Victorian Children, Consumerism, and Licking Alum

I just published a piece for The Conversation on my research on the Great Exhibition, children’s literature, and how the Victorians taught their children about sustainability and consumerism.

You can read the full article here: https://theconversation.com/the-victorians-taught-children-about-consumerism-and-we-can-learn-from-them-too-76658

 

I know it’s not about craft – though it is about archives in a way – but I promise I am working on some new posts. More later.

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The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe of Vintage Clothes

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This week, I’ve been mostly marking essays from my undergraduate module Origins and Developments of Children’s Literature. Actually, I’ve been mostly marking essays about C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) because the majority of the class are completely fixated on the book and want to write about it. Which is no bad thing really.[1]

I’ve done a lot of research about C.S. Lewis, particularly into in his use of landscape and the role that his memories of Ireland and his relationship with Ireland play in his fiction. I’ve given a couple of talks about his work and there was a brief time when I thought I might write my next book about his Narnia series. But then I got distracted by Victorian children’s books and the possibilities of archvies I’ve had to put Narnia aside for another day….

But I still get to lecture about Lewis and Narnia every year which is some compensation.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was published in 1950 though it was conceived of rather earlier. Lewis wrote to a friend in 1948 to say he was working on a children’s story “in the tradition of E Nesbit” and in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he notes that the image of the faun in the snow had come to him when he was a teenager. But the story is set during World War II and it bears the marks of its wartime setting throughout.

Several critics have noted the influence of rationing on the story. Judy Rosenbaum observes that the meal Lucy shares with Mr Tumnus

“is not, it would seem, a feast befitting a wondrous kingdom. Yet meals of this simple, hearty variety abound in Narnia. One reason might be that as Lewis wrote the Narnian Chronicles, England was still living under stringent wartime/postwar food rationing. Every English child would have savored reading about these meals.”[2]

But the description of the meal doesn’t just make it seem like a wonderful treat in the midst of rationing, it also suggests that there’s something very odd about Mr Tumnus. The meal he provides for Lucy is almost totally comprised of items that were rationed and were increasingly hard to come by. So, the tea may even hint that there is something sinister about Mr Tumnus. Is he a black-marketer? Does this luxury and abundance come from his alliance with the White Witch?

But the aspect of rationing that interests me is clothes rationing.

Clothes rationing  came into effect in Britain in 1941. There are numerous  blogs about vintage fashion that cover the topic. Lucky Lucille has a fantastic round up of links about different aspects of rationingand The History Girls have some brilliant resources, including a review of the Imperial War Museum’s “Fashion on the Ration” exhibition.  One of the best things I’ve stumbled across is a radio show called “Harry and Edna on the Wireless” which combines old-timey tunes with up-to-date chats about the vintage scene: this episode features an interview with Laura Clouting, the curator of the “Fashion on the Ration” exhibition, and historian Julie Summers (who has her own wonderful blog here).

Clothes were so strictly rationed that, as Laura Clouting points out, a new outfit was seen as something you saved up for, a ‘dream’ purchase for some future after the war ended.[3]

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Plan Your Future, Save with a plan, 1945 poster: Art.IWM PST 16368 Taken from http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war

 

Clothes play an essential part in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – they help to describe character and they shape relationships between characters. The children enter Narnia through a wardrobe (which is full of fur coats and mothballs).

Pauline Baynes illustration from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

illustration by Pauline Baynes

So, for the most recent lecture on C.S. Lewis and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I decided to focus on the role clothing plays in the text.

 

In the seminar on Lewis and Narnia, I put up the clothing allowances and the number of coupons allocated to each item and ask students to add up how many coupons their outfits would have cost them.

There are always gasps of horror and giggles as we realise how prodigal our attitudes to clothing have become. There’s usually an argument about why dresses should ‘cost’ more than trousers and why men’s shoes have to cost more than women’s shoes, regardless of the size. Most of this year’s group were either cutting it fine or well over the rationed allowance (wearing socks over a pair of tights was a particular extravagance). One student this year had an outfit that ‘cost’ 60 coupons – more than a whole year’s ration. And then there’s always the moment that the realisation sinks in…no more new clothes for a whole year.

Always winter, never Christmas.

Which makes clothes in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe all the more interesting.

Think about the wonderful new clothes bestowed on the children when they reach Aslan’s camp. Or think about the luxurious furs worn by the White Witch and the weight and warmth of the mantle she drapes over Edmund.

