Thursday, July 31, 2008

Civil War CdV (Cartes de Visite)

CdV's, or Cartes de Visite which means business card or calling card in French, were very popular during the civil war. Patented in 1854 by Andre Disdéri a Parisian photographer, CdVs were inexpensive to make and people could purchase portraits of themselves in large quantities to pass out to family and friends. The CdV's measured approximately 4 1/2 x 2 1/2" which made them easy to collect.

Popularity of the CdV's peaked between 1863 and 1876. Abraham Lincoln, General Grant, and General Robert E. Lee are some of the more collectible CdV's today as well as civil war soldiers. I on the other hand love to collect portraits of the women. They give me a first hand look at the dresses of the time.

Pictured is one of my favorite CdV's. The lady in the picture has on some rather large cameo earrings! The dress is just beautiful. The style of the dress is a Victorian Era Day Dress. I love to buy, sell, collect, and trade CdVs. This one is listed in my Etsy store along with some others.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

1860's Work Dress

When we think of the civil war era most often we think of hoop dresses and silk ball gowns. Yet not all women could afford the nice dresses. For the working class or farm women, they needed to wear something a little more practical than a bulky hoop.

Work dress resembled day dresses only the skirts were not as full. Under their skirts they would wear a corded petticoat or a couple layers of regular petticoats. The sleeves would be made to roll up such as the full gathered bishop sleeve. Women who did not have servants needed to be able to scrub their own laundry, weed the garden, beat the rugs and so much more.
Women were thrifty so they still wanted to protect their work dresses as best as they could so they wore pinner aprons. Pinner aprons covered the front of the dress and consisted of a bib that covered the bodice of the dress and a half skirt that covered the front skirt. It tied at the waist. Two straight pins held the bib up, hence the name, pinner aprons. Pinner aprons were easy to make and took less fabric than the dress.

For civil war reenacting and living histories the work dress is often called a camp dress. Women reenactors wear this style dress while they are cooking over the fire in the civil war camps.

My civil war ancestors were all Virginia farmers. They did not own slaves and had to do their own work. They were hard workers. So when doing living histories I love to portray a farm woman in tribute to them.

Monday, July 28, 2008

1861 Victorian Civil War Wrapper

The dress pictured is from my 1861 Godey's book and features a dress known as a wrapper. I love the trim work on this dress. Notice how the dress buttons all the way down the front? By buttoning down the front it made it easier for women to put it on. They could wrap the dress around themselves hence the name wrapper.

Many women wore wrappers in the early morning hours before visitors would come by. Much like we may wear a robe today. Wrappers were also very common among pregnant women and nursing mamas.

The dress in the picture is nicer than a basic wrapper and could be worn as a visiting or calling dress.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I have been out of town this weekend and have not be able to add to my blog. Starting Monday I'll be adding some content on different styles of civil war dresses. So please check back to see what I add. Here is just an introduction!

As civil war reenactors, we are always trying to find new ways to make our impressions more authentic and believable. So many people will tell us that this or that fabric would not have been worn, or a woman would not be caught with out her hoop. But in times of war, sometime fashion just goes out the door. Julia Johnson Fisher, a woman of the civil war stated in a journal entry, "For three long years the world has been comparatively lost to us. We know nothing of the changes that have taken place during that time. In dress we are just where we were in 1860 - for fashion, but rags and wrinkles are more plentiful." Just what exactly did the women wear during the civil war, and what can we wear to help our impression?

To be continued!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Art of Reading Aloud

I love to read, but I also love to collect old books. Victorian era books were beautifully bound and make very pretty decorations. My two year old already loves books and enjoys being read to. But I have to admit that reading out loud is indeed a lost art. The following article was taken out of an 1861 Godey's Lady's Book.

"Reading aloud is one of those exercises which combine mental and muscular effort, and hence has a double advantage.

To read aloud well, a person should not only understand the subject, but should hear his own voice, and feel within him that every syllable was distinctly enunciated, while there is an instinct presiding which modulates the voice to the number and distance of the hearers. Every public speaker ought to be able to tell whether he is distinctly heard by the farthest auditor in the room; if he is not, it is from a want of proper judgment and observation.

Reading aloud helps to develop the lungs just as singing does, if properly performed. The effect is to induce the drawing of a long breath every once in a while, oftener and deeper than of reading without enunciating. these deep inhalations never fail to develop the capacity of the lungs in direct proportion to their practice.

