The Spontaneous Spencer

The completed project. Isn't it lovely?

The completed project. Isn’t it lovely?

This is a blog I just discovered today, and LOOK AT THE PROJECT completed here!

https://themodernmantuamaker.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/the-spontaneous-spencer/

A gorgeous pale blue dupioni silk Spencer. Absolutely stunning and extremely well-executed, entirely by hand. I cannot praise its maker enough! Oh, to have an excuse to start building a Regency-era wardrobe. Alas, I am still rounding out my late 1890s interpretation collection, so it will be a while…

The Modern Mantua-Maker

This is my entry for February’s Historical Sew Monthly challenge “Blue”. It wasn’t my initially intended entry, which was supposed to be a smart and clever-looking new pale blue wool coat made from a late teens/early 20s pattern I have. However, after doing a muslin and fiddling with it a bit I just wasn’t feeling it. I still hope to make it someday, but I wasn’t feeling totally enthusiastic about it and I think it’s too straight a silhouette for most of the clothes I wear, even though it has a little more flare than most styles from that period.

So, about the middle of the month I decided to completely switch tracks and make something that was nowhere on my sewing list/queue. Very practical decision (please note the sarcasm). I rationalized it to myself by saying that I had intended <someday> to make a new spencer from a piece…

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From Cup to Curl: How to Get Fabulous Historical Hair Using Straws

One of my favorite bloggers, Liz, at The Pragmatic Costumer, has posted another fabulous installment about historic hairstyles. This time, the subject is all manner of curls:

The Pragmatic Costumer

Big Hair was a Big Deal Long Before Dallas and Dolly Parton!

Those of you that browse my rambling frequently are well aware that I am hair illiterate. Indeed, I know next to nothing about taming my crispy, unruly mane. Yet, I am slowly teaching myself a few tricks here and there, and the internet has been a boon for my boring locks.

As a strong adherent to the old cliche that “every curly-haired girl wants straight hair and every straight-haired girl wants curls,” I have dreamed of lovely curls since childhood. When I was very young, my mother had tightly permed 1980s poodle hair (her words, not mine!), and I remember playing with her pink plastic hair pick, pretending I had a perm that needed fluffing, too. I am infinitely envious of those glamorous 1980s superstars like Bernadette Peters and Whitney Houston who had curls so luscious no scrunchie…

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Lovely Limbs: Modern Stockings with Historical Style

The Pragmatic Costumer has done it again! This time, Liz explores her love for centuries of embellished stockings…and I have a new favorite place to shop!

The Pragmatic Costumer

Completely Hosed on Hose

Some women are obsessed with shoes. I love them, too, but my love affair with shoes is more practical than fantastical. My love of stockings, however, has grown exponentially over the years. Not only are they fun, they completely alter the way shoes fit. A shoe that is too big or even too small becomes much more comfortable with the right stocking. Keeping you warm as the weather turns chilly is a huge bonus as well.

Kittens and tea also help greatly.

When I talk about stockings, I don’t mean our modern idea of stockings– the sheer, skin tone nylons or the cutesy sock-shapes we hang up at Christmastime. Though they are both rooted in historical stockings, they are like the two seperated halves of the stocking story. Stockings in the past were knit or sewn, and while silk can be made very sheer, our ancestors…

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A Puritan Hero

Just discovered this blog, courtesy of a share by my friend and Alcott scholar, Kristi Martin, who brought Amy Belding Brown to my attention with this link. Kristi and I both work in Concord and greatly admire what is known as Orchard House, the home built by the subject of this piece, John Hoar, and which would later be home to Louisa May Alcott as she penned Little Women.

I love antique houses, women’s history, and stories of rebellious colonists of New England in the days before notions of antidisestablishmentarianism took hold. This one combines them all!

Collisions

Orchard House snowAbout a decade ago, I worked for a few years at the Orchard House Museum in Concord, Massachusetts.  Best known as the home of Louisa May Alcott and the place where she wrote the classic novel, Little Women, the house has an impressive history of its own.  When I was there the 300-year-old building, renovated by Bronson Alcott in the 1850’s, was in the midst of a massive preservation project, so I had the opportunity to see, up-close, some of the details of the colonial construction.  Ever since, I’ve been fascinated not just by how historical houses are decorated, but how they’re constructed.

