Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Can We Discuss Pockets? or, Beware Bad Revisionist History

About a week ago I saw this article floating around the interwebs: The Disturbing Reason Women's Clothing Historically Never Had Pockets.  

I admit, my first thought was "What an amusing bit of baseless, invented historical poppycock" wrote a "sigh, this is silly" Facebook post, had a nice chat and laugh with my history nerd friends, and moved on.

But I keep seeing this idea resurfacing.

People.

No.

First off, a quick lesson in "hmmmology"--when you see "always" or "never" in a historical context, say "hmmm."  Say "hmmmm" really loud and then question if it's true or not.  Minimal research will almost always debunk an absolute claim like this.  Quick lesson in hmmmology over.

But to the point, this article ignores, completely, the historical reality.  To keep this focused on what I know well and to avoid running into major overtime with this post, let's just focus on the ("long") 18th century.  And in this context, sure.  Women's *clothing* typically did not have pockets.

You know what they did instead?  Yeah, tied GIANT BAGS under their clothes.

Sometimes very prettily embroidered bags:



Or quilted:



Or colorful:



Even patchworked:

Though quite often plain:



And these separate pockets are not small.  Many of us chatting on my Facebook post originally ripping this article extolled the virtues of the pocket--how much we can fit into it, how they're often worn in pairs for EVEN MORE storage, how it's so convenient that, no matter how many outfits you have, you never have to transfer stuff out of one pocket into another, and you never have to worry over your handbag matching your outfit or occasion, because it's under your clothes.  It's harder to steal from you when your purse isn't on your arm but buried under gown and petticoat.

Some of the claims circulated about the "politicizing" of pockets and demonstrating how the lack of pockets translates to oppression of women point to Liberty in Transportable Stuff.  If a woman can't carry much, she can't be independent of a man.  Further, she can't tote around Dangerous Things like weapons or (gasp!) books, rendering her innocuous.

While you may not be able to tuck a pistol or a paperback into your itty bitty Kate Spade crossbody, you can certainly carry both in your 18th century pockets.  The hypotheses of both Liberty in Transportable Stuff and Dangerous Things fails in the face of evidence in the 18th century context.

(And we haven't even gotten into bags, baskets, market wallets, and other means of toting your flotsam, or the history of such items in eras when neither men's NOR women's clothing had built-in pockets.)

Beyond being made-up foolishness, this is bad revisionist history.  And that's a problem on a few levels.

First, and this is important, *revisionist history as a category is not a bad thing.*  Revision means, at its most basic, re-seeing, and there is plenty to re-see when we approach history.  Look, even the giants of historical research who came before a) missed stuff; b) focused on different stuff; and c) had their own prejudices about what they saw.  Contemporary historians are doing great work investigating, for example, groups of people who have been largely ignored, including women, the enslaved, and common soldiers, and are producing work that illuminates the past by seeing what wasn't looked at before. Re-see, re-evaluate, re-vise--completely valid process.  (Christina of On Living History reminded me of Through the Needle's Eye: Women's Work in the Age of Revolution, which is a great example.)

The problem as I see it is that craparticles like this are how most of the public enters the dialogue of revising history, and instead of seeing it as a worthwhile inquiry into filling in the gaps and correcting missteps that the study of history has left thus far, sees instead either a political rallying ground or a series of convenient fictions for said rallying ground. That's a shame, as it de-legitimizes in the public perception the good work done by plenty of current historians by association.

Any time that historical inquiry or argument begins not with the evidence but with an agenda, there are bound to be problems.  That's not how historical research or inquiry works.  You don't start with the mindset of "liberating," "politicizing," or generally making your audience more "woke" without prejudicing yourself against what the historical record actually provides you.  The process of writing can't begin with "how can I politicize historical clothing to further my contemporary agenda? How can I show how clothes, specifically when it comes to pockets, are tools of oppression?"  It has to begin with, instead, "What did historical people actually DO? What did they WEAR? How and in what variations?"  Then, please.  Interpret those facts to your heart's content and we can debate them--interpretation is still open to critique and debate, but it should be based, first, on the historical record itself.  In this case, that record involves the material culture and images of the past as well as text, and we have examples in droves to work with.

