Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Manuscript Monday: Victorian Marital Advice

This (belated) Monday's manuscript is likewise from The Encyclopedia of Business and Social Forms, but this time it covers a different topic entirely, though I confess the title is a little misleading.  I will be transcribing the first two headings under the section "Household Etiquette- "Duties of the Wife" and "Duties of the Husband".  This section is a very good example of how the book means to address both sexes.  So, without further ado-!


Courtesy between husand and wife should not cease with marriage.  The cool indifference which some married persons display towards each other is as objectionable as the excessive affection of others.  You should never forget that your wife is a lady, entitled to all the courtesy and attention you lavished upon her before marriage.  The wife, on her part, should so conduct herself that her husband will delight to treat her thus.


On the wife especially devolves the privilege and pleasure of rendering home happy.  We shall, therefore, speak of such duties and observances as pertain to her.

When a young wife settles first in her home, many excellent persons, with more zeal, it may be, than discretion, immediately propose that she should devote some of her leisure time to charitable purposes: such, for instance, as clothing societies for the poor, or schools, or district visiting.  We say with all earnestness to our young friend, engage in nothing of the kind, however laudable, without previously consulting your husband, and obtaining his full concurrence.  Carefully avoid, also, being induced by any specious arguments to attend evening lectures, unless he accompanies you.  Remember that your Heavenly Father, who has given you a home to dwell in, requires from you a right performance of its duties.  Win your husband, by all gentle appliances, to love religion; but do not, for the sake of even a privilege and a blessing, leave him to spend his evenings alone.  Look often on your marriage ring, and remember the sacred vows taken by you when the ring was given; such thoughts will go far toward allaying may of these petty vexations which circumstances call forth.

Never let your husband have cause to complain that you are more agreeable abroad than at home; nor permit him to see in you an object of admiration, as respects your dress and manners, when in company, while you are negligent of both in the domestic circle.  Many an unhappy marriage has been occasioned by neglect in these particulars.  Nothing can be more senseless than the conduct of a young woman who seeks to be admired in general society for her politeness and engaging manners, or skill in music, when, at the same time, she makes no effort to render her home attractive; and yet that home, whether a palace or a cottage, is the very centre of her being- the nucleus around which jer affections should revolve, and beyond which she has comparatively small concern.

Beware of entrusting any individual whatever with small annoyances, or misunderstandings, between your husband and yourself, if they unhappily occur.  Confidants are dangerous persons, and may seek to obtain an ascendency in families by gaining the good opinion of young married women.  Be on your guard, and reject every overture that may lead to undesirable intimacy.  Should anyone presume to offer you advice with regard to your husband, or seek to lessen him in your estimation by insinuations, shun that person as you would a serpent.  Many a home has been rendered desolate by exciting coolness or suspicion, or by endeavors to gain importance in an artificial and insidious manner.

In all money matters, act openly and honorably.  Keep your accounts with the most scrupulous exactness, and let your husband see that you take an honest pride in rightly apportioning the money which he entrusts to you.  "My husband works hard for every dollar that he earns," said a young married lady, the wife of a professional man, to a lady friend who found her busily engaged in sewing buttons on her husband's coat, "and it seems to me worse than cruel to lay out a dime unnecessarily."  Be very careful, also, that you do not spend more than can be afforded in dress; and be satisfied with such carpets and curtains in your drawing room as befit a moderate fortune or professional income.  Natural ornaments and flowers tastefully arranged give an air of elegance to a room in which the furniture is far from costly; and books, judiciously placed, uniformly give a good effect.  A sensible woman will always seek to ornament her home and to render it attractive, more especially as this is the taste of the present day.  The power of association is very great; light, and air, and elegance are important in their effects.  No wife acts wisely who permits her sitting-room to look dull in the eyes of him whom she ought especially to please, and with whom she has to pass her days.

In middle life instances frequently occur of concealment with regard to money concerns; thus, for instance, a wife wishes to possess an article of dress which is too costly for immediate purchase, or a piece of furniture liable to the same objection.  She accordingly makes an agreement with the seller, and there are many who call regularly at houses when the husband is absent on business, and who receive whatever the mistress of the house can spare from her expenses.  A book is kept by the seller, in which payments are entered; but a duplicate is never retained by the wife, and therefore she has no check whatever.  We have known an article of dress paid for in this manner, far above its value, and have heard a poor young woman, who has been thus duped, say to a lady, who remonstrated with her: "Alas! what can I do? I dare not tell my husband." It may be that the same system, though differing according to circumstances, is pursued in a superior class of life.  We have reason to think that it is so, and therefore affectionately warn our younger sisters to beware of making purchases that require concealment.  Be content with such things as you can honorably afford, and such as your husbands approve.  You can then wear them with every feeling of self-satisfaction.

Before dismissing this part of our subject, we beseech you to avoid all bickerings.  What does it signify where a picture hangs, or whether a rose or a pink looks best on the drawing room table?  There is something inexpressibly endearing in small concessions, in gracefully giving up a favorite opinion, or in yielding to the will of another; and equally painful is the reverse.  The mightiest rivers have their source in streams; the bitterest domestic misery has often arisen from some trifling difference in opinion.  If, by chance, you marry a man of hasty temper, great discretion is required.  Much willingness, too, and prayer for strength to rule your own spirit are necessary.  Three instances occur to us in which ladies have knowingly married men of exceedingly violent tempers, and yet have lived happily.  The secret of their happiness consisted in possessing a perfect command over themselves, and in seeking, by every possible means, to prevent their husbands from committing themselves in their presence.

