Lost Colonist

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I still have a copy (or two) somewhere in storage.

In which we experience a return to the costuming portion of this blog

When I was six, I had the coloring book paper dolls of Queen Elizabeth I and Henry VIII and His Wives. I probably requested (demanded) these after watching the BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII on Masterpiece Theatre. I recall being curling up in a chair under a quilt with my favorite stuffed dog as the drama played out on the television my grandmother had given us. Perhaps I had a fever: some of what I recall is a little hallucinatory, but I was thoroughly entranced. I have waited a long time to construct my own Tudor/Elizabethan wardrobe.

The annual Fort Dobbs Military TImeline event has recently featured a soldier of the second Roanoke expedition in his armor and helmet. In 2017, I thought hard about joining this enterprise and even bought wool for the effort–in fact, I got as far as cutting out a smock–but life intervened, and I taught workshops instead. This year, I had my chance: a free weekend, and just enough time (five weeks) to pull it all together. Reader: this is madness.

One source of inspiration: Color sketch of three London gentlewomen and a countrywoman come to market, from the manuscript Corte Beschryuinghe van Engheland, Schotland, ende Irland, c.1574. British Library

I flirted with long Tudor dresses. I flirted with a doublet. I knew that no matter what, I was building this on the foundation of a smock and kirtle (bodied petticoat) worn with stockings and shoes. Thanks to the Couture Courtesan and the Tudor Tailor, I knew bodies were not required for the class level and time period I was representing. (The fleshy cargo may have other needs, containment-wise). I knew I needed a partlet and ruff, and a coif, and I wanted a hat. All of this seemed achievable in five weeks. Mind you, in this same period, I also: started a business, started a short-term contract forensic collections management project, attended a workshop, draped and fitted clients, and dealt with a couple chronic health issues. It’s not a surprise, then, that I fell a little short of my goals.

Forthwith, the parts:

Smock

Two kinds of linen, and quite a different shape from an 18th century shift (though related)

I used the Elizabethan smock generator and, in 2017, pulled threads to get most of the shapes I needed. The very top of the smock is made of vintage linen that was lingering in Drunk Tailor’s stash, and I no longer recall where the body and sleeve linen came from. The instructions were just general enough that I was glad to have made several shifts and shirts already. It held up well, though Smock 2.0, should it occur, will likely be the one in the Tudor Tailor, just for varieties’ sake (and I now work with someone who does blackwork, so, you know, I could upgrade.)

Kirtle

The kirtle needs some additional engineering to accommodate my corporeal presence in a way I like and that holds a more correct shape. I used buckram, pad stitching, and boning on the front but not only is the fit just enough off, I think that front-lacing is the way to madness for me. Off the fronts will come at some point in 2020, to be replaced with a new system. I’m very happy with the salmon-pink wool I found at Osgood’s in 2017, and luckily bought enough to be able to re-engineer the bodice in the same fabric.

The comforts of the colony and home, combined.

I was reasonably pleased working with the Tudor Tailor pattern, but despite previously fitting bodices and stays, there are things I would do differently. For one, I’d mock up the bodice in pasteboard instead of muslin to get a better sense of how the buckram and boning might behave. For another, I’d solicit much more assistance from another human to ensure my “handedness” didn’t alter fit, as I think it may have. More time and tweaks will definitely help.

Petticoat

This is almost “don’t ask” territory. I borrowed the notion of making and wearing a separate petticoat from the late Elizabethan woman’s doublet entry in The Tudor Tailor. I had this notion of a doublet and petticoat in black that I couldn’t quite shake, but I did not manage the doublet. The petticoat is made of plain weave black wool from the remnant table at Fabric Place Basement and probably set me back all of $12.

Basic. Gets the job done.

Drunk Tailor and I kicked the notion of authenticity versus warmth back and forth quite a bit until I convinced him that he did not want to hear me complaining of cold in Statesville. The waistband is shaped, but because these skirts are longer than my 18th-century petticoats, my yardage calculations were slightly off, and the front waistband is plain weave brown wool. You’ll never see it, so it really doesn’t matter.

And yes: it was a two-petticoat weekend.

Waistcoat

Dat wool tho…. I bought a yard each of the olive and madder plush wool from Burnley and Trowbridge after falling in love with both color and hand. I started with the madder, knowing it would contrast well with black wool tape.

