Friday, October 18, 2019

Making an Early 19th Century Mourning Dress: Skirt, Bodice, and Bib

Skirt, bodice, and bib are together.
The dress is starting to look like something. The bodice, skirt, and bib are sewn together but do not have any lace trim, buttons, or hem yet. The sleeves are underway but not yet ready to attach.  Drafting out the bib (or should I say experimenting) took more time than expected. It's actually a fairly simple construction but I had to wrap my brain around how to put it all together and make it work.

As stated in my two previous posts, the pattern I'm using for the bodice and skirt is Laughing Moon #126 Ladies Round and Trained Gown with High Stomacher Front, c. 1800-1810. The bib started out as a combination of two of the LM bib options with modification by me to resemble the inspiration piece sold on eBay as a study garment. Overall I'm pleased with how it turned out. The bib is not an exact replica of the inspiration bib but that's kinda hard without having it to draft a pattern from.

Anyway, here is the progress so far.

Attaching the Skirt and Finishing the Bodice
When attaching the skirt, I didn't follow the instructions on the LM pattern very closely. I've studied several extant dresses over the years so I ended up attaching the skirt similar to how our foremothers did it. Instead of sandwiching the skirt pleats between the bodice and lining, I sewed the back panels to the bodice and lining as one then pressed the seam toward the skirt. I did use the LM pattern's placement marks on the bodice to know exactly where the skirt panels needed to be set.  My choice in attaching the skirt is a personal one. I like the way the skirt hangs better when the bodice and lining are treated as one. This choice is by no means a reflection on the instructions included with the LM pattern, which are great BTW. Laughing Moon has excellent patterns and instructions but I have a tendency to add my own twist to things (or as some of my associates would say, "reinvent the wheel." It a form of self-torture. 😂)

Back skirt panels are sewn to the bodice (outer bodice and lining are treated as one) using the patterns recommended seam allowance of 5/8" then the seam is pressed toward the skirt.

Another view of the skirt and bodice seam.

Now that the back skirt panels were sewn in place, the bottom edge of the front bodice could be completed. A small cut was made on the bodice piece about a 1/2" behind where the bodice/skirt seam ended (I did not cut through the seam though, just to it). This cut is visible toward the left of this photo. 

The cut edges of the lining (brown fabric) and outer bodice (black fabric) were turned in toward each other and pinned. The lower edge of the lining flap (brown section in the photo above) was folded under itself and pinned. Now, the bottom seam of the bodice could be sewn together. The lining edge was whip-stitched (brown fabric). The bodice (black fabric) and lining (brown fabric) were prick-stitched together, creating a very flat seam. The front edge of the lining flap was also finished at this point even though it's unfinished in the photo. I folded it over 1/4" twice then whipped-stiched it down.

Here is a close-up of the cut made on the bottom of the bodice edge (two pictures above). The lower seam of the bodice is now complete but the cut area needed to be overcast to keep it from fraying.

Interpreting the Original Bib Construction
Time to tackle the bib piece. It took some thinking but I'm pretty good at Tangrams so it was kinda fun. I downloaded all the photos of the inspiration bodice I could find then studied them as close as my computer resolution would allow. My bid is not an exact copy but I'm pretty pleased with the final product.

Below are the four photos I used to figure out how the original bib was constructed. As mentioned in a previous post, this bodice was the only part of a c. 1800 gown to survive. It was sold on eBay but very little information was available on it.

The extant bodice date 1800.

Each side of the original bib appears to be made up of three sections with a centerpiece down the middle.  Without actually having the bodice to examine I had to make several assumptions on how it was put together. The assumption I went with was that each half of the bib was created separately and connected with the centerpiece. The buttons are purely decorative.

The inside view of the bib appears to support my assumption stated in the previous photo. The only lining is at the top of the piece and possibly the lower half. The snap is definitely a much later addition to the garment. For those who are unaware, snaps didn't appear on clothing until the late 1800s.