Clothes also reveal much about the characters in the story. For instance, Mr Tumnus’ dual nature is show by the contrast between his bare torso (his Pan-like wildness) and the red scarf muffling his throat (his essential domesticity).

In terms of rationing, we can look to the Beavers:

At the Beavers’ house, Mrs Beaver is busy sewing when the children arrive. Like the freshly-prepared meal that nourishes the children, sewing is a sign of a deeper trustworthiness. It’s a sign that the Beavers, unlike Mr Tumnus or Jadis, are frugal and are willing to make do and mend. Though they are Narnians, the Beavers adhere to the codes of food and fashion the children are familiar with from war-time England.[5]

And so to the wardrobe of war-time clothes…

When I visited the archives at the Imperial War Museum I found a bundle of knitting patterns. Some of them were terrible – things that could only be made for a joke, or for a post-apocalyptic horror movie where there’s no heating and fashion has been murdered in its sleep. But other patterns had the potential to pass as real garments and I planned to make a couple of them. The first one I made was a land girl’s pullover.

But then other projects and other archives grabbed my attention and I didn’t really think about the possible projects from the IWM for a long time.

Then in Autumn I heard that twin-sets were back.

I’m now pretty certain that this is a lie but the internet did a pretty good job of persuading me twin-sets were, indeed, THE thing to wear this winter. And I was pretty sure that Peggy Carter would be everyone’s idea of a style icon and I was certain that a twin-set would be just the ticket.

And so I turned to my notes and rediscovered this thing of magnificent and hideous beauty.

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Striped Twin-set from Vogue’s 20th Knitting Book

Just look at those shoulders!

This striped twin-set is from Vogue’s 20th Knitting book. I don’t have an exact publication date but the advertisement for Sandisons Real Shetland Yarns printed to the right of the pattern makes reference to coupons so I know it was published while rationing was still in effect.

 

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This issue and several other issues of Vogue were used in the Imperial War Museum’s “Fashion on the Ration” exhibition.

The original pattern calls for 12oz of Sirdar Super Shetland 3-ply in dark green and 3oz of the same in light green. After a bit of research[6] I found out there was approximately 140 yards to the ounce of this yarn. It’s unavailable now so I cast on in Mabel and Ivy’s Supersoft 2-ply (Prussian blue because green makes me look like I need a lot of sleep and a generous amount of rouge). The Supersoft is rapidly becoming my go-to yarn for vintage projects.

Because I hate seaming, I decided to cast on the back and fronts together and knit them as a single piece. This didn’t seem to affect the overall width of the cardigan. The pattern suggests that it’s for a 34’’ bust but there is a lot of ease and the shape of the body (increasing gradually in width from the waistband to the underarms) leads to a very generous fit.

The pattern instructions are here. The magazine is laid out very strangely so I’ve had to use several images to reproduce the pattern. If you follow them in order, all should be well.

 

Modifications

Needles: I could not get gauge using the needles suggested in the pattern so I went down a couple of sizes. The ribbing was worked with a 2.5mm needle and the stocking-stitch worked with a 2.75mm needle.

Sleeves: I’ve had problems with the sleeves on vintage patterns before so I decided to add an extra half inch to the suggested length for the sleeves.

Buttonholes: The original pattern suggests adding buttonholes where needed as you knit but I wanted to try on the finished cardigan first before I decided how many buttons to use or where to place them. So I decided to add buttonholes afterwards as part of a buttonband. Once I had the cardigan finished I tried it on and marked where I wanted buttons with safety pins.

Button band: I don’t hate myself and so I decided not the follow the pattern for the buttonband (which suggests casting on six stitches and knitting back and forward until you have a strip long enough to face the entire edge of the cardigan). I picked up stitches with the 2.5mm needle and worked in K1P1 rib for 7 rows, adding button holes in the 3rd/4th row, before casting off in rib.

Shoulders: When I tried on the finished cardigan I realised that it was designed for someone with a serious addiction to shoulder-pads. As you can see from the photos above, it looks like it’s falling off my shoulders and I am losing the effect of that lovely high sleeve cap. I either have to invest in some shoulder pads or I will need to put a couple of stitches in the top of the sleeve to secure the sleeve cap in place and give the effect of narrowing the shoulders without having to rip back or fold the fabric. Will experiment and update.

Pocket Flaps: I haven’t made these yet – I’m waiting to see if I have yarn left over from the sweater before I do anything rash.

