Monday, April 29, 2013

Some Weekend Finds

Our town had their annual yard sale/flea market this past weekend. I missed it last year and was determined to go this year. Since my husband and son were out of town on a camping trip, I brought my 3-year-old daughter along (without a stroller!!). I thought I got there early, but by 7:45 am it was already packed! We meandered along , and while there was a lot of cool stuff, there wasn't a lot I felt compelled to buy right then.

Until... I came to this one guy's spot that had a ton of antiques. It was this older guy selling stuff on his son's behalf (which = great prices and bargaining potential!). This was the first thing I spotted and snatched up:

February 1942 issue of Popular Science

Now, okay, I don't normally go for 1940s guy magazines. I've usually stayed pretty close to the women's side of things, but I couldn't pass this up for a lot of reasons. The main reason was the main article "Policing a Nation at War" - an interview with J. Edgar Hoover.
Since I love studying the home front, this article addresses that subject spot on!

But as I got to looking I found a ton of incredible treasures of information!

Protecting the home against fire bombs and high explosives.

Equipment for the Refuge Room

New Appliances for the Household.
Keeping the Home Shipshape
There are some pretty handy ideas here!

Of course, I'll have to read this one!
My papaw had one of these briefcase-style backgammon games. I had no idea they were designed especially for servicemen during WWII! This article includes instructions and diagrams showing you how to make them yourself.

Ideas to Make Your Driving Pleasanter
Gotta love the precursor to GPS and smart phones - index cards pinned to the dashboard!

And something I have surprisingly never encountered in my studies of WWII - advertisements aimed at men!
Here are some of my favorites:

tee hee hee!
Things haven't changed much. 

Ooooh! You could become a finger print expert!

Love this way to make "big money at home" using this "new" invention!
 My husband wasn't too interested in the magazine at first, until I started flipping through it and showing him the cool stuff I found. I put it down after showing him and he picked it right back up and started flipping through it on his own. I said, "You want to read that don't you." He pursed his lips and said, "Yes, I do." haha! Not only is it a fabulous research resource, it will be an awesome magazine for guys to flip through that come to our house like husbands of my girl friends and my father-in-law when he comes to visit in June. Bonus!

The next thing I found were some fabulous postmarked envelopes with letters from 1919 and 1942. The letters are addressed to "Dearest Mina" and are from her friend Connie. The coolest things I read so far were that she called someone a "twerp" (haha!), and she told this story of these cadets in the WAVES (a women's Navy organization during WWII). There was this road their commander was having them march down, but some men had freshly tarred the road. Well, they couldn't go around, so the commander had them march right across it! Whoa! That would have been unpleasant, poor gals!

letters with very cool postage

some nearly blank, sturdily built notebooks
He also had these two sweet postcards:

The Lincoln one is postmarked 1919!
And I love the little rhyme on the other one. Heehee!

I think the flea market was a big success for such great finds. I didn't get to look at all the stalls, because my daughter was getting tired after a couple hours there - what a trooper! Then I finally found a child's desk for her that I've been on the hunt for for a long time and since that's all I could carry, I was done!

Hooray for flea markets!


A couple weeks ago I met a sweet lady at JoAnn Fabrics who was working at the fabric cutting counter. It was her first day and someone was training her to cut fabric. As she was helping me, she saw my fabric and asked me what I was making: 
The said fabric: a very cool cotton print. I love the geometric overlapping diamonds in orange.
 And don't mind the Lego horse. I didn't have a penny on hand for scale, so he had to do.  :-)
I told her I wasn't making anything in particular. I was just trying to find some 1940s-esque fabrics and this one fit the bill, I felt. She said she thought it looked from that era and mentioned she had some of her mom's old hats and a brown velvet dress she was trying to sell. I told her I would totally be interested, so I got her number and went to see her today. She sold these two lovely 40s' felt hats for a very nice price. She said she wanted them to go to someone that would appreciate them.

I loved the sassy feathers on this gold-colored felt. And the bow in the back is so sweet!
I loved this demure brown felt hat with the ribbon piping, feather, veil, and pin.
Unfortunately the veil is brittle and falling apart and half the feather fluff has come off, but I just loved the shape!

From this angle it almost reminds me of a bonnet from the Regency era!

This is my first time owning vintage hats. She felt they were from the 1940s, and I'm inclined to agree, though I'm not expert. Still, I am really excited! Now I need to find a hat box...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Regency Short Stays Progress

I love the striped linen I found for these.
Hooray for the remnant bin!
 Ooh! I'm so excited! I am nearly finished with my first pair of Regency short stays and compared with the long stays, I have to say I am sooooo glad I made this second pair. Not only can I bend and sew while wearing them, but just from fitting them on, I can tell they are going to be way more comfortable. What a relief! I was really put off by those long stays and had to step away from the Regency thing for awhile until I just determined that I was going to make a new set of stays. Now I'm just waiting for my steel boning to come in the mail and then I can finish them up. Hooray! Then I can finally start making my dress.

