Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Journal Journey into the Year 1811: La Belle Assemblée Fashions for November (October issue), Part 1

As you know well my now, my having repeated it like a parrot each month, La Belle Assemblée reported on fashions one month ahead of the date of publication.

As 2014 moves towards its finis, and given that I am behind and really should be reporting on December fashions -- it being December and all -- I've decided to focus on the fashion month being reported, not the publication month. So this month we'll read about November fashions (October issue), and in a week or two, if I have time, I'll wind up with December fashions (November issue), Poor dears, you'll miss January 1812. Confused yet? So am I. Writing this was squirrely for some 15 minutes while my logy brain attempted to sort out 2015 time, 1811 publication time, and 1811 fashion time. What with how long it's taking me to complete these entries, this month is split into two posts, of which this is rather obviously the first.

This month we have just one fashion plate, a rather wild study in velvet and romanticism. You can spot a Romantic outfit a mile off, because it often involves velvet, rich colors, gold, braiding and lacing and a floppy hat with a feather, and what do you know, this one includes all of those items except the gold. No wait, there's a gold watch. Check. Not surprised that a rather lengthy and overblown poem by Sir Walter Scott is featured in the same issue.

Now, please don't forget to read the London report from Ackerman's, and those from Weimar and Paris. At this point we're all at different points in the calendar, but no matter, it should even up.

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

So here we go. Here is page 212, with notes afterward, per usual. Happy reading!



Promenade, Or Carriage Morning Costume.

Morning walking dress, La Belle Assemblee, November 1811. Source: Collection Maciet,
Mode. [XIXe siècle]. 1801 à 1811.
NB: The colors in the plate appear to have faded; if you look carefully the velvet trim on the pelisse and bonnet is purple, not black.

A fawn colour or amber velvet three quarters pelisse; faced and ornamented round the bottom and sleeves with Regency purple velvet, and laced down the waist, shoulders, and half way down the sides of the skirt, with rich cordons of purple; terminating with a tassel: a purple velvet collar stands up, is rounded behind, and comes down to a point below the throat: the cuffs are of purple velvet, trimmed with fine white lace. Over the sleeve is a demi-sleeve divided; between which division small purple ornaments, in the form of aiguilletes, but without the tags, are sometimes introduced when this dress is made of twilled sarsnet instead of velvet. The pelisse is trimmed all round, and up that part of the sides which are not laced with the cordon, with white French lace; and worn over an high dress of fine jaconot muslin, with a demi-train: this dress is made something in the chemisette form, with a single lace ruff. A Queen Mary's bonnet of the same colour and materials as the pelisse, trimmed round the edge with quilled ribband of purple satin, or rich fancy trimming of silk; and surmounted by a long flat ostrich feather of purple, turned from the face, half drooping towards the crown, which is puckered, and of a conic form. A gold watch is worn on the outside of the pelisse, with small gold chain, and very little ornament. Ridicule of faun colour or amber, with purple strings aid tassels; purple kid gloves, and demi-broquins, or quarter boots of the same.


Aiguillettes: properly, the little ends to braided cords that one finds on uniforms. Here, probably referring to braided cords connecting the divided sleeves, and very much complementing the rest of the outfit.

Cordons: braid trim.

Demi-broquins: "quarter-boots". "Broquin" is a term that might come from brogues"  "Broquin" as a word doesn't appear at all in standard dictionaries of the early 19th century, so it's surely purely a fashion term. Because it so closely sounds like "brogue" I suspect the term is borrowed. Brogue is Gaelic for a low-heeled shoe. Surely Imagine: from Gaelic to English to French referring back to Gaelic. Wow.

What is curious is that it appears the boot fronts are cut through in triangles in the front, or feature appliques of a contrasting color. It's too bad more detail was not provided.

Demi-train: short train that barely drags the floor, as shown in the plate. Now that we are sure of that one, we can move on!

High-necked (under) dress: there were a lot of these during this period. Really a much more suitable style for much of Europe than much of what was worn. In the case of this month's plate, the top is described as being in the chemisette style, which we can clearly picture...and it's even described as having a single ruff, a ruff being a common chemisette fashion. Wonder if a number of the high-necked extant dresses that we see were meant to be worn under a pelisse or at least a spencer? Something to think on.

