Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: An Agreeable Tyrant

I ordered "An Agreeable Tyrant": Fashion after the Revolution the moment that Alden O'Brien posted about its availability on Facebook.

Full disclosure: I borrowed this picture of the cover from 2NHG but did not hotlink it
The eponymous exhibition opened this month at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C. and will run until April 2017: it focuses on American men's and women's dress from the end of the Revolutionary War to 1830. And you really want its catalogue! Not only does it have beautiful photography of the exhibition, it features a number of well-cited essays on the period that are great reading.

The book opens with "After the Revolution: Aspirations and Ambivalence," by the DAR Museum's curator of costume and textiles, Alden O'Brien, on the subject of Federal-period Americans' difficult feelings for fashion as they attempted to balance a desire for luxury with moral concerns (and also dealing with the myth of homespun). Then there is "An Elegant Assortment of Goods: Apparel Textiles of Federal-Era America," by Madelyn Shaw, which contains a lot of great information about period textiles and their manufacture. Then Ann Wass's "Regulating the Dresses of the Ladies: American Women's Fashion, 1780-1825" and Mark Hutter's "Coat Tales: Changes in the Fashion, Cut, and Construction of Men's Clothing, 1775-1830," about the transitions in fashion during this time. The essay section of the catalogue ends with "Economy with Elegance: Practices of Thrift in Fashion," by Carolyn Dowdell.

The photography of the garments in the exhibition is really stunning, and it's supplemented with patterns taken by Mackenzie Anderson Sholtz (of Fig Leaf Patterns), Carolyn Dowdell, Mark Hutter, Mike McCarty, and Ike Cech of both men's and women's garments, with a nice sampling through the earlier part of the period to demonstrate the variety of fashion at the time.

You can buy the catalogue in the DAR Museum's store. If you're in Canada, you should contact them directly to order it, as the automated shipping to Canada is higher than it needs to be.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Miner Street, Canton, in 1900

I can't believe I've been working on this exhibition since the spring. Well, technically, I spent quite a few months in between researching a walking tour of Main Street - originally my brother agreed to make an ambitious app for it, which was then scaled back into a page on our website, and then recently I found that The Clio Foundation is developing something to allow exactly the kind of tours I want to create, so that isn't available yet.


The exhibition itself went up very smoothly. As you can see, it's not large - just one short stretch of wall next to and running up the side of our narrow ramp. To the right is the intro text:
Imagine yourself back in Canton in the year 1900. Walking down the north side of Main Street from the Silas Wright House (at this time being used as a parsonage for the newly-rebuilt Universalist Church), you pass most of the same buildings that you know today with different occupants – the Remington Corner Clothing Store, Conkey’s Drug Store, Cleland Austin, Dezell’s – and see the American House and Jack & Kirkland’s bakery on the south side. Once you pass the Neo-Gothic splendor of the town hall, turn left onto calm, residential Miner Street.
The design is pretty simple. In the center (... the thematic center; it's actually off to the left) is a copy of the 1905 Sanborn Fire Map showing Miner Street


A narrow cotton tape connects each relevant house to its label, often accompanied by a photo of the house or one of its residents. As you can see from the photo at the top, most of the photos are on the right/east side of the street - the people who lived there were more affluent than those on the west side next to the river and had more opportunities for having their pictures taken, and/or had more photogenic houses. The two pictures on the left are of Nelson Brown, who worked in the fairly well-documented J. H. Rushton boat factory, and J. Stanley Ellsworth, a local retailer whose family was the one exception to the rule about affluence and street side.

When I first got started with this project, I hoped that it would be something easily replicable for other museums like us (focused on local history, no money for fancy exhibition installations, etc.). Unfortunately, I'm not sure whether it is. A number of things came together to make this work for me:

  • The block where the Remingtons and Sackriders (relatives from both sides of Frederic Remington's family) lived was at the top of the street, and it was clear that the census-taker had been working Main Street and then dipped down into Miner. It's not as clear which direction he was going in on some of the side streets.
  • A Sanford Fire Map existed that showed the street, and I had access to it, so I could figure out where the houses were around 1900, since they're all gone now.
  • The New York State Historic Newspapers digitization project began in the North Country, so our newspapers were very well represented and I was able to find a lot of information about these people. (Compare to my home county, where the only scanned paper is the Fort Edward Ledger, 1857-1865.)
There are other situations where this project could still work. If you have a street with homes mostly built before the time period of the census you're using - that will help. If you have a street that the census-taker clearly turned into from one end, or know a couple of the historic residents, that will also help.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Book Review: The Long Weekend, by Adrian Tinniswood

I picked out The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 1918-1939 from NetGalley to review here as the country house has such a prominent place in classic and historical fiction - think of how many mysteries wouldn't exist without characters being cooped up together for a country weekend!


