January 28, 2013

Commonplace Books

A commonplace book is a scrapbook where the author can record various important pieces of information that they want to remember. They were popular throughout the ages and were especially popular in early America, as paper and books were much scarcer than they are today.

Many commonplace books held facts, recipes, thoughts, weight conversions, important dates,letters and newspaper clippings. The act of keeping a commonplace book was called "commonplacing" and the technique was taught at Harvard so the students there would remember more. In a time before quick and easy information access, these commonplace books could be a lifesaver when a certain address, medicinal recipe or quote was needed for oneself or to share with a friend.

These weren't so much journals or scrapbooks but a mixture of both. Unlike journals, they contained some information copied from other sources. Their main value was to aid the memory of the author but are particularly interesting to historians because it gives a glimpse into what a particular author found interesting or thought was important.  

Commonplace books exist for many historical figures such as Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Jefferson,  Even as books became more prevalent and cheaper, many people still kept commonplace books because of their advantages. 

Commonplace books facilitated memory and the sharing of ideas. In modern times, the use of a commonplace book has been compared to sites like Pinterest, where users can "clip" different websites, pin them on a virtual pin board and share them with their friends.

Even in modern times, a commonplace book is an interesting idea because you can see how your interests change over the years. It's harder to keep track of the changes that occur in ones interests using the internet and it is also not something you can keep in the family. Commonplace books are one of those things that have value to the people close to you but would be seen as pointless to anyone who didn't know the author. I think it is still important to create physical records especially as we create more and more digital records. Digital records are great but there is something special about being able to to hold a family keepsake.  

January 21, 2013

1861 Ladies' Wool Tie Pattern

It's a bit late for New Year's but here's a quick knitting pattern from 1861. The knitted tie is bordered with imitation, knitted ermine which was popular at the time. It has fallen out of fashion in modern times to give New Year's gifts but it's still a neat idea.

All of my period knitting items use the conversion table and information written by Collen Formby. If you haven't read that article, it's a lifesaver when trying to create period knitting projects.

I like that this tie would create a bit of warmth around the neck without adding a lot of bulk. It would also be a way to add a bit of color to an otherwise plain dress. The full pattern in the book includes a set of matching cuffs.

One thing about 1850s clothing that looks really strange to our modern eyes is the use of matching which looks excessive to us. For instance, it was popular for women to wear two identical bracelets, one on each wrist. Women might also wear a large "show piece" necklace with equally large matching earrings.Today we would consider the looks gaudy.

Unfortunately every once in a while, my historical wardrobe will sneak into my modern one and I'll find myself over-jeweled in a way that looks almost sarcastic today. Only one of the few problems with trying to be stylish in multiple centuries. :)     

January 15, 2013

The Dressmaker's Guide 1840-1865: A Review

I have been meaning to review the Dressmaker's Guide 1840-1865 by Elizabeth Stewart Clark since I got it last year at the Cedar Creek reenactment. I had been meaning to buy it for ages, but with the little time I had for sewing and reading this past year, it had to be put off. I was really looking forward to getting a hold of a copy because the writings of Elizabeth Stewart Clark and the Sewing Academy are very helpful.

The biggest reason that I am reviewing this book is the price. Like with many books written for a niche, the price is a little steep and at $30 I was hesitant to buy a copy until I had one in my hands to look at. It only took a 30 second look over before I was checking out with it, purely for the patterns contained therein, if nothing else.

Patterns in the Book include:

-Basic Chemise
-Split Drawers
-Varying Petticoats
-Corded Petticoats
-Simple Cage
-Bodices and bodice variations
Pretty much a full wardrobe! 

Not only are there patterns but tips for fitting and measuring. I have never attempted to draft complicated patterns but this book gives you all the necessary information to do so. The patterns are tailored to your measurements and not the "small size pattern, enlarge it yourself" kind. This has actually become more important to me. When I started reenacting, I could make those small, teenage sized garments with few adjustments but as I got curvier, those patterns started needing more and more adjusting to the point that the patterns were virtually useless. Many women can attest to this same problem. If you've had some sewing experience, the patterns in this book are not out of your reach.

