Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 Conference Fabric - The Gentlemen's Fabric

One of the annual highlights of the Ladies & Gentlemen of the 1860's conference is the Saturday morning reveal of the "conference fabric" - each faculty member receives a piece, a dress length for the ladies and a different fabric for the men, typically enough to make a vest. It's always amazing to see how different the same fabric can look made up, depending on the choice of trims, placement, etc.

This year, the men received the above fabric - I don't remember the exact textile makeup, wool and silk? Wool and linen? 

Regardless, it had a lovely hand and was enjoyable to work with. But the big question was how to use it? Robin has several vests now, in a variety of fabrics and a vest just doesn't have as many options as does a dress.

This pattern has been floating around in my brain for several years now:

It's from Peterson's, circa 1857. No instructions are given, just the diagram. Looking at the design, it seemed to be intended for braidwork - the pattern is continuous for the most part, with few stops or starts. But I have not yet encountered an original trimmed in such a manner - so time to do some research!

First I reviewed all my photos of originals: embroidery but no braidwork. Then I started on the reference books and in Nineteenth-Century Costume Treasures published by Shippensburg University, I found my first clue - the same pattern as above, with the note that it had been previously published in the Ladies' Cabinet of Fashion (an English publication) in 1852.  

A bit of online searching, and success!

This time instructions were included:


Materials :—Black Cloth sufficient for a Waistcoat; black Velvet, Albert Braid, and Gold Thread.

The design given is equally adapted for braiding and application. The latter term is applied (as most ladies are aware) to any sort of work in which the pattern is formed in one fabric, and laid on another, which is the ground. The edges are finished in various ways. When muslin and net are used, the edges are sewed or button-holed over; for velvet, cloth, and satin a braid of some sort is usually laid over the edge, and sewed over. The Albert braid, recently made in this country, is especially adapted for such a purpose; it looks much richer than the flat silk braidings; and when edged on each side with gold thread, it has a very rich effect.

To prepare the work, draw the pattern the full size, on bank-post paper, and mark all the outlines by pricking them, at equal distances, with a coarse needle. Place the pattern over the velvet, keeping it in its place by means of weights, and apply fine pounce all over the surface with a large flat stump. When the paper is removed, the design will be seen clearly marked on the velvet. By laying the paper on the other side, the other half of the waistcoat can be marked. As these outlines are, however, easily effaced, it will be necessary to mark them over again with a solution of flake-white and gum-water, applied with a fine sable brush.

As in all else, there is a great improvement in the mode of marking patterns of late years. These prepared patterns, with a powder which u very adhesive, and a large stump, made for the purpose, can be readily obtained. The composition of the powder is a secret; but where 'he work is to be either cut out (as in applique) or braided immediately afterwards, this powder is sufficiently adhesive to enable the worker to dispense with the second marking.

The velvet should be cut out very accurately, and with sharp fine scissors. Then fine size, made of the best glue, being slightly applied to the hack, the velvet is laid on the cloth, in its proper place. When dry, the edges are to be finished first with Albert braid, then with a gold thread laid on at each side of it.

The scrolls are worked with the braid and thread only, and the veining of the leaves are done in the same way. The ends are to be drawn through the cloth, and fastened in the back.

If the waistcoat is to be braided only, without the application, a colour different from that of the material itself may be chosen for the braid. Narrow flat silk braid, commonly known as Russian or French braid, may also be substituted for the Albert; and the gold thread may be dispensed with. The design I have given is the newest style; and the shape of the enlarges pattern very good.

As I happened to have a large spool of pale blue soutache or "Russian" braid, my decision for this particular vest was made!

I typically use the Martha McCain Simplicity vest pattern - it fits Robin well and is accurate. But a couple problems quickly became obvious - the braiding pattern did not leave space for the pockets and did not fit on the lapels.

So back to the photos of originals, and as I suspected, original embellished vests always left room for the pocket welts. So I chose to split and separate the motifs. I considered designing some type of "bridge" embroidery to connect them again, but after completing the two separate motifs, I decided it would be too busy.

As for the lapels, turning the motif upside down fixed that problem. Changing fashion, over the decade between 1852 and the mid-1860's  probably accounts for the change in lapel shape.

