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Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

Fossil Hunting, Edwardian Style

Our historical weekend for 2021 is come and gone.  This year we planned an exciting activity: fossil hunting, 1910s style!

Nina is a keen fossil hunter.  She’s familiar with the places in New Zealand where you can go fossil hunting.  She suggested we choose a holiday house within driving distance of one of them, and make a day of it.

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

What a splendid idea!

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

We planned our sporting chic outfits, with varying degrees of practicality in mind:

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

I’m wildly envious of Miss K’s jodhpurs, but couldn’t justify making another outfit this year, as I’ve made so many as Scroop Pattern samples.

So while everyone else was a khaki clad adventurer, I was the slightly-out-of-place city cousin in her perky day-at-the-seaside attire:

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

That was quite fine, as it turns out I’m not much of a fossil hunter.  I hate the texture of dry clay soil, hate the dirt on my hands, and got bored of poking about in about 37 seconds.

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

Not a problem!  I was quite happy to be the event photographer while everyone else scrambled over hillsides and got excited about 5 million year old bits of stone shells that looked an awful lot like the significantly newer shells down on the beach a few meters away.  I was hoping for trilobites.  Turns out I was only off by a few billion years…

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

I joked to my parents that I’m a bit of a genetic disappointment in my dislike of poking around in dry dirt as the daughter of farmers and the granddaughter of a noted (semi-noted?) archeologist.  My mum said “Oh, you’re not a disappointment, farmers don’t like dry dirt either!”.

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

Luckily everyone else was having a fabulous time scrambling around on the clay cliffside, getting progressively higher up and giving me a delightful view of all the lace trimming on many an Ettie Petticoat.

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

There were many Etties and Kilbirnie Skirts and Selina Blouses in evidence (and Rilla Corsets, somewhat less in evidence, but there nonetheless).  My friends have been very helpful pattern testers!

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

It wasn’t all Scroop Patterns though.  Nina’s skirt is the Evelyn by Wearing History.  Miss K’s jodhpurs are the Mrs Depew’s pattern (it is not for the faint hearted).

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

Once we’d had enough of fossil hunting, we retired to the beach for lunch.

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

We passed on lashing of gingerbeer in favour of tea.

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

And what do fossil hunters eat?  Enormous pasties!  (Mushroom and leek).

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

I couldn’t decide whether you should see the image where I look elegant and ladylike with my pastie, or the one where I am awkwardly chowing down on it.  Enjoy them both!

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

A fabulous way to spend a day!

Edwardian fossil hunters, thedreamstress.com

And I might get to make those jodhpurs after all.  I’ve got ideas for next year’s retreat…

A huge thanks to Averil, who took all the photos featuring me, and the one featuring Nina fourth from the bottom.

Image shows the upper half of a dark purple-brown bcoraded satin with velvet trimmings mid 19th century dress from the side-back

Rate the Dress: The global textile trade ca 1850, illustrated by a dress

This week’s rate the dress illustrates how widespread the global textile trade was in the mid-19th century, and how a dress worn in Europe or the Americas might be made from fabric woven in China.  It also brings up an interesting discussion of how Asian fashion and textiles have been perceived, and pigeonholed, in the West.

It’s a discussion that deserves a bit of time, which is why this post took me so long to write!

Last week: a draped evening dress of the early 1910s in lilac pink

Most of you loved, loved, loved the Jays Ltd evening dress (or at least loved everything about it except the sash), but the few who didn’t, really didn’t, pulling down the overall rating just a smidge…but not that much!

The Total: 9 out of 10

It’s down .2 from the week before, but still oh-so-good.  I swear I’m not purposefully only picking things I think you’ll all love!

This week: a mid-19th century day dress of Chinese silk

This week’s dress is an 1850s day dress made in Britain from silk imported from China.

Image shows a dark purple-brown mid 19th century dress from the front

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1

The bodice of this dress is quite interesting.  The velvet collar wrapping down the front is slightly reminiscent of dressing gowns of this period, giving it an almost informal feel that is at odds with the lush fabric and fitted waist of the dress

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1

The lush fabric is also quite interesting.  Fabric has been imported from China into Europe for millennia, but few examples used in European clothing in the mid-19th century feature such obviously Chinese motifs.

