draws them into a springy, soft yarn, is soothing. It makes wan light, or wet light, or threatening light, or expectant light heavy with the thought of snow feel good and sweet, as illogical as that might seem.

I am wondering. Humans have spent so much of their lives spinning or twining fibers -- millenium after millennium -- to make ropes, strings, baskets, fabrics, those objects that help make life easier. Is the urge, once woken, still built in to our neural networks? Perhaps that's wishful thinking, but it sure does seem that way.

That's what I have been doing, after all the preparations, excitement, and stress of the end of the boys' fall school semester, and the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Pulling out a thin roving made of wool from our Shetland ewes, Lana and Nina.

Until 2018, I had prepared our ewes' fleeces for spinning by hand, by myself, as the boys are now too busy to interest themselves in the process. Even if the girls weigh under 75 pounds apiece, they still produce a great big humongous pile of fleece, two pillowcases stuffed to bursting. The pile would be knee-high if suddenly let out of the bags.

Black sheep, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full!

Oh, that's much too much --
Though it's very nice;
I'll take two instead
And spin it in a trice.*
In a trice? Erm, no...

(*My own weak doggerel, not part of the original rhyme.)

Each crimpy fragrant (if you like the smell of sheep, and I normally do) lock must be picked of its bits of straw, hay, seeds, and unmentionables. That's a pleasant thing to do outdoors, in the springtime, when it's breezy, because as you pull on the locks the moving airs will pull some of the vegetable matter -- VM -- and carry it away for you, gratis.

Then the fleece must be washed in small batches in several consecutive buckets of steaming hot soapy water, preferably outdoors, and rinsed in more buckets, and dried in creepy looking, drippy clumps in the basement, hung over a wooden rod above the old zinc washing sink. This is slow, wet, dirty work with a dash of danger as I haul boiling water in the teakettle outdoors to heat the bucketfuls of water.

I have a whole post about the process titled "Scouring and Teasing Shetland Fleece" from several years ago, when I first started working with wool. It might entertain you. It did me. I have so much fleece now that I'd never think to rescue such supremely dirty locks as I did then. Instead, I'd leave them out for birds and animals to make nests with.

This is from some years ago, when I first started working with wool. Boy, was that fleece a bit hard to work with...

Then the wool must be separated. This is an extra step, joyously extra, because our ewes give us a twofer. They are dual-coated, which means they are covered next to their skin with a fine, so-soft downy wool a couple of inches long that keeps them warm. Through and over that grow hairs, in spiral locks, up to about six inches long. These hairs remind me of very coarse human hair, and they direct rain and snow down their lengths and off the sheep, keeping the sheep warm and dry-ish.

Nina, will you model your coat for our readers, please? Thank you, sweet girl.

Nina, sporting her winter coat. See that spiral-locked outer coat? That's what makes her a dual-coated Shetland sheep,
an especially lovely and ancient type of Shetland.
Knowing how blustery the Shetland Islands are, a dual coat is Heaven-sent. It's an ancient sort of coat, and not all Shetlands sport it; thankfully there is enough genetic diversity in the breed that it keeps showing up, because it's luscious, or as I said, joyous.

Joyous, anyhow, until your hands ache after taking the umpteenth hundred lock in your hands and pulling each end to separate the long hairs from the down.

Try doing that on an entire ewe's worth of fleece. Now double it, to include Lana's wool. She's dual-coated, too.
Nina says, "I'm so sorry your hands are so sore. Do you have any crunchies? I can gum your fingers for them..." As of last year, she is fatter and bigger than her mother.
Lana -- that's her rump dead ahead, ignoring everyone because it's breakfast time.
She's next to her boyfriend Liam, also a Shetland, from whom she is not often
more than a few yards a way. He does not have a dual coat. That's a sweet Soay sheep, from
islands not too far from the Shetlands even more rugged than they are. My ewes live
with her and the rest of the flock at my friend Sarah's farm.
The hair from the separated wool is good for warp threads for weaving, or, mixed with the down wool, for tough outer garments, and I might try it for an add-in buckle for an 18th century hairdo.

We're not done, however. After separating the wool, there's carding the down coat to ready it for spinning. I have a hand-turned drum carder, so I don't have to use two hand carders and work lock by lock, thank heaven, but it's still a slow manual process to feed in each lock, and then run a full load through twice, and then offload the batt, tear it into three strips, and wind them into "nests" ready to spin.

So that's the process that I followed, and still follow, to some extent, because I actually enjoy some amount of hand-processing. It's hard, elemental work, and very satisfying. However, I found a wool processing mill that had the special equipment for separating fleeces, and now have a large amount of lovely, soft roving. It feels a little like cheating to spin so easily, without all the effort, but it's a nice change. Alas that the mill closed, and the only other one is in New England with a six months' wait! It may be back to hand processing.

I'll be back to finish up the 1890s posts in a bit. Right now, the wheel is in hypnotizing motion...