The short article linked above was a redux of a longer piece on Racked which does a better job actually acknowledging the history of the pocket in women's clothes.  There are disagreements aplenty to be made here (as a most basic example, the author's claim that separate pockets "disappeared" during the French Revolution when you can see examples that clearly survive the age of the guillotine by scrolling up on this post), but you can see a sharp difference between what historical argument that considers the evidence and argument that trims it out completely look like.  The focus of the piece on Racked is, in truth, much narrower--a (frankly a bit shoddy) attempt to cover earlier centuries quickly transitions into an examination of pockets and the late 19th century and 20th century women's advocacy movements--and here the author has enough historical evidence to posit an argument that women then saw pockets as tied to their personal liberty.

Does this prove a damn thing about 18th century women and pockets? Nope.  Does it provide ample reason for us to classify the early 19th century reticule as a tool of oppression? Nope (and the author should really not have tried).  Are there "always and never" statements to be made? Absolutely NOPE.  But it does provide an interesting historical context and conversation.  Exploring how women utilized and thought about the pockets in their clothing during a time of transitional thinking about women's rights? Re-seeing and re-evaluating history in a potentially productive way. (I say potentially because the piece is still short and quite incomplete, written, clearly, for a public rather than academic audience.)  Compare to "never had pockets=OPPRESSION!" as demonstrated above--huge difference.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mind the Gap

The Modern Reenactor recently posted a fantastic article on one of our most fundamental choices as reenactors--evidence or preference? Read it.  Digest it.  It's a tough question to answer for many of us, but it's a valid one to force ourselves to engage in--not just once at the outset of our time in the hobby, but many times as we progress.  Am I doing/wearing/saying/presenting this because I have *evidence* for it, or because I like it and think it's cool? Is it an interpretation of evidence, or a creative riff?

As is my wont, however, there is one area I'm forced to quibble with.  This is the strict delineation implied by "research" or "just your imagination." (And I will add, this is a delineation I do not assume The Modern Reenactor intended to make, but one I as a reader interpreted, and it worth addressing.)  The trouble with many of the impressions we research is that there is a gap between sources and what we would actually need to recreate to present a full impression (and, er, ourselves fully clothed).  Interpretation, in fact, implies this--we aren't transposing or copying but "interpreting" what may be a wide and varied body of evidence from abstract into tangible forms.

Our job as reenactors, when there are such gaps, is to work to narrow them.  The shorter the leap we have to make, the better.  In the vast majority of impressions, it's just not possible to know everything for 100% certain from the primary sources from the precise region and precise era of interpretation.  This is one of those "the more you know, the more you realize you don't know" areas--you don't realize how much there is to document and understand until you're up to your ears, and how much variance between regions, socio-economic classes, and short periods of time can truly matter (and also, when it doesn't matter).  When we work to narrow the gaps, we may not have perfect answers, but we do have evidence for the choice that we make.

There will be gaps. So, what to do about the gaps?

First and foremost, "look before you leap" is obvious.  Research FIRST, widely, completely, before making a leap at a hypothesis.  When you have a hypothesis, continue to test it with research.  Look first.  Don't dive into shallow water.  You get the idea.

1) Just don't do that impression.  Look, it's not ideal, but it also isn't said enough--if the research isn't there, you don't *have* to do that impression.  Assess how wide the gaps are--are you making flying leaps or well-researched hops?  There may be many reasons an impression appeals to you, and even many reasons that it's a worthwhile impression to do, but that doesn't mean it's required. This is a tough question, and I hope I'm not coming across as a big meanie by suggesting you ask it, but it's necessary: Is the stuff you'd have to invent outweighing the stuff you have evidence for? Is the potential value of the impression truly greater than the introduction of fictions? If you can't scrounge up enough research to close the gaps, it's allowed--encouraged, in some cases, even--to decide this just isn't a great idea at this time.  Maybe more research will emerge.  Maybe you'll have more time to archive-surf later.  Maybe something else will capture your attention and this will remain a wistful dream of an impression that wasn't.

