Rate the Dress: red velvet spencer

Last week I showed you a very fashion forward lady of 1914, to mixed reviews.  Some of you simply didn’t like the period, others simply didn’t like the way the ensemble wouldn’t suit most figures, and most of you weren’t too keen on the hat.  But lots of you did like it: thought it elegant, avant gard, and just ‘zingy’ enough to be interesting.  It rated a 7.4 out of 10 (it would have been a higher score if the two people who said they loved it, with exclamation points, had rated it!)

As the next HSF challenge that I’m supposed to write a (well overdue) inspiration post for is the HSF Choice Gentlemen challenge, I thought showing you a bit of menswear-inspired fashion was appropriate.

As soon as I selected this item I also realised that it is exactly the 1810s version of the 1910s suit I showed you last week: luxurious, slightly quirky, both very practical and very unpractical, very feminine with a nod to menswear, and possibly, just a tiny bit silly.

Spencer, Underbodice and Skirt- ca. 1815, Spencer and skirt cut velvet with piping and wrapped buttons in hussar style, silk satin underbodice.  KCI AC3145 80-5-36AC

Spencer, Underbodice and Skirt- ca. 1815, Spencer and skirt cut velvet with piping and wrapped buttons in hussar style, silk satin underbodice. KCI AC3145 80-5-36AC

Last week’s offering was luxurious in being a couture item, this one is made from a most luxurious fabric: silk velvet cut in a chequered pattern.  Both share quirky buttoning detailing, and other whimsical trim. With the high, lifted bust of the spencer jacket, and the hip-emphasising skirt of the suit, both outfits make their wearers femininity abundantly clear, yet both are styles taken from men’s fashions.  Spencers were meant to be practical garments, as were suits, but in delicate silk velvet and hobbled hems, neither garment quite lives up to its promise of ease of wear.  And with layered peplums, fan hats, and little sticky-out spencer ‘tails’, both might cop a share of ridicule.

What do you think of this weeks outfit?  Better or worse than last weeks?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A glimpse of yellow (& Katherine Mansfield)

I have been so busy with life and work and events that I’ve gotten ridiculously behind on the HSF blogging: both in showing off my own items for each challenge, and in general blog posts.  I’m going to be trying to remedy that over the next week, as well as showing you photos from Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield as they come in.

Today, I can accomplish both!

The photos are technically terrible, because my camera is a $900 piece of crap (dear Canon: in case you aren’t already aware, the S100 sucks, has seriously dented my faith in you as a camera company, and should never have been released) and can’t handle movement or low light, or macros.  But anyway…

Stockings!  Bright, kowhai yellow stockings!

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield thedreamstress.com

Hidden demurely under frills of petticoat and the 1906 Greek Key dress, in a nod to Katherine’s fondness for bright coloured stockings.

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield thedreamstress.com

Aren’t they fabulous?

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield thedreamstress.com

And they are my entry for the HSF ‘Yellow’ Challenge (#17) – they were done during the challenge, but I didn’t get photographs until yesterday .

The Challenge: #17 Yellow

Fabric: 1/2 of kowhai/sulfur yellow merino wool knit

Pattern: My own

Year: 1902-6

Notions: cotton thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Not really, as 1900s stockings were knit into shape, not sewn.

Hours to complete: 20 minutes.  Love making stockings

First worn: For ‘Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield’, Sat 4 Oct

Total cost: Under $5.

And yes, the stockings pattern is coming REALLY soon!  It’s just been on the back burner with other stuff.

Blackbirding and Bislama: language and culture in Vanuatu

Vanuatu is a nation in the South Pacific made up of eight main islands, and 79 further small islands . The islands are a united nation not out of any shared (original) language or culture, but out of shared colonial history: the great European powers in the Pacific, in their infinite wisdom, decided these islands would make a governable grouping based on a map, not on any links between the people.