Next up – half a dozen other vintage projects including trying to cook from William Morris’s recipe file, knitting from a 19th century lace pattern for Glasgow University’s Knitting in the Round Project, and my part in Roehampton University’s bran-new Archiving Childhood Project. And making the jumper for this twin-set!

***

[1] I secretly yearn for the day when Maria Edgeworth is given her due as a clever, forward-thinking writer of children’s books and is the star of a whole batch of undergraduate essays. Though it’s hard when she’s up against Lewis in the module. Lessons about logic and managing the household budget just aren’t as thrilling as talking lions. Pity.

[2] Judy Rosenbaum. “Critical Approaches to Food in Children’s Literature (review).” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 34.3 (2009): 297-299. Project MUSE. Web. 8 Jan. 2016. <https://muse.jhu.edu/&gt;.

[3] http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war

[4] Plan Your Future, Save with a plan, 1945 poster: Art.IWM PST 16368 Taken from http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war

If you’re more interested in the style than the history, I’d recommend Mrs. Fox’s Finery and Tuppence Ha’penny Vintage  which have numerous posts about vintage clothes, makeup, and hair which are very useful for all vintage enthusiasts and really just lovely to look at too.

[5] Though it is worth noting that the Pevensies are wearing fur coats when they arrive at the Beavers’ house. In WWII many fur coats were made of beaver-skin so I’m always a little curious as to what the Beavers really think about their fur-clad visitors.

[6] For ‘research’ in this instance read “creative Googling”

All Things Alice: Adventures first!

Everyone’s gone Alice mad! It’s been 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published.  And on Saturday July 4th it’s Alice’s Day in Oxford. In honour of this frabjous occasion I’m doing a series of posts about all things Alice…

“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

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I’ll take the Gryphon’s advice and do the adventures first….

I’ve been on research leave for a term. It’s been great. And terrible.  There have been days of mighty exploration in archives (including The Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition, The Pollard Collection at TCD, and the newly-opened and gorgeous Weston Library at the Bodleian).  There have been days of frenzied writing.  And days of frenzied reading. And days of gnawing my knuckles and staring at a pile of notes like a demented Jonathan Strange.

It’s been a process of discovery.[1] And tea. Crates of the stuff. [2]

But all work and no play makes for a Jane a dull girl and so I arranged a day-trip went with fellow children’s literature scholar and wild Irish girl Beth Rodgers to the V&A Museum of childhood.  We are nerds – even on our days off we can think of nothing nicer than visiting a museum.

Adventures!  Vitamin D! The swealterish air of the London Underground system! And the glory of the V&A Museum of Childhood!  Look how happy we are to be outside!

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Jane and Beth take a busman’s holiday…

There were two exhibition on – Small Stories: At Home in a Doll’s House about *shudder* doll’s houses and The Alice Look all about the ways Alice has been costumed over the years.  While I was very sad to see that nobody had linked up the two exhibitions by making a giant doll’s house that I could sit inside while pretending to BE Alice, I was quite impressed.

Although I am creeped out by doll’s and doll’s houses (miniature things make me feel dizzy) I have to admit that Small Stories is an excellent exhibition. The V&A have and enormous collection of doll’s houses and a collection of enormous doll’s houses…the image below gives you a sense of a scale of some of the pieces:

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The exhibit is arranged in roughly chronological order, showing the development of fashions in doll’s houses and fashions in interior decoration from the 18th century to the 21st century.

Each case is accompanied by audio pieces (which you can hear here) telling stories about the dolls and the houses.  Some of the dolls were a bit scary though and we didn’t much want to imagine that they were real people with voices…

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Phineas has murder in his little heart

We were especially thrilled to discover that by positioning ourselves just so we could see our giddy faces reflected in the mirrors of the doll’s houses.

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It’s me! And some creepy dolls…

This lead to falling around laughing like idiots. Thankfully, the staff at the V&A were patient, no doubt being used to seeing escaped academics on a semi-regular basis.

After refreshing ourselves with tea, it was on to The Alice Look.

This exhibit, curated by Kiera Vaclavik of Queen Mary University of London explores the different ways Alice has been costumed in print and media versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland since it was first published 150 years ago.

Perhaps the version of Alice we’e most familiar with is the one popularised by the 1951 Walt Disney film.  Alice’s blue dress and hairband (growing up in Ireland we always called these kinds of hairbands ‘Alice bands’) seem absolutely iconic.