Cutting out was a challenge, but after looking at period manuals and spending some time with pieces and fabric, I managed a layout that got me all the pieces without piecing, and small bits of cabbage leftover: judiciously laid out, you can use $30/yard wool for your projects. The results justify the investment of money and time.

I had to tweak the fit on the muslin twice, and I think it would benefit from another round of fitting, as the back is a little looser than I care for. The front fits well enough, though the gap was smaller on the first day before the kirtle had stretched. The struggle is real when you are containing a curvaceous figure. Boning is likely the answer (or at least it is when your mind is tuned to 18th-century aesthetics and means).

At the 18th century winter cabin, with the ersatz ruff and repurposed apron. Needs must.

That Crazy Coif

Scaled up from the Tudor Tailor, I know this pattern needs to be scaled down for my tiny skull. Will I make another? I might try another shape instead, this being exceedingly fiddly. By Sunday, I was pinning the two pieces to each other and the whole to my hair (which is how I keep 18th century caps in place).

Accessories

The absolutely swoony hat is by M. Brenckle, Hatter. I don’t know that I have fully figured out how to wear it with my questionable coif and hair, but it is without a doubt the jauntiest-yet-sober item I’ve ever worn on my head. That will help inspire me to re-do the coif and figure out what to do with my hair.

This view of the theoretical jacket reminds me of Lautrec.

Standing in for a ruff and partlet is a 19th-century chemisette made ages ago by Mimic of Modes. Desperate times call for desperate measures: Drunk Tailor tried to order me one but the Etsy seller went to ground, and his own project needed finishing so he couldn’t take on a ruff. With thorough instructions readily available and vintage linen to hand, a ruff seems like an achievable item, in time. (Yes, he finally got a new version of the document-based Carolina jacket finished!)

A Very Short List of Sources and Inspiration

Arnold, Janet. 1984. Patterns of fashion.

Arnold, Janet. 2014. Patterns of fashion 3, 3. Patterns of Fashion.

Mikhaila, Ninya, and Jane Malcolm-Davies. 2015. The Tudor tailor: reconstructing 16th-century dress. Hollywood, Calif: Costume and Fashion Press.

Couture Courtesan: Late 16th-Early 17th Century Waistcoat

Wasted Weeds

Starting Over, Again

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Autumn is my favorite time of year, a time for fresh starts and new beginnings. Surely for many, that season would be spring, but for me, after summer’s dreary end, when the world seems stale, flat, and unprofitable, autumn is something else again.

This year, it was the time when my Kickstarter campaign succeeded, I quit a job I hated and stumbled into another that paid twice as much for fewer hours and was situated completely within my competencies. All of that was unexpected and probably hinged almost completely on taking the leap to quit a thing I hated doing.* The most successful moments– the most satisfying ones– come when I start something entirely new that scares me completely and for which I have no script. Those are dramatic and risky: big gestures, where failing will be public and painful.

There are other ways to change, smaller, incremental, but still meaningful, and sometimes still painful. Failure is always an option.** So this fall, in addition to the big changes, I took on some small ones.

I signed up for a Burnley & Trowbridge workshop, An Introduction to Mantua-making. When I signed up, I knew I would need to quit the job I had in order to take the workshop– and I had zero regrets. (There was no way to take three days off that included non-negotiable Sundays). I also knew I would be making a dress in miniature rather than a full-size gown, and I was thrilled: I do not need another gown.

What I wanted from the workshop was a skills reboot. I’ve been sewing and fitting clothing off-and-on since I was in middle school, and after a few years making my own clothes, toys and quilts for my son, and exhibition props for work, I took up historical costuming. Along the way, I took some workshops, did a lot of research, and developed habits both good and bad. What I wanted from the workshop was to unlearn my bad habits and acquire new skills, and Brooke Welborn delivered. I understand construction in ways I didn’t before, and now that I’m back home, my sewing is fast again (thank goodness!).

The joy of taking a basic workshop when you’re experienced is that you have a higher likelihood of completing the project, and you get to see a technique laid bare, broken down, and simplified. Sometimes we forget how important a regular, fast, backstitch can be– and how lovely it can be.

Ballet dancers take classes at all levels: they are always working on technique. Apollo or Coppelia: both are built on basic steps repeated endlessly unless perfect and apparently effortless. There’s always something to refine, perfect, polish, re-examine, or an old habit to break. Dancers also take classes in different genres: jazz, modern, ballroom, hip-hop: these require movement and gestures very different from classical ballet, but help expand a dancer’s abilities and understanding. And to that end, I took up something new as well.

