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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Sneaky peeks….jackets and skirts and shawls oh joy!

Today is rainy and miserable so I thought I’d cheer myself up with some crafting updates.

First up – progress on my Victorian walking jacket.

It’s slow going – I’m finding it hard to get the back of the neck to sit right and the problem with pinning something on myself is that every time I reach up to put in a pin I either stab myself or the whole thing moves around and I’m left taking random tucks. My method has been:  *try it on, squint critically, take it off, baste like my life depends on it, try it back on, wince, take it back off, unpick. Repeat from *.

I’m happy with bits of it. My embroidery has improved no end (considering I had zero embroidery skills at the start of the project, that’s not really very hard).  And the sleeves bring me joy. This may not look like very much to you but to me it is the pouffy sleeve of dreams (and of the late 1880s).

Authentic 1880s style

Authentic 1880s style – with a hint of my Mimi blouse by Tilly and the Buttons underneath

If I can persuade someone to take better pictures I’ll post better pictures soon. Once I’ve finished wrestling with the lining anyhow. At the moment, the lining looks like it’s making a mad dash for freedom. I had a mad idea of wearing it to the Roehampton graduation ceremony next week but I’m not sure if it’s going to happen…maybe the elves will finish it if I leave it out overnight?

Next Up: Vintage find of the week is this skirt kit.

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Yorkshire Fine Woollens & Tweeds Skirt Kit

That’s right, a skirt kit, complete with lining and a zip and its own little sew-in label.

It cost me the princely sum of eight English pounds in a charity shop in Putney.  It’s a thing of wonder – mostly wondering where the hell it came from.  I haven’t been able to find out when Yorkshire Fine Woollens & Tweeds were producing these sort of kits or if there was a wide range of them.  There’s no company trading under that name now so I’ll have to do a but more investigating.  If anyone has any leads on skirt kits, please let me know!

This is definitely going to become a skirt though – I’m thinking a sort of Miss Jean Brodie style thing. The kind of skirt you can wear on a sit-up-and-beg bicycle with a basket of fresh bread and terriers on the front. Or the kind of skirt that you wear with thick boots and a scowl.

This past month, I’ve been taking part in a Terry Pratchett themed swap organised by Louise Hunt of Caithness Craft Collective and I’ve been busy getting a little package together for my swap partner.  I like listening to podcasts and audiobooks but I find I can’t use the sewing machine if I want to listen at the same time.[1] So over the last few weeks I’ve been doing a fair bit of knitting too – well, designing really. I’ve designed my first ever lace shawl.

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Blocking the shawl…

I’m ridiculously pleased with myself about this – it brings elements of Estonian lace and English mesh lace together and it’s inspired by…well, I can’t reveal that just yet.  This is just a sneaky peek after all. I’m in the process of writing up my scrawls into an actual pattern that I will publish on this blog soon.

***

[1] My friend Jess once said my sewing machine makes a sound like a drunk person rearranging furniture – there might be something wrong with it but then again it’s ALWAYS made that noise so it might be OK.

All Things Alice: What has she got in her pockets?

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…

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —

of cabbages — and kings –“

I’ve always loved the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter. It was funny and sad and appealed to a sense of what I now know is called Schadenfreude – the gleeful delight in someone else’s misery (in this case, the oysters).  Now that I’ve started researching material culture in children’s literature the litany of objects “shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax” is fascinating all over again.

There are a lot of objects mentioned in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – from the jam jar she finds as she falls down the rabbit hole to the gloves the White Rabbit sends her to fetch.  But of all the things in the story, I find Alice’s thimble the most intriguing.

caucus

At the end of the Caucus Race, Alice is tasked with given out the prizes. She has a box of comfits and a thimble in her pocket (the only items she carries from the real world into Wonderland). She gives each of the creatures a comfit and she is awarded the thimble:

“At last the Dodo said, ‘Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked.

‘Why, she, of course,’ said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, ‘Prizes! Prizes!’

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits, (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round.

‘But she must have a prize herself, you know,’ said the Mouse.

‘Of course,’ the Dodo replied very gravely. ‘What else have you got in your pocket?’ he went on, turning to Alice.

‘Only a thimble,’ said Alice sadly.

‘Hand it over here,’ said the Dodo.

Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying ‘We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble’; and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.

Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh; and, as she could not think of anything to say, she simply bowed, and took the thimble, looking as solemn as she could.”

Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

But what is Alice doing with a thimble? Unless Alice has stolen it – and let’s assume she hasn’t because nothing in the text suggests it – we must conclude that this is indeed her thimble.

