Tag Archives: sewing

Things I Steal: 1926

THINGS I STEAL.

I expect you’ll open your eyes at this title, and think: “Is this a confession by a Baby Vamp?” (writes Isa Grieve). But there are lots of things I steal—not the sort of things I could ever be put into prison for, of course but very exciting things all the same —ideas!

There is a chic little hat shop in an arcade, for instance. Whenever I want a new hat, I go along there and feast my eyes upon the three or four guinea confections in the windows. There’s sure to be a new way of trimming a hat—something that makes it different from all other hats. Many a time I have gone away, and after much search (this part is really hard work), I have found a suitable shape for a few shillings, and made it look like one of those arcade confections.

Clothes are the same. The other day I noticed a girl wearing a particularly pretty woollen coat. She happened to be sitting opposite me in the tram, and gradually I realised that her coat was knitted at home. The original touches at the bottom and sleeves were achieved by wool fringe, and darning in Oriental colourings on a dark background. I stole that coat of hers. I went home and made one just like it. only the colourings are a little different, to match the colour scheme of my clothes.

Then a friend of mine possesses a really large pouffe covered with silk, which I much admired. She told me that she had merely filled two canvas bags with shredded rags, and then sewn them together, and covered the whole with really nice silk. The pouffe had cost less than eight shillings, and you could not hope to buy one like it anywhere for less than thirty shillings at least. Yes, I stole that idea, too.

But —just one word here —do be careful what you steal, in case you should bring anger, swift and remorseless, upon your own head. Don’t, for instance, copy your friends’ dresses, even if they are very original.

Still, there are heaps of ways in which you can profit by someone else’s brainwaves. and so make a little money go a very long way. We can’t all be original, but we can recognise originality when we see it. It is very silly to go through the world blindfolded, for all around us are to be found all sorts of interesting gadgets that actually keep our money in our pockets.

All my friends think I must spend far more upon my clothes than I do.

‘You are always so well dressed!” someone said to me the other day. That was a real compliment, although she did not know how greatly I prized it. But then—she does not know how much I really spend upon my clothes. You see, I’d rather spend brain, than money!

Otago [NZ] Daily Times 19 October 1926: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Earlier this week, Mrs Daffodil published a post on Fashion Pirates. One wonders where the author draws the line between actual theft of proprietary designs and “profiting from someone else’s brainwaves.” She is on very shaky moral ground when she blithely reproduces a stranger’s coat, yet warns against copying a friend’s dresses.

It was a widespread problem. Young ladies did not scruple to borrow one another’s clothes, then rush to their dress-maker to have them copied. See this post on “The Very Worst Thing,” for shocking examples of this depravity.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the term “Vamp,” comes from “vampire,” and, at this time, was common usage for an unscrupulous lady who appropriated other ladies’ husbands with the same, gay insouciance of the author.

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.

Autobiography of an Old Pair of Scissors: 1875

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN OLD PAIR OF SCISSORS.

I was born in Sheffield, England, at the close of the last century, and was like all those who study Brown’s Shorter Catechism, made out of dust. My father was killed at Herculaneum at the time of the accident there, and buried with other scissors and knives and hooks and swords. On my mother’s side I am descended from a pair of shears that came to England during the Roman invasion. My cousin hung to the belt of a duchess. My uncle belonged to Hampton Court, and used to trim the king’s hair. I came to the United States while the grandfathers of the present generation of children were boys.

When I was young I was a gay fellow—indeed, what might have been called “a perfect blade.” I look old and rusty hanging here on the nail, but take me down, and though my voice is a little squeaky with old age, I can tell you a pretty tale. I am sharper than I look. Old scissors know more than you think. They say I am a little garrulous, and perhaps I may tell things I ought not.

I helped your grandmother prepare for her wedding. I cut out and fitted all the apparel of that happy day. I hear her scold the young folks now for being so dressy, but I can tell you she was once that way herself. Did not I, sixty years ago, lie on the shelf and laugh as I saw her stand by the half hour before the glass, giving an extra twist to her curl and an additional dash of white powder on her hair—now fretted because the powder was too thick, now fretted because it was too thin! She was as proud in cambric and calico and nankeen as Harriet is to-day in white tulle and organdy. I remember how careful she was when she ran me along the edges of the new dress. With me she clipped and notched and gored and trimmed, and day and night I went click! click! click! and it seemed as if she would never let me rest from cutting.

I split the rags for the first carpet on the old homestead, and what a merry time we had when the neighbours came to the “quilting!” I lay on the coverlet that was stretched across the quilting-frame, and heard all the gossip of 1799. Reputations were ripped and torn just as they are now. Fashions were chattered about, the coal-scuttle bonnet of some offensive neighbour (who was not invited to the quilting) was criticised, and the suspicion started that she laced too tight; and an old man who happened to have the best farm in the county was overhauled for the size of his knee-buckles, and the exorbitant ruffles on his shirt, and the costly silk lace to his hat. I lay so still that no one supposed I was listening. I trembled on the coverlet with rage, and wished that I could clip the end of their tattling tongues, but found no chance for revenge, till, in the hand, of