The Dressmaker's Guide is also full of textile and fashion knowledge. Clark breaks down different types of fabric and their appropriate uses as well as covers tools, techniques and clothing related aspects of 19th century living.  

 I had high expectations of this book, but the book surpassed even my highest expectations. Very rarely am I completely happy with an expensive book purchase because I am very frugal by nature, but this book is completely worth it. There's nothing worse than buying a book only to realize that it has nothing new to add that your current book collection doesn't already offer.

This book should be on bookshelf of every lady reenactor.    

January 10, 2013

The Beginnings of Spring

It seems as if we are not going to have a particularly cold or long winter. Typically in winter, I feel so cooped up in the house that I cannot wait for those first glimpses of spring. The bleak, dreary winter normally has me anxiously searching for little green buds protruding from the snow and birds collecting together on small patches of grass.

But this winter was hardly a winter. I miss the beauty and silence of winter. I enjoyed the few short snows we've had.

After the snows ended, I went for a walk to enjoy the last signs of winter. I saw these adorable squirrels playing with each other. They looked like brothers, making mischief.

The snow in my back yard from that last sprinkle was beautiful. I liked how each fence board had a tiny tuft of snow sitting on it. After this sprinkle, the yard was covered in tiny cat paw prints.

 This was taken at a local park. The frozen lake was stunning. I just fell in love with the colors on it. 

This tree looked like it had something to say.

This is probably the end of winter this year. Reenacting season fast approaches. I usually use those snow days to get sewing and knitting done but this year absolutely nothing new was sewn.

I've really been wanting a dressier new dress. I'm not the female reenactor who owns trunks of dresses. I just have two very simple ones that I have been wearing for years.

I think I'm finally ready to attempt draping my own bodice with the help of Elizabeth Stewart Clark's Dressmaker's Guide. I'm a notoriously bad fitter and it typically takes me 1,000 tries to get something to fit properly.

I do look forward to seeing all of the sewing projects from the Historical Sew Fortnightly, a blogger challenge to sew 26 historical garments. I'll be lucky if I finish one or two this year. :)

I hope everything is well with everyone and that you got to enjoy some winter fun.

January 7, 2013

Open Letter to the Boy Who Found My Blog Twice, Using the Query "Do Girls Think Reenactors are Lame?"

Dear Deeply Misguided (possible) Reenactor,

No. Girls don't think reenactors are lame. Really.

That's the short answer. I can personally vouch, once you go reenactor, anything else seems too normal (read: boring.) And while, I am not all girls, there are plenty of girls totally into it.


There are a lot of reasons that girls like reenactors. Here are some possible reasons below:

1. Guys who reenact tend to like history. People who tend to like history tend to read books and research. People who read books and research tend to be smart. So many reenactors (the variety  that is invested in history) tend to be smart. Smart guys impress the girls. 

2. Guys who reenact have a passion. Guys with passions are far more interesting than guys who just "hang out" or like "stuff." 

3. Not only that, guys who reenact have a passion that girls can understand. Many girls will be impressed by your understanding of the evolution of fashion and your ability to perform basic alterations. If you can't sew and she can, she'll be happy to help you out. If you can sew and she can't, you can sew for her. It's win-win.

4. Girls like gentlemen and guys who reenact have a chance to perfect their mannerisms and many do. This is a big deal. Girls like honest gentlemen who know they will respect them at all times. 

5. Reenactors dance, ladies love to dance. Plus, you can take her to a ball. What other kind of guy can do that?   

6. Reenactors tend to travel all over the country. Traveling makes people more interesting and more aware. She might even want to go too. 

7. Reenactors are tough. They have a hobby where they sleep on the ground in the cold, eat food not suited to the modern palate and wear wool in the summer. 

8. Reenactors are adaptable. This comes from long strings of events where everything goes wrong. Important tools are left behind, important people don't show up, and tents fly away. This adaptability is an awesome relationship skill. Car break down on a date? A reenactor will keep a girl laughing and in good spirits. 

9. Reenactors hang out with people of all ages. They can get along with a lot of people. They fit into families quite well. At Christmas dinner a nice reenacting guy can chat up a girl's grannie and play soldiers with little Tommy, instantly becoming a family favorite. Girl's value guys who get along and are well liked by her family.