Perhaps it isn’t really surprising that Alice has a thimble. After all, in the 19th century girls were taught to sew at a very young age. Asa Briggs notes that 19th century manufactures made thimbles especially for children and that thimbles could even be considered toys for little girls.[1]

Needlework – both plain and fancy was a key element of a Victorian girl’s education. Children’s homes and orphanages focused on teaching needlework with the expectation that whether the children gained employment in private homes or in factories, needlework was an essential skill.

The V&A’s collection includes a number of samplers produced by working-class and middle-class children.

The sampler was the way to practice techniques and to show off the sewist’s repertoire, showing ‘samples’ of each stitch.

Samplers were also a way of inculcating ‘feminine’ virtues in the young girl – the patience and attention to detail needed to produce a sampler were cultivated through the production of samplers. Many samplers include images of houses and gardens – ensuring a clear focus on the virtues of domesticity and the centrality of domestic life. Many other samplers, like the ones shown below, include didactic or moral verses that celebrate hard work, self-sacrifice, loyalty, diligence, piety, grace and, often, silence.

But not all girls willingly parroted these verses. Some, like Elizabeth Parker, used their needles to record their true feelings.

Detail of sampler, Elizabeth Parker, after 1830. Museum no. T.6-1956

Detail of sampler, Elizabeth Parker, after 1830. Museum no. T.6-1956 “As I cannot write I put this down simply and freely…”

As Rozsika Parker argues, in The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine the sampler can become a site of subversion, of rebellion and self-determination.

There is no mention of sewing or samplers in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Alice does absolutely no needlework at all and when she picks up knitting-needles in Through the Looking-Glass they turn into oars in her hands.

However, Carroll does make reference to a moral verse: Isaac Watt’s insipid “How doth the little Busy bee” which is exactly the kind of thing that young girls were encouraged to stitch into their samplers.

Here’s the original:

How doth the little busy Bee 
     Improve each shining Hour, 
And gather Honey all the day 
     From every opening Flower!

How skilfully she builds her Cell! 
     How neat she spreads the Wax! 
And labours hard to store it well 
     With the sweet Food she makes.

In Works of Labour or of Skill 
     I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some Mischief still 
     For idle Hands to do.

In Books, or Work, or healthful Play 
     Let my first Years be past, 
That I may give for every Day
     Some good Account at last.

And Carroll’s gleeful, subversive parody:

How doth the little crocodile

Improve his shining tail,

And pour the waters of the Nile

On every golden scale!

 

‘How cheerfully he seems to grin,

How neatly spread his claws,

And welcome little fishes in

With gently smiling jaws!’

I have never really thought about producing a sampler. I don’t think I have the patience necessary. If I ever do, I think I will stitch Carroll’s “How doth the little Crocodile”…

Nevertheless, I have been practicing my embroidery lately because I’m embroidering the collar and lapels of the Victorian Walking Jacket

Next week will bring updates on the jacket and other works in progress…

***

You can find the first post in my series of All Things Alice here – the second, all about tea in Alice here – and the third, all about Alice’s Day right here.

If you want to find out more about Victorian needlework, Caulfield and Saward’s Dictionary of Needlework gives you an idea of the range of needlework produced by the home-crafter in the 19th century.  Flora Klickmann’s The Little Girl’s Sewing Book (though published in 1915) is a good indication of how little girls were taught to sew and what kind of things they were encouraged to make (aprons and boxes for ribbons and pukey cushion covers with lambs on them)

***

Check out the V&A’s collection of samplers here

[1] Asa Briggs, Victorian Things (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1990), p.209.

All Things Alice: It’s Alice’s Day! Calloo Callay!

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…

It’s Alice’s Day!

On this day, many, many years ago Charles Dodgson told the first Alice story to Alice Liddell and her sisters.  The day is recorded in his diary and later immortalised in the poem “All in the Golden Afternoon” which prefaces Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Fittingly, it was one of those hot, blue-skied days when the buildings of Oxford are truly golden, throwing back the heat and the light of the sun all afternoon.  Today, the city was crammed with Wonderland-themed events and people wearing all kinds of fabulous costumes. As I wandered through the town I passed an elderly gentleman (walking very quickly and definitely not stopping for pictures) in a purple suit and a purple top hat, a young couple dressed as Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, a small child in a pram dressed as a a Cheshire Cat and about a thousand Alices of all kinds.  There are public performances and readings; a giant chess-set in a shopping centre; and, of course, the lobster quadrille danced in front of the Museum of Natural History (where you can visit the Dodo and all the other wonderland creatures including Bill the lizard)