Side view of the original bodice. Such a lovely piece....sigh.

My Method of Attack! (aka The Weird Way My Brain Works)

After studying the photos as closely as possible, I decided to make each half of the bib separate. I used the smaller of the two gathered bibs in the LM pattern as a starting point.

I copied the LM gathered bib pattern (the smaller of the two gathered bibs in the pattern) then sectioned it into three pieces. The center section needed to be angled out to the sides, making it wider to the outside and narrower toward the center. Marking each section was important because keeping the sections in order was not as easy as you'd think.

The upper and lower sections cut out. A 1/4" seam allowance was added to the top piece's bottom seam and the bottom piece's upper seam. There was no need to incorporate additional seam allowances anywhere else since it was already figured into the LM pattern piece. The 1/4" seam allowance was very small but so was the originals. It could have been bigger but I chose to keep it narrow.

Three inches were added to the side of the center section when I cut it out. This could have been longer but I didn't want it to be overly full when all the pieces were sewn together. Seam allowances of  1/4" were also added to the top and bottom of this piece.

After sewing a gathering stitch on the top and bottom of the center section, I gathered it to fit the bib top and bib bottom sections. Here is it pinned in place and ready to be sewn.

This image shows the bib top and bib bottom sections pinned and ready to sew to the gathered centerpiece. This is the same image as above just flipped over.

All three sections of one half of the bib have been sewn together and pressed. The top section's 1/4" seam was pressed up and the bottom section's seam pressed toward the bottom. Another bib half will be sewn and the two pieces joined in the middle to create the full bib.

A small spaced back-stitch was sewn the length of each bib section, on the right side, to secure the seams and add stability. 

At this point, I realized that I hadn't added a seam allowance to the side of the bib pieces where the two halves would be joined (center front of the entire bib). In theory, the three-sectioned bib pieces could have been cut on the fold (like the LM pattern instructions) but, alas, they weren't I hadn't accounted for a center front seam....sigh.  So I had to punt. I ended up pinning the two halves together down the center front and running a small overcast stitch along the edges. The stitch was firm but not tight so that the seam could be opened up flat when complete.

I worked the tiniest overcast stitch possible in order to join the two bib halves together down the center front.  This join butted the two halves together without creating a wide seam. 

The completed center join once it was opened and pressed. A center strip will be added over the top of this seam.  The purpose of the seam was simply to join the two bib halves together with the smallest seam possible. You can see some of the overcast stitches holding the two halves together in the photo.

Both halves are joined together. 

I cut a 1" strip of fabric for the centerpiece of the bib.

A 1/4" of each side was folded over and pressed.

The strip was laid on top of the bib's center seam and pinned. The strip was sewn in place with a small whip-stitch hidden on the sides. A spaced back-stitch was also sewn the length of each side.

I wanted the bib to be lined but not with anything bulky that would affect the drape of the outer fabric. In my stash, I had some thin navy colored silk. I taped all the bib section pattern pieces back together and cut out a lining on the fold.

The sides of the bib lining and outer fabric were folded to the inside 5/8' and pinned. I prick-stitched the sides for a nice flat seam. The top edge was folded over to create a channel for a drawstring and pinned. A simple whip-stitch was used on the drawstring channel edge, being sure to catch all layers of fabric.

Close-up of the sides and drawstring channel before sewing.

The lining on the bottom of each side was left loose until the bib could be attached to the front skirt panel. Here is it folded up and out of the way for the time being. The bib was attached using the instructions for the LM pattern. The lining will be finished once the ties are attached to the front skirt panel.

The bib is sewn to the front skirt panel as seen from the right side.

In this photo, the skirt ties are being attached. These overlap slightly the section where the bib attaches to the front skirt panel. I followed the instructions from the LM pattern for this so I won't go into the details since they are explained very well in the pattern.

Once the ties were attached, the bib lining could be finished. The sides (left unfinished above) were prick-stitched to the outer fabric. The bottom of the bib was folded under and matched to the seam (created when the bib was attached to the front panel) then whip-stitched down.