By the way... I had started hand sewing the short stays like I did with my Regency chemise, you know, to be historically accurate. I was a little concerned with the strength of my stitches and then it was taking forever and then I said to myself, "Sarah, what are you doing?! No one is going to see these! Sew them on the machine for goodness sakes, girl!" I am so glad I listened to myself. haha! Not only did the sewing go much faster, I am very confident in the strength of the stitching. My only regret is that I should have used a cotton lining instead of the linen, because I used an older linen from some pants I used to wear and it was much stretchier than my new linen cover and the cotton drill interlining, so there is some gappage I'll have to work around. *sigh* Oh well. If I like these stays enough I just might need to make another pair!

You can see where I marked out where to quilt using my fabric pencil.

While at the fabric store I also found a very passable, lovely fabric, albeit polyester *ugh!*, for my 1940s dress. Finding affordable, era-appropriate fabric has been quite elusive, but they had this lovely, soft, heather-gray striped fabric suiting on sale and just the idea of pairing it up with a deep cranberry red hat or deep teal accessories was too tempting!

It looks a little yellow in this picture, but that's just from my desk lamp. It's a much more soft steely of a gray.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Dilemma of First Person Interpretation

These past few days, as I have been working on my Regency short stays, I've been engrossed in watching the Edwardian Farm BBC series. It has been absolutely fabulous! Just as good as their Victorian Farm series, if not better. These programs are experimental history at its finest!

This is one thing that I've always been passionate about - the bringing to life of the past, turning it inside out so that we can examine it in the best way we can through the actual doing. I was drawn to this as a teenager and was thrilled that I got a job at a superb living history museum, Conner Prairie. We went through vigorous training for 3 months before we even got to go work in the village which was 100% first person interpretation of all the characters. I loved, adored, and soaked it all in. It was awesome... until I actually had to work in the village and deal with visitors.

Now, I actually really love to teach. But when you couple that with trying to stay in character and be true to the time period with children asking obnoxious questions like 'Is that real food?' 'Are you really eating?' and 'Is that a real fire?', it suddenly becomes very stressful. At least it was for me. It was like being an actor in a movie but the camera was never turned off and you couldn't drop your character ever. Of course there were times when no one was around and we would relax and talk like our normal selves, but then you'd have to spring back into character the moment a visitor showed their face around a corner. The whole thing was incredibly wearing on me. To be honest, I just wanted to hoe my garden and for everyone to leave me alone. (That's my introversion talking!)

I guess for myself I was searching for something - that elusive, rural, romantic history that I read and dreamed about. I really believed that if I dressed up and was installed in an 1840s log cabin that I would be magically transported to back then. Somewhere along this frustratingly naive journey it hit me like a ton of bricks that it was absolutely impossible to travel back in time. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But really, a lot of people believe, however secretly, that they can be transported into another time if they just do X, Y, or Z.

When I figured this out, I literally cried and was heartbroken, knowing I would never be the same. And things haven't ever been the same for me. The spell was shattered and reality stared me full in the face. Fortunately for me, I learned some valuable lessons from this experience that have affected the way I look at history and most especially, living history museums.

Enter ---- My Soapbox.

There are some major pros and cons when it comes to living history museums who practice first person interpretation. You might find that I am solidly against first person, but first I'm going to give the big, and most obvious pro to first person in museums (though this might obviously be open to other opinions):

1. First person interpretation gives visitors an experience they can get no where else - that of "stepping back in time" and "talking" with people who might have actually lived in a certain place.

Conner Prairie was very strict in their first person interpretation. You did not break character - ever. And here comes the cons:

1. First person interpretation is a lie. While some people find it magical, interesting, and even amusing, some people find it extremely frustrating. I remember this one distressing conversation with a visitor who really, really wanted to know if I really, really slept in the loft of the cabin and lived there for real. I told him over and over that I did, and I could feel his frustration mounting. In the end he left in complete bewilderment, and I was left with the sense that I was nothing but a bald-faced liar. He just wanted to know whether I was a reenactor or if this was a true and living village where we lived and worked and didn't go home to another place at the end of the day.

2. It is impossible to be completely in character. You know too much. You speak differently. You think differently. You react differently. There is no way you could ever know exactly how they acted, spoke, or behaved. You can approximate, yes. You can do mountains of research and know the time period backwards and forwards, yes. But you would still be guessing at many things. I don't believe it's an honest way of bringing history to life, because the interpretation is only ever going to be from the interpreter's perspective and limited by what they know.

3. First person interpretation is not a very valuable way to teach history. The interpreter, limited by what they know, will only be able to teach so much. They have to find a way to connect the time period with modern times without actually "knowing" about modern things - like cars or cameras! We referred to cameras as "boxes with bright flashes" or something similar. I mean, really? How ridiculous is that?! I feel a much more valuable way to teach history is to teach from a modern perspective (because HELLO, we live in modern times!) and using our extensive research to help the visitors relate to what you are saying or showing them. If you're wearing a period-accurate costume, using the same tools, applying the same methods you are still in a powerful place to teach. Better yet, put them in the clothes, hand them the tools, and tell them to dig in!