I made a beeline for the Dali, Tenniel & Printing Alice exhibit at the Weston library

Photo by @RareBooksOfBod

Photo by @RareBooksOfBod

There’s a display case showing rare first editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – including the first printing of the book which was suppressed (much like the mouse in the courtroom scene) after Tenniel complained about the shoddy quality of the prints. Dodgson didn’t seem to have noticed the poor quality of the print and he’d already posted out 50 copies of the book to his friends.  He had to ask for them back and then, rather than waste them, sent the book out to children’s homes and charities. The copy displayed in the Weston now had been sent to St. Raphael’s in Torquay and was later donated to the Bodleian by the writer Roger Lancelyn Green.

The first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Later editions of Alice are shown alongside so you can see the difference in the quality of the print – Dodgson later recouped some of the money he lost on the first edition by selling the bad prints to an American publisher – the first American edition (shown below) has the shoddy prints:

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The first American edition of Alice – New York, D. Appleton & Co. 1866 (all but the title-page printed at Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1865)

There are some other examples of Tenniel’s work here – including illustrations from Punch magazine and an advertisement for Pear’s Soap which borrows both Alice and the “Beautiful Soup” song:

Tenniel, Pear's Soap advert

Tenniel, Pear’s Soap advert

I was especially delighted to see a full set of Salvador Dali’s illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from 1969 on display. I saw these pieces a few years ago on display in Christ Church, Oxford but it is a real treat to see them all together in one case like this. Dali’s colours are incredibly rich and while each piece is beautiful on its own, the repetition of motifs through the series links the images together and creates a narrative that reflects and builds upon Carroll’s words.

Afterwards, I got to have a go of a real printing-press.

The Bodleian’s printing press is a replica made from from designs published in 1683 by Joseph Moxon in Mechanick Exercises, or, The doctrine of handy-works, applied to the art of printing. You can read a facsimile of the third edition of Moxon’s book here and you can try the press yourself on Saturdays all through the summer.

The printing press is a glorious thing! There’s something amazingly physical about it – the stickiness of the ink, the weight of the levers, the sheer bulk of the machine.  You really feel like you’ve achieved something enormous by printing a page – it gave me a sudden insight into how hard printers worked to make books:

For Alice’s Day, you could print a playing card – the type had been made out of wood and lino especially for the occasion and, by the afternoon, the edges of some of the letters had already begun to show signs of wear and tear – I made a King of Hearts card and you can see where the upper arm of the “K” has worn down and it hasn’t quite managed to touch the page.

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My first print

It has a charmingly home-made look, don’t you think? Not bad for a golden afternoon…

***

The first post in the series of All Things Alice on my trip to the V&A Museum of Childhood is here.

You can find the second post in the series all about tea, teetotallers and Victorian children’s literature here.

All things Alice: it’s always tea-time

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…

‘Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

‘I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, ‘so I can’t take more.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

teatime

As a Carroll who works on children’s literature, I’m often asked if I’m related to Lewis Carroll. I am not. Lewis Carroll is, of course, not a real Carroll at all.  All real Carrolls[1] have an addiction to tea and misbehaved hair.

Lewis Carroll had only one of these qualities.

LewisCarroll/Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

See? His hair stays exactly where he put it.

But he was very keen on tea and there are accounts of him walking up and down in his rooms in Oxford swinging the teapot from side to side to make sure the tea drew properly.[2]

I can appreciate this because I was raised to be picky about tea.

Since we’ve left the old country, we’ve been careful (carefulish) with our tea supply. Our preferred brand can’t be got in England and many of the commercial brands here are not suited to my palate[3] and so we have to smuggle the stuff over.  Because I’ve been on research leave this term I’ve basically been mainlining tea for eight or nine hours a day.

And, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about tea and about the tea party scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The mad tea-party is the centre of a lot of misconceptions about Alice.

For a start, it’s not the Mad Hatter’s tea party – it takes place at the March Hare’s house (as Alice reasons, it is better to visit the March Hare because, since it isn’t March, he might not be quite as mad as the Hatter).

Secondly, it’s often treated as a key scene and in illustrations and adaptations (not to mention fan-culture) it is given far more precedence than, say, the scene with the pig-baby or the snarky flowers. But Carroll hadn’t even included it in the original Alice’s Adventures Underground (there Alice finishes her conversation with the Cheshire Cat by opening a door in a tree and passing directly through to the Queen’s Croquet grounds).