The book is exhaustive - Tinniswood goes through all the aspects of the country house itself, from architecture to interior decoration to sale to (royal, aristocratic, and common) owners, with detailed descriptions of how these went down at various specific estates. The social aspects, unfortunately, don't seem to get as much time as the others (or perhaps the architecture and interior design chapters simply seemed very, very long?). Country house parties are dealt with at the very beginning, and then at the end there's discussion of gay country house owners, hunting and fishing, the servants, politics, and the collapse of this culture during WWII.

Ultimately, I'm not sure how much it enriches the period-drama-fan's view of country house society beyond what you've absorbed from period novels and shows like Brideshead Revisited and Downton Abbey and the like - it confirms rather than enlightens, and gives specific context to generalizations you already knew. But if the reader is researching the period, all of this specific information is extremely helpful.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

HSM #8 - Pattern: A Victorian Quilt

Well, it was intended to be a Victorian quilt, but I'm not sure about the overall effect.

Photographed on my bed for scale, but the quilt is now in Ohio with Julie.
I've always meant to do some quilting, but it's never come up. In 2015, I went so far as to buy the fabric to make this one as a wedding present, but the actual Hallowedding bridesmaid dress was more pressing, so I backburnered this and ... forgot about it, pretty much. Then, earlier this year, when I was thinking about the "pattern" challenge, it occurred to me that patchwork quilting is definitely all about patterns.


For inspiration and an idea of what I could sew that wouldn't take me too many months, I visited Warmth, Remembrance, and Art: 200 Years of Quilts and Comforters in Northern New York at TAUNY, to which the St. Lawrence County Historical Association had loaned a couple of antiques. I was a little overwhelmed, but this brick pattern struck me as a good one for a first quilt.


This quilt was made by Olive Clark Wood, who married in 1874 and was widowed in 1877. The curator speculated (reasonably) on the label that these were all samples of material from the fancy goods store she ran to support herself. I made mine much more matchy, but it's still the same basic pattern.

When I bought the fabric, I didn't know exactly what I'd make, but I knew it would be an historical pattern so I made sure to aim for plausibly mid-19th century prints and solids (and Julie's favored dark purple colorway). I really wish I had more of this pink print in particular to use for an 1830s day dress, but unfortunately it was going out when I bought this fabric almost two years ago and it's nowhere to be found.


I was doing hand-piecing for the short seams at first, but with some advice from Mom I got into the rhythm of doing it all by machine. The quilting, though, is all by hand - straight diagonal lines, an inch apart. This is something I've seen on a number of period quilts and seemed nice and simple, but one thing you should know if you try to do this is that the lines increase in length very, VERY quickly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fashion in 1867

Because of the upcoming Dragonrose pattern for an 1867 evening dress, I wanted to explore the fashion of that year. The American Civil War period is very well-explored, and I've done a certain amount of research into the early bustle period, but in between those two, my impression has been comparatively vague.

Godey's Lady's Book, May 1867; NYPL 803309
Bodices

The most common style of bodice for daywear was, as in the previous period, a front-closing one with a jewel neckline and dropped armscye. White collars were still worn: a standing collar inside the neckline, a ruffled collar also inside the neckline, and a turn-down collar with points. Cuffs were made in similar styles, and worn on two-piece coat sleeves of a moderate width; a decorative hanging oversleeve was a fashionable addition for any situation where a long sleeve was appropriate. In evening dress a broad or squared neckline was prevalent, worn with very short sleeves. Images labeled dinner dress often show a squared neckline filled in with a chemisette.

At the beginning of the year, the waistline tended to be on the high side of natural; by the end of it, it was a little higher.

Godey's Lady's Book, spring 1867; NYPL 803342
Skirts


The most distinctive aspect of fashion in 1867 is the shape of the crinoline. From 1861 through 1866, the fashionable hoop skirt had a large diameter, projecting out in the back and forming something of a straight-sided cone. In 1867, the cone narrowed to a more modest circumference that ran close to the hips, sometimes flaring out into a train.

"Empress's Trail" crinoline, 1867-1869; LACMA FIC.7758.523
While there were still walking costumes with skirts held off the ground evenly, the fashionable skirt was of roughly the same cut as before - and therefore ended up trailing on the ground when worn over the new crinoline, similar to what would happen in 1876 with the collapse of the bustle.

