Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lemonade Tasting...and the Winner is...

We hosted a lemonade tasting at an event this past weekend: three period recipes and one "ringer", with participants voting for their favorite.

I chose "portable lemonade" as my entry:


Take of tartaric acid, half an ounce; loaf sugar, three ounces; essence of lemon, half a drachm.

Powder the tartaric acid and sugar very fine in a marble or Wedgewood mortar; mix them together, and pour the essence of lemon upon them, but a few drops at a time, stirring the mixture after each addition, till the whole is added; then mix them thoroughly, and divide it into twelve equal parts, wrapping each up separately in a piece of white paper. When wanted for use, it is only necessary to dissolve it in a tumbler of cold water, and fine lemonade will be obtained, containing the flavor of the juice and peel of the lemon, and ready sweetened.

Godey's Lady's Book
January 1863

Some modern equivalents:

Tartaric acid = Cream of tartar
Loaf Sugar = Granulated sugar
Essence of lemon  = Lemon Extract

The taste was very lightly sweet, with just a touch of lemon and quite refreshing on a hot day - I might try making my own lemon extract next time.

And the winning recipe? 

Instant Country Time!!!!

Most people were a bit embarrassed when informed that they had voted for the modern powder, but I think it just illustrates a couple points:

1.) The difference between modern and period expectations regarding sweetness and flavor profiles, and

2.) Most people gravitate towards the familiar and Country Time lemonade is far more common than any of our period receipts.

Over the past couple years, our group has been really delving into period foodways and we've found it a great way to interact with the public - after all, we all eat!  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Perils of Online Research or Why It's Important to Evaluate Your Sources

My most recent post, "Taking to the Water - Part 6", created a bit of controversy, particularly my assertion that short sleeves were not appropriate for 1860's bathing costumes.

Rather than continuing the back and forth comments, I thought I would discuss my research methods and why I have reached my conclusions.

Here's an image that was presented to me as evidence in favor or short sleeves, note the lady on the far right:

And here's another version of that image:

I found both  images while doing my research; while similar, there are differences - the background, the position of the ladies, the length of the jacket in the "pant suit", the length of the skirts, the sleeves on one lady and most significantly, the documentation of when and where the images were originally published.

Image #1 is said to date to 1863, on the Graceful Lady website, with the name of the publication unknown.It does not appear in either the 1863 Godey's or Peterson's magazines, as I have bound copies in my personal collection that I double checked .

The only place I find Image #1 published, is on the cover of the Harriet's "Three Piece Bather" pattern, stated to be circa 1862 - hardly a quality reference source .

However, I know exactly when and where image #2 was published: Godey's July 1864 and descriptions of each outfit are included - it's sitting on the desk next to me, so easy to verify.

Therefore, Image #2 is currently a much stronger primary reference, it can be placed in an exact time and place. Until the same can be said of Image #1, I will not use it as a basis for any conclusions. However, if I ever can document the image, I will reevaluate my conclusions.

Here's another image, presented as evidence:

The source is a Flicker account, with the only description "Bathing Dresses 1864".

A bit of searching revealed that the plate is in the collection of the Claremont Colleges Digital Library, part of
the Myrtle Tyrrell Kirby Fashion Plate Collection comprises 650 images of nineteenth-century fashion plates from the Macpherson Collection of the Ella Strong Denison Library at Scripps College. The collection was donated to the Denison Library in 1948.

The full-color fashion plates in the Kirby collection were culled from a variety of women's periodicals and
other mass-circulating works published between 1789 and 1914. The images are primarily from France, Britain, America, and Spain.

The provided description of this plate gives two differing dates - 1867 and based on a handwritten comment, 1864. No source of publication is given, as it's just a single page, however it seems safe to assume either Britain or the US based on the use of English.

The person who pointed out this plate also found it in "Fashions and Costumes from Godey's Lady's Book" edited by Stella Blum,with a date of July 1865.

Back to my bookshelf...and it's not in the July 1865 Godey's.

So once again, we have a fashion plate with no firm date and no source. It's a real shame, as it's a charming plate.

Having looked at many plates over the past weeks, I feel the plate may date to the early 1870's - the narrowing and shortening of the trousers certainly point in that direction.

This is another bit of evidence that requires more research before it can be definitively used.

Here's another example presented to refute my conclusion regarding short sleeves, a bathing suit once listed on the Karen Augusta site:

It's provenance is given as "Late 1860's bathing costume, was purchased from Doris Langley Moore (legendary British fashion historian) by an important American collector. She collected American and European clothing during the decades of the 1940s through 1980s".