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1

In addition to the brocaded dragon roundels on the silk, the fabric has manufacturers marks in Chinese on its selvedges.  In the 1850s they were probably sewn into/embroidered on to the selvedges with thread after the fabric was woven, a technique still seen on some high end Chinese and Japanese silks.

Image shows the upper half of a dark purple-brown bcoraded satin with velvet trimmings mid 19th century dress from the side-back

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1

Although there are many examples of formal garments made from textiles imported from China, India and Japan in the 19th century, there is also a strong link between patterns and designs that had their origins in these countries (and other areas of the world seen as ‘exotic’ to Victorians) and informal, private, intimate, garments.  Think of all the examples of Victorian petticoats and corset covers decorated with paisley embroidery.  Or tea gowns based on kimono?  Dressing robes, banyans, and smoking jackets all had their genesis in banyans imported from India, jackets imported from the Ottoman Empire, and robes imported from China.

In the Victorian imagination, the ‘East’ was often a world of seraglio, concubines, opium dens, and harems.  This image was perpetuated by accounts like Leonowen’s The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870).  Although 20 years later than this dress, it similar themes were covered in numerous other novels and bibliographies that influenced her work.

This image contributed to a tendency to use obviously ‘Oriental’ textiles for private garments which still has an impact on fashion today.  It’s not a coincidence that the only lingerie store on Wellington’s priciest shopping street has been decorated with an ‘Asian exotic’ ‘geisha’ theme (their words) for the past 12 years (it’s a choice that I was gobsmacked by in 2009, and cannot believe is still in place in 2021).

The longstanding Western practice of pigeonholing Asian fashion as informal (and thus less worthy of being taken seriously) and inherently sensual has a wider social impact as well.  For one, it contributes to negative stereotypes where Asian woman are both sexualised, and infantilised.

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1All of this makes this dress particularly intriguing.  The combination of a textile with a very obviously Chinese design on a dress with a bodice that reads, at least to the modern eye, as more informal, brings up a number of questions.

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1

Day Dress, ca. 1850, British, silk, Purchase, Gifts in memory of Paul M. Ettesvold, and Judith and Gerson Leiber Fund, 1994, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.302.1

Is this, despite the decadent textiles, an informal dress?  Perhaps a morning dress, just a smidge up from a wrapper?  Or are modern impressions colouring our view?

It’s true that the styling in the pictures that read as more brown are not helping the formality: the too-small hoop and too-low mannequin allow the skirt to trail on the floor.

It  also pays to remember the dress would have been worn with engageantes (under sleeves, usually in white with lace and embroidery) and a white lace collar, both of which would make it read as more complete.

What do you think of the dress, aesthetically, and otherwise?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste.

As usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment.

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

18th century pockets to go with my Amalia Jacket

Let’s be honest, for all the awesome things about 18th century womenswear, pockets are probably the most awesome.

Pockets big enough to fit ALL your stuff?  The best!  Moveable pockets that you can take from outfit to outfit without having to take everything out?  Even better!  Pockets that can be made out of anything from the most awesome fabric, to the smallest collection of scraps, and can be anything from un-decorated to elaborately embroidered?  The dream.

(While panier pockets that you can literally stuff your entire picnic into are amazing, I think that hanging pockets still take the (figurative, if not literal) cake, because you can still sit in normal chairs while wearing them).

Despite my unabashed love of 18th c pockets, I’ve been making do with my not-very-historical bugs & birds pockets from 2019 under my 18th c costumes.

When I cut out my blue and white chintz Amalia jacket, one of my cutting goals was to have enough left over to make pockets, without compromising the layout of the chintz pattern on the jacket.  And I managed it!

An 18th century pocket, thedreamstress.com

So now I have a matching Amalia Jacket and pockets.  Will anyone ever see them together?  Nope!  Do they still make me very happy?  Yep!  And I’m pleased to now (finally!) have properly historical pockets.  Maybe next time I’ll make patchwork or embroidered ones…

The Making

Here’s how I made my pockets, which may be helpful if you’re making your own.

A pair of hanging 18th century womens pockets made of blue and white floral fabric, with red and white floral binding, lay on a wooden floor.

