Category Archives: Sewing

How to Decorate Your Piano: 1900

red flowered chinese export shawl c 1900

Applied Embroidery.

Ever since it has been wisely recognized that the right position for a cottage piano is not to be pushed back against the wall, but to stand well out into the room, the question of how to turn its somewhat uncompromising expanse of back to decorative account has been one for careful consideration. Sometimes the solution is productive of extremely pleasing results, sometimes very much the reverse. Flimsy “dust trap” draperies and unaccountable devices in Japanese fans are, happily, for the most part obsolete expedients nowadays, and it has come to be pretty generally acknowledged that the back of a piano is a feature in the decoration of a room to be treated seriously. When it serves the purpose of a screen, breaking up the formal arrangement of the chairs and sofas and creating a pleasant little alcove or fireside corner, no method is more satisfactory than to cover it, screenwise, with an effective panel of embroidery. The needlework should harmonize in character with the pretty, flowered and beribboned chintzes which now lend their charm to many a drawing room or boudoir.

When a piano is constantly left open, it is a capital plan to protect the keys by covering them with a narrow strip of silk. This gives an opportunity for charming needlework decoration after the manner indicated in the group of sketches. Suppose the keyboard cover to be of white or pale tinted satin, the branches of almond blossom should be in fine ribbon work and the scroll, with its motto, “Music, When Soft Voices Die, Vibrates In the Memory,” outlined in gold or silver thread. There should be a lining of thinly quilted silk, pink or green, which may be delicately perfumed with violets, lemon verbena or any other favorite sachet powder.

The Jersey City [NJ] News 8 September 1900: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can perhaps justify the draping of the grand piano in an elaborately embroidered shawl, if only to prevent the inevitable sprawling chanteuses from scratching the varnish. However, Mrs Daffodil draws the line at the notion of upholstering the back of the piano, no matter how seriously one wishes to treat the instrument. Such embroideries are impossible to dust and even more impossible to wash, not to mention their muffling effect on the instrument itself. “Music, when soft voices die–full stop.” about sums it up. She also points out that the obvious: if the instrument is actually being used, there is no need to protect the keys with superfluous fancy-work.

Something new in needlework is a piano key covering, designed to lay over the keys when closed and on the rack when open. It is an excuse for embroidery, as it is made of light cloth, upon which is worked some pattern emblematic of music. It cannot be said to fill a long-felt want, but is as useful and as much needed as the embroidered bell pull or the decorated shirtbox which long suffering masculines are now asked to accept on gift days.

The Jersey City [NJ] News 3 February 1893: p. 3

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

$35,000 a Year to Dress a “Deb”: 1924

 

$35,000 a Year to Dress a “Deb”!

Dressmakers to the “400” Tell How the Modern Society Girl Wears Annually 30 Evening Gowns, 250 Pairs of Stockings, 25 Pairs of Shoes, 30 Hats, 2 Dozen Negligees, 1 Dozen Evening Wraps, and a $25,000 Coat!

When one of New York’s smartest dressmakers announced the other day that nobody could dress on less than $35,000 in a year, a lot of people clutched their pocketbook with one hand and held up the other hand in horror.

But not the debutante. Not, either, the debutante’s mother in the his year of grace 1924. Nor, indeed, the debutante’s father. They knew that the dressmaker’s estimate was conservative. “I only hope my daughter will cut her wardrobe expenses down to $35,000!” was the sincere groan of many a plutocratic parent.

Of course when the dressmaker said nobody could dress on less than $35,000 a year, she referred to anybody feminine who was “anybody” in New York City. Even in Manhattan there are girls who spend less than $500 a year for clothes. But they are not the girls who get their names into the society column.

To the innocent bystander, however, whose name never gets near the society column than the death notices, advertisements and “marriage licenses issued today,” that $35,000 remark was a smash between the eyes. “How,” said the innocent bystander, fingering his last $1 bill, “can any woman not only not get along on less than $35,000 for clothes and incidentals alone—but how, on clothes and incidentals alone, can she spend so much?”

The easiest answer is: “Easily.” But after all, that doesn’t tell the innocent bystander much about what it’s all for, so this innocent bystander galumphed up to the source of the hair-raising remark and asked how come, with specifications, explanations and itemized particulars.

Fay Lewisohn

Miss Fay Lewisohn

She’s a surprisingly young and girlish person, this Fay Lewisohn who made the statement which has ever since been causing squawk of dismay. Perhaps it is worth noting that the squawks come from people—like oneself, for example—who haven’t anything like $35,000 to spend on anything, let alone on clothes. Her establishment is in the most fashionable-dressmaker section of West Fifty-seventh street, which as the initiate know is at present the ultra fashionable district for the modistes whose clientele is truly exclusive.

“How can a woman spend $35,000 a year on dress?” is the question directed at the slim, attractive young woman who announces herself as proprietor of the place.

