Thursday 4 April 2024

HFM '24: March - "Sappy, Sweet, Syrupy, but not Sugary": Jidáše / jidášky - Czech Easter buns


This post got a bit out of hand. I haven't done the Historical Food Fortnightly in... huh... ten years. WHAT. I've definitely done historical recipes in the meantime, but apparently I haven't managed to do it topically.

Which wasn't just my problem, actually. After years of languishing, the HFF, just like the HSF years ago, has dropped the final F and exchanged it for M: It's the Historical Food Monthly now (link to Facebook group, which seems to be its only official online presence now). More manageable.

So I haven't written anything food-y here in quite a while, and it turns out I have developed a lot more thoughts on the topic since 2014.

Anyway. Sorry for the wordiness. I hate recipe posts with lots of rambly text before the recipe just like any other person, but, well, this isn't necessarily a recipe post. I swear, there's no "I took my kids to school and pondered the meaning of life" here. :D Just quite a lot of explanations of what I did food-wise and Easter-wise, and why I chose this particular food, and what I did to it and why, and thoughts on my process and cookbooks and research, and... yeah, I think that's about it.

The brief for the March challenge was to make something sweetened by something else than sugar. So, as it happens, these are a bit of a cheat, because there is sugar in the dough. Also I ended up actually making them on April 1st. Oops. The intention was to make them on Holy Thursday (March 28), when most traditions say they were eaten for breakfast, preferably before sunrise, so that people would be protected from poison, snakes and wasps (it would not have been breakfast in my case, but I don't subscribe to the accompanying superstition anyway). That did not happen, so I thought Saturday (some mentions of that being traditional as well), but, well, Life Kept Happening.

My original original plan was actually to make something sweetened entirely by honey, most likely gingerbread - I found online a 1920 book all about honey and its uses in the household (that's the name of the book: "Honey and Its Use in the Household", in Czech that is) including tons of various recipes for gingerbread. The problem with those recipes is that the dough usually has to rest for at least a week before being baked, and then very often the gingerbread has to rest, too, to soften and be more easily edible. It's what traditional Czech gingerbread (imprecise word, that) is like. And exploring and sharing that would be pretty great for the HFF, but... But. Between a week of nightshifts and then falling ill for more than two weeks and feeling pretty miserable for at least one (it's just some sort of seasonal cold, not Ye Newe Plague, but it's been pretty clingy) and being still pretty tired even on Easter Sunday*... I ran out of time for that kind of shenanigans.

So because of Real Life, at the last minute I changed gears and made these, which do have sugar in the dough but then are brushed with honey on top.

The name means "Judases" or "Little Judases". Warning: it's morbid. I'm currently unclear on where the heck that tradition and the name comes from to begin with, but, morbidly, they are - at least in the form I made them in, there are many others - supposed to represent the rope Judas hung himself on (which, by the way, only Matthew mentions; the other gospels say nothing on Judas' fate, and Acts says something else. I've just checked.) So, ahem, there's that. But, really, they come in all sorts of shapes including basically hot cross buns so that connection is a bit tenuous anyway, and if you don't want to be morbid, you can totally do something else.


I did opt for this shape because it's pretty simple and I wanted to try it, but next time I'll probably just make round buns the way I always make them, plus cross. I don't really have childhood memories with jidášky (we usually just had mazanec, so that's what I primarily associate with Easter), but I think mom did make them once or twice, and did make basically mini-mazance / hot cross buns: that's what my sister also thought they were supposed to look like. And what I had thought they were supposed to look like once upon a time before the internet introduced me to different versions that almost everyone else seems to be making these days. I'm glad the utter confusion in historical sources helped me clarify my own. :D

My lack of true family tradition of them is, obviously, precisely why I wanted to try my hand at them. One mention I ran into - now I can't remember which one, I haven't been entirely organised with my research here - says "spirals". My main recipe lists "variously twist them" as an option. Primarily it has you rolling the dough out to be about 2 cm thick and, "with a smaller doughnut cutter", cutting out circles (Czech doughnuts without holes, not American doughnuts), and then cutting "a lattice" into them (so not even crosses). I could have done that, but I did not want to do that because that way you end up with dough cabbage**, and then you have to deal with said cabbage.

Some 19th century mentions just say "placky" (something like "flatcakes"), and I even found mentions that poor people just ate regular bread with honey.

So it seems the shape and style varied a lot depending on the region, or maybe even family tradition; so you do you. The main point is that they should be quite small, and go with honey - either they are brushed with it immediately after baking (or even before), or they are spread with butter and honey when cooled down, either cut in half like breadrolls, or maybe even just on top if in a more "flatcake" form.

... phew, that was a lot of options to cover.

Technically, I think I could have used honey in the dough, too, because that may very well have been done by rural people in the 19th century and it's not like I was sticking to one recipe, anyway. But I wasn't really up to trying to calculate a conversion like that, I don't have proof for it, and also, to be honest, the illness still kind of lingers (aaargh!) and I have even better uses to put that honey to.

The Challenge: HFM 2024 #3 Sappy, Sweet, Syrupy, but not Sugary

The Recipe: Combination of "Jidášky" and "České koláče I" from Kniha rozpočtů a kuchařských předpisů všem hospodyním k bezpečné přípravě dobrých, chutných i levných pokrmů by Marie Janků-Sandtnerová ("A Book of Calculations and Cooking Recipes for All Housewives for Safe Preparation of Good, Tasty and Frugal Meals"), 36th-60th unaltered edition (?!) from 1941 - which I own a physical copy of. "České koláče I" for the dough, "Jidášky" for what to do with it.

But for the latter I also referred to "Jidášky - pečivo pašijové" from Úsporná kuchařka ("Frugal Cookbook") by Anuše Kejřová, specifically a 1938 edition I found online, which, it turns out, differs from my 1990 reprint of a 1924 edition that does not have this recipe.

And then I looked through the Digitální knihovna website for other mentions, and found a bunch of 19th century ones that did not give recipes, but described various ways of shaping, treating and serving them, which resulted in the paragraphs above about the various options for shapes. Annoyingly, most of the mentions I found did not say which region which version applied to. In any case, in the end I basically combined all of my sources.