Lastly, remember your standing as a lady, and never approve a mean action, nor speak an unrefined word; let all your conduct be such as an honorable and right-minded man may look for in his wife, and the mother of his children.  The slightest duplicity destroys confidence.  The least want of refinement in conversation, or in the selection of books, lowers a woman- aye, and forever!  Follow these few simple precepts and they shall prove of more worth to you than rubies; neglect them, and you will know what sorrow is!


As regards the duties of the husband, we desire to be equally explicit.  When a man marries, it is understood that all former acquaintanceship ends unless he intimates a desire to renew it by sending you his own and his wife's card, if near, or by letter, if distant.  If this be neglected, be sure no further intercourse is desired.

In the first place, a bachelor is seldom very particular in the choices of his companions.  So long as he is amused, he will associate freely enough with those whose morals and habits would point them out as highly dangerous persons to introduce into the sanctity of domestic life.

Secondly, a married man has the tastes of another to consult; and the friend of the husband may not be equally acceptable to the wife.

Besides, newly married people may wish to limit the circle of their friends from praiseworthy motives of economy.  When a man first "sets up" in the world, the burden of an extensive and indiscriminate acquaintance may be felt in various ways.  Many have had cause to regret the weakness of mind which allowed them to plunge into a vortex of gayety and expense they could ill afford, from which they have found it difficult to extricate themselves, and the effects of which have proved a serious evil to them in after-life.

Remember that you have now, as a married man, a very different standing in society from the one which you previously held, and that the happiness of another is committed to your charge.  Render, therefore, your home happy by kindness and attention to your wife, and carefully watch over your words and actions.  If small disputes arise, and your wife has not sufficient good sense to yield her opinion- nay, if she seems determined to have her own way, and that tenaciously, do not get angry; rather be silent, and let the matter rest.  An opportunity will soon occur of speaking affectionately, yet decidedly, on the subject, and much good will be effected.  Master your own temper, and you will soon master your wife's; study her happiness without yielding to any caprices, and you will have no reason to regret your self-control.

Never let your wife go to church alone on Sunday.  You can hardly do a worse thing as regards her good opinion of you and the well-being of your household.  It is a pitiable sight to see a young wife going toward the church door unattended, alone in the midst of a crowd, with her thoughts dwelling, it may be very sadly, on the time when you were proud to walk beside her.  Remember that the condition of a young bride is often a very solitary one, and that for your sake she has left her parents' roof and the companionship of her brothers and sisters.  If you are a professional man, your wife may have to live in the neighborhood of a large city, where she scarcely knows any one, and without those agreeable domestic occupations, or young associates, among whom she had grown up.  Her garden and poultry-yard are hers no longer, and the day passes without the light of any smile but yours.  You go off, most probably after breakfast, to your business or profession, and do not return till a late dinner; perhaps even not then, if you are much occupied, or have to keep up professional connections.  It seems unmanly, certainly most unkind, to let your young wife go to church on Sunday without you, for the common-place satisfaction of lounging at home.  To act in this manner is certainly a breach of domestic etiquette.  Sunday is the only day in which you can enable her to forget her father's house and the pleasant associations of her girlhood days- in which you can pay her those attentions which prevents all painful comparisons as regards the past.  Sunday is a day of rest, wisely and mercifully appointed to loose the bonds by which men are held to the world; let it be spent by you as becomes the head of a family.  Let no temptation ever induce you to wish your wife to relinquish attending Divine service, merely that she may "idle at home with you".  Religion is her safeguard amid the trials or temptations of this world.  And woe be to you if you seek to withdraw her from its protection!

Much perplexity in the marriage state often arises from want of candor.  Men conceal their affairs, and expect their wives to act with great economy, without assigning any reason why such should be the case; but the husband ought frankly to tell his wife the real amount of his income; for, unless this is done, she cannot properly regulate her expenses.  They ought then to consult together as to the sum that can be afforded for housekeeping, which should be rather below than above the mark.  When this is arranged he will find it advantageous to give into her hands, either weekly, monthly, or quarterly, the sum that is appropriated for daily expenditure, and above all things to avoid interfering without absolute necessity.  The home department belongs exclusively to the wife; the province of the husband is to rule the house- hers to regulate its internal movements.  True it is, that some inexperienced young creatures know but little of household concerns.  If this occur, have patience, and do not become pettish or ill-humored.  If too much money is laid out at first, give advice, kindly and firmly, and the young wife will soon learn how to perform her new duties.

No good ever  yet resulted nor ever will result from unnecessary interference.  If a man unhappily marries an incorrigible simpleton, or spendthrift, he cannot help himself.  Such, however, is rarely the case.  let a man preserve his own position, and assist his wife to do the same; all things will then move together, well and harmoniously.

Much sorrow, and may heart-burnings, may be avoided by judicious conduct in the outset of life.  Husbands should give their wives all confidence.  They have entrusted to them their happiness, and should never suspect them of desiring to waste their money.  Whenever a disposition is manifested to do right, express your approbation.  Be pleased with trifles, and commend efforts to excel on every fitting occasion.  If your wife is diffident, encourage her, and avoid seeing small mistakes.  It is unreasonable to add the embarrassments of her new condition, by ridiculing her deficiencies.  Forbear extolling the previous management of your mother or sisters.  Many a wife has been alienated from her husband's family, and many an affectionate heart has been deeply wounded by such injudicious conduct; and, as a sensible woman will always pay special attention to the relatives of her husband, and entertain them with affectionate politeness, the husband on his part should always cordially receive and duly attend to her relations.  The reverse of this, on either side, is often productive of unpleasant feelings.