The slim, attractive young woman shrugged. “How can she help it?” is her answer.

“Well, but after all—”

The modiste smiled. “Oh, I’m talking about the woman of wealth and social position. Naturally, every one who comes to my shop for an occasional gown doesn’t spend that much on clothes; perhaps not in a lifetime. I myself don’t spend that much on clothes in a year.

“But perhaps you don’t realize that there are dozens of women in New York today to whom $35,000 as an annual outlay for dress, cosmetics and so on, is not an extravagance. I know one woman who has a yearly contract with a modiste for $50,000 worth of clothes. There are society women who easily spend that much. Just as there are people who spend $50 a month for a house and others who pay $15,000 a year for an apartment. The thing is relative, you know.”

The modiste, it seemed, got a fair profit and no more. “It is possible that by some lucky chance a woman might find a cheap dressmaker who would turn her out, as well as one whose prices were higher. That is an unlikely chance; but it might happen. However, what the society woman wants is a quiet, attractive place in which to inspect gowns. She wants to see those gowns displayed by refined, high-class models. Naturally, both these requisites mean high rent and good salaries.”

Your murmur about the overhead expense brought an emphatic nod.

“Moreover, the very materials in the clothes themselves are expensive even before the scissors and needle touch the goods. Brocades at, say, around $100 a yard, send the price of a gown up, rather.”

Rather!

“There is an East Indian, for example, who brings me marvelously embroidered silks straight from India. He drapes them around the models and they really need, oftentimes, very little cutting or sewing. But the materials themselves are almost museum pieces. Some are antiques. And, of course, they are very valuable.

“Another big item in sending up the price of a frock is the actual labor upon it. Labor I these days and in this city, especially skilled needlework, is high. On a first-class gown which has many yards of an intricately beaded pattern, each bead must be sewn on with care so that it won’t pull off. These patterns often are works of art and it requires almost artists to bead them. Do you know that the beading on one gown, when properly done, may take several weeks?”

These were matters worthy of consideration. But how many of these gowns would a sure-enough social leader need in the course of a year? And how much would such a gown cost?

It depended, naturally, on the taste of the patron and the amount of beading.

“A gown of this type, beautifully done, might run into many hundreds of dollars. It might be five hundred dollars, six hundred—the material itself would, of course, be a determining factor. I am speaking, by the way, of a gown on which the modiste would make a legitimate profit; not of a gown for which the modiste would charge every dollar she thought she could extort.

“A debutante may easily spend $35,000 a year for clothes and really get her money’s worth. Without being cheated by the modiste.”

You began to see how this was so.

“Now, for instance,” the modiste continued, “a girl who moves in what is known as high society needs about thirty evening gowns. She doesn’t plan to wear any costume more than two or three times; some of them only once. It is not too much to say that thirty evening gowns would cost her $9000.

“She would require 250 pairs of stockings. These would cost on a average, perhaps $9 a pair; an item of $2250 for hosiery alone. Of course, some stockings would cost much more than $9 a pair.”

As a matter of fact, a shop in the vicinity of Fifth avenue and Forty-second street has had on display within the year a pair of stockings priced at $500. Not $500 each, you understand; but $500 for the pair, or $250 each. They were perfectly simple black silk hose, with a large medallion of lace on the front.

The same shop had another pair of quite good-looking silk and lace stockings for $250.

But the modiste was going on with her itemized bill of wardrobe expenses. Shoes, she agreed, could cost anything you want to spend on them, but $2000 wasn’t too much for some women. A lady who wanted her feet to look really chic would require, at the least twenty-five pairs of shoes, and this was a low estimate.

Hats? Of course, you could get a good little hat for $35. Or you could get a stunning little thing for $100. Anyway, the lady would need at least thirty hats and she could easily spend from $1200 to $2100 before she got out of the millinery department.

By this time you begin to see that milady has run up quite a sizable bill. But the end is by no means yet. How about lingerie? How about lounging robes for the boudoir? How about the perfumes and powders, the creams and other cosmetics with which the boudoir dressing table is stacked?

Of course, a negligee is whatever you please. It is, so to speak, an elastic garment. It may be a cotton wrapper or a thing exquisite as sunshine on the sea. The negligee of the social leader is of this latter type. And you’d be surprised at how expensive it is to put the sunshine on the sea into figured silk and chiffon.

“A dozen negligees are not too many” –it is the voice of authority which speaks; “many women have many more than a dozen. They might easily cost a little more than $200 apiece, or $2500 for the dozen.

“As for lingerie—I have just finished a set of lingerie, for a bride, which is valued at $10,000. I have made other sets for $15,000; that is to say, a dozen of each garment. The set which I have just finished was of hand-made filet lace and Italian silk of special quality. The wedding gown, priced at $600, was intricately beaded with crystal. One could get a really lovely wedding gown, as a matter of fact for around $300. But, of course, this is without the veil. The veil may cost as much as one is willing to pay—

“It may be a few almost priceless yards of antique lace, made in some convent of the Middle Ages.

