Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The "Winter Princess" 1890s Ballgown

This weekend was the 1890s ball and skating outing with the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, and I was really pleased to have my friend KP come visit to join me! Of course, that also meant I needed a new dress...

I'd been planning to make a new 1890s dress eventually anyways, because my butterfly dress has a lot of fit issues and I've had it for several years at this point. (Although I will admit the changes I made for a ball this summer--which I've never blogged about, bad blogger! but Quinn has, and it was also covered by Bill Cunningham, so you can spot me in group shots there--greatly improve my feelings about the dress.) Anyways, I'd been planning a new dress...but this ended up being sort of the "murphy's law" of sewing plans: first I had a business trip that put me behind on sewing projects for earlier in the month, then I got horridly ill, and then I was sitting in the ladies' dressing room sewing when I was supposed to be setting up refreshments. Whoops.

I didn't have time to go fabric shopping, so I used a blue velvet I had in my stash originally purchased for the 1870s dress I made at Christmas. It is gorgeous, plush stuff that looks quite bright in some light and quite dark in other light. Like magic! A friend also nabbed me some white rabbit fur trim, which is a fabulous contrast. Right now there's just a bit thrown on, but I have 16 1/2 yards of it, so that's coming! 

I knew I wanted to make a super classic 90s dress with big sleeves, because my butterfly dress doesn't have them. I drew inspiration from portraits of the Russian royal family as well as some of the dresses belonging to Empress Maria Fyodorovna. Here are some favorites:

engagement photo of Nicholas II and Alexandra, 1894: big sleeves, fur trim

portrait of Grand Duchess Elizabeth c.1890: dark with pale trim, lots of pearls
Portrait of Maria Fyodorovna, 1894: fur trim!
Purple velvet dress by House of Worth for Maria Fyodorovna, 1890s

Years ago I purchased 1890s skirt and bodice patterns from Laughing Moon Mercantile, but when I started working on this project I decided I didn't have time to make a toile (as it was already the week of the ball), and I knew the bodice pattern didn't fit me very well straight out of the envelope. Instead, I ended up using the 1875 bodice pattern from the Mother/Daughter Dress Project because I knew it fit well. I switched the closures from front to back, shortened the bodice to end at my natural waist, and raised the neckline up slightly on my shoulders. I did stick with the Laughing Moon 5 gore skirt pattern, but I re-curved the top of the panels to make it fit more snugly on my hips without losing the volume at the hem.

There are still some adjustments to make (a hem, for instance, would be good--this will get a stiff linen interfacing as well as a velvet facing to help keep the shape), but overall I'm happy with this. I definitely felt regal, so mission accomplished!

The 1890s ball was held at the Dane Estate, an absolutely lovely mansion just outside Boston. We had fun posing for pictures in its elegant rooms, but with all the crazy going on I completely forgot my camera. As a result, these were all taken on my phone. Apologies, but enjoy!

playing with the full length mirrors in the library

sitting in the round mezzanine between the first and second floors--sorry these are so grainy! My phone did not like the dark...

my friend in my ballgown. She looked lovely and it was nice to be able to make her feel like a princess.

As people post pictures of the ballroom I'll do another post!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Caught On Camera

I'm still recovering from my weekend at Arisia, our local scifi/fantasy convention. I changed costumes 4 times on Saturday! 

In the meantime, the fine folks over at Nerdcaliber covered the event and I wanted to share their images of me. Take a look! 

Image courtesy of Rodney Brown

Image courtesy of Rodney Brown
Check out FirstPerson Shooter's gallery over at Nerdcaliber (linked in the captions) for more images from the convention!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Music of the American Women's Suffrage Movement

In an effort to share the research I did in 2013-2014 and never posted about, some of the posts in the next couple of months will be a little out of order. I hope you enjoy them anyways!

At the America's Hometown Thanksgiving event, we keep warm and engaged by singing suffrage songs. These gave us a great way to engage visitors, share some of the messages from the American women's suffrage movement, and give our rally some spirit. Here's a short video of us singing from the event this year, courtesy of my awesome friend (and fellow suffragist):

Music is often a popular way to disseminate a group's message, so it's no surprise that there were many, many songs written for the suffrage movement (there were also many, many "anti" song written). In fact, the American women's suffrage movement has roots in several other reform movements from the 19th century--the most famous being abolition--which was also known for its music related to the cause. The songs we sang were all to traditional tunes, many of them written during the mid-19th century and related to the civil war.