Lastly, we recommend every young married man, who wishes to render his home happy, to consider his wife as the light of his domestic circle, and to permit no clouds, however small, to obscure the region in which she presides.  Most women are naturally amiable, gentle and complying; and if a wife becomes perverse and indifferent to her home, it is generally the husband's fault.  He may have neglected her happiness; but nevertheless it is unwise in her to retort, and, instead of reflecting the brightness that may still shine upon her, to give back the dusky and cheerless hue that saddens her existence.  Be not selfish, but complying, in small things.  If your wife dislikes cigars- and few young women like to have their clothing tainted by tobacco- leave off smoking; for it is, at best, an ungentlemanly and dirty habit.

If your wife asks you to read to her, do not put your feet up on a chair and go to sleep.  If she is fond of music, accompany her as you were wont to do when you sought her for a bride.  The husband may say that he is tried, and does not like music, or reading aloud.  This may occasionally be true, and no amiable woman will ever desire her husband to do what would really weary him.  We, however, recommend a young man to practise somewhat of self-denial, and to remember that no one acts with a due regard to his own happiness who lays aside, when married, those gratifying attentions which he was ever ready to pay when the lady of his love, or to those rational sources of home enjoyment which made her look forward with a bounding heart to become his companion through life.

Finally, remember it is your duty to make the most of liberal provision for your family your means will permit.  Cultivate economy, by all means, but let it be of a liberal character.  Spare your wife all the physical labor you can, especially if she be the mother of children.  Her health is your greatest treasure.  Your money is badly saved at the cost of her health and freshness.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Manuscript Monday: "The Encyclopedia of Business and Social Forms"

Hello all!

I've decided that in order to be better at updating, I'm going to try publishing a segment called "Manuscript Monday" every (you guessed it) Monday posting something from a primary source.

Recently my young man was perusing the library and found this book for sale, and let me tell you ladies and gentleman, it has revolutionized my life.  It's called The Encyclopedia of Business and Social Forms, and let me tell you, they're not exaggerating when they call it that.  It's the PERFECT source for the Making of a Lady Project, because it contains minutia from every facet of everyday life you could dream of (some parts are directed more at males or females but the foreword does definitively mention it as for "the young person" of either sex).  It's the Victorian (my edition is from 1900, and the first was from 1881) guide to being a Renaissance man or woman!  This text has everything-  geography, history, etiquette, interest rates, a thesaurus, exchange rates, poetry, farming tips, recipes...!  I could go on.  I shall go on, but you shan't need to put up with my verbosity, but instead hear it from the horse's mouth.  In all likelihood my next few Manuscript Monday posts are going to be from this text, and I promise you it needn't get old for I shall vary the breadth of material that it covers.

This week I'm going to be starting where the book starts, but I'll be skipping about in future.  Notice how every topic covers not only the knowledge, but the epistemology- how we know what we know, and why we feel justified in declaring it to be true.  This is a truly rounded model of education, and as an educator it makes me positively giddy to read a source that believes in edification for its own sake.  Something else one notices, something peculiar to this time period, is the certainty with which it faces every matter- the turn of the century was an era of unadulterated optimism, at least as far as a belief in human progress was concerned.  Mankind was making rapid advances in medicine, science, transportation- there was no apparent limit to human progress!  And yet, this was not an era afraid to settle on that which had been perfected by previous generations, for this was not a generation who, to quote G.K. Chesterton's 1923 observation, "prefer Thursday to Wednesday simply because it is Thursday".  Rather it was one that saw itself as the latest generation of a human family of whose achievements they were the recipients.  It was, first and foremost, a generation of confidence, and it was perhaps the failure of the late Edwardians to actively pass the epistemology of this on to their children as their own Victorian parents had done that caused such an era of confusion after the Great War.

I have kept spelling and grammar as I have found it.

So, without further ado, from The Encyclopedia of Business and Social Forms, "The Art of Letter Writing: Showing How To Acquire A Good Handwriting":


Writing is the art of expressing ideas by visible signs or characters inscribed on some material.  It is either ideographic or phonetic.  Ideographic writing may be either pictoral, representing representing objects by imitating their forms, or symbolic, by indicating their nature or proportions.  Phonetic writing may be syllabic or alphabetic; in the former, each character represents a syllable; in the latter, a single letter.

The first mention of written letters of which we have any record is in the account given in the Book of Genesis of the Tables of the Law.  We are told that the Ten Commandments were written by the finger of God on tables or tablets of stone.  This statement has led some writers, among them the learned Dr. Adam Clarke, to believe that letters Divinely invented upon this occasion.  There is no necessity, however, for taking this view of the case; for at the time of the "Giving of the Law", a written language was the possession of each of the nations inhabiting the southern short of the Mediterranean.  The Phoenician alphabet, upon which that of the Hebrews was modelled, had been in existence for several centuries before this time, and as Phoenicia was then dependency of Egypt, and engaged in active commerce with that country, Moses was doubtless acquainted with the Phoenician system.  The fact that the Hebrew alphabet was modeled upon the Phoenician seems almost a positive proof of this theory.