I signed up for a new-to-me event at Fort Dobbs, the military timeline. Muskets and guns really aren’t my thing anymore, but the possibility of embarking on a new time period, and a character full of laments, appealed: the Lost Colony of Roanoke. This requires a new realm of research and new garments to make.***

Attributed to Abel Grimmer, The Marketplace in Bergen op Zoom, Flemish, c. 1570 – 1618/1619, probably 1590 and 1597, oil on panel, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Earl H. Look

Working in the 16th-century aesthetic is pretty different from my usual comfort zone of the last half of the 18th century. Bodied petticoats or kirtles instead of stays; smocks with square neck openings or even collars instead of the more open shift neck; transitioning silhouettes; waistcoats and doublets as well as gowns; coifs and forehead cloths instead of caps: all pretty different. But all helpful in thinking about how fashion evolves, how we get from loose gowns to bodies to mantuas to open robed gowns to chemise gowns. Looking back can help us see the present more clearly, and so it is with fashion.

Detail, Attributed to Abel Grimmer, The Marketplace in Bergen op Zoom, Flemish, c. 1570 – 1618/1619, probably 1590 and 1597, oil on panel, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Earl H. Look

It has also been an interesting look at the effect of climate on economy, society, and dress. In addition to reading about Roanoke and the archaeology of early English settlements in North Carolina and Virginia, I picked up Nature’s Mutiny from the Library. All the wool and layers make more sense in a period when temperatures were 2℃ colder than they are now. Blom’s arguments began to tire for me (the Times review is fair), but overall, thinking about the push of lower harvests on European exploration of the “new” world was a helpful angle to consider.

Riverside, Jan Brueghel (I) (copy after), 1600-1650.oil on copper. SK-A-68, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Finishing all the pieces I need to be a sad shopkeepers wife who wishes she’d never set foot on the Lion is a challenge, but the effort has definitely been worth it for all the things I’ve learned along the way.

*Retail was hard the first time I did it of necessity, and several decades in public service made it only slightly easier.

**I am a big Adam Savage fan, and if you’re a maker or just enjoy my blog, I recommend Every Tool’s a Hammer. It was a birthday present this year, but you can likely find it at your local library. Short version? Keep learning, be adaptable, and put your tools away.

***Yes, an entire 1585 wardrobe at the same time I am working on patterns, researching the Lost Colony, finishing commissions, starting commissions, and starting a new short-term contract untangling collections. This kind of load is not new and is a habit that needs unlearning.

The Charm of the Third Time

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One must keep up with the news (and the competition)

I’d call it “three times a lady,” but truly, I’ve only been a lady in Occupied Philadelphia twice. Last year and this year, I portrayed Elizabeth Weed, a widowed pharmacist living on Front Street in 1777 with her son, George. We don’t know why Elizabeth Weed didn’t leave the city along with nearly half the population. Was she a loyalist? Was her son too ill to travel? Or did she choose to stay to protect her property from the British– or the son of her late husband’s first marriage, who withheld a portion of the estate? Whatever the reason, remain she did, advertising her wares in the October 23 edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post.

New remedies, new box, new ingredients: refining an idea

Last year, with Drunk Tailor’s assistance, I made a number of remedies using 18th century receipts, with some interesting and sometimes successful results. This year, we improved one– the yellow basilicum ointment– and added some new concoctions. The sulphur ointment for the itch (possibly scabies) worked well on the insect bites I got in the Carpenters Hall forecourt. A charcoal-oyster shell-cinchona bark-benzoin tooth powder was a new addition. I used the clove oil-scented pomatum to achieve the highest hair I’ve managed yet, but the truly satisfying work was recreating multiple recipes actually used by Elizabeth Weed.

As Drunk Tailor notes in his entry on this year’s event, we can never truly enter the 18th century mindset. Recreating the clothes, food, daily rhythms, and medicines help us experience the feel of the past, but we can never truly be those people. If you regularly cook 18th century meals, you’ll experience the palate of the past: aromatic, relying heavily on cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. This same range informs the aroma and flavor of the remedies from cough syrup to tooth powder.

