Tag Archives: Material Culture

Jumps 2.0

I had nothing going on this past weekend, so I cranked out my new jumps.

I machine-sewed them, which went against my new habit of hand sewing everything … but I wanted to spend more time fitting and experimenting with a new pattern then putzing with hand sewing. I’m reacting against my last stays experience: I spent a looong time hand sewing those and they came out very well made, but don’t fit so well.

I saved the pattern for these, so I’ll make a second, hand-sewn pair later. I want to make the second pair in white cotton and embroider them, like the original. Mine are made from about 1.5 yards of bulky cotton/linen canvas in a drab tan/olive color. I used steel boning and some nice waxed cotton cord for the stay lace.

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The plan, based on a pair of 1780s-90s jumps at Colonial Williamsburg, probably worn by Ann Van Rensselaer in New York. These jumps aren’t on the CW website anymore (!?!?!) but they’re in What Clothes Reveal, by Linda Baumgarten, page 211. 

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“cut here”

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The front part boned, and the back part chalked out.

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Ironing the ends over to sew the back pieces in.

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Handmade eyelets in between ugly machine-sewn channels. 

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On my desk, almost finished!

So right now they’re pretty much finished. They went together very quickly, and the design is flattering and doesn’t use up a huge amount of materials. I’ll see if I can get some nicer pictures of them soon.

 


How-To: Oiling a Singer Model 27

   This November, my Singer Model 27 turns 113 years old. Here’s how I’ve been keeping it running smoothly.

   After any restoration work, all a Model 27 really needs is continual oiling. It’s simple enough to oil yourself, and it’s all iron and steel, so you don’t have to worry about the oil reacting with plastic or electronic components. Hypothetically, if you dropped it in a huge vat of oil it would just smile.

   I use gun oil for my machines. I think it’s a good choice, because it’s meant for small machines that get dirty and work up heat. I’ve had no trouble with it. 

   Before you start, take out the needle, the shuttle and bobbin, and the felt disc on the spool pin. I’ve also taken my machine off the table, and removed the belt, one of the plates on the floor of the machine, and the bobbin winder: but you don’t need to do all that. 

When does my Model 27 need oiling?

    It needed oiling yesterday. And today, and tomorrow. And the day before yesterday and the day before that.

    No really. It will take a few drops a day if you’re using it, and more every so often. This machine will work ok without all this attention, but it’ll really work well if it’s been oiled. 

How-to:

   The Model 27 has three oiling holes, all located in the top of the machine. Three or four drops in each hole are all that’s needed on a daily basis, for daily use. Spin the wheel as you’re adding oil. If the oil forms a bubble, poke it with a pin until it drains.

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The first hole is located very close to the join between the machine body and the belt cover.

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The second hole is right next to the spool pin, and should usually be covered by a little disc of felt or wool, to keep the spool from scratching the enamel.

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The third hole is on the arm proper, right up by the head/face.

Other points to oil:

The spot at the top of the head where the foot post and needle post come out (visible in the photo directly above): oil these liberally and flip the foot lever/spin the wheel a few times so the oil gets down into the workings. 

Any adjustment screw or nut: a drop is more than enough, then wipe off the excess. If you can take the screw out without the machine popping apart, do that; oil the threads and put the screw back in. 

For the thread tension contraption, don’t go crazy on the oil. It needs oiling, but it’s difficult to wipe down, and any oil left will get on your sewing thread. 

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The head of the machine with the faceplate removed.

   Inside the head of the machine is a good place to oil, especially if the machine will be sitting for a while. Take out the two screws and pop off the faceplate. All you need for this is a 1/4″ flat-blade screwdriver. This size works for most of the screws on a Model 27, so it’s nice to keep one handy. A 1/2″ flat-blade screwdriver fits the rest of the screws on the Model 27. 

   With the head open, drop the foot and spin the wheel. Whatever moves, oil the joint liberally and spin the wheel some more. Oil the upper part of a joint, then spin the wheel and let the oil work its way down.

   While you have the face plate off, you can take a small, stiff-bristled paintbrush and clean any lint out of the machine. The workings of the Model 27 are pretty enclosed and shouldn’t accumulate too much lint, but it’s nice to check anyway. 

   Notice that the body of the machine isn’t enameled where the faceplate joins the body; this area is bare metal which rusts easily and should be oiled a little before you put the plate back on. Wipe it down, and oil the screw threads too. You’ll be glad you did, next time you take the plate off.