Almost done. Not be bad if I do say so myself. 

The finished bib. Three button molds were covered in wool crepe then sewn down the center front. These buttons are purely decoration. Two additional fabric-covered buttons were attached to the bodice. Simple ribbon loops were sewn to the top corners of the bib. These loops go over the bodice buttons to keep the bib in place.

The Hem
Now that the bib was complete, I could put the hem in. This was going to require a helper so I went to visit my friend Dottie. Without her help, the hem would have been a disaster. After a couple hours of fussing with the line, the hem was finally ready to go in.

To help keep the skirt from draping limply at the bottom, Dottie suggested using horsehair braid. Skirts in the 1820s had a distinct bell shape. I could have stuffed the hem to give it shape but I took Dottie's suggestion and purchased some modern horsehair braid (1" wide). No, horsehair braid is no longer made of real horse hair but it used to be.

In this photo, I've measured, marked and pressed the hem 1" plus 1". The horsehair braid is folded into the first fold of the 1" hem then pinned to hold it in place.

Better image of the first hem fold with the horsehair pinned in place. Now it will be folded over again to completely enclose it.

A hemstitch the holds everything in place.

To be continued..........

Other posts related to this project

Making an early 19th-century mourning dress

Making an early 19th-century mourning dress: The Skirt

Making an early 19th-century mourning dress: Sleeves

Making an Early 19th Century Mourning Dress: The Skirt

The skirt was a fairly simply affair to work on today. I decided to use the skirt pattern pieces that were part of the Laughing Moon #126 pattern instead of drafting out an entirely new one. The base for the bodice was from the same pattern so there would be no thinking or planning involved....easy peasy.

The skirt (c. 1800-1810) will be a bit narrower than what would have been fashionable in 1820 but I'm not too concerned.  Extant images and garments from this period in St. Louis show lots of skirts similar to this one. Also, I've no doubt that a woman of my age had items in her wardrobe spanning more than one or two years. I have several items in my closet today that are older than 10 years so there's no doubt in my mind that my 1820 persona would too. Garments were often remade or refashioned to reflect the times. It's a reasonable assumption that a dress, as long as it was in wearable shape, would continue to be worn.  Okay, I'm done soapboxing.

Let's get to it.

I laid out the fabric and cut out the two back panels. The front panel had already been cut out. Once cut, I had three pieces: two large back panels and one front panel cut on the fold.  I did transfer all the pattern markings to the panels but ended up using only the one for the side slit (which I went ahead and cut during this step). My skirt would not be attached in the same fashion as the L.M. pattern instructed.

The two back panels were sewn together and the seam pressed open. I did not add the front panel yet. It will be sewn on later.

Back panel seam pressed open.

The side slit was folded over about 1/2" starting at the top of the opening then tapering to nothing at the bottom. Then the cut edge was folding under itself again creating a very small edge to be sewn down.

The slit edge is pinned and ready to sew.

At the bottom of the slit, where there was not enough fabric to fold over, I whipped-stitched the curve. This helps reinforce a weak area. I will add some reinforcement to keep it from ripping out during use in the next step.

Once the slit was completely stitched, I placed both sides of the slit together and pinned it closed at the bottom. The area that curves slightly up on the right is the bottom edge of the slit.

I whip-stitched the bottom opening of the slit about 1/4"-1/2" to give it some stability. The photo shows the very bottom edge where it is the weakest.

The stitched only caught the top edge of the fabric otherwise it will create a noticeable 'pucker' on the outside of the panel. I only want to give it some extra reinforcement at the lower edge not sew a massive seam.

How the finished reinforcement looks from the outside of the panel. This is less than 1/2" long.

Now that the side slits are both sewn the front panel could be added. I didn't want to wrestle extra fabric until it was necessary. 

The front panel, back panels and slide slits are complete. At this point, I have a large tube. I'm ready to attach it to the bodice.

To be continued..........

