Saturday, August 23, 2014

Journal Journey into the Year 1811: La Belle Assemblée, August

The August issue of La Belle Assemblée is here! This month please pretend that you've missed the July issue and are reading the new August number, flip to the fashion plate, and, excited with what you've seen, run to show the issue to your sisters. You three pass it around, examining and critiquing details, but then someone mentions another topic, and the magazine is forgotten until later. Today we'll look at the plate, and next time I'll present the rest of the text. Later we'll back up to July.

Now, as I always write, please don't forget to read the London report from Ackerman's, and those from Weimar and Paris.

  • Sabine in Weimar: Journal des Luxus und der Moden
  • Alessandra in Paris: Journal des Dames et des Modes
  • Maggie, in London: Ackermann's

The August issue contains just two pages of fashion news (p. 101-102), and only one plate, despite the title reading "prints" in the plural.

FASHIONS FOR September, 1811.


A large French bonnet, composed of fine India muslin ; the crown in the cone form, finished on the top with a bow of lace, trimmed round the face with a deep full frill of Mechlin lace, and lined throughout with a bright sea-green sarsnet. A short round dress of India jacconot muslin, cut round at the bosom, and ornamented round the bottom with a worked border, edged with small tucks. A short round French coat in green sarsnet, falling back from the shoulder, trimmed round the arm-holes with lace, confined at the waist with Margate braces. A beautiful long lace scarf cloak thrown over the shoulders, and caught up behind in a long loop of ribband, carefully suspended upon the right shoulder. Gloves of York tan. Shoes of white Morocco. Parasol of brown and green shot silk.


So, what do you think? I've been peering and squinting at the plate, and while I can make out that the scarf-cloak is lace, and that the dress is ornamented with embroidery, and the hat stands out only too well, the Margate braces just don't show up. The Eastern influence is apparent again in the pointy effects: the cone hat and the assertive diamond shapes on the dress border, a departure from the undulating floral embroideries so long in fashion. This would have been an expensive day dress. The lace is one key: real Flemish Mechlin lace was costly because it used fine threads and took longer to make than many other laces and dealers today put high prices on antique Mechlin as well. Wikipedia has a nice article about Mechlin.

Cone hats. Oh dear, must I? Really?

Embroidery. Occasionally La Belle Assemblee made embroidery designs available. At the beginning of the 19th century they retain the attenuated lightness dominant through the last years of the previous century. Swags and airy vines and sprigs are common, and narrow borders. The exception is French imperial style, especially in goldwork, which feels positively encrusted, and heavy on the gold. As the years pass, the designs become fuller and rounder and more tightly composed.

Mix of spiky elements, flowers, and sprigs. La Belle Assemblee, 1811.
Maggie Waterman Roberts, Pinterest board "Regency Embroidery".
Regency pattern from Ackermann's, November 1811.
My Fanciful Muse.
Our own Maggie maintains a very good collection on Pinterest containing patterns from the first and second decades of the 19th century. Another Pinterest board titled "Regency Embroidery and Crafts" by Jeri Whitehorn Rtwr is useful too. A keen observer will see the differences between the offerings of different magazines. For instance, La Belle Assemblee was freuqently more conservative, while Ackermann's went for the really new stuff. The regency page on My Fanciful Muse, by EK Duncan, has a good collection too.

Margate braces. Apparently these were a trim you used to tie outerwear closed with, named for Margate, a seaside resort. Robert Louis Stevenson describes the an outfit in detail I think is meant to titillate, in his Weir of Hermiston, the chapter "Christina's Psalm-Book" although he could have lifted the description from a fashion magazine. In the plate all I can see is that the trim is rather thick and ties, since two ends hang down.

Mechlin lace. See above.

Okay, that's it for now.

I dare anyone to make that hat. In fact, I double-dog, no, triple-dog dare them. If you do, I promise to nibble, and swallow, a little bit of cotton gauze!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Picking, Combing, Carding, Spinning...Weaving: That's What's Happening

Working with wool and alpaca fiber recently.
The subtitle of this blog reads "and, of Course, the Occasional Side Trip". What I've been doing these past months qualifies as more than a little excursion, at this point.