The date of the invention of the Phoenician alphabet, which was the first purely phonetic system ever used, is now definitely settled.  It was during the supremacy of the Shepherd Kings over Egypt.  These were princes of Canaanitish origin, who had conquered Lower Egypt, and were contemporary with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  The discoveries of science give us reason to believe that it was the Shepherd Kings of Avaris, who borrowed from the Egyptian hieratic writing a certain number of alphabetical characters, employed them to represent the sounds of their own language, and thus produced the Phoenician alphabet of twenty-two letters, the origin of most of the other alphabets of the world.  The Phoenicians not only invented the alphabet; they taught the use of it to all nations with whom they had commercial transactions.

With the progress of the world, the art of writing and characters employed were greatly simplified, until the system in use at present was adopted by the civilized nations of the world.

Penmanship is the art of writing well.  It is one of the most important accomplishments a person can possess.  No matter what your position in life, the ability to write a good, clear, legible hand is a priceless possession.  To a young man starting out to make his way in life, it is so much genuine capital, which he can turn to advantage at almost every step.  The great object should be to write a firm, clear hand, with uniformly made, well-shaped, and properly shaded letters.  An abundance of flourishes or marks is a defect, except where ornamental writing or "flourishing" is intended.

The present system of forming and combining letters seems to be perfect.  It enables the writer to put his thoughts to paper almost with the rapidity of speech, and it is not probable that it will ever be improved upon.

In this country two styles of penmanship are in use.  One is known as the round hand, the other as the angular.  A new system, known as the semi-angular, has been introduced, mainly through the efforts of the Spencers, and Payson, Dunton and Scribner, and is winning its way to favor, and is winning its way to favor.  The "copy books" prepared by these masters present the best and most progressive system of penmanship now accessible to the learner, and we cordially commend them to all.


The only way in which a person can acquire the art of writing a good hand is by constant and conscientious practice.  With some persons good penmanship is a gift, but all may acquire it by persistent practice.  Select a good system of copies- the series referred to above cannot be improved upon- and try faithfully to form your hand upon the model selected. Do not be satisfied until you can do as well as the master you are seeking to imitate.


It is of the greatest importance that the writing materials used by you should be of the best quality.

The pen should be of steel or of gold.  Many persons prefer the gold pen, because it more nearly approaches the quill in flexibility.  It is also the most durable pen.  A good gold pen, properly used, should last for years.  For general use, and especially for ornamental writing, a good steel pen is by far the best.  It enables you to make a finer and sharper line than can possibly be made with the gold or quill pen.

The paper should be of the best quality and texture, clearly ruled, and not too rough in surface.  It is most common now to use copy-books, regularly prepared and ruled.  These may be o btained from any stationer, those of the Spencerian System, and of Payson, Dunton and Scribner being the best.  It is a good plan, after you have completed a copy-book, to go over the same set of copies again.  This may be done by taking half a dozen sheets of foolscap and cutting them in half.  Place the half sheets within each other, and stitch them together, protecting the whole with a cover of stiff paper.  Then use the copies of the book you have just finished, writing on the new book you have thus made.  This saves the expense of a new copy-book.

A slip of blotting paper should be provided for every copy-book.  In writing rest the hand upon this, especially in warm weather.  The perspiration thrown off by the hand is greasy in its nature, and soils the paper upon which the hand rests, and renders it unfit to receive the ink.

Never use poor ink.  Black ink should always be used in learning to write, and in ordinary correspondence.  Blue and red inks are designed for special purposes, and not for ordinary use.  An ink that flows freely and is nearly black when first used is best.  Do not use a shallow or light inkstand.  The first will not allow you to fill your pen properly; the latter will be easily turned over.  the inkstand should be heavy and flat, and of such a form that you can at once see the amount of ink in it, and thus know how deep to dip your pen.  Dip your pen lightly into the ink, and see that it does not take up too much.  The surplus ink should be thrown back into the inkstand, and not upon the floor.  By stopping the mouth of the bottle when you have finished using it, you will prevent the ink from evaporating too fast, and also from becoming too thick.

A pen-wiper should always be provided.  This should be of some substance that will not leave a fibre in the slit of the pen.  A linen rag or a piece of chamois or buckskin will answer.

After you have learned to write, it is well to provide your desk with a lead pencil, a piece of India rubber, a ruler, and a bottle of mucilage and a brush.


In writing in a sitting position, a flat table is best.

The position of the writer is a matter of the greatest importance, as it decides his comfort at the time, and exercises a powerful influence upon his general health.

The main object is to acquire an easy and graceful position, one in which the right arm has full play of the muscles used in writing.

The table should be sufficiently high to compel you to sit upright.  Avoid stooping, as destructive of a good hand and of good health.  Your position should be such as will enable you to fill your lungs without much effort.  Sit with your right side next to the desk or table, and in such a position that the light will fall over your right shoulder upon the paper.

The right forearm must be placed on the desk so as to rest the muscle front of the elbow, and the hand placed on the book so as to rest the nails of the third and fourth fingers.

The forearm must be at right angles with the copy, the book being steadied by the fingers of the left hand placed on the paper at the left of the pen-point.  Hold the wrist naturally over the desk, and you will see that the inner side is raised a little higher than the outer.  Keep the wrist free from the desk, and do not let it turn over to the right or the left, or bend down or up, or otherwise.

Hold the pen lightly between the thumb and first two fingers, letting it cross the forefinger in front of the third joint.  Rest the base of the holder at the nail of the middle finger.  Place the forefinger over the holder.  Bend the thumb and fingers outward, and let the third and fourth fingers under to rest the hand on the nails.  Let the bibs of the pen press the paper evenly.