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But, as The Alice Look shows, Alice has had many ‘iconic’ looks and she continually adapts to new styles and trends. Even between her first public appearance in 1865 and 1871 her costume has changed to reflect changing fashions:

If you look closely, you can see that Alice’s stockings and apron have changed. Alice doesn’t have a hairband in the 1865 image but has acquired one by 1871. There are small changes to the sleeves of her dress, the width of the skirt and the way the apron is tied too.

It’s a real delight to see the changes in her costume through the years and in different translations of the text – the blond, blue-eyed Alice might be the most common in English-language versions of the text but she is by no means the only Alice available to readers today.

For me, the best part of the exhibit was looking at the dresses on display:

More than anything, these show how the “Alice look”, like Carroll’s book, is malleable and adaptable and open to our own interpretation.

You could even design your own Alice look and add it to the display.  Though some visitors had an incredibly avant-garde approach to fashion:

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If you’re keen to have your only little adventure to London, I can’t recommend the V&A Museum of Childhood enough. It’s free, there’s tons to see, and it’s very easy to get to.

The Small Stories exhibition is on until September 6th 2015 and The Alice Look runs until November 1st 2015.

More from me about Alice tomorrow…

~

[1] Discovering how stupid Past-Jane can be is a major part of the process. I once wasted about two hours frantically searching for the source of a particularly brilliant quote only to realise that it was, in fact, my own writing.

[2] More about tea in tomorrow’s post

Me Made May – the halfway line & the fabric dreams are made on…

So, I’ve passed the halfway mark of my very first Me Made May.  I know this veers away slightly from the old books and vintage crafts remit of the blog but, trust me, by the end of the post we’ll be back in familiar territory.

I’m not one for instagram or millions of photos of myself so I haven’t been recording the day-by-day stuff online.  I’ve made some discoveries though:

  • I have only two pairs of hand-made socks. I make a lot of socks. All the socks I make are for Karl. This is probably an injustice.
  • Me Made November would be kinder for knitters. Many of the sewn items I’ve made are very summery and I haven’t been able to wear any of the tops because the weather is stupid.
  • I have made a lot of things that don’t suit me. Why did I make them? What was I thinking? Some genius put me on to Wardrobe Architect which might actually lead to me sorting out what I actually want to wear and planning projects properly.
  • I buy a lot of fat quarters.
  • Fat quarters are not as useful as I often believe them to be.
  • I have a lot of buttons.

But so far it’s been an interesting and oddly productive month.

First off – I won something! East London Knits were holding a May Day giveaway.  And I made out like a bandit.  Look at all this!

There are seven skeins of yarn – two laceweight in pale yellow, two laceweight in blue, and three DK-weight skeins of undyed silky lovely stuff. I’m not sure what it will become yet but I am thinking about lace projects and I’m toying around with a new design…

And on May 1st I started working on the Ginny cardigan which has been in my Ravelry queue since the dawn of time. Or at least since it was published. Same thing.

And so…to vintage crafts….

Yesterday I went on a lardy-cake eating, fabric-buying adventure to Witney where I found this:

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I know it doesn’t look like much but it is the fabric for my Victorian Walking Jacket.  I first blogged about the jacket months and months ago and since then I’ve been looking for the right fabric. This purpley-auberginey stripey fabric is the stuff dreams, or at least Victorian jackets, are made of. I was restrained through. I even made myself soak it first.  Which was a good thing because huge amounts of dye came out of it.

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The next step is to get hold of lining, piping, nerves of steel and huge amounts of tea and start making. That might be next weekend’s project…

And so to old books….

Tomorrow, I’m taking part in a short film about the University of Roehampton’s brand new collection of very old children’s books. The film will be part of our big announcement about the collection and I’ve a blog piece all about it ready to post as soon as I get the go-ahead!

In the meantime, here’s a sneaky peek of the collection:

Some day I will sit in the archive wearing my Victorian jacket and telling everyone who strays within earshot about my research. And because of my mighty sleeves and exquisite piping details, they won’t be able to get away.  It will happen. Soon.

***

In praise of Tom Crean: Polar Explorer and Hat Enthusiast

It’s Tom Crean’s birthday.  I celebrated by making large amounts of tea and using my new tea-cosy.  You see, it’s not just any old tea-cosy.  It’s a Tom Crean tea-cosy.  Hand-knit with the warmest, wildest Hebridean yarn I could find.

