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A Fortnight in 1916: the halfway point

I’m halfway through the Fortnight in 1916 project – 7 days of life in 1916 down, 7 more to go.

What’s going well so far, and what’s been hard?

Things that are better/easier than I expected:

Food:

I really thought the 1916 diet would be a struggle, and was quite worried about some of the dishes, but most of them have been very pleasant surprises.  The emphasis on fish (over mutton and other meat, which was being exported to Britain in large quantities), the wide variety of vegetarian dishes (evidence suggests it was a reasonably popular trend in 1910s NZ), and the reduction in bread (due to its high cost during the war) have helped.  I’ve really been enjoying things like swedes and steamed cauliflower, and  I haven’t been craving fresh greens, nor fruit other than apples, nor seasonings like garlic and ginger that usually feature heavily in my cooking.  There is actually a lot of vegetables – just in slightly different forms.  While the cooking is all quite simple, you are generally using fresh, very good quality ingredients.

Heat:

I was very worried that I’d be hideously cold the whole two weeks, and while I have been exceedingly lucky in that we are having an unprecedentedly warm winter, even on super cold days I’ve been very comfortable.  Between my wool stockings, cotton combinations, a corset, petticoat, wool skirt, cotton corset cover and cotton blouse, and wool cardigan, with hat, coat and gloves for going out, I’m well covered.  In fact, I’ve been so warm that on many days I leave off the cardigan: with my core is so nicely warmed from the corset that I don’t need one.  Even my hands have stayed warm, and miracle of miracles, I haven’t got a single chilblain

Because I’m so well dressed, and so active cooking and doing housework, I’ve been running the heater much less than I usually would in winter, which is quite nice.

Depending on what stockings I’m wearing, there is a strip of skin exposed at the top of my thighs, but it hasn’t felt exposed or cold: the petticoat and skirt provide such nice insulation, and creates a sort of warm tent for my legs.

How comfortable such clothing is in winter certainly explains a lot about New Zealand housing.  When your clothes are doing such a great job insulation isn’t such a priority!

Stockings:

Continuing on the warmth/great clothes theme, I was worried that wool stockings would be extremely itchy, but nope.  Super comfortable!  All my stockings are made from my stocking pattern, and they haven’t annoyed me one bit when worn for 13+ hour stretches.

Shoes:

Wearing ‘proper’ laced, heeled shoes from 9am to 9pm every day of the week sounded like torture (as compared to living in lovely, snuggly, sheepskin booties whenever I am home) , but I haven’t minded at all.  They are low heels, but still.  Heels.  And real shoes.

Things that are worse/harder than I expected:

Wearing a corset all the time.  Sitting in a longline just isn’t fun.  It’s better in a hard chair, but even so, it’s hard to sit and sew or write.  It’s not that it’s uncomfortable on a minute-by-minute basis (and it’s certainly gotten more comfortable as the week went on), it’s that it’s never quite comfortable.

Just wearing all the clothes.  It’s a lot of weight.  It takes energy to just live in them, and everything you do in them takes more energy, and I’m tired all the time.

Getting anything done other than living in 1916.  Between cooking, getting dressed, the effort of moving about, and the lack of desire to sit, it’s almost impossible to get anything else done.  Everything takes so much time and effort.  It’s not that much harder to do the housework, but I don’t get it done, because I’ve spent the whole day cooking breakfast and dinner and walking to the shops and taking a sponge-bath etc.  The 1916 lifestyle really is meant for people living in extended families: there is no point to cooking three courses for two people.  I wonder if some women found that in some ways it was a relief when men went overseas: suddenly they had so much less pressure to cook and present.

Things that I’ve noticed that I didn’t even think of beforehand:

Plastic: It is HARD to live without plastic.  It really makes you appreciate how awesome it is, and worry about how frivolously we use it, and how much needless, disposable, single-use plastic there is, because it’s going to suck when it runs out (trust me.  Living without it is not fun).