But the mad tea-party is a very visually attractive scene – in a way that the pig-baby definitely isn’t – and it has captured readers’ and illustrators’ imaginations like nothing else in the text. Even though Carroll’s description of the scene doesn’t make the meal sound very lovely –  the Mad Hatter’s explains that he had a falling out with time and that time refuses to move on past six o’clock and now he is stuck in an endless teatimewarp.  He and the Hare have no time to wash things so the table should be covered with dirty delf and crumbs and things  – the illustrations often lend a festive air to the scene.  Most illustrators show the tea as something sumptuous – the table is enormous and there are plates and plates of things to eat, not just a biscuit perched on the side of the saucer, melting gently against the cup…There’s something gloriously, outrageously decadent about the scene and the massive spread of tea things laid out on the table.

I’ve recently come across an illustration by Serena Curmi who, I think, most perfectly captures the true sadness of it always being teatime. Rather than a festive air, there’s something charmingly schadenfreudish about this image – the almost bare table, the sadly dripping watch, Alice’s downcast expression…

Serena Curmi

It couldn’t be further from the riotous tea-party in the 1951 Disney film and it doesn’t overwork the scene in an attempt to make it seem uncanny as the 2010 Burton film does.

But recently I’ve been wondering – and I really don’t have a definite answer here –  are the March Hare and the Mad Hatter teetotallers? And is this why they are mad?

In the 1860s, the Victorian temperance movement was at its height and contemporary children’s texts often contained stern warnings to young readers about the perils of the demon drink. For instance, Brenda’s Froggy’s Little Brother (possibly the most unashamedly heart-rending book ever written before the invention of Nicholas Sparks) tales the tale of two children left orphaned and alone in London after a drunk driver kills their father. Like warning children about the dangers of playing with matches or that failing eating your soup can be fatal, showing alcohol as an evil influence is a standard part of Victorian children’s literature.

Carroll’s work runs against the grain in this respect.

In his brilliantly bizarre but less-well-known Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1889), Carroll has a dig at teetotallers:

“”Yes, it is a ghastly innovation,” Lady Muriel replied,” letting the waiters carry round the wine at dessert. For one thing, they always take it the wrong way round which of course brings bad luck to everybody present! ”

“Better go the wrong way than not go at all!” said our host. “Would you kindly help yourself?” (This was to the fat red-faced man.) “You are not a teetotaler, I think?”

“Indeed but I am!” he replied, as he pushed on the bottles. “Nearly twice as much money is spent in England on Drink, as on any other article of food. Read this card.” (What faddist ever goes about without a pocketful of the appropriate literature?) “The stripes of different colours represent the amounts spent on various articles of food. Look at the highest three. Money spent on butter and on cheese, thirty-five millions: on bread, seventy millions: on intoxicating liquors, one hundred and thirty-six millions! If I had my way, I would close every public-house in the land! Look at that card, and read the motto. That’s where all the money goes to!”

“Have you seen the Anti-Teetotal Card? Arthur innocently enquired.

“No, Sir, I have not!” the orator savagely replied. “What is it like?”

“Almost exactly like this one. The coloured stripes are the same. Only, instead of the words ‘ Money spent on,’ it has ‘ Incomes derived from sale of; and, instead of ‘That’s where all the money goes to,’ its motto is ‘Thats where all the money comes from!’”

Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1889)

And, if you’re feeling a bit like the Duchess and you want to find morals and meanings in every aspect of Wonderland, you might argue that the Mad Hatter is a reference to Roger Crab (1621-80) who was known as the mad hatter and was a teetotaller as well as a vegetarian.

And, while readers and illustrators delight in the scene, the Hare and the Hatter seem rather dejected about the prospect of endless tea.

I’m not totally sure about the teetotal Hatter and Hare – I’d be interested to hear your views on it though.  But for me, now it’s definitely time for tea…

If you’re keen to read more about tea in Alice, Jan Susina has a chapter on coffee and tea in The Place of Lewis Carroll in Children’s Literature (2010) which I highly recommend. And if you’re interested in screen versions of Alice, Tom Krepico’s blog has a great round-up of links.

It’s Alice’s Day tomorrow so I’m going to run around looking at Alice things and maybe even have a go at learning the Lobster Quadrille (my attempts to learn from the helpful video have been less than successful). I’ll post pictures and thoughts later in the day.  Now to do some research on crocodiles and why Alice carries a thimble in her pocket…

Sylvie&Bruno2

~

[1] At least the ones I’ve met

[2] Why tea draws but never paints is a mystery. For more on Dodgson’s tea-brewing practices see Stuart Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1899) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11483/11483-h/11483-h.htm

[3] They are too weak. “Spinster’s piss” is the description that comes to mind.