“The more usual lingerie, of finest linen or silks and exquisite laces, would cost about $3600 for two dozen sets.

 

“A dozen evening wraps would be part of the society woman’s wardrobe. It is difficult to put a price on them. They might cost several hundred dollars each, depending on what fur was used for the collars and other decorations.

“There are such things as fans, too, which vary tremendously in price. These would mount at least into the hundreds. Corsets, too, are expensive when well made and made to order. The materials are costly, also. Seventy dollars is the price of one corset which makes no pretense to embroidery or other ornamentation. The price is for the best quality of brocade and of silk elastic and for the model itself.

“You understand, further that a social leader could not possibly buy her furs within that $35,000 which I have allowed her for a wardrobe. Furs would have to be extra. For a handsome coat $15,000 is not an unusual price and $25,00 would more likely be the figure.

“This leaves what are known as incidentals. They include hairdressing and all that goes with this art; beauty treatments, with cosmetics, perfumes at—say–$30 an ounce—and things of the sort. Cigarettes, too, may be put with the incidentals. Many society women smoke the brands that come in fifteen or twenty cent packages, but you may, if you wish, have the sort that has a monogram, a special blend of tobacco and a little dab of cotton inside the cork tip to absorb the nicotine and keep it from touching the lips. Without the monogram these can be obtained for around eleven cents each.

“No, not each packet. Each cigarette.

“For incidentals we may safety estimate that a society woman spends $5000 yearly.”

The modiste drew a long breath. So did you.

“Well, you see,” she said.

You did, indeed.

New Britain [CT] Herald 7 October 1924: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil, who has previously shared information on the account-books of the very rich (The Cost of a Fine Lady, What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe, Where that $10,000 a Year Dress Allowance Goes, and The Cost of a Curtsey), wonders if these articles are a form of what she has heard called “humble-bragging,” or if they are meant to be inspiration for the ten-shillings-a-week shop-girl to set her sights on an elderly peer or millionaire?

Although she inexplicably omits essentials such as hand-bags, vanity cases, and jewels, Miss Lewisohn knew a thing or two about the sartorial needs of the society woman. She was the heiress to the Randolph Guggenheim millions. She was often in the news: Her engagement to one William Burton (of a Park Avenue address) was announced 23 February 1919; the engagement was reported as broken on 2 April, 1919, with her mother saying that the couple was “Too young to know their own hearts.” In 1921 she had to issue a statement denying that she was marrying a Russian prince; while in 1922, she announced the opening of her dressmaking establishment, in partnership with Mrs. Basil Soldatenkov, wife of the former Russian envoy under the Czar. She also married Jack Rothstone, brother of Broadway gambler Arnold Rothstein in 1928; divorcing him in 1934.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

An Undine with a Soul: 1892

green and pink gown

Green and pink gown by the House of Worth, 1897, Chertsey Museum

AN UNDINE WITH A SOUL.
How a Clever New York Maiden Saved Her Social Fortunes.

Special Correspondence Sunday Post-Dispatch.

New York. Gift making is over and all the world is duly thankful, a large part of it that the holiday pother is well ended, here and there an individual for what has not been received. This is notably the case with a young woman much addicted to artistic yearning and full of a fine feeling for color. Though the best circles here receive her with open arms, it is wholly because of her personal charm, backed with substantial expectations. Her family is good enough, not distinguished, and only comfortably endowed with this world’s goods. Her father claims a cross of Knickerbocker blood. Her mother comes of thrifty trader-folk, clean and honest, but wholly unaesthetic. There is a childless rich aunt, the mother’s sister, widow of a retired grocer, for whose garmenting gorgeous is a poor pale word. Fair, fat and fifty; she revels in big hats all over sky blue feathers, in velvet gowns of green and scarlet aflaunt with white lace; in brocades that would do admirably as wall tapestries; in tea-gowns calculated to make a self-respecting rainbow go out of business; in bracelets and lockets and chatelaines, distinctly audible as far as eye can reach. In fact the good lady lives to be clothed. Style is her fetish, and she offers to it a perpetual oblation of good, hard cash, expended for “all the latest things.”