Aside: I know that this is particularly difficult and pernicious area to critique, as many under-represented people can fall into the category of "wide gap." However, many don't.  Don't assume that just because marginalized people, such as enslaved African Americans, impoverished women, or indentured servants, did not write about their own experience that their lives are not well-documented. Runaway ads, court documents, sketches and images, and more provide a lot of illuminating information.  I'm not suggesting ignoring marginalized people--in some cases, these impressions could be *better* documented from sources than those we assume would be widely sourced, such as some military units.

But sometimes the gaps are narrow enough to justify making an impression work--and thank goodness, or else we'd be screwed when it comes to accurate portrayal of the diversity of the time periods we portray!

2) Find cognates.  In language, there are words that are just enough alike across languages that foreign speakers understand them.  So, too, in historical research.  Know your close relations.  If your intended impression is Anglo-American, branch out into other Anglo-American areas--not something someone did once in Sweden.  This is one of the biggest errors on the research learning curve in my experience. New researchers first aim for simply "It exists! I found a thing!" and fail to place A Thing in the right contexts.  Like goes with like.  Closest neighbors--not only regionally, but culturally and socially--are most likely to relay cognate information than distant relations.  If you simply cannot discover cap norms for married women in Connecticut in 1772 but have good information for Boston...well, Boston is pretty darn close.

3) Understand your background.  The emphasis on using primary sources to research and document our work sometimes has the unintended consequence of new researches--and old hats--skipping an overarching understanding of the time period in order to delve after details.  Secondary sources and "basic" history texts can actually be quite helpful here.  How did trade routes and information dissemination work in the area you're researching? Who settled that area? Over what period of time? When was That Thing invented, and how quickly did it take off? What social and cultural norms were driving people?  When you have a decent framework, relating primary research to what you want to document becomes much easier.

4) Understand what is the exception and what is the rule.  I've blathered on sufficiently about aiming for norms in this hobby, but to reiterate--this is important here.  Understanding norms helps us know what makes sense and what doesn't.  Narrowing the gap means coloring within the lines until we have a good reason to stray outside of them--and that reason isn't solely "it makes sense to me" or "What I would do if I were there is..."' but based on research.  Say I've got about a thousand images of rich, poor, and middling women in city, countryside, and even prison wearing stays.  Should I decide that, despite this, marginalized women would never wear stays because it doesn't make sense to my modern sensibilities that, say, a woman on the frontier would "burden herself" with stays? Of course not.  However, to push this further: Should I take a *single* reference to unstayed women in one frontier setting to extrapolate that NO women on the frontier wore stays and therefore craft an entire impression around it with no further primary evidence? No, I probably shouldn't. That isn't to say that it's not possible that such a woman in such a setting existed--but unless I am portraying her, precisely, I should exercise caution when it comes to outliers.

5) Take risks but be willing to be wrong. At some point, you make the leap. This is a unique element to research in reenacting that most academics don't encounter--sure, they publish an article or give a paper at a conference about their research (and making a dumb mistake might follow them around for a long time), but we have the additional privilege (and stress) of creating a tangible representation of the past (in which we actually have to wear a dumb mistake and encounter pictures of ourselves in said dumb mistake years later).  After all the research, the documentation, the hours scrounging the sources, we pull the trigger, cut out the fabric, put needle to thread, and create.  This is where risk comes in--you must be willing to admit that you were wrong if it turns out you made the wrong choice.

If there's one lesson new and old reenactors alike could learn, it's to leave your pride at the door.  That is, you do your best, you put in the work, but if it turns out you screwed up? You screwed up.  It's a learning experience, and you do better next time. The problem isn't when we close gaps with mistakes, but when we refuse to correct those mistakes and take responsibility for sharing that "yes, I tried, and I didn't get it right, and--this is important--do NOT do what I did."  Share your mistakes proudly--they're the result of research, too, and they ultimately further our goal by demonstrating what not to do. That old "100 ways not to make a lightbulb" quote from Edison comes to mind--even mistakes are valuable.

So, long and short of it--between evidence and preference lies a murky area of interpretation, and we should try to fall as close to evidence as we can, narrowing our gaps, and looking deeply and carefully before making leaps.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Myth of "For Beginners"

Note: Throughout this post, I am speaking about and to those whose goal is historical accuracy.  If that's not you, no guilt, no judgment.  Not your goal, not your problem!

There's a weird myth I've noticed floating out there recently.