Bislama in Vanuatu thedreamstress.com

Crab trails on the beach, Vanuatu

The national language of Vanuatu, and the one language that you can guarantee an Ni Vanau will speak, is bislama. As well as bislama, each Ni Vanau will speak one or more of the 100+ native Melanesian languages (making Vanuatu the most language dense country in the world), and possibly English, or French, or both.

I was first exposed to bislama a year and a half ago, staying in a backpackers in the Hawke’s Bay. A group of young Ni Vanautu men in New Zealand as seasonal workers, picking peaches and nectarines, were also at the backpackers. They were shy and giggly, talking to my sister and I with their heads ducked, turning to each other and talking in bislama, trying to interpret and translate our questions about their country and culture into words both parties would understand.

The problem was not just words: it was worlds. Hawaii and New Zealand are very similar culturally: first world, Western, developed. The kanaka maoli culture of Hawaii and the tangata maori culture of New Zealand are very similar: parallel customs and traditions, each with a single language, with minor dialectical changes based on region (note the similarities in the terms for native people).

Bislama in Vanuatu thedreamstress.com

Happy piggy, Vanuatu

Vanuatu is a whole different world: third world, multiple languages and customs, undeveloped. Because I’d only seen islands that looked like mine: like Hawaii, like New Zealand, like Samoa and Tonga, I struggled to comprehend a Pacific culture that was so different.

And then, listening to the fruitpickers talk in bislama as they tried to translate our questions, and ask us things in return, I realised that they were speaking English. Well, all their words were English: heavily accented, rearranged, said very quickly, and not always used in a way we would expect, but definitely English.

Because bislama is English: a form of pidgin English: heavily accented, rearranged, said very quickly, and not always used in a way we would expect. And it’s the national language!

A memorial stone in Bislama for Bertha Dobbins, who brought the Baha'i Faith to Vanuatu

A memorial stone in Bislama for Bertha Dobbins, who brought the Baha’i Faith to Vanuatu

In understanding bislama, and what it is, and where it came from, I was finally able to understand Vanuatu a little bit.

Vanuatu’s national language is bislama specifically because there are over 100 native languages, and because the Western colonial powers (England and France, to be precise) shoved a random assortment of islands into one country without regard for any unity of culture, and for one, further, terrible reason: blackbirding.

Blackbirding is essentially slavery in the South Pacific. In the late 19th century different European powers began developing industries in the Pacific that were dependent on large amounts of hard labour.

In Hawaii, these industries were sugar cane and pineapple, and they recruited workers first from the Azores in Portugal, then in huge numbers from China and Japan, and finally from the Philippines.  The descendants of these recruits make up Hawaii’s multicultural population (for a really good introduction to immigrant labour in Hawaii, try to find a film called Picture Bride, about an early 20th century Japanese ‘picture bride’ who comes out to marry a sugar cane worker). In Fiji, the English brought in workers from India. For the sugar cane plantations of Queensland in Australia, and the tin mines of the Solomon islands, as well as for copra plantations and phosphate mining on other Pacific Islands, the mine and plantation owners looked closer to home: to the myriad small islands of Vanuatu and the Solomons.

In the Azores, China, Japan, India & the Philippines, recruits to Pacific islands may have been mislead as to how rosy the prospects would be in their new homeland, but they were (usually) came willingly, of their own accord.

In the Pacific islands most islanders had no desire to leave their idyllic homes, and blackbirders resorted to force. Islanders were tempted on to ships with promises of trade, or, once Christianity had taken hold, called to revival meetings by blackbirders pretending to be missionaries. Sometimes brute force was used to kidnap whole villages.

Those too young, old or weak to work were sometimes tossed overboard too far out to sea to swim back, and conditions onboard the ships were so horrific, so death rates were incredibly high. The fate of those who did survive the initial journey wasn’t much better. Working conditions on sugar cane or copra plantations were hard, and in the tin mines, even worse.

Along with poor housing, poor food, and backbreaking labour, the one thing most places with a conscripted labour force had in common was a mass of people who didn’t speak the same language, and an overseer who almost always spoke English. The result was the beginnings of bislama: the one language all the workers heard, and needed to understand a little of to survive, was English. Picking it up allowed them to communicate with each other, and to follow the orders that were given.