Notwithstanding she shows the family thrift otherwise. The beauty, as her namesake and prospective heiress, has a reasonable claim upon her generosity. It is one, though, that the young woman most willingly waives. All her life particularly at Christmas times she has been endowed with things that her aunt bought, wore and laid aside the season before, and woe to the recipient if she dares to leave them unworn. Since she came out. two winters back, they have been the nightmare of her existence. Between tears and laughter she told me of her struggles with one particularly flamboyant gown, a grass-green silk all betagged and befrilled with vulgarly deep pink, and aglitter with crystal passementeries in the bargain. It was as rich and costly as it was ugly and to the donor’s mind exactly the thing the girl needed to wear at a swell dinner party with dancing after it, two weeks in prospect. The victim of it thought otherwise. The invitation was the first that had come to her from the really swagger set. If she did not do credit to it it would be also the last. To go in that impossible gown was to foredoom herself to social failure. What could she be but a dumb fright under the oppression of that rainbow horror? Yet not to wear it might cost her eventually a solid quarter million. It was a case of her face or her fortune, and she did not care to sacrifice either. There was nothing for it but diplomacy. Taking her courage in both hands, she stripped off every vestige of the pink, and with it ornamented a loose white cashmere house-robe, where the effect was not half so bad. This she sent to her aunt as a birthday gift, intimating that only the elder lady’s magnificent complexion could bear such rich color. Then the green remnant was veiled and swathed in clouds of pink and white tulle, layer upon layer, with crystal drops here and there and trails of water grass and lilies on the corsage and about the waist. Thus gowned, with an emerald pendant on her bare white throat, green slippers, green stockings, a white and green fan, the young woman was voted an Undine with a soul and her social success assured. But it was a narrow escape–a harrowing experience–one, too, that she feared was to be indefinitely repeated. There were three brocades in her aunt’s wardrobe that it seemed certain the Christmas just past would precipitate on her devoted head. A line in a fashion letter saved her. It read, ‘”Old brocades are more stylish than new, now that the texture is again in fashion.” By consequence, at the eleventh hour the aunt bought for her niece a bonbonniere as big as your two hands, all over gilt and flowers, and sent for her modiste to see what were the possibilities of the gowns she could not bring herself to part with.

blue and gold velvet dress 1895

1895 velvet and brocade gown. ttps://artsandculture.google.com/asset/dress/cQEsM1SnLWPe2g

So here is a new use for the fashion letter. Certainly womankind should be grateful to it for it brings much of sweetness and light into the chaos of feminine costume. The sentence quoted is frozen fact. The happiest, she is the one who had a grand aunt or mother considerate enough to leave her a chest full or even one gown of the rich old-fashioned taffeta brocade. One that I saw resurrected the other day was as freshly beautiful as though it had not come out of Paris 120 years ago. The ground was a rich chocolate brown satin brocaded with a cluster of cherries and their leaves in natural tints, alternating with poppy clusters in shaded red and yellow. It was made with a very long waist pointed and opening quite to the bottom over a stomacher of yellow lace. The same yellow lace made a tucker in the low square neck and triple ruffles for the elbow sleeves. The skirt opened in front and was looped away from a petticoat of plain brown satin short enough to show the high heeled red shoes with big bows and silver buckles and even a tiny bit of the red clocked stockings. Behind the brocade swept out into a train full three yards long, lined throughout with yellow brown paduasoy. Its first wearer was a colonial dame of renown—a vice regal lady whose stately beauty is the most cherished tradition of her descendants. This costume, which figured at more than one historic ball, has been kept intact even to fan and gloves, which by the way are as long as the longest of our period. It was brought to light with some faint idea of remodeling it into a ball-gown for a great-great granddaughter. In the end it was decided to leave it alone. There are hints, though, of a colonial costume ball for the benefit of the Mary Washington Monument association. If they take form and substance it is safe to say the brown brocade will appear and ruffle with the best.

 

 

Failing old brocade you may buy new ones twice as beautiful in all the delicate evening shades—blues like a dream of heaven or the shimmering summer sea, pale tea-rose pinks, shot stuff, opalescent as the tints of dawn or as full of changing hues as a pigeon’s purple neck; cream amber, Indian red, jonquil yellow, pearl, dead white, black, gray, crimson, all in the most lustrous weaves, with a pattern of lace festoons or true love knots, or stars or spots or crescents in self-tones running all over them. Other sorts have delicate flowers or bouquets colored to the life; still others sheaves of wheat in gold or silver, or suns or moons or intricate arabesque tracery in the same precious metals. In making up the brocade forms either a coat bodice in front with a velvet train, or else a trained skirt with bodice of fine cloth, or may be a court train and sleeves to a princess gown the color of its ground.

The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY] 27 December 1891: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We must applaud the very diplomatic young woman, even if she is much addicted to artistic yearning.  Few, if any of us, could so deftly steer between the Scylla of social ruin and the Charybdis of an aunt having a quarter million in her gift.  The Undine gown sounds enchanting. And the pink-trimmed cashmere house-robe and its attendant compliment to the aunt’s complexion was a sheer stroke of genius.

The House of Worth was noted for its exquisite brocades, often woven à la disposition or with metallic threads. The descriptions above could have come from a vendeuse tempting the Undine’s aunt at Maison Worth.