The pen should be in a vertical plane with the inside of the forearm, and inclined at an angle of fifty-two degrees (52º) from the base.

The movements in writing are produced by the extension and retraction of the pen-fingers and the thumb; by action of the forearm on the arm-rest as a centre of motion; the whole arm movement, 
which is the action of the whole arm from the shoulder as the centre of motion; and the union of all these movements.  In ordinary writing, the first is sufficient.  In ornamental writing, flourishing, etc., all the various movements are employed.

The fingers should be kept flexible, and their movements, as well as those of the hand and wrist, should be free and unrestrained.  Cramping or stiffening either the fingers or the wrist causes the handwriting to be cramped and awkward, and greatly fatigues the writer.  The pen should be held as lightly as though the least pressure would crush it, and not grasped as though you thought it would fly away.

In standing at a desk to write, stand upright, and with the chest well thrown out.  The desk should be high enough to compel you to do this.  It should slightly incline from the outer edge upwards, and should project far enough to allow you to place your feet well under it.  The principal weight of the body should rest upon the left foot, the right being thrown forward.  Stand with your left side towards the desk, and rest your body on the left elbow, which should be laid upon the desk in such a manner as to enable you to steady your paper or book with the left hand.  This position will enable you to write freely in the ordinary manner, or to use the whole forearm should you desire to do so.  The pen-holder should point towards the right shoulder.

A great saving of fatigue is made by assuming and keeping a correct position while writing either sitting or standing.  By conscientiously attending to this matter, you will soon acquire the habit of maintaining a correct position, and will reap the benefit  in the ease with which you perform your task, and in improved health.

No none should be satisfied with a bad handwriting when it is in his power to improve it.  Any one can procure a copy-book, and can spare an hour, or half an hour, a day for this effort at improvement.  You should begin at the beginning, and practise faithfully until you have reached a satisfactory result.  Remember that a good hand is not acquired in a week or a month; it takes long and diligent practice to produce this result.  The end, however, is worth all the labor necessary to its accomplishment.

The great aim should be to make the handwriting legible.  An ornamental hand is very attractive, but it may be this and yet not easily read.  This is to fail in the first requisite of good writing.

The advantages of writing well are numerous, and will readily suggest themselves.  In the first place, it is always a pleasure to prepare a plainly and neatly-written letter or paper.  The writer is then never afraid or ashamed for his friends to see his writing, and is never disgraced by a wretched scrawl in addressing a letter to a stranger.

A good hand is also an invaluable aid to a young man seeking employment.  A merchant employing clerks and salesmen will always give the preference to the best penman.  A young man applying by letter for a situation can scarcely offer a better reference than the appearance of his letter.  Should you wish to become a book-keeper or accountant, a good handwriting is a necessity."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Meadow of Mirth; or, the Making of a 1902 Bolero Jacket.

Hello all!

I know, I'm horrid at updating things.  Truly, very horrid.  BUT in my defence, I have been sort of good about updating my Instagram for this blog, so if you like to look at pictures of finished things, hie yourself thence.

For quite a while now (let's say... er... ten years?) I've been wanting to make this, and this year I have finally gotten around to doing it.  This year is turning out to be the year that I bust the Real Stash to get through my Mental Stash, which is rather nice, not only because it involves improving a part of myself that I abhor (that is, going through with projects to the very end) but also because when an item has been a part of one's imaginary closet for so long, it is rather a relief to have the garment to call upon when you actually need it.

So!  This garment was originally inspired by, as many of you may recognize, Lily Bart's suit that she wears at Bellomont in House of Mirth (2000) :

  And it's funny, because I spent ages in love with the way the back is pleated on hers, like so.  There is also a bolero worn by Victoria St. John in Episode 6 of Berkeley Square, seen at bottom:

But then I saw this fashion plate, and fell in love with the green bolero.  It's just more... bolero-y, and I love the drape of it.

So I decided to combine the two.  I had already made a trumpet skirt (in ILO19 "Meadow" linen from Fabrics-store.com- I just adore this color) about five years ago out of the same linen, and I had quite a bit left over.  I'm still planning on making something else to match up with it from the same era, but we'll see what it is- I have a few ideas.  Maybe this 1907 jumper for over a nice new shirtwaist?

In any case!  I actually (for maybe the second time in my entire life) took progress pictures of this, so I can show you how I made it.  I've drafted my own patterns for most of my sewing career (mostly because I'm lazy and cheap, and paper patterns go against those two deeply ingrained values in my heart haha), but recently I've been actually drawing them out before I draw them on the fabric, on a 1/8th scale.  Usually this ends up being changed a great deal, but it does give me some idea of where to start and how I'm going to fit everything on the fabric.  

So, I ended up with seven total pieces (two bodice fronts, one back, two sleeves, and two pieces of neck binding).  I didn't get a picture of the back piece before I pleated it, but you can see how the front of the bodice is cut one with the faux "robings" on the front:


Before and after:

Both turned back:

I topstitched the robings down and under at the bottom.  Before I did so, however, I made a small horizontal cut in the fabric where the robings met the bodice so that I could have room to both turn under the bottom of the robing and hem the bottom of the bodice (the piece is shown sideways here).

I pinned all the box pleats into place and eventually topstitched them down from the bottom of the armscye up (they're only pinned about half way here).  There is one pleat in the middle and one each where the shoulder seam becomes the back of the neck.  You can see that the bottom is on the selvedge- that did get hemmed up.