Other posts related to the project

Making an early 19th-century mourning dress

Making an early 19th-century mourning dress: Skirt, Bodice, and Bib

Making an early 19th-century mourning dress: Sleeves

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

An 1829 Tea Cake

Look at that proud smile!
Recently my great-niece came to stay with me for a couple weeks. I wanted to give her something to remember about her crazy aunt who likes to dress up in old-time clothes and pretend she lives in the early 19th century. So, I took her to work with me and dressed her up too. One of the first activities we decide to do was cook in the 1820 kitchen. She was all for it, even if it was going to be hot. Of course, she turned out to be a natural historical interpreter: greeting visitors and telling them about our undertaking.

Our modern reprint.
The recipe we decided to make was a tea cake from The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child. This cookbook was originally published in 1829. If you're interested in reading the entire book you can do so online here. It is also available to purchase from the Stephenson House's museum shop (at the historic site or online). Stephenson House has copies of several historic cookbooks in our site research library so we simply used a hard copy on hand.

The original receipt (aka recipe) is very short and very vague. I had experimented with this particular receipt once before but it didn't turn out as expected due to the leavening agent failing to activate.  After some additional research, I felt confident that this would not be the case this time.

Sometimes working with old cookbooks can be a challenge for various reasons. Two such reasons include:

1. the author assumes the reader has a basic knowledge of cooking practices of their day, therefore, leaving out the finer details of the receipt

2. some ingredients are no longer readily available

The recipe reads as follows:

Tea Cake.
There is a kind of tea cake still cheaper. Three cups of sugar, three eggs, one cup of butter, one cup of milk, a spoonful of dissolved pearlash, and four cups of flour, well beat up. If it is so stiff it will not stir easily, add a little more milk.

That's it. No information about temperature, cook time, what size cake pan, or if there is a certain method for combining the ingredients. Modern recipes are definitely more detailed. The receipt also called for "pearlash" (the 1820 version of baking soda that I purchased online here). As mentioned above, when I attempted to make this cake previously, the pearlash failed to activate. What I didn't know, at the time, was that pearlash needed something acidic like buttermilk to activate it. In my first attempt, I'd used regular whole milk which allowed me to create a very sweet, yet, unleavened brick.

The first thing we needed to do was start a fire in the hearth, as well as, the wall oven. Preheating the wall oven would require its fire to burn for several hours to heat the interior bricks to the required temperature for baking. While it was heating we'd amass all our ingredients.

I gave my niece the option of using store-bought butter and buttermilk or making our own. Of course, she wanted to "make it from scratch' (I was so proud...😍. Kid's gonna be as crazy as me someday).  That would take some time, which was good since it would be a while before the oven would be ready for baking. Fresh always tastes best anyway.

Churning butter in a small ceramic churn.
Once the butter and buttermilk were complete we could start putting everything together. We did not have a standard measuring cup in the 1820 kitchen so we used a tin cup from the cupboard. It was actually a little bit larger than a modern 8 oz measuring cup. As long as we used this cup throughout the receipt, it would work fine. The first ingredient to go into the bowl was three cups of sugar.

Measuring out three cups of sugar.

The eggs were the next thing to add. Now, I've done this two ways: one is simply putting the eggs directly into the bowl with the sugar or they can be beaten in a separate bowl then added. My niece is pictured adding them directly to the bowl but I prefer beating them first then adding them.

Egg option #1: Adding them directly to the bowl.
Egg option #2: Beat all three eggs in a separate bowl before adding them to the sugar.

Our freshly churned butter would go in next. The receipt does not say how to add the butter to the sugar.  Modern recipes sometimes tell you to 'cream' them together. Since we had chosen Egg Option #1, our sugar was still dry.  The butter was rather firm after churning and was not going to mix as easily as if it was soft.  We'd need to 'cut ' the butter into the mixture (to start) similar to how it's done to make a pie crust. Unlike pie crust, it would need to be thoroughly combined. The batter would become smoother as we added additional ingredients.