Ostrich feather: described as long and flat. This means that the tips have not been curled, as they so often were, and it gives a rather clean, fresh effect.

Pelisse: the front-closing upper garment, here used also as the outdoor garment, with a light muslin dress underneath, which peeks out at both the bottom and through the divided sleeves. Gracious, the ensemble doesn't seem that warm to me. There is no discussion of there being any sort of lining.

Queen Mary's bonnet: in this plate, we have a fanciful rendition of the Tudor-era coif worn by Queen Mary  in the early 1600s. Here's a painting of the Queen, by Rowland Lockey, painted between 1610-20.

Mary, Queen of Scots, by Rowland Lockey. Source: BBC - Your Paintings.
Painting dated 1585 at top right.
The general shape is there, even the heart-shaped dip that was to be so popular on and off through the 19th century and even into the 20th. However, the look is a bit heavier and the crown is quite a bit longer than the original coif would have been, since this is a different era and an outdoor affair. Really, it's rather another take on the scoop bonnet, but with a few changes, so wearing it would not have been so very out of the way.

Now, add a feather:
Mary, Queen of Scots, painted by the British (English) School. Source: BBC - Your Paintings.
More information from the National Trust.
In this painting Mary is wearing a flat cap above her coif, so feathers fancifully fit the look of the 1811 version.

Quilling: a pleated trim. "Quill: v. a. to plait; to form in plaits." (From Joseph Emerson Worcester.
A Comprehensive Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language: With Pronouncing Vocabularies of Classical and Scripture Proper Names. Collins and Hannay, 1830.)
When modern costumers talk of pleated trims on Regency-era items, the term to use is "quilling". The term survived deep into the 19th century: it appears over and over in descriptions of dresses with pleating, and even appears in 1888describing the pleats of lace on a lampshade.  (Peterson Magazine, 1888., p. 180.)

Ridicule: a contemporary term for reticule. Well, more evidence that the ridicule-ish term was used in all seriousity.

Watch: sadly, there is no indication of where the watch is fixed to the dress. Is it on a chain, pinned, or on a necklace? The model holds it in her hand so this is unclear.

Next time, Part II and the fashion observations for November.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Weaving Handspun Yarn: Increasing Fascination, Research Extension

Measuring out 50 yards on the homemade skein winder.
Christopher and I spin together. Now we are weaving together. Months ago we made yarn from Tuesday the alpaca's so-soft-you-bury-your-face-in-it hair. Since his brother has a woolen scarf I knit for him, Christopher has been agitating for one too, and we've agreed to learn to weave it together.

Will it be finished by Christmas? Since we must learn to size the yarn with starch or a milk solution, measure out the warp threads on warping pegs, and then dress a harness loom with them -- a process with 20 pages worth of steps in my big Swedish weaving book -- weave the scarf, and then finish and full the resulting fabric, probably not. Maybe by Easter and lambing time? Who knows? Doesn't matter. It's experimenting with this most ancient and respected craft that is the point right now. Later Christopher can enjoy wearing the piece of heaven that is partly the work of his own 7-year-old self.

From Tuesday's back to Christopher's neck, our hands, using tools so ancient some of their sources are lost in time, will have touched each step. To this day I have never felt such happiness and satisfaction with anything I have ever sewn or produced. This is getting to the source of things.

Christopher unskeins the commercial wool/alpaca yarn from the homemade skein unwinder, while I continue
measuring out a total of 110 yards for the scarf warp (lengthwise) threads.

Here's the loom. It's a Swedish loom, a Glimåkra Pysslingen table loom on legs from the 1970s. Like most Swedish and Finnish looms, it's ingenious and to my eyes, handsome. You'll be seeing it on and off as time passes.

Glimåkra Pysslingen loom, up close, along with skeins of the fluffy, chunky handspun
alpaca Christopher and I have produced.
Little note: you might recall the trim loom. It's in use. It's got cotton warped on it now, and I am about a third of the way through making a petticoat tape. A nifty, handsome machine and good way to begin to understand weaving movements. Plus make trim. But when? Again, who knows. Whenever the path winds there.

You Know Why I Spin, But Why Weave, Not Knit?

