As the seasons ebb and flow, i find myself thinking of of the past and its people. Not just the past that we portray as reenactors but of the people who have touched our lives that are no longer with us. We have had to reajust ourselves and its going ok.
We are coming into a busy season, May and June tends to be that way, with the nicer weather we can enjoy the outdoors more and the kids seem to be content running around (and not getting into trouble...oops did I say that out loud ?). Its not that we have not been busy this winter, it's that our activities tend to have a lighter load. You can read all about those activities in the upcoming newsletter. I'm trying a new program to see if it makes it easier but so far I've needed quite a bit of help from my technologically inclined husband, so i'm not sure if it's going to stick.
I must thank Sabrina for the wonderful post she has been doing. I enjoy them very much.
It seems that we have something every weekend or almost every weekend. Some of us will be camping in our canvas tents a couple times. We even get to dress up in our finery, won't that be fun? We will make sure we get lots of pictures. If you want to see what we are up to, go on over to the events page...
Living in the past by bits,
While our most common mental image of women in the early decades of the 19th century might be of them dressed in beautiful gowns, women of the Regency era, just like women of today, also wore separates, ie. separate garments for the top and bottom of the body. In this series on "Mix and Match Separates of the Early 1800s," I'll go through several historically accurate options concerning what women could wear as what we would think of as tops. However, today we have a quick discussion on skirts, the item that would have been worn on the bottom of the body with all the different sorts of garments that I'll be exploring.
In the Manitoba Living History Society, a simple rectangular tube with a drawstring waist is very popular. This option is easy to make and, with its adjustable drawstring, easy to lend to others to wear without having to worry about size. Other construction options that you might consider when making a skirt include cutting the front piece as a trapezoid, rather than having all the skirt panels be rectangles, and gathering the waist of the panels all around or just at the back. The skirt panels could be attached to a waistband with straps (like this example on the right from the Nordiska Museet) or to a small sleeveless bodice (like this example below from the National Trust Collections), both of which options would help keep the waist at the fashionable high waistline.
I hope you'll enjoy exploring these different wardrobe option with me and that they will help inspire you as you build your own historical wardrobe.
When making your own cloud there are three things to consider: pattern, yarn, and needle size.
Patterns for making clouds and nubias can be found as early as 1859 and as late as 1916. (Unfortunately, the pattern for the illustration on the right does not seem to be available online.) They are great projects for beginner knitters because the patterns are often very simple. Ragged Soldier Sutlery has collected two patterns for nubias from historical sources published in 1859. These two patterns are easy to use, and one even has a modern interpretation. The Lady's Knitting-Book (1874) by Elvina Corbould gives a more complicated pattern for a Canadian Cloud, which involves a white Shetland scarf that is two and a half yards long and bordered with "scarlet crochet" and has both ends gathered up and finished with "a large tassel" (60). The Bazaar, Exchange and Mart, And Journal of the Household (Volume XXI September 17, 1879) also gives directions for knitting a Canadian cloud that seems to be more square in shape, since it involves casting on "244 stitches" and knitting "264 rows" (180). This version of the cloud also has the ends gathered and trimmed with tassels. While it recommends using "[p\lain white, salmon pink, and pale blue" Pyrenean, Shetland, or Andalusian wool for a solid-coloured scarf, it also suggests "darker colours and stripes in two contrasting colours, three of each" for "poor persons" (180). More information on clouds can be found on the West Coast Fibre Arts website, where the host Wendy has collected some patterns and made a cloud of her own.
The yarn should be a very light one, preferably a lace weight or super fine weight (fingering or baby weight). The recommended yarns from period patterns are also all wools, so consider using a 100% wool fibre yarn. The fluffiness of the yarn will help create the cloud-like nature of the scarf. While many of the types of yarn are no longer available, Shetland, which is often recommended for clouds, is still manufactured by people in Scotland. It can be a bit pricey, so if you don't feel like splurging on yarn really any soft, lightweight, fluffy wool will do. Remember, you're going to be wrapping it around your head, face, and neck, so pick something that feels comfortable against your skin.
Needles should be fairly large, especially compared to the weight of the yarn. I would recommend anything from 4mm to 6mm needles (that's 6-10 in US needle sizes). Try out a couple of rows in your chosen pattern to see if you like how it looks. It should be light and lacy and cloud-like. The stitches will look quite big and loose. See below for a picture of my own in-progress cloud, which uses lace-weight Shetland wool and size 4.5mm needles in a lacy knit pattern that I made up.
