Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Home Organization with the Workwoman's Guide

Winter Break is finally here, and for this teacher that means time for a little household tidying! All of my recent projects, while delightful, have definitely left a mess in our cutting room dining room, so that was where I started. This included all kinds of small bits of fabric for potential caps and other projects.

Organizing lots of little bits of things is always difficult for me. Luckily, The Workwoman's Guide has the following suggestion

"A rag bag is a desirable thing to have hung up in some conspicuous part of the house, into which all odd bits, and even shreds, of calico, print, linen, muslin, & c should be put: as they are useful to come in when a gusset or chin stay, or other small article is wanting. Those bits too small for this purpose may still be used by school children, for practicing stitches; or, at all events, may be disposed of to the rag merchants, and thus prove of some value at last...."

Obviously I could not go any further with cleaning until I made a rag bag!

She goes on to say that

"Another family bag, for the purpose of containing stray tapes, or shoe strings, hooks, eyes, odd buttons, pieces of silk , or bits of ribbon, may be kept with advantage; especially where there is a large family of children, whose demands for these small articles are daily and constant."

Since I do, in fact, have stray ribbons and pieces of tape about the place, this seemed like a good idea as well. She also suggests a small bag to be kept in your work-box for these things, which I also want to do, since those and thread are usually what causes a mess there. 

The Guide is full of this strong desire for what the author considers 'economy' and efficiency. Today, we might think of it as 'sustainability', but whatever you call it, I think she has a few lessons to teach us about it.  I usually put bits of fabric which are big enough under the sink to use as cleaning rags. Some of these will still doubtless end up here, but this will keep them clean in case I want to use them for caps or some other small thing. And I did add some pieces which I would normally have just tossed, but which really will be good for chin stays for infants caps or other similar projects in the future. 

We have come to think of large-scale industrial production as being more efficient, but it is marvelous how the home economy described in the Guide finds a use for every last piece of material. 

Unfortunately I don't think I'm going to have a value or use for those little tiny scraps the author would have given to the rag and bone man. It's a shame, as I really hate to throw things away. It's really an excellent example of how wasteful we have become compared to our ancestors who used everything. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Workwoman's Guide - A gown for infants of the 'lower classes'

"Another Infant's Flannel Gown"

So I am sewing my way through the Workwoman's Guide. As detailed in my last post, I've been making-up some sewing which will be appropriate to send to some of my friends at the Dickens Fair to work on in character.

I had a lot of fun with the caps in my last post, but I wanted to move onto something bigger that people could really show off as part of a gig at Dickens. But I also wanted to keep it pretty simple, so anyone could easily pick it up and work on it. I found the perfect option among the various instructions for making gowns for infants:

"This shape is the one generally used by the lower classes , not only for flannels, but for print gowns and petticoats; and is preferred to others on account of the ease with which it is cut out, and also because there is much less needle-work in the making up: there is, however, some waste, which is an objection. The gown is 13 nails long , but as there should be no seam on the shoulder, the two breadths must be cut in one length of 26 nails, which is 1 yard 10 nails. Double it in two, so as to be 13 nails long, and then fold it in half very evenly down the middle, so as to make the four selvages lie exactly one upon the other, and pin them firmly down to keep the folds in place; then, after measuring three nails from the selvages at the top (see A S), to determine the length of the sleeves, cut out the part S C D, to form the neck of the gown. Observe that the part from S to C is nail deep, which should be nicely rounded off, and from C to D, the bosom is cut straight along...."

This was nice and straightforward. It does not explicitly say how wide the breadth should be, but going off the sketch, the folded over fabric is 7 Nails (3+ 4), so the full breadth  would be 14 Nails (31.5 inches). This was the smallest breadth listed among the other gown variations, and my understanding is that that was a common width of fabric in the period.

This was pretty easy and fun to sketch out. I felt a bit like the mice from Cinderlla with my chalk and pattern book! The only thing that seems a bit odd to me are the sleeves, though I followed the directions clearly. 

To me  they look a bit skinny, especially relative to the body of the gown. To be fair this was designed for poor Victorian infants, who may have been undernourished, certainly compared to modern infants. However were I to make this again I think I would add a half inch to the sleeve measurement and adjust the curve in the arm accordingly. 

Can you count the cats in this picture? 

Next up, construction!

"The gown is next shaped at the side; and to do so properly, put in a pin at S, and fold it in a regular slope down to the bottom of the gown. Measure down the slope from the top, S, the distance of 2 nails, and put in a pin as a guide; cut off from the bottom upwards to T, and rounding it off at the corner, slope along T K for the sleeve, allowing 1 1/2 nail width for the wrist . In making it up, the seams should be joined with a mantua-maker's hem and a band should be sewn on the inside of the front, to be 6 nails in length, and about 1 1/2 nail below the neck. Cut a button-hole in the gown at each end of the band, draw with a bodkin a piece of tape through one hole, and fasten it down at the other extremity of the band; do the same with the other button-hole, so that on pulling the tapes, the gown will be drawn up, and neatly fulled in the front."

I used some 5/8 inch twill tape to create this band on the inside.

I used 1/4 inch twill tape to pull it up, and did the button-holes with a waxed linen thread.

This was quite fun to 'neatly full' in the front, however it left the actual neck large and floppy. There are no instructions whatever here about finishing the neck, but there is a line in the plate which looks like a drawstring casing.

So I turned the neck under to create the casing, and made two more buttonholes in the front for a drawstring. I used more 1/4 twill tape for the string. All the tape you see here came from William Booth, Draper at the Sign of the Unicorn. 

This allows you to draw up the neck to match the middle, so I have to assume it is supposed to happen, it just somehow didn't make it into the actual written directions.

So, having gone through two of these projects now, my big takeaway is that you definitely need to compare the plate and directions, and use your best judgement. 

Now, to get it all packed up and in the mail for the final two weeks of Dickens!