27 September 2011

Adventures in Crewel Embroidering: Creating a Plan

This weekend my husband helped me organize and reprioritize my sewing projects. There are many events I want or need to make new garments for but I'm constantly distracted by wanting to work with pretty fabrics or inspired by museum images--which leads to procrastinating on smaller but important projects, or rushing and stressing to complete a garment for an event.

Using his military training, my hubs helped me create a hierarchy of projects to improve my kit that have been looming on my horizon but I have not given justice to. One such project involves embroidering a pocket. Sew...

I dusted off my Newport pocket kit (from Golden Scissors and purchased through Wm Booth Draper) and got to work.

The plan my husband helped me create. And my fuzzy
index card organizing the threads.
I have been procrastinating on this for almost two years, primarily because I wasn't sure where or how to start. And because crewel embroidery is a new technique for me. 

Unlike the embroidery kits I've worked with in the past, this kit does not dictate which stitches and threads to use where. All this option for creativity left my wondering how to start. 

After reviewing the book Eighteenth Century Embroidery Techniques, I mapped out a plan. I numbered my threads by creating a fuzzy index card (pictured above) and, using the illustration provide in the kit, I penciled in which colors to use at which spots. I then studied the stitching techniques in my book, and those included with the instructions, and guesstimated which stitches I want to attempt at which spots and noted that on the illustration. 

My plan for this project.
Now I'm happily along my way, wondering why did I wait so long to start this project?? I love embroidery. Love it. 

LOVE it.

I'm not taking about machine embroidery, like a company's logo on a polo shirt. I'm referring to fine fabrics embroidered by hand with beautiful thread. It takes patience and time to create, but watching the product slowly come to life is rather exciting. 

My crewel embroidery stitches are far from perfect. I'm learning through trial and error by studying pictures of a few extant examples and trying to honestly judge if my stitches resemble the real thing. So far nothing looks as good as the museum stuff, but the process is sew much fun.

(If embroidery also makes you giddy, check out Valombreuse linens.)

22 September 2011

Isn't that a Jane Austen Bonnet?

Recent conversation with a family member regarding the black bonnet I purchased this past summer from At the Sign of the Golden Scissors...

My new bonnet.
"Your bonnet looks so...Jane Austen. Are you sure it's accurate?"

My response, "Yes."

"Really? It looks like something from a BBC Jane Austen series. Are you sure it's right for your era?"


I knew of two primary sources off the top of my head:

1) Remember that runaway impression I created earlier this summer? The January 1773 ad called for "a black bonnet." But there's no picture.

2) The other source is this example from Colonial Williamsburg's collections:

Woman's hat, black silk, 1770-1780
(Colonial Williamsburg accession number  1993-335)
Even though I've been told my black bonnet is accurate for Rev War, I figured this conversation was a sign that I needed to research bonnets--specifically prints with concrete dates that show ladies in undress. In doing some quick and non-comprehensive searching, I found...
...this print from the V&A. True to '80s fashion, she's wearing a poofy bonnet that's surely black silk.
The Flower Girl, London, December 9, 1784
(V&A accession number E.678-1959)
The Beautiful Fruit Gatherer, a print from antique dealer Grosvenor Prints
Dated c.1790, her bonnet is also very full. It looks like a lot of fun to wear, but she's a little overdressed for my research and a tad later than my era. 

What about something earlier? The Lewis Walpole Library has prints that better fit my era...

The Lover's Disguise (c.1776, call number 776.00.00.05) shows a fabulous black bonnet sitting on the table.
For something less formal, there's A Ladies Maid Purchasing a Leek (1772, call number 772.
Then there's The Pretty Mantua Maker (1772, call number 772. She's wearing a fab black bonnet trimmed with white ribbon that's similar to mine. C'est parfait!

My research here skims the surface of bonnets in 18th century prints but I think these examples help me confidently say, "No, it's not a Jane Austen bonnet."


Craving more bonnets? For more comprehensive bonnet research than I have offered, check out this link from 18th Century Notebook. There's also this bonnet blog post from Dames a la Mode, which shows a great collection of bonnets from 1797 fashion plates.

I also wanted to share a French bonnet print that I stumbled upon since it falls within my era...

French c.1775-1785
(V&A accession number E.1008-1959)
I couldn't imagine wearing it, but those are some fun poofs!

14 September 2011

Pseudo Swaddling Band

The completed pseudo swaddling band.
Remember that strip of lace I bought when antiquing last month? I used it to make a "swaddling band," that 18th century strip of fabric used to bundle infants.

A photo of the photo from "What Clothes Reveal" showing
the swaddling band from
Colonial Williamsburg's collections.
I modeled mine after this example from Colonial Williamsburg's collections, found on page 158 of What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America. (Unfortunately it's not yet listed in their eMuseum.) Measuring 144 inches long, it's made from linen and decorated with cutwork, pulled threads, embroidered with satin stitches, and trimmed with needlepoint lace.