The original ingredients according to Sandtnerová (I cleaned the list up a bit to be clearer on the measurements, it uses dkg and fractions of liter which always confuses me in recipes) are as follows:

500 g flour
salt (just a little bit)
1 cm vanilla pod, "pounded" (huh)
lemon peel
20 g yeast
250 ml milk
100 g butter
70 g sugar
2 egg yolks
Then, possibly more relevant to the koláče recipe, it also has:
20 g for greasing the baking sheet and to brush after baking
1 egg yolk for brushing
10 g of vanilla sugar (and with this one I was unable to discern in the text of the recipe where it was actually supposed to go, but I am including it here because it's relevant to the changes to the recipe I ended up making)

I altered the ingredients a little bit. For that, and the making-of, see How Did You Make It below.

The Date/Year and Region: Czechia, first half of the 20th century. Well, technically they may have a much wider time-spread: allegedly they may go as far back as the Middle Ages, but I did not research that far back, I suspect older recipes will be different, and I did not even find 19th century recipes (just descriptions), so my recipes are from the 1930s and 40s and that's what I can fairly confidently say my version is more or less accurate for.

How Did You Make It: First off, I made a smaller batch. The original recipe says "for 5-10 people", and this is a two-people household. On the other hand, I knew they'd disappear quickly anyway :D, so I did not halve it; I re-calculated for 400 g of flour instead of 500 g, which in my experience is just about right to fit on my very limited number of baking trays, so I ended up with:

400 g flour
56 g of sugar
16 g of yeast
200 ml milk (full-fat)
80 g of butter
I did not try recalculating the egg yolks :D and just used two, and also I did not recalculate the butter for brushing after baking and simply eyeballed it.

I also changed some of the ingredients:

- I'm not sure what sort of lemon peel was intended, but I used dried because that's what I have (they conveniently sell it in the local "bring your own packaging" shop). Instead of "fresh" vanilla, I used a packet of vanilla sugar with real vanilla (and used slightly less regular sugar): I figured that was a pretty good alternative, especially when the original recipe also names vanilla sugar.

- I used active dry yeast (I think that's the type of dry yeast I currently have). I don't really buy fresh anymore, because it tends to result in half a cube of mouldy yeast... So I mixed about 5 g of dry yeast with a teaspoon of sugar and about the same amount of flour, and then a little bit of warm milk, just enough to create a sort of wet paste, and after a while I saw it bubbling a little bit and called it good and used that.

Following the recipe, I mixed the flour with the other dry ingredients (minus what I used for my yeast starter), then warmed up the milk (using a little bit for the yeast starter first), melted the 80 g of butter in it, then mixed the two egg yolks in it.

Then I used my now tried-and-true method of mixing the wet ingredients into the dry ones gradually. I plopped in the yeast starter, washed out its bowl with some of the milk mixture - about a third - and added that, then mixed it. Another third of the milk mixture, mix. Add the rest, mix. This way, I don't have to knead too much; it comes together quite quickly and I can then work it by hand instead of pouring all liquids in at once and then faffing about with the wooden spoon and tiring myself out while waiting for the dough to finally stop sticking to it. (Honestly I don't know why so many Czech leavened dough recipes tell you to do that; this way is much better.)

Unlike Sandtnerová's recipe, I did not sprinkle flour on the finished dough before raising; I just put a teatowel on top of the bowl and let it rest in the kitchen. Kejřová does not mention flouring it.

Then I divided it into 16 pieces, and rolled (well... partially just stretched) each piece into a long thin strand - ideally: Kejřová says "about a finger thin and about 25 cm long", but mine ended up... varied. Some were just about right, some were bigger. I think a larger number of pieces might have resulted in a better size, but 16 is way easier to do. :D If you do a full batch, maybe 24 pieces would work?


Based on all my sources, I opted to create simple "rope" twists, to place them on the baking trays to rest a bit, and then to brush them with the egg-yolk. I thinned down my yolk a bit, too, with milk. It was pretty thick and I did not want to fight with it and wanted to be sure it would be enough for all of the pieces. And I was glad I did. I did brush them fairly generously, but I'm not entirely sure how one un-thinned egg yolk was supposed to be enough for a whole full batch.

If I remember correctly, I baked them at 190-200 degrees Celsius (my oven isn't very precise) for about fifteen to twenty minutes. I put both trays in at the same time which... was a mistake: the upper batch got quite dark, and the bottom batch needed more time. I grew up with a convection oven in which you can bake more trays at once. I keep forgetting that my current regular oven isn't well-suited to that. :D

And then I brushed them with watered-down honey immediately after baking. Half of them. I brushed my half very generously with about two spoons of honey mixed with one spoon of water, and my sister's half with melted butter because she asked for no honey. (She likes sweet bakes like this very, very mildly sweet.)

And that was that. Done! Enjoy!

Time to Complete:
Hmm... I think it took me maybe 20-25 minutes to make the dough (I'm a bit unsure on this), then about an hour for it to rise, then about 20 minutes to make the shapes, about 20 minutes rest on the baking trays, and about 20 minutes to make. Let's say 2,5 hours?

Total Cost:
Ahem. I don't knooow. I honestly don't remember how much the various ingredients were, especially since some of them had been sitting in the pantry for a while; and then with some of them (honey, the lemon peel...) I only used a little. I'm really not up to approximating it. Let's say it's not a super-expensive recipe, but with the honey and butter and vanilla it's also a slightly fancier one.

How Successful Was It?:
Most excellent, will do again. With the wall of text all around this statement, I need to stress it again: they were delicious and very more-ish. And even with the honey, not too sweet.

How Accurate Is It?:
Well, I documented most of my changes to the recipe(s) above. While I used dry lemon peel and vanilla sugar instead of vanilla + sugar, I think those are both plausible changes and overall it's not bad at all on the ingredient front. The most inaccurate ingredient is the active dry yeast: it was invented in 1943 in the USA, so it doesn't seem very likely to have been available in Czechia at the time. My father, born in the mid-1950s, remembers his mother buying pressed yeast by weight.

