Monday, April 25, 2016

A Cage Crinoline for the early 1860s

Back in February my sister and I made a plan to attend the annual LHS Winter Ball. I was able to outfit her in an 1860s ballgown, but that left me with nothing to wear! I needed not only a gown, but a set of undies as well.

I was never perfectly happy with my pink toile hoopskirt from back in 2008. I made it from Simplicty 7216, and the shape always seemed a little weird to me. Before I made another hoopskirt, I looked at some period images to get a better idea of what kind of shape I was looking for.

Costumers often refer to hoops in two basic categories: round and elliptical. Round hoopskirts have the fullness all around, with a round bottom hoop. Elliptical ones have more fullness thrown toward the back, with a slightly oval bottom hoop. However, historic examples show more variation. You can follow a basic timeline of hoop changes, but keep in mind that photographs show a more complex story. There were many different hoop manufacturers making many different shapes, so while you can create a sweeping arc of general trends, there will always be room for odd differences.

Note: In the period, the terms hoopskirt, hoop petticoat, crinoline, and cage crinoline all described support undergarments with hoops of steel or other stiffener. For this blog post, I am just going to refer to any of these garments as a "hoopskirt."

Hoops in the 1850s evolved from the dome shape of the 1840s. This shape was very full and round over the hips, with a line that hung straight down to the floor as it reached the hem.

Dome shaped skirt 1858:
dress 1858

While the shape is a dome, examples also exist with more fullness toward the back.

Balmoral hoop skirt:
Balmoral hoop skirt 1858

By the 1860s, the shape had become slightly more triangular, with less fullness over the hips, a larger hem circumference, and more angled sides. The dome shape is starting to dwindle.

Hoopskirt 1864:
Hoopskirt 1864

c. 1860:
Hoopskirt 1860

After 1864, the "elliptical" shape emerges: even flatter over the hips, almost straight in front with lots of fullness in back, and a strong triangular line. The dome effect is almost gone, and the bottom circumference is very large.

Very elliptical skirt dec 1864:
Elliptical silhouette

In 1867-8, there was a brief fad for a very small, triangular hoopskirt paired with a slightly raised waist. The look was very narrow, with a straight, angular line and very little fullness over the hips.

triangular hoops 1867-8:
Narrow triangular hoop silhouette 1867-8

After I spent some time looking at examples, I felt that the most flattering shape for me was more domed than triangular, but since my event was set in the 1860s, I tried to compromise with something rounded, but still flatter than that super-full 1850s dome. I was aiming for a moderate hem circumference of about a 112.

I started out with my old hoopskirt and a measuring tape. I measured the bottom hoop and the length from my waist to the floor while wearing it. Then I set the old hoop aside and started playing with numbers. I used the tape measure around my body for some rough estimates and did a little math to make things even.

I cut 16 lengths of twill tape, doubled them so I had 8 pairs, and marked them for sewing the hoop channels. I sewed the channels on the machine about every 6 inches to make space for 7 hoops.

I cut the hoops roughly to size and inserted them in the twill tape casings. I knew I would have to trim some off later, but I wasn't worried about wasting hoop wire (much) because 6 out of the 7 hoops came from old projects I took apart and salvaged.

Then came the fun part! I put it on the dress form and started playing with it! At first it looked pretty crazy:

Then it started looking a little better, sort of:

And eventually started shaping up into a hoopskirt! I added a waistband somewhere in there and trimmed off some of the excess twill tape.

I took it off the form to attach the ends of the hoops together.

First I tipped the bone ends with rubber tips, then overlapped and sewed them together with strong craft thread.

The finished hoopskirt!

I made a new petticoat with a large flounce to go over this hoop. It's amazing to see the difference in the shape with a petticoat over it! I love the side silhouette. There's none of that weird bump my old hoop had, and the size is just right for me: not too big, not too small.

I am very pleased with it. It was light and easy to dance in. I was a little worried about putting a foot through it but that didn't happen. I might still go back and add a fabric hem to prevent this in the future.