This post is not about my own research but rather related [1] to the research of Sinead Moriarty, a PhD student I work with at the University of Roehampton, who is investigating the representations of Antarctica in children’s literature.

One of the texts Sinead’s looking at is Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, a gorgeous picturebook about the Endeavour expedition which has been recently nominated for the Kate Greenaway prize for illustration.

Shackleton's Journey by William Grill, Flying Eye Books

Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, Flying Eye Books

The book is gorgeous.  I’m enchanted by it.  I teach a module on Visual Texts for the MA in Children’s Literature at Roehampton and I love reading picturebooks and thinking about how words and images work together to create a text.

This picturebook is especially beautiful.

Grill makes excellent use of white space and his limited palette is appropriately matched to the spare text.  Grill’s landscapes are extraordinary; the tension between the tiny ship and the huge expanse of Antarctica is tangible in the third opening shown here with the ship placed down in the right-hand side, a position of uncertainty and danger.[2] The illustrations of the men – and dogs – have a Lowry-esque quality that at once makes the figures seem universal, like stick-men, and also deeply individualised.

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They are at once archetypal and unique, supernatural and real.

This is Grill’s portrait of Tom Crean.

from Shackleton's Journey by William Grill

from Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill

At once a real man and a legend.

Crean is the man who went to Antarctica with Scott twice[3] and came back alive and THEN went back to Antarctica with Shackleton[4].  Voluntarily. He’s a big deal.

I won’t get into all the details of the Antarctic voyages or recount the dozens of amazing stories and examples of Crean’s fortitude and courage.  Like the time he was awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving for walking 56 km across the Ross Ice Shelf to get help for Edward Evans who was injured.  He did this walk alone with only a couple of biscuits and a stick of chocolate for sustenance.[5]   Or when the dog-handler Shackleton hired for the Endurance expedition didn’t turn up[6], Crean took charge of the dogs.  Including all the puppies.[7]

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There’s something wonderful about this giant of a man having an armful of puppies.

And after all his adventures he went home to Kerry, got married, and opened a pub called The South Pole Inn and led a very quiet life.

He was described as having “a fund of wit and an even temper which nothing disturbed.”  He enjoyed singing tunelessly and seemed to like animals very much.

Herbert Ponting's photo of Crean with Bones the pony in 1911

Herbert Ponting’s photo of Crean with Bones the pony in 1911

As well as taking care of puppies and ponies, he also smuggled a rabbit onto the Terra Nova.

He was also something of a hat enthusiast.

The first photo is probably the most iconic image of Crean and definitely my favourite of his hats. It’s definitely a ‘mighty’[8] hat.

Not that we have much historical evidence for this but Sinead and I both think this hat looks a bit like a tea-cosy.

In honour of Tom Crean, I made a pattern.  It’s a tea-cosy that doubles as a hat.  Very useful for cold research days.

It’s made with undyed Hebridean wool and is a nice chocolate brown colour. I picked it up in a sale in Fibreworks Oxford. While it wasn’t nearly as scratchy as the Jacob’s yarn I used for the Ragnar Blanket, this wool was pretty coarse.  There were bits in it.  Lots of little bits.  If I’d swept up all the bits afterwards, I could probably cover the floor of a very small rabbit-hutch.

The second skein has a slightly looser twist and is a shade lighter in colour so under some lights, if you squint, you can see where I changed skeins but I don’t really mind – that sort of colour variation is natural and the difference in twist is, I think, normal with handspun yarn because different spinners work with different tensions.

It’s very warm and, if you choose to wear it as a hat, the rib-section is long enough to double-back on itself to make a double-layer over your ears.

It’s a very simple pattern and it makes for excellent TV knitting. Download the free pattern here: Tom Crean Tea Cosy Hat.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Sinead’s research on Antarctica in children’s literature, she’ll be talking at the Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature (ISSCL) conference in Dun Laoghaire on April 11th 2015.  Do come along!

***

[1] If somewhat tangentially…

[2] See William Moebius, “An Introduction to Picturebook Codes” Word and Image 2 (1986) 2: 141—158 reprinted in Children’s Literature: The Development of Criticism, edited by Peter Hunt, 131–47. London: Routledge, 1990.

[3] Discovery expedition 1901-1904 and Terra Nova expedition 1910-1913

[4] Endurance expedition 1914-1917

[5] I find this amazing because I would struggle to get out of the house without at least a cup of tea as well.

