Saturday, June 25, 2016

Historical Sew Monthly #6 - A Majors 1860's Fatigue Blouse

Father's Day this year coincided with the current Historical Sew Monthly Travel challenge. Since I was in the middle of reading more about Ulysses and Julia Grant and about how she helped the ladies of Galena, IL outfit their soldiers before sending them off to Springfield in early 1861, and how later she helped her husbands officers sew insignia onto their uniforms I thought I could incorporate my current sewing project into the travel theme quite well!

Who travels more than a soldier? Ulysses traveled often and Julia and children accompanied him whenever it was possible. From Cairo to Louisville to Vicksburg and beyond he was a man of the field and went with his men. 

Ulysses was noted during that time for his remarkable plainness of dress and his distaste for finery. He was often seen in a sack coat, muddy boots and a slouch hat with the stub of a cigar stuck between his teeth. During the famous Appomattox surrender when General Robert E. Lee, carefully attired in his best clothes and with his fine sword hanging at his side, accepted the terms offered to him by General Grant, Ulysses wore a soldier's blouse with only the shoulder insignia giving any hint at his status as commander of all Union armies. Later, when he was asked what his thoughts were at that moment, he is said to have replied, "My dirty boots and wearing no sword."

This fatigue blouse is a plain four button unlined sack coat that also bears no hint of rank beyond the shoulder boards and the officer style buttons. It was, however, happily received and was a good Father's Day gift! 

I had very little fabric to work with so the fatigue blouse is as modest and plain as can be - its on the shorter side of normal (period sack coats are usually seen ranging from just below the hips to just above the knees) and I had to use a different, though similar wool to face the inside of the fronts, make the under collar and face the sleeves. 

It is unlined so as to be comfortable when worn in hot summer weather and all seams are finished to prevent fraying. While it seems that most federal sack coats were lined, some unlined ones do exist as well as documentation that sometimes soldiers would cut out the lining of their coats in hot weather. 

I did have enough scraps to put in a small pocket for a pocket watch. General Grants sack coat has a similarly placed pocket so I used that as my inspiration. I made a nice, crisp new white shirt to go with it. General Grant was said to have traveled to the field needing no more than an extra shirt and a toothbrush. This was a great contrast to General McClellan, who is reported to have needed several wagons to haul his personal gear to the field. At any rate, a new shirt from home was always a welcome gift. 

Challenge #6: Travel.

What the item is: A federal 1860's unlined fatigue blouse with Majors shoulder boards

The Challenge: Travel

Fabric/Materials: 100% wool flannel

Pattern: My own, based on originals

Year: early to mid 1860's

Notions: cotton thread, black silk button hole twist, 4 staff officer buttons

How historically accurate is it? as best as I could make it!

Hours to complete: About 18

First worn: Not yet! 

Total cost: Stash stuff, but new the materials would come to around $60 or so, not including the shoulder boards. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

1860's Summer Trousers for Judah

Well, it's summer! So far summer has meant hot, sultry days with air almost too thick and damp to breathe and nights that are cooler, but not less humid. I'm hoping that all the next few months won't be so uncomfortable but I'm not counting on it. Summer means humidity and heat. So we must deal with it. Two weeks from now we have an 1860's living history to go to, and then another one at the beginning of August. And then one in September.

A few days ago I cut out some new trousers for Judah for Civil War reenacting. His current ones are rather heavy wool, which is great for cool weather. Not so great for summer. While lightweight wool certainly is a nice summer option, his trousers are decidedly not lightweight. But these will be!

The pattern is my go-to Light Summer Trouser pattern from Past Patterns. (though it seems since the time I bought this pattern the company has changed the name to Classic Plain-Cut Summer Trousers). The fabric is a nice tan cotton twill that was actually curtains before being recycled into trousers.

These curtains hung in the boys room back at the farm and also in their new room but as we recently redid their room and hung new curtains, the twill ones were saved and provided more than enough fabric for a nice pair of pants, with two panels left over for future projects.

This pattern sews up so quickly. I love it. Even with hand finishing all the seams they've taken less than 3 days to almost-finish. I still need to do the hem, do the buttonholes on the mule-ear pockets, and then sew on the buttons for braces but the best part of construction is done and went fast.

The back waist seam is meant to be sewn 3 inches from the raw edges to allow for a lot of flexibility in sizing. This is a great feature for growing boys. I like to bind the middle of the crotch seam because that seam takes the most strain and is more likely to pull out than any of the other seams (don't ask me how I know. . .experience is a great teacher!) and binding seems to eliminate that problem. The back waist is adjustable with two tabs. I ran out of buckles, so made do with eyelets and a tie to adjust the fit instead.