To be completely ready for the ball, I also needed a dress, of course! That will be a separate post. Until next time!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A fitted blouse in Japanese double gauze

I made this blouse for a display for Treadle. The fabric is an utterly dreamy Japanese cotton double gauze. It is so soft and pretty. It was also very easy to work with. Its open weave helped it ease beautifully. Here it is worn with a cardigan I re-styled from a thrift store pullover and a linen skirt I made last fall.

I love that little bit that peeks out below the sweater in back!

Here you can see the whole blouse without the cardigan, although I really made it for layering and I doubt I will ever wear it on its own. The fit skims over the body smoothly, neither baggy nor tight. To make that happen I modified the front with a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) and took in the waist in back to nip in toward my slight swayback. I cut one size smaller than my high bust measurement before I did the FBA to prevent the upper chest becoming baggy. I also re-positioned the front princess seam slightly to bring it closer to my bust point. 

Another trick I used (useful for the narrow-backed, full-busted) was to cut the back pieces a smaller size so that more of the 'body room' ends up skewed toward the front, where I needed it. I got this technique from Truly Victorian's sizing method. It translates to modern sewing!

I sewed it mainly on the machine, finished the seams with the serger, and finished the inside front bands, cuffs, and neckband by hand.

The pattern is McCall's 6124, a classic princess-seamed shirt. I chose the princess seaming to get a smooth fit without the bulk of huge darts.

 Here's a detail shot on the dress form where you can really see the beautiful soft floral print of the double gauze.

I am very happy with this and plan to make more! I would love to replace some of the long-sleeved t-shirts I currently use for layering with soft blouses like this. When I make this again, I will want to add just a smidge of length to the sleeve, and possibly shorten the body slightly. And possibly modify the neckline to be a lower scoop or a V.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly #3: Plain Muffins

I started out quite stumped on this challenge. The theme was "History Detective," or trying to interpret a vague or confusing historical recipe, but while I have of course read plenty of weird, vague recipes, when the time came for this challenge, everything seemed to (infuriatingly!) make sense. Maybe I have been reading historic cookbooks for too long, and the strange terms for foods and the archaic measurements are now more familiar to me.

I could have just picked a recipe at random and claimed it was vague to me, but that would be cheating! So instead I spent many fruitless hours poring over cookbooks and having dead-end brainstorms, until I finally ran out of time.

I finally just decided I would make some kind of quick bread, and found a pretty vague recipe in the Open Door Cookbook. I went to check the book's publication date and found - AHA! - there was none to be found. Here was my historical food mystery! Not my recipe but the date of my cookbook. I made my muffins and used clues from the book to guess its date.

The Challenge: 3. History Detective (January 29 - February 11) For this challenge, you get to be the detective! Either use clues from multiple recipes to make a composite recipe, or choose a very vague recipe and investigate how it was made.

The Recipe: Plain Muffins, submitted by Mrs. C. R. Parker to the Open Door Cookbook, published by the Open Door Congregational Church. I got this book and a few others at a local garage sale last summer.


The Date/Year and Region: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. For the date, let's look at some clues from the book.

First we have this Lux advertisement. The hair on this gal looks absolutely like early 19-teens; up-swept, over the ears, but without the full front pompadour of the early 1900s. See an example here. Plus her shirtwaist blouse is very 1905.

Another illustration with a late 19-teens look. The little puffs of hair over the ears are a dead giveaway! See a similar example from 1917 here.

A doughnut recipe in the book calls for Crisco, which was introduced in 1911.

Then there is this great color ad. Without this I would have just said 1918 and left it. The woman's collar has a late 19-teens look, but the shape of her apron is very flat and boxy, with no waist, suggesting a 1920's style.

Also, this is a flour ad, not a high fashion print, so the clothing represented would have to be considered mainstream, not too new or avant-garde. The clothing couldn't be too out-of-date though, or it would look dowdy and old fashioned. As we all know, that's not how you sell flour!

These clues all place this book's date definitely after 1915, and as late as 1925.

