Sad & Box Iron Etymology

I shared a new adventure with you in my last post as I learned how to make use of my late 19th century fluting iron.

I’ve received lots of interest in this experiment from family, friends, blog readers, and Instagram followers. Yay! Thanks! It’s been great fun to connect with you. I’ve heard about people’s memories as well as stories of lurking, unused, antique irons that people are feeling motivated to try out. I’ve also received enthusiastic feedback about the etymology of various antique iron terms.

On that note, a friend-who-shall-not-be-named who was most intrigued about iron etymology shared a variety of sources with me with clear images and descriptions of different types of irons as well as pointing me towards the Oxford English Dictionary for the meaning of the term ‘sad iron’ (the OED is source which I greatly enjoy but hadn’t thought to make use of during my experiment as I was more focused on how to use a fluting iron in that moment). I thought that some of the information contained in the OED might interest some of you, as well, so here is a rather long, word-heavy post looking at the meaning and history of words… I hope you enjoy!

To start, let’s look at the word ‘sad’ followed by the term ‘sad iron’.

‘Sad’

‘Sad’ in the OED has an extensive list of definitions, many of which are noted as being obsolete and no longer in use.

sadadj.n., and adv.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary, with quotations, phrases, and compounds omitted

A. adj.
I. Of persons and immaterial things: satisfied, full; steady, serious.
1. Having had one’s fill; satisfied, sated; weary or tired (of something). Chiefly with of or infinitive. Obsolete.
†2. 
a. Settled, firmly established in purpose or condition; steadfast, firm, constant. Obsolete.
b. Strong, firm, standing fast, esp. in battle; capable of resisting; valiant. Obsolete.
3.
a. Of looks, appearance: dignified, grave, serious. Obsolete.
b. Of a person: orderly and regular in life; of trustworthy character and judgement; grave, serious. Also, in extended use, of a person’s behaviour or age, of a period of time, etc. Often coupled with wise or discreet. In later use archaic or regional (chiefly Scottish and Caribbean).
c. Of thought, consideration, etc.: mature, serious, grave, considered. Obsolete.
d. Profoundly or solidly learned (in something). Obsolete.
4. Unmistakable, certain; true, genuine. Obsolete.

II.Feeling sorrow or regret, and related uses. (Now the principal use.)
5.
a. Of a person, or his or her feelings, disposition, etc.: feeling sorrow; sorrowful, mournful, heavy-hearted.
b. Expressing or showing sorrow; (esp. of a look, tone, gesture, or feature) mournful.
c. Causing or evoking sorrow; calamitous, distressing.
d. Of a period, place, action, etc.: characterized by sorrow, full of sorrow; (in early use esp.) hard, sore, bitter.
6. Used as a general expression of censure, depreciation, or regret. Originally: exceptionally bad, deplorable, shameful. Later (also): unfortunate, regrettable, sorry, miserable.
7. slang (depreciative). Esp. of a person: pathetically inadequate or unfashionable; socially undesirable or inept.

III. In various physical senses, principally developed from branch A. I.
8. Of material objects.
a. Firmly fixed or established, stable. Obsolete.
b. Solid; dense, compact; massive, heavy. Also figurative. Now rare (regional in later use).
c. Solid as opposed to liquid. Also figurativeObsolete.
d. Of soil: stiff, heavy; difficult to work.
e. Of a number of persons or things: forming a compact body. Obsolete.
f. Of pastry, dough, etc.: that has failed to rise, heavy. Now chiefly regional.
9.
a. Of a blow: heavy, delivered with vigour. Obsolete.
b. Of a fire: violent. Obsolete.
c. Of rain: heavy. Obsolete.
10.
a. Of colour: dark, deep. In later use esp.: not cheerful-looking; neutral, dull, sombre.
b. Esp. of clothing or fabric: of such a shade; dark-coloured; sombre. Now rare (archaic and poetic in later use).
11. Of sleep: sound, deep. Obsolete.