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Inside the body

    Above: the oil holes at the top should direct oil right to most of the hinges inside the body of the machine. To get oil into the rest of the hinge here, you ned to turn the machine on its side, or to use a dropper with a long nose. Again, spin the wheel for a while to get the oil worked in. 

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Inside the head

    Above: this little door opens to show the end of the rotating inner arm, and the shoulder of the small arm that holds the thread. The hole in the top of the machine should direct oil to this spot, so all you really need to do is add a drop or two to the top of the shoulder of the little arm. 

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The undercarriage

    Above: every so often, you’ll need to drop oil on every joint underneath and spin the wheel for a few minutes. 

Storage:

    Now that you’ve oiled it, it’s probably going to seep oil for a little while. You have been warned.

    I wad paper towels up and pack the machine with the pads, and I set the whole thing on a rag or a few paper towels to catch any oil.

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    When you’re ready to sew again, take care to wipe all the oil from the outside of the machine and wherever the thread winds. It’s a nice idea to sew a few lines on a scrap of cloth before starting your actual project, then wipe the machine down again, just in case there’s more oil working its way out.

How much is too much?

     There’s really no such thing as over-oiling. It’s just a little wasteful, and it means that you’ll have more work to do wiping off the extra oil when you want to use the machine again. 

     If I’m not using the machine daily, I give it a good oiling once a month or so, and spin the wheel every few days to keep it from rusting in place. If I’m using it daily it gets a few drops every day, then a thorough oiling when I’m done. 

     And that’s how to keep the Model 27 spinning! Happy sewing! : D

More:

     A facsimile of the original Singer Model 27 manual, with instructions on how to oil the machine. 

     Another link to The Singer Sewing Machine Co. Manual for the Model 27 & 28. This version is newer and shows added motors on the machines. 

     The Wikipedia page on early Singer models.

     More info on Singer vibrating shuttle models.


To (let it) be or not to (let it) be?

That’s always the question.

I have had a second tea gown hanging in storage for a few months now. It’s a little older than my first, and a little larger, too. It’s also been remade more times than my first one. I think it was made around 1900, remade in the early teens, and then re-remade sometime in the last few decades.

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I am hoping to get some better pictures this weekend, so stay tuned, I guess.

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The first incarnation had a longer, flared skirt (I can tell because the seams inside have been re-sewn, and the selvages show the original taper was much wider), and puffier sleeves (the insides of the arms have three ingenious horizontal tucks that persuade the puff to be larger and fuller to the back of the arm). The second incarnation had a narrower skirt, then, and the sleeves were a little longer and less poofy. The third incarnation just added snaps down the back and an ugly black ribbon through the lace at the neckline, creating a drawstring. 

I really do like that this dress has so much to tell. It’s been worn by two or three people in the last 100+ years, each leaving a mark. I would love to retain all that information, but then again, I’d love to repair the dress as well.

So to what point do I restore it? Do I even try? I’ve already removed the drawstring and I’m considering taking the snaps out. I can’t re-flare and lengthen the skirt, so it’s not going back to 1900. I could put the tucks back in the sleeves, but it won’t be complete without the longer skirt. 

Without a provenance, all this dress has is the story of alteration after alteration, owner after owner, for a hundred years. I may just wash it, repair the damage at the front (there’s a large tear, but it doesn’t show because it’s inside a pleat) and see how I feel about it. 


Excessive Fru-fru of the 1890s

In the late 19th century, women wore boas, made from lace, silk, and/or feathers. I guess it’s been obvious for others, but for me, I didn’t realize that these existed until recently – existed in reality, that is, and not as a part of polyester can-can costumes for Halloween. *gak*

This is one of my great-grandmothers, Elise. This picture was taken around 1896, in NYC. Elise is wearing a white boa, with flower-like lace ruffles at the shoulders and lengths of narrow tapes at each end. The color of her boa matches the shirt she’s wearing.

Wide shoulders were hugely fashionable during the mid-1890s, and it’s a little surprising to see that Elise is wearing a shirtwaist that doesn’t have gigot/leg-of-mutton sleeves – rather, she’s wearing the ‘bishop’ type sleeve, with fullness at the lower arm and wrist. It’s a nice visual reminder that not everybody wore massively puffed sleeves during this decade. That being said, her boa is placed around her shoulders, with the ruffle exactly where leg-of-mutton sleeves would begin. Visually, the boa is creating a similar silhouette.