Hopefully I can drape and sew up a little lightweight waistcoat for both David and Judah this weekend and then they will both have appropriate attire for hot weather, at least for non-formal things. Then back to the 1810's I go. It's going to be a busy summer.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Comparison of Two Regency Shifts

My shift took me way longer to finish than it should have. But I finally got it hemmed earlier today and now my new regency undergarments are done. The petticoat I made last year should, I think, still fit and work well.
Completed new shift!

I pulled out my old shift from last year to compare them. While it fit, it was really large and when I wore it I felt like there was too much material stuffed down under the stays. Maybe the choice of fabric - a plain cotton muslin - had something to do with the bulk. But more importantly the neckline of the shift showed under the neckline of my Vernet dress - bad, bad, bad! It wasn't cut wide enough on the shoulders and it wasn't cut deep enough in the back.
Old Shift
The new shift is cut on much more slender lines, just barely bigger than my actual bust measurement at the armpits. This makes the shoulder strap area much more narrow, so the neckline won't show beneath wide necked dresses.

New shift with narrow shoulders

Old shift with a wider body and shoulders
The neckline is much wider in both the front and the back and it is much lower in the back. Now I can wear my Vernet dress without a chemisette, fichu or the spencer jacket over top. Which is good for evening, or for hot days. The sleeves fit tighter to my arm so it fits better beneath the tight sleeves of the Vernet dress. The hem on the old shift is rather wide with side gores cut as one piece. This method of cutting a gore is wasteful of fabric so the new shift has narrower gores that are pieced in the middle.

2 piece gores at the side seams add width the hem

The old shift has 1 piece side gores
There's really nothing particularly wrong with the fit of the old shift. I guess this is a case of different undergarments for different types of dresses. It was interesting for me to see and feel the differences while wearing them. Personally I like the new one much better! The old one may work well for a night dress during a weekend living history event.

New shift! Yay! :D
Old shift
The new shift is recycled from a lovely soft, high quality sheet. The seams are finished by felling or hemming and it does feel so nice to wear.

The laces for the stays finally arrived in the mail! I'll get some pictures soon. Then onto a new dress! I've got a little over six weeks left til I need it. 


Friday, June 10, 2016

Finishing the Regency Stays & Fishing

The stays are almost done.

Binding is done, eyelets are done at the shoulder straps and busk pocket. This time I made the busk slide in from the bottom of the stays, instead of making a pocket for the busk that is shorter than the front of the stays as I have done in the past.

I did find a place to order some cotton laces but they are coming from the UK so it will be another week or more until they arrive. So I've slowed down. A preliminary fitting with some ribbon shows a good fit! I hope it looks as good when the real laces arrive and I can tie it properly. I love the separation and lift of these gussets! I made them kinda D-shaped to get curve where I needed and that seems to work better than the V shaped gussets I've used before.

I started a new shift and want to have it done by the time the laces get here. I think I should be able to do that.

This week has been a busy one with a lot of baseball practices and games and library story days and craft times and summer classes for little David so he can keep in touch with his support group at school and not lose any of the great progress he has worked so hard to attain over this last year. 

We have spent the evenings outside since this weekend the temperatures are supposed to rise to close to 100 and we will likely be spending more time indoors. 

It's been a beautiful week. Perfect sunny days, temperatures dry and cool. 

Last night we went to the pond for fishing. It was a perfect night and all the kids enjoyed running over the grass, playing on the playground or casting their line and hoping for a bite.

Guess who is learning to walk? She's growing up so fast.

And then it was time to go home. As little David often quotes whenever the the light fades and the trees grow grey with shadows, 

 "The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have minecraft to play on my tablet
Before I sleep."


Saturday, June 4, 2016

New Regency Corded Stays - Progress

I've been slowly working on some new stays over the last week. I had hoped to have them done by now (my initial plan was to get them done over the extended Memorial Day weekend!) but as it often happens, things take a little longer than planned. I've been enjoying sewing on them bit by bit and a little progress each day quickly adds up! They aren't done yet but are very close to it. Another day should do it.
Progress shot from a few days ago. Since then, I have added more
embroidery and the bones and started the long process of binding. 