I am hand-spinning wool and alpaca and getting ready to re-learn the art of harness weaving -- you know, a loom that goes "whish swish, whump thump" as you throw the shuttle and pull back on the beater to secure the just-made fabric.

The spinning was necessary; last fall I signed on once again at church to teach children to card and spin a little at this summer's Vacation Bible School. The summer before we'd had fun together but the spinning was execrable. So over months this spring I learned to handle a drop spindle decently and fell in love with what Amos Alden calls an "ancient and honorable craft". So ancient, in fact, it's wound up with pre-civilization.

One of the crop of pinky-red, yellow and fuzzy (!) toadstools
sprouting in our lawn after all the rain and fog.
Here we are, towards summer's end, and there are alpaca and sheep fleeces in the basement, bags of it in the garage -- fodder for another volunteer project -- fleece awaiting picking in a bowl, spindles and spinning wheel in the hallway, and a loom in the family room. They multiplied like the toadstools in our lawn after this summer's weeks of rain and dimness.

Not an excursion, then. Costuming? I've got a pretty beaded reticule on the way and a chintz 1770s anglaise on hold. No then, costuming's not going away. It just has to share space in the calendar and in the brain with work and family, volunteering and with wool picking, scouring, carding, combing, dizzing -- that doesn't mean spinning around until you fall over -- spinning and weaving scarves and warm alpaca blankets, and maybe, a linsey-woolsey petticoat? Let's see what happens.

Meanwhile, the last months unroll below in pictures. One fleece is worth ten thousand threads.

First there was the spinning wheel, a present for my grumumppieth birthday. Built in 1887 somewhere in Scandinavia, it traveled to North Carolina with immigrants and was held on to by their descendants until they unaccountably decided to part with it. A sort of faded reddish color, it's decorated with banding and painted designs in black. Rather chic, I think.

Circa 1887 Scandinavian spinning wheel.

Chic it might be, but it sat. Then I cleaned it and got everything smoothly turning, but it still sat. It's still sitting. I haven't learned to keep up with it!

Then there was the drop spindle that turned up at an antique show. It's from Eastern Europe, and I didn't know until recently that you're supposed to rest it on a surface to support it as it turns. Taking a class from a local professional, it was on this spindle I learned to spin in preparation for Vacation Bible School.

The Eastern European spindle. It has no notch on the pointed
top: you half hitch your yarn to hold it on.

Obligatory cute kitty shot.
Alpaca fleece arrived, part of the VBS project. Had to have lots of fleece ready for children to spin, plus more cleaned and ready to for them to try to card into cute little tubes, called "rolags", a Scotch term. So I learned to clean alpaca: to flick locks to remove bits of dust and hay, to roll rolags...

Second cute kitty shot. Muffin's sitting on the completed
rolags in the box. Can't blame her, they're soft.
Wanting to have wool for the VBS children to handle and card and spin too, because it's easier to work than slippery alpaca hair is, I bought a pretty Shetland sheep fleece from a lovely girl in Ohio. Lothlorien's whole fleece arrived in a box, smelling pleasantly and not too strongly of sheepy lanolin, and imbued with her personality. Here she is.

Lothlorien, the creamy Shetland in back.
Spinning practice went apace. I turned back to alpaca not long after the first lesson, heaven knows why, probably because I had so much of it. Wool fibers have lots of scales, and they have waves and crimps that makes them stretchy, resilient, and fibers stick together and are easy to spin. Alpaca has fewer scales per fiber, often has little crimp or curl and isn't stretchy, and so is slippery-ish and a bit harder to spin. Whatever. It's what I really learned on and I love how deliciously sooooooft it is.

Here is a lock from Tuesday, the alpaca whose hair I've been spinning. See his cute stripe? He's ticked!

Christopher holds up two balls of spun alpaca. They're for a scarf for him at Christmas.

Here's one of the balls. See all the fluffs on the edges? That's before washing, too. It "blooms" after being washed and is even fluffier.

Here's the yarn, plied from two strands, or "singles". So much terminology. Just like sewing.