Silence & Sound:  your options for music in 1916 Wellington were gramophones, what you could produce yourself, or live music.  I don’t have either of the first two, or the opportunity for the second, so my life has been very silent for the last week.  No background radio or TV, no songs.  Quite a number of the wartime diaries etc that I read as research mention how important a piano was, and that really makes sense.  Without all the aural clutter of modern life, it’s quite startling to me when I do hear it.  Walking into a shop with music playing is suddenly jarring.  Now that I’ve realised how different it is without it, I wonder if it is actually good for us to live with the constant canned, artificial noise.

17 Comments

  1. What you mentioned about modern music and noise is so true… While I do love music, it seems like there is almost an ‘overload’ nowadays, with all of the ads, jingles, and the like that one hears everywhere. Fascinating project, and very informative!

    Ocean

  2. Jeanette says

    A very wonderful and interesting project! Thank you for living 1916 and sharing! And what does kitten think about all of it?

  3. One of the reasons that I don’t wear historical costume often anymore on occasions at which I might is precisely because of the energy that it takes. That’s even true for my Viking clothes, which don’t include a corset. I think that’s because the weight of the jewelry (and the importance of keeping the beads from tangling) is a more significant factor than I had thought. If one is wearing a corset and heavy clothing, as you’re doing, that’s a different ball game entirely.

    Thank you for your posts about living the 1916s life–it’s very educational!

  4. Elise says

    Glad that you are enjoying the food! It’s definitely an interesting experience to have a whole new taste palette to enjoy. It’s interesting to remember just how vegetarian-friendly many traditional cuisines are: While you may only have meat selections at modern Mexican Restaurants, for example, much of the “authentic” or “traditional” foods were more veggie based, with a different fat ratios.

    • Which has a lot to do with the availability of meat for ordinary people! There’s two “traditional” Czech cuisines, one side of it is heavy on meat and creamy sauces, which is what well-to-do people in cities and towns ate, and the other is pretty much peasants’ food, and that’s mostly meatless (except for lard and the occasional bacon/smoked pork/sausage). Not so much vegan, because people would get their proteins from milk products (potatoes + quark/curds rule), but it’s fairly vegetarian-friendly if you work your way around the occasional pork products.
      It may also have a lot to do with the fact there were a lot of fasting days in the old lithurgic calendar, so people invented many ways to get around that.
      My personal tastes lean heavily towards the latter, even though I’m not vegetarian. 😀 It is, to a great extent, what I grew up with, so when I read, at a simple living blog, the advice to eat meat less often, “about three times a week” (or something along those lines), I went “are you kidding me, I can go a whole week without eating meat and not notice the difference”.
      (I am, sadly, also a confirmed meat-eater by genetics or something, so after about a fortnight of vegetarian diet, I am bound to get aggresively carnivorous for at least a day.)

  5. I find your observation about noise very interesting. I, too, think of all the modern noise as perhaps not being the best thing for us. Young people these days seem to always need or want to have headphones in or music blaring or a video going in the background. Many of them seem uncomfortable with silence. I believe there is value to being comfortable in silence. And an added bonus that it makes you appreciate music and sound so much more!

    Best,
    Quinn

    • I’m more on the young people side of this. But at the same time, I appreciate silence, too (or simple natural background sounds), and sometimes my blaring music has to do with drowning out other people’s noises that I don’t want to hear, in something that’s better for my inner equilibrium…
      Music/radios in shops annoy me to no end. Inconsiderate young people blaring out music from their mobile phone in public transport (or not realising it’s so loud we can hear it even through their headphones) make me wish for Spock’s Vulcan pinch. 😀

  6. This is so very interesting. I second you on the long line corset. I’ve been wearing one a lot lately so I can fit current sewing projects. Wow. It is my absolute least favorite corset style to wear. It is the most uncomfortable to sit in. Makes me wonder if that’s part of the reason that after the long line corset, corsets practically disappear. Maybe women were like screw this! Lol 🙂

    Caroline

  7. Deanna says

    I’m so enjoying reading about your project! The insights you’re gaining are so interesting. Sorry about the corset injuries, though.

