Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
For years now my two sons have been saying that I should write a book. So, with the downturn in the economy, the lack of full time museum jobs and a lot of time on my hands I decided they were right. I started to do some serious research (not that all my research isn't serious) last year make a small dent in a very big project. What is so amazing about the research though is not just getting to hold 200 year old hand written documents in my hands. Often it is the surprises you find alongside these documents: a hand written receipt for a French punch, Nanna's laundry list, a newspaper clipping about the death of a child. So when I stumbled upon this poem I was delighted. It was written in the tiniest script on inside back cover of a hand written receipt book dating to the latter half of the 18th century. Glasses off, nose pressed as near to the page as I dared I read the line "Now a shape in neat stays, now a slattern in jumps:" Proof of jumps! Yippee! I understand that jumps were worn, have seen them in person, but never ever saw evidence first hand of them before in text.
So as carefully as possible I copied the poem. But not the whole thing straight. Nope, that would make my life oh so easy. Nope. I just copied the section that I liked. Then, about half an hour before they turned the lights out on us, I decided to copy the rest. In chunks. And then to draw lines and symbols that would allow me to put the poem back together whence I got home. Ha! You know that didn't work.
Well, I did the best I could. And then last night, while watching "Good Eats" I decided to type in "Says Beauty to Fashion" to see if I could find the poem. The heavens parted and there it was on Google books. The printed version is slightly different, and much longer, than the poem I so carefully transcribed. Not unusual when you think about how many words to a song we don't know, or don't understand today. For example in an Aerosmith song I always thought the words were "Dream women", it took me 30 years to realize he was singing "dream with me". This poem, like many other written documents, maybe transcribed from memory, or written down as a plagiarized version from some other author, is an 18th century version of telephone.
And here it is.....
"Says beauty to fashion as they sat at their toilette
If I give a charm your surely will spoil it
When you take it in hand there is such mustering and mangling
It's a metomorphos'd by your faunting and fangling
That I scarce know my own, when I meet it again
Such changeling you make, both of women and men
To confirm what I say, look at Phryne and Phillis
I'm sure that I gave them good roses and lilies;
Why you daub em all over with cold cream and rouge
Fine like Thisbe in Ovid one cannot come at 'em
Thou a mud wall of paint and pomatum
And as to your dress would think you quite mad
From the head to the tail it is all masquerade
With your flounces and furbelows, sack, trollopees
Now sweeping the ground, now up to your knees
Your primping and crimping and chevaux de frize
And all the fantastical cut of the mode.
You look like a Bedlamite caged and proud
For the late you're as fickle that few people mind you
For any part I never can tell where to find you
Now dress in a cap, now naked in none
Now close in a mob, now close in a Joan
Now a shape in neat stays, now a slattern in Jumps
Now high in French heels, no low in your pumps
Now monstrous in hoop, now trappish and walking
With your petticoats clung to your heels like a maulking,
Like the cock on the tower that shews you the weather
You are hardly the same two days together."
The poem continues here with Miss Fashion replying.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
As much as I hate to admit it, I love being the lady of the manor. I love wearing the fancy gowns, and doing 'girly' 18th century things- sewing, dancing, playing music, making jewelry…. The list is endless. But what I usually get paid for is being the everyday working class gal- you know, the cook, the seamstress, the servant. Not complaining, nope not at all. Money is money is money, and in this day and age, with historic sites closing right and left and museum jobs nowhere to be found, I will do just about any character my clients choose. I of course do not play strumpets though I did once in a film, but I'll just let ya think about that one for awhile.
Normally I try and do a midway between what I call my skivvies (beat up short gown, worn out skirt, old old broken in apron) and my lady of the manor (hand draped, hand sewn silk ball gown). What that usually turns out to be is a nicely made linen English gown with no trim that I dress up with accessories, or a period correct print gown with some, not much, trim.
And I hate to admit it, here comes the snobby me, why would one want to dress up like a servant if you don't have to? Then I saw this painting and it changed my mind.