And now it's time for boob discussion so if that is not your thing, scroll down. ;)

The stays I made last year were okay but I felt that they didn't support the bust as well as I would have liked. So with these, I added some length to the top of the stays at the front where the gussets are inserted. I also thought a wider busk would help with the position of the bust. The desired regency look was a lifted, mounded, separated breast line and not cleavage-y. And mine came out cleavage-y. Which is okay, I guess, but it's not as flattering as the separated look.
1812 evening dress depicting the lifted-but-
separated look so desirous and fashionable in the early
19th century.

My problem is that I have a very narrow underbust measurement (like 29"-30") compared to a more normal bust measurement (currently 38", though I'm still nursing). In modern bra size I wear a 30 or 32E Soooo....that means the two breasts are squished together in the front and there's not much space between them. A little busk made of a paint stick just does not separate the two breasts as much as is needed.
Even in an obviously well endowed lady, the bust is still depicted with
So a wider busk will help, right? I'm experimenting. I bought a wooden yard stick that is the perfect width and is also thicker. It will be covered in white silk and used for the new busk. The bust pocket on these stays is about 3/8" wider than the last stays. The result of that COULD be busts pushed up and apart into the armpit, though. Hopefully that won't be the case with mine. I won't know for sure until these are done and I can lace them up and find out. *fingers crossed*

I wanted to take make these as nice as I could since I want them to last me a long time. The cording pattern is inspired by the stays in the Fashion book by the Kyoto Institute. (Thank you to Blake for the gorgeous book!)

The fabric is a nice non-stretch white cotton twill with a woven stripe. My local Hancocks is closing so I got it on a huge discount. Perfect stuff for corsets and stays.

I wanted to do some embroidery on these to dress them up a little. I am not good with embroidery so the design I went with is a very simple curvy line done in chain stitch with a few little leaves here and there. I may do some more - I want to do a line around each gusset and may do some more on the front. It's very simple but it has a nice look to it and will hopefully withstand the wear and tear of use pretty well. It does feel good to have pretty period underwear. :)

After checking with all the local shops I couldn't find any nice twill tape to bind them so I went with some fabric binding of pima cotton. It's tightly woven so hopefully will prevent the bones from working their way out.
The binding being stitched down on the right side. It wraps around to the back and will be
secured to the wrong side with slip stitches.

I still need to order some laces. Omg it's hard to find cotton laces! The only US based company I found that carries it is Corset Making Supplies and you have to order a 144 yd spool of it and they have a limited supply of white. Or I could get synthetic laces. But I don't want synthetic laces. Ugh. What to do.

After this I want to redo my shift from last year (it came out much too large) or make a new one. Then a simple, cooking-over-the-fire chasing-children-through-the-mud type of dress for a living history we plan to do next month. The boys will need shirts and breeches or trousers, too.
Isn't this dress from Centraal Museum  just perfect simplicity?! I love the hem - I
wonder if the effect is created with tiny tucks or cording. 

In the meantime, my little nursling is about ready to go down for a nap and then I can get back to binding! Our window is open this afternoon and the smell wafting in from the magnolia outside is divine!


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Beautiful Julia Grant

Last week another birthday passed and I entered into the new and exciting world of the 30's! It was with much happiness and delight I received several books from my little family (among the more precious treasures of crayoned birthday cards, construction paper crafts and pretty rocks they found outdoors). Among them is The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant and, to my half-shame at my excitement over it, a somewhat fluffy novel about that most interesting first lady, Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini.

Jennifer Chiaverini has a most readable and interesting writing style and I enjoyed her novel about Mrs. Lincoln last summer. I try to avoid novels but sometimes I succumb - usually to Dickens and Austen - and I must admit I am glad I was introduced to her work. I am really looking forward to reading Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule. But since my birthday I have been reading Julia Grants memoirs and they are absolutely delightful.

I figured it would be a good thing to acquaint myself better with Ulysses Grant and his history, especially considering that we live very near where he grew up. The only history I really know of him is what I have picked up while studying about the Civil War. His life spanned 1822-1885, though, and there is so much more to him than the four years of national conflict in the 1860's. So. Much. More!

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately? Depends on the goal) I picked what may be perhaps the most tedious biography about our 18th president that exists. I thought it would be a good one to read since it was written by his grandson, Ulysses Grant III and the book is certainly full of wonderful excerpts from letters, memoirs and recollections of his personal acquaintances. It is, however, very heavy on the military side of things. I still pressed on, however, and got through. Well, slogged through may be a more accurate term. It was hard. I had to re read a lot of pages, especially before I got interested in the Mexican War. The Civil War was more interesting to me but still became extremely dull after a while. Ulysses Grant III, however, had a brilliant tactic of inserting little colorful, personal, intimate and interesting excerpts into the pages and pages of military maneuvers to bait and hook the most disinterested of readers. I didn't want to miss anything like that, so I read all of the war years and survived it. And actually learned quite a lot, too.

