Monday, April 25, 2011

Ft Frederick

I'm headed up to the Ft Frederick Market Faire this week, so there will be very little (if any) posting.  Sorry, but replacing the worn out binding on my more comfortable stays is taking precedence.  I don't like being poked.  If you're going to be at the event, come over and say hi!  The next weekend will be a shoe workshop as well, but I promise I'll come back even if you don't hear from me for the next two weeks!
I've made some progress on the Calash, so it at least looks like a Calash now.  There's still trimming to be done.  Pleated ribbon around the opening, a big bow in back, ties to close the neck, and I'm going to finish the little cape a few inches shorter than it is now.  It's also a bit wonky in shape, but I'm hoping to fix that with a bit of ingenuity (and applied force).

Saturday, April 23, 2011


At first I had a great deal of trouble finding images of cloaks.  I looked through what images I had, searched the Walpole Gallery for key terms like "cold", "winter", "ice", etc.  I found three or four decent ones.  So, I broke down and decided to go the long route and search for "the" and "a".  Over three-hundred pages of results.  I've made it through one-hundred of those and found about twenty good images so far.  They aren't the easiest to read information off of, but I was at least surprised by the lack of longer lengths so far.

Extant Cloaks
Even though it's not obvious in the images above, red wool certainly seems to be the most common of surviving examples.
Embroidered Silk Satin
Long Red Wool
Long Red Wool, no hood
Silk Brocade, no hood (like Wife at Confession above)
Early Lace Capuchin
Short Figured Silk
Long Red Wool, trimmed with Black Silk
Long Red Wool, quilted collar
Long Red Wool, applied fringe on edges
Short Red Wool, yolked neck
Long Red Wool, buttoned facing
Child's Silk
Long Red Wool, plain (found in Costume Close-Up)
Black Lace

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Very useful, elegant, simple to make, and worn by every class.  Mitts can be worn for warmth, to keep off the hot sun, for decoration, or protection.  I wear mine year round when working.  During the summer it helps to keep off mosquitos and keeps my hands clean from the sooty lantern.
Their construction is just a simple, slightly shaped tube with an open thumb attached.  Some cut straight across the knuckles while others have a small point on top, often out of a contrasting fabric which could be folded back.  Many had small amounts of embroidery, most commonly three small lines following the tendons along the back of the hand.  Women old and young, rich and poor wore them.  Since most gowns and jackets had sleeves which ended at the elbow, mitts or gloves covered the rest of the arm.  Since mitts allow use of your fingers they make for a very practical option indoors or out.
I've come across silk taffeta, silk satin, linen, cotton, leather, lace, and knitted examples.

Mrs. Robert Hooper by John Singleton Copley, 1767 

Mrs. James Russell by James Singleton Copley, 1770 

The Lady with the Veil by Alexander Roslin, 1768 

 French Beggar Woman by Paul Sandby, 1770

A Harlot's Progress by Wm Hogarth, 1732

 Sophia Dumergue by Johann Zoffany, 1780

Miss Tipapin going for all Nine by John Collet, 1778

Extant Mitts
Red Satin with small embroidery
Yellow Taffeta with small embroidery
Grey Satin with small embroidery, Straight cut
Linen, Straight cut
Linen with small embroidery
Cotton, Straight cut
2 Taffeta and 2 Leather
Two-tone Taffeta with small embroidery
Cream Silk with small embroidery
Black knitted with fringe (like Mrs. Robert Hoopers portrait above)
Brown Leather with embroidery
Short Brown Leather with floral turn-back

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cordwaining Part 1

There's a reason why the terms "Art" and "Mystery" are so often associated with shoemaking.  Even though it's one of the oldest organized professions, so very little of it was recorded.  Diderot attempted to write about it in the 18th century, and did a decent job for someone who knows nothing about the process. There will be hiccups and blank spots in any book like that, however.  And the majority of books on the subject don't appear until after 1830, when machines are beginning to threaten the old ways.  There is still a small number of people around the world who hand build shoes, an even smaller number of those who do the whole process by hand, and even fewer who do historical shoes in such a manner.  I'm in the process of learning these techniques, and even without the mystery part they are still a huge artistic challenge.
I'm at the point where my last is just about complete and ready to start patterning the uppers.  To get here I've called upon experiences in sewing, pottery, glove-making, wood-carving, and silhouette work.  It may not look like much yet, but it's getting to the exciting part!

After choosing our last size we decided if there were any minor adjustments to be made.  I'm making a slightly pointed toe, so a little length was needed.  Wrapping, pulling, hammering, and tacking a thick piece of leather down around the toe creates a "Toe Pin".  This is pasted directly to the last since it's not meant to be removable (for this shoe, after it can be).

I'll also be making an "Instep Leather", similar to the one shown center.  It looks very much like a shoe horn!  It sits on top of the last, giving you the necessary circumference measurements, the right silhouette, and it pulls out first in the end to allow room for the wooden last to be removed.  The other tools shown are the nippers (left) for pulling out tacks and nails, the hammer pliers for pulling the leather and hammering in tacks/nails, and the shoemakers knife (the most important tool of all).

Here's what the beginning of the instep leather looks like, formed around the last.  I've begun to bevel the edges down on both pieces.  They'll eventually be too thin to see a bump on the shoe formed around it.  The instep is not pasted down, since it's meant to be removable during the process.