B. n.
1. Satiety, weariness. Obsolete.
2. Now chiefly with the. Sad or sorrowful people as a class. Also: something sad or suggesting sadness (rare).

C. adv. In a sad manner (in various senses of the adjective). Chiefly recorded in poetical and literary contexts.
1.
a. Firmly, strongly, fixedly; soundly. Obsolete.
b. Heavily, with force. Obsolete.
c. Steadfastly. Obsolete.
2. Seriously, solemnly; soberly, discreetly, wisely. Obsolete.
3. Thoroughly, truly, certainly. Obsolete.
4. Sadly, sorrowfully, mournfully. Now rare (poetic in later use).

That’s a lot of meanings for the word ‘sad’! Even a quick scroll and skim makes it clear how many of these definitions are obsolete. Fascinating!

‘Sad Iron’

To think about how the definition of ‘sad’ influences the definition of ‘sad iron’, I would like to draw your attention back to III. 8. b. from the OED definition of ‘sad’. (Here it is again so you don’t have to scroll back up.)

sadadj.n.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

III. In various physical senses, principally developed from branch A. I.
8. Of material objects.
b. Solid; dense, compact; massive, heavy. Also figurative. Now rare (regional in later use).
[In the OED, this definition is followed by this note:]
In early use frequently ‘solid, as opposed to hollow’; cf. sad iron n.sadware n. at Compounds 2.

Ah ha! This is the most relevant part of the definition of ‘sad’ for this discussion. While III. 8. b. does list heavy as one of the meanings of the word ‘sad’, the following note clarifies that in terms of ‘sad iron’ the meaning is focused on the way the object is made: ‘solid, as opposed to hollow’. What does that mean? Let’s allow the OED explain it to us.

sad ironn.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

Now historical.
A solid flat iron for smoothing clothes, in contradistinction to a hollow box iron.

As with every definition, the OED has provided a list of relevant quotes using the word over hundreds of years. I omitted those for the word ‘sad’ as there were just too many and it was less directly relevant, but for ‘sad iron’ I’ve included the quotations provided by the OED below. Again, I find it fascinating to see where the quotes were published, what years they are from, and how the term is used.

1759   Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury 9 Oct. 4/3   Imported from London & Bristol, And to be sold by Samuel Goldthwait..Sad Irons, Box Ditto, Brass and Iron Candlesticks.
1787   Maryland Gaz. 1 June 1/2   Hardware of all kinds… Sad-Irons in casks of 2 cwt.
1833   J. Holland Treat. Manuf. Metal II. 253   Dealers commonly distinguish these useful implements by the terms ‘sad-iron’, ‘box-iron’ and ‘Italian-iron’.
1899   Daily News 30 Oct. 2/7   Sadirons 10s. per ton [dearer].
1936   M. Mitchell Gone with the Wind i. v. 84   Hands like sadirons when it comes to reins.
1964   F. O’Rourke Mule for Marquesa 99   Washday smell,..don’t forget to damp and starch, spit on the sadiron.
1995   Mother Earth News Feb. 75/3 (advt.   Hundreds of old time general store items you thought they’d quit making years ago, including wooden kegs, pickle crocks,..sad irons, [etc.].

 

8.III.b. also mentioned ‘sadware’. Now that we know so many meanings for the word ‘sad’ we could take a guess at the meaning, but I thought I would include the OED definition to clarify.

sadware n.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

Now historical.
(Heavy) pewter flatware

‘Box Iron’

So what does the OED have to say about box, or hollow, irons? The OED has ‘box iron’ contained within the definition for ‘box’. (The OED does not have a separate entry for ‘hollow iron’.) Here is the relevant bit.

boxn.2
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

I. A container or receptacle, and related uses.

C1. General attributive.
c. With the sense ‘of the nature of, or resembling a box’.

box-iron  n. a smoothing iron with a cavity to contain a heater; also attributive.