That note of European clothing is important, as I do not believe this suit is of American origin. In Claudia Kidwell's,  Women's Bathing and Swimming Costume in the United States , she states the following:

"American women seem to have accepted the majority of styles shown in European fashion plates, except for the skirtless bathing suits. The writer of an 1868 column on New York fashions sought to convince his readers to try the more daring European style although he grudgingly admitted that the “Bathing suits made with trousers and blouse waist without skirt are objected to by many ladies as masculine and fast....” This style was in fact, very similar to the costume worn by men when they bathed with the ladies. A year later, the writer of the same fashion column had given up the campaign to dress all women in the skirtless suits and admitted that these imports “... are worn by expert swimmers, who do not wish to be encumbered with bulky clothing.” Such practical bathing dress was thus limited to a very small number of progressive women.
The majority, consisting of those who were strictly bathers, wore the ankle-length drawers beneath a long dress as described or illustrated in the majority of sources that originated in the United States. Why was the European bathing suit not fully adopted by American women? Differences between the bathing customs of the two continents undoubtedly encouraged the development of different dress. While men and women in the United States bathed together freely at the seashore during the latter half of the 19th century, this practice was not widely accepted in England until the early 1900s. In the presence of men, American women probably felt compelled to retain their more concealing dress and drawers.
In England swimming seems to have been more popular among women than it was in the United States. While encouraging its readers to swim, during the late 1860s,Queen’s Magazine used forceful language of a kind that was not found in American publications until the late 19th century. If swimming was more acceptable as a feminine exercise in England it is understandable why English women were more receptive to a functional, skirtless bathing suit—especially since it was worn only in the presence of other women."
When I'm researching any topic, I try to cast a very large net, I try to capture every bit of knowledge I can find. Having done that, I start to evaluate the strength and veracity of each bit - is it a primary source? Can it be verified? How does it fit with the other evidence? 
In the case of bathing costumes, I've found fashion plates with descriptions, I've found a very few original garments, I've found a very few extant photographs, I've found written lessons regarding swimming lessons, etc. 
When I sift through it all, some items need to be set aside, they just can't be sufficiently verified - I'm not rejecting them, but I'm not yet accepting them either. 
I need to use my knowledge of 1860's dress in general and short sleeves are not acceptable for adult women during the day in this time period.
Getting it "right" is very important to me and I'd rather err to the side of being too conservative when creating my 1860's clothing - I can always cut the sleeves off if future research shows it to be within the norm.
So I currently stand by my conclusion that short sleeved bathing costumes are not appropriate in the 1860's - at least in America. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Taking to the Water - Part 6

The goal of this series, "Taking to the Water" is to construct mid-19th century bathing costumes, and I think it's time to share some images of ladies who have done just that!

I found the photo above online and it's one of my favorites - I think this is a great interpretation, with a definite nautical feeling, but yet feminine with with the ruffles and scalloped hem.

The next several photos were taken at the 2009 Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860's conference. You'll notice quite a range of trim options and trouser styles:

Some of the ladies did not intend their costumes for bathing, but for gymnastics or other physical pursuits.

Here's another found online, and another great creation, although the short sleeves are not appropriate for an 1860's interpretation.

Here's one created from this year's "conference fabric":

And here's the original used as inspiration:

The original is a short, pleated skirt dress made of wool with trim of wool braid. The trousers have a yoke of cotton, to reduce bulk at the waist and are lined with a polka dot cotton - a detail included on the reproduction trousers!

I have my wool and I'm currently looking for coordinating wool braid (that I can afford!) and I will be sharing my very first costume diary with you throughout the construction phase - so more to come!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Decay - May 2012 Bead Journal Project

 My rune stone for May is "Decay" - very much complementary to my April piece "Growth".

Decay is yet another force that on the surface seems negative; yet imagine a world where nothing decayed - "stuff" of every kind, piling up around us, nothing breaking down and being reused - life would simply be unlivable,  as life on earth is based on smaller organisms breaking down the larger and creating nutrients as a byproduct. Many of the agents of decay are not terribly attractive, but some are quite beautiful, like the fungus that dot the forest floor each autumn,

Decay is just another form of transformation, neither positive or negative, just necessary!

I have again used a Mackinac beach stone as a base, with another beach find as my focal piece - some kind of rusty widget. I especially like the little pebble wedged in the bend. I made sure the base stone was visible through the hole in the widget.

I created a bezel using yet more decayed items - Victorian era cut steel beads from an old evening bag; I love the mix of rust and shine. They are also a good example of my own personal transformation - I began beading by reproducing Edwardian beaded evening bags and have now moved in a completely different direction.

On the back is another rusty bit, with lovely patina, roughly wired into place.

I showed this to an artist friend of mine and was surprised when she described it as "dainty" - what do you think? 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Taking to the Water - Part 5

I have to say, I really hope none of our bathing party attendees decide to adopt this particular bathing costume!

So what's a bathing machine?

The bathing machine was like a box on wheels; it was about six feet in length and width, and about eight feet high, with a peaked roof.  Some had solid wooden walls; others had canvas walls over a wooden frame. The bathing machine had a door behind and in front, and as the floor was four feet above the ground, it had to be reached by a step-ladder.  The only light was from an unglazed opening in the roof; there was no mirror, and no fresh-water. The bathing machine was wheeled or slid down into the water; some were pulled in and out of the surf by a pair of horses with a driver and others by human power.

Bathing machines originated at a time when beaches were segregated by gender and bathing was typically done in the nude.

The bathing machine provided a place to remove the street clothes and change into bathing costume and they also eliminated the need to walk from the shore into the water and back - especially important once the clothing was wet and clinging to the figure. 

This may initially seem needlessly modest but how many of us wrap up in a towel or other cover up for that same walk?    

Female attendants or "dippers", were available to aid the lady of uncertain swimming abilities or a rope might be placed around the waist.

My husband was quite pleased that my research showed bathing machines to be much more common in Europe, especially England, than in the United States. He was even more pleased when I discovered they were only used at the ocean - not lakes. I still think it would be way to fun to create and use a bathing machine, but alas, it would not be correct!