When it comes to technique, I wasn't accurate to any one recipe, but I think overall it's also quite plausible. One major modern convenience I used was baking paper instead of greasing (Sandtnerová) or greasing-and-flouring (Kejřová) the baking trays. And one last change I did not squeeze into the above paragraphs is that Kejřová says to brush them with watered-down honey before baking, as an alternative to the egg yolk. I opted instead to do both, egg yolk first, honey after baking. I did not find a historical recipe saying exactly that, but some modern ones and family traditions do say that, and it seemed to me safer to not put the sticky sweet substance into the oven. Considering I nearly burned the top layer, I think that was a wise decision. :D

Last notes and what I learned:

My honey was runny, which is perfect for brushing, obviously. If your honey isn't runny (has crystalised), you can just melt it gently in a water bath, or in the microwave. If your honey is of the honey paste kind, it probably won't be great for this recipe, even melted.

Overall, I think this exercise was also, for me, a good proof of how I have become more experienced and better organised with following recipes / planning my cooking (if I try), compared to the days when I started doing the HFF. I was still pretty scatterbrained from the illness, but I was able to prepare most of my ingredients in advance and flow smoothly from one task to another, without getting much confused and panicky and losing time along the way. Aside from that one moment when I went "oh, bother, my milk is pretty hot already, I need to use non-buttery warm milk for the yeast starter but I also need to melt butter in the rest of it because I have already turned down the flame because it's pretty hot already." That resulted in me blowing on teaspoons of milk to cool it quickly so that I would not kill my yeast but still had milk hot enough to melt butter in. It worked out fine. :D People posessed of a microwave oven will likely not have this problem.

Last note along the lines of being organised in the kitchen is that the remaining egg whites went into a soup the next day. The egg whites are something you do have to find a use for.

As said waaay above, I did learn more about the various versions and traditions of jidáše / jidášky, although less than I would have liked. I did not learn which version comes from where, and why some 19th century mentions said they were something done specifically in towns when it seems from other mentions they totally were being made in villages as well, and whether that may have something to do with the different versions and regions. And what the heck exactly was Čeněk Zíbrt talking about in the late 19th century when he said recipes for them can be found in Old Czech cookbooks? Mr Zíbrt, could you tell me where? I'm not going to stress any of it, though; it's not my primary area of interest. If I ever have time and opportunity to learn more, I will be happy to, but I don't want to get lost in this rabbit hole right now.

I also learned that brushing rich, heavy leavened dough like koláče immediately after baking with melted butter or some sort of liquid helps keep it nice and soft. More precisely, I had already known that, but due to the craziness of recent years this was the first time I actually got around to doing it. And also I had never before seen mention of doing that with water (well, watered down honey in my case, so that may play a role), only milk or rum, but it seems it might actually also work. So that's one for the mental notebook.

Also also: Kejřová puts poppy seeds on top and Sandtnerová almonds, which I think is the first time I have ever heard of doing that (though now that I google pictures, I can see some - mainly poppy seed). I left them out, also because, somewhat annoyingly, Sandtnerová's recipe for jidášky redirects you to the dough recipe for koláče that does not use almonds, and she does not have a separate ingredient list for jidáše so the info of what else you need for that particular recipe is buried in the text. I wonder if those toppings are traditional (for somewhere), or 20th century "improvements". I wonder the same about the vanilla - Sandtnerová uses it, Kejřová doesn't.

The search for recipes was also, for me, a bit of a further proof of what I already suspected, that is, that while we tend to think of Rettigová's 1820s-1840s cookbook (which I've used before) as THE basis of traditional Czech cuisine, it actually does not have a lot of the recipes we now think of as typically, traditionally Czech, and Sandtnerová a hundred years later does. Rettigová is definitely where the modern Czech cookbook tradition begins, but hers is mainly the aspirational cuisine of relatively rich bourgeoise families of the Biedermeier, and I think a lot of what we think of as typically Czech originates in more rural traditions. If you want the sort of thing thought of as typical Czech cuisine nowadays, forget Rettigová***, "Sandtnerka" (first published in 1924, then many many many times more) is the golden standard.

Which is why I consider my copy one of my greatest treasures, even when it is, as we say in Czech, "a salad edition". ****

* Part of the reason there wasn't an Easter Sunday post this year, either. It was exacerbated by Easter Sunday being the same day time changed from winter to summer time. Extra awful this year, that. I went to church late, and arrived even later because not that far from there I had to sit down on a bench and sit there for about twenty minutes, bird-watching, because my legs had gone wobbly. And quite honestly I think after so many years of this blog's existence I have kind of run out of ways to write a generic Easter post. Easter is still happening, and it's still great, but I think I'm giving up on that self-imposed duty and I'll just write things around Easter from now on.

 ** AKA offcuts / remnants, a historical tailoring term. Its application to dough originates with Bernadette Banner and her years ago attempt at Victorian gingerbread. Sadly, it seems in her more recent switch to  professionalism she has removed that video from public listing, so you cannot bask in its beautiful nerdiness anymore. :-(

*** No shade on Rettigová. She definitely has some bangers that don't deserve to be forgotten.

**** Loose leaves, kwim?

Friday 19 January 2024

All right, this needs to be addressed: USA vs The World

(or, Assuming Everyone Is American by Default / Assuming Everything Everywhere Is Just Like in the USA / This Is an International Forum, For Crying Out Loud!)

This started out as a "Five for Friday" type of post - part of a post about my pet peeves in historical costuming discussions online that I have had in the works for about years now. The post got majorly out of hand, because I'm apparently incapable of writing short texts, especially in lockdowns. :P This part was one of those that got out of hand, and it quickly outgrew the confines of historical costuming discussions, too.

You will see soon why it got too long. It has something to do with the nature of internet discussions, where you're basically always open to arguing with the whole world (and isn't that a terrifying thought), and a lot of things I have observed over a lot of years. And I do need to get it off my chest. I am not particularly happy with this now becoming the first post of 2024, but also quite frankly I'm so fed up with so many things right now that finally getting this less consequential one out there feels somewhat vital.

* * *

It's intended to make people stop and think, I think.