It's that historical authenticity isn't for beginners.

Nope, beginners, apparently, are supposed to stick to mainstream/commercial patterns, make "costumes" before they try historical clothing, and should avoid any fabric or fiber save cotton broadcloth at all costs.

I recently encountered this when I suggested, on a clothing forum, that instead of attempting to use a Big Three pattern, that someone looking for HA clothing use the Larkin and Smith gown pattern to achieve the garment she wanted to make.  (In context, I had assumed she wanted historical accuracy in the final product.)

"But I'm a beginner!" came the reply.  "Those patterns are only for experienced seamstresses.  This is better for beginners."

What? Historically accurate methods and patterns are only for people who have already slogged through making incorrect stuff?

Where did this myth come from?

Now, I empathize completely with newcomers to the hobby of historical reenacting or historically accurate costuming of any kind.  For one, it's all new.  The learning curve in terms of knowledge is steep,and to complicate matters, there's plenty of bad information out there.  Further, there are new skill sets to be acquired.  Is this why accuracy is considered for-advanced-seamstresses-only?

Further, plenty of people come to historically accurate (I'm going to use the annoying abbreviation HA from here on out for brevity) clothing construction via less accurate avenues--many first dip a sartorial toe into the waters of cosplay, RenFair, rendezvous, or costume parties.  So many newcomers to HA clothing have, in fact, had "beginner" experiences making non-HA clothing.  Is this where the idea that you *have* to go through the inaccurate before you can start making HA garments comes from?

In either case, it doesn't have to be this way.

First, yes.  Making HA clothing involves having access to the correct information--but you don't have to do all the legwork yourself!  It cannot be emphasized enough that, when starting out, getting yourself with a group that is not only HA but helpful is necessary.  Information is not to be hoarded, but shared!  Online groups exist, but caveat emptor--not all are giving HA advice.  Regardless, the information is there--you do not have to write a dissertation on colonial American bedgowns or shifts because, guaranteed, someone has already done that for you.

Beyond this, though, the idea that HA methods or patterns are harder boggles my mind.  Here's the deal: Accurate methods are not more difficult, they are simply different.  You are hand-sewing instead of machine sewing.  You are constructing garments differently than in modern stitchery.  You are using different fabrics than is typical in modern sewing.  However, none of these is inherently harder.

Take hand-sewing.  Hand-sewing is not, I repeat, truly, NOT more difficult than machine sewing.  In fact, I know many people who prefer hand-sewing.  Is it more time-consuming? Sure.  But the learning curve is just as steep.  I have a friend who recently taught a historical clothing sewing workshop, and allowed the use of sewing machines to keep the process moving more quickly (100% HA was not a goal here--that's ok!).  She ended up teaching everyone how to use their sewing machine.  And had she insisted on hand-sewing, she would have ended up teaching that, no doubt.  Regardless--a machine doesn't help a complete beginner, but it does teach a modern methodology instead of an HA one.

So, if you have to learn a new skill set in order to create clothing, and you want to  ultimately have an HA wardrobe--why learn the inaccurate skill set?  Why spend time wrestling with a machine instead of fighting with a hand-sewing needle?  This is the most obvious difference, probably, but the methods of clothing construction differ, too.  Why learn to sew a lined gown using an inaccurate "bag lining" method when it's no harder to use an HA method?  And ultimately--why make a throwaway garment that you won't be able to wear to the living history events you want to when you could invest your time and money in a piece that will serve both your goals of learning and using? (NB: I am not talking about muslins there, but about completed garments.)

Thing is, if we learn skills in an incorrect way first, we have to unlearn them later.  You can use a Big Three pattern to make a first gown--but when you later make an HA gown, many of the skills you picked up in your first gown will not be used in the new project.  You will still be learning new skills when you make your HA gown, no matter how many costume pieces you make before it.  And if my own experience is any indication, you will trip yourself up *thinking* you know how it's done when, in fact, you do not.

When I unpack from vacation (or an event!) I keep the motto "handle it once." It comes out of the suitcase and right into the closet or hamper or dresser.  If you apply the same outlook here, you notice how you save a lot of time with skill building.  Handle it once.  Learn it once.  If you're not trying to learn modern method but historical ones, then, instead of learning it the wrong way first, why not built a repertoire of HA skills?