1723   London Gaz. No. 6195/6   John Brown..Box-Iron-maker.
1746   H. Miles in Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 44 56   Box-Irons for smoothing Linen-Clothes.

Images of Irons

Here are some images of the types of irons mentioned above as well as some other interesting iron variations as well.

This site has a photo and information about an extant sad iron.

This site (also linked in my last post) has a helpful description of box irons and how they were heated in the past as well as how they are used today. There are also a few helpful images, including box irons and sad irons.

This site has drawings of all kinds of irons, including a box iron (and variations such as charcoal and gas), a polishing iron, a millinery iron, an egg iron, an Italian iron (and the bolt used to heat it), and two different types of specialty tongs used for pressing trims.

This site has a photo and information about an extant charcoal (box) iron.

The Italian iron, also called a goffering iron, is mentioned in the OED quote from 1833 in the entry for ‘sad iron’. One of these was featured in the video from the Oshawa Community Museum that I included in my last post, and here is another extant one, with a photo and information.

Other specialty irons existed, too. Check out this billiard table iron.

Please note: The Oxford English Dictionary is only available by subscription, therefore I have not included links to the definitions in this post, as you will not be able to access them simply by clicking a link. Many libraries have subscriptions to the OED, so if you would like to conduct your own adventures in etymology I suggest you start there for access.

A Practical Experiment: How To Use A Fluting Iron

Way back in 2012, I posted with great excitement about a new to me sewing tool that Mr. Q called the Cast Iron Crinkle Cutter. These antique specialty irons are actually called fluting irons.

Here is mine, in action!

 

Despite my best intentions of actually creating trim with my fluting iron, instead it has been used as a door stop and decorative item (near my modern iron in my sewing room!) since I’ve owned it. I’m currently working on a project from 1875 that has pleated trim around the skirt and I thought that perhaps instead of knife pleating I would try a sample with my fluting iron! I figured that if I liked it (and I could get it to work) I’d use it for the trim on the dress.

Brief History

Specialty irons have been used for hundreds of years to create different types of ruffles and trims. I came across two sites that had really interesting information about the fluting iron I have as well as many other types of irons from around the world and for the last few thousand years. This one is summary of ironing throughout history. This one is more about types of historical irons. Also, this video from the Oshawa Community Museum looks specifically at some ironing tools that were used to create late Victorian ruffles, including various types of fluting irons.

Along the way to learning more about fluting irons, I also learned that flat cast iron irons are called sad irons. (I might have read that before but didn’t remember the term, so it feels like new information!) They’re called that not because they’re melancholy, but because in the past ‘sad iron’ meant the iron was solid as opposed to hollow (to be filled with heating devices, such as charcoal). The word ‘sad’ also meant heavy and a sad iron could weigh up to 15 pounds. That only further reinforces the fact that laundering in the 19th century was strenuous work (hand scrubbing, hauling buckets of water to heat, maintaining the stove or fire, harsh soaps, refreshing the rinsing water… hard work!). *This is edited from my original description of sad iron. To read all about the etymology of the terms ‘sad’, ‘sad iron’, and ‘box iron’ (the term for a hollow iron), check out this post, published after the one you are currently reading.

Practical thoughts about getting started

In terms of my fabric, I had the strips I wanted to flute prepared and ready to go before ironing them. I had hemmed one long side and just pressed the other edge under (that would become the top edge). With the crisp silk I’m using I probably could have gotten away with just pressing under both the hem and the top edge, but oh well. I prepared and hemmed these long before I officially decided to flute them.

In terms of the fluting iron, I followed these steps (or considered them, anyway):

Cleaning: I used dish soap and a toothbrush, to really get into all the grooves on both pieces of my fluting iron and remove the accumulated dust and grime (I don’t want those on my silk fabric!).

Drying: To prevent rust from forming, I carefully dried the iron and then also let it air dry overnight (though I realized that if I were to immediately use it the heat would cause all of the water to evaporate anyway…).