If we had used Egg Option #2 the mixture would have been wet and creaming it all together fairly easy.

Measuring a cup of our firm butter. The large bowl pictured was used to wash the butter after churning it.
One cup of butter going in.

Cutting the butter into the sugar. 

The batter looks like pie crust dough in this photo. It would not stay this way once the remaining items were added.

The recipe called for one cup of milk. As mentioned above, we needed to add a liquid that would activate the pearlash. Milk is not typically acidic unless it's sour or buttermilk. The recipe also mentioned that additional liquid may be necessary. We'd start with one cup of our fresh buttermilk and worked from there.

One cup of buttermilk added. 

Before combining the batter, the pearlash needed to be added. A spoonful of pearlash was put into the measuring cup then dissolved with some buttermilk. It's important to do this before adding it to the batter. Have you ever bitten into a piece of cake and gotten a mouthful of baking powder? YUK! 😝 Dissolving the pearlash would evenly distribute it throughout the cake batter as well as help prevent a mouthful of 'yuk'.

 Pearlash added to our measuring cup.

Adding buttermilk to the pearlash then stirring until dissolved.

Sugar, butter, pearlash, and buttermilk.

Now it was time to add the flour. Once that was done and mixed, it became obvious more buttermilk would be needed. The batter was to dry. We added more buttermilk a little at a time until we achieved a cake batter consistency. (See photos below)

Adding the flour to the bowl.

The flour had been stirred in but now it's too dry. More buttermilk would need to be added slowly.

The batter looked perfect after we added more buttermilk (almost an additional cup). This is how the batter should look once everything is combined.

This receipt makes a lot of cake batter. We prepared two different baking pans to accommodate the batter.  One of the pans was a bottomless cake ring. This type of cake pan was common in the early 19th century and it's easy to use. To enclose the bottom, we used some wax paper (parchment will work too) to cover one end and tie it in place with some cooking twine. Once the bottom was enclosed we thoroughly greased and floured the inside including the paper bottom.  The cake pan was then set on a tin baking sheet to give it some added stability (See photos below). Once pan prep was finished we poured half the batter into the ring and the other half into another pan (not pictured).

Cake ring before the paper bottom was tied on and the tin baking sheet.

Paper bottom tied in place. 

Half the cake batter was poured into the pan. 

It was time to put the cakes into the oven. I have a love/hate relationship with the beehive oven at Stephenson House.  The oven does not maintain its heat unless there is a small fire at the back of it (and I've tried every trick in the book). Baking without this small fire at the back is impossible. Traditionally, all the embers would be removed from a wall oven before food was put in then the door closed so everything would bake evenly. Unfortunately, that is not how our oven works...sigh. In the photo below you can see both cake pans and the small fire. To keep the cake baking evenly and the small fire burning, we partially close the door and rotate the pans every so often.

Two tea cakes baking in the oven (sounds like a verse from a nursery rhyme).

Today, the wall oven was being very contrary. Even though it had been thoroughly preheated and a small fire built in the back it would not stay hot. Two hours after putting the cakes into the oven, we took them out to find they weren't even close to done. Ultimately, we finished them off in the bake kettle. It took only about 30 minutes more bake-time after that before they were done. And I must say they turned out beautiful!

The cake ring in the bake kettle. We ended up finishing both cakes in the bake kettle since the wall oven would not maintain its heat. In this photo, we had just removed the lid (which is now sitting on the floor of the hearth).

The bake kettle is a small oven on short legs. Hot coals are placed under the kettle and on top of the lid. This allows heat to circulate around the food (placed inside the kettle) to bake. 

The first cake baked in the ring pan.

Cake number two baked in a mold pan.

The cakes turned out perfect! Needless to say, they didn't last long. The staff and volunteers at Stephenson House gobbled them up right away. My niece was so proud and rightly so. She worked hard all day to create them. Hopefully, she has this memory for a very long time... I know I will.

Enjoying the reward of her hard work.