Friday, July 14, 2017

Gone Fishin'

Friday, July 14, 2017
It's the middle of July, and we feel a bit of fishin' is in order. 

Loretta is continuing on her Grand Tour abroad, and Susan is heading off to the 18thc and Colonial Williamsburg. Seems like as good a time as any to take a short break from blogging and general social media-ing. Look for us to return later this month. 

Enjoy your summer!

Elegant Ladies Fishing by Georges-Jules-Victor Clarin, c1900. Image via Sotheby's.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The "Art & Mystery" of Cutting an 18thc Gown

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Susan reporting,

An 18thc mantua-maker (dressmaker) seldom shared the "art and mysteries" of her trade with her customers. It was hard-earned knowledge and skill, gained through an apprenticeship that might have lasted seven years, and it also benefited the business to keep a bit of alluring, magical mystery to her fashionable creations.

For the last five years, Sarah Woodyard, journey-woman in the mantua-making trade, Margaret Hunter Shop at Colonial Williamsburg (shown here in the floral short gown), has been studying different theories of cutting out 18thc gowns - the most important part of the "art and mystery" of dressmaking - and has agreed to share some of her research here.

There was, of course, no single way of cutting out an 18thc gown. Various mantua-makers would have devised methods that worked best for them, and even at the Margaret Hunter Shop, each mantua-maker has a favorite technique. However, Sarah's study of extant garments made her realize the importance of the linen linings in construction and fittings and, in best 18thc style, led her to develop her own favorite method. The technique is simple. Using linen, a less expensive fabric, the lining is cut out and used to establish the fit of the bodice and to "build' the outer garment on top of the lining. The lining becomes both the guide for the creation the gown, and the base for its structure. Not only would this method preserve the more costly outer fabric from being damaged by a slap-dash cutting mistake, but it was also an easier way to control the large amounts of fabric that created the volume of a sack or common gown.

The technique was also a time-saver for both a busy customer, and a mantua-maker determined to make the most of her sewing time. At every price point, women's clothing in the 18thc was fitted and cut on the individual body rather than on a dressmaker's form, ensuring a custom fit. By fitting just the lining on the customer, the rest of the gown could be cut and stitched without her presence until one more final fitting.

In these photographs, Sarah is shown fitting the plain linen lining for a polonaise jacket and matching petticoat on Aislinn Lewis, one of the blacksmiths at Colonial Williamsburg. This ensemble was one of Sarah's final apprenticeship projects completed to prover her skill and move up as a journey-woman. Sarah only required Aislinn for a fitting in the morning to cut the lining, and another in the afternoon for a sleeve fitting. That was all; Sarah was able to hand-sew and complete both pieces - made from pink changeable silk - in about thirty-six hours, including all the trimmings.

The same technique could be used to construct a gown for a woman unable to come in person to the mantua-maker's shop. For women who lived far from town, travel could be prohibitively difficult, and in many families the men traveled to town on business, while the women remained at home with the children.

The trade card, bottom right, for London mantua-maker M. Giles offers the same services for "Ladies residing in the Country [who] may be fitted in the exactest manner by sending with their Commands a Gown or Pair of Stays which fitts them."

As the advertisement shows, a woman could still have new clothing made by sending either an existing gown or a pair of stays to her mantua-maker. Stays were the 18thc version of a corset; no only were they, too, custom-fitted, but over time they assumed the shape of the wearer's body, and could serve as a good replica of her upper torso. Either way, the mantua-maker could use the existing garment to copy and cut a new lining as a pattern, and built a new gown from the lining out without an in-person fitting - and once again, fashion triumphed.

All photographs by Fred Blystone. Used with permission.
Trade card, 1770s, London, British Museum.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Albania's Bizarre Bunkers

Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Loretta reports from Europe:

The one previous time I was in Albania, it was a strictly Communist country, ruled by Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hoe-jah).  We young visitors--the first group allowed in who were not born there--were carefully shielded from the dark side of his rule. I can't remember if anybody asked about the strange mushroom-shaped structures on the mountainsides, on beaches, and various unexpected places.  I remember hearing about them later, from Albanian immigrants, who laughed (this was years later), though it wasn't funny at the time.

You can read about the bunkers here and here.