It's ranty (and hopefully at least a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the rantiness can't be helped). It's not necessarily personal. It's not aimed at you, my singular, very nice American reader. Or you, one singular random American reader over there thinking every generalisation needs to be refuted as a generalisation, and every singular experience has to be interpretted as a generalisation and then refuted as a generalisation, and taken personally, or explained away and thrown back into the original commenter's court.

It's not aimed at you, Canadian or South American reader, arguing that "American" should not be used solely for USians.

(Okay, the above may be aimed at all of you. Those are all common features of this sort of discussions, so I had to get them out of the way first. If you come into my comments bringing up those discussion points, I can now freely ignore them. My point is, it's not a personal attack; not everything posted online is, and that's one of the major current frustrations with the Internet. It's intended as food for thought. It's ranty because it genuinely has accumulated for over twenty years.) 

* * *

It's just letting off lots of steam accumulated over thousands of little unintended transgressions. Lots of inoffensive but still pretty annoying stuff. I'm not the only one who clashes with this issue every now and then. But it's rarely one that's ever offending enough to roast anyone over on a case by case basis - and besides, doing it on a case by case basis won't help the next time someone else does it again, perfectly innocuously.

Thus all the accumulated steam. And everything in life including the kitchen sink* has been stressful lately, so some safe letting off of steam is sorely needed. One can't affect the big things getting on all our collective nerves, so it seems everyone's been more bity online recently, often unconsciously. I include myself in that group.

Maybe writing up all of this particular little problem like this can help someone else let off steam. Or help people who haven't stopped to think about it - to stop and think about it.

So that's all my cautions not to take this too seriously but do give it a thought out of the way, and here's a cute cat picture to ease you into it. And if that doesn't tell you something about the everyday stress of internet discussions...

(These days, the kitties are father's, and he's not entirely consistent about naming them, so I'm not sure what this one's called; father being what he's like with cats, I suspect it's "The Small One". I am fairly confident that the fragment of a black cat tail to the left is Lemur the tomcat, though.)


(* I'm not even kidding about the sink. Admittedly, this post sat unfinished for ages, so the sink is no longer recent. But there was a point when it was extremely annoying, draining veeeeeryyyyy sloooowlyyyy and getting clogged up quickly. Fortunately it turned out to be just a badly designed strainer, and was in the end easily solved by getting a new, different one. But the fact that even the kitchen sink was making my life difficult sums up the past couple of years really well.)


* * *

So, you see, on the whole Americans have many wonderful qualities. And one of them is that they're usually friendly and outgoing and pro-actively willing to help and support you with encouraging or informative comments. Sadly, a large percentage of them in online discussions (such as Facebook groups) also has the innocuous but unfortunate ability to forget about the rest of the world on a daily basis.

I live in the rest of the world. After nearly twenty years of using the internet in English (which, as you may realise from the name, is not an exclusively US-based language), it's impossible not to notice and not to be just a little bit fed up with it.

English-speaking countries of the world according to Wikipedia. I still live in the rest of the world which, you may notice on this map, is still not an insignificant portion of it.

It's not just me, either, so I think this constitutes more than just a Pet Peeve. It comes up in conversations with other costuming people outside of the USA. In fact, it comes up in all online spaces, not just the costuming circles. It gets on our collective non-US nerves just a little bit.

It's not even a case of the groups being primarily American. For example, the "1730-1830 Clothing Construction Support Group" was founded by an Australian and was originally geared towards making things for the Australian Jane Austen festival. Another group this happened to me in relatively recently (innocuously, it's always innocuous) is comprised of fans of a British YouTuber. (I have since then left it, but that had to do with different types of annoying posts.)

The Americans just come in, see everyone using English, and assume.

No one means to offend by it and they always apologise for doing it when their error is pointed out to them. And it's a low-key sort of annoyance when treated as individual cases. But, well, if you have to keep repeating the same sort of explanation ("I don't live in the same country you do, this is the Internet") over and over and over to people from one specific country out of nearly two hundred, you do eventually develop some unfavourable opinions about a certain nation's situational awareness regarding geography.

Oftentimes, in sewing and historical costuming groups, it is closely related to what was termed Pet Peeve Nr. 2 in my original list: that of not answering the question that is actually being asked and instead jumping in with your five cents and missing the fact the OP is using pennies (it was a metaphor in the original list, but in this context, it's getting close to literal!). By far the most common offenders here are:

A) "You can get XY material being discussed very cheaply if you save up your Joann's coupons."  / "You can get it at Joann's, they're having a sale on patterns right now / have a sale on patterns every now and then."
Reality outside of the USA: No Joann's anywhere outside the US of A (unless there are some in Canada?). There are next to zero fabric chain shops in the Czech Republic; most are limited to a single city anyway. Good luck getting such a sale on patterns anywhere. What coupons?!

(Seriously: What coupons are all you Americans talking about?! How does it work? After about fifteen years in internet sewing spaces, I still don't know what those actually are. In part because when I tried to actively look it up relatively recently, results were inconclusive. But largely because the moment when someone in a discussion jumped in with the automatic assumption that I must have them because obviously everyone who sews has them, usually unasked for to boot because no one was actually asking about buying anything, you just decided to answer my question about pence with giving me your five cents... well, in that situation I'm usually not in the mood to ask politely.)

B) "You can just get a free paint stirrer in a paint shop and use that as your busk."
Reality outside of the USA: The largest free paint stirrer I've ever seen here in Czechia was about 20 cm long (8 inches, for the Imperial-minded). It was also the first and the last shop with free paint stirrers I've ever seen in over 30 years of my life. Oh, and it's closed down since.

Understandably, when the prevailing costuming advice is tied to the cultural quirks of one specific country, your costuming journey can get pretty frustrating.

Although I think this one is less prevalent nowadays than it was when I started out with Regency, and I've more recently been informed that free paint stirrers suitable for busks may be a North American thing, not just limited to the USA. Still... the rest of us have to at the very least buy some paint to get a paint stirrer, and I don't know about you but I don't paint stuff all that often so that doesn't seem like a particularly advantageous manner of procuring costuming material when in the end I got my busk truly for free by digging through my father's junk. (I do not recommend that manner of procuring as a generalisation. I understand not everyone has access to a father's collection of junk. You may want to give the same level of consideration to other manners of procurring.)