I put in the darts and the pockets (I loath doing welt pockets!) before starting the embroidery and stitched through the paper pattern, pulling it away later. I found a beading needle worked very well, as it's important to stay in the center ditch of the soutache braid.

I had a set of buttons in my stash that I had intended to use, but didn't like them once the embroidery was finished. So I made a set of perfectly matched to the fabric grindle buttons, tutorial available here.

And here's the final result:

The above two photos were taken during the "grand reveal". Unfortunately, we failed to take any "posed" shots - must remember to do so this summer.

I'm quite pleased with the results, although I so see all the flaws, and Robin has been sternly cautioned to avoid any spillage - those results would not be pleasant!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Moving With the Times - Battledore and Shuttlecock, Part 2

As promised, here's our experiences in creating a pair of battledores and shuttlecocks, following the instructions provided in The Boy's Own Toy-maker, published in 1854. I provided the full text in my previous post, available here.

The first step was to create the hooped top. 

The instructions called for lance-wood, a tough, heavy, elastic, straight-grained wood obtained from several different trees of the custard-apple family (Annonaceae). True lancewood, Oxandra lanceolata, of the West Indies and Guianas, furnishes most of the lancewood of commerce in the form of boat spars. Lancewood was formerly used by carriage builders for shafts. The smaller wood is used for whip handles, for the tops of fishing rods  and for various minor purposes where ever an even grained, elastic wood was desired.

We used pine, in the provided dimensions, and started by marking off the "nicks" to be cut, which allow the curve.

We discovered that it is necessary to leave an un-nicked section in the center, to prevent breakage.

First we soaked the pine strip in the tub, for about a half hour, to start the softening process:

Which then allowed us to bend it enough to fit in my largest stock pot. We allowed it to boil for 8-10 minutes.

Prior to starting, we had cut a form in our desired shape and size, again from pine. Working quickly, we removed the strip from the boiling water, lightly nailed to the form in the center and gently bent it to shape, clamping it in place.

This is what it looked like after it had dried overnight:

Next the handle was glued in place - no picture, sorry!

Then it was time to cover the hooped area in parchment - true parchment, not parchment paper.The term parchment refers to any animal skin, particularly goat, sheep, or cow, that has been scraped or dried under tension. Sourcing the parchment was the most difficult part of this whole project; I found it on eBay for $10 for a 7" x 10" sheet - the pair of battledores required for sheets.

Covering the hoops is much like covering the lid of a bandbox:

Except the the parchment should be dampened first.

I used a modern, artist product - Golden's Gel Medium to glue the parchment, but hide-glue would have been a more period adhesive.

I did one side at a time, allowing them to dry in between applying each side. Once dry, the parchment shrinks, providing a drum like tension. I then finished the edges with blue velvet ribbon and bound the handle top with black cord.

On to the shuttlecocks - a champagne cork is an excellent starting point, requiring only a bit of reshaping.

We did not have any grey goose feathers - we found a source, but they had a minimum purchase of one pound of feathers! Far more than we needed, so we substituted packaged feathers available from most craft stores. Try to pick feathers as close in size to each other as possibly for better aerodynamics.

The last step is to weight the shuttle-cock - we used a common tack, the instructions call for a short brass-headed nail. This step is very important, the shuttlecock will not fly properly without it.

One thing the period reference does not mention, is the sound produced by the shuttlecock hitting the battledore - the 2117 hits mentioned in the previous post would have driven me crazy!

Overall, these are really not at all difficult to create - the provided directions actually work, unlike some of the projects in Godey's and I anticipate them being a great deal of fun at events this summer, as well as a really good way to interact with the public.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Moving With the Times - Battledore and Shuttlecock, Part 1

"Would you recommend our delicate damsels and gossamer girls to ride, drive, walk, row, run, dance, play, sing, jump the rope, throw the ball, pitch the quoit, draw the bow, and play the shuttlecock and thus give their cheeks a natural roseate hue, instead of an artificial one...Twill spoil trade in drugs and paints and drive physicians to physical labor."

We've been discussing the mid-19th century "Exercise Craze", a craze that encouraged parents, especially mothers, to provide more physical activities for their children, as it was thought that they were becoming too sedentary - sound familiar?

Childhood games are, of course, important in teaching body movement. But most the activities listed in the above quote are not really realistic for an indoor workshop - except for Battledore and Shuttlecock, which was considered appropriate for the parlor and outdoors.