Though we saw at least a dozen in the course of our journey through Albania, this was most often when we were in the car, which is why I have so few photos.  This includes a fascinating group that were under covers while the road they sat by was under construction. One of my cousins joked, "They don't want them to get cold." It was one of the few jokes in Albanian I actually understood, and I think my laughter gratified him.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Eliza Schuyler & Alexander Hamilton: Love, A Miniature Portrait, & Fine Needlework, 1780

Sunday, July 9, 2017
Susan reporting,

True love, a war-time memento, and virtuoso needlework: inspiration doesn't get much better for me than that! This elaborately embroidered mat was stitched by a young woman in Albany, NY in 1780, specifically to surround the miniature portrait of her fiancé. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

The mat is worked in silk and metallic (now tarnished) threads, with metallic bobbin lace (also now tarnished) framing the miniature. The lace may have been a costly import - perhaps it had originally trimmed a gown - or it may have been worked by the young woman herself. The harmony of the design, the elegantly shaded colors, and the precision of the stitches all indicate that she possessed considerable skill with her needle as well as a flair for design.

There's also little doubt that this was a labor of love whose sheer exuberance (imagine how brilliant it must have been when the colors were still fresh and the metallic threads glittered!) threatens to overwhelm the tiny miniature, which is less than two inches in height. You can just tell that the young woman was dreaming of her beloved with every stitch she took. Perhaps she even kept the miniature nearby as inspiration.

Who were these two sweethearts? The needleworker was Elizabeth Schuyler, 22, and her fiancé was Lt. Colonel Alexander Hamilton, 23, who was serving in the Continental Army as an aide-de-camp to Commander-in-Chief Gen. George Washington. In 1780, the American Revolution was dragging through its sixth year, with no resolution in sight. The war had brought these two together - they had become engaged during the army's winter encampment earlier in the year - just as it also kept them apart during the summer and fall. Both had hoped for a quick wedding, but Alexander's military duties forced them to postpone their marriage until shortly before Christmas, 1780.

While Alexander was occupied with the war, Eliza had returned to her parents' home in Albany. They corresponded frequently, and though her letters no longer survive, his are filled with love and impatience. At one point during the summer and fall, she begged for him to have a miniature portrait of himself painted for her as a keepsake.

In this era before the constant imaging of cellphones, miniatures were the only small and portable reminders of a loved one's face available, much as daguerreotypes would a century later during the Civil War. In war-time, when a violent death or disfigurement could occur at any time, the significance of these mementos rose significantly. Enterprising American artist Charles Willson Peale held sittings in his Philadelphia studio as well as traveling to encampments during the war, painting miniatures of dozens of soldiers for the sum of $28 a piece - a not insignificant amount to young men in an army which was often late paying them.

Alexander had himself painted twice by Peale: once earlier in the war wearing his uniform, and this one that he sent to Eliza, where he is shown a blue coat and a red waistcoat, with his auburn-red hair elegantly powdered and curled. In a letter discussing their coming wedding, he offered to wear either his uniform or civilian clothing for the ceremony; he left the decision to her. Perhaps he had himself painted as a civilian to reassure her that he wouldn't always be a soldier, and that peace would come. It did, but not until after Alexander had fought heroically in the last major encounter of the war, the Battle of Yorktown, in 1781. To her joy, he survived unscathed, and came home to her - a home that always included this portrait and the needlework around it.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, to be published in September, 2017, by Kensington Books.

Above: Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by Charles Willson Peale, c1780. 
Mat embroidered by Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, c1780. Both from the collection of the Office of Art Properties, Columbia University Libraries. Image copyright Columbia University Libraries.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of July 3, 2017

Saturday, July 8, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Before she was famous: Jane Austen in the newspapers.
Dolley Madison, Washington's first power hostess.
• "Full fathom five the poet lies": the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
• Everything has its history: a timeline of American burlesque.
• The dandies of White's in the Regency era.
Video: Rembrandt's self-portraits from age 22 until his death at age 63 in 1669.
• The dragons are back on the Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens, London.
• A treasury of historic clothing: undressing the royal and aristocratic funeral effigies in Westminster Abbey.
• An 1804 Regency recipe for Pomade Divine.
• The odd link between Thomas Hardy, the Man with Two Heads, and Mary Shelley.
Video: This writing table once belonged to Marie-Antoinette.
Image: Entertaining (and we hope posed!) c1900 photo of young women fooling around with firecrackers.
• Newly discovered schoolboy sketches by John Leech, illustrator for Charles Dickens.
• Even Founding Fathers can have their hearts broken: on the road through Europe with Gouverneur Morris.
• How did Word War One recruitment posters persuade Americans to enlist?
Image: Metal & leather convertible straight-backed steamer trunk, c1890.
• Searching for stolen Nazi gold and treasure in the mountains of Poland.
• The medical history of rhubarb around the world.
• Friends in grief: Martha Washington and Elizabeth Willing Powel.
Image: A silk textile curtain sewn into a 13thc Bible to protect the delicate gold leaf illumination.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

A Bit of Quick Shameless Self-Promotion: Enter to Win an ARC of "I, Eliza Hamilton"


Susan reporting,

Yes, I'm shamelessly self-promoting on this lazy July afternoon. But aren't you curious about what these two handsome gentlemen have found so intriguing?