Seasoning: This is done on non-coated cast iron pans to keep them from rusting. I chose not do this with my iron at this time. I might do it later (I read that well-seasoned cast iron will not release oil onto your fabrics), but right now I just wanted to get started on my experiment.

Supplies

It’s worth noting that the cast iron gets much too hot to hold with bare hands or put directly on the counter to use, so in addition to the two parts of the iron, I also used a variety of other kitchen tools in this experiment.

I used the baking sheet, cookie drying rack, and cast iron frying pan you’ll see in photos at various points, as well as the silicone baking supplies pictured below: a hefty mitt, a small trivet, and a large trivet.

I also used a spatula to help get a grip on the base of the iron while lifting it out the frying pan, a small spray bottle, white vinegar from my pantry, and tap water.

Method #1 (the slow and steady way to heat the fluting iron)

Heating/Using: I used my conventional oven to heat both parts of my fluting iron on a baking sheet. I could not find specific directions for temperature or length of time, so I started conservatively with 175 F for 15 minutes. (Partly due to the basic information on Wikipedia about specific temperatures for different types of fabrics, but also check out the image of the tailor’s stove on the right side of the page: a multi-sided stove to heat sad irons simultaneously makes so much sense if you’re ironing a lot, as tailors would be!).

When tested on my silk this hardly made an impact. So I put the iron pieces back in the 175 F oven for another 10 minutes. This was better, but not as effective at getting tight flutes as I wanted. On the left are the barely visible results from the first 10 minutes of heating and on the right after the second 10 minutes of heating.

I increased the temperature to 225 F and put the iron pieces back in the oven for 10 more minutes. This time I also decided to use vinegar to help set the flutes. I mixed ½ white vinegar and ½ water in a spray bottle and then sprayed the section of silk I intended to iron. Here you can see the sprayed silk ready to feed into the iron on the left and the results coming out on the right.

This worked much better, but still feeling like I needed more heat to get a good sizzle and press, I increased the oven to 275 F and put the pieces in for another 10 minutes. This seemed like the right temperature! A bit of sizzle from the evaporating liquid on the silk and tight flutes as a final result.

Here is a comparison of two silk samples. The one on the bottom used vinegar and lower heat: 175 F and 225F. The one on the top is the sample that used vinegar and 275 F for heating.

Reheating: I found that the iron lost heat pretty quickly. I reheated it for 10 minutes after every 5 minutes of use. It wasn’t the most efficient process (I can really understand why you would have a set with multiple irons to keep them heating while not in use), but it got the job done on a Saturday afternoon. Experimenting with temperature and fluting 106″ of fabric took about 4 hours.

Setting: In addition to using vinegar (which made huge difference in terms of getting crisp flutes!), I also found it quite important to move the iron very slowly over the base to create the flutes. A quick pass did not do the job and getting each and every flute to line up perfectly to go over it multiple times is much easier to say than to do! I rocked the iron from one side to the other, trying to hold each little section in place for at least a few seconds before moving to the next. I got through about two full rocks with the iron before needing to reheat it.

Method #2 (the much more efficient way)

Heating: After I completed the first of three 106″ sections of trim, a science-minded friend suggested that I would have much more efficient transfer of heat to the iron pieces if I were to heat them directly on my stove in a cast iron pan. This was genius!

I started with my pan on pretty low, as it’s much easier to heat cast iron up than cool it down. This particular burner on my stove gets super hot, so I kept the pan around 2 out of 10 in terms of heat. Harder to translate for other people, but I let the iron heat up for about 10 minutes, until I could feel radiant heat coming from the base when it was out of the pan and I held my hand 1″-2″ away. Another way I tested the head was with a drop of water. At this temperature it quickly evaporated when dripped onto the cast iron.

