Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What Cheer, Netop?

Time to retire, after the most extraordinary history day yet. John Brown House returned to 1799 Saturday. The Browns, their friends and servants, took tea in period bowls and sat on antique chairs and sofas. The inhabitants were interpreters who studied period sources for weeks to play people who lived and worked in the home at the start of the 19th century.

Along with their duties, maids served as guides for visitors and related gossip as the day progressed. Stairs made their task even more strenuous.

The late 18th-century coat barely survived. It went together (too) quickly for the event and has some flaws that need to be addressed. The lining side actually tore. The sleeve lining seam pulled away, but the outside remained unscathed. The cuffs need to be removed and rotated out slightly.

The collar is a nuisance. The top button needs to be moved out, or a third one added. Pad stitching is uncommon in this period, but some stabilizing stitches could help. Steaming and shaping are good idea. The tails are too long. Stay tuned for improvements.

The creator of all this historic madness is our own Kitty Calash. We used her dishes, cutlery, and &c. The Brown's letters, journals, and articles on late 18th-century Providence were shared online. Participants were selected based on age matches to historic figures. Past What Cheer Days had a script and schedule, but the free-form version worked just as well.

Brown family artifacts and furniture, items with Rhode Island provenance, were safe in the corners, as less valuable antiques took their place. Modern lighting disappeared. As it was a gray day the house was dark (history is darker than you think.)

An outline of the day got us rolling, and interaction improvised. Before long visitors were following characters room to room as the drama unfolded. It was as cool as it sounds.

(all event photos by J.D. Kay)


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Under Pressure

Okay, so maybe two coats at once (plus ancillaries) is a bit much. Luckily, one of them is supposed to look half-assed. Both projects are interesting, it's only a question of getting both done on time. Here is the faux-cuff stotted to the sleeve. Regimental coats in this period have sleeves that end right at the wrist.

 Looks like the poor Baltimore contract worker who is making these coats has cats. While construction continues, research is ongoing into the appearance of these coats. Blue and red seems a safe bet. A thorough search of Nathaniel Greene's papers, 1780-81 is in order.

Meanwhile, work on the super-fiddly 1799 coat proceeds. Here it is inside out, over a shirt and waistcoat. Hemp canvas interfacing helps shape the body, but lack of pad-stitching means things can slide around. All the front edges of the coat have been turned and whipped to the canvas. The interfacing tends to curl around the shoulder seams, so the canvas edges are whipped together over the pressed-open wool seams.  Like the 19th-century tailcoat, this has ridiculous lapels, but they are totally separate from the Elvis-like collar. It's really more cape than coat.

Cheryl agreed to the tedious task of providing silk Death Head buttons for this project. With the silk tail lining, just the right amount of pimp. Thirty-one days till showtime.  Hope to finish a new neck cloth and get some boots in the mail before then.

A close up of the chaos under the shirt sleeve. The pocket bag peeks out from the interfacing, complete with back stitches to hold the under flap in place. A pencil/chalk line marks were the outer pocket flap gets sewn to the body.  Once they are in place, the lining can start.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pew and Pocket Flaps

Great times were had at Frederick, Maryland. Chaps from the Fort Dobbs garrison and the Fort Pitt Museum formed a combined company of North Carolina Provincials serving with General Forbes in 1758. Good lads. Brandyn Charlton took this Last of the Mohicans shot of us. In the background is the 300-year-old road built by the people we are portaying.

There is something satisfying about marching with an axe or spade instead of a musket. Roadwork was part of the scenario, a job the Provincials performed, even though the public couldn't see it. Shovelling dirt into ruts in the heat, felling trees, all while dressed like Natives may sound boring, but many Carolina men arrived in Maryland without weapons or much else. There was even a coffin maker in the camp to keep us honest. Pew is losing it's appeal.

Here are the front and back of the 1780s Continental Army pocket flaps. These snazzy buggers are purely decorative and vertical, not unlike those on Light Infantry coats in the period. Holes are punched in the cloth, and the shanks are secured with linen tape sewn to the back. Yes, the USA acronym is that old. This is the Kochan and Philips French Blue cloth that was color matched to a surviving American uniform fragment. To save money, the coat is short, with no functional bits.

Equipping and clothing the US Army every year became a headache for the bankrupt Congress. Lack of shoes, hats, small clothes, gear, even food was common. France helped, and some of the clothing was made there under contract.

Things are looking up by 1799. This gentleman's coat is made from fine black cloth, and lined with green silk. Along with custom Death's Head buttons and giant pocket flaps, these under pocket flaps secure the opening and keep the pocket bag from stretching. Less cost-cutting here. The nine-piece lining is made from three different materials depending on visibility. The back and sleeves are cheap cotton.

Fatigue cap scraps will be useful when it comes to the cuffs on the Continental coat. A combination of stotting and piecing will simulate frugal construction. In the experimental history department: how did folks in the past deal with Poison Ivy? Perhaps it wasn't as much of a problem then.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Heat is On

Salem Massachucetts is hot. A good time to don 1804 attire and become an accountant in a West India Goods Store for the Annual Maritime Festival. Since the building is normally an NPS office, visitors are slightly confused when it magically tranforms into a store. More so when Kitty fills it with some tiny fraction of her 19th-century collection that isn't for sale.