First, my knitting is poor. Garter stitch is fine, purling okay, but any combination beyond knit and purl and it's all too easy to get confused. This brain has a hard time with numbers anyway. Dates, sums, prices, equations, they get turned around in my mind so easily, mixed up together in jumbles. Long experience has taught me that all number sequences and calculations must be written down, then checked to make sure they weren't garbled even during their writing. Knitting sequences? Germs of frustration.

Then, weaving has appealed since a high-school-era class in a sunny old room introduced me to the big harness looms and the amazing things they can accomplish. Now is the time to return to that magic, even though it involves hordes of potential calculations and our loom is by no means large. At least those can be written down in logical order. I can avoid patterns made by complicated harness sequences and keep to the simplest weave structures while turning to manual warp-by-warp inlay techniques for figures and patterns beyond stripes and checks.

At the last, like many costumers, trying to find modern equivalents to or substitutes for historical fabrics has led naturally to curiosity about them.
  • What were the fibers like when the original garments were made? 
  • Were the silk worms the same species as raised today? Who raised them? 
  • Who herded the sheep for the wool and what did the sheep look like, smell like, act like? 
  • Where did the fine Indian muslins sold in Europe and the Americas come from? What plants, animals, and minerals were developed into paints and dyes?
  • What tools and machines made the yarns and threads and fabric and who developed them and used them?
  • What is calendaring, and is it true that the "scroop" of late 19th century silk depended on treating the silk yarns to a bath in caustic soda? How is brocade made?
  • What linen thread counts are good for shifts? What weaves look nice in a wool petticoat?
  • How was reeled silk produced in the 18th century? What about the 19th? How about now?
  • If England made American colonists buy so much of their wool, how come spinning wheels from the era are common? Who used them and what for?
  • When was ninon silk invented and why was it apparently named after Ninon l'Enclos?
  • What happened to fabric after it was reduced to rags, and what's the difference between mungo and shoddy?
Questions like these have bedeviled me for years. The answers have a great deal to do with what fabrics and designs were popular and where, and how people constructed and wore clothing, and they impacted fashion designs more than we costumers tend to think about.

So, as I've learned to spin Americas-style with a handspindle and now to weave, bedtime reading matter has been mostly historical accounts of the dawn of sheepherding, of spinning, of weaving among the Egyptians, of the English wool industry, and of revent ideas about how Medieval spinning in Europe may have been accomplished. I've eaten up books about spinning on wheels and spindles, and have read and reread Learning to Weave, a bible among American weavers, and The Big Book of Weaving, another bible recently translated from Swedish and my favorite reference so far, probably because the Swedish and Finnish looms are such clever, elegant structures almost entirely constructed of wood and cord, and capable of producing amazingly fine fabrics.

Booky, bloggy, wiki knowledge hasn't been the only benefit of all the reading and experimentation. When I read letters like those from Anna Briggs' accounts of spinning, weavers, and fabric conservation in American Grit: A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier, her descriptions and concerns have made much, much more visceral sense than they once did. Same for My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams. Books like Rural Pennsylvania Clothing: Being a Study of the Wearing Apparel of the German and English Inhabitants, take on a different feel when I can begin to visualize some of the decisions the makers made when constructing clothing. Concepts become tangible and are tested, the sense of time shifts, resources are appreciated more, and the skills within bone and muscle and empathy in the mind and soul develop, even if just a little bit.

By the way, I am far from alone in this. There are historically minded spinners and weavers all over, in the United States associated with institutions like Colonial Williamsburg, tiny firms and larger companies like Thistle Hill Weavers or Devere Yarns or Pallia Mittelalter Hautnah in the U.K. Reenactor and SCA folks too, many of them in Europe and a number of them sharing their experiences on sites and blogs: Arachne's Blog and In deme jare Christi in Sweden, 15thcenturyspinning in Australia, Medieval Silkwork, in the Netherlands, and Hibernaatiopesäke in Finland, or Odette's Obsessions here in the States.

As Christopher and I make his scarf, and I consider a fun and modern rya-knot-woven pillow for the den, and perhaps a linsey-woolsey petticoat someday, it's good not only to enjoy the process, but to begin to feel and experience physical, mental and emotional movements made generation after generation after generation since people became people, and to begin to glimpse how the arts we are practicing are so closely meshed with with not just fashion, but with so much of the rest of life.

It is such fun getting down into the roots of it all.