Reheating: Using the cast iron pan was much more efficient than the oven! I still reheated the iron after about 5 minutes of use, but now I only had to let it reheat for 5 minutes. And because I wasn’t lifting a pan in and out of the oven it was much easier to let the top part of the iron sit on the pan while I moved the fabric along the base piece of the iron. Because the iron was warmer than with the oven, and I’d had more practice at using it, I was able to do three or four full rocks of the iron before needing to reheat it. That meant that my second and third 106″ lengths of fabric only took about 1 hour each. So much faster than with the oven!

You can see the crisp flutes that this method acheieved.

Setting: I used the vinegar/water spray to help set all of these flutes. It should help the fabric to keep this shape permanently (short of me completely soaking the fabric). I experimented with a light spritzing, but the heat quickly evaporated the liquid so I started just making it pretty soaked. Sometimes I even sprayed a bit on the fabric right under the iron if it evaporated before I reached that section of the rocking motion.

Here’s another view of the half finished strip of fabric.

Post Experiment Thoughts

This was fun! I would definitely like to use my fluting iron for more projects–and it should be easier now that I’ve figured out how.

I will say that practice makes a huge difference in terms of being able to flute quickly, so that the iron doesn’t cool down. You don’t have too long to think once you take the iron off the heat source!

A finished pile of about 318″ of fluted trim! I’m curious about how I will sew this on. I think that a sewing machine would crush the flutes (and I don’t think I want a line of machine stitches anyway), so I will likely sew it on by hand, catching only the valleys and not the hills in the fabric. Good thing I like hand sewing!

 

I came across few people trying out antique fluting irons while looking for information to get started on this experiment. For the sake of anyone else who might be looking, here are a few other practical experiments to check out:

Katherine of The Fashionable Past tried out a fluting iron in 2011 and posted about it on her blog here, including a video.

@isabel.northwode tried out a fluting iron in 2018 and posted about it on Instagram here.

A 1925 Oldie But Goodie

Do you ever have an older, well-liked garment that you’ve stopped wearing for some reason or other, but then decided to wear again and were very pleased that: 1) it still fit (though perhaps differently) and 2) brought you more joy to wear than you remembered? It’s a great feeling for both self-made and store bought items!

I had that experience back in January with my 1925 beaded evening gown. With a ‘made’ date in 2013, it’s one of the older 1920s dresses in my closet. It’s not that I didn’t continue to like the dress, it’s just that I’ve been choosing to wear newer dresses to 1920s evening events for the last few years.

My decision to wear it this year was encouraged by the fact that I wanted new photos. My current photos are mostly from this wearing in 2013 and while they’ve done the job for the last 7 years I feel that I’ve upped my photo game in that time.

To start, it was fun to style the dress with different accessories than in the past. The new photos have my silver American Duchess Seaburies (a better match for the colors and evening style of my dress than my American Duchess Astorias in 2013), a thrifted, jeweled bracelet, and sparkly, dramatic clip earrings gifted to me by a friend.

In addition to updated accessories and more confidence with my photo poses (that’s just from practice!), it was wonderful to have the fabulous lobby of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel as my background for these new photos.

The holiday decorations were still up and they are lovely, but even without them I think we can all agree this is a pretty snazzy lobby. I believe it is still true to its original design from the opening of the hotel in 1912, with 21′ high gilded coffered ceilings, Empire style crystal chandeliers, and Italian marble columns (according to Wikipedia).

In addition to the traditional tree decorations, the lobby also had this unusual and gorgeous flower display with a nod towards traditional holiday colors in a more contemporary way.

Look at the green lilies!

It was a pretty fabulous background for updated photos of this dress. I’m so glad it still fits and continues to bring joy!