I washed the plied yarn. It bloomed, all right. Big, chunky, fluffy, soft like Muffin's kitten would be.

Well, our VBS coordinator gave me some wool that was even easier for children to handle, some curly, long-locked Blue-faced Leicester. Sheep breeds have funny names. Do you see any blue on the face of the sheep below? The skin under the white wool on his face does have a bluish tint.

Hexham Champion, 2008, from Middle Dukesfield, in England.

So I learned to comb out the 6"-10" wool, purchasing long wickedly sharp combs, true weapons capable of really injuring somebody, at the Bluegrass Sheep and Fiber Festival in May.

The boys wanted to learn, so they got spindles, too. They're still learning, a little, as the fit takes them.

Can you see the snowball, erm, fleeceball, rolling?

At Vacation Bible School the campers handled wool and alpaca, carded and combed and spun it and two children took big balls of wool home, with hopes to buy a drop spindle and continue learning. Everyone else got an alpaca puff to pet and scare their parents with, plus a length of what they had made. Here we are on the first day of camp, learning about wool and other animal fibers.

Next day we carded and used those wicked combs to actually comb some lovely locks into fluff ready for spinning on the morrow.

The children spin. First I'd demonstrate, then they'd try it and try it again.

Here's Jenni from Living with Jane. She helped children make jewelry, do glass mosaics, and felting.

The children actually span -- the obsolete past perfect tense of "spun"? -- quite a bit of yarn, not all of which was given away. We built a yarn winder from Tinkertoys to put it in a skein so it could be washed again to finish it.

The yarn winder. Spin the cross-shaped piece and it goes around.
Completed skein. The yarn thickness varies a lot. Children
just learning made it, and it has charm.
Well, we wanted to use it, and the boys and I were interested in how a loom works, so I read up in library books and online, and we built a rudimentary two-harness counterbalance loom, invented eons ago. Versions of this loom were used in India to make the incomparably fine muslins exported to Europe in the late 18th century, just in time for Classicism and the Regency. Versions called drawlooms made figured silks, and European weavers produced the luscious gold-and-silver thread enhanced, flower-bedecked brocades that we all sigh over.

Here's the Tinkertoy loom, with a red cotton warp on it, ready to be woven with the weft, made of the child-spun wool you saw above. That's a cardboard "stick" shuttle.

Yes, it works. Those two rectangular-shaped things decked with
strings (heddles) and hung from the top bar (castle) are called
At VBS the owner of Rosie's Ponies and Petting Zoo and I got to talking about the friendly llamas and sheep she had brought for the children to admire, pet, and feed, and she kindly offered the animal's fleeces when I asked if she might sell some, since she didn't use them. I got to thinking and in a spark of what I like to think is grace, it seemed that the fleeces could be turned into warm things for those in our area who need them. Thus was born the Big Fleece Project. It's still in infancy, but we hope to have felt and yarn from the fleeces to use.

One day recently the boys and I visited their farm, petted an affectionate (!) camel, a cozy-stand-next-to-you pony, admired llamas, petted rare Soay sheep, and packed up fleece after fleece that had been sheared. The back of the SUV was filled to the roof with fleeces stuffed into bags.

We brought them home, and that evening and the next morning, sorted them, skirted the sheep fleeces, a fancy term for taking off the edges, which are usually encrusted with matted, dungified, muddy, weedy bits. You see, a shearer cuts the fleece off sheep such that it's in once piece, ideally. He starts on the tummy one one hind leg and works round to the back and ends with the other hind leg. WikiHow explains.

Not all the fleeces were usable, but many were, and they were draped everywhere, drying out before being bagged.

Remember VBS? Here's the petting zoo day. Look at Mr. Llama and his buddy behind him, craning for affection and some treats. See if you can match his fleece in the piles below. I think I recognize some of the sheepy fleece, too.

Llama fleeces fall apart easily, so they're in bits: chocolate brown, cinnamon, latte, silver mist, cream, and agouti. They're my names. Must be hungry right now. Oh, so soft.

Llama, llama everywhere.
One Shetland fleece and lots of mystery short-staple (length of the wool) wool, a bit overpowering due to being damp. My mother was not terribly impressed on first contact with the project.

