Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Better Dress Form

I started out my sewing career with a basic, cheap, dial-a-size dress form. Of course, this didn't work well with a stayed shape, so I moved on to a duct tape form. It was all right for a while, but the armature (PVC pipe) always poked through and made the shoulders oddly pointy and the torso itself was basically shaped like a sausage. I don't have a picture of just the form, but you can get a sense of its tragedy here:

The only plus it offered was that it was my basic size (if not shape) and didn't require me to put stays on it. I trudged along with it for several years, but it finally started to fall apart. Enter Lauren of American Duchess, with her post "Making a Workable Dress Form." I decided to follow in her footsteps, due to the awesome result she got.

I ordered the same dress form, and had my husband give her the same mastectomy. I didn't bother changing the shape of the waist as my measurements are quite a bit bigger than hers. I'm terrible about taking "Before" pictures, so this is the closest I've got:

Her cover has been removed completely and so have her boobs. I'm starting to cover her in batting.

I used polyester batting to cover her as it had more loft than the cotton I also had on hand. I first gave her and all-over coat as a base layer. I stitched it on with white quilting thread.

Then, I started adding layers in strategic places, especially her flat sides. I did this with some guessing. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Three Fabric Designs Now Available!

Due to the lack of printed fabric designs that are appropriate to a lower-class 18th Century persona, I decided to design some of my own.

There are scads of multi-color Jacobean florals available that are appropriate to the period, but the lowest classes often wore one- and two-color prints. Red, purple and blue were the most common colors and though florals were popular, there were other choices on the market in the last half of the 18th Century. A shelled motif (what we would call fishscale) was another common design, but the only 18th-C.-appropriate fabric available at the time was Duran Textile's. I really wanted to see it represented more.

Design (c) Hillary Rizen

The Pennsylvania Gazette - June 17, 1764 - "Was stolen ... 
one Irish Poplin gown ... one small shelled Ditto ..."

 I was also inspired by some of the Foundling Hospital samples I'd seen in various sources, both online and in print, and created my own single-color "sprigged" design.

Three of my designs, including the one pictured above, are now available to purchase exclusively through Wm. Booth, Draper! Click on "Printed Cottons" to view them.

Friday, August 9, 2013

18th Century Sack Races and Grinning Contests

While researching another topic, I noticed this detail in an engraving after John Collet's An Holland Smock to be Run For:

1770 - Lewis Walpole Library

It led to some research that first taught me that a flitch is a side of bacon and second that there were some unusual contests at fairs and other celebrations in the 18th Century.

American Notes and Queries, Vol. 3, 1889 - Wm. H. Garrison
referencing a 1776 handbill

Digging through flour with your mouth sounds just awful, and possibly smothering. I imagine there was a lot of coughing involved.

Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of North Riding
of Yorkshire, 1898 - Rich Blakesborough

The most surprising thing was not that sack races had been around for so long,

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


In trying to achieve a lower-class look appropriate for our station with the Continental Army, I've found that resources for info on children's clothing are few and far between. I have Anne Buck's Clothes and the Child, which is a wonderful resource, but it covers a bit too much ground to be specific enough. Period images of lower-class children seem few and far between until the later 1780s, so many of my sources are a bit late for my purposes. However, I've decided that a pincloth is a necessity with a messy toddler.

What is a pincloth? I'd like to tell you definitively, but I can only say, "I'm not sure." There are 9 pre-1785 references in the Old Bailey records, with the first appearing in 1754. Unfortunately, they don't give any description of what the pincloths looked like other than to describe the fabric. Kannik's Korner sells a pincloth pattern (scroll down) that is based off of the 1789 "Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor." I've searched and searched for images dated during or just before the Revolutionary War, but they are like hen's teeth.  Paul Sandby drew a couple that I found from 1759, but their sketchiness makes it hard to tell just what the garment looked like.

Detail - "London Cries - Fishmonger" by Paul Sandby, 1759, Yale Center for British Art

Monday, July 22, 2013

On Cloak Ties

When I made my full-length cloak, I found quite a bit of information about construction, but not so much about fastening. Sources like The Hive Online's article on short cloaks give some guidelines for materials to use, but still left me with questions. I was unsure of how to attach said strings/ribbons, as they would potentially have a lot of weight pulling on them.

As a stop-gap measure, I attached some cheap ribbon to the inside of the center-front edge, right below the seam where the cloak met the hood. This was alright, but it seemed like the wool could give out, given enough time.

A search for period images showing fastening methods in detail turned up ribbons and tapes exclusively. I didn't find any buttons or frogs. Since portraiture is almost exclusively of the upper classes, I found many images of silk cloaks fastening with silk ribbons.