My new historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, won't be published until September 26, but my publisher is hosting a contest to win an Advance Reading Copy now. Skip on over to Goodreads (you can also log in with a Facebook account) and enter before midnight Wednesday, July 12,  for a chance to win.

Good luck!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Friday Video: New York City in 1911

Friday, July 7, 2017
Susan reporting,

Because of copyright & ownership issues that prohibit embedding, you'll have to click here to watch today's video, but it's well worth it. This is another of the wonderful travelogues produced in the early twentieth century. This one was made by a team of cameramen with the Swedish company Svenska Biograteatern, who traveled around the world making films. Now in the collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art, the museum's description of the eight-minute travelogue is worth repeating:

"Opening and closing with shots of the Statue of Liberty, the film also includes New York Harbor; Battery Park and the John Ericsson statue; the elevated railways at Bowery and Worth Streets; Broadway sights like Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue. Produced only three years before the outbreak of World War One, the everyday life of the city recorded here - street traffic, people going about their business - has a casual, almost pastoral quality....Take note of the surprising and remarkably timeless expression of boredom exhibited by a young girl filmed as she was chauffeured down Fifth Avenue in the front seat of a convertible limousine."

My favorite parts include the hats on every man (summer straw boaters, derbies, and everything in between) and woman (stupendous creations, with drifts of ribbons, flowers, and veils.) I also liked how, when the ferries dock, the vehicles that disembark are all drawn by horses. But I was most surprised by how little the cityscape has changed in the last century. Except for dodging trucks and taxis instead of horse-drawn wagons, in many ways walking the sidewalks of New York is still much the same experience it apparently always has been.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Meanwhile in Albania...

Thursday, July 6, 2017
Loretta reports:

I'm on the road, with terrific internet connections but little time for posting. There's been so much to see and do. Here are some things I've seen during my too brief time here. I plan to post in more detail after I'm home.

Castle of Gjirokaster.

Ancient city of Butrint. (This is just one tiny section of the excavation.)

Doorway of second school in which Albanians were finally educated in their own language. This is in Pogradec. 

Archaeology Museum in  Durres.

A little gorgeous scenery.



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"Taking Sides with... the Rebel Congress & the Rebel Army" in 1777

Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Susan reporting,

For most American teenagers today, Independence Day and the Revolution it led to aren't things to be given much thought during summer vacation from school (unless they're Hamilfans, and then they're rapping the Revolution along with the HamiltonAn American Musical soundtrack.)

But for sixteen-year-old Samuel Ring, a young Quaker living near Chadds Ford, PA in 1777, the Revolution was unavoidable. He witnessed the Battle of Brandywine first-hand, and watched the British destroy his home afterwards. His family had dared to side with the Continental Army, and had been branded as traitors. (I've written before about the Ring family, here in this post.)

The following excerpt comes from recollections that were written by Samuel's son, also named Samuel, in 1859. The letters remain with his descendants, and a copy is now in the collection of the Brandywine Battlefield Park; to the best of their knowledge, these recollections haven't been published. Although written over 80 years after the battle, the details (like eating the peaches in his family's orchard, as well as the betrayal by their neighbors) are exactly what a teenager would remember.

On the morning of September 11,1777, Samuel's father and older brother had gone to serve Washington as guides to the area, while his mother and the younger children had fled their home to avoid the coming battle, first attempting to leave by carriage, and then escaping by foot over the fields. Too young to be with the army, yet too old to be with his mother, Samuel remained near the family's house.

"[Samuel] said that he left in a hurry in the morning, on some errand, with only shirt and pantaloons on, thinking nothing of what was coming, and before his return, the road was completely blocked [by soldiers]. There was no chance of approaching very near the house, so he made for the higher ground where he could view the contending armies, out of harm's way.

"He was in a peach tree with some others, eating peaches, when the Americans gave way; he never heard such a noise, it appeared as if all the fiends of the infernal regions were let loose. He quit eating, his heart seemed to sink, he knew that the enemies of his country had triumphed.