At that time, I was finishing work on my novel, Mr. Emerson’s Wife, about the Transcendental circle in19th century Concord.  Little did I know that a few years later, I’d encounter the house again, as I researched a 17th-century Concord lawyer for my new novel,

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The Myth of a Myth: Brushing Your Hair 100 Times

This is my favorite entry of The Pragmatic Costumer. The writer, Liz, makes excellent points about how the modern brushes and shampoos/conditioners/styling products simply do not reflect historic methods, and marketing has actually changed how we style our hair over the decades.

I’ve had my own odyssey with hair care as I’ve aged, and always hated styling products. Transforming myself into a reasonable facsimile of a woman in the 1890s goes far beyond getting a great dressmaker. Grooming takes center stage, and is very different than most 21st century women would find comfortable. I make some small compromises, but endeavor to be as authentic as possible.

When I was in the early stages of planning my first-person presentations, Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, I began growing my hair. I was putting together many necessary elements for a portrayal that was as close to accurate as possible, considering that Laura herself left behind great descriptions of her clothing when she was a teenager, but little of her appearance as a married woman with a half-grown child, a farm full of hard work and a flock of chickens to tend. I wanted my wardrobe and grooming to be as close to what she and other women of her taste and means and practical needs might have done as possible, but also to maintain a level of practicality that would translate for travel and everyday life. I knew I had a challenge. I have always had very oily, straight but unevenly-textured, mostly fine (but tons of it) hair. So, with the help of a great hairdresser and some experimentation, I expanded upon my earlier commitment to reduce damaging habits and products.

I had first eliminated any products with alcohols or silicones and other plastics about 15 years ago, and rarely touch even gels or other styling products. But to get my hair to maintain a healthy apppearance and grow well without split ends, I had to commit to regularly scheduled trims. That is simply a fact for certain hair types like mine. I also had to put the hairdryer down. More often than I wanted to. And, I had to buy better tools. But, by also by following a few more of the “always” and “nevers” of hair care, I found I could grow it to be the healthiest it has ever been since I was about seven years old. Here are some basics:

-ALWAYS brush hair before going to sleep. NEVER sleep with clips, barrettes, braids, or hair ties in your hair (it tugs and tears at the hair as your head moves on the pillow).

-NEVER use shampoos or conditioners which contain sulfates. You don’t need a lather to get it clean! Sulfates dry your hair and encourage breakage.

-NEVER use a brush in wet hair. A wide-toothed comb is gentler.

-ALWAYS avoid a hair dryer when possible/practical. If you must use one, get one with a “cold shot” setting and only use that setting. It will lessen damage.

-NEVER let your hair loose if the weather is very windy. The tangled mess will be difficult to untangle without damage; not worth it!

It took me 5 years to get to a length that works for all aspects of my life and isn’t too impractical for everyday. I compromised by keeping the length at the lower middle of my back, and use a carefully-matched switch to add realistic (and historically-accurate!) volume to my 1890s hairstyle.

Photos to follow!

The Pragmatic Costumer

A Tiny Bit of Historical Hair Care for the Modern Woman

Young Teenage Girl with Sausage Curls, circa 1860

I have very greasy hair and always have. It’s also fine, but dry at the ends, so I have to cleanse it every day yet hydrate it with heavy creams. Recently, I’ve delved into the world of alternative haircare. In my case, I’ve taken up co-washing, which uses conditioner as a “shampoo” that doesn’t strip hair as badly as regular shampoo. It’s basically alternative hair care for casuals, but so far, it’s been working pretty well! A lot of alternative haircare methods remind me a lot of pre-20th century haircare methods. Before the great hygiene shift created by 20th century marketing, women didn’t just style their hair differently than we do; they cared for their hair differently, too.

Lotta Crabtree, an American Actress
One of her defining physical features was…

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