 

As a side-light, Mrs Daffodil was full of anxiety over the fate of the yellow-brown “paduasoy,” for fear that it had been remodeled, i.e. vandalised, into a ball gown for some heedless debutante. It was with a feeling of profound relief that she heard that it was left alone, although there was still the threat of the colonial costume ball. We have previously read of the historic costumes worn on such occasions in An Imposter at the Concord Ball. It is a dress-historian’s worst nightmare.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Sensible Christmas Gift: 1910

wrapped christmas gifts with holly

The Sensible Christmas Gift

Sophie Kerr Underwood

The question that has always puzzled me when I have heard people ardently discussing the subject of the sensible Christmas present is this: What is, really, a sensible Christmas present? One good soul will tell you that it is anything which is truly useful, such as a dozen tea-towels, a box of soap, a dust-cap, a cook-book, a gingham apron, a patent can-opener. But somehow, I can not happily put the Christmas giver so summarily into the Martha class.

Then there are good folk with floppy flowers in their hats and floppy sentiments in their heads who say rhapsodically that one should give only the beautiful, the aesthetic, to be truly sensible. “Give the poor factory girl a lovely rose,” they cry. “Give your cook an exquisite French print to wean her mind away from the sordidness of her work; give the little lad who sells your paper a beautifully bound book; give only beauty—beauty.”

Of course, that’s all very well, but I don’t want to give my cook an exquisite French print because she’d be furious and leave, and I would much rather have helpful hints as to what to give my best friends, Alice and Mary, and my cousins and my aunts, than suggestions for the boy who sells papers and the factory girls. I know very few newsboys and factory girls, not because I am snobbish, but because I have never had the chance to meet them. Some one else tells me “Give what you yourself want,” but that’s a poor rule. For instance, I would love to have a French edition of Beranger, and an armful of the poems and plays and stories of the modern Irish writers, but what would it avail if I give these to Aunt Julia, who reads nothing but lives of the saints? And can I give to Louise, who wears only mannish stocks—because they are most becoming to her—the frilly jabots which I dote upon, but which make her look dowdy? Nay, nay, I must seek fresh advice.

It seems as though there must be some people somewhere, who know how to choose Christmas gifts sensibly. Yet each year I hear post-holiday wails about the quantity of useless trash, mere dust-catchers, which has been exchanged under the guise of loving Christmas greetings, and to the great fatigue of the postman. I have seen my own mother, gentle soul that she is, look with undisguised wrath on a cushion-cover reeking with raw color and garnished with screaming cord and tassels, and wonder how in the world any one could dare to buy the thing, much less tie it up in a holly box and send it to her with “Merry Christmas” written on the donor’s card. And I have heard a-plenty of things like this: “Of course, I shall never use it, it’s quite impossible, but I can give it away next year.” And “That makes nine pincushions this year. I, who live in a hall room in a boarding house, have so much need of pincushions.” And “I am perfectly certain that is the centrepiece Mrs. Smith gave Mrs. Jones last year—and now Mrs. Jones sends it to me.” And, “That’s a perfectly beautiful veil-case, of course, but I never wear veils and she knows it.” And so on, and so on, and so on—you could each of you furnish a posy of such sayings, I am sure.

Perforce I must turn to my own gifts. Here is the most prized one that I ever received. It is a square of perforated cardboard with a flower neatly sewed into it with bright yellow worsted. It was made at kindergarten by my own little nephew, my godchild, and he brought it home and announced to his mother that it was for me. It certainly isn’t beautiful and it certainly isn’t useful, but I don’t care, it is a sensible gift, and I’ll maintain it so against all the law and the prophets. Don’t you understand, those little chubby hands toiled patiently at it, working the tedious thread back and forth until the thing was done, and was, in his eyes, a very beautiful and wonderful piece of handiwork. And then—why, he wanted to give it to me, and so it is the gift of a dear, loving little child, and wholly priceless.

And her is a gift which is not sensible. It is a very handsome bowl of Benares brass and it was sent to me by Emily, who visited me last summer and was not a pleasant guest. She required a great deal of attention and entertainment and she told me that she made better mayonnaise than I did and that I looked my age. Both of which statements I know to be utterly untrue. Well, I think, if she didn’t want to be nice when she was staying with me, I would much rather not have an expensive gift from her. I don’t think it expresses honestly her feeling for me. I would much rather have a pleasant memory of Emily’s visit and a little Christmas card than to think of her unpleasantly and be perpetually reminded of her by this truly lovely gift. I shall take no pleasure from the bowl. I insist that it wasn’t sensible of her to give it.

Another Instance: Two Christmases ago I received a big box of candy from a very nice man. Now I never eat candy for it makes me very sick, but I knew that he didn’t know it. And I could see exactly the workings of his perfectly masculine mind. He said to himself, “I’d like to give her something. Let’s see, flowers, books, candy. I can’t send her flowers, for she’ll be away down in the country and they’d be ruined when they get there. There’s no use getting books for her, for she’s so fussy about books and I’d never be sure that she really liked them. But candy—every woman likes candy—I’ll send her a lot of it.” And so Christmas morning when I looked at a most lovely box of sweets and at the pencilled card that came with it, I liked them both very much, and I think it was a perfectly sensible present.