After 3 years of work (depending on the area), a worker who had been blackbirded was supposed to be taken home with whatever they might have earned (usually nothing, as they were charged for food and housing at rates higher than their pay). There was enormous profit for the blackbirders in collecting workers, but none in getting a worker home, so blackbirders weren’t too particular about taking people back to where they had been stolen from in the first place.  In the early years of blackbirding, many workers who had managed to survive the initial trip out, and their years of labour, were killed (and sometimes eaten) because they were dropped on an island where they were a stranger.

Unsurprisingly, once many islanders realised that interactions with outsiders could have horrible aftermaths, they fought back. The next ship to visit an island that had been the victim of blackbirding often found itself under immediate attack: some blackbirders where wiped out this way, but legitimate missionaries and traders also suffered the consequences of the blackbirders duplicity. Once bitten, the Ni Vanautu and other islanders bit first (often literally, because cannibalism was widely practiced in Vanuatu) when it came to Western ships.

Although defensive attacks made it harder, and blackbirders were sometimes charged with murder if they killed too many islanders in a collecting trip, the practice was so lucrative, and so far away from the eyes of most of the Western world that might have condemned it, that it continued up into the early 20th century. It was missionaries who can claim the most credit in ending blackbirding: they campaigned to have it be made illegal almost as zealously as they attempted to convert the islanders.

For those islanders who survived both their years of conscripted labour, and their return home, they took with them the bits of English they had learned, tacked them on to a Pacific language grammar framework and used them to communicate with missionaries and traders, and with anyone in the next village or next island over who spoke a different native language, but now shared a common, if broken, tongue.

Over the years bits of French also got mixed into bislama, because France had joint control over Vanuatu with England for most of the 20th century, and a French-based bislama is spoken in Vanuatu’s neighbor, New Caledonia. In fact the name bislama is French based: it’s a corruption of beche la mer (sea slug).

The final reason bislama is predominantly English based, and the universal language of Vanuatu, is World War II. Thousands of American servicemen (and probably a few women) descended on Vanuatu during the war and used the islands as a launching pad for campaigns in the Solomon Islands and the Philippines.

The war is still a huge deal in the islands (where it is still ‘the war’). Tourist attractions in Vanuatu today include a disused landing strip, the offshore wrecks of planes that ran out of fuel before the landing strip, diving the wreck of the USS President Coolidge, and a WII museum with sundry artifacts left behind, plus the cultural attraction of a cargo cult that worships a mythic American serviceman, John Frome (and if you think that is weird, wait until you hear about the one that worships the ‘nambawan bigfella him blong mizzes kween‘ (bonus points if you can sound that out and figure out who it is before googling it)). While they were in Vanuatu the Americans built a road around the main island of Efete, and talked with the locals in basic English, helping to solidify bislama as the lingua franca.

Because most of the words in bislama are English, you can communicate between bislama and most English dialects using the main words, so the servicemen found themselves able to talk to the locals, and vice versa.

Bislama in Vanuatu thedreamstress.com

Hermit crab, Vanuatu

It doesn’t matter if you say ‘What’s your name?” or “Wot name blong yu?”, as long as you catch the “name” part.

Some of the usages are a little different: tumas (too much) where we would say ‘very much': tank yu tumas, me likem tumas.

Some sound like a cliché of pidgin: yu savvy? (do you know/are you familiar with) from the French save.

Some were very hard for me to say, because through my cultural lense they are unacceptable: pikinini for children, for example.

Some look and sound like a completely foreign language until you think about them: yumi (us, we) from you-me. Yumi likem tumas.

And some are just like Hawaiian pidgin and make me feel at home: where yu stay? (where are you from/where are you); be dere bumbae (I will be there by-and-by).

But instead of saying da kine for good/the best as we do in Hawaii, in Vanuatu they say nambawan (number one).

Bislama in Vanuatu thedreamstress.com

Piglets and cows, Vanuatu

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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