The same thing does apply to all sorts of products and shops that Americans online assume you will be familiar with (one of the more recent offenders was a brand of butter, of all things). Joann's and paint stirrers are just the most common and most obvious ones in my usual circles.

A special mention goes to people asking "where can I get XY" in a geographically unspecified and therefore international group without mentioning where in the world they are. In about 95% cases (and I may be conservative with my estimate here), that person turns out to be located somewhere in the US of A. Although, in all fairness, I think it's mainly the lower 48 - Alaskans and Hawai'ians are probably far more used to needing special attention paid to location.

 This map of the world I lifted off of Wikipedia and coloured does contain the infamously often missing New Zealand, but somehow does not contain Hawai'i...

All this is, I think, aggravated by the fact the US of A are a big country so you can go for hundreds of miles and still find a Joann's. Meanwhile, Czech Republic is, size-wise, roughly comparable to South Carolina, so imagine living in South Carolina, and when you cross the border to North Carolina, everything is in Polish. Foreign countries are a basic fact of life in Europe, and here in Czechia just going hiking (or skiing) in the mountains almost automatically means that you'll be walking near (or on) a national border.

Many Americans at this point like to point out "You don't know anything about the US! We have states! The states are actually very different!" To which my answer is, picture crossing the border from South Carolina to North Carolina, and everything being in Polish.


Online, it's also aggravated by the fact that the inhabitants of the USA are a big huge mix of nationalities so it's much more difficult for Americans to look at someone's name on Facebook and go "okay, that's a foreigner". Even then, though, I think other English-speaking post-colonial nationalities with immigrant societies do this far less often.
You do see people from other countries not listing where they are from. But as I've already hinted, more often than not in that case their actual question has less to do with "where" and more with "what", and it's the Americans in the comments jumping in with "where". You want to know which type of fabric is best suited for a specific application (so that you know what exactly to look for in your part of the world)? You can probably expect some variation on Americans jumping in to tell you that Joann's currently has it on sale, or that their favourite US-based internet shop has the best and/or cheapest one, even though you never asked "where to buy" to begin with.

You never asked where to buy precisely because you know you'd just get Americans giving you answers that won't help you one bit in your part of the world. And then they do it anyway. Probably because it never even occurs to them, when they are asking, that some of the people reading their question may live thousands of miles and at least one ocean away.

* * *

And this is where this innocuous issue begins to get really, really frustrating. You begin having to think of clever and detailed ways to phrase your questions so that you can circumvent unhelpfully helpful Americans and actually get the pence you're after. And then after you've gone to all that trouble, they still don't bother reading the whole thing mindfully because now it's Too Many Words For The Internet, and they jump in with their five cents anyway.

They often don't even bother mentioning where in the States they are, even though it would often still get them better answers. You, on the other hand, start having to define yourself solely by your nationality because you have to mention your nationality Every. Single. Effing. Time. Everywhere. Even when you didn't even ask for where; even when you never even asked a question, you just shared a picture of your homemade breadrolls, and an American still came in convinced that you will eat your homemade breadrolls with their favourite American brand of butter. You have to preface everything you ever say online with your nationality just so they won't jump in with shop and product suggestions that are no use to you and that you never asked for in the first place. Because if you don't mention it right away, you will end up having to mention it later, anyway. You slowly cease to be yourself, an individual. You become a part-time volunteer (even though you never volunteered) ambassador of the rest of the world to the USA.

* * *

Still, all this is fairly innocuous. The problem is that Americans never even stop to think about it, and as with a lot of unchallenged assumptions, it can very easily get worse in less innocuous contexts.

You see, one of the offenders I noticed was a YouTube comment lecturing someone that a specific term had been struck out of an American list of mental conditions so they should not be saying they'd been diagnosed with it. In response to someone whose username was written in the Cyrillic alphabet. That one was definitely starting to cross the border into straight up "America rules the world so your lived experience and identity is invalid unless you conform to how Americans view it, and if you don't, Americans will just ignore it and force their own worldview on you."

And I'm still sure the person did not necessarily mean it like that, and yes, of course that list was compiled by leading medical professionals so they genuinely believed their correction was valid. But, dear anonymous American person who will probably never read this: Saying you were diagnosed with something is a significantly different kettle of fish from saying "I think I am..." It's not just opinion, it's not just the diagnosed condition in and of itself, it's something that happened. You're essentially saying "an American dictionary does not have a word for your experience so your experience never happened." That sort of thing - that sort of not stopping to look and think and just straight up assuming the same experiences apply to everyone else in this conversation - that genuinely is where the USA begin to be the country the rest of the world hates because they think themselves better and more important and more valid than everyone else.

And aiming that sort of carelessness at someone neurodivergent? That felt especially low. That can, in fact, completely ruin someone's day. Or week, because that sort of thing can have a knock-on effect, especially in tough times. And we all live in tough times right now.

And this, dear American readers, is why you should want to be more mindful with your careless US-centric cultural references. It's because you're putting all the responsibility for the mental effort in the conversation on the rest of us, and a lot of us straight up don't have the spoons. Most of you genuinely are perfectly decent people, and I think most of us will be only delighted if you prove yourselves to be.

* * *

So, listen, Americans. Of course people on the whole keep being polite about it to you because it's almost always a new, innocent person making the mistake.

But all put together it amounts to a pretty high degree of mental gymnastics the rest of the world has to perform for your convenience on an everyday basis, okay? A hundred times nothing did the donkey in, as the Czech saying goes. Don't be surprised if we sometimes explode in your face over something innocuous; you probably hit a spot that had been hit with something innocuous a hundred times before. Don't be surprised and offended if we say you're self-centered, and develop some unfavourable opinions about your country. We would welcome you taking up some of the slack once in a while.

There is actually a very simple way to get out of this national predicament with grace and no offense inflicted either way that many people from the rest of the world (and some very nice Americans!) utilise: Precede all your mentions of products & things with a variation on "I don't know if this is the same where you are but where I come from..."

See? Easy. By putting your suggestion in context and expressing consideration for the other side, you actually come across as even more helpful / friendly, and the person asking / posting does not have to spend such a big percentage of their free time and mental capacity volunteering as an ambassador to the USA.