At left is the stock throughly sweated with heat applied. It dried in this grotesque shape. Lesson learned, reshape the buckram while still wet.

The Cossacks (too late for 1804) are nearly done. All they need are stirrups to pull the fancy toe cutout down over the shoe. Like Rick James. New Morroco braces with springs are in the planning stages, but more pressing matters intrude.

What Cheer Day nears, and will require a gentlemen's 1799 coat. The traditional black wool of a physician, complete with giant collar and lapels should do. Why not make two coats at once? Fort Dobbs Timeline deserves an accurate Maryland or Delaware Continental who fought in the Carolinas. The 1781 regimental coat is a model of cheapness and expediency. The old veterans were not impressed. Still, USA buttons and better than being naked.

Our WCD character, Dr. Bowen will need breeches and some ruffles on his shirt. Rather than retire the Invincibles trousers, why not convert them to breeches?

The tops of the Cossacks are enough to make a child cry. It's the feeling you get when you open a box in a museum collection and ask "who would wear these?" Can't wait to wear the whole mess.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

An Adventure

Historic homes are a pleasant fiction. Most held generations of families or were sold more than once. They may have been gutted or had plumbing and heating installed. To restore them back to a particular year seems impossible. How do you know how they were before?

First, what walls have been moved/removed? What going on with the stairs? What were the rooms used for originally? Fortunate is the curator who has an inventory of all the furniture by room. Mostly it's guesswork. But what if a direct descendant, living four hours away, offers to donate a bed that was known to be in the house 200 years ago? Just needs to be picked up.  That's an adventure worth having. Kitty's job took us to the wilds of Vermont. Driving a large cargo van is an exercise in faith. Best just to shout "WITNESS ME!" When changing lanes.

The donor is delightful, a wise woman of 85. Like the house it came from, the bed had been upgraded, it's rope pegs cut off to take a modern box spring. The handiwork was unmistakable: small carved roman numerals marked every groove and slot. The hand carved posts are perfection. You know you are in Vermont's hinterlands when Google's hotel and dining recommendations start near Montreal.

Time to tackle the terror of flap pockets. Here is the back of the trousers and pocket (with cover in place.) The top of the bag back will act as trouser front for the waistband. The L-shaped bit at bottom left is where the flap stops and the leg seam begins. It's confusing. There are more photos here. It's easier to assemble the pants first, then sew the pockets together. Just don't sew the flap to anything.

Here is the even more confusing front. The bag front is pinned on, and the L-cuts don't match the trouser fronts exactly. Not a problem since the whole thing gets trapped in the seam. Pleats peek out from the pocket edge, and the stripey bearer lining is evident. The edge of that wonky L-notch on top lines up with the bag back and completes the waistband front.  Next come the waistband, buttons and button holes and the outside leg seams.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


On the left, a trouser front with the bearer and fall welt pinned wrong side along the fall cut location. There is a strip of interfacing on the back centered on the future cut. Kanniks Korner directions have you sew everything, then cut the fall, which was done here.

On the right, the cut is made, the bearer tucked under, and the striped lining whipped over the cut edge. The welt gets folded, origami style, around an interfacing piece. More details are here. Super narrow fall on these babies.

The stock got a band and a five-piece faux bow. This is similar to neckware at GCV right down to the odd detail of both tails in back.  Here it is before gathering for the knot. Anyone who has made cockades or put bows on bonnets will recognize this. Once the bow and band are gathered and knot applied, the band end is sewn down. Stock finished.

Friday, July 8, 2016


So there's THIS guy.

He's hiding in the background of William Sidney Mount's Rustic Dance After A Sleigh Ride. The suit is damn fresh, but check out the pleats in those trousers. Early 19th century fashion went bonkers with trousers. There were tight, lower-calf hugging Pantaloons, Moschettos with feet or shoe tops like overalls. Breeches were still worn for dress occasions, but hipsters wore long pants.

Alexander I brought Cossack dress to London and the result was ridiculous. Think MC Hammer with stirrups. The remarkable number of these that survive in museum collections may indicate how embarrassed their wearers were after one outing in them.  Our hero appears to be wearing a less baggy version.

Holy hell. There might just be enough checked material left, but only if the legs are a reasonable dimension. The pleats might make the wearer look less frog-like. Since the coat turned out well, let's go back to Laughing Moon for the pattern. It includes most waist sizes for all the different crazy trouser patterns from the period, even a cord pattern for Pantaloon Trousers.

Remember the yellow trousers are too short on top and only come down to the ankles. Adding two inches to the top and three to the bottom solves both problems. Hopefully the stirrups will last awhile since they ride on the instep.

Here is the watch pocket bag pushed through the slit in the waistband and interfacing. A self fabric cover hides the bag back. Heaven forbid a bit of white shows when opening your pockets. Next time more stock progress and Cossacks continue.