I'm actually still not done with the book. I am into the second administration and looking forward to getting out of the White House and into the chapters about the world tour the Grants took post presidency. I tried very hard to finish the book before starting Julia Grants memoirs but I failed at that attempt. She drew me irrisitably!

I became very interested in Julia Grant because it was evident from the excerpts in the biography of her husband that he was very much in love with his "little wife". We all hear about the brilliance of Grant's military mind, his ruthless pursuit of victory, his demands of "unconditional surrender". Some may know that he was not very interested in being a soldier at all, and did not want to go to West Point. He was quiet, methodical, simple and unassuming. He was modest and very much a family  man. While stationed in Fort Vancouver in the early 1850's, with his wife and two baby sons many long miles away, a Mrs. Sheffield, wife of an officer he boarded with, later remembered:

“. . .oftentimes, while reading letters from his wife, his eyes would fill with tears, he would look up with a start and say, ‘Mrs. Sheffield, I have the dearest little wife in the world, and I want to resign from the army and live with my family.’"

Julia Grant was adored by her husband. The most unhappy periods of Ulysses life were when he was forced to be separated from her. Their first, long separation was the period of their engagement from 1844-1848 and the frequency of letters that he wrote to his pretty fiancee reveal just how in love with her he was. 
Ulysses Grant was four years older than his sweetheart,
younger sister of his West Point classmate, Frederick Dent.
"Now that the war has commenced with such vengeance I am in hopes my Dear Julia that we will soon be able to end it. In the thickest of it all, I thought of Julia. How much I should love to see you now to tell you all that happened. . .don't forget to write soon to your most devoted
                                                                                              Ulysses" - May 11, 1846

"It is now above two years since we have been engaged Julia and in all that time I have seen you but once. I know though you have not changed and when I do go back I will see the same Julia I did more than two years ago. I know I shall never be willing to leave Gravois again until Julia is mine forever! How much I regret that we were not united when I visited you more than a year ago. But your Pa would have not heard to anything of the kind at that time. I hope he will make no objections now!" - September 6, 1846

"Just think Julia it is now three long years that we have been engaged. Do you think I could endure another years separation loving you as I do now and believing my love returned. At least commission and all will go in less time or I will be permitted to see the one I have loved so much for three long years. My Dearest don't  you think a soldiers life a hard one? But after a storm there must be a calm. This War must end some time and the Army scattered to occupy different places and I will be satisfied with any place where I can have you with me. Would you be willing to to go with me to some out-of-the-way post, Dearest? But I know you would for you have said so often." - April 24, 1847

"Mexico is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and being the capital no wonder that the Mexicans should have fought desperately to save it...It is truly a great country. No country was ever so blessed by nature. There is no fruit nor no grain that can't be raised here, nor no temperature that that can't be found at any season. You have only to choose the degree of elevation to find perpetual snow or the hottest summer. But with all these advantages how anxious I am to get out of Mexico. You can readily solve the problem of my discontent Julia. If you were but here and I in the United States my anxiety would be just as great to come to Mexico as it now is to get out." - September 1847

Finally, in August of 1848, Ulysses returned to his faithfully waiting sweetheart and the two were married on the 22nd. The day after the wedding, the newlyweds set out from St. Louis, MO to visit Ulysses' family in Bethel, Ohio. After the visit, the couple prepared to move to Ulysses new post in Detroit. Julia Grant's memoirs describe her feelings about leaving her beloved childhood home, White Haven, and her father.

"We returned home about the middle of October, when my struggle at parting with my father began. My heart was well-nigh broken when the time approached to say farewell. This parting, I felt, was to sever my bonds with home. My first journey with Ulys was only a short one of two or three months and I knew I was to return again, but now I was to leave my dear home and make one among strangers - and then parting with papa! I could not, could not, think of it without bursting into a flood of tears and weeping and sobbing as if my heart would break. This disturbed my husband greatly, as he did not know what to do for me and was very unhappy seeing my distress. The week before we were to leave, papa came into the sitting room where Ulys and I were. Ulys was telling me how troubled he was, and that for years he had been anticipating how pleasant it would be for us to spend our days together, and here at the end of the first two months I was relenting. My father said: 'Grant, I can arrange it all for you. You join your regiment and leave Julia with us. You can get a leave of absence once or twice a year and run on here and spend a week or two with us. I always knew she could not live in the army.' Ulys's arm was around me, and he bent his head and whispered, "Would you like this, Julia? Would you like to remain with your father and let me go alone?" "No, no, no, Ulys. I could not, would not, think of that for a moment."