 

How I Stay Warm In Winter (Burgundy Wool ½ Circle Skirt)

It can be cold in New England during the winter and over the years I’ve lived here I’ve realized that I prefer bundling up for the cold more in skirts than pants. Wool skirts, in particular, are great for staying warm, looking put together, and warding off snow all at the same time (I even clear my driveway of snow before work wearing wool skirts and have no problem with wet clothes). However, it can be difficult to find 100% wool skirts in stores. And even if I do find them, new or thrifted, they’re not always styles I want to wear every day. So to solve that problem I’ve made a few wool skirts over the last few years to fix that hole in my wardrobe.

I have 3 wool circle skirts. The first is a brown ¾ circle skirt that I posted about in 2017. A second is a ¾ circle skirt in solid black that has yet to be photographed or blogged about despite having been completed in February 2019. The third is the burgundy ½ circle skirt this post is about!

All of these skirts are variations on circle skirts because I like that they are easy to pattern, simple to sew, flattering to wear, and have a subtle vintage look. (I greatly admire people who dress in obvious vintage every day, but I generally think I’m more of a nod-at-vintage-style person.)

I decided to make this skirt a ½ circle mostly to vary up the silhouette from my other skirts. I love the silhouette of ¾ circles (I wear a lightweight vintage petticoat with them to help maintain the silhouette and swish–I talk about that in the brown ¾ circle skirt post), but it’s nice to have something different and this skirt doesn’t need the petticoat, so that’s nice, too!

I have a vintage pattern making textbook that I use to make my circle skirt patterns: Pattern-making For Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong.  This book has updated editions and is still available, but I have the edition copyrighted in 1987. The instructions create ¼, ½, ¾ and full circle skirts for any waist measurement and are easy to adjust to any length. I also reference a yardage calculator like this to figure out how much fabric I need when making these skirts.

This burgundy skirt is made from a lovely, soft, light-to-mid-weight plain weave wool. The seams are bound with hug snug, there is a pocket on the right side, and an invisible zipper on the left side.

I thought it would be fun to use the contrasting grey hug snug color for both the binding and the hem finishing, but I found that the hem looked like a mistake when it flipped around while walking. So I covered the grey hug snug with burgundy hug snug. Now it matches and looks more intentional (as in, you just don’t notice the hem when the skirt is worn).

I really wanted to be ice skating for photos of this skirt last winter. As you’ve seen, this was successful… but it was also hysterical.

I removed my coat, was posing for photos, and it was all going fine… until I lost my balance and fell right down on my backside! I actually have a hilarious photo with my legs in the air over my head as I hit the ice (because my photographer understands that capturing these things is better than rushing to help, usually!). With all my layers to stay warm all modesty was preserved, but you’ll just have to imagine the ridiculousness because I’m not convinced that photo needs to be officially preserved for all to see on the internet. I wound up with a bruised backside, but an amusing story and photos I’m happy with!

On the staying warm front, I would like to take a moment to praise some of the other garments I’m wearing, solely because they are awesome and not because I get anything for saying nice things. The cream wool sweater is from Emmy Designs. These sweaters are a bit expensive, but amazing and completely worth the price–I consider them to be investment pieces. They’re durable, warm, wonderfully cute and vintage styled, and the waist length is perfect for wearing with skirts and dresses. I cannot recommend them enough! Plus, Emmy Designs is a small, woman-owned business! From a second small, woman-owned business, the boots I’m wearing in the one photo without ice skates are made by the Royal Vintage Shoes–soon to be rolled into American Duchess, their sister company. The boots are wonderful! Made of real leather, durable, comfortable, and so, so cute… it is impossible not to walk with confidence in these boots. Also, I find the burgundy is a neutral (who knew?) and matches most things in my closet! I added shock absorbing insoles to these boots and that makes a huge difference in the comfort for all day wear.

Those special pieces aside, I thought I would also share the layers I wear to stay warm in a skirt in the cold, just in case I can inspire you to try it, too! It might seem intimidating, but it’s really not.