Every time you go online, remind yourself that the internet is an international space where a lot of people communicate in a language not their own. That would be a good start for compensating for the way a lot of us go online every day communicating in a language not out own.

Saturday 18 November 2023


Just. You know. Socks.

Handknit sock yarn socks. They are, as my sister said, addictive. And she's only wearing them!

This is the newest pair, following The Modern Maker's principle of "Italian / antique heel", but not following either of his patterns directly; I did my own thing. The patterns are here, and in the book Knitting with the Modern Maker Vol. 1.

I still need to tweak it a little bit, but I'm satisfied that I've got something very workable. Wearing them right now and they're very nice and fit almost just right; I just feel like I need to change them around the heel a little bit more. Or maybe I made them a tad short. I suppose once I have something I would deem perfect, I might have to write it up, with proper credit of course?

This pair is 68 stitches on 2 mm needles. Yarn is Best Socks by VlnaHep (Czech company), colourway 7118 - no longer available. My gauge with thinner 4-ply sock yarn on 2 mm is about 9 stitches per inch; not sure about row gauge.

There's more nice new socks I never posted about here. I've just realised some of them were HSM entries and deserve their own post, though.

This pair, also featuring Best Socks 7118, plus Drops Fabel 108, went to Ukraine early this year. 72 stitches, again 2 mm needles. The idea was to make them fun and colourful. I don't know where they ended up, the person going there had more destinations, but I hope they did and do help brighten someone's day.

These were my first attempt at a Balbriggan heel, last year. Yarn is Sportivo by Vlnap, but it's from a "mystery packet", not their regular production which is all patterned - there wasn't even a colourway / dyebatch number. 64 stitches and 2,5 mm needles.

I like 2,5 mm for lighterweight but still durable socks, but compared to my previous pairs in different yarns, these exhibited some considerable superwash stretching - ended up at about 7,5 stitches per inch and honestly that's not great in this yarn. Lots of loose fluff quickly accummulating around the heel. Now they have also been accidentally dyed in the wash and have lost their bright blue colour. I don't particularly mind, see about the stretching and stuff. Also I made the pattern up as I went and it's not perfect. Good learning experience, not entirely the best socks. I did like the colour, though, so I am somewhat sad to see that go and I think I need another bright lighterweight pair like that. Not the same yarn, though. (Not that I can get it anyway.)

(Hashtag title courtesy of Matt and Tom.)

Friday 27 October 2023

I think Victorian corsets are in fact still conical stays

Technically. At least some of them.

This is, sort of, a follow up on my last post, and sort of a follow up on an older one that preceded it. A while ago I posted about this 1840s corset from the Met Museum, and how, when I broke it down to pattern pieces and looked at the grainlines, it reminded me of J.S. Bernhardt's Fig. F pattern.

Corset, American or European, 1839-1841, silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ID: C.I.38.23.10b-d

Well, now that I've looked at Bernhardt's book and not just Sabine's Short Stays Studies...

Nevermind Fig. F; look at Fig. B!

It has exactly the vertical seaming over the bust that certain mid-19th century corsets like the one above do. Also, hip gusset in the back.

Compare Fig. B to my rough draft of the Met corset:


Divide the back pieces of Fig. B differently - cut at the "i" hip gusset slit that's closer to the front and incorporate the gusset itself into the back piece (notice that that particular spot lies around the underarm line both in Bernhardt's draft and mine!) - and change the remaining tabs into a large hip-hugging gusset; raise it over the bust a bit... You've got yourself a mid-19th century corset!

Of course the pattern pieces are tilted slightly differently in my rough draft, because I wasn't drafting it on a conical plane. And in fact, I think the grainlines are the main difference between Bernhardt and the later corset - Bernhardt, or at least Sabine according to him, lays it out with the centre back on the grain and everything else fanning out from there, with the centre front almost on true bias. The 1840s corset also has the centre back on grain, but the tilt of centre front is more akin to its tilt on the draft itself, as if you left the draft as is and just rotated the back pieces so that they are on grain... 

On the other hand, though, if we consider Bernhardt-style stays as a precursor, it suddenly makes a lot of sense why a lot of Victorian corsets cut the side pieces tilted, on bias! Which otherwise comes rather out of nowhere if you're instead looking at them as a direct descendant of straight-cut Regency stays.

Fairly randomly chosen 1878 US corset patent from

All in all, it's fairly clear to me that if I started out with a conical block a la Bernhardt, it would actually be way easier to get exactly the results I need for this particular style - I would have far less counter-intuitive places to do subtracting of empty spaces in. The conical draft already wraps around the body the way you want it to and accounts for its non-rectangular nature; you just cut it up into sections where you need to and take it in so that it really hugs the body and supports the bust. Does that make sense?

Like so:


It's a quick and dirty draft and I forgot a couple things, like taking it in in the back. But you get the idea. One day I'll do it properly; it's pretty clear to me now that I will have to. :D

A teeny tiny detail, but even the fact the hip gusset is cut on bias now falls into place for me - it seems many late 18th century stays cut them that way.

Ergo: Victorian corsets are still conical stays!

But that's not all! There's another fun image to support my working theory!

The working theory is that professional staymakers continued cutting things the way they knew, and just kept gradually updating the styles. That the straight-cut gussetted columnal stays we think of as Regency stays, that we think of as the direct precursor to Victorian corsets, are, in fact... well, not an evolutionary dead end, I think they may well have contributed something. But it seems to me it makes a lot more sense if they contributed less than we think. I think that the picture will be more complete if we think of it as Victorian corsets having at least two ancestors, not just one. That all the experimentation of the long Regency era resulted in the subsequent designs picking up features from all over the place.

Which brings me to the aforementioned another image. This is a detail from a satirical print from 1823:

"Painting"´, William Heath, 1823. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Well, if that doesn't look a lot like what we consider to be 1790s transitional stays. In the 1820s! (And the picture can't be much older than its publishing date, what with her hairstyle, puffy chemise sleeves, and the dress to the left of her that I cut out from my selective image.)

I see two not immediately striking but I think very important differences in the image, compared to "transitional stays" like these:

Corset, 18th century, Met Museum, ID: C.I.41.94

One, the pronounced curve of her busk - really quite similar to the 1840s corset, especially in how it curves over the stomach instead of the more or less straight belly line of 18th century stays.

Two, the fact the bust cups do not look gathered but smooth.

Somewhat like these:

Corset/stays, dated to 1820s-1840s, Glasgow Museums, ID: E.1948.31.a

 I am currently aware of three 19th century corsets / stays with smooth cups of this sort - the Glasgow example above stands out among them by having seamed cups (really they seem quite similar to a modern bra), likely to accommodate a larger bust. Three still isn't much, but it already is more than the one I knew of years ago, and goes to show that this was, in fact, a Thing. The third one is in the Czech National Museum, was featured in Stays, or a Corset?, and unfortunately has no online presence that I know of. It also has fully corded cups, in a diagonal pattern that I am tempted to say I am seeing in the Heath print, but I think what's actually happening in the print is simply shading.

The three extants are all, more or less, stays of the columnal style, so seeing it done on the conical plane in this picture is super-interesting. And it supports my theory that there was a lot of experimentation and variety going on in the first half of the 19th century, the styles were by no means set in stone, and they did not necessarily conform to our modern ideas of what was happening when.

A pattern for the stays in the print could basically be achieved by combining Bernhardt's Fig. B/Fig. D with the bust cutouts of his Fig. C - although, based on comparison to the pattern draft of the stays from the Czech National Museum, you should probably make the cutouts a bit narrower and deeper - there needs to be a busk in the centre front going all the way up, and since there are bust cups in the cutouts, the bottom should likely reach the bottom of the gusset slit:

So, yeah. This patchwork of styles apparently existed. Or at least likely existed - we still have to keep in mind it's a satirical print. But since the stays don't seem to be being satirised and therefore don't seem overly exaggerated, and they show quite a lot of detail that actually makes sense in the larger context of early 19th century corsetry, I think the likelihood of them being a complete fabrication is low. Tabs in 1823 are a bit surprising, but the bust cups are not, and thirteen years earlier Bernhardt did include tabbed drafts in his book and apparently said one could and should mix and match according to taste. So... there definitely is more to corsetry of the first half of the 19th century than we used to think.

It makes a lot of sense to me that, as there began to be more emphasis on the natural waistline again, at least some staymakers simply returned to cutting stays the way that worked for that. They just added the experience gained from Regency styles to it - such as a greater reliance just on the cut of the fabric for bust support, as opposed to fully boning the stays and/or packing them with strength layers. And using gussets in more places than just the back hip.
Throughout the long Regency period there had been old-fashioned ladies who still preferred the old smooth cut of stays over the bust gussets (Bernhardt also mentions as much in 1810). And people in more remote, rural areas had not made the switch so swiftly - sometimes never. (Czech folklore collectors noted / recorded that fashions could take up to about twenty or twenty-five years - basically a generation - to filter down to regional dress more remote from urban centres at that point in history, and that's just talking about the elements of fashion that did filter down into it.)
The period of raised waistlines was not so long that all the old staymakers would have died out and taken their knowledge to the grave. It's not a breach and a complete change, it's a gradual evolution.

It actually possibly continues all the way to the Edwardian era, when we once again get an openly conical design with the "Corset Radical" that I did a Deciphering post on years ago:

Corset "Radical", Federer & Piesen, Prague, c. 1905. The Museum of Decorative Arts Prague, ID: 104484

One of the joys of my nerdy existence is that someone has actually made a corset like that since then!

Now that I have the idea of a basic conical block to compare it to, this design makes even more sense. I wonder how exactly A. P. McGraw (or Federer & Piesen?) arrived at it? Even if it was not through a conical block, I think my ideas of creating one could easily be applied to it...

More on those ideas later, I hope.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Why I have not made the Bernhardt stays (yet). Also, J.S. Bernhardt is awesome and it is not stressed enough.

It's not for lack of trying. (Well, to a degree it is, but that has more to do with the past three years plus having been... A Thing.)

I wanted to make a variation on Fig. F - I did mention that some time ago.


But I just couldn't make the scaled pattern work for me. The operative words being "for me". They're great designs that clearly do the job and they explained a whole load of things to me - J.S. Bernhardt left an amazing legacy for people interested in Regency costuming (here's the original scan). But his gridded scaling method leaves a few things to be desired.

Funnily enough, the answer as to why does, I think, lay directly in Bernhardt's text.

"Such a body (i.e. "well-grown") has to have... the thickness and length proportional." (p. 43; 47 in the scan)

That, dear readers, is where it falls apart for me.

Not only is my torso proportionally longer, it turns out my back is probably comparatively narrower than my front. With Bernhardt's "measure the back and derive a square grid from it" scaling method, I ended up with a pattern that was a whopping 8 cm too short for me.

Trying to alter an essentially conical-shaped pattern by that amount of length is... frustrating.

I had to figure out where to do it, first. And I realised it needed to be done at both bust and above-waist level.

I might have been able to make it work, don't get me wrong. I got started. I just have too many other things to do, so it never got finished. At one point I managed to align my cutting lines wrong on my additional strip of paper, and there were too many curves to be trued over a pretty large distance and, well, there is such a thing as "more trouble than it's worth".

The good news?

Bernhardt may have provided us with a neat gridded sizing method, but it isn't the only thing he provided us with. He also shows how you can take a basic conical block and turn it into his stays designs.

So what I'm actually going to do is make a basic conical block for myself, and turn it into his stays design.

It turns out that drafting a basic block and messing about on paper is actually a perfectly historically accurate way to design Regency women's clothes.

Oh, by the way?

The book doesn't just feature stays patterns. J.S. Bernhardt is AWESOME.

(I've already cleared this image up because LOOK AT THAT MOTHERLOAD OF REGENCY AWESOMENESS.)





(Oh, and there's Part 2. With adjustments for posture, men's blocks, and stockings.)

I still need to properly read his text and see if he left any other pointers. Reading German in fraktur isn't the easiest thing for me to do; I can figure it out (with the help of online dictionaries), but it's slow going that tires me out quickly. So far I've learnt that I should start at centre front and draw the curves as they are on the body, according to sight, which... isn't particularly helpful.