Boas from the late 19th century seem to usually be the long, feathery type.

The image above is from England, and is dated 1892.

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The feather boa above is from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. So fluffy. The Met has handfuls of feather boas from this decade, in crazy colors like black, red, black, blue, black, pink, and black. I think they may have some in black, too.

Above: the Met has this boa too, which looks pretty similar to Elise’s boa, except it’s just the floofy part. This is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Elise’s boa.

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And then there’s Mary, another of my great-grandmothers. She also lived in NYC, in Greenwich Village, in the 1890s. Her hairstyle, a bun with a curly puff of hair at the front, seem to have been most popular in the late 1880s and early 1890s. So I’m guessing that this picture was taken between 1888-1895.

In this picture she’s wearing a colored shirtwaist with little circular black appliqués on the folded collar, and what looks like either a boa (made from the same appliqués, maybe lace) or some sort of decoration on the front of her shirtwaist. Because it was the 1890s, and floofy, fluffy, fru-fru-y clothing was totally in.

I’m not entirely sure what Mary is wearing here; a boa or just a fancy shirtwaist. If she’s wearing a boa, it matches her shirt (like Elise’s) – but more than that, it is identical to the decoration on the collar. Maybe she had a boa specifically for a certain shirtwaist? I can believe that – if any decade had shirtwaists with matching boas, it would have been the 1890s, right?

 


An Edwardian bib-front … skirt?

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I got this piece over the past weekend, and I’m not 100% sure about it.

I’m 80% sure it’s from between 1900-1910. There are no tags or marks of a tag, which would be helpful in dating it. I can tell it was sewn with a treadle sewing machine. It’s made with the correct techniques and materials, but it’s sooooo new-looking. Like, made-yesterday new. Was it?

I’m most puzzled about the bib front. It’s made without hooks or any remnants of straps or suspenders for the bib, and though there are no pin-strain marks I’m guessing it was pinned (I looped a piece of black thread over the shoulders of my dress form so I wouldn’t have to pin into my 1890s silk shirtwaist). The bib is cut as one with the front of the skirt and the lace insets, so it’s not added on in any way.

Has anybody ever seen a petticoat/skirt like this before?

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Packing the Collection

One of the things that kept me from collecting antique clothing early on was that I didn’t know how to store it. I remember passing up an 1870s bustle dress for $25 because of this reason.

Yes. I am kicking myself for that one.

I’ve been doing some research since then. It’s still daunting to store old clothing, but there are ways to do it. Here’s my basic battle plan.

1) Plastic Boxes

Check out any museum storage company like Talas or Gaylords, and you’ll see corrugated plastic storage boxes. They fold together, have loose-fitting lids, and seem very simple for the high price tag – especially since you can use ordinary plastic tubs. It’s not as simple as going to WalMart and buying any tub, however.

If a plastic is marked #2, #4, or #5, it’s “safe” meaning it doesn’t degrade under UV rays or leech too much icky stuff. Museum storage boxes are usually made from either #5 (which is polypropylene) or a mixture of polypropylene and polyethylene.

Clear (not tinted) Sterilite tubs are made from polypropylene (#5) and are acid-free, which makes them a good choice. The Container Store carries a line of clear polypropylene tubs as well, which are just as good. Rubbermaid tubs are a different story. The Rubbermaid website doesn’t quite say what theirs are made of.

Avoid Dresser Drawer Syndrome; use shallow tubs for storing flat clothing. It’s easier to find things, keeps less weight on the pieces on the bottom and creates fewer creases.

Clothing needs some air circulation. I have no real solution for this, but I sometimes leave tub lids slightly off. I put small desiccant packs directly in the tub, in case any excess moisture is sealed in when I close the lid. It helps to pack clothing in paper; crumpled, it keeps the layers of cloth separated and allows a little air to move. I also try to check the clothing regularly.

2) Padded Hangers

There are a billion tutorials on building your own padded hangers out on the internets, so I’m just here to say “do it”. Padded hangers are incredible for supporting clothing, they keep the insides of the garment apart for better air circulation, and they reduce creasing and wrinkling. So just do it, unless the garment isn’t stable enough for hanging. That’s an educated decision that will have to be made multiple times for each garment. Because the passage of time. And because gravity.