Common consumption begins uniformly with imperfect, insufficient breathing; it is the characteristic of the disease that the breath becomes shorter and shorter through weary months, down to the close of life, and whatever counteracts that short breathing, whatever promotes deeper inspirations is curative to that extent, inevitably and under all circumstances. Let any person make the experiment by reading this page aloud, and in less than three minutes the instinct of a long breath will show itself. This reading aloud develops a weak voice and makes it sonorous.. it has great efficiency, also, in making the tones clear and distinct, freeing them from that annoying hoarseness which the unaccustomed reader exhibits before he has gone over half a page, when he has to stop and clear away, to the confusion of himself as much as that of the subject.

This loud reading when properly done, has a great agency in inducing vocal power, on the same principle that muscles are strengthened by exercise; those of voice-making organs being no exception to the general rule. Hence, in many cases, absolute silence diminishes the vocal power, just as the protracted non-use of the arm of the Hindoo devotee at length paralyzes it forever. the general plan, in appropriate cases, is to read aloud in a conversational tone, thrice a day, for a minute, or two, or three at a time, increasing a minute every other day, until half an hour is thus spent at a time, thrice a day, which is to be continued until the desired object is accomplished. Managed thus, there is safety and efficiency as a uniform result.

As a means, then, of health, of averting consumption, of being social and entertaining in any company, as a means of showing the quality of the mind, let reading aloud be considered an accomplishment far more indispensable than that of smattering French, or lisping Italian, or dancing cotillions, gallopades, polkas, and quadrilles." Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine February 1861

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Victorian Children

Living History Reenacting with children can be quite an adventure! My first son started reenacting with my husband and me when he was five months old, and my second son started when he was three months old. There are a lot of challenges to reenacting with children especially when camping over night! However it can be a lot of fun as well. Both of my boys love to dress up. And we are constantly being asked by photographers and spectators if they can take the boys pictures. But how can you resist!

Here is my two year old. He's an old pro at reenacting!
He even knows how not to smile at the camera!

I love to take my two year old's picture when he doesn't know I'm taking pictures.

The Shirt my son is wearing was drafted after an original boys shirt that I have in my collection!

Here's me and my three month old! Yes ALL Babies wore dresses!
Technically my two year old should still be in a dress but it does not go over very well even in the reenactment circle.

And here is my precious little boy!

White Garden Lily - Knitted Artificial Flowers

Here are knitting instructions form Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine March 1861. You are welcome to use these instructions however way you like. I have not made this myself, so if anyone makes it, feel free to live a comment about the difficultly of the instructions.

Six petals, six stamens, one pistil, are required to form each flower; two knitting-needles, NO. 19, and a skein of superfine white Shetland wool.

Cast on four stitches.
1st row. - Slip one, purl two, knit one
2d. - Make one, purl one, knit two, purl one.
3d. - Make one, knit one, purl two, knit two.
4th. - Make one, purl two, knit two, purl two.
5th - Make one, knit two, purl two, knit two, purl one.
6th - Make one, knit one, purl two, knit two, purl two, knit one.
7th - make one, purl one, knit two, and purl two alternately to the end of the row.
8th.- make one, knit two, purl two alternately to the end of the row.
9th.- Make one, purl two, knit two to end of row; knit last stitch plain.
10th- Make one, purl two, knit two to end of row; purl the last stitch.
11th - make one, knit one, knit and purl two alternately to the end of row.

You will now have fourteen inches, making seven ribs: continue these seven ribs until you have knitted a length of three inches from the beginning of the work. Break off the wool leaving a bit long enough to thread a rug needle with; with this needle take up seven stitches, which you must fasten off; then the other seven, and fasten in the same way, which completes one petal. Take a piece of fine wire sufficiently long to leave a small bit at the end for a stalk, and sew it neatly round the edge of the petal with white wood, which will make it in form.

Pistil. - cut a length of wire of about eight inches, fold a bit of green Berlin wool in six and split in two another bit of the same wool; place this lengthwise with the other wool, and place the wire across the wool, fold the wire down, and twist it as tightly as possible, thus in closing the wool; turn down the shortest end of the split wool, and twist the longest round it and the wire, so as to cover them evenly; fasten the wool with a slip-knot at the end of the stem. Cut off a part of the green wool at the top, so as to leave merely a neat little tuft of wool at the end of the wire.

Stamens are made in the same way as the pistil, merely using yellow Berlin wool instead of green, and covering the stem with white instead of green. Place one stamen with every petal, twisting the wires of both together. the pistil is to be placed in the centre of the flowers when made up. Sew the petals together, leaving them open about an inch at the top, as neatly as possible, and draw them close at the bottom, twisting the stems together.

Buds.- several buds are required; the large ones are of a very pale shade of green, the smaller ones of rather deeper color. they look best in double knitting, and should be done in different sizes from twelve to twenty stitches. Knit about an inch of these different widths, and open them like a little bag. Take a piece of coarse wire, double some common wool about the thickness of your finger, put it across the wire, which must be folded down and twisted very tight; put this wool into the little bag, and gather the stitches of the bud at the top, catching the wire with your needle to fasten it. this will form the shape of the bud; fasten the stitches also at the bottom, and cover the stem with green wool split in two.