Box pleats!

I wore it to a show the same day I finished it (which was only a day after I had drafted it, which almost never works as often as I think it will haha), and I didn't have any time to take nice pictures (or starch my collar, or put in collar stays) so please forgive these ones, but they do show the construction well enough:

You can see how the back kicks out in a cute little bolero-y way.  

That far right pleat had been sat on during the car ride home.  It was re-starched into place shortly after this was taken haha.

I love how the front falls down into a point.  I added the tassels- it just seemed like a natural choice, and I love how they look.

The shape looks funky here, but it's just because I was holding my arm so you could see how the bodice cuts up.  

I have to say, I've been planning this for so long that I expected it to already be old news and underwhelming by the time I'd finished it, but I really did fall in love with it when I put it on.  It's such a fun little jacket, and it really brings the outfit together and makes it into something distinct.  It's very hard to get good pictures of because there are so many dimensions to it, but it really is quite lovely in person!  I'll have to go on a more picturesque outing to get some nice photographs of it.  

Until next time!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

This Brave New World

I have been prevailed upon to join Instagram, where you shall indubitably find that other people do a far superior job of remembering to take photographs of me than I do myself.  As you may have noticed, I am rather horrid at keeping things up to date.  Blogs, projects, my wardrobe... ;)

But!  I am determined to become a more regular, accountable sort of person, so hopefully having such a platform will inspire me to share the travails of this project more often.

So, pray, follow away!
The Baroness on Instagram

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Lady of Economy

I've been working, I swear!

I know I've been horrid at updating, but perhaps that is a part of what comes with being comfortable in any century but this one!

But, to make up for it, I have a project, and I even took progress pictures!  People who know me will be aghast.

I must give credit where credit is due- to Heather McNaughton of Truly Victorian for this brilliant idea.  It is she who came up with the brilliance of getting a shirtwaist from a tablecloth, not I.

The project itself is a c. 1902-4 shirtwaist.  You can tell the specific year because of the sleeves, which pouch down at the back of the cuff but not the front:

It is nearly impossible to find good quantities of good lace these days, so the idea is to save both money and fabric and use a battenberg lace tablecloth instead.  

The tablecloth itself was 54" in diameter.  Heather's called for 72", but I figured I was small and I could make it since I was drafting the pattern myself off of an extant I have.  Famous last words.

It actually did all fit, but that center piece, the sleeve, was about five inches too short.  I managed to have extra lace at the border so I cut it off and added the lace from the border to the lace on the sleeve and extended it.  I also had to add some fabric to the armscye to get it to ease in well.

Heather's originally had fabric binding the neckline, but I wanted mine to have a proper high lace collar, and since there was enough lace left over, I added that, too.

The finished waist next to the October 1903 edition of the Ladies' Home Journal:

I finally got a few pictures of it at an event last weekend, which is why I was so long in posting.  The only thing I think I would change is that most waists have pin tucks in the front to prevent tugging on the low, pigeon bust.  The tablecloth didn't have this, and it does tug a little, but not too badly.

Forgive the pictures- it was at the end of a very long day out in the heat, so my hair has rather given in haha!  The zig-zag wires to keep my collar up were not yet in at this point, so it too is a little saggy.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Grown-Up Christmas List

I've been in hospital and subsequent recovery for the past two weeks, so please excuse my absence!  I'm quite all right now, but I didn't have any time to post, so here's a quick little tidbit about some Victorian material culture.

First of all, I love Christmas.  We're talking, put up the tree for a weekend in August for fun, play "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas once the door has shut on the last trick-or-treater, host full-on holiday baking days, drive around to give out awards to the best-decorated houses while charting annual lighting trends, love Christmas.  (While I have that particular soap box, by the way, may I take this opportunity to discourage you all from this year's holiday lighting trend- the projected lights.  Don't be that lazy.  Hire someone to put them up if you physically cannot.  Ask the cute neighbor to do it.  Bribe your grandkids with copious amounts of sugar to do it.  I don't care.  I say, but this is Christmas, not the disco.  Ahem.  Off soap box.)

As a teacher, I always ask the kids in my classes (I substitute at the moment) what they want for Christmas.  Naturally, the top answer is "the new iPhone", whatever its incarnation may be.  

Well, I have a confession- so do I.

I know what you're thinking.  "She's betrayed us.  She's from the 21st century after all!"

No, friends- I'm here to talk to you about Ye Olde iPhone; the chatelaine.  

The chatelaine (which is a post-1828 term- previously it seems to have been referred to as a few things, most commonly an "equipage") started out as literally "the keys to the castle" in the Middle Ages and enjoyed a few incarnations (including a surge in the 18th century as the ladies' equivalent of a watch fob) before settling on the Victorian manifestation of domestic charm bracelet.  

It clips onto the waistband of the lady of the house (the "chatelaine" in French) and a number of chains (usually from two to five, though you can get dividers that clip to one and split into more) hang from the clip.  To these you can hang all sorts of things depending on your activities- pens, pencils, scissors, thimbles, needle cases, button hooks, pocket knives, nail files, tiny (usually chain link) coin purses, little notebook "aide memoires" with pencils attached so you can write things down the second you think of them (ahem the grocery list), stamp holders, vestas (match holders with strikers on the bottom), and, most importantly, the keys to the house.  Obviously a lady wouldn't be wearing all these at once, but it solved a problem the solution to which we've forgotten about today- the problem of the Perpetually Lost Keys (or, the seamstress version, "Damn It, Didn't I Just Have The Scissors In My Hand").  Ladies could also get chatelaine purses for outdoor wear, which are just the purse with a chatelaine waistband clip.  