Battledore and shuttlecock was not a competitive sport. Probably the most intriguing aspect of the game was that it was a cooperative sport with the players trying to see how long they could keep the shuttlecock in the air. It did not pit player against player, a rather refreshing concept in the 21st century!

The game was usually played by children, families, and young adults during the 18th and 19th century. It is reported that the record for the number of hits made, before the shuttlecock succumbed to gravity, was 2117 hits accomplished by an exhausted family in Somerset, England in 1830.

The battledores were made of parchment or rows of gut stretched across wooden frames.

The shuttlecock was made of a light material, typically cork, topped with feathers.

The Boy's Own Toy-Maker, circa 1854, had the following instructions:

"Battledores, as the name implies, were formerly all made of wood; they may be easily cut out of a piece of flat deal, not thicker than a quarter of an inch—the spades about five inches in length, and the same in breadth; the handles about six or seven inches long; and they will serve every purpose for young beginners
to practice upon. 

The best kind are made as follows: procure a slip of lance-wood, about sixteen inches long, an inch and a half broad, and a quarter of an inch thick, the edges of the outside slightly rounded; to make it, bend to the shape of the spade of the battledore, cut a slight nick, about an inch apart, all along the inside, and not quite half way through the wood; boil or steam it with hot water, and it will curve to the shape, the two ends being bevelled off to fit to the handle; this must be previously prepared quite round, except at the end to which the spade is attached, which must be quite square at the sides, and tapering a little at the extreme end. The spade end must then be glued to the two sides of the handle, and afterwards firmly bound round the join with fine waxed string; it must then be allowed to dry; "

"in the meantime prepare your covering of parchment, cut round to the shape of the spade with a margin large enough to turn over the wood-work. "

"The ends, to turn over nicely, must be cut out in this form; the skin must then be soaked in water, the damp taken off, and the ends glued round the woodwork, and when dry you will have a superior battledore.

The handle may be finished off by binding a strip of coloured leather or velvet all round it.

To make a Shuttlecock. Cut a piece of' sound cork to this shape, in it fix a short brass-headed nail at the lower end. Procure five grey goose feathers, about four and a half inches long, not too full, and all the same size; fix the ends of these into the top of the cork in a circle— each one standing in an oblique direction to the other, and your shuttlecock with the battledore will be ready for play."

My next post will document our creation of a pair of battledores and shuttlecocks, using the above instructions - soon, I promise!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Moving With the Times - Homes Exercises

As promised, here is the "Home Exercises" article, published in Harper's Weekly, July 11. 1857.

While reading this, it was startling how similar it is to the articles being published in magazines today - the language certainly a bit more formal, but the message the same: We all need to make time to exercise, to improve our health and well-being.


It has happily become almost unnecessary to prove to Americans the great benefits resulting to mind as well as body from regular physical exercise. It is only, however, within a few years that gymnastic and calisthenic exercises have found a place on the school programmes of our best educational institutions. And most writes on hygiene are content to insist on the necessity of such exercises for the proper development of the physical and mental powers, to great extent losing sight of the fact that their pursuit to preserve in healthful condition the matured power of body and mind as it was to aid in their proper and graceful development.

If young girls while at school have practiced calisthenics, they almost invariably lay this aside with their studies, and, on entering into social life as young ladies, cease those exercises which have aided so materially on making them the graceful, rosy, buoyant beings they are, or ought to be.

It is a truth not to be denied, and to which the short duration of the health and beauty of American ladies bears sorrowful witness, that these healthful exercises should be continued regularly by all whose pursuits do not otherwise necessitate the needful health-giving stimulus of blood and muscles. The employment of American women, especially of those resident in cities, are so entirely sedentary, that they do continual violence to the laws of nature; and it is only surprising that we see so much of happy health as we do among our female friends.

Many doubtless feel the need for calisthenic exercise, but think themselves unable to spare the time, and urge farther the impossibility of attending public institutions if such were in existence, and the impracticability of finding room in a house of moderate dimensions for the paraphernalia of a gymnasium.
As regards to the question of time, we shall only say here exercise is quite as necessary to health as personal cleanliness; and as ladies find time for the bath, and the multifarious duties and pleasures of toilet, so they can make time for the daily calisthenic exercises. That which may be begun as a duty will very soon become a pleasure-giving habit, which will be no more be omitted than any other necessary attention to the body.