    It’s funny you mention all the noise in the modern world. I think it creates constant, low level stress. I prefer quiet anyway, but I really noticed it last Friday. Our power was out most of the day, and it was blissfully quiet (at least until the neighbor had to start his generator to keep the food his frozen food from spoiling). I did lots of reading and worked in the ends on several knitting and crochet projects. It was really quite nice other than not being able to cook! And that evening, my husband said he saw many more stars than usual (the power was out for several blocks around).

    • Thank you!

      Funny about the noise isn’t it? I love going to visit my parent’s in Hawaii, because the farm only has solar power, and there are cabins with no electricity at ALL, so the only sound at night is nature: the stream, the distant surf of the sea, birds and wind. Bliss!

  8. I love silence, when the family isn’t home there’s no TV or radio on in my house, the only sounds are the fan on the computer, the dishwasher/washing machine and my sewing machine/spinning wheel/knitting needles.

  9. Learning about your experiences is so interesting.  There are lots of everyday things we just don’t think about when we read about history, like what was it like to live in an era without iPods and radios and constant background noise. Although the corset is a nuisance, I imagine it does provide back support while you’re doing the housework.

    You’re right about plastic.  We really don’t appreciate it as much as we should, and far too much of it is disposable.

  10. Maire Smith says

    I find your comment about the lack of music surprising. When there’s no canned music on, I find I do as I remember my grandmother doing and sing pretty much constantly, if I’m alone. Lousia May Alcott mentions her mother doing this, too, in ‘Little Women’, and I’ve always assumed it was usual for people to sing a lot more than they do now we have professional recordings of music so readily available.

    • Obviously people would sing, and social music made by the group was much more common than it is now – I’ve mentioned both of those. But if you aren’t particularly musically inclined, or even if you do sing, it leaves a lot more silence than we get today. Just think of the last time you went in a shop that wasn’t playing music? And I’m pretty sure even in 1916 people would think of you oddly if you sang out loud while getting your groceries 😉

  11. Susan Robinson says

    Hi again;

    It has occurred (sp? 2 c’c, 2 r’s?) to me that one of the things you are missing , in 1908 or so, is a mother with you on your first corset buying expedition. The sort of person who would say “yes, but you have to be able to sit down in it dear”. You, and the others who use corsets under their historical dresses, have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

    It may be Caroline is right about the disappearance of corsets, but when I was young (1950’s) I can remember seeing recently washed corsets hanging out to dry (not long line ones though).

    Anyway, this is fascinating. Your blog is the first thing I check every day.

    susan

    • There is that, we are definitely inventing the wheel, and learning. Still, I’m sure many women didn’t have a mother teach them, because their mother was deceased, not interested, not good at corsets herself, or still wearing an older style. Or perhaps they lived rurally, and their corset had to be mail ordered (very common), or their mother couldn’t accompany them in a shopping trip to town. What about more rebellious girls, who wanted to wear corsets that were more cutting edge, or more or less restrictive than their mother would allow (think of ALL those stories of mothers forcing girls into old fashioned and restrictive clothes – the ‘Titanic’ cliché)? A mother would help, but I still think many, many, many girls wouldn’t have had that. You might also have problems if you were very petite, but with a very limited budget.

      My mother, for example, did not take me bra shopping (and, in any case, I didn’t really develop a bust to speak of until I was not only out of the house, but had been married for three years!), nor did she teach me how to wear makeup – she doesn’t wear any herself. And from modern evidence we know full well that even for many women whose mother did take them bra shopping, getting even remotely a good fit is an issue!

      The uneven wear in period corsets ( such as this one, which I have studied in person,) definitely suggests that many women didn’t achieve perfect fit.

      • It is, very much, like the assumption that historical women, unlike modern women, would have learned how to cook from their mothers, when there’s a number of historical coookbooks specifically mentioning they were written because so many women had not!

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