This 1880s portrait shows a woman with a chatelaine sporting a container of some kind, a coin purse, a scissors, a watch, and a needle case.  She appears to have abandoned convention by wearing the one thing the chatelaine was designed for- keys- around her neck.  She's also wearing a fur stole and holding binoculars- she looks like a lady worth knowing!

Collecting items for a chatelaine is exactly akin to collecting charms, except it has the added bonus of being useful.  Over the past few years, I've collected an aide memoire, a pocket knife, a fountain pen (a testament to how everyone likes different things on her chatelaine depending on her chief occupations- I'm always losing pens in class), a scissors, a separate chatelaine purse, and my personal favorite, my vesta (I keep waiting for the period horror movie that utilizes fumbling for one's vesta in the night and striking a match to see some awful creature like a combination of Crimson Peak and The Conjuring).  

I have yet, however, to find an actual chatelaine I like- until this year, when I found a specimen finally worth writing to Santa about.  I'll be sure to post pictures of all my trinkets attached to it come Christmas!  True to Victorian form, chatelaines and their "apps" are things both of utility and extreme beauty.  I'll take that over an iPhone any day!  In the words of Sarah Chrisman (Victorian Secrets, This Victorian Life), I may not be able to make a phone call with my chatelaine, but can you light a fire with your iPhone? 

My Victorian iPhone isn't the only reason for the season, though.  The weather in sunny Southern California has been ever so slightly acquiescing to my demands for more seasonal behavior, and I was actually confronted with cold hands in the morning last week.  This reminded me that I needed to go ice skating, which reminded me that I was a lady without appropriate accoutrements for such an outing.  I had been procrastinating on making a fur muff, and, accepting that it would never happen, I bought one.  I had wanted a huge one like in the Christmas greeting card above, but I fell in love with one that looked exactly like it, but that looked just big enough to fit both my hands into.  It arrived yesterday and surprised my by being quite every bit as big as the one in the card!  Such simple pleasures.  I'll post pictures of it after my skating day!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Interpreting the Silhouette

Historical costumers are constantly trying for it.  The "100 Years of Fashion" videos are constantly getting it wrong. So how do you get "the right silhouette"?

Something I frequently find myself swearing up and down in defence of historical fashion is that "it looks really nice on people, I swear!"  This is usually said in rebuttal to some attack on a more creative period in fashion history- almost always as portrayed in a painting or drawing.

Fashion plate, c. 1690.
Fashion plate, c. 1835.

The 1690s and 1830s are among some of the more... misunderstood decades of fashion.

Of course, we still have fashion plates after the invention of photography, but we also have photographic evidence to explain what the elongated bodice of the 1840s should look like, and photographs to explain what the fashionable silhouette of the bustle is this season.  With earlier fashions, a little more of a discerning eye is necessary.

Fashion plates (above) are a fantastic way to look for images of a proper silhouette, and we have them fairly early on.  Very early fashion reports are mainly of what specific people are wearing to specific events, not really general ideas for everyday people to reproduce.  In 1562 we get a book on the "fashions of all nations"- again, not really a treasure trove of examples for lots of different variations on a style.  By the mid 17th century, however, we are getting generic examples of what a "courtier" or "a lady of fashion" might wear instead of just reports on a specific ensemble.

Another way is to look at contemporary art.  You can look at artwork, but you have to remember that certain eras of art history have different aesthetic values than others.  Baroque and Rococo fashion, for example, has similar boning in the feel of the stays/bodice, but one aesthetic emphasizes fluidity of motion and relaxation much more than the other.  That said, when wearing clothing, we also have to keep in mind the cultural influences affecting things like art which also would have undoubtedly affected fashion in ways to do with posture, etc.

The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1767.
Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary,
Anonymous, c. 1671. 

So what about earlier periods?  Before the 16th century, we do have portraits of individuals, but they aren't terribly distinctive.

In this post, I want to focus on the 14th century, but I'll be dragging a few other eras in for reference, as well.

When we look at the silhouette of 14th c. clothing, we have to remember a few things:
-Resist imposing 21st century beauty standards onto this period of fashion.
-Emphasize and enhance the natural curves of the body.
-Trust the texts/artists.

The first one may seem obvious.  We get it in lots of different eras- we know that the 1880s spoon busk creates a fashionable "belly" that modern fashions avoid at all costs.  But we tend to fall into this trap with 14th century clothing just for that reason- the undergarments don't (seem to) be as drastic in shaping, so we have this image of 14th c. clothing as the "natural" shape.  That is, at least, the 21st century natural shape- fitted all the way down past the hips, creating a flat abdomen and a long waist.

In part, we owe this folly to the pre-Raphaelite painters who also imposed their contemporary long-waisted fashion onto their idealized period:

"Miranda- The Tempest" by John William Waterhouse, 1916.

In the painting, Miranda's cotehardie is fitted right down past her hips, where it flairs.