It can get pretty chilly during winter events. One great way to keep warm is to wrap yourself in a cloud. Also known as a Canadian cloud, a nubia, or a nubian, these long scarves were worn throughout much of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century. These versatile scarves were either knitted or crocheted and in various weights of yarn, depending on purpose and the station of the wearer.
Clouds make frequent appearances in literature of the period, which can give us an idea of their variety and how they were worn. In her autobiography, Clearing in the West, notable Canadian Nellie McClung writes of having a "home-made red and black 'cloud' to wear in the cold weather". Frances Monck, in her book My Canadian Leaves: An Account of a Visit to Canada in 1864-1865, mentions her intention "to get a white cloud" describing it as "a long knitted scarf, which goes all over your cap and round and round your throat, and ties in long ends, and hangs over your back" (189). Agnes Macdonald, the second wife of Sir John A. Macdonald, when writing about what Canadians wear to go for a ride in a "tobogan" for Murray's Magazine, writes of "the fleecy folds of a 'cloud'--that peculiarly Canadian wrap which, consisting of a fringed strip of loosely knitted or woven thick soft wool nine feet long and eighteen inches wide, is both comfortable and becoming" (84). Macdonald gives very specific directions for wearing the cloud:
"To arrange properly must be passed over the
forehead, leaving one end half as long again as
the other; both ends are then crossed behind the
neck and drawn forward. The longest end passed once or twice about the neck--letting it lie snugly about
ears, throat, cheeks, and chin--is next brought to meet the shorter one, when both are looped together, and
the fringed ends fall over the shoulder." (84)
The above picture from the McCord Museum shows Lady Dufferin wearing what is presumably a cloud in a manner similar to that described by Macdonald. The cloud was clearly a practical, as well as stylish, garment. The lengths of wool wrapped around one's head and neck would provide good insulation from the cold and keep out the biting winds. Anyone who has experienced a Manitoban winter can appreciate the benefits that would accrue from having a scarf like a cloud.
I hope that this introduction to the Canadian cloud has peaked your interest. Next up will be information on how clouds were made in the period and some tips for making your own so that you can bundle up like a true 19th century Canadian.
Note: With the exception of Clearing in the West and where links are provided, all cited sources can be found by searching Google Books.
Have you ever wondered what happens in a re-enacter's house before an event? I have on many an occasion. Here's a little glimpse on what happens in my house. I can't vouch for anyone else because everyone is different.
A few days before the event( most likely one or two) depending on the event, I check if I can find everything we need. Now, keep in mind we are 5 in my family. If all goes well I find everything in order. In my family this is rarely the case. There is always something to be fixed and put aside to be fixed, which seems to get lost in the fray of every day life here. So off to check the Laundry baskets, the kids rooms, the multiple fix-it and sewing piles ( I always have a project going, but that's for another time), to finally find the item fallen behind a piece of furniture.
Once all our pieces of clothing are found, i make sure they are reasonably clean. Then I fix whatever needs fixing. One time I had to put back buttons back on a vest. I also check if it still fits. I have two growing boys of different builds, so it happens that they outgrow of their clothing. Usually there are tucks in waistbands and in the legs I can take out. If they don't fit we scrounge around for an alternative. These days thought, my oldest is starting to fit into adult clothes so I've modified some of my husbands clothes to fit him.
Then it's the hair's turn. The boys I generally don't have to do anything but a light brushing, my oldest keeps his hair short, but my youngest boy keeps it long so I try to convince him to pull it back in a ponytail. For my daughter nothing specific either. For myself, there is usually something to be done, for the most part i put my hair up in a bun, put on a day cap and call it a day. Other times though, I need to fancy my hair up, and do something completely different, which means research and trying it out before hand.
The day of the event seems like complete chaos (to me anyways). I lay out everyones clothing. There seems to always be the search for dark socks( we never seem to have them when we need them.) I often pack food and water. Pack any gear we have, such as demonstrations and any hand sewing I happen to have. And off we go.
Sabrina here, writing my first blog post to give Genevieve a bit of a break from taking care of the whole website.
Manitoba Living History Society got invited again to the New Year's Levee at the Manitoba Legislative Building to meet the Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Janice Filmon. We got a picture on the grand staircase in all of our 1860s glory.
After frantically getting ready on site, we went through the receiving line making our best bows and curtsies to Her Honour as we were introduced. Then we mixed and mingled with other visitors while enjoying the complimentary punch, cider, and snacks. We met a number of interesting people who were equally interested in us as we wandered around in our "funny clothes." We were happy and honored to be return guests and are looking forward to many more years of attending the Levee.
I hope your holidays went well. I've added some pictures and the current Newsletter is now up.