Sunday 8 September 2019

HSM '19 Inspiration: #9 Everyday

The challenge theme for the Historical Sew Monthly in September is Everyday: It’s not all special occasion frocks. Make something that would have been worn or used for everyday.

Look at those divided mittens! Also, hoods, and split skirts probably for greater use of movement. That's about as far as I get, myself; if you do Middle Ages, I'm sure you'll gain more from this.

That's one challenge idea that's near and dear to my heart - over the years, I have discovered that even though I do fall in love with those pretty frocks (and there are some special ones I'm head over heels in love with), on the whole I prefer to treat my historical wardrobe much like my modern one: as a collection of separates that can be mixed and matched according to current needs, rather than as special occasion head-to-toe looks. I have great admiration for people who can pull those off, but this one is certainly a challenge for us who like our clothes plainer or don't feel up to that yet. :-) And maybe a relief from the big challenges for the others. Or maybe it's a greater challenge for you if you've only been making special occasion clothes so far! ;-)

Now you may ask, what is everyday clothing? And the answer is, it probably depends.

The conservation bias that particularly preserves special occasion frocks and special occasion looks usually makes all the genre paintings and photos and the occasional extant piece where you can see what people were really wearing on an everyday basis all the more exciting. But the scope of what that group of clothing and accessories contains is still large, depending on many factors like era, class, or region; and while it is tempting to go to the other extreme and look for poor people's clothing, it's not so black and white. Which is actually good, because you can still tailor this challenge to your own costuming (or even your own everday) needs!

Interestingly, the more recent it gets in the timeline of the HSM, the more differentiated clothes types can get, concerning conventions for occasions - until you reach the 19th and early 20th century with so many different types of clothes it gets confusing - what's the exact difference between an evening dress, a dinner dress, and a ball dress? And then tea dresses, and for men, things like lounge jackets get thrown into the mix. A ball dress is definitely special occasion, but might a dinner dress or a tea dress actually count as everyday? I'm tempted to say they're definitely special occasion, but who knows what they were like for different people!

Dinner dress, 1841–46, silk, American. Metropolitan Museum of Arts, ID:  1977.293.3
For a lady of somewhat limited means, this might be her best dress. For a more well-off one, this could be just one of several.

What for one class of people would be everyday might be special occasion clothes for another class - or what would be special occasion clothes in one era might be relegated to everyday in another; or vice versa. Clothes pass-me-downs were far more common in history than they are nowadays and a noble lady's everday stays may become a maid's best pair...

There is also the fascinating case of the (tree) bast shoes that medieval Czech kings would put on during their coronation - in rememberance of the legendary Prince Přemysl the Plowman who, of course, in his previous life as a plowman wore such shoes as a matter of course, just like other peasants all the way to the 19th century.

1880s tree bast shoes - "lapti" - from Russia beyond the Ural. Národní muzeum, ID: H4-S3680. Felling trees just for costuming would be a bad idea, and there's probably a limited use for these in the costuming world. But it's a fascinating historical tidbit.

Of course, one can always use more chemises or shirts for one’s everyday wear. Undergarments – given they do not scream “fancy” or “for a special occasion” – are certainly something that would have been worn every day.

Man's shirt, linen or cotton, Dolní Němčí, Uherskobrodské Dolňácko, Czechia, early 20th century. Národní ústav lidové kultury, ID: 5351, Accession Number: 5051/1983.
(The date comes from this Esbirky listing.)
This shirt is yet another example of the blurred lines I am speaking of above: for the village man who would have been the original wearer, this was probably a special occasion shirt, as the lace on it indicates. But a pintucked shirt sewn along the exact same lines could have been a city man's everyday shirt in the late 19th and early 20th century. I share this particular example because NÚLK's online Badatelna, while somewhat clunky for searching, has listings for a number of these and other folk costume shirts with good quality flat photos that you can use for shirt construction research. (Search for "košile" and dig through the results.)

So this is all open to interpretation and if you can argue your case, we'll be only happy to grant it!
And therefore, for the rest of this post I'll just share more of my own favourite historical everyday items that I've stumbled on, and maybe some of it will spark an idea if you don't have one yet.

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Here's one for those who sew for children - these are almost certainly village children, most likely in summer, or maybe spring:

The Czech painter Václav Brožík, who was otherwise mostly gaining traction as a society portraitist and a painter of historic or romanticised historical scenes, actually painted a number of similar scenes of children, as well as other village people, so you can get a pretty good overall idea from that if village life at the end of the 19th century is what you're after. Probably specifically in France, actually, because that's where he spent most of his working life; but here's one I think is almost certainly meant to depict a Czech scene. (Notice the woman in the back knitting a red stocking!)

If you're after city life in Europe at the end of the 19th century, though, especially Central Europe, you really shouldn't miss out on the work of Jakub Schikaneder for some everyday insights, both of working-class people, and this company at summertime leisure that's probably middle-class (I love the proof that the blouse-and-skirt combo was definitely already a thing in 1887, and not limited to white, on the two ladies in the middle):

Or maybe you could make nice cozy mittens for winter! (Their suitability for everyday probably depends on what your everyday looks like...)

c. 1930s-40s wool mittens, Národní muzeum, ID: H8-20091
These are probably from the tail end of the HSM's time range, possibly already from outside it. It doesn't give the measurements, so I'm not sure if they are meant for an adult or a child... but child seems likely. The fact that they are mittens, rather than gloves, as well as the long cuff, suggest they were aiming at practicality, despite the colour and fancy braiding patterns. It is, of course, those fancy braiding patterns that landed these among my historical darlings. :-)

And as a long-time lover of Albrecht Dürer, I would be remiss if I didn't include something by him; this drawing of a girl, with her partlet and headband, has always been one of my favourite portraits by him:

Albrecht Dürer: Portrait of a Girl, 1515, Charcoal. Staatliche Museen, Berlin, via Web Gallery of Art

Accessories are always a good way to go with the challenges, and one that would have undoubtedly been used in everyday contexts is a money purse!

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And while we’re on the subject of money and shopping, how about a reusable shopping bag, which will definitely come in useful even in your modern everyday contexts?

If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at netting, a string bag could be just the thing to start your netting adventures on. (The link leads to Wikipedia; note especially the Czechoslovakia part, which falls into the HSM range, and I confirmed from another Czech source that that part at least is fairly accurate, if brief.) It became all the rage (at least in Europe) in the lean 1930s when having a lightweight shopping bag of great space capacity ready at hand for whenever a good buy presented itself was quite useful, and bags of this style stayed in use for decades after that (but that's outside our scope of interest for the HSM). Although they were sold commercially, they could also be made at home, which undoubtedly added to their appeal. They are now making a comeback, although the commercially-produced ones are now no longer netted by hand.
(I'll even confess to keeping an indefinitely postponed sewing project bundled up together in one of those... a use for which its see-through quality comes in handy!)

 Despite their historical ubiquity, I had a hard time finding an indisputably 1930s example. So here's a photo from the above Czech source, clearly taken years ago at an exhibition, said to be examples from the 1930s and 1940s - it probably comes either from Vlastivědný věstník Moravský, year XXXIV, issue 2, 1982, which that site cites as its source, or from the Krčil family archive.

They can also be crocheted, and even the (homemade?) netted version would have crochetted handles, as a Czech advice article in Národní listy from 25.3.1928 attests - it also points out that the crochetted version is a bit heavier and bulkier than the super-lightweight netted bag. It suggests to make it, either version, from "perle yarn", "twisted yarn", so I'm guessing a thin crochet yarn that's at least 2-ply and quite firmly twisted will do. The article's instructions will probably give you a smaller bag of this kind - they refer to it as a "purse", and make mention of larger bags; so if you want a bigger one, size up accordingly.
For netting such a "purse", the suggested diameter of the stick is 5-6 mm - quite small, probably to prevent things from falling out. Starting with 30 loops and increasing until you reach 50; then you do 20-30 rows of 50 loops and start decreasing again, until you create a netted hexagon. This you then crochet around, with two stitches in every loop, gathering the sides a bit and creating the "rim" of your bag, with an opening of about 45 cm in diameter. You add two more rows of crochet and crocheted handles; both the rim and the handles can be strengthened by crocheting around a cord. (The resulting bag would certainly look something like this one, from the abovelinked Czech source - unfortunately they give no date on that bag. But it illustrates neatly what the article also makes mention of - that one can have fun with colours!)
The article also suggests you can sew a small envelope bag / pocket to keep your bag in when not in use; they extoll the beauty of keeping your hands free for most of your walk if you have a lightweight, easily packable bag like that. I'm definitely tempted to give it a try one day. :-)

But other types of bags are out there - this one is dated a bit outside the HSM range, but perhaps not too much so to make it implausible to use as inspiration for the very tail end of the HSM range. It is, interestingly, made of prefabricated straps in order to achieve a far more substantial, heavy-duty bag.

Not to mention that certain 1790s reticules could well double as shopping bags, if one is to believe their size in the fashion plates! This one in particular seems suspiciously bulky (are those outlines of round shapes hints of balls of yarn? apples?!). No dainty special occasion purse for this lady!

Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1797-1798, Rijksmuseum, ID: RP-P-2016-8-125

And if you're going to be out and about on your everyday historical errands, you're definitely going to need some type of head covering, as this lady also shows.

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It's apparently a costuming trend right now to sew things you can wear in modern contexts as well. I am all for that; just keep in mind that for the Historical Sew Monthly you should keep the modernising aspects of that trend well outside the sewing room door. There is still a surprising number of things that could pass the muster both ways!
Good luck, and have fun creating things that you will get much everyday use out of!