As for space, and preliminary preparations necessary to be provided in order that the ladies and female children of a family may have the proper degree of daily exercise, all that is needed is the usual sitting-room and the following articles: a stout broad-baked chair; a stout movable roller, fitted into brass sockets neatly fixed in the door lintels about three inches below the top of the door; a light mattress; a light round staff four and a half feet in length, and half an inch in diameter; a set of light dumb-bells; a set of battle-doors and shuttle-cocks; and an Armstrong’s chest-expander. Which outfit may be obtained for about ten dollars or less, and can be stowed away out of sight in any closet.

The sitting-room will be the scene of operations. Premising that most of the exercises which space permits us to denote here are intended to strengthen the chest and abdomen, we will begin be calling attention to figure 8. 

Let the person exercising assume a horizontal position; then, extending the arms above the head, raise herself slowly to a sitting posture, as from b to a. In a similar manner, without moving the lower part of the body, extending the arms as in Figure 8, permit the body to glide slowly from a to b. Draw a deep breath before each repetition of this movement, as this will contribute materially to the purpose of the exercise, which is to strengthen the muscles of the chest, back, and abdomen. If you have a companion, let her hold your knees firmly, and then, extending your hands, as in Figure 8, you can practice the circular motion denoted by e,d, in which only the upper portion of the person is to be moved. This is to be performed first from right to left, then from left to right.

A further extension of the same principle is the chair exercise, as shown in Figure 1.

 Resting the person upon the hands and feet, move it slowly from the position b a to c a. This will expand the chest and strengthen the abdominal muscles greatly. It should be used moderately at first, but repeated daily or at regular intervals.

The roller exercise is shown in figure 7.

 Besides swinging by the hands, which will bring into play nearly every muscle of the body, the hands should be moved while swinging the body from side to side. Thus, with practice, the hand grasp may be changed to a, to b, to c, and to d, and back.

With the staff a number of easy and graceful movements may be performed; all of which tend to strengthen the muscles of the shoulders and the vertebral column, and remedy or prevent the deformity known as round shoulders, at the same time expanding the chest. The chief of these exercises is that shown in Figure 6. 

The staff is loosely held, the hands being placed about a foot from each end. The body, and more specifically the head, must be motionless. The right hand is then raised, first breast high; then to the top of the head; then brought over, so as to hold the staff at a; and, lastly, lowered so as to bring the staff on line c. In other four motions it is brought back to the first position. The left hand will be used to perform similar motions. This, as well as all other exercises, will be found most beneficial if the performance is divided as above specified, and gone through in regularly-timed succession.

Dumb-bells may weigh from two to four pounds each. They are excellent for expanding the chest, and strengthening all the muscles of the arms, the chest, the abdomen, and the back. In Figure 2 several useful exercises are denoted.

 The first consists in the alternate extension and drawing back of the arms, as from a to b. A second position is from b, with arm fully extended, describing a semicircle along the line b c. The arms should be kept entirely clear of the body. The some motion is performed with arms drawn in, as from d to c.

Another series are the circular motions shown in Figure 5. 

Starting from the points a, the dumb-bells meet half way, both before and behind, the body being held as stiffly as possible. Also, the swing from a, in the direction of b and back, will be found of use.

Armstrong’s chest-expander is an India rubber strap, one and a half inch long and one quarter of an inch thick, fitted with convenient handles, as seen in Figure 3. 

The first exercise is shown in our engraving. The arms are extended along the body, and the strain is in the directions b and c. When the strap is extended as far as the strength of the arms makes it possible, it should be retained in that position for the space of a minute. As a farther exercise, either hand may be moved up and down along the line a d. A second form of this exercise is obtained by holding the arms out horizontally from the body, and then expanding them as far as the strength of the muscles can overcome the resistance of the India rubber. In a third, the arms are held straight above the head. The last two require more strength than the first, and may follow, after the first motion has been practiced some time. They will prove highly beneficial.

The game of battle-door and shuttle-cock may be engaged in by one, two, or any given number of persons. It necessitates various active movements of every part of the body and limbs, and will be found, if practiced daily, to have a very beneficial effect, not only upon the physical health, but also upon the spirits of the persons engaging therein. See Figure 4.