Sheep fleeces, entire, drying the only super-sunny, dry place I could think of,
the back of the truck.
"Black sheep, black sheep, have you any wool?" We ended with eleven bags full.

Soccer and fleece. They go together. Right?
In the last week or two I've almost completed spinning yarn for Christopher's scarf, and am starting to clean another Shetland fleece. In a post or two, how that's done. Oh, and the new loom, and not a Tinkertoy one.

Meantime, it'll be back to the Journal Journey!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Pulling a Jane Austen: Renovating a Dress, Again, for the Jane Austen Festival

Polly, Laura, Jenni and her daughter Autumn Jane,
Jenni's husband Carson, and me.
It has long been no secret that Jane Austen's funds could be sparse, and that she tweaked and retrimmed her caps and dresses and whatnots to renew them, season after season. Rare was the woman who didn't refresh at least some of her wardrobe in this fashion.

I've done the same with the standby white wrap-front dress, which first debuted in 2011, and wore it to the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville last weekend.

This year it received new sleeves, French-style Grecian sleeves with no seam, that button across the top to hold them closed, green silk ribbon at the hem, and a green silk sash with an antique buckle, a gift from dear friend Sabine, along with the buttons. I have to say, the renovation made the dress feel the best it has yet.

At the Festival on Primidi Thermidor, CCXXII

Jenni and her family, Laura, Polly and I attended the festival as the Merveilleuse and Incroyable contingent from Directoire France. Ah, what a day was Primidi Thermidor, the first day of the month named for summer heat! Most years Locust Grove shimmers under a hot, humid haze, and we thought to thumb our noses at the usually almost-unbearable heat by sporting muslins and French style: no sleeves or almost no sleeves, sandals, no neck-coverings, no outer coverings at all, really, unless you count my kid gloves, which I just could not keep on.

Being a bit barer than our compatriots from America and Britain, we did feel a little naughty. You can't help it when everyone else in costume is layered with handkerchiefs, chemisettes, even spencers, and multiple underpinnings. Excepting two young gentlemen who apparently had just walked out of the same pond Mr. Darcy did in that movie, hatless, jacketless and waistcoatless, but dry. Ye gods.

The ensemble in full.
We were much cooler. Perhaps that accounts for the stares. Stares? Well, yes. That's what happens when you channel the Pre-Punks and Neo-Greeks of the 18th century. Some got the visual joke, and bless them for it.

Julia, the Bohemian Belle, joins us on the promenade. Sandals are so much cooler than
silk stockings and shoes.

The joke was a little on us, actually. For the first time in five years, the weather was reasonably cool on Saturday, and I was glad of my wool wrap for awhile. It was only hot for the promenade? Why? The weather gods just wanted to annoy us.

Goddess-like, Laura channeling a Frenchwoman circa 1800. 
This year really was the best yet. Mr. Roberts and the captain and crew of the HMS Acasta outdid themselves portraying life in the Royal Navy; if you get a chance, read the letters received in a packet and opened that day with much excitement: they come from all over the world.

Dr. and Mrs. Roberts. He portrays a ship's doctor in the Royal Navy.

Jo Baker read from her novel Longbourn; Dr. John Mullen showed us the details and humor in Austen's novels that time and cultural shifts have hidden from us. There was excellent music and singing, archery, puppet shows, one of the best afternoon teas available in Kentucky

Polly and I. That's a Lydia Fast hat on my head. Great fun, isn't it?
and the only that I know of from vintage bone china, the annual style show, really wonderful shopping, and best of all, the Promenade. Four hundred and ninety-one of us dressed up and bested Bath for the world record; at least for now, we bear the honor of holding largest Regency Promenade ever. It was quite a pretty scene and one you're unlikely to see outside a costume film.

Readying for the promenade.

You can read a fuller write-up of the day on Jenni's blog, Living With Jane, and "The Pioneer Times" recorded the entire event in photos. My camera was pretty much stuck in a too-small reticule all afternoon, so I took few pictures, fewer of which came out. My thanks to those who did take photos.

Somewhere we dream.