Saturday, January 23, 2016


William Sidney Mount created this fantastic Rustic Dance After a Sleigh Ride. It's a chance to study everyday life in New York around 1830. Just look at it. So much going on here. Let's just focus on men's neckware for now. Dancing machine, in his yellow waistcoat, opted for droopy comfort: unbuttoning his shirt collar and tying on a kerchief.

More formal chap, in black, either added whalebone support for his red neck cloth or he is wearing a stock. The secret to stocks, all the high collars on the coats, and the crisp edges on the men's garments is buckram. Most commonly linen, buckram is an interface material that is stiff, flexible, waterproof and can be ironed. Buckram's secret is one of humankind's oldest trade items: plant gum.

Desert plants evolved an interesting way of defending against scrapes and cuts. Cellulose breakdown creates a sticky fluid that hardens in air. Goat's thorn, which grows abundantly in Iran, produces Gum tragacanth. Tragacanth is still used in an insane number of products, from pastels, to cake decoration, as a burn salve, and to stick cigars closed. It's harder to obtain, but unlike other gums it doesn't stick to itself. "Gum dragon" as it was called, was common in 18th and 19th century tailoring and leather work.

    Gum arabic comes from several species of Acacia trees found in Sudan. It's used in shoe polish, envelope adhesive, drug capsules, in ceramic glazes and painting. Either gum can be found in liquid and powdered form. Arabic dissolves in water, but it takes twenty four hours. Mix two parts water to one part powder. Refrigeration is required for long term storage.

Brush it on thinly, both sides of the cloth and allow to dry. The result is vaguely like fiberglass, and nothing like linen with the sizing still in it. Powder is cheaper, but tedious to mix, best for small batches. Leather and cake suppliers are the best source for liquid gum dragon. One coat is pretty stiff, but two can't hurt. MOST important: the cloth shrinks when it dries. Make a big enough sheet to cut out all the parts you need.


  1. Thank you for this interesting article. Waterproofed! I suppose it was also used in millinery? I usually go for cardboard or the already prepared buckram, but it would be interesting to give this a try.


  2. Glad you like! I've seen paper and cardboard in period caps and wallets. The commercial buckram is thicker material. The nice thing about the goo is you can use plain linen and put any number of coats on it. It reminds me of Fraycheck. I've heard of a pair of stays in Missouri made from "paste." I wonder if it's gum.