We have here given a series of exercises which may be graduated so as to benefit females of every age and condition of health, which are easy of performance, occasion n undue commotion in the house, take up no otherwise needed space for apparatus, and will be found pleasant – particularly if practiced by a party of three or four persons – and tending greatly to increase a graceful development and carriage of the body, and the general good health and genial spirits of those engaging therein.

There is no good reason why such exercises should not be introduced in every family throughout the Union. There is a certainty that, when regularly performed, the health and happiness of the ladies will be lastingly benefited, and their years of usefulness lengthened. What is lost in time will be more then saved in doctor’s bills. Those, however, who have the inclination will readily find the time.

Where a small party of three or four persons undertake these exercises together, it will be found an excellent plan to have a piano or other musical accompaniment. This will enliven the motions, and make a real pleasure of that which many will for a time look upon as somewhat of a laborious duty. Any simple and regular melody will be found suitable as an accompaniment. Those exercising should take turns in playing upon the instrument.

The space accorded to us here permits us merely to call attention to this subject. To those who feel sufficient interest in it, we can recommend the perusal of Miss Catherine Beecher’s “Physiology and Calisthenics,” in which volume they will find the subject of physical exercise treated in a through and practical manner.

The urgent necessity of physical exercise can not be too strongly insisted upon. The physical deterioration of the Americans, as a people, is remarked upon by almost every traveler who comes among us. Many blame it upon our climate, which is said to be more exhausting than that of any other country tenanted by civilized people. But the main cause all who have properly investigated the matter know to be the unnatural life led by the greater part of our ladies. In no country in the civilized world do the women of the wealthier classes idle away so much time in amusements positively injurious; nowhere do the children show so strongly the effects of the physical neglects of parents.

Will not our American fashionable ladies set a good example, and thus place the practice of “Home Calisthenics” upon a permanent footing in American households?     

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Moving With the Times - Physical Culture for Men

I've not been posting much of late, but I have been busily working on many, many projects - they just had to be kept "under wraps" until after this past weekends annual "Ladies & Gentlemen of the 1860's Conference"! But now it's time to share and I'm starting a series of posts on the workshop that we presented: Moving with the Times. 

Every time period has a characteristic “look”, partially defined by clothing and hairstyle, but also by the way people interact with their surroundings and more importantly, with each other. We designed Moving With the Times as an interactive workshop - we discussed and demonstrated both the ideal and the reality of physically maneuvering our modern bodies in the mid-19th century manner. While the clothing styles of the time help to reinforce certain ways of moving, knowledge of the periods “do’s and don’ts” is also essential.

Particular emphasis was placed on physical interactions between men and women in public and management of hoops, but we also explored a wide range of topics including the effect of social standing on acceptable body movement and the impact of the exercise “craze”.

In regards to the mid-19th century exercise craze, I found a wonderful series of cartoons that I was not able to include in our handout, due to size limitations, so I'm sharing it here:

Mr. Slim's Developments in Physical Culture

Mr. Slim reads Prof. Strongman on "Physical Culture."

Is highly delighted-determines to commence a course of exercise immediately.

Having purchased the necessary implements, he surveys them with great satisfaction.

Appearance of Mr. Slim in his gymnastic suit.

First day holds out the two pound dumb-bell, after repeated trials.

Suffers great pain all night-swelled appearance of arm in the morning.

Resolves to be more careful and gradual in his exercise-development of left arm in one month.

Commences practice with other arm-appearance in another month.

Commences practice for development of legs.

Appearance at expiration of third month.

Finds it necessary to develop the vital organs-begins accordingly.

Appearance of Mr. Slim at the expiration of four months.

The cartoons appeared in Ballou's Dollar Monthly Magazine, which billed itself as "The cheapest magazine in the world", in May of 1862. It's good evidence that the increased interest in exercise for exercises sake was not just an upper class pursuit - all social classes were targeted.

Somethings just don't seem to change: Mr. Slim buys the gear and clothing and gives it up in a few months - has this happened to you?

There were many, many gymnastic and calisthenic books published in the mid-19th century - gymnastics were targeted more towards men and required a great deal of apparatus. Calisthenics were for women - we'll be discussing this more soon