Monday, October 19, 2015

Rallying for the Vote

Back in September, I had a fabulous weekend dancing in pants and rallying for women's suffrage in 1915!

Then grad school kicked up, and I have been so busy with science I haven't had time to edit photos. I took a paper-writing break today and finally got around to it, so with very little ado here are some pictures from the women's suffrage rally and tea!

period materials about women's suffrage--we placed a selection on each table at tea for people to peruse, and read some of the oratories aloud during the rally

every attendee also found a ribbon at their teacup! yellow was one of the colors of the women's suffrage movement

treats laid out for tea

After tea, oratory, and singing, we went to the town common march and sing some more!

leading singing in the town common

I wore my wool plaid 1914 skirt with a modern blouse and jacket that had an acceptable period shape (plus American Duchess boots)

we had a wonderful, enthusiastic crowd! it was so nice to hear everyone singing together

at the end, we took some pictures with the picket signs and Julia's ribbons (thanks, Julia!)

One thing I couldn't capture here was how many generations attended this event, including my mom and her new puppy (just for the marching part!). Mothers passing on the world to their children was a huge theme during the women's suffrage movement, and it was nice to see such a diverse group getting into the spirit!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What About Tweed?

It's Fall, and with the change in seasons comes a change in tweed blazers and wool skirts, tall socks, and felt hats. Yum!
 So while normally this blog is the place to find tartan in the 19th century, today I'm taking a turn into the history of tweed (specifically, Harris tweed).

there is no excuse for this...but how could I resist multicolored sheep?! (via)
Like tartan, Harris tweed is a woolen fabric that has been woven in Scotland for hundreds of years. Where tartan was a common textile in the Highlands, Harris tweed is tied to the Outer Hebrides (islands off the west coast of Scotland including Uist, Lewis, Barra, and Harris). To this day, Harris tweed is still woven by hand on treadle looms--if it's certified Harris tweed, it comes from the homes of crofters in the Outer Hebrides--a truly living tradition.

a "Hattersley Domestic Weaving System," first sent to the Outer Hebrides to make Harris tweed in 1919
Tweed has an open weave, usually with a "tweel" (or "twill"), a diagonal line running through the fabric that increases the weave's strength making the cloth warmer and more stable. While this weave gives tweed its traditional "v" shape, tweed can also include a variety of patterns (even plaid!).

a lovely Harris tweed, showing the v-shaped twill
a Harris tweed with an additional plaid pattern
Like tartan, tweed was the durable cloth of farmers until the 19th century, when it was "discovered" by the landed gentry and its popularity exploded. In 1846 Lady Dunmore, widow of the Earl of Dunmore (the landowner of Harris), commissioned her family tartan to be woven out of the local tweed (or she wove it herself, depending on who you ask--I think it's more likely she commissioned it). Lady Dunmore turned out to be quite a good marketer, and her endorsement greatly increased interest in and sales of Harris tweed for sporting clothes.

tweed sportingwear for gentlemen from "The Gazette of Fashion" 1870
 One member of the gentry whose eye was caught by Harris tweed was beginning a love afair with Scotland we've already mentioned: Prince Albert. In addition to designing several tartans for Balmoral Castle (purchased in 1848) and the royal family, Prince Albert designed the Balmoral tweed.

a swatch of Balmoral tweed
 Just as tartans were associated with specific clans in the 19th century, specific tweeds became associated with estates, and special "estate tweeds" had their own color schemes. The end of the 19th century also saw a rise in women's participation in sports--golf, bicycling, hiking--which meant more sportswear! Tweed skyrocketed, becoming an integral part of a wealthy, fashionable wardrobe for both genders. It was in such high demand that by 1903 production had spread from Harris to other islands in the Outer Hebrides.

The Duke of York with pug, in tweed, 1895
tweed and velvet walking suit, 1895
By 1906, Harris tweed had become so popular and weaving technology had developed enough that the Harris tweed weavers were concerned that low quality copies would emerge. To prevent this members of the Harris tweed industry met in Stornoway, where tweed standards and an inspection system were developed to certify true Harris tweed (the stamp went into full effect in 1911). If you buy stamped, official Harris tweed today, it still meets those standards.

tweed and leather golfing skirt and jacket, 1908 (V&A)
tweed suit, 1895
But I mentioned that in the beginning of the boom, Lady Dunmore commissioned a tartan out of tweed--so what exactly is the difference? It's all in the weave. Tartan is a pattern--plaid, in particular--that is woven (or at least, is capable of being woven, and the official register has thread counts for every tartan), while Harris tweed is a particular weave--that includes the diagonal "twill"--and depending on the colors, could include a pattern. Which means that you could weave a tweed with a tartan pattern, but there are many many tweeds which aren't tartan! Oi vey.

the Lady Dunmore Plaid, the first official Harris tweed tartan (modern, 2000s)
Read more about Harris tweed and its history here:

Thursday, October 1, 2015


For some reason, I've been all about Poiret for the last couple of months. That turned into two projects: a dinner dress and a jupe-culotte evening ensemble.

Yep, you read that right. I wore pants to a ball.

Dowager Countess Grantham, queen of the judgmental side-eye
A pant-ed outfit seemed appropriate for this ball in particular, because it was paired with a women's suffrage rally (more on that soon) and it was our "Chelmsford Abbey Ball." A Poiret jupe-culotte outfit definitely fit with those themes!

look! my legs are separate entities!
all of the dramatic poses!

While I was researching jupe-culotte ensembles from the 1910s, I noticed a few trends I liked: metallic embellishments, stripes up the leg, over-robes (which I didn't end up making, but want to!), and elbow-length narrow sleeves.

the green  ensemble in the back
Poiret with model
But I have to admit that my favorites weren't actually Poiret.

Callot Seurs, 1913 (LACMA via American Duchess)
French postcard, 1911 (via)
Or in the case of Lady Sybil's season one costume, not even an original piece from the teens.

I ended up using a new source for materials for this project: a sari. I found a beautiful silk one on eBay that was being sold as-is (there were some damaged spots in the embroidery and some sun fading). It was such a great find! The silk is a dusty purple color with bronze sequins and gold, bronze, and copper couched embroidery patterns. I adjusted how I cut my pieces to use the embellishments to my advantage, which had the added advantage of meaning I didn't have to finish a single edge! Bonus!

The pants are just two big tubes with a curve at the top where they're sewn together and then gathered into the waist and ankle. The waist is cotton, and there's a structural cotton bodice that the embellished sari fabric is sewn to (and then also gathered into the waist). The sleeves are basically rectangles where half the rectangle is sewn into a tube and the other half is attached to the front and back of the bodice. After attaching the sari fabric, I added a pleated gold silk waistband to break up the purple a little bit.

sorry, ignore the messy progress snap of the pants and sleeves mounted on the cotton bodice
In the end I was really happy with the way this turned out! I have to admit, it was really weird wearing pants--both because normally I would be wearing a ballgown at a ball, but also because I don't wear pants in normal life. But also fun! I especially loved the way the pants moved when I danced.

And look! There's evidence of it!

blurry, but I'm dancing!

fluffy pants butt!

my hairband is leftover gold silk from the waistband

And just like Lady Grantham, Quinn judged my scandalous attire!

"look at her! in pants!"

"I don't think pants will ever catch on"