[4] Which is rather late for a fancy afternoon tea…

Making a Victorian Jacket: a full size toile and a lesson in sleeves…

So…I promised to show you how I got on with the full-sized toile for the Ladies’ Street Jacket from the National Garment Cutter Book of Diagrams.

Ladies' Street Jacket from the National Garment Cutter Book of Diagrams

Ladies’ Street Jacket from the National Garment Cutter Book of Diagrams

In January I made a tiny toile as a test-run which was really helpful but I’m really glad I made a full-sized toile to get a sense of how the garment fits and hangs.

I learned a lot from making this.

THE FIRST THING I learned is that the pattern wasn’t as hard to draft as I expected.  Once you started with a right-angle at the ‘A’ point on each pattern piece – usually found in the top right corner – all you have to do is follow the measurements down the sides of the pattern and measure everything in relation to the A point.

'A' point on each pattern piece

‘A’ point on the front pattern piece

Once you have the basic pattern drawn out, it’s time to start adjusting.

I have a long torso.  Like a dog, I am taller when sitting down, so I added 3 inches to the waist length all around (so on the front pattern piece above, the 16 ½ measurement is moved to 19½ and then the shaping is put in as usual.  I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do but it seemed to work).

Width-wise, I was lucky in that the pattern seemed to be made for a 34”(ish) chest so I planned to take slightly deeper tucks in the back panel than the pattern suggested to bring it a little closer to my size.

So I cut everything out.

All the pattern pieces (except the collar.  Because there was no pattern for that.  Scunners.)

All the pattern pieces (except the collar. Because there was no pattern for that. Scunners.)

And then cut the pieces out of scrap canvas.  And then I basted.  And basted.

And tried it on.

That’s when I learned THE SECOND THING.

The second thing I learned is that Victorian ladies had tiny arms.  Like T-Rex tiny.

Either that or I have arms like a spider-monkey.

Maybe it’s a bit of both.

So the sleeves had to be adjusted.

And the armscyes.

And the shoulders.

The shoulder was a joke…it just slumped off the sides like a bad cat.

So back to the drawing board and the cutting table.

And I consulted with the hallowed oracle….Vogue’s book of Smart Dressmaking from 1936.

Vogue's Book of Smart Dressmaking (1936)

Vogue’s Book of Smart Dressmaking (1936)

The book is brilliant – it has everything an amateur like me needs, including very prim advice about ‘developed’ figures.

I’m sure the author didn’t mean ‘developed’ in the sense of ‘more highly evolved’ but that’s what I’m taking it as.  I have much more developed arms than the Victorian lady who wore this jacket.

Using their handy guide to fixing dodgy sleeves

I did a combination of 1 and 5…

Cut the sleeves horizontally to add length

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And cut the sleeves vertically to add width.

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I re-cut, re-basted and did a second fit on the left-hand side of the jacket.  I wanted to leave the right side as it was at the first fit so I could compare and if worse came to worst, go back a few steps.

I shortened the shoulder line and deepened the armscye by taking an inch off the arm-hole edge on the front and back pieces.  I also shorted the top of the side-back piece by an inch but kept the original shape as much as possible.

Here’s the second fit.

The shorter shoulder sits much more naturally and the extra width in the sleeve makes a huge difference to the way the sleeve sits overall.

However, because the shoulder is shorter, the sleeves sit higher and they are even shorter than I thought they were.  Even after I added 3 inches to the sleeve length they are still ridiculously short so the next version (the final version) will have to add at least another 4 inches to the lower part of the sleeve and the wrist section.  I won’t do another series of horizontal cuts because I think the elbow is sitting pretty close to where I want it.

I also added the rever on the left side and made a collar (the pattern somehow neglected to include a collar so I had to draft one…basically a long rectangle) to see how they sat.

I’ve shaped the bottom hem of the jacket a little more than the original pattern so that it follows the line of the rever and curves up and around to meet the flare at the back.  It’s a strange shape but I like it.

The next stage is to get some fabric for the finished thing.[1]  And make hard decisions about colour and trimmings.  I think this jacket could very easily go too pirate.  Much as I love the weird medallions in the original pattern I’m not sure I want to stick eighteen doubloons to myself.   Does it need piping?  Maybe some embroidery?  Contrasting or complimentary lining? Do I want to go full-on steampunk?  These decisions are harder than basting.  I’ll be going back to Ripper Street and the V&A catalogue for some inspiration.

[1] Woo!  Best bit of sewing.

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)