So when I came across this lovely lady in the de Young museum in San Francisco I was mesmerized. How lovely is she! The painting is called Market Woman, by Thomas waterman Wood, 1858. Though it is about 80 years later than the period I usually work in, she spoke to me. I love the way her head wrap and her neck kerchief match in that lovely pink silk or printed cotton. And look at the apron- pieced together off center. The colors make her joyful. Nothing has been wasted in making what would be an everyday work outfit into something beautiful. Simple. Clean and lovely.
Monday, February 15, 2010
I have to hand it to the Foodways staff. It was organized chaos in those two kitchens with 20 of us stomping around, grabbing food, pushing our way around the fire, jockeying for pots....you get the picture. They must have slept for a week after we left.
The meal was broken down into two courses, nine dishes in each course. My partner Eileen Mercer and I got worked on a chocolate pudding, which I have to say was the coo since I was put in charge of the sign up sheet for who was going to make what. Rank has its privilages, Ha! It was the crowing glory of the first course if I do say so myself.
That's Eileen to the left, me in the middle and Heather Menzel to the right. We are all members of the HFSDV by the way- The Historic Foodways Society of the Delaware Valley (NJ, PA, MD and DE). I'm currently on the Board serving as VP of programs. If anyone wants more info on the group e-mail me. I'll write about the group in another blog someday soon.
The receipt is as follows: To Make a Chocolate Tart (Nott) "Mix a little milk, the yolks of ten eggs, with two spoonfuls of rice-flour, and a little salt; then add a quart of cream, and sugar to yoru palate, make it boil but take care it does not curdle; then grate chocolate onto a plate, dry it at the fire, and, having taken off your cream, mix the chocolate with it, stirring it well in, and set it by a to cool. then sheet a Tart-pan, put in your mixture, bake it. When it comes out of the oven glaze it with powder'd sugar and a red hot shovel.
Eileen is holding a very large metal grater that we used to grate up a bar of period style chocolate made my Jim Gay. If you haven't seen Jim's video on the CW site on how to make cacao beans into chocolate then go take a peek. It's amazing. So he made this beautiful huge bar of period chocolate which he told us to grate up. We forgot how much he said and ended up using almost the whole bar. Turns out we should have used half....sorry Jim. I feel kinda bad since it takes an enormous amount of time to make just a little chocolate. Let me tell you also that the grater, not so good. Worn down and the chocolate got stuck between the holes but we did not give up.
While we took turns grating up that chocolate we put together our pastry cream and you can see Eileen there stirring it in a beautiful copper pot on the hearth. We used four cups of heavy cream, ten egg yolks, a spoonful of wheat flour (hey, you use what you have on hand) and a pinch of salt. Don't know how much sugar, we did as it said- to your taste. But it was, in the end, not as sweet as most modern folks would like. We liked it just fine. It was like eating a lovely dark chocolate bar. We had to keep a close eye on it so it wouldn't curdle.
Here is the cream all ready for the chocolate which you can see in the copper dish just above the handle. Now that's a lot of grated chocolate! And there is my lovely hand mixing in the chocolate.
As we set that aside to cool I made the crust. I used the standard 2:1 ratio of flour to fat though I did eyeball it. The crust was made from white flour, butter, lard, a little salt and a spoonful of sugar. I cut the fats in using two knives, added some cold water and then quickly rolled it out. we then lined a nice high sided tart pan with the crust and poured in the filling. Karen from CW got our oven ready and in the pudding went. I don't know how long it actually took to set, probably no more than half an hour. The photo on the left is the pudding in the crust before baking, and the one of the right is still sitting in the oven.
They actually let us use a salamander to brown the meriange. If you've never worked with one before think of a pizza peel you see in any pizza shop, now make it out of metal and make it hotter than hell. The one we used was luck enough to have legs or we'd be screwed. The legs were placed on a board and then we dipped the round head of the salamander down over the meriange which promptly browned. It did loose heat faster than I thought it would though. That's me in the photo on the right with the salamander. Eileen is beating the egg whites on the right.