How Did You Make It: Only ingredients were given in this recipe, no method or cooking time, so I just mixed the dough like I normally would for muffins. First I beat the eggs in a bowl, then added the melted butter, then stirred in my dry ingredients and milk. I did sub in half a cup of whole wheat flour because I can't leave well enough alone. Given the amount of recipes in this book for "graham" and bran biscuits and muffins, I don't think this is an unreasonably inaccurate change.

The large amount of baking powder in this recipe - 4 teaspoons to 2 cups of flour - made the batter thicken up immediately with a foamy texture. No baking directions were given, so I checked a couple other muffin recipes. All they suggested was "a quick, hot oven," no time given. I gave these about 17 minutes at 400 F.

That thick foamy texture made a bumpy, irregular finished muffin, with little toasty edges everywhere. Yum!

There is no such thing as too much butter.

Time to Complete: 15 minutes of prep, 17 minutes in the oven.

Total Cost: Pretty cheap, just pantry stuff. A couple dollars?

How Successful Was It?: Yummy. The crumb was soft and springy, the exterior slightly crisp like a biscuit. Slathered with butter they were the perfect companion to a cheese and spinach omelet.

How Accurate Is It?: I subbed in some whole wheat flour, and I greased my pan with an organic palm oil shortening, whereas Crisco (hydrogenated cottonseed oil) or lard would have been the more likely choice at the time. Otherwise I followed as written.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly #2: Cherry Trifle

I consider myself an adequate cook. I can make good wholesome meals with ease, my bread is light, and my desserts are toothsome. But one area I am sorely lacking is Making Food Pretty. Or presentation as they say these days.

So while I enjoyed eating this challenge, I am the first to admit that the looks are... pretty sloppy. Judge for yourself.

The Challenge: 2. Culinary Vices (January 15 - January 28) Some foods are really, really naughty. Globs of butter, lashings of sugar and syrup, decadent chocolate and wine. Bring out your naughty, indecorous side with foods associated with all the bad things, in the best ways.

I am no stranger to trifle; I have been in love with them ever since Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess came out. And the concept is pretty simple: take some old cake, soak it in booze, top with jam or fruit, and add custard and whipped cream.

What could be more vice-ridden than combining cream, sugar, and alcohol?

The Recipe: I used three separate recipes, one for the trifle itself, one for the custard, and one for the cake. The first two are from Mrs. Beeton's and the cake is from National Cookery.

The Date/Year and Region: mid-late 19th century, England/America

How Did You Make It: I admit I played fast and loose with the trifle recipe. For one thing, I didn't have any macaroons or ratafias (whatever they are) and for another I didn't particularly like the idea of mixing raw egg whites into my whipped cream. Plus I hate sweet sherry, so instead I used a fruit-flavored liqueur.

For the other two I followed as written, but for the custard I used 5 whole eggs plus 4 yolks, and half milk/half cream.

Baked my cream sponge cake.

Made my custard in the double boiler. Usually I just make it in a pot and the double boiler took FOREVER.

I wish I had had more time to let my cake stale. Alas.

Lined two bowls with cake. I made a separate, non-alcoholic version for my young daughter.

Cherry booze and cherry jam!

Cakes soaked and sprinkled with lemon zest.

Jammed it and sprinkled almonds.

And finally, whipped cream and more almonds.

Oh, trifle, you are not pretty, but I wanna eat you anyway!

Time to Complete: Two days overall, about 2 hours actual work time.

Total Cost: Two pint of cream at $4-ish, a jar of jam, eggs, sugar, flour, liqueur. . . maybe $20.

How Successful Was It?: It looked. . . homely. It tasted amazing. The alcohol-soaked cake was soft and strong, the custard creamy and sweet, the jam full of big fruity chunks.

 How Accurate Is It?: I improvised a lot. Cherry liqueur instead of sherry, cherry jam in place of strawberry, and normal whipped cream (made with the electric mixer!) in place of that with eggwhites added. I also omitted the macaroons and ratafias. However, all the ingredients were available at the time, and I don't think anything I did sticks out like a sore thumb.