10. Reenacting tends to be family oriented. Ladies like that, at least the ones worth pursuing like family oriented activities. Many of them want families someday. Family values are a major plus.

11. Reenactors have interesting stories that are pretty out of the ordinary. They spend their spare time doing interesting things. Interesting is good. 

That's the long answer. Obviously these are generalizations and it's unfair to generalize people but I thought about all of the reenacting men I know, which is a lot, and these are the traits a lot of them have in common. I also know that these won't apply to all girls. I clearly don't know your situation, but if reenacting is something you love, then you should only worry about girls who respect it, even if it isn't their thing. In addition, if any girl tells you reenacting is lame, she probably secretly knows that it's awesome. 

January 3, 2013

The Fruits of Your Labor

It's January and, as always, I've just received my gardening catalogs in the mail waiting to tempt me with their bright colors and juicy fruits. It always works. I'm not even thinking about a garden because of the frigid temperatures and the frozen ground but once those catalogs come, I'm planning the gardens of Versailles.

I've always had a very small garden. I am very limited in what I can grow so I normally have two small raised beds with tomatoes, green peppers, green onion, etc. and one raised bed of experimental vegetables. Last year, my experimental vegetables were leeks and onions. The leeks grew nice, but if I was to do it again, I would buy plants instead of starting from seeds. The leeks take two years to reach a good cooking size. The onions didn't grow as planned. They sprouted a lot of leaves but stayed tiny bulbs. I don't know what I did wrong, but probably won't try again until I get more space.

This year, I think I'm doing away with the experimental bed and just planting herbs like I've always threatened. No, really this time. :) Then again, half of the fun of gardening might be those plants that are planted just for fun.

Did you know that I was afraid to eat my garden produce for a long time? Yes, I know that's crazy. I used to think that I might have done something wrong and it would kill everyone. I thought that the produce you get at the grocery store must be grown in tested dirt and cleaned a special way to make it safe. :) As much as I laugh about that now, I'm not surprised that a lot of people think the way I used to. Maybe it's the fact that you see dirt on the vegetables that you pick yourself and at the store it looks squeaky clean. However, I also feel that society as a whole tends to perpetrate a myth that grocery store produce is somehow safer than homegrown food.

It also doesn't help that there have been a lot of ridiculous government incidents recently involving homegrown/cooked food, raw milk, privately raised meat etc. Those news articles about people having to pay huge fines for growing their own food are scary but what can be more natural than growing what you eat? You see it from seed to plate. My only limitation is my tiny plot.

Tips for people with tiny gardens:

1. Practice cooking vegetables. This sounds silly but once you have a lot, you'll have to use them in everything. For the time you don't have a big garden, collect recipes that include a lot of the produce you wish to grow someday. 

2. Grow what is cost effective or what is fun. If you aren't worried about cost, you can grow what is fun. If you have limited means grow things that grow easy in your area and are cost effective. Plants like lettuce, green peppers, tomatoes can typically be grown with little effort and are a lot cheaper than they cost in the store. I've never had luck with veggies like carrots so they've always been cheaper for me to buy. 

3. Think creatively about what can be used for planting. I've long had a deck garden of tomato plants in various plastic tubs. Herb plants can be grown in small pots in the kitchen. Plants can be grown in hanging pots. I've even seen some creative "vertical gardens," such as this one made in a shoe organizer. I'm not sure I'd grow tomatoes in there but that would be perfect for keeping herbs away from small critters. 

4. Borrow space. See if your local 4H or park has a garden club or gardening space for rent. If you are really lucky, you may even be able to borrow some land from a friend. 

5. If allowed in your area, consider edible landscaping. This would be my goal, if I had a yard of my own. I've always wanted fruit trees. A house nearby does a little bit of edible landscaping, their driveway is lined by rows of veggies, from smallest to tallest having root veggies in the front and corn in the back.     

Is anyone else starting the garden plans already? I am even more intensely inspired because I read an account of a woman who recreated the historical colonial gardens where I work, back in the 80s. The colonial accounts from women she included were interesting and made gardening seem like the natural way of things.  

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