I use unbleached cotton muslin, thick plastic hangers (WalMart), and fiberfill. I get fiberfill at WalMart by buying cheap pillows for a few dollars apiece. It’s cheaper than the craft isle and it’s the same stuff(ing). Also comes in a handy storage bag. And another life hack: throw the pillow in the washing machine before you use it. Voila, clean fiberfill.

Another great thing to do is to add supports to the garment itself to keep stress off the shoulders. Carefully sew white (or unbleached) cotton loops to the bottom curve of an arms eye seam or at a waistline seam; sewing through all the layers of fabric. Make the loops short enough to just support the weight of the garment when they are placed over a hanger.

5 3) Garment Bags

Garment bags are so easy! Buy unbleached cotton muslin, and cut a width that’s five or so inches wider than a hanger’s width. Fold it in half and sew up the tube, then just sew the top together, leaving a small hole in the center. I like to use the woven edges for the lower hemline and the upper seam, and for the vertical seam I use the cut edges. It saves time sewing them up.

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Homemade custom garment bags: a large one for a 1930s sailor dress, and a small one for a 1920s swimsuit. I try to save muslin this way.

Some clothing can’t handle the friction and pulling that putting a garment bag on creates, so these can also be made to button up the front. Instead of the vertical seam, hem each cut edge. Add loops or buttonholes to one side and buttons to the other. Just make sure there’s an overlap so you can’t see much of the garment inside. It all needs to be covered.

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If I’m keeping one piece in the same bag for a while, I tack tags on the bag so I don’t have to open it to see what’s inside.

4) Humidity Control

I went on Amamzon.com and bought a gallon of orange-indicating desiccant beads. They’re much safer than the blue-indicating variety, and on Amazon, they’re many times cheaper than museum storage companies.

Talas offers a great system of desiccant beads in little tins that look like Altoids containers with holes in the lids – I didn’t want to use actual Altoids containers for fear that they would rust, so I bought some food-storage plastic containers. Being meant for food storage means they are (or should) be made from a stable plastic like polypropylene. I dumped a handful of beads into those, punched some holes in the lids, and snapped the lids on. They work great, and don’t rust.

5)  Support (Hose)

Use cheap stockings (tights, hose, whatever you call them; the thin nylon things), stuffed with fiberfill, for temporary support. Like, if you’re trying to bulk out a little dress form, or if you’re working on a more permanent storage support but need a temporary one immediately. I went to WalMart recently and picked up a bunch of short knee-high type stockings for $.33 each. Stuffed and wadded into balls, they’re been great for keeping the toes of shoes supported. They also make good shoulder supports for those tops with puffed sleeves – pin them onto your dress form. Just remember, the fibers in the stockings will break down after a while. Try not to use them for long.

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1972 Converse which have been pretty much destroyed. Stockings stuffed with fiberfill have helped get them back into a normal shape after having been flattened. It would be silly to use a good support in these before they’re cleaned, so I’m using the disposable stockings and fiberfill for now.

6) A Note of Importance

One note about cotton muslin: WASH IT FIRST. Also AIR DRY it. Fabric comes coated in a sizing, like starch, for a better hand. I’ve gotten chemical burns from washing cheap cotton and getting the sizing on my hands. Not all sizing is this bad, but this is not stuff you want touching your antique clothing.

So wash your cotton, and if it smells like anything other than fresh water or your detergent when it comes out, wash it again. The best bet is to wash the cotton with soap meant for washing antique clothing, but if you’re on a budget like I am, just make sure to get all the sizing out of the cotton with your own detergent. Air drying means you won’t be putting additional softeners and perfumes in it, which can transfer to the clothing.

7,854.413 1/3) Random Linky Links

Museum Textiles Services: a company that does archival storage consulting. They have some tips for storing textiles on this page and this page.

Talas: while they’re still kinda expensive, they’re a little cheaper than some other companies.

Gaylord: they carry everything you never thought you needed. I love to browse this site and drool over shelving and tissue paper. Please tell me I’m not the only person who does this.

 

 

 


I’m baaack!

I finally got WordPress working again, after it was glitchy for over a week. This past week, my 4-year old MacBook decided it was time to start acting geriatric and have a little meltdown, but it looks like it’s gotten over itself for the time being. Yay, I now have computing abilities again!!