Their first son, Fred, was born in 1850 and Julia was heavily pregnant when she had to say good bye to her husband again in 1852. He was sent out west to Fort Vancouver and she was staying behind to give birth to their second son, Ulysses Jr, who was born just a few weeks later in Ohio. This would be their last long separation. During the Civil War, Julia and the boys often accompanied Ulysses on his campaigns and they were very much together. She stayed by his side until his death from throat cancer in 1885 and honored and cherished her husband until she died in 1902.

This amazing picture was recently unearthed by Cowen's Fine Art Auctioneers
in Cincinnati, Ohio. Julia Grant is depicted in the early 1850's with little Fred
and  baby Ulys, who was later called "Buckie" or "Buck" because he was born
in Ohio and known as a "Buckeye Baby". This was probably taken
during Ulysses absence while he was posted on the Pacific Coast.
So far, her memoirs have been a treat. They offer a very vivid, intimate look into the personal life of her family and her writing style is very cheerful and with a wonderful sense of humor. Her memoirs were partially dictated, so it does indeed feel as if one is sitting down for a friendly chat with an old friend. I wish I had known her!

Having little boys of my own, I very much liked this quote, which describes several scenes in 1853 during her husbands absence out west.

"As Fred would soon be three years old, I felt anxious to see him in pantaloons and therefore arranged to change his entire costume. He was very proud, and we all were, of our little man. A gentleman bringing letters from Captain Grant was invited to dine with us, and he requested that Master Fred be allowed to dine with him. Fred was, of course, dressed in his trousers. He looked very pretty with his dimpled knees and shoulders - the children's arms and legs were bare in those days. He was seated between the gentleman from the Pacific Coast and myself. He took no notice of this gentleman, but gazed with a look of surprise at a young officer opposite to him, who happened to be dining with us that evening. He suddenly exclaimed: "Mamma, is that ugly man my papa?" Of course this caused some merriment at the officer's expense. Fred was quite pacified when told that it was his papa's friend he was to dine with, not his papa. Soon after he put on trousers, he put his little pudgy hands in his pockets, and, stretching himself up as high as possible, said: "Mamma, do you think my papa is as large as I am?" 

Julia suffered from strabismus, which caused her eyes to be crossed. She seemed very self conscious about this when Ulysses later became very famous during the 1860's. Her memoirs offer a beautiful little peek at the great romance between her and Ulysses, which did not diminish with time.
Ulysses, Julia, and their youngest son, Jesse.
"I had often been urged in my girlhood by Dr. Pope, the most distinguished surgeon in the country at that time, to permit him to make a very simple operation upon my eyes. I had never had the courage to consent, but now that my husband had become so famous I really thought it behooved me to try to look as well as possible. So I consulted the Doctor on this, to me, most delicate subject, but alas! He told me it was too late, too late. I told the General the expressed my regret. He replied: "What in the world put such a thought in your head, Julia?" I said: "Why, you are getting to be such a great man, and I am such a plain little wife. I thought if my eyes were as others are I might not be so very, very plain, Ulys, who knows?" He drew me to him and said: "Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes? I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them. They are mine, and let me tell you, Mrs. Grant, you had better not make any experiments, as I might not like you half so well with any other eyes!" And I never did, my knight, my Lancelot!"

I am not done with the memoirs yet as I find that after a few pages before bed each night I am too tired to continue reading. But I am working my way through and the more I find out about the Grants the more I admire and love this family.

Grant was not popular with many historians during the 20th century because of his scandal-laden presidency. He did not want to be president and did not campaign at all during his first administration. I wish that I had not waited so long to dig under the shallow surface of modern opinion and try to get a better understanding of this man and his family. If it had not been for him it is argued that the Civil War may have had a very different outcome.

This post is getting far too long so I had better think of some way to conclude it. It's just so easy to keep talking about Ulysses and Julia though! ;) I am so excited to live so near to where Ulysses grew up and where he and Julia spent the first few months after their marriage. What a wonderful history we have here.