[6] I wouldn’t blame him for having second thoughts…

[7] OK…maybe this isn’t a testament of his courage but it is a point in his favour in my book.

[8] This is the word I associate with massive, warm hats.  I was out walking in Mayo with my school group when I was only a slip of a girl.  I was cold so I was wearing the most enormous blue hat my mammy had knitted for me.  Out of nowhere a big mountainy man appeared, pointed at me, said “That a mighty hat, girl!” and promptly disappeared back up the mountain.

Resolutions, Ripper Street and Tiny Toiles

This year’s new year’s resolution is to learn how to sew better.  I want to get to grips with hand-quilting, embroidery and dress-making.  In particular, I want to make some vintage clothes from old patterns.

This year sees the start of a new research project on material culture in children’s literature.  I’m taking a semester’s research leave to get started on a monograph and I’m surrounded by all things Victorian at the moment…books, catalogues, advertisements, cartoons…and so I decided that my first project of the new year should be something Victorian that ties in with my research.

Outside of the library,  I’ve been getting a regular fix of rollicking, romping, ripping Victorian entertainment through Ripper Street.  I know people complain because it’s not historically accurate.  I know that while it’s theoretically set in the late 1880s, there are all sorts of anachronisms and some things (like Jackson’s gun) appear WAY ahead of their time whereas other things (like some of the slang words used) are more than a little archaic.[1]

But I don’t care.

I don’t care because the whole thing is filmed in Dublin and I love watching to see if I can spot bits of the sets – Trinity College[2], the Dead Zoo[3], Dublin Castle[4]

I don’t care because the dialogue has a rhythm and a register all of its own that makes the world of the story unique.

I don’t care because even the small characters are brilliant and have their own little lives to get on with.

And mostly I don’t care because I adore the clothes.

The sleeves! The standy-up collars!  The skirts! The mad turquoise and orange palette that the third season rocked!  Everything Long Susan wears!

Behold her mighty sleeves. And those hats.

Hats!

Hats!

How I want to get a hat like that and stick it to the front of my head like a mad Victorian unicorn…I want to sit in a room wallpapered with gold and teal peacocks and snark at anyone that comes near me in an inferior get-up…

And so when the latest (and maybe last?) season of Ripper Street came to an end I decided that what my little heart desired most was a jacket like Long Susan’s.  Preferably one that I could actually get away with wearing in real life without small children pointing at me on the street.

So – to research!

My recent searches of late 19th century periodicals turned up some beautiful pictures but sadly no practical patterns.  I found some nice modern patterns that are based on old designs but that felt a little bit like cheating (bear in mind that I will cheat heavily when it comes to actually making this this…there’s no way I’m going without interfacing or my sewing machine so cheating at the pattern stage too makes the whole thing dishonest).

Then I found The National garment Cutting Book of Diagrams from 1888.  It’s from exactly the right period and it is a many-splendored thing.  It’s full of wonderful, strange, outfits with big bustles and enormous sleeves.  I love sleeves.

I was tempted by some of the coats and the dresses – even the aprons looked like fun.

But I loved this jacket the best.

Ladies’ Street Jacket, The National Garment Cutter Book of Diagrams 1888

The pattern is…not what I’m used to.

Here it is in its entirety.

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That’s it.  One page.  There’s no indication of how any of these bits fit together and the only advice for sizing is “use scale corresponding with bust measure”.  The description says ‘in ten pieces’ but only nine are drafted here.  Thanks Anonymous.  That’s so helpful.

After some serious moping, Karl suggested that I make a miniature version as a sort of tiny mock-up toile.  And so I did.

I traced over the pattern pieces as they are printed and cut the pieces out of some left-over quilting cotton (bad choice in retrospect because it frayed so much). It was a bit strange to sew sleeves that only had space for one or two pins.

Here it is.

Apart from the woejeous[5] stitching and the gammy[6] bits under the armscye I’m rather pleased with it. I did eventually (after some swearing) figure out where all the bits went and how the pieces fit together.

So, this weekend’s project is to make a full-size toile.  I have some canvas, a lot of pins and a heap of enthusiasm. And I’ll be following the (anachronistic) advice from Singer the whole time.

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I’ll let you know where it gets me.