Now as I go on, it is beginning to be borne in on me that a sensible present is a present you want to give and one which you honestly think will be appreciated. The oh-anything-will-do-for-her present is not sensible. Better a two-cent card that you really want to send than a golden platter and a feeling that you had to give something handsome.

When I see the groups of scrambling women battling about the bargain-counters at Christmas-time, I always feel that there lies a good part of the general dissatisfaction with Christmas giving. Going home on the cars, I heard, “well, I’ve got all my relatives’ presents purchased, thank heaven, and to-morrow, I start in on Jim’s. I think grandma will like that scarf, don’t you, even if she never does wear anything but black? Of course, it’s pink, but it’s a lovely pink, and it was only ninety cents marked down from a dollar and a half, and I was so tired looking around I thought I might as well get it and have that off my mind.”

“Well, poor grandma,” thinks I!

“But you aren’t being helpful at all,” somebody complains. “It’s all very well to talk about other people and not being able to choose sensible gifts, but I notice you haven’t made a single suggestion that will help a tired and bewildered Christmas shopper with a list as long as her arm.

All right—listen. Here’s the way I look at the sensible present. First off, cards for everybody you just want to say Merry Christmas to, and buy them early because you have so much better chance to get pretty ones; silk stockings and really fine handkerchiefs for girls, for no girl ever had enough of either; books that you absolutely know he wants, for a man; money for servants, but put it in a pretty envelope and ask each member of your family for a list of the things he or she wants and stick to that list; and nothing, no, not so much as a Christmas post-card, to any one unless it is sent with hearty good-will.

Please remember, except for this last clause, I do to set up to be authority on the subject of sensible presents. I am seeking light on the subject earnestly and humbly. I have merely made this plan for myself because I am too busy a woman to fashion gifts with my own fingers, and my time is so closely occupied that I cannot afford to waste it in aimless shopping through over-full shops. And when I say that I wrap up and address—and sometimes put the stamps on—each gift as soon as I buy it and everything is always ready at last three days before Christmas, you’ll probably think I haven’t much holiday sentiment. But I can’t help that. I’ve had to work out my plan at Christmas giving to suit my own time and strength and this is what I would urge every woman who values her peace of mind to do.

The Sensible Christmas gift must be sensibly selected and sensibly given. It isn’t a gift of policy or obligation, but of affection. It taxeth not unduly the purse, the time or the eyesight of the giver, nor the taste and patience of the recipient. It may be beautiful or useful, both or neither. It brings its welcome with it. It is not laid away and passed on to someone else next year. It says “Merry Christmas” to you sincerely, because it can truly make your Christmas merry with kind thought and loving memories. Oh, dear, all this sounds so nice! Why doesn’t some good fairy give us a magic wand so that, as we choose our gifts, we might be sure to understand which are the truly sensible and which are the utterly foolish and vain.

Woman’s Home Companion, Vol. 37, 1910: p. 65

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil heartily seconds the notion of considering carefully which presents are truly sensible or utterly foolish and vain. If any of Mrs Daffodil’s mistresses had so much as considered an exquisite French print as an acceptable gift, she would have given immediate notice or poisoned her bouillon.  Such aesthetic-minded women have no business employing servants and should be reported to the authorities for abuse.

Previous posts have dwelt on the evils of fancy-work , Reginald on Christmas presents, and the special kind of hell that is the holiday bazaar.

Mrs Daffodil has added “magic wand” to her gift list. Most useful.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Gowns and Omens–Dressmakers’ Superstitions: 1911

hemming a skirt 1895 seamstress

GOWNS AND OMENS.

Odd Superstitions That Darken Dressmaker’s Shop.

“Women who wear fine dresses are as superstitious as the girls who make them,” said a dressmaker. “If the little accidents that happen in the workroom were not mercifully concealed from the owners of rich gowns they would be sick with apprehension half the time. I had one customer who refused to accept a very expensive dress because a girl who assisted with the fitting dropped a pair of scissors, which fell point down and stuck in the floor. That meant an order for mourning within six months. [It might also mean dismissal or death for the person who dropped the scissors.] The customer hoped that by refusing the hoodoo dress she could avert the calamity, but the precaution was useless. In less than three months her father was dead.

“Girls are especially particular in their work on wedding dresses, for if a tiny drop of blood from a pricked finger should fall on the gown the bride would surely die before the end of the year. Then there is green thread. Whether the customer is there to see it or not, no dressmaker will keep green thread near spools of another color. Green thread used for basting means the return of a dress for alterations, and there is enough trouble of that kind in a dressmaking establishment without deliberately bidding for it.