"[His] family was scattered and part did not know where the others were. All he had was on his back, and that was almost nothing; his home was in the hands of the enemy, and liable to be laid in ashes, which, indeed, a good part soon was.

"The British occupied the ground for three days and nights....When the British retired and [Samuel] returned home, desolation was complete. He thought of changing his clothes, but a glance at the house made him think it doubtful whether there were any left there for him.

"He went upstairs to his chest - it was open, the lid broken off, and not a vestige of anything in it, and indeed not an article of clothing of any sort remained about the house. The beds [mattresses] had been ripped open, the feathers strewed over the yard (they had had about a dozen good beds) and not a sign of either beds or bedsteads [remained]. The latter had been used for fuel...and not a rail was left – all burned. Not a fowl, sheep, or hog was left on the place...the yard and fields torn up by the horse and baggage wagons and common carriages. [The British] had used a part of the house as a stable. Desolation reigned, and the work of the destroyer complete.

"[Samuel's son later] asked him if that was the way the neighborhood had been served generally, and he said it was quite different with some, their property was respected and a guard put over it, and the smallest thing left unharmed.

"[Samuel's son] asked the cause of this (being quite small and [knowing] little of such things, and [Samuel had answered] that his father favored the side of the colonies in every way, so far as his religion would permit, and many thought he went farther in his politics than he ought in taking sides with what was called the Rebel Congress and Rebel Army, and the fact of Gen. Washington having his headquarters for the time being at our house when he came to view the battlefield - and there is no doubt that had he been victorious he would have taken up his headquarters there again; all this the British general knew. There were scores in the neighborhood ready to carry news, and this was the cause of the destruction of [his father's] property. Whilst others were protected, he was pointed out as a rebel and his property given over to the enemy for destruction...."

Although the Ring farm was looted and vandalized and the contents of the house destroyed, the stone house itself survived. A restoration of the house is today part of Brandywine Battlefield Park, and is open to the public. See here for more information. A major reenactment of the battle to mark its 240th anniversary will take place this fall; see here for more information.

Many thanks to Andrew Outten for his assistance with this post.

Above: "The Nation Makers" by Howard Pyle, c1902, Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Green Cab Shelters

Monday, July 3, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Some while ago, I reported on hackney coach stands and the watermen who attended them. Comments on that blog post alerted me to the green cab shelters created in the Victorian era to allow cabbies to get some refreshment and take shelter from bad weather. I put these green huts on my list of things to look out for in London.

This one is on The Kensington Road, near the Palace Gate, opposite the Albert Hall. I've seen others while riding on buses--not the ideal situation for taking photos. But, yes, they are there, and as far as I can make out, given the way roads have come and gone in London, a number remain at their 19th C locations.

You can read all about these cab shelters here at Cabbie Blog (it's pretty wonderful, and if anything will make you loyal to these true London cabbies, who spend years obtaining The Knowledge, this will). Several times on our walks through London, we saw men on scooters with maps sticking up from the handlebars: They were learning the streets, gaining The Knowledge.



Please click on images to enlarge.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of June 25, 2017

Saturday, July 1, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Stalking Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1838...or maybe it wasn't a fan?
• Revealing the face of Tudor Dublin.
• Oh, patch. That time when the French aristocracy was obsessed with fancy face stickers.
• Finding Elizabeth Hooten, an itinerant prophet in 17thc New England.
• The Wynyard Ghost story.
Image: Spectacular 1750s court mantua.
• The wine-fueled destruction of Charles II's fantastic sundial.
• Joseph Crouch, "a Body Snatcher since a child."
• A feline Scottish war veteran was one of the "famous cats of New England", 1921.
• Indomitable women: American trailblazers, Mexican revolutionaries, and death.
Blackballed in Regency England.
Daniel Boone's homestead: a Kentucky frontiersman's Pennsylvania roots.
• Stitching history: ashion sketches made decades ago by a Holocaust victim finally brought to life.
Marie Antoinette and her Hameau de la Reine.
Image: Patchwork dressing gown made for a recuperating World War One soldier by his mother.
• Ten reasons why Gouverneur Morris was the oddest of the Founding Fathers.
• A brief history of the Napoleonic Wars told in ten hand-held fans.
Aphra Behn, the 17thc spy who became the first successful female professional writer.
• How did the Elizabethans spend their summers?
• How Regency clothing was cleaned and repaired.
• How an electrician's visit led to the discovery of Toronto's oldest home.
Image: Gorgeous! Angel Oak tree in South Carolina is 1,500 years old.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection
 
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