Attaching the lace to the linen.
My piece of lace measures about 45 inches long, so I didn't have near enough to make it the same length as the original--nor is it needlepoint lace. I cut a strip of linen and approximated the measurements of the end and the point (I added about 5 inches of linen). I flat felled the lace to the linen and hemmed the linen's sides. I then made a point at the end and attached  cotton tape.

It's not a real reproduction - the lace looks too 1940s to be appropriate for the 18th century and it's too short, which is why I refer to it as my "pseudo swaddling band". Even though this project isn't 18th century accurate, it was a good opportunity to learn more about swaddling in the 18th century.

Swaddling Band 1700-1750 (made), probably French 
(V&A accession number B.13-2001)
My research found this example from the Victoria & Albert's collections (accession number B.13-2001). The description states, "Swaddling band made up of two thicknesses of white linen, seamed together at the sides with overcast stitching in white thread. The band is hand embroidered with an elaborate repeating pattern of stylized flowers and foliage, worked in white thread and using a variety of stitches including stem stitch, interlacing stitch, bullion knots, eyelet stitch and wave stitch filling. The embroidery indicates that this is an outer swaddling band, for use as the top layer; one end is straight and the other rounded, the latter being likely to be the outer end."

In Phillis Cunnington and Anne Buck's Children's Costume in England: 1300 - 1900, the chapter focusing on the 18th century begins by describing how the custom of swaddling in England was dying out around the middle of the century. The authors cite a primary source that states,

"How has my heart ached many and many a time when I have seen poor babies rolled and swathed, ten or a dozen times round; then blanket upon blanket, mantle upon that; its little neck pinned down to one posture; its head more than it frequently needs, triple-crowned like a young pope, with covering upon covering; its legs and arms as if to prevent that kindly stretching which we rather ought to promote . . . the former bundled up, the latter pinned down; and how the poor thing lies on the nurses lap, a miserable little pinioned captive" (p.103).

Cunnington and Buck also site a 1785 source where a doctor writes in Lady's Magazine, "The barbarous custom of swathing children like living mummies, is now almost universally laid aside" (p.104).

My swaddled baby, September 2010
Given these descriptions you would think that no one today would swaddle babies. But that's not the case. This week marks my little one's first birthday. I can vouch that perfecting swaddling with a blanket was a Godsend last fall when she was a newborn and during the early infant weeks. Being wrapped snug as a bug helped her feel secure and comfy, and stop crying. We followed the swaddling advice from Dr. Harvey Karp in the DVD Happiest Baby on the Block, which isn't nearly as restrictive as early 18th century swaddling.

So would you swaddle your baby?

06 September 2011

So Not 18th Century?

Remember that hurricane last week? I lost electricity for a day and a half. (It was bad but could have been much worse.) Here are some reflections written when I was semi in the dark...


I have a confession. Thanks to Miss Irene I've come to the conclusion that--when it comes down to it--I might very well be So Not 18th Century. It's 4PM on Sunday. I've been without power for six hours--a personal record. In four hours it will be dark and I don't know what I'm going to do. It will be too dark to sew or read. Can't watch the latest Gordon Ramsey show. Agh!?! Which makes me presume that I couldn't cut it as a colonist.

I ask myself, "If it was 1770, what would I think about this day?" I would probably write a letter...

Tis a day that is more in keeping with March or the winter for the wind is terribly strong. There has been rain but tis not a storm. Many branches have fall from trees and a walk to the harbor shews the water's waves to also feel the heavy winds. 

I must confess, I am glad for the lack of sun and this cool wind. for during these late summer months I oft long for the stark cold of winter.

It's true. Hurricane Irene hasn't brought my island in Southern New England a lot of rain. It's the wind that's proving problematic. The whole island lost electricity due to a tree that fell on a power line. We're trying to eat everything from the fridge but most will be wasted.

I feel lost without the breaking news. I can't visually follow Hurricane Irene's path up the East Coast. I can't follow everyone's facebook updates and learn how the storm is affecting them.

How did colonists manage receiving news so slowly?

I have limited cell phone coverage. I can text my sister who lives downtown, feet from the flood zone. She's drinking strawberry milk. I can text my mom vacationing in Florida. She's shopping for my baby's upcoming birthday. Yet I still worry about my loved ones.

How did colonists handle not hearing from family for weeks / months at a time?

On the other hand, maybe it wouldn't have been that bad. If this storm had hit in the 18th century I wouldn't have known it was coming. I wouldn't have spent days in advance worrying about it or preparing for it. This would just be another gloomy Sunday.