Now, not every project is the best first project for a newcomer to sewing at all, let alone HA garments.  Maybe a gown isn't best (and it's definitely not--in no small part because you absolutely positively need stays first). But a bedgown? Oh, yeah.  You can learn handsewing technique, 18th century construction norms, get used to the hand of linen or wool...In fact, you can built a full "first wardrobe" with a few basic stitches, a pattern or two, and some cutting diagrams (and a bazillion yards of linen, give or take a couple yards).  I watched a group of mostly newbie sewists craft completely handsewn shifts in a weekend recently--some went from zero skills to almost complete garment.  If they can do it--and now have nearly all the skills they need to make an HA wardrobe--anyone can.

So let's put this one to rest.  Beginners can learn HA technique.  Beginners do not have to stick to machine sewing, modern technique, or incorrect patterns.  Beginners can make HA garments.

Rock on, beginners.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Bibs, or Weird Plain Stomacher Things

I started noticing a weird clothing item while collecting images of women working.

It's kinda like a stomacher.

Except it's not one of the gorgeous, embroidered, gilt, bow-bedecked stomachers we usually see displayed in museum collections and photographed for books.

It's plain.  Zilch on it.  In fact, it doesn't even match the gown it's being worn with.

What the heck, I thought, *is* this thing?

A few examples:



Henry Robert Morland (London circa 1719-1797) The Butter Churner 



Henry Robert Morland, The Laundry Maid, Engraving by Philip Dawe, 1774



1765 Henry Robert Morland (British artist, 1716-1797) A Lady's Maid Soaping Linen


Henry Robert Morland, Domestic Employment: Ironing National Museums Liverpool


Miss White Clear Starcher to the Queen, Unknown British artist


So, what can we say about this curious garment? First, in each case, the wearer is a maid doing manual work--laundry-related manual work.  The gown she is wearing is nice-ish--nothing over the top fancy, but, from the look of the fabric in each image, either a cotton print, a painted silk, a plain silk, or some other "upmarket" fabric--not workaday linen or wool.  The gowns (aside from the last, which is unclear) are all of the robing-and-stomacher front closure style, and most are clearly open, with robings unpinned.

Then, how it's worn:


In each case, the piece appears undyed, either bleached or unbleached, and of a fabric that, from sheen and texture, I would guess to be linen.  In an interesting twist, most appear to be tucked into the top of the stays rather than pinned into place.  The remainder of the cut is similar to a "normal" stomacher, as the edges are visible.

As you might have guessed, I found this interesting.

I found this *particularly* interesting as the vast majority of English aprons and images of English women wearing aprons depict an apron that only covers the skirts--not the "pinner," "pinafore" or "bib" apron that we see more commonly in French and Dutch images.  I had wondered--WHY not wear something that protects the front of one's clothing from stains, too?

Well, looks like they did.

And then I got to wondering about a term I'd seen floating around some textual sources--Bib:


Elizabeth Banks , was indicted, for that she, in a certain field, or open place, near the King's highway, on Frances Mercer , spinster, did make an assault, putting her in corporal fear, &c. one stay, value 1 s. one pair of stockings, one linen bib and apron, the goods of the said Frances, did steal, take and carry away .


Arthur Hambleton was indicted for stealing one worked linen handkerchief, called Dresden, three linen gowns, one-linen bib, one linen apron, two other gowns,

And others...and I wondered. Bib? What's a bib? Though some of the references specifically speak to children, most did not, so my modern understanding of the term "bib" as "drool catcher and mealtime poncho" was certainly incorrect here.

I had heard it suggested that "bib" might mean kerchief, but as the thefts often list bibs AND kerchiefs as stolen items, this didn't seem plausible, either.  

Then there's the fact that a pinned-front apron is termed a "bibbed" apron--and the piece that pins on the front, is, apparently, a "bib":


[I] saw the prisoner at the bar putting my handkerchief as fast as he could between the bib of his apron and his waistcoat.

Well, hmmm.  Is the weird stomacher thing called a bib?  That's my best guess at the moment

For fun, I decided to make one of my own as a bit of "experimental archaeology" and use it while performing kitchen duties this spring.