The Pattern

I used the Snowshill Manor pocket pattern from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion.  They are from the 2nd quarter of the 18th century.  Most standard pocket shapes seemed to have been used throughout the century (albeit with varying levels of popularity) so this shape should still be appropriate for the 1780s.

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

If you want to get a little more ambitious with your patterning, many museums now give dimensions for their pockets.

Larsdattir at The 18th Century Notebook has a fantastic round-up of extant pockets organised by type, if you want to deep-dive into pocket materials and shapes.

The Materials

A teal blue linen and a cotton with a small geometric floral print in red on cream are layered over a cotton fabric with a vining floral print in blue on white

Obviously my blue and white chintz!  For backing, I had a rummage through my scraps, and found a dark teal linen that I’d made my mother a Robin Dress out of.  The red-pink floral is for my binding.

The Making

I didn’t feel that the chintz was quite strong enough on its own, and there are multiple examples of extant pockets with a lining layer (usually just for the front fabric), so I decided to line the front of my pockets with a white linen.

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

My white linen scraps weren’t quite big enough, so I had to piece one side.

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

It actually only took about 15 minutes extra, and makes my pocket feel very authentic!

Then I basted the linings to pocket outers, with help from Miss Fiss:

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

With the linings and outers basted together, I marked the slash lines. I’d made sure to start and end my basting on either side of the slash line, so that I wouldn’t be cutting my basting when I cut it.

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

I basted around the slash lines:

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

And carefully cut them open:

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

I slashed one open, bound it, and then slashed and bound the other, so there was no time for the fabric to fray.

Binding:

The current trend in reproduction pockets is to bind them with linen or wool tape.  It’s easy, pre-made, and is certainly common in extant examples.  However pockets bound in straight cut strips of fabric (cotton and linen for cotton and linen, silk for silk) seem to be equally common.

I went looking for extant cotton and linen pockets with this type of finish.  Some of the examples have self-fabric binding.  Some feature different fabrics in the slit and outer bindings.  Here’s another example of different fabric, with a stripe pattern on the slit binding that makes it clear that the fabric is cut on the grain, not on the bias.  Some use the same fabric for their slit and outer binding.  There are even examples, like this patchwork pocket, that have joined/patchwork bindings.

While some extant examples have plain binding, I love the patterned pockets with contrasting pattern binding.  A rummage in my stash unearthed a cream cotton with a small floral print that’s a reasonable approximation of some late 18th c block prints. I really like the way the pink-red works with the teal-blues and grey-blues.

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

To make the binding I cut 1” wide lengths of my red-pink floral.  I cut them from selvedge to selvedge, as that’s the most efficient way to use the fabric.  Minimising fabric wastage is almost always the most historically accurate way to make something.

I then pressed the fabric strips in half, and pressed in each side 1/4”, ending up with a binding that was 1/4” wide.  Next time I’d try to make it even narrower, as some 18th c bindings are really skinny!

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

I slipstitched my slit binding on:

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

And then placed my finished fronts on my finished backs, and pinned and basted the backs to the fronts around the edges:

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

Then I trimmed of any overhang or offsets, and got to work slipstitching on my outer binding:

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

It’s actually really easy to ease a straight cut piece of binding around a curve.  I just kept smoothing as I went.

Almost done:

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

(tiny safety pins are an amazing help for projects like this, especially if you have arm/hand issues where holding the fabric ahead of you as you work adds extra strain).

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

Finishing

For my tape, I used the last of the 20c lengths of cotton tape I describe in my Birds & Bugs pocket post.  I don’t know when I’ll be able to get linen tape again with all the delays in shipping.  Using what you have, instead of ordering something special in, is also more environmental, and, in its own way, more historical.

I just folded it over the top edge, and whipstitched it down.

A pair of 18th century pockets in blue and white vining floral fabric, edged in red-pink on cream floral, with small scissors, thread, and a thimble sitting on top of them.

And there are my pockets!

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

I got Felicity to model them, just as she did with the Birds & Bugs pockets.  You can see how much older she’s getting, poor darling.   She’ll always be my kitten though!

Making 18th century pockets, thedreamstress.com

I hope this was useful if you decide to make your own 18th century pockets.