Vertically-striped fabric and vertically-applied trim were fashionably used to accentuate the new narrowness of the skirt. The cut was usually heavily gored, the front and sides attached with minimal pleating and the center back tightly gauged. I originally dated this day gown at the Chapman Museum to 1865-1868, but in retrospect, based on the cut of the skirt and the trim, I would tighten the dates to 1866-1867.
Godey's Lady's Book, 1867; NYPL 803413
Overskirts were beginning to appear but were not very common at this point, and tended to be long.

Hats and Hairstyles

Compared to the Civil War-era styles, hair was worn somewhat high on the back of the head, without coming down onto the neck. Generally, during the day the hair was worn up in a mass with false braids and switches to increase the size; for evening dress, a few long curls might spill down onto the shoulders.

Godey's Lady's Book, 1867; NYPL 825129
Fashionable bonnets and caps likewise were higher up on the head - essentially being flat and resting atop the hairstyle.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Eating One's Words

This is so awkward.

Some time ago, I wrote a piece on the blogger at This Victorian Life. She had recently been profiled by Vox or Vice or Vulture - one of those online magazine-like sites - and the profile itself didn't seem very fair. In addition, a lot of the resulting internet chatter about the whole situation of a couple deciding to live "like Victorians" (kind of) came off to me as wrong-headed, assuming that nostalgia for history and a desire to experience the past automatically meant thinking that all aspects of the past are better than the present, including historic racism, sexism, etc., and my contrariness and defensiveness kicked in, pushing me to post a rebuttal.

Recently, the blogger and her husband took a trip to Vancouver where they attempted to visit a famous private garden, the rules of which disallow costumes and wedding dress. In a blog post, the employees who turned them away were described as cruel, rude brutes who looked down on the couple, the horrible nakedness of other patrons in modern summer clothing was highlighted, and she asked readers to write to the garden and review them poorly online. This is something I look askance at no matter what the situation, but it later turned out that the situation may have been extremely exaggerated and that the rules were posted on the internet and known ahead of time.

I would really rather be posting something interesting related to the Dragonrose Historical Pattern Kickstarter right now, and normally I would just let this pass by without bothering to write a post about it. But because I did write those earlier, praising posts and because this episode is going around the costuming world online, I feel like I need to address this issue or it may be assumed that I endorse it.

Look, I think it's important to show people that Victorian and Edwardian clothing doesn't smother you and prevent you from moving. And if you want to live without most aspects of modern technology, that's really cool. But it is not okay to look down on other people because they aren't in historical clothing, it is not okay to try to force yourself in historical clothing into a space that doesn't allow it, it is not okay to emotionally misrepresent how you were handled by a business, and it is especially not okay to sic one's fandom on a business's online reviews or customer support. It's an ugly way to behave.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Kickstarter - Fully Funded!

Hooray! After just a few days, Dragonrose Historical Patterns has been fully funded and then some. I must give a great big thank-you to everyone who supported us, either for a preordered pattern or without reward, and another big thank-you to Lauren of American Duchess for sharing a link for us on Facebook.

Look, it really is a Pingat!
Our total is still climbing. Julie and I discussed it, and decided to add a few stretch goals.

$3,400 - We're already almost to this one (and may hit it while I'm typing). When we hit it, we can purchase a module to allow us to create standard-sized, preprinted patterns, in addition to our custom-sized patterns for individuals.

$13,500 - I know, it sounds like a lot! It is a lot! But the extra $11,000 would allow us to buy a 72" Ioline Flex-Jet E commercial printer, which would let us print Dragonrose patterns much more cheaply and therefore sell them to you more cheaply. We would also be able to sell them to distributors wholesale, allowing you to buy them from any of your preferred dealers.

In addition, this stretch goal will allow us to give every donor a second pattern at no charge. If you ordered the bodice pattern? You will be able to choose another bodice pattern at any time down the line, from any time period. If you buy the pattern for the whole gown? You will be able to get a free gown pattern when we have more offerings.

We've also added another reward tier. For $100, you can reserve a copy of any other full-gown pattern that we should produce. This is perfect for those of you who do want a pattern of a provenanced garment in a museum, but just don't have much use for the 1860s. And as with the other rewards, if we hit our second stretch goal, you will get a second voucher for a full pattern of your choice.

The beautiful bow
So please consider contributing if you haven't yet! We need your help to become the company we know we can be, and to bring patterns of more beautiful and/or unusual garments from museum collections to your sewing rooms. If you can't contribute, we would really appreciate it if you could share the Kickstarter with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or any other social media site - or even word of mouth!