I tucked it into the front of my stays, as the images seem to do--but found that the top was a bit wide and I had extra fabric that bunched at the sides.  Good to know--make the top a bit narrower than my "normal" stomacher.  I also pinned my robings back down as I was wearing this for a while, like the "Maid Soaping Linen" seems to have done.  


And it worked quite well! I saved my normal stomacher from the blood from a stab wound to my finger, so I can say the piece is useful.  It was easy to swap the "bib" in for my normal, matching stomacher, so I can safely say that a maid--or housewife--who wanted protection for her gown but wanted to switch  back quickly could certainly do so.  A good addition to my working wardrobe, I think--and I'm going to keep looking into bibs!

Monday, June 6, 2016

One Gown, Two Ways

I hadn't really intended to make a new gown this spring.

But then I got some sort of Congested Sinus Yak that lasted forever and a half, and the only thing I wanted to to do was sit on the couch and sew.  So I sewed.  And sewed and sewed and made a gown and two stomachers and a petticoat.

I had been wanting to try the Larkin and Smith pattern--I'll write a full post later about using the pattern and the sewing techniques used and how it's REALLY FUN I PROMISE, because I definitely want to make another one of these.  For now, I'm struck by how awesome this gown is at playing high-low.

I used a cotton print, which is a nicer fabric for 18th century, but if you spend some time playing in 18th century images and runaway ads (and if you want to, Don Hagist's excellent Wives, Slaves, and Servant Girls is now available), you find that cotton prints do show up among poorer people, too.  Second hand clothing plays a part in this, as does the fact that people were not either magnificently wealthy or rolling in mud in the period--people with lesser means could still afford some niceties.

Still, seeing the striking difference that a different set of accessories makes--it's pretty nifty.

Dressed down, the gown with a plain linen petticoat, a checked apron, a very battered straw hat, and with the tails rucked up out of the way (retrousse, as it were, dans les poches).   No jewelry, no extras. (Adorable tiny human not included in ensemble, sold separately.)


And, for a full 180, with matching petticoat, silk-covered hat, paste jewelry, and an organdy kerchief. (Dashing officer not included in ensemble, sold separately.)  For what it's worth, the cap is the same in both images.




I wasn't sure if it would work, honestly, to pull it off both ways, but I really enjoyed how I was able to play quick-swap and have not only two different outfits, but really, two different personas for the weekend.  

As a just for fun, I also made a plain stomacher, which takes the look even more firmly into the "I'm here to work" category.  (More on that plain stomacher another time!)



Long story short--this has been a great addition to my 18th century wardrobe on many levels.  Happy squeaks. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Big Girl Room--This Old House Tries for Young-Ish


E moved on up from her crib to a "big girl bed" a while ago, and I made some room decor upgrades to match.  

Warning.

Modern DIY projects ahead.

Warning.

The first was super-simple--I decided to order one of those wall-decal self-sticky things.  


We repurposed a cradle as a stuffed-animal repository.

Now, I know, Disney princesses aren't the most original. But in this case, E loves the song "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes," and asks me to sing it every night for bedtime.  So it made sense to include it in her bedroom!



Not too tricky to use, and I love that it's a) very temporary and b) takes up a whole wall.

She has this awesome little oh-so-late-1800s alcove in her room, which I decided to make into a reading/craft/coloring nook with the little table and chairs and a paper lantern "chandelier." 


Fun and super-simple project--I used paper lanterns of various sizes in blues and greens that coordinated with her room, varied the length of the hanging strips (I used fairly thick, torn strips of semi-sheer cotton voile), and attached them to a hook in the ceiling.



(The table and chairs are from IKEA, and I covered the tabletop with chevron ConTact paper.  This is not just for show--when she marks it up sufficiently with crayons and craft glue, it can be easily peeled off and replaced.)

E's view of the old-fashioned white church across the street.



Easy-peasy project!  Screwing the hook into the ceiling was the hardest part.


Sometimes it can be hard to keep This Old House feeling kid-friendly and fun, but I liked how these additions made her room feel more "hers" and less fussy!


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Your Requisite Kerchief: HSM #3: Protection

What do you think of you when you think of protection and historical clothing?