Almost undoubtedly one of the ‘smells like Christmas, tastes like death’ tooth powders. Courtesy Jason R. Wickersty/Museum of the American Revolution

It’s a toss up which is less pleasant to the modern tongue, the Syrup of Balsam or the Syrup for the Flux. Both use the “paregoric elixir,” which some of you may recall from the medicine cabinets of old. Camphorated tincture of opium or anhydrous morphine has been used to treat diarrhea for centuries, and the ingredients for the modern version (anhydrous morphine) is remarkably similar to that for Weed’s paregoric elixir:

Weed’s Paregoric Elixir Anhydrous Morphine (Paregoric)
8 ounces opium Anhydrous Morphine, 2 mg
4 gallons spirits of wine, rectified Alcohol, 45%
1 ounce oil of anise seeds Anise oil
2 ounces Flor. Benzoin Benzoic acid
8 ounces camphor Glycerin
Purified water

There are some differences– most of us don’t want to ingest camphor, and “purified water” isn’t quite a thing in 1777– but the active ingredient makes these essentially the same compound. It’s an essential component of both Syrup of Balsam and Syrup for the Flux, so it had to be made first. Over the course of ten days, the elixir cleared from a yellow-orange slightly opaque liquid to a clear yellow liquid, with white sediment at the bottom of the jar (probably the benzoin).

With that in hand, I was ready to tackle Weed’s most famous (and well-protected) remedy. It appears more than once in the daybook, but both listings use the same ingredients and proportions.

One of the original receipts for the syrup for the (Bloody) Flux. UPenn Ms. Codex 1049

Syrup for the Bloody Flux
1.5 pints, simple syrup or molasses
.5 pint, elixir paregoricum
1 drachm each:
Essence of peppermint
Essence of pennyroyal
Essence of anise seed
Essence of fennel seed
tincture aromatic

“Mix them all together, and stop them up in a bottle for life.” (Or, as the other receipt says, “Mix and Digest.”

The resulting mixture is probably meant to soothe the intestinal cramps (with anise, fennel, and peppermint) while the paregoric relieves the endless diarrhea. Licorice-flavored molasses with a peppermint tingle isn’t unpleasant so much as odd to the modern palate.

Syrup of Balsam defied expectations.

On the right: Syrup of Balsam: -10/10 would not taste again.

Syrup of Balsam
1 pint, simple syrup or molasses
.5 print, elixir parigoric
1 ounce each:
Essence of fennel
Essence of anise seed
Royal Balsam
Tincture of Balsam of Tolu

“These must be mixed together, and then put up for use.”

If I attempt this again– to be fair, I have enough ingredients and more knowledge– I’ll try to get the Balsam of Tolu to dissolve more fully into the main mixture, though I doubt the separation is why the taste is so unforgettable. While it did mellow after several days, the basic flavor remained licorice cough drops dissolved in corn liquor with an afterburn of turpentine. Fortunately, the dosage is not by the spoonful, but rather ten or more drops in a wine glass of water, depending on the constitution of the patient. As a “cure for the whooping cough,” the syrup with fennel and anise was probably intended to soothe the throat, and paregoric might have helped the pain of damaged lungs. Living in the post-DTaP era, I’ve never had whooping cough, or been around anyone who did, so it’s much harder for me to imagine treating it without antibiotics (or simply not getting it).

“No, really, no antibiotics!” Photo by Jason R. Wickersty/Museum of the American Revolution

That was really illuminating to some people: antibiotics weren’t invented until 1928 (in the case of penicillin) and were not available for civilian use until March, 1945. Until then, diseases like strep throat could be fatal. Often, the best medicine in the 18th century was to help a patient be comfortable, and ease their symptoms.

Saturday Afternoon in the Park with Kitty

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The strawberries and cream hat, with pinballs and pincushions

Last Saturday, I enjoyed a beautiful late summer afternoon on the lawn at Van Cortlandt House Museum in the Bronx. Built in 1748 for Frederick Van Cortlandt and his family, the house served as Washington’s headquarters in 1776, and again in 1783.

was  The Van Cortlandt House, dating from 1748, is the oldest building in the Bronx.CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

It’s an idyllic site, and waking up to the sound of cricket bats and Canada geese, a visitor could be fooled into thinking you were not in the Bronx at all. Mist rose above the cricket pitch when I woke up, a large flock of geese picking at the grass. It was Netherland come to life, men beating bats on their cleats and laughing. I’m really grateful to Mrs M. for the place to sleep and chance for adventure.