In other words, I think first person interpretation is a big waste of time and energy. My idea of valuable history learning involves getting your hands dirty, i.e. experimental history. There are no gimmicks here. You are using the actual tools, wearing the clothes, eating the food, doing the chores, etc. of the given time period; all the while bringing your modern knowledge to the table. Here is where the truly valuable learning takes place.

Wearing historical clothes is an experience in itself, because when made authentically, you can feel the difference in the cut, you walk differently, you sit differently, you feel differently compared with what you wear today. When you work with historical tools and try your hand at the different trades, you can begin to understand what kind of skills were actually needed compared with today. And if you go whole-hog and try something like in Edwardian Farm where you live in the house, wear the clothes, do all the chores, consult the books of the time, and try your hand at living a period of time in their way, then you can begin to wrap your head around what it was really like. We'll never 100% get there, but we can get close enough to appreciate the time period from our modern standing.

The real value in this experiment is comparing what we understand through the doing with the way we live our lives today.

How apt the quote by L. P. Hartley: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

So try your hand at spinning. Make some clothes and try them on. Play some games from the past. Try your hand at cooking from an old recipe - in other words DIG IN! That's where the learning is.

Some Dress Progress

This 1940s rayon print is awesome!
I'm not usually into pink, but this is so cool.
For now I have abandoned my full Regency corset and am instead devoting my time to starting some Regency short stays. I think these will be much more practical for me to wear, especially if I have to sew in them. I think that was my biggest problem with the longer set of stays. It is a little sad that I wasted that gold silk on a cover for the corset that isn't even really that historically accurate, but I was working with what I had and thought I needed to use. Aah well! Yesterday I cut out the pieces for the short stays (linen lining, cotton drill interlining, and a pretty striped linen for the outer layer) and I am excited - mostly because the pieces are so small! Hopefully, it will whip up in no time once I get a chance to sit down and sew. 

I am also working on a 1940s dress. I have been struggling to know what to make the dress from. I usually have avoided rayon like the plague because it didn't exist prior to 1900, but for the 1940s - it's fair game! Now that I need to look for rayon prints, I'm finding that they are very elusive, especially in era-correct prints. I can find '40s appropriate cotton prints without too much trouble, but for the kind of dress I'm making, the drape just won't be right using regular cottons. This is such a bummer and mildly frustrating. I did see someone make a 1940s dress out of a rayon/linen blend in a solid color and that gave me a bit more hope. I do have this delicious green linen, but I was saving that for a Regency dress... I guess we'll have to see. My next trip to the fabric store will be on the hunt for rayon/linen blends. Buying original fabric is just a tad bit out of my price range! Antique shops and second-hand stores are on my hunt list too. You just never know!

For both items of clothing I'm using patterns from

Monday, April 1, 2013

Lovely Read

I recently became friends with a woman who shares a similar interest with me on rationing, women's roles, and social issues during WWII. Her book collection is amazing and she's generously offered to let me come to her house anytime to do research using her books. *happy sigh*

When I went, I was picking up some 1940s Reader Digest magazines that she was giving away and while I was there and perusing her books, my eyes immediately were drawn to this random book entitled A Small House and Large Garden written in 1920 by Richardson Wright. She highly recommended it (she had even visited his house he talks about in the book!) and kindly let me borrow it along with Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther (a novel written in 1943).

I just finished reading A Small House and Large Garden and it was absolutely wonderful! It was perfect for picking up and reading here and there and had many nuggets of thought-provoking insightfulness. I am still amazed that it was written in the 1920s and was still so easy to read. I feel a little silly about that. I guess sometimes I discount older books because many times the language is stuffy and hard to wade through, but this just proves that not all authors were like that then! (Elizabeth Gaskell is another, even older example. I love her book North and South.)

A Small House and Large Garden in one word:



For anyone that knows me, they know that I don't normally geek out about shoes. I have uber high arches and slightly wide feet, so I am really limited in what I can buy to begin with, let alone what feels comfortable. So usually, my shoes are very practical and I never wear a heel higher than one inch. I've told my husband he should be grateful that I own less than 10 pairs of shoes. I'm not lying! That's all I have!

Well, what people may not know is that I secretly love shoes - historically inspired ones to be exact. I will readily drool over 1940s "librarian" shoes, 1780s pumps, or these incredibly amazing Edwardian shoes pictured below:

I am SO in love with these!

Well, I was reading a new post at one of my favorite new websites and she was wearing these awesome 40s vintage-style shoes to go with a very pretty 1946 dress she had made. I assumed they were a pair of pricey repros, but below she said she got them from Payless! I couldn't believe it! So I looked them up of course - and they were sold out online. Then I started calling around stores in my area (I could tell it was serious by then), and I found one store that had one pair left in my size! Can you believe it?!

So I went and tried them on and they fit perfectly. Not only that, they were comfortable! And they have a sizeable heel on them. That's saying a lot for my feet and I was super happy. Finally! I have a passable pair of vintage-looking shoes! Yipee!

Now all I need is to finally make that 1940s dress I've got the pattern for to go with my shoes. What a great motivation. :-)

Please ignore the jeans and argyle socks! haha!

Here are some fun historical/vintage-inspired shoe website links:

Burnley & Trowbridge (good quality late 1700s reproduction shoes)