“Women who are themselves superstitious are never surprised or offended at a sewing girl’s untidy coiffure. The girls tumble their hair about on purpose when working on a large order, for it is a sacred belief among dressmakers that a hair inadvertently worked into the garment shows that more work is coming soon from the same customer.”

Stafford [KS] County Republican 10 August 1911: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has written before about the idea that sewing a hair into a wedding gown will bring the seamstress a husband.

Green was widely thought to be an unlucky colour.  Today one would think that was because the dye was often the deadly Scheele’s Green. The superstition might more plausibly be blamed on the fairies:

Green an Unlucky Color.

The Scotch Highlanders considered it unfortunate to wear the fairies’ fatal green in a fight, especially on a Friday, and in many places in rural England, this same belief that the fairies looked upon green as their peculiar hue and resented the wearing of this color by mortals was generally held. Wisconsin State Journal [Madison WI] 23 October 1899: p. 3

Seamstresses had a whole wardrobe of superstitions regarding the dressmaking business as well as matters of life and death.

Dressmakers’ Superstitions.

Theatrical folk are generally supposed to take the palm for superstition, but dressmakers are not far behind. No matter how gilt edged and “madamed” and given to big bills and scornful of anybody who comes to heir afoot she may be, and especially of the somebody who can’t afford silk lining, she wouldn’t dream of sewing the gown while upon you. “Take a stitch while you’re trying the dress on!” she cries. “Mercy, no! I wouldn’t dream of such a dreadful thing. Don’t you know what it means? Every one of those stitches would stand for a lie that somebody was telling about you, and the longer the stitch the bigger the lie.” That is what she will tell you if you ask her or any of her aides to take the least little “tack” in the garment. “Well, I will if you’re willing to run the risk,” said one of the profession resignedly. “Yes, I know I can’t do it so well off you, but it’ll take at least six stitches, and that means just six lies—big lies, too, for the stitches are awful long.” She regarded the customer who was willing to fly thus in the face of fate as nothing short of a marvel.

Mower County Transcript [Lansing MI] 5 January 1898: p. 2

Black Pins and Dressmaking.—A dressmaker, about 30 years old, born and resident at Torquay, when “trying on” or fitting on a new dress to a customer, declined to use a black pin, remarking that were she to use it the dress would certainly not fit.  Report and Transactions: The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, Vol. 12, Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, 1880: p. 112

**

If a garment is cut out on Friday, the person for whom it is made will not live unless it is finished on the same day. Southern Indiana.

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Beginning on Saturday a garment that cannot be finished means death. Ohio.

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Whoever works on a sick person’s dress, he or she will die within the year. Massachusetts.

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When a woman who has been sewing puts her thimble on the table as she sits down to eat, it is a sign that she will be left a widow, if she marries. Central Maine.

This latter superstition provides an admirable excuse to procure a pretty thimble case and consistently place the article within.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Hints for Earth Day Economies: 1859-1903

Although Monday was, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed,  “Earth Day,” a time to take stock of how we use the resources of the planet, there is never a bad day to reflect on consumption and its consequences. There has been a societal move against “fast fashion” and a resurgence of “Make Do and Mend.”  Mrs Daffodil will, therefore, “recycle” several posts on the subject of domestic economy in dress, on the clever makers-over of tired garments, and the second-hand clothing trade.

One would go far before one would discover a more ingenious clan than these Southern Ohio ladies and their cunning tricks of skillful fingers.

Although this lady, who traded in second-hand silks and this gentleman, who prospered in left-over laundry, are an inspiration to all of us.

Some clever gentlemen took a leaf from the ladies’ domestic economy books and learned to update and repair their wardrobes.

A fascinating tour of a 19th-century “recycling” firm and an examination of the “rag trade.”

The second-hand trade was a boon to actresses, and the buying, selling, and hiring of costly gowns worn by the Four Hundred, was a practice well-known to the upper echelons of Society.

The second-hand clothing trade extended even unto royalty, as we see in this peep at Queen Victoria’s stockings.

One of Mrs Daffodil’s heroines is this resourceful lady, who set herself up as a “Dress Doctor,” long before Hollywood costumer Edith Head co-opted that title.

Of course, selling one’s evening dresses involve some unwitting “recycling,” as this lady found to her dismay:

Not long ago (write “X and Z” in the Globe) a lady in dealing with the proprietress of a second-hand clothing business, sold to her several evening dresses, which were perfectly fresh and good, but which she could not wear again, as her friends knew them too well. They had probably been worn three times each. The second-hand wardrobe lady remarked, by the way, that all her purchases were for the colonies. Seems odd, does it not? But to return. A few days after the gowns were sold their original owner missed a very pretty old-fashioned diamond clasp, and, inquiring of her maid, discovered to her tribulation that it was in one of the evening dresses she had sold. “Sewn firm on the left shoulder, my lady,” quoth the maid. She proceeded diplomatically to work, sent the maid to the shop, and, in consequence of her operations there, became again the possessor of her discarded gown at exactly seven times the price she had sold it for. The diamond clasp was still in it, its safety being due to proximity to a mass of crystal trimming which formed an epaulette, the clasp having been added with a view to making the whole mass look “good.”

