Monday, May 1, 2017

Updating Dresses

The Seamstress (1858) by Charles Baugniet from The Athenium
The Seamstress (1858) by Charles Baugniet 

The ladies of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford aren't alone in their practice of  'elegant economy'.  Altering dresses to keep up with the prevailing style is a recurring theme in stories and magazine articles of the 1860s.

"Nothing, it seems to us, could be more graceful in a lady, in these times, than a little self-denial. Alter, turn, and freshen the dress that is passe. Buy new frames, and make new bonnets of the old. The dress that has been worn one season,--why not wear it another?" -The Ladies Repository 1865

Instructions from 1862 (appearing in both Godey's and Genessee Farmer) recommend disassembling a silk dress for washing, and taking the opportunity to update the sleeves. This is hardly a new practice: in The Behavior Book (1839/55), Miss Leslie advises buying an extra 1.5-2 yards when purchasing dress material, so that there fabric in reserve for new sleeves and any mending or alteration that may come up.

"Old Basquines can be modernized by cutting them shorter, especially in the front, and by making the sleeves narrow." -Peterson's, July 1865.

Peterson's and Godey's both ran the same article in 1862 about updating and widening plain, 2 or 3 flounce skirts.

Peterson's (1862) has tips for stylishly remaking dresses:
There have been but few new goods imported this season, economy being the order of the day. Old dresses are "made to look like new" as nearly as possible. Skirts worn out at the bottom are renewed or lengthened by a bias band, plaiting or ruffle, or silk of black or some color contrasting well with the dress. In this way two old dresses often make one stylish new one. Then antiquated bodies or worn out bodies are discarded and jaunty Zonave jackets with white shirt bodies and sleeves, or Garibaldi shirts, take their place. As the season advances, pique or Marseilles will take the place of silk or flannel for these articles.
A recurring motif in period stories is the economically-minded middle class woman in her re-made finery--occupying the same economic perch as the March family from Little Women.  I find it telling that quality of the material is the limiting factor in these cases: the labor to mend, alter, clean, and re-work these old dresses is no barrier to wear.
"On the bed lay my dress that poor old Swiss which I had worn ever since leaving off short frocks. It had been pieced down and tucked for this occasion; my own hands had clear-starched it to the last degree of sheerness and mamma by much contrivance had managed to procure fresh sash and gloves." 
"I cannot afford a new gown for you, Kate; but we will have Miss Brown to make over my green brocade."  
--"Katy Keith" and "Five Years" in Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1863)
Another Godey's 1862 article outlines various re-making practices, including cutting down old dresses for petticoats, mantles, children's clothing, etc.  Again, labor is cheap (assumed free), but the material is viewed as pricey enough to warrant recycling.

A favorite reference for resourcefulness is the 1866 Godey's article "Dress Under Difficulties", which recounts the tricks blockaded Southern women used to freshen their wardrobes.  While not all techniques will apply outside of late-war Southern impressions, I think the piece offers some insight into how problems of dress were considered and addressed.  It also has some interesting hints at how long certain garments were expected to be in service: the author notes, for instance, an "organdy muslin dress" lasting five summers or a crepe bonnet lasting three seasons (with the implication that these were impressively long periods).


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Work Party/April Meeting

Saturday, April 1 was the 4th's spring work party. In addition to an open-air business meeting, we also set up some of the company tents to assess their condition. In a delightful turn of events, the pavillion tent was found to be significantly more useful than previously believed, and it is to incorporated into the field hospital this summer. Against all expectations, the weather held, so no canvas was put away wet.




Monday, March 20, 2017

Living History Symposium

(Cross-posted from my own blog: this isn't a 4th US event, but it is highly relevant)

Dear Living Historians, Historical Interpreters, and Reenactors:

You are cordially invited to a Living History Symposium on Sunday, March 26, 2017, from 12-4 in the afternoon. Guest speakers will be presenting on a variety of mid-nineteenth century subjects, to share their research and help you 'round out' your impression. The current offerings include:

*Dining in the 1850s & 1860s
*Early Photography
*Food Preservation
*The Genteel Hobby of Gardening
*Yeast and Innovations in Leavening
*Mrs. Mowett's Interactive Etiquette 

A tour of Historic Fort Steilacoom will commence at noon. The presentations will be held in Quarters 2, starting at 1pm. There is no charge to attend; visitors are advised to bring a water bottle. Feel free to invite your friends!





Monday, March 13, 2017

Monroe Mountain Men Show

Last weekend, the 4th hosted a recruitment booth at the Cascade Mountain Men's Annual Gun Show in Monroe, WA.  While the authoress was unable to attend, popular report indicates a successful event.  Mr. Ryder's new signs were displayed to great effect, certainly assisted the group's efforts.

4th US Civil War Reenactors at 2017 Cascade Mountain Men Show
The 4th's booth, image courtesy of Mr. Talbot.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Event Weekend: Antique Show and Craft Party

Over the weekend, members of the 4th held a display at the Puyallup Antique Show.  The monthly member meeting also occurred on Saturday--thanks to Mr. Talbot for supplying pizza to the assembled multitudes.

On Sunday, a particular sporting event truncated the Antique Show, so many of the civilians (and Mr. Talbot), met to share tea and company.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Event: Fort Steilacoom Christmas.

December 10th was very busy day for the 4th.  After the ceremony for Mr. and Mrs. Powers, we participated in Fort Steilacoom's Christmas Candlelight Tour.  The year was 1859 and, with much of the 4th Infantry still up on San Juan Island for the Pig War, the 9th garrisoned the fort. Col. Casey, however, had recently returned to Steilacoom, and those in residence found time for some holiday observances.  

4th US Fort Steilacoom Christmas dance
Yours truly called the dance figures for
a fine group of young officers and ladies.

4th US Fort Steilacoom Christmas officers' family
Mr. Miller was seen enjoying the company of Col. and Mrs. Casey.
He seems to have evaded the photographer.

4th US Fort Steilacoom Christmas officers
Captain Jones visits other officers in the bachelors' quarters.

4th US Fort Steilacoom Christmas soldiers
Mr. Talbot and the boys are finally allowed indoors,
after a long evening on sentry duty.


[The editress again apologizes for the tardiness of this piece.  The festive season has been unfortunately busy.]

Friday, December 23, 2016

Event: ACW Soldier Interment

On Saturday, December 10, the 4th US participated in a burial service for James and Irena Powers at Tahoma National Cemetery. Mr. Powers served with the 12th Michigan Volunteers during the Civil War.  Although Mr. & Mrs. Powers died in Seattle in the 1920s, their ashes were not interred until now, in 2016.

Irena Powers (1847-1928)
James Powers (1843-1921)














The 4th assisted in the burial exercises, providing a gun salute and flag ceremony, and marching in the procession.

4th US civil war soldier interment, flag
Folding the flag.

4th US civil war soldier interment, attention
The company at attention.

4th US civil war soldier interment, ladies
Firing a salute.
4th US civil war soldier interment, ladies
Ladies with the Powers' descendants.

[The editress apologizes for the tardiness of this post.]