So, STUFF has been happening. My awesome mom picked up a few things for my collection: a 1890s shirtwaist, a turn-of-the-century baby dress, a 1950s purse, a 1890s girl’s dress, and three 1960s dresses. How cool is that? I’m working on the first two items, which I’ve been able to look at. I’m getting around to writing detailed blog post on those, but until then here’s the shirtwaist, paired with my 1850s-1870s Quaker bonnet.

10455822_10203984176273056_703664233068884189_nThe kitchen turned out to be the best-lit room in the house … yeah whatever. And yeah, the two pieces are decades apart; I’m just so excited to have vaguely similar pieces to almost make into kind-of outfits that they’re close enough for my brain right now!

 


The Baby Coat

When I bought a lot of vintage/’Victorian’ clothing on eBay a few months ago, I wound up with this little guy.

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Adorable! but …

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eww.

A very close to threadbare, looks/smells like it was stored in a mildewy garage for the last half century, baby coat. A great project to practice my conservation skilz, all of which I’ve gleaned off the internets. I decided that if I failed horribly, I wouldn’t be ruining somebody’s heirloom (I’d still feel bad though).

I decided to wash the coat because it smelled less than fresh. It’s knitted wool and cotton, but I couldn’t think of a better way to clean it. I didn’t have any good soap that I trusted on old textiles, so I just used cool water. I figured that as long as I didn’t shrink it, I wouldn’t be doing damage, and removing some of the dirt would be beneficial.

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Lovely …

After a ten minute soak I got what looked like weak tea out of the coat. Three rinses later, I was still getting brown water, but a slightly different shade. When I looked closer, I realized that some of the pile was coming off the coat, so I stopped.

To dry the coat, I made this cool setup out of a clean window screen and the flat tub. The coat lay on the screen which sat on top of the tub. I filled the tub with a thin layer of orange indicating desiccant beads, and set a fan to blow over the coat. I propped the coat open so air could circulate. It took over two days to dry the little guy, but it worked great. An you know what? It actually smells much better now. I didn’t think plain water would be so effective.

To get the lint and bits of junk out of the pile, I used a new soft-bristle toothbrush. I didn’t want to pull any more pile out, so I used the toothbrush sparingly.

DSCN9334So here’s the little kid, cleaned up! If the buttons look off-center to you, that’s because they are and your brain/eyes are not broken, congrats. After I cleaned the coat I found three cut button threads an inch to the left of the buttonholes, where a second row of false buttons once was. The coat would have appeared double-breasted originally.

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There’s also this, a cut tag near the left front corner. I’m figuring it’s a tag from a garment union, but there’s no way to tell since it was cut off.

So what’s next for the little guy? I’m going to repair the place at the right cuff where the lining is falling out, and I’m going to freeze it for a month or so, to hopefully discourage anything living in it from living any longer. I’d love to add three buttons to the front, to kinda restore the original look, but I’m not sure if I have any similar buttons in my vintage button hoard. I’ll keep my eyes open.

DSCN9320So what do you think? Personally, I really like the coat. Somebody (I’m guessing a generation of somebodies, actually) wore this coat almost to death, then saved it for another 60-80 years because they liked it too.

Or maybe because it was so grimy that they didn’t want to get close enough to it to throw it out.

 

 


Charles James, Revisited

I’ve just found a few interviews with some of the talented folks who worked on the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit currently at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Enjoy!

Charles James: Beyond Fashion—Interview with Conservators Sarah Scaturro and Glenn Petersen

Interview with Charles James: Beyond Fashion Co-author Jan Glier Reeder

Charles James: Beyond Fashion—Interview with Photographer Karin L. Willis

 


A ‘Paper Dress’ … From the Late 15th Century

Yeah okay, so not entirely paper.

Dr. Henrike Lähnemann, chair of German Studies at Newcastle University, has delivered a series of lectures looking at the use of paper in textiles. The items in question are late 15th century German dresses that once clothed religious statues. The Bodleian Library has published a short blog post about it here.
Paper has been documented as used in other pieces of clothing, too, but since until recently I’ve only studied 18th century clothing in depth, I’ve never noticed it used during another century. I’ve seen newsprint used in a banyan cap and some wallets, and paper or cardboard used in stays. I used two types of paper when I sewed myself an 18th century wallet, and it’s held up really well.
So why not? Paper isn’t too washable in the soap-and-water sense, but it was a cheap and available material, and works well as a light stiffener. Apparently, people figured that over 500 years ago, at least. Have you seen paper used in clothing from this time, or earlier? Comment below!