This is how thick that toe pin leather is.  Amazing how it stretches and contracts!

Pasting a second layer to the instep leather.  It gets built up far above my measurements so it can be carved down to the right shape.  The multiple tacks hold the wet leather in place until it dries and shapes properly.

The last piece for the instep.  The side view, when carved down, will be a straight slope.  No dipping down, it creates an ugly line for the shoe.  The center height is necessary, the carving mostly occurs from the sides.

I missed getting a picture in between, but this is what occurs after carving down both pieces.  Working with women's shoes there is often fabric involved, so a dark tanned leather would likely bleed on it.  What you see covering the pieces is called Whittaw.  It's thin, smooth, and won't cause damage to the fabric.  There's also another thin piece of leather pasted under the instep leather, grain side out, for smooth removal.  There will be two holes at the top; one for a large nail to anchor the instep to the last, the other for a cord to pull on for removal.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Apron Research

Continuing with our theme of accessories, we have aprons!  These could be worn for fashion or utility.  Wearing white is often associated with lack of work, simply because it's hard to keep clean when doing labor.  Most fashionable aprons appear to be a sheer white, although earlier in the century colored silk was popular (very short and covered in embroidery).  Maids often have plain white, and even some country women are shown in that as well.  Whether that is representative of what they wore, their Sunday best, or the artist made a conscious decision is hard to know (white could have translated as "clean", and some outfits of country maids are unusually fashionable).  Colored and printed aprons were very much a working class object, hiding stains.  If made from wool they are fire-proof and can serve many purposes when cooking (the pot holder is never out of reach!).

The Cork Rump, 1776 from the Lewis Walpole Gallery, shows an extremely fashionable young lady, obviously satirizing the size of her bum roll.  Her apron is relatively simple, made from a white fabric.  It is short compared to many of the aprons you'll see further down the page.  It also has two pockets with tassels, although I doubt they would ever hold much!

Grown Ladies & c. taught to Dance, 1769 from CWF, shows another fashionably short apron.  This time, it has a long ruffle along the bottom hem.  From the picture it appears the ruffle begins where the apron hem ends, rather than the apron continuing underneath as trimmed petticoats do.  You also see two sets of strings around the waist, although I can't discern a bow.

The Wife at Confession to the Husband in Disguise, 1780 from the LWG.  She has on a slightly longer and very sheer apron.  A small ruffle continues all the way around.  The shape is curved rather than rectangular.

The Studious Beauty, 1778 from LWG.  At first glance this fashionable woman's apron looks quite plain, but up close small stripes are visible.  There is a slight color variation with the stripes, but that was probably the artists way of making them appear sheer rather than a grey line to denote them.  She seems to be wearing it over her gown, since the apron continues on top of the gown skirt on the side.
Rural Life, 1783 from LWG.  This young woman hardly looks "rural" by our standards.  If only we could know just how idealistic v. realistic this sort of thing was.  I doubt she would be feeding chickens in such an outfit.  Her apron is semi-sheer with an attached trim with scalloped edges, most likely embroidered to finish.

Girl Buying a Ballad, 1778 from the Tate.  This is one of my favorite portraits, to be honest.  She has on a very plain white apron.  It's fairly long in length, ending only a couple inches above her gown hem, obscuring any view of the petticoat.  It's tied at a very severe angle and the bow is visible in front.  I've tried to accomplish this droop in the front, but with the bow on the outside the apron pulls down and the bow ends up high.  Perhaps if I made one with the length uneven, as hers is, it might encourage it.

Johnny Going to the Fair, 1790? from the V&A.  Wearing a plain outfit of jacket and petticoat, her apron ends about three inches up from the hem.  Unadorned, but clean.  You can also see the bow tied in front.

A Ladies Maid Purchasing a Leek, 1772 from LWG.  Plain white, again about three inches above the petticoat hem (which seems rather short).  It's put underneath the gown, with the bodice shape visible upon it.

At the Inn Door, 1790 from the V&A.  A lovely solid green apron with the tie very visible in front.  It's hard to tell the length since she's holding it to the side, but it appears to be in the same range of just a few inches shorter than the petticoat.

The merry Milk Maid, 1733 from LWG.  A bit earlier than I usually go, but it shows a very simple apron being tied up out of the way.  She's either tied the corners together in back or tucked them into her strings.  Possibly to carry items or just to keep it clean.  You can also see the bow tied in front.

Plucking the Turkey, 1776 from the Tate.  A perfect example of a check'd apron. From the way it falls, it's of sturdy quality, either wool or heavy linen.  While the bow is not visible, a second string pulling down below the waist of the apron is visible.
The Tythe Pig, 1742 from LWG.  Not only can we see how her apron has been pulled up on the side, but also how she pins up her gown (a good while before polonaising begins).

The Sailors Return, 1786 from the NMM.  It appears to be a green check'd fabric.  The hem also shows as very short compared to her petticoat.  What I assume is her gown is draped over the chair back, meaning she wears the apron under it.

Most of the extant examples I came across were very fancy.  Most aprons likely endured heavy use or cleaning, others were sheer and fragile.  Embroidered silk from the earlier part of the century is not difficult to find.  The V&A has numerous embroidery patterns suitable for aprons.  However, Colonial Williamsburg seemed to have the best selection of styles:
Plain white, semi-sheer
White linen with colored embroidery
White cotton with woven pattern, drawstring top
Blue & White check'd linen