Tomorrow I'll show you the results of when I tried it on my own.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
When I make something that isn't period perfect I say so. When the inside seams are done in a modern fashion, guess what folks, I say so! If I can't document trim I don't use it. I don't use lace on my gowns because I am not going to put some cheap f.....g piece of poly ugliness on my work. Yet there are those out there who will and then say it's period correct. Okay- you bought a good pattern. But since when is poly taffeta period correct? Since when, for the love of God will someone tell me, poly ribbons and poly lace period correct?
If you want to sell your stuff say it is period close but not period correct. Or how about "My dress is period correct in style but with modern materials since real silk is expensive and who would plunk down that kind of money for it over an auction?" Would that be too much to ask?!
I'm not saying I am the period correct Czar, and I do not profess to say I am the end all and be all of all 18th century gown construction. I admit to using my sewing machine and using modern interior construction methods (but I say so up front) and I have made mistakes and will continue to do so. But geez, is it asking too much to at least check if the print is correct before saying it is period correct?! LISTEN WHEN I SAY- Cabbage Roses are NOT or ever will be PERIOD CORRECT!
And what about those out there that will list a gown as Colonial Victorian Civil War Prom Dress? Okay, which one is it? Can't make up your mind? Or, as I've been told by one of them "My style does not follow any set tiime period." HAHAHAHAHA. Okay.
Let it go....just let it go.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The pink dress is in the collection of the Colonial Williamsburg foundation. It is a pale pink silk dating to the 1770's. The photo on the left is the original gown which was in one of the drawers in the current quilted garment collections. Once a month they open the drawers and let you look at the garments up close and personal. This gown was also on display when they had the exhibit "What Close Reveal" but I didn't have a digital camera back then. Bummer. The one on the right is a modern reproduction of the gown made by Janea Whitaker (sorry if I've spelt it incorrectly), from the Millinery shop at Colonial Williamsburg.
Many of the work gowns I make (and wear) are devoid of any trim since they are plain linen, made to used as working garments, not fashion statements. But who doesn't like a little dressing up, even on an every day basis? Typically one does not see trim around the top neck line of a gown so this simple trim caught my eye.
To make it I began by ironing the fabric. I then decided that I would make the trim 2" in width. The size of your trim should be in proportion to your gown and the pattern on your gown. To make it an inch was too small, got lost in the print, but 3 inches was too big. Plus the ruler I was using was 2 inches in width…nice when a plan comes together.
I then cut strips of fabric using a scalloped edge rotary cutter. Though it looks like it is pinked it is actually a scalloped edge. This is period appropriate and works get if you can find one. I got mine at a fabric store where I also found a scissor with a scalloped edge. The difference between using the two is that the rotary cutter works faster when you are cutting strips of the same width and length of fabric. The scissor tends to move the fabric when you are trying to cut flat and straight.
Once I cut the strips out I then joined them together using a sewing machine. No need to finish the edges since it will be held flat against the gown and normally you tuck them under when you come to them but more on that later.
I then ironed the strips into an inverted box pleat- my favorite way to trim. Not only does it look nice it is historically correct. You can use a ruler to make sure that each pleat is the same width and the same distance apart. I've done so many of them that I can do it now without the ruler, the same with pleating the skirts onto the bodice.
They look accordion like when finished.
Starting at the front edge, pin the trim onto the neckline of the gown. I use two pins per pleat. This holds them securely into place, especially as you go around the curved areas. Remember to fold under the unfinished edge so that is tacked down. This way it will not fray and looks clean. Continue to pin the trim into place all the way around. Cut the strip if need be and tuck under the raw edge.
I tacked them into place by sewing them in the center of each pleat. Beginning with the first one I simple sewed through the center, making sure to bring the needle up and down in the same holes. I then ran the thread through the lining on the inside of the garment. This is to make sure the thread does not get caught or break and it makes the trim more secure.
I sewed the trim all the way around to the front and viola! Lovely simple box pleated trim. I also did the same trim for the sleeve edges.