[1] Vanessa Heggie has an excellent blog post that points out that it’s not as far-fetched as it seems initially http://www.theguardian.com/global/the-h-word/2013/feb/03/victorian-science-of-ripper-street?CMP=twt_gu

[2] My alma mater…it doubles as a surprising number of buildings.

[3] For non-Dubliners, the Dead Zoo is like the normal Zoo but it’s full of taxidermied animals rather than living ones. It’s a fantastic place and there are many wondrous things to see, including a lion who obviously died of natural causes.  Probably the mange.  It’s the saddest looking lion in the whole world. He’s gone all baldy and sideways in his case and the moths have been at him but he’s kind of brilliant because you won’t see a manky old dead lion so proudly displayed anywhere else.

[4] Also where they filmed The Tudors.  That’s less exciting to watch because history has already given out the spoilers.

[5] A word I learned from my mother which means very bad, worthy of woe, grief-inducing

[6] Unable to function normally due to chronic injury or pain (in this case, pain caused to my fingers)

Southlands, Scrapbooks and Sad Mittens

Yesterday I went on an Expotition to the Southlands archive at the University of Roehampton.  This was an enormous undertaking because Southlands is technically another college (I work at Digby Stuart and we have a cat called Digby).

Digby. Who is awesome.

Digby. Who is awesome.

Sometimes when I’m working in my office, Southlands seems enormously far away and getting there involves some hideous effort. You have to go past the duck-pond and everything.

Actually, it’s a walk of about a hundred yards.  And it’s worth it because of the archive.

Part of the archive is kept in a swish glass display case beside the senior common room. I’ve walked past part of the display dozens of times on my way to get tea but I’d never actually got to play with it until yesterday.

Like the other Roehampton colleges, Southlands started out as a teacher training college and many of the items in the archive relate to the kinds of things student teachers were expected to learn. There are some pretty strange things, including a miniature shirt from 1900 (I’m assuming the place was overrun with semi-clad homunculi because I couldn’t find any miniature trousers)

Tiny shirt

Tiny shirt

There are a couple of really lovely stitched samplers and portfolios.  Including a sampler dating back to the 1870s (one of the earliest items in the collection.

And a lovely little scrap-book collection of very fine crochet work.

At the Mary Lamb colloquium at the weekend there was a great discussion as to whether collections of stitchery and needlework portfolio like this one count as commonplace books.  I like the idea that they form a record of your work and that the little pieces might act as material ‘quotes’ that could be used in a larger piece of work.  I really like the idea that textiles can be texts – that both are narratives of a kind.

There are lots of narratives we can tell ourselves about things like this – the history of the production of each of the constituent materials, the dye, the thread, the silk, the cotton, the story about the person who made it, about the person who used it, and the stories about its making…

One of the things that caught my eye every time I passed the little cabinet was this pair of mittens:

They were made in the 1942 by N. Samuel. On closer inspection they appear to be made of an undyed 2-ply wool yarn (maybe fingering-weight but I figure 2-ply is more likely) with a pattern picked out in a slightly slubby brown wool (again I suspect in its natural undyed state).

N. Samuel was not an expert knitter.  And there is a clear difference between the two mittens – not so much in the tension, that’s pretty consistent, but in the tone and the assurance of the work. The cuff of the first mitten is not joined very securely in the round and you can see where N. has joined the round after a couple of back-and-forth rows.

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These were obviously a piece to learn on. The second mitten has a much neater cuff.

The same can be said of the intarsia work.  This is the first mitten.

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And here is the second:

WP_20141202_007On the second mitten N. has got the hang of colour dominance.

The thumbs improve too but it was really hard to get a photograph of them.

Basically, these mittens tell the story of N. learning how to knit.  They were never worn and they were never made to be worn and, to be honest, I feel a bit sorry for them languishing in their glass case with all the other things that must have taken students such time and effort.  It seems a bit sad that after all the work N. put into them, they were just left behind in the college.

It got me thinking about my own unloved early crafting efforts…the, frankly terrifying, Santa dolly I made in primary school that Mammy still put up with the Christmas decorations even though it look like it was trying to run away from its own face, the wonky pink headband that stretched out of shape in about two minutes, the hideous acrylic purple scarf with extra purple….my early crafting was rubbish.  But it sort of didn’t matter.  Because at the time they was the very best things I could have made.  If I find a picture of the terrible Santa dolly, I’ll post it.  Sometimes I suddenly remember it and burst out laughing.  Sometimes this happens when I’m on the bus or in the library.  This is not so good.