Which is where we get to the second point- medieval fashion accentuates and emphasizes the natural shape of a woman.  Now, the "natural" condition of woman is one that is praised for that most miraculous of functions that she alone can perform- making new people.  I really can't emphasize how much this isn't insulting to women- the theology and even the daily paradigm of the medieval period is very good at lauding everyone for what they do well, and it isn't even just necessarily to "keep everyone in their place," though the Great Chain of Being is absolutely a Thing.  We have accounts of sons writing to their fathers telling them they want to become merchants (not a popular trade at the time), and their fathers writing back essentially saying, "well, as long as you make sure you're being the best merchant you can be as a credit to your family and God!"  

But back to fashion!  Now, I want to be very clear- fashion in this period isn't necessarily all "oh my god, let's show off women's fertility" any more than today's fashion would admit to be playing to the biological tendency of human beings to rate their partners based on breast to waist ratios.  It's just that what is "sexy" then is an emphasis on the breasts and hips.  This comes from a great deal of things- the phrase "fine child-bearing hips" is one that can be found as late as today, with an aunt of mine having the pleasure of hearing it as the first thing she heard from her (ex) boyfriend's mother's lips in the 1980s (she was a farmer, and it was the Irish countryside, if we're being fair).  This isn't even so much to do with actual childbearing (again, just as time has distanced us from large breasts actually being associated with good nursing) as it is just to do with the fashionable silhouette.  A woman of the 14th century who had had the 21st century's desired flat abs might have been looked at, if not necessarily disparagingly, as we might look at someone who "could use a cheeseburger".  

The 14th century had the added bonus of experiencing almost consistent back luck.  The Medieval Warm Period turned on its heel and swung the century into the Little Ice Age promptly in the spring of 1315, along with floods and crop failures that led to almost unprecedented rises in pulmonary diseases, crime, infanticide (it is from this period that we begin to see stories akin to 'Hansel and Gretel'), and even in some sources, cannibalism.  Just as the crops have recovered in 1320, a bovine plague sweeps western Europe, causing starvation not only by the lack of beef, but also the lack of work animals for harvest, and an almost 80% drop in milk production.  New studies have shown that Plague may have killed so many because many children grew up in the first quarter of the century without milk or much food during their childhoods to build up any kind of innate protection to disease.  Close on the heels of the bovine crisis came the beginning of the Hundred Years War, closely followed by the Plague, a couple more famines, and a few Peasant Revolts just to mix things up.  During this period in art (and noticeably more so beginning in the 1350s), we get what has been called the "Gothic slouch", whereby the posture of ladies emphasizes their bellies.  I really think this has less to do with the whole "look at me I can reproduce" and more to do with the "look how healthy I am" fashion which really hadn't been any different in earlier decades, it was just more pronounced now that it was exceptionally rarer not to be dying of something.  Today we do the same thing, only we walk around Whole Foods in booty gym shorts and sports bras holding kale smoothies.
The Gothic slouch does undeniably give a "pregnant" vibe on paper, but in real life it is actually quite regal and graceful looking to lead your posture with your hips instead of your shoulders.  This kind of posture has come and gone- it was, for example, briefly popular in the 1840s and early 1850s in emphasis with the period's long bodices, though the bell-shaped skirts make it a little harder to tell than do heavier draped skirts.  As you might be able to tell, it isn't actually that dramatic, and it isn't really a "slouch"- your shoulders and spine remain straight, you just lead with your hips forward.  

c. 1350

c. 1850
1840s "slouch" in practice.

Before roughly the middle of the 14th century, as far as we can tell, clothing was loose enough to drape or pull over the head.  After that, with the influx of "High Fashion" widespread enough that those who were not nobility could emulate it, we begin to see more lacing and buttoning on garments.  Even so, the tight-fitted-ness is generally still in the same places.  To emphasize the posture and hips of ladies, fashion (contrary to the pre-Raphaelites) generally dictated that skirts let out from the top of the belly, not the bottom of the hip.

Which is where we get to our third point: trusting the artist.

Medievals on the whole are often not seen as the most reliable narrators- especially in records of battles, they are known for their hyperbole- "there were A MILLION of them and TEN of us but then ANGELS came down and helped us slaughter them ALL!!!"  Historians regularly pull our hair out trying to determine how many people were actually at a certain battle.

The medievals were, however, actually quite ardent sticklers for detail, so long as that detail was mundane.  God pervaded every aspect of life, so when you were talking about battles and victories, you could emphasize God's power- but when you were talking about everyday affairs, you were usually talking about God's justice or creation.  As a result, we have painstaking detail recorded about court cases, populations, land divisions, the mortality rate of plagues or famines, etc.- and we have a ton of art depicting every walk of life.  There is a myth that has managed to wedge itself into the popular consciousness that if you weren't someone "important", it's nigh on impossible to tell who you were or how you lived.  This simply isn't true- the medievals loved chronicling life almost as much as they loved living it, so there's a whole world of documentation for historians if we just know what we're looking for.
And you know, sometimes documentation for when we have no idea what the hell we were looking for...

Of course, you do have to be careful about the details sometimes- we have artists portraying lots of detail about things they don't necessarily know anything about.  Trades (masonry, carpentry, etc.) are a great example of this.  But, thankfully, we're studying clothing, and since pretty much everyone wore clothing, we can be fairly sure the artists knew what they were talking about.  Details abound!

Once you get to the silhouette itself, then, you notice that the shape cuts away not at the hips, but at the natural waist- almost right below the bust:

Even later with more heavily supported, flatter bodices, we see no shy-away from accentuation of the belly and hips:

So, when working with the Middle Ages, much like with the spoon busks of the Victorian era, we need to remember not to shy away from (literally) "the full silhouette"!