Detail - 1780 Eliz. Crompton by Joseph Wright of Derby, Derby Mus. & Art Gallery

In the above image, it appears that the lining forms a casing through which the (very wide) silk ribbon is drawn. It seems unlikely that wool cloaks could be gathered in the way a silk cloak could due to the thickness and sheer weight of the fabric, but it's an interesting image nevertheless.

Detailed depictions of lower class cloaks are few and far between, with the best-known possibly being Zoffany's The Watercress Girl. I never found a high-res image of the original painting unfortunately, but the low-res shows that the cloak, its edging gimp, and the ties are all the same shade of red. (As an aside, I love this picture for the cloak, spotted handkerchief, beat-up silk-covered hat and horizontal pins!)

Detail - 1780 engraving after Johann Zoffany's Watercress Girl, Yale Cent. for British Art

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bandannos, or Spotted Handkerchiefs

 "There is nothing in the world more common." *

This subject has already been covered somewhat by Paul Dickfoss in his article, "Spotted Handkerchiefs!" and by Emily at Emily's Vintage Visions, but I'm going to add a little bit more info. 

In the 18th Century, these handkerchiefs were referenced by the terms "bandannos," "spotted," and "bird's-eye," (and possibly "India") and seem to have been one of the most common types, along with white and checked.

Bandano handkerchiefs were listed among the wares for sale by Allen Jones in his ad in the Virginia Gazette on Oct. 31, 1771.

In her article "The Indian Origins of the Bandanna," published in the December 1999 issue of the magazine Antiques, Susan S. Bean states that although it was already illegal to sell them in England, in 1720 the British East India Company began sending bandannas to England to be reexported to the colonies and Europe. Like other Indian fabrics, bandannas were imitated by European textile manufacturers. Bean also notes, "The popularity of snuff in the eighteenth century increased the need for pocket handkerchiefs, particularly dark-toned chocolate-colored and red bandannas."

Some pertinent quotes from The Old Bailey Online -


"bandannos, which are spotted handkerchiefs" - George Armstrong, Robert Armstrong, William Cotterell, Theft > theft from a specified place, 13th January 1773

Friday, June 14, 2013

Children's Jams

I've discussed this before elsewhere on the net, but this is an endlessly fascinating subject to me. To quote my previous research and add some new info:

Starting in 1767, there are numerous references in the Old Bailey online records to a clothing item called a "jam" or "jamb," often with the descriptor "children's" attached.

In one case, a woman had stolen items off of a girl in 1774, described as a jam, pin cloth, necklace, earring wires, and buckles. They are listed in detail as such: "a linen frock, value 1 s. a linen apron, value 3 d. a mock garnet necklace and a silver locket, value 1 s. a pair of silver shoe buckles, value 2 s. and a pair of gold earring wires, value 2 s." It's interesting that terminology of "jam" and "pincloth" changed to "frock" and "apron" within the same record.

As if to confuse the matter more, in 1771, Mary Hill says, "I make jams and frocks: on the twenty-fifth of June, I had made a frocks for one Mrs. Warburton, in Shoreditch; about half an hour past seven in the evening I was shewing the jam to Mrs. Warburton..." She differentiates jams and frocks and then uses the terms interchangeably.

In any case, they are described as linen, cotton, muslin, silk, worsted, and stript (striped). There is even a reference in 1774 to "jam cloth mitts." One record in 1776 specifies "a child's robe and jam."  In terms of frequency, there are two mentions of "jam" in 1767, then none until 1771 when there are the most mentions of any year - six. The last reference to jams is in 1785, which could be due to less-detailed record keeping; a falling out of favor of the term or garment; or all of the above.  There's never any gender differentiation mentioned.

I think I got to the bottom of this mystery with this wrapping gown in the V&A's collections with the description:

Wrapping gowns were a form of daytime clothing worn by babies and young children between about 1700 and 1800. They were loose fitting, but often worn with a sash around the waist. While a wrapping gown for an adult seems to have been some sort of nightgown, the adoption of wrapping gowns and other similar garments for children as daywear was probably influenced by Asian clothing given to the families of those who had trade links with the region. Lord Shelburne's two year old son Lord Fitmaurice had a 'jummer' (jama) of flowered gauze over blue silk in 1768.

So, it seems a jam/jama (this spelling was never used in the Old Bailey records, nor was "jummer") was a baby banyan and a frock was a more tailored garment. I can definitely see how a jam and a pincloth would be a cheap option for dressing a lower-class child and a simple and easy-to-clean option for any child, if cotton were used.

I have since found a couple of garments on museum websites that I believe would be called "jams" in the 18th Century: