18th Century Linen Mitts – Research

the haymakers.jpg
The Haymakersdetail by George Stubbs, 1785

Last weekend I had a lovely time at Fort Dobbs participating in their War for Empire French and Indian living history weekend. I learned about 18th century shoemaking and tailoring, visited with friends, tried my hand at log hewing (not so easy in stays!), and soaked up some North Carolina sun – perhaps too much sun. Yup, it was inevitable that the pasty white ghost would get a sunburn after being sequestered in six months of darkness up North. Thankfully all of those 18th century clothing layers and wide brimmed bonnets protected the majority of my lily skin, but my exposed forearms turned a nice shade of tomato. 

Fort Dobbs wood chopping
The camp follower before the sunburn.

After that happened, the obvious question was, “What is the 18th century solution to this problem?” Of course sunscreen is a perfectly viable (21st century) option, but I don’t like to have to carry around and conceal modern items and I usually forget to reapply it enough anyways. Thankfully there is a period alternative that solves my problem: linen mitts.

If you follow @girloncampaign on Instagram you might have seen my posts about my knitted wool mitts I made. Those, like other knit and sewn mitts of the 18th century, were constructed from wool, silk, or leather for warmth purposes, but I have also found references to linen mitts for sun protection. I hope to make a pair soon, but in the meantime I’d like to collect my primary source references and extant garments here for inspiration.

Extant garments:

linen mitts museum rotterdam
“Paar mitaines van ongebleekt linnen met wit borduurwerk op de rug” (Pair of mittens of unbleached linen with white embroidery on the back) Museum Rotterdam, accession #20890-1-2
linen mitts MET C.I.44.8.9a, b
Linen mitts, probably European, The MET, accession #C.I.44.8.9a, b
linen mitts MFA 43.1968a-b.jpg
Pair of light brown linen mitts, Museum of Fine Arts, accession #43.1968a-b

An earlier pair of mitts believed to have been made in India for the western market. Linen plain weave with silk embroidery. LACMA, accession #M.80.43.4a-b

A later pair of mitts, MET, accession #2009.300.1685a, b

Primary references: 

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey: Elizabeth Clemens, William Smith, 9th December 1761, reference #t17611209-8:

“Elizabeth Clemens, otherwise Smith, was indicted for stealing…two pair of white thread mitts, value 2 s.”

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey: Samuel Lane, Esther Lamb, 10th January 1781, reference #t17810110-30:

“Samuel Lane and Esther Lamb were indicted for stealing…two pair of linen mitts, value 6 d.”

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey: Henry Abel, 22nd February 1781, reference #t17810222-29:

“Henry Abel was indicted for stealing…two pair of linen mitts, value 5 s.”

“Wives, Slaves, and Servant Girls” by Don N. Hagist, entry # 316:

“She stole and carried off with her…one pair of white cotton mitts.”

Based on what I’ve unearthed so far, linen mitts seem predominantly to be made from white or unbleached fabric, but constructed in a similar manner to silk or wool fabric mitts. I plan on constructing my own pair, but Penny River makes lovely recreations for those inclined to purchase a ready made pair.

Various patterns are available:

Larkin & Smith Mitt Pattern

“Costume Close Up:  Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790” by Linda Baumgarten, pg. 72-74 (the pattern is also available for free without the construction notes on the Making History blog)

“The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking” by Lauren Stowell & Abby Cox, pg. 60-63

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Why Reenact British?

Why Reenact British https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2017/04/06/why-reenact-british

The uncertainty was clear in Mom’s voice. “You’re going to reenact British? Why would you want to do that?” It was a fair question. I had, after all, just announced I was going to start reenacting the Revolutionary War…on the side of the “enemy”.

I have reenacted the 19th century and the American Civil War for over five years. Most of the time I portray a Northern civilian on the side of the Union. This year I decided to branch out into reenacting the 18th century and the Revolutionary War. I am currently researching and sewing to develop a British camp follower impression, a woman who followed the army to lend support through cooking, doing laundry, sewing, and nursing. So why did I decide to portray what is usually viewed as “the bad guys”?

Besides wanting to participate with some of my friends who reenact British, there are several reasons why I chose to side with the Redcoats for my first 18th century impression.

I want to reenact British because…

1.) …someone has to portray them!

You have to admit, it would be a pretty lame reenactment if the brave Continental soldiers and American militia marched out to do battle with no one! There are two sides to every conflict and it’s necessary for reenactors to be willing to rally ’round the King’s Colours as well as the Continental banner.

2.) …I want to accurately tell their story.

It has been said, “History is written by the victors.” As Americans it’s understandable that we would like to glorify and emphasize our side of the story. However, I think the British narrative deserves to be told as well. To gain an accurate picture of the war we need to look at the events from both the American and British perspectives. I hope through my portrayal I will be able to negate some of the common misconceptions and bias surrounding the British.

3.) …I want to humanize them. 

This somewhat goes along with #2. Since the British were on the opposing side we tend to brand them as vengeful monsters. History is not as cut and dried as “good guys” and “bad guys”, however. There were men who acted honorably and those who acted deplorably on both sides. I want my persona to bring the British to life, to make their motivations, hopes, desires, and struggles relatable.

4.) …I might have been one in the 18th century.

Before the Revolutionary War, the 13 colonies belonged to Great Britain and the colonists themselves were British subjects. At the time, rebelling against England was viewed by some as a treacherous and foolish decision, essentially turning traitor on your own country. Even if you disagreed with some of England’s policies, that didn’t necessarily mean you were willing to take the radical step of revolution. With the perspective of time it’s easy to unhesitatingly claim that we would have sided with the Patriots, but that might not have been the case.

5.) …they had more camp followers.

Both the American and British armies had women camp followers, but the Crown forces tended to have a higher ratio. It is entirely appropriate to portray a follower of either army, but the description of the British with their “Herds of Women” makes it especially relevant to portray one. The double benefit is most of the clothing I will be sewing for my British impression will translate to an American impression as well.

 

It had been suggested to me that portraying the British will disrespect the sacrifices our founding fathers made. I believe the contrary. Accurately and knowledgeably representing the British will only further show how truly amazing the American victory was over the super power of Great Britain. I’m excited to begin this foray into a new historical portrayal!

What do you think of reenactors portraying “the other side”? If you are a reenactor, what made you choose your particular persona?

-Michaela “The Farming Daughter”

(Post image: detail of “The Relief” by William Dickinson after Henry William Bunbury, 1781)

The “Bess” Bonnet


The Farming Daughter: The "Bess" Bonnet ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/13/the-bess-bonnet/)

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

A highwayman comes riding—

         Riding—riding—

A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

-“The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes

The nasty weather we’re having right now has at least one benefit I suppose…inspiring me to finally blog about my new quilted winter hood!

I began this project the beginning of October. I’d actually owned the pattern unused since last year, but I pulled it out hoping to whip up a hood before the Cedar Creek reenactment. Of course that didn’t happen, but c’est le vie. (Actually it’s more my procrastinating self’s fault, when will I learn?)

I used Anna Worden Bauersmith’s Quilted Winter Hood pattern. The pattern offers a regular size and one with a deeper brim. I went with the regular size. I’ve made various winter hoods before, but I love that this particular pattern is less utilitarian in shape and is instead modeled more like the fashion bonnets of the era. The pattern was clear and easy to understand, though I would have liked a few marks or notches to help match the pieces when sewing the bavolet to the crown.

The lining is a cream colored cotton sateen and the batting is wool. For the main fabric I chose a simple and versatile black silk taffeta. I made the bow and ties also from silk taffeta I had on hand. They are just tacked on to the bonnet, so if I get tired of them they can be easily switched out for a fresh color. I discovered the poem The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes while working on this project and didn’t realize until later that I unconsciously made the bonnet from two colors specifically mentioned in the poem!

“Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.”

For that reason I’ve decided to name it my “Bess” bonnet. 🙂

Using some suggestions offered in the pattern and inspiration from Sarah Jane’s version, I came up with a quilting design that pleased me. I quilted it all by hand. At first I didn’t plan on the final row of shell pattern closest to the brim, but I’m glad I added it because I think it balances out the design nicely.

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Quilted crown design
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Koda “helping” me quilt
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Hand quilting

The crown is stiffened with wire to help it hold its shape. The pattern recommends “20 gauge millinery wire”. I honestly have no idea how big that is, so I just used some jewelry wire we had laying around and it seems to work fine.

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A look inside the hood: all of the raw seams joining the pieces together are finished with a whip stitch
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Back view

I would definitely recommend this pattern to someone looking for a more refined, fashionable winter hood. The research and clear instructions are wonderful. I was a little leery of the price…$20. I thought that was a little much for a pattern that is basically only three pieces…but then again, the price didn’t dissuade me from purchasing the pattern when I did! I think the printing costs contributed to the higher price and I see that Anna now offers the same pattern as a digital download for the very reasonable price of $7 (you can buy it here). These hoods use so little material now that I have the investment of the pattern already I can see myself making quite a few in different colors!

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The three main pieces: crown, tip, and bavolet

Overall, I’m very pleased with my finished Bess bonnet. I think proper accessories can really help to complete the believable “look” of the period…and they’re great conversation starters with the public! I also love how this piece can easily be incorporated in a wide range of personas. Of course the shape and materials are fine enough for a more well to do impression, but it requires so little fabric that an enterprising farm wife could have easily afforded the small bit of silk required to make herself a nice winter Sunday piece of headwear.

I’ll be excited for the next cold weather event so I can try out my new winter hood! Have you ever sewn a winter hood? Do you have a favorite piece of historic clothing or gear that transcends several social classes?

-Michaela “The Farming Daughter”

Just the basics:

Fabric: black silk taffeta from Originals by Kay, cream cotton sateen from Joann’s, red silk taffeta from Fabrics Universe on Etsy, wool batting

Notions: black cotton quilting thread, 2′ wire

Pattern: “Quilted Winter Hood” by Anna Worden Bauersmith (the pattern is for sale here in her shop)

Year: 1860s

How historically accurate is it?: Fairly good I’d say. The pattern is modeled after designs of original bonnets and all of the construction methods are period correct. The lining should possibly be a printed cotton or a polished cotton instead of cotton sateen. I’m quite pleased with the finished results though!

Hours to complete: 10 maybe?

First worn: Just to try on when finished

Cost: $5 (black silk taffeta), $3 (cotton sateen), $1.5 (red silk taffeta), $2( wool batting) $1 (notions-thread & wire), $20 (pattern)

Total cost (with pattern): $32.50

Total cost (without pattern): $12.50

Angelica Civil War Reenactment

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The biggest Civil War reenactment doesn’t necessarily make the best. While I’ve enjoyed attending the large and exciting sesquicentennial events the past couple of years, this weekend reminded me just how nice the smaller, local events can be too.

Mason, Addison, and I went to the Angelica Civil War reenactment hosted by the 136th NY. The first reenactment I ever participated in was actually this same event four years ago. It was special to be able to come to this event for the fourth time and camp in the exact same spot where my reenacting adventures began! Tenting next to us were also my good friend Emily, her sister Haley, and their friend Aidan.

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We were all very serious…
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…but not for long!
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This was Aidan’s first reenactment! (photo by Emily)

One of the reasons I enjoyed the smaller event size was it afforded better opportunities for interacting with the spectators. On Friday we helped run one of the education stations that local school groups toured. Our station was “Children’s Games and Toys of the 19th Century”. I gave a short talk explaining some the things children during the Civil War entertained themselves with and then we had various toys, including graces, hoop and stick, Jacob’s ladder, drafts, ball and cup, etc., for the kids to play with.

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Our educational station (photo by Emily)

We also ran the same station the next day for the Boy Scout troops that came. I was talking to one of the scouts later and was shocked to learn that they drive each year all the way from Massachusetts for this event!!

I brought the orphan kitten that I’m raising, Koda, to the event. She also had fun playing with the toys!

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(photo by Emily)

The combination of kitten and toys at our camp attracted several children, and Haley, Mason, and Aidan had a nice time playing with them all.

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Bobby was adorable in his accurate 19th century attire
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(photo by Emily)
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(photo by Emily)

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Mason hauling wood like a true 19th century gentleman (photo by Emily)
Mason hauling wood like a true 19th century gentleman (photo by Emily)
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I had a nice time discussing the Battle of Cold Harbor with one of our guys, Mr. John
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Civil War selfie 🙂

Another opportunity I had for sharing some of my knowledge of the period was Saturday afternoon. I was working on preparing a supper of chicken pot pie and a group of spectators stopped by to watch. I was able to have a very nice conversation with them about what I was doing, how my pie differed from an actual 19th century pie (not killing the chicken myself, for one thing), and food preservation during the 19th century. I love how smaller reenactments help you to get “up close and personal” with the public.

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Addie assisting with supper

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Part of supper cooking

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Made from scratch chicken pot pie ready to be baked in the dutch oven
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Baked to perfection

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Saturday evening we attended one of our favorite events, the dance! I had asked Addison to do a simpler style for my hair the previous days, but she insisted on making it fancy for the dance. She did a lovely job!

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I then did Addie’s hair. She has such a large amount of hair, that any style ends up looking epic!

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Sisters ready to dance their shoes off! (photo by Emily)

Every year the dance is held in the Grange building. The low levels of light, crowd of dancers, and wood floors make for the perfect 19th century atmosphere.

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The dance (photo by Emily)
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Cooking breakfast Sunday morning (photo by Emily)

Sunday after church I had a lovely time visiting my friends Allison and Stephen at their new sutlery (what the shops in tents at reenactments are called). Allison sold me a lovely belt buckle that perfectly suits my tastes, pretty and nice without being too flashy, and Stephen helped fulfill a dream of mine by selling me my own bound copy of Godey’s!! The book is from 1857 and contains all of the issues of Godey’s Ladies’ Book from that year. I can’t wait until I have some time to sit down and explore it thoroughly!

It was a lovely weekend, and a good reminder that smaller events can be fun too!

Many of the pictures in this post were taken by my friend Emily. Be sure to check out her blog post here about the weekend to see more of her beautiful pictures!

 

-Michaela “The Farming Daughter”