(I mean, I do understand to a degree. I have successfully drafted a basic block for my grandma, long distance, applying the time-honoured method of eyeballing to some of the curves. The problem is that it's much easier to do that with the curve of a rounded back, which you can see clearly in a side view of the person, than it is to do it with the curve of a pattern piece wrapping around the body horizontally.)

No matter:

There's the arc method described in Patterns of Fashion 5, which right away takes into account torso length and different measurements for front and back. Which, phew.

There's Mariah Pattie's method.

I tried combining the two in 1:5 scale, and it seems theory does translate into practice thus far. I used two different radiuses for front and back. (Ignore the messy lines and unclear style, this is just doodling to see if theory translates into practice, and the 1:5 scale kind of messed with my numbers here and there.)

And then there's the... phenomenon... I came across when drafting my sister's folk costume bodice using a variation on Bilikis' (Nigerian) bodice drafting method.

I suspect my final method will be some sort of amalgam. I have an idea how I could combine the arc method and the... phenomenon... for an easy creation of curves.

Bilikis' method of aplying various lines for various vertical points on the body and differentiating underarm and full bust/chest definitely was another of the missing links that made me go "oh, of course!" I think basically the winning combination is doing that but on a curve.

(Mariah Pattie's method looks great and simple, but I have my suspicions regarding possibly too unrealistically large radiuses for some people. Generally, it doesn't look particularly friendly to small sewing spaces; until recently, I didn't have a good large drafting / cutting table myself. Also, in her basic method she has the same curve for front and back, and that's not what I'm seeing in Bernhardt's draft. But if it works for you, more power to you!)

It's funny, because this burst of Regency inspiration actually came about from my pondering of 1780s stays and possible local folk costume variations thereof. It turns out the local harvest festival in September (more or less a harvest festival) references the elevation of my current hometown to town status in 1788. Which gives me the perfect excuse to finally make the jacket-and-petticoat ensemble I've been dreaming of since 2015 (although it won't be happening in such fancy fabrics). No promises as to when - I have bad track record in that regard - but it's definitely going to happen. I have a printed cotton with personal significance that is waiting to become some variation on the Amalia jacket. I hope I can get a collar out of it, too.

Monday 1 May 2023

Where Were You When... Take 2

There hasn't been much posting here recently, for a number of reasons that can be summed up as "Real Life". I have a whole bunch of unposted, unfinished posts in the background. Waiting for photos and stuff like that. I even had my usual Easter post written for this year, and then I... I don't even know. Fell asleep? I was ill over Easter this year, so that seems like a probable explanation.

Google reminded me that it's Labour Day today. As an explanation, I did not exactly forget what day it was; a Monday off is easy to remember. But I've gotten used to thinking of it simply as "First of May", probably because there is more than just Labour Day connected to the date in Czech culture (such as our Day of Love proudly distinct from Valentine's, and Maypoles, and stuff). So. I got reminded it's Labour Day, and I remembered something from many years ago, and it both amused me all over again, and reminded me it's been nearly twenty years since we officially joined the EU, back in 2004. Which is a bit of a weird realisation. It doesn't exactly feel like it (maybe in part because we did not join the Schengen Zone until later) - until I remember where I was back then and where I am now.

Back in 2004, I crossed the border from Germany to Czechia on April 30th, on the return journey from a week-long school exchange trip. It felt rather symbolic. First of May fell on a weekend that year. I can't remember which day exactly, but I think it was Saturday. (I should probably be able to find out for sure, but I don't feel like it.) I do know it was a weekend, because that same weekend a weekend youth event in our presbytery was taking place, and I went there a day later, on May 1st, because I had been in Germany. All those events lining up is why I think it was Saturday.

After I arrived, my sister told me that that morning, the person responsible for waking everyone up walked into the room where they had been sleeping, and announced something like: "Rise and shine! Early bird gets the worm! We'll celebrate Labour Day with labour! And other than that, we're in the European Union."

Which always amused me, and did so again today.

If I remember correctly, the labour in question was helping out in the parsonage garden. I remember running around with a barely cooperative old lawnmower at some point, and I think it was that particular parsonage garden, so I think the memories slot together. I can't be sure anymore, though. It's been nearly twenty years.

So it's a bit of an interesting exercise in memory retainment and retrieval. A good deal of the memories can be retrieved with the help of other factors, like a historical date, and knowing how the weekend events usually went so knowing Saturday makes the most sense. But I don't actually remember. I need those mnemonics to put the memory together. The actual memories are fragmented, more like isolated images, and some of those images may not be from this particular time.

* * *

A while ago, I found this quote:

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

And found out it came from here.

Ayn Rand passed me by completely, and the more I learn about her, the more I'm glad she did. I think overall she's more of an American phenomenon. The Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, entered my life much earlier than at fourteen, and I'm also very glad of that. What a poor childhood it would have been without it. (I can't remember when I first read it. It wasn't entirely in one go because we were borrowing the books.)

So I can't remember if there was any book that "changed my life" at fourteen in particular.

Did I read The Last Hero at fourteen? (My first Pratchett, incongruously, because, as a heavily illustrated book, it ended up in the children's section of the library while the rest of the Discworld books were in the adult section.)

I can't remember.

I know I first read Pan Tadeusz earlier. By about a year or two years, I think, based on when Wajda's film came out.

The only conclusion I can make is that fourteen was not a particularly life-changing age for me. Zooming in on it, in the quote, feels rather random to be honest, which of course makes a lot more sense when you realise it was just a rather random, irreverent paragraph coloured by personal experience, quickly fired off in a blog post.

This, too, is that sort of blog post.

* * *

The previous post of this kind was from 2014. It serves, in a way, as an example of its own kind. There's the mention of me and my sister discussing big countries bent on acquiring and retaining territory at all costs. It was, of course, in reference to Russia and the annexation of Crimea. At this point, I'm honestly not sure if I should say it aged well, or it didn't age well. I think the observation I made back then did? I think I'm still glad to live in this country. We have loud grumblers, and out share of problems, but overall, it's still a good country to live in.