My layers include: fleece lined tights (I like the Berkshire brand, because the length is nice and long so they don’t sag between the legs), another layer of old fleece lined tights that I’ve cut the tops and bottoms off of so they’re full leg length leg warmers OR polar fleece base layer ski pants, a wool skirt, a long sleeve tee shirt, a wool OR acrylic sweater (wool is ideal but sometimes those non-breathing acrylics are great for staying warm, too!), tall wool socks, and boots of some type (ankle boots, knee high boots, snow boots… I love flats but I’ve realized they really don’t keep my feet warm. Accordingly, I’ve slowly built up my boot collection so I have boots for all occasions and weather types!). Accessories include a down coat, acrylic OR cashmere scarf, cashmere lined leather gloves (or if it’s really cold and I care less about looking put-together, ski gloves), earmuffs, and an acrylic OR wool hat (I like round, beret shapes, like the burgundy wool one in this post or the grey acrylic one in this post).

This would likely be expensive if I went out and bought all of these things at once, but I have a few strategies to save money while still buying high quality items that last for years. First, I buy items such as tights when they are on sale and items such as cashmere at discount stores rather than from full price retailers. Second, I keep these garments until they are full of holes… and then I try to fix or re-use them (for example, I repaired holes in my cashmere scarf and turned old hole-y tights into leg warmers). Some things, like the fleece ski pants, I’ve had for about twenty years. (Thankfully, they still fit!) The point is that you can slowly accumulate warm items, and look for them at discounts, so that building this type of wardrobe can be economical and long-lasting.

And sure, I could wear all the same layers of tights and socks under pants, but it gets a bit tight and uncomfortable. I’d rather wear a skirt and have a great vintage shape while staying warm!

1817 Duchess Gown In Three Stylings

A few years ago, I made my 1817 Duchess Gown. I started out wearing it rather plainly (if wearing a tiara count as a plain ensemble…), but since then I’ve worn it multiple times and accessorized it different ways. I thought it would be fun to pull some of these wearings together in one place, to look at how accessories can change the look and feel of a dress.

First, a side by side comparison. Do you have a favorite amongst these?

The first year I made the dress I was furiously sewing the hem trim on the night before the ball, so I didn’t have too much time to think about accessories. I wanted the dress to be regal looking and so I decided on the tiara to wear with it, as well as a pearl necklace and earrings.

 

Fast forward to February 2019, when I’d worn the dress a few times and wanted to change it up with more color than just white and gold. For this wearing, I added a green sash as well as new sparkly jewelry from In The Long Run Designs.

I loved the green sash look, but wearing the dress just a few months later in April 2019 I wanted something different. I decided to pull out some older accessories, purple shoe clips and purple hair flowers, and pair them with a white sash.

You really can’t see the white sash much, but the purple accessories give the dress a different feel than the previous wearings, I think. (This might be a stronger statement with a purple sash. Hm… But I don’t have wide purple organza ribbon, as I did with the green and white. Maybe that’s something to keep my eyes open for!)

The neat thing is that this dress is also captured on video! At the Regency ball last February, The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers (CVD) did a performance of the type of advanced dancing taught at CVD’s Regency Weekend every April. Check out this blog post by another CVD member showing the Duchess Gown in action as well as great information about the dance we are performing, Paine’s First Set.

Are you ever able to wear the same outfit (modern, vintage, or historical) styled in different ways and with different accessories? I choose to do this with some of my modern clothes in addition to my historical ones and I can think of a few of you who are definitely subscribers to this idea, too!

My Interview With Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective

As you probably know if you read my blog on a regular basis, I love making and wearing historical clothing. It’s rather common for me to pull historical clothing out of my closet and wear it to lovely places.

Below, I’m wearing my 1885 summer ensemble at the Lippitt House in Providence, RI. Look at that wallpaper! It’s fantastic! If you’re ever in Providence and the house is open I highly suggest a visit. The details are absolutely stunning and I found the guides to be engaging, knowledgeable, and truly invested in the information they were sharing.