I'll admit, when I think about the clothes we 18th century folks wear on a regular basis, I tend to think of protecting my *clothes* more than protecting myself.  A big apron to keep spatters and smudges off  my nice clothes.  Shifts, shirts, what we might call "body linen"--what protects my clothes from my own sweat. Caps--protecting my hair from dirt and debris. Maybe I consider a short cloak, or perhaps quilted garments or mitts, for protection from the cold.  

But we should all consider protecting ourselves, too.

That's right--this is a lecture-y post.

This?  This is top-notch protection right here:


From what?

The sun.

Maybe I'm being a little overdramatic here.  But a few years ago, I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from the curve between my right shoulder and my neck.  The spot had not-quite-healed and reopened multiple time, and was constantly a little scabby, and so I had it checked out.  My brush with cancer was a pretty minor one--the nurse practitioner I saw was as suspicious as I was, had it biopsied, and a couple weeks later, using just local anaesthesia, it was removed.  I'll always have a dime-size scar of shiny, whitish skin, but so far I haven't had any other spots crop up.  For this I'm thankful--but I know having had skin cancer already means I'm at more risk in the future, and that I have to be vigilant and careful about sun protection.

What does this have to do with historical clothing? I'm convinced that I earned that skin cancer by skipping wearing a neck kerchief for years in my younger, stupider, less-authentic reenacting days.  I'm careful about sunscreen, I tend to avoid the sun anyway, and I'm usually pretty covered up.  But eight to twelve weekends a year, for many years, my shoulders--and pretty much only my shoulders--baked and burned as the only thing exposed in my 18th century clothes.  I have had very, very few sunburns or even, um, color, over the rest of my pale self, but those shoulders? Abused.

I'm smarter now.  And more worried about authenticity as well as sun safety--you don't see many women, upper or lower class, in their regular daytime clothing without a kerchief tucked, tied, or pinned on their gowns, jackets, even just their bare stays.  (You see *some* of course--but this relates back to my focus on representing norms.  Kerchief? Norm.)





What the item is: A kerchief
The Challenge: #3 Protection
Fabric/Materials: Some Italian cotton "book muslin" (cotton organdy) acquired from Wm Booth Draper. That's it--easy peasy.  But oh, this stuff is lovely to work with!
Pattern: None, really.  I wanted to try a shaped kerchief after experiencing quite a bit of "bunching" using folded squares, so I used this diagram from the 18th Century Embroidery book:





Year: 1770-1780
Notions: Linen thread.  That's it.

Techniques: I added a section here called "Techniques" because I often find myself wanting to talk about the sewing, fitting, or other methods I used for a project--and this time I couldn't resist.

You guys, rolled hems are magic.

No, seriously.  The only technique used on this piece is rolled hems.  And I swear, after a total of something like two yards of rolled hems on this thing, I didn't get tired of watching that awkward zig-zagging stitch roll up tight into a neat little hem.



I used to be really daunted by rolled hems--they looked so neat and perfect, and I figured it must be really far beyond me--but it's not.  It's one of the easiest techniques I've ever learned.  This explanation is pretty good--and you can make your hems *even narrower!* <--magic .="" p="">
How historically accurate is it? I'll give myself a 95%--the materials, techniques, and shaping are all correct, but I have not, I confess, documented this particular shaping method to the colonies.  However, after experimenting with the stiffer fabric--it just makes sense.  For the kerchief to lie properly, it needs the slit.  Otherwise, it bunches around the neck like an unflattering and uncomfortable balloon.  I'm going to make a shaky pronouncement and say--we know they had kerchiefs of cotton organdy, so they were probably making them using a shaped method.

And we do have an interesting reference from The Old Bailey--a woman caught stealing a "half handkerchief" of book muslin in 1784.  I don't have any proof for this, but it does seem reasonably possible to call a triangle-shaped kerchief a "half."
Hours to complete: Evenings in front of the TV last week.  Maybe three hours total? I really stink at estimating time because it's always stolen in bits and pieces from other parts of my day.
First worn: Not yet!
Total cost:  The book muslin goes for $16, so it's not cheap, but given that a yard easily yields enough for a kerchief like this or a cap, it's a worthwhile investment.   I used maybe half a yard, so $8 total.

This stuff really is delicious to work with--highly recommended!