This trip was a remarkable cultural experience for me, and one I really needed. Growing up on the north side of Chicago, I was used to urban density and scale, so after two years in Northern Virginia suburbs, a dose of urban life was welcome. It was all the more welcome because instead of spending my time judged by cats, I got to play with dogs (and earned a sore bicep for all the stick and giraffe throwing I did for one). The trip to Stew Leonard’s was remarkable, after the tame mercantile experiences of tiny Rhode Island, and even Wegman’s paled in comparison. It was a good set up for thinking about mercantile enterprises, impulse purchases, and the ways merchants (including milliners) and shop owners needed to keep customers coming back, tempting them with new goods. (Or, in the case of Stew Leonard’s, singing cows and/or milk cartons.)

More bonnets, most of which are available on Etsy

I managed, somehow, to finish a red silk satin quilted petticoat in time (lined with red “stuff” from Burley and Trowbridge, it was not too bed-covering like until the late afternoon) to dress up the Nancy Dawson dress. I didn’t manage to locate my sleeve ruffles in time ( stitched on a garment ) but in other regards, I was pleased with how this turned out.

Bathroom selfie, but you can see that sweet silk petticoat

Dressing my clothes up– that is, moving them up the social ladder– can be a challenge, but good accessories make a big difference. Eventually I will get a finer apron made, one with a ruffle, but for now, that has to wait.

With Lark, perhaps the sweetest little rescue pup I’ve ever met.

I have a trip to Philadelphia to make, bottles to label, and receipts to write. Elizabeth Weed returns to Carpenters Hall this weekend as part of the Occupied Philadelphia programming.

Bag and Baggage

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Shopping with a basket at Fort Fred. (photo by Denise Wolff)

The subject of carrying things at living history events never seems fully resolved. There were the fireworks I like to call Basketgate, and in the four years since, more women have been carrying frails than firm-sided baskets. But here’s the thing: baskets were not used as purses. They were used for shopping, and for babies (thanks, Ruth!), not for toting about one’s personal effects. That’s what pockets were, and remain, for.

Pocket, silk on linen, ca. 1780. Martha Elizabeth Spach (probably). MESDA 2400.

18th century women were not cursed with the tiny pockets of today’s fashionable jeans. No, they had voluminous pockets capable of holding a vast array of items: pocket journals, purses (like our wallets), game tokens, an orange, keys, and almost anything else you can think of. The pocket shown in the image is 15″ long by 11″ wide, which is a fairly typical size, though some were even larger. When I made these, I described them as “large enough for a puppy,” and Facebook wouldn’t let me post them. There is now a full-length book on The Pocket and I look forward to reading it next year, when my ILL will finally request it ($50 being too dear for my budget). In the meantime, the Victoria and Albert Museum will get you started if pockets are new to you.

So, baskets for shopping and pockets for personal things. What else might you use to convey something from one place to another?

Paul Sandby RA, 1731–1809, British, London Cries: A Man with a Bundle, Old Clothes, undated, Watercolor on medium, cream, slightly textured laid paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A wallet, of the kind reenactors call a “market wallet,” though that was not the period term. You can read about these in an article by Charles LeCount. The man in the watercolor has a very full wallet over his shoulder, demonstrating the larger end of the wallet spectrum.

And to carry your money in? A purse or pocketbook, sometimes in leather, sometimes in flame stitch, and sometimes in silk.

Which one you choose depends on who you portray, and where. Silk wallets or pocketbooks belong to a particular class and the ones in museum collections are often from France. Flamestitch wallets are reasonably common in North America among people with the time to make them. The really neat thing about these is that the patterns show regional differences, so you can tailor your choice to your place. (I lack the patience, skill, or time to really make headway on mine, but in addition to a wonderful custom pattern, I found kits here.) I have a leather one I love, made by this fellow craftsperson and friend.

Miser’s purse, early 1800s, maker unknown. Purchased 2002. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (GH009865)

Your coins? A purse. (we call these miser’s purses, though long purse or ring purse might also be used. The forms originates in the 17th century, and although it is most popular in the 19th century, it does appear in the 18th century. It’s just not common, so no, not everyone should have one. A simple bag will do for those with coins they wish to keep wrangled.

Servant Returning from the Market, 1739, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin. Louvre Museum,
MI 720

A bag, a pillow case, or even a tied cloth, as seen in the painting by Chardin.

There are lots of options for carrying chattel, lumber, and personal items, and most leave your hands free. But for women, the first place to start is tie-on pockets, and for men, the pockets in your coat. After all, the pocket bags in a typical Henry Cooke frock coat will hold a six pack between them. 

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