While at the Lippitt House, I met a woman who was incredibly interested in my clothing, how it feels to wear, how I make it, and where my inspiration comes from. She eagerly asked lots of questions and shared about her own fascination with history as well.

I learned that Maureen Taylor is a genealogist and historian who now focuses on photo identification, photograph preservation, and family history through her work as the Photo Detective. In addition to being an engaging person who loves history, she has extensive experience and has had opportunities to share her knowledge in prominent publications. When she asked if I would like to be a guest on her podcast I very readily agreed.

A number of months later and here we are: my interview with Maureen is available for a listen on her podcast! We discuss the 1885 ensemble I was wearing when we met, the 1863 dress I made last fall, and other historical clothing topics as well. Check it out and enjoy!

You can find Maureen Taylor around the internet in these places:

Web Maureen Taylor
Facebook @MaureenPhotoDetective
Instagram @photodetective
Twitter @PhotoDetective

c. 1855 Wool Cape

Finally, I actually have photos of a garment I made back in 2011!

The story starts with my desire to be warm for caroling at the Christmas ball, so I went looking through my books and came across the image below in ‘Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive’ by Carol Belanger Grafton. It looked warm and I liked the fringe, so off I went on my sewing adventure!

Since then, I’ve managed to wear my cape a number of times, often for Christmas caroling. Even though its date is c. 1855, I’ve found that the loose shape is perfect for wearing over the large sleeves of my 1830s dress as well. Here’s proof, from 2017:

 

That’s really the only photo I have that looks nice and shows the cape. Other photos that show the cape are washed out or blurry.

Last year I decided it was time to get pictures. I settled on a day I’d already be wearing 1850s (Annabelle is my dress and I’m also wearing a matching chenille headdress). It was important that there would be daylight (that’s the other problem with some of the photos I have, they’re taken during dark winter evenings–that’s usually when I’ve been caroling). Then I brought the cape (despite not actually needing to be outside for the event) and coerced the usual camera toting suspect into taking photos.

I made the pattern by looking at the inspiration image and drawing the shapes I thought would make it up, although I did take a bit of liberty in terms of closure and arm openings. I also referenced shapes and proportions in ‘The Cut of Women’s Clothes’ by Norah Waugh and ‘Patterns of Fashion 2’ by Janet Arnold.

I wanted simplicity for the closure, so my cape has a single heavyweight hook and loop at the neck. For the arm openings, the fronts are simply separate from the curve that wraps around to the back of the cape.

For warmth, I decided on a wool exterior (also good for shedding moisture). To add even more warmth, I also added a layer of high loft polyester batting to the entire cape. That may not be the most accurate choice (at least in terms of fiber content), but it is quite practical. I thought of quilting the lining to the batting but decided it would be too time consuming. I’m sure the batting extends to the edges and is stitched down, but honestly I don’t remember exactly how that was accomplished.

I loved the fringe in the image and wanted fringe on my cape, too. But not just any fringe. Wool fringe. That was a hunt! I eventually found it at an upholstery company called The Fringe Factory.

To keep the lining soft against my skin,  I decided to line the entire cape with natural cotton flannel  to match the fringe as well as including a stand up ruffle of the flannel at the neck.

As you can see, the cape is quite long. That’s quite a bit of wool, batting, and flannel! I achieved my goal of warmth, but this cape weighs quite a bit!

Looking back at my notes, this cape was more expensive than I remembered (though that’s not actually surprising, given the yardage I needed and my desire for 100% wool). I didn’t record the yardages, but I did record the costs. I spent $58.67 on the flannel at JoAnn, $81.00 on the wool at Dorr Mill (I love their wools! They are gorgeous!), and $96.36 on the fringe at The Fringe Factory. The total is $236.03. That’s way more than I often spend on a single historical garment! I had better keep wearing this to get the cost-per-wear down!

Despite the cost, I’ve been very pleased with my cape over the last 9 years and I’m extra pleased to finally have well lit, full length photos so this garment can make an official appearance on the blog!