Otago Witness 9 February 1893: p. 42

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

A Crazy Quilt Tragedy: 1911

Domestic Tragedy.

“Lobelia!” The voice of Mr. M’Swat was high-pitched and imperative, yet had a note of vague alarm in it.

“What is it, Billiger?”

“I can’t find my neckties.”

“Your neckties? They’re scattered all over the bureau.”

“I don’t mean the ties I wear every day. I mean the others.”

“What others?”

“The—the ones I’ve worn from time to time, you know, and put away, as good as new.”

“How should I know anything about them?”

“Do you mean to tell me, Lobelia, you don’t know anything about a a—box of neckties I have kept for years in this second drawer?”

“What a fuss you are making over a box of old rags! What do you want of it, anyway?”

“I want to put a few of these in it. You don’t know what you’re talking about, madam, when you call them a lot of old rags, either. I want to know where they are.”

“Well, you needn’t go to rummaging through any more of those drawers. You won’t find them there. I can tell you that.”

The wrath of Mr. M’Swat assumed a lurid, ghastly character.

“I think I have certain inalienable rights in this house, Lobelia Grubb M’Swat,” he said. “And among these is the right to keep my neckties in my own drawer, in my own dressing case, in my own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States and the statutes in such case made and”—

“You needn’t tell the neighbours about it. Before I’d make all that racket about a lot of old, worn-out neckties–”

“Who told you they were old and worn out? Didn’t you hear me say distinctly they were”—

“Now, you know, Billiger M’Swat, you haven’t worn one of those old ties for years and years. What’s the use”—

‘Then you do know something about them! I thought sol Why did you try to deceive me? Why did you tell me”—

“That’s right! Accuse your wife of lying!”

“Didn’t you tell me you knew nothing about them?”

“No, sir! I said nothing of the kind!”

“Lobelia! Wife of my bosom! Look me in the eye. Where are those neckties?”

“Wh-what do you want of them?” asked Mrs., M’Swat, rather feebly.

“I simply want to know what has become of them.”

She put her handkerchief to her eye. ”

“I–I th-think it’s just mean”—

“What’s mean?”

“Here I’ve slaved away day after day, making something nice”—

“Lobelia, where are those neckties?”

“Billiger, I have made them up into the loveliest crazy quilt”—

“A crazy quilt!” he yelled. “Thunder and Ben Franklin! Woman do you know what you have done!”

“lt was nothing but a lot of old”–

Mr. M’Swat became tragic.

“Mrs. M’Swat,” he exclaimed, in a deep bass voice. “I have been making a collection of artistic neckties for ten years. Some of them cost me over a dollar. None of them less than 50 cents. You have ruined a unique, unequalled, original 75dol. collection of ties”—

“Oh, Billiger, why didn’t you tell me?”

“To make a 4dol. crazy quilt! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Husbands and wives, why will ye hide things from each other?— Chicago Tribune.

North Otago [NZ] Times 8 April 1911: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The craze for “crazy patchwork” was a long-standing one and one perhaps responsible for more marital unhappiness than any number of Vamps. Mrs Daffodil has written of the patch-work “mania” and the terrible lengths ladies would go to for “samples” to make their quilts and of their depredations on the households’ wardrobe. It was a dark time…

Truth in Jest

The girl with soft grey eyes and rippling brown hair that walked all over your poor fluttering heart at the charity ball, has just finished a crazy quilt containing 1,064 piece sof neckties and hat linings, put together with 21,390 stitches. And her poor old father fastens on his suspenders with a long nail, a piece of twine, a sharp stick, and one regularly ordained button.

Southland Times 26 January 1886: p. 4

This squib suggests that the craze even changed fashions in men’s neckties:

The crazy quilt rage goes on in as intense a fashion as that of roller skating, and Lent has not subdued but rather emphasized the rush for “pieces” of the most gaudy hues. Men growl that their neckties are not safe, the dry goods houses are getting niggardly about samples, and gradually masculinity is arraying itself against another woman’s right. Have you noticed the tendency toward sobriety in color in men’s neckties? It is a growing one and only the result of a plot between men and brothers against women and sisters. And I don’t wonder at it. Neither will you, when you lose a brilliant-hued scarf for days and have almost forgotten it, when it suddenly appears to you in the form of a center piece in a crazy quilt. I have gone necktieless, suffered and cursed, and am therefore a rabid adherent of the new movement in neckties, even if it, in the end, leads us to black and sober solid colors. There are more ways of crossing a river beside jumping it. Therefore a change of style in mankind’s wear that will cripple the crazy quilt mania will be in the nature of an elevation of the dynamiter with his own mechanical can.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH] 25 March 1885: p. 4

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.