Leaves- Different shades and sizes are required. Begin them all at the top, casting on four stitches; they look best in double knitting, without putting the wool twice round the needle; increase one stitch every second or third row, till you have eight stitches for the smallest, and sixteen for the largest size. Continue to knit without increase, till the leaf is the required length. The longest should be about a finger length, the smaller in proportion. the longest must be placed at the bottom of the stem when making up.

To finish a leaf, pull your needle out, and thread a rug needle with the wool, and pass it through the stitches so as to form a little bag, into which you must insert a bit of double wire; catch this at the top or sides to fix it, and it will keep the leaf in shape. Draw the wool tight on the while the stitches are threaded, and twist the wool at bottom round the little stem.

The next operation consists in mounting the branch. Begin at the top with the smallest bud, round the stem of which some green wire must be twisted. fix it at the top of a piece of bonnet wire, the length required for the long stem; continue to twist the wool round, and thus fasten the second bud, and the rest in the same way, at very small intervals. the flowers are fastened in a similar manner, according to taste, adding the leaves as needed.

Six buds, three flowers, and eight or ten leaves, form a beautiful branch.

Although the petals of the lily can be made up with the wool as it is, they look much better if, after being knitted, they are washed with a little blue in the water, and quickly dried, before the wire is put round them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Gen. Robert E. Lee" Cake

Here is a recipe from Housekeeping in Old Virginia published in 1876!

10 eggs
1 pound sugar
1/2 pound flour
Rind of 1 lemon, and juice of 1/2 lemon
Make exactly like sponge cake, and bake in jelly-cake tins. Then take the whites of two eggs beat to a froth, and add one pound sugar, the grated rind and juice of one orange, or juice of half a lemon. Spread it on the cakes before they are perfectly cold, and place one layer on another. this quantity makes two cakes. - Mrs. I.H. (Mrs. Isabella Harrison)

I love Housekeeping in Old Virginia. The title page has the bible verse, "Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies... she looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness." Prov. 31, 10,27

Christmas in July!

I make a lot of Dickens Christmas Dresses! In November and December a lot of people attend Christmas Dickens Fairs. At those fairs Ladies dress up in gem colored or Christmas colored hoop dresses, and men sport top hats, white gloves, and look very handsome in their Victorian suits. For onlookers, Dickens Fairs look like The Christmas Carol has come to life. Tiny Tim or even Scrooge himself might be around the corner!

This year I am taking Dickens Dress orders beginning July! I enjoy working with ladies as they share their idea of the perfect dress and then watch the dress take shape on my dress form. Some ladies like their dresses to be simple yet elegant. While other ladies like their dress to be very eye catching. The picture is one of the dresses I made last year as a custom order.

I am offering custom made dresses in my Etsy story. If you mention this blog I will discount the custom order 10%. Just type in Victorian Blog in the message to seller and I will refund you the 10% or send you a new invoice.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Civil War Fashion - Right or Left?

The Civil War was a time of turmoil and distress in our nation, but it was also a time of beauty and elegance in women's clothing. While studying original garments, pictures, and fashion magazines of the era, I have come to find out some very interesting information on the construction of these beautiful dresses.
In our day and time women shirt's are buttoned right over left and men's left over right. Did you ever wonder how that got started? One day while finishing up a custom order dress I noticed that I had sewn the dress to button left over right. At first I was greatly troubled and thought I would have to start all over on the order. Then I decided to do a some research on the issue. I pulled out my CdV's (civil war photos), and my Godey's Lady Book to see if there was a right way to close the front of the dress during the civil war. Half of the CdV's in my collection were buttoned right over left, while the other was buttoned left over right.
I posted my discovery on on one of the civil war message boards, and asked if anyone knew any information on button preference. One person said that it depends on whether the lady was right handed or left handed and which way would be easier for her to button and unbutton. Another person said that it depended on whether the lady had a maid servant, who dressed her. My favorite answer was the following. Though out history men and women had a distinction in their clothing. There is a verse in the Bible that states a woman is not to dress like a man. During the civil war and after women's shirts started to become popular. To make a difference between men's shirts and women's the right over left and the left over right started to become the norm. So no in our time men wear their shirts left over right and women wear their shirts right over left.
I still don't know which answer is correct, but I do know there was not a preference during the civil war era. So if you want to add a little to you civil war impression think about having your next dress made to button left over right. And when someone tells you that your dress is buttoned wrong, you have a little piece of history to impart to them.
The dress pictured is one of my creations! You can see more of my dresses on Etsy