Sheet music cover for the "Suffrage March Song," from the collection at the Oregon Historical Society
Music was an integral part of suffrage rallies, marches, and gatherings. It was common for events that required a crowd (like speeches) to start with a song; the music would gather the crowd, share the suffrage message, and get listeners warmed up for the following oratory. The publication of music also provided a print avenue to share suffrage ideas with the masses--people who would never read a suffragist publication (like The Suffragist, 1913-1920) might see, or even browse, a suffrage song. The cover illustrations, which often featured the "new woman" as an empowered, wise figure with calls to goddesses in mythology, or holding babies and doing household tasks as their normal lives continued, offered a chance to demonstrate a future with enfranchised women: strong, contributing members of society who were still wives and mothers (not a threat to the very fabric of society, as anti-suffragists argued). Inside, the lyrics provided reasons for women's suffrage, aimed at both women and men--some songs focused on why women should want and have the vote, while others called men to pass suffrage bills (because women, of course, could not vote to do so!).

Sheet music cover from 1920, the year women were finally given the vote
For example, "Marching Together"* is sung from the man's perspective, and entreats:

And let us help her win the fight
She may not win alone
While we go marching together

While a verse in "Song for Equal Suffrage,"** sung from the woman's perspective, explains:

Not for self but larger service has our cry for freedom grown, 
There is crime, disease and warfare in a world of men alone, 
In the name of love we're rising now to serve and save our own, 
        As Peace comes marching on!

and the chorus of "Another Star,"** which is more of a gender-neutral campaign song:

A ballot for the Lady! 
For the Home and for the Baby! 
Come, vote ye for the Lady, 
      The Baby, the Home!

There are some pretty straightforward themes that begin to emerge in these lyrics. Songs from the man's perspective often boil down to "do the right thing," but also point out that denying women the right to vote is denying a basic human right to women in their families (their sisters, mothers, and daughters). Alternatively, many of the songs from the women's perspective focus on the importance of women as moral centers (an argument used during the abolition movement as well), as caretakers, and as equal partners in the home. These lyrics leverage traditional views of women as the "gentler sex" to say that the country needs women's votes to keep peace and improve conditions. They also draw attention to the expectation for women to run the home--if women can handle the complicated socio-economic considerations for managing a household, why aren't they equally enfranchised?
One of my favorite songs that addresses the equal partnership argument is "The New Way"*:

Now the girls, in crimps and curls,
Take up the cue she gave,
And tell their lovers, one and all,
They will not play the slave
To any man whose selfish plan
Makes them but satellites,
For no such things as wedding-rings
Shall rob them of their rights.

Something to note about all of these arguments is that not a single one is pushing to really change the status quo: they aren't arguing women should give up motherhood, or abandon marriage, or join the workforce en mass. They're simply asking to be recognized for the work they are already doing (both in and out of the domestic sphere) and given the right to vote.

suffrage button, 1918
Of course, there were many many other arguments during the hundred years or so of the women's suffrage movement in America. But in particular, the messages set to music were able to reach people who would otherwise never hear them--men and women who would never attend a rally, read a pamphlet or journal, who might otherwise have missed the voices of suffragists altogether. The power of music for the suffrage movement was that it allowed suffragists to reach these audiences, and ultimately, their efforts succeeded.

pro-suffrage poster, c.1910s

The lyrics featured here are from the following collections:
*The Suffrage Song Book, 1909
**Suffrage Songs and Verses, 1911

For more on suffrage music:
"(M)othering: Strategies of Musical Activism in the American Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1900-1920"

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Lessons and Experiments: 2014 in Review

I did my first retrospective post last year, and found that it was an incredibly helpful way to look at how much I'd accomplished (and also how poorly I often manage my time). This year, I wanted to do something similar. As I started to dig through my posts, I realized I had some firsts this year! A new time period (WWII), some new photography techniques (my petzval lens), and a new series of ongoing research posts (my image in context series). There was a ton of research, thousands of photos, and a heap of adventures. That said, there wasn't quite as much sewing! I'm going to take that as a sign that I tried to achieve my new year's resolution not to undertake projects at the very last minute...or at least, not quite as often.

So without further ado, a brief review of 2014!


I make a 1920s evening dress for our performance at Arisia

I use the same shot fabric for a new Regency ballgown...
...and start my photography research post series

Rather than rush a new dress, I fix the fit on my pink plaid 1860s gown from last year

I play with different views for photographing events

I work with tulle for the first time and make a 1950s party dress

I pull and all-nighter (whoops) to whip up a 1910s ballgown for a 1914 performance,
take my first shot at battle photography for a WWII reenactment,
build my first camera mod,
and make an evening bodice for my printed cotton 1860s dress
(whew! June was apparently pretty crazy!)


I re-drape the bodice for my 1910s ballgown,
and do my first real photography outing with the petzval

I make a new white linen 1920s dress for picnicking

We squeeze in a last picnic on Labor Day (and I use it to do some more petzval work),
and I begin the Mother/Daughter Dress Project with my first attempt at plaid matching! (both bodices are constructed)

Undergarments elude me, but I bake up a storm
I mostly complete the Mother/Daughter Dress Project (with help from Mom!) over Thanksgiving: both skirts and underskirts are completed, and the bodices are wearable
I shoot our suffrage rally for the Plymouth Thanksgiving celebration, aiming to take portraits that capture the feel of the event (you can decide how well I did in my upcoming post on this!),
and disassemble my hobble skirt to make a new skirt I can picket in, and construct a new overskirt for the ensemble


I finally complete--and wear!--my dress for the Mother/Daughter Dress Project by finishing my bodice
It turns out 2014 had more than I expected, and I was lucky enough to attend some really wonderful events. As I went through my previous blog posts to put together this retrospective, I noticed a couple of things: for every last-minute project I made this year (or revisited from last year), I ended up doing alterations after the first wearing to fix the mistakes I'd made while rushing through the project, and while I did a lot of research (primarily on female photographers), I never posted it. So even though I made fewer things, I'm happy with my resolution to sew slower. Hopefully I can keep it up in the new year! (And get those research posts up!)

I also have a couple of other resolutions to add to the list: I'd like to make some of the projects I have fabric for, that have been sitting in my stash for years at this point. I'd also like to work on doing some photo shoots outside of events I'm already attending--take an afternoon, get dressed up, and just take photos. It's not normally what I do with my clothes (I mostly sew specifically for events), but I think it would be hugely helpful to practice actually taking pictures.

That second resolution I could use some help with: if you're in the Boston area and you're up for a picture-taking afternoon (historical or otherwise), let me know!

Best wishes for the start of 2015!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Pudding Acheivement

For the last couple of years, my contributions to the Fezziwig's Ball refreshments table has been figgy pudding. Fezziwig's Christmas party is described in A Christmas Carol:

"There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.” Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking."

Figgy pudding only plays a tangential role in the festivities, but it is central to the celebration at Bob Cratchit's house. As Scrooge observes,

"In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly—with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top."

And of course, figgy pudding is the dessert called for in the carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." We sing carols before the ball (including this one), so it seemed doubly appropriate to have some on offer. It also turns out figgy pudding is pretty delicious!

Mentions of figgy pudding (also known as plum pudding, among other names, which is how it appears in A Christmas Carol) have appeared since the 15th century. It was especially popular in America during the 19th century. Dozens of recipes and interpretations were published in magazines and books throughout the century--I particularly love the article "Plum Pudding: A Christmas Essay" published in The National Magazine in 1857:

"But it is not as a work of art alone that I wish to contemplate a plum pudding. I claim for my theme a higher purpose than the mere gratification of the appetite and propose to treat it not only in a gastronomical, but also in national, commercial, geographical, statistical, social, and moral sense. ...Can there be a more thorough embodiment of sociality and good fellowship? Whoever heard of low spirits and plum pudding? or ill temper and plum pudding? or any thing else in connection with plum pudding but hearty goodwill and kind feeling?"

The pudding itself, topped with a sprig of holly, pine and berries I bought at JoAnn's a couple of years ago
 While it's full of dried fruit (not just figs!) held together by breadcrumbs and fat (suet, traditionally), figgy pudding ends up being fairly cakelike. As Mrs. Cratchit "had her doubts about the quantity of flour," this cakelike consistency is pretty accurate for the mid-19th century. The major difference between figgy pudding and desserts we're more used to is that figgy pudding is boiled. It's also traditionally set aflame (or rather, the pudding is covered in a hard sauce which burns off)--something I have yet to try. Instead, I serve our pudding with custard sauce, which is slightly less accurate but entirely delicious.

While it takes me most of a day to make the quadruple batch required for the ball, a single figgy pudding is easy to put together and offers a variety of serving options (although my favorite is a tiny piece of pudding drowned in a big bowl of custard sauce. I am definitely pro custard sauce). Although it's a little late for a Christmas pudding, here is my recipe! I've adapted it from this original (which is also where my custard sauce comes from), with changes to make it more period. The one modern concession I make is that I bake the pudding in a water bath rather than boil it. That way I can get multiples cooked at the same time, and it seems to work just fine. Someday I do need to boil and set one on fire though!

This recipe makes one figgy pudding, which I recommend baking in a bundt pan for ease. If you want the traditional round look, go for an oven-safe bowl (I use a 2-liter mixing bowl/pitcher like this one). 

Figgy Pudding

1lb dried mission figs (the black ones)
1/2lb pitted dried plums (not labeled as prunes, and a little moister)
3/4 c. whole milk
1/3 c. brandy*
3 eggs
1/2 c. butter (melted)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tbs. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon*
1 tsp. allspice*
1/2 tsp. nutmeg*
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. orange zest (if you're using fresh zest, you could also use lemon or a mix)
1 1/2 c. breadcrumbs
1 c. chopped walnuts

*I did not measure these things, and just added to taste. Caveat: if not measuring make sure to stay true to the proportions!

Preheat oven to 350F.
1. In a medium pot, combine chopped figs, plums, milk, orange zest, and brandy. Cook over medium-high heat until milk is bubbling but NOT boiling, then reduce temperature to medium/medium-low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
2. Combine melted butter and eggs (adding one at a time) in a large mixing bowl. When combined, add breadcrumbs.
3. Add fruit/liquid mixture from the stove and stir until just combined.
[3a. Depending on how much liquid was absorbed by the fruit, the batter may be extremely dry. If needed, add extra milk in small increments alternating with dry ingredients so that final batter is a very thick, but still batter-like, consistency. Be careful not to make it too wet! If the flour is adding in just fine, don't add any extra milk.]
4. Add remaining dry ingredients.
5. Fold in nuts.

6. Pour batter into greased bundt pan or pudding mold. Place pan in a water bath so that the bottom 1/2-2/3 is submerged. 
7. Bake for approximately 2 hours. A knife should come out cleanly, even if the inside is still quite soft.
8. Let stand in pan for 15 minutes, then flip onto cooling rack. Cool completely before slicing to prevent crumbling.

Garnishing the pudding with holly
Enjoy! I ended up with a lot of leftover pudding from the ball, so I crumbled it up and threw it in a casserole dish to turn into bread pudding--pudding squared?--to give the leftovers some new life. The possibilities are endless!

So I will leave you with one last Dickens quote--a final possibility for figgy pudding: murder weapon.

"If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

You can read more about figgy pudding here:
NPR's All Things Considered
The History Channel's Hungry History
The University of Maine's KHRONIKOS blog

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Mother/Daughter Dress Project: Success!

Earlier in the month, my mother and I wore our new 1870s dresses to Fezziwig's Ball. We were both fully dressed! Success!

obligatory butt shot!
 I do need to admit that with a crazy work month, I didn't actually manage closures or the ties for the inside of my skirt that will bustle the train and make the underskirt an appropriate length for dancing. It worked out, since I was pretty ill the night of the ball and didn't have much of an inclination to dance, but that definitely needs to be in place for next time. I really cannot stress this enough: please do NOT wear a train to a ball. They aren't meant for dancing, and you will trip someone up! I only danced once (I waltzed with my dad), and I made sure the train stayed up the whole time. I really don't recommend it.

Also, dirt. SO MUCH DIRT. That train needed a major bath.
That said, even ill and not dancing much, this was a really lovely evening full of Christmas cheer. Plus. since I wasn't dancing I was able to take pictures!

My parents in the Grand March--don't they look awesome?
Waltzing with my father

My parents during a galop

Decorating the refreshments room
Although both my mother's and my bodices were both made with the same Truly Victorian pattern, we ended up with very different bodices I think. Mom used the puffed sleeves from the pattern, but I decided to forgo sleeves. I also added a 3 inch band of velvet to the bottom of my bodice, similar to fashion plates like this:

The bodice has a contrasting band of plaid and pleats at the bottom
Of course, the most obvious difference is that Mom's bodice and overskirt were the same blue and gold fabric, while my overskirt and bodice were almost inverse (the bodice is plaid silk with velvet trim, and the overskirt is velvet with plaid trim). Mom also trimmed her bodice with gold lace and antique gold buttons she found (which both looked great!).

My overskirt plans had to be toned down a lot due to fabric constraints: I ended up without velvet I liked at the last possible moment, and my heart was absolutely set on velvet...so I went shopping at JoAnns. I have to admit, I am really spoiled--they are so much more expensive than my local, independent fabric store! I could only justify splurging on two yards in the end, but managed to end up with three because it was the end of the bolt (hooray, a holiday miracle!). With less material than expected, my side panels are smaller than I think I would originally have wanted. I have some plans to improve the overskirt, though, with a plaid silk bow at the back and turning the leftover velvet into a train. In the meantime, this version worked for the ball!

Like many of my fashion plate inspirations, I trimmed the overskirt panels in plaid cut on the bias, as opposed to the bodice which is cut on the grain. I actually really like the contrast there! Figuring out how to make those work turned into quite a headache (I was tired and not thinking well), but I'm really pleased with the final result.

Fashion plate pose!

I have to say, I think I have the 1870s bug. I felt so elegant in this, and I can't wait to make the day bodice so I can swan around some more. It was also really nice to work on this with my mother, and I look forward to future adventures with her...she's already brainstorming for next year!

Happy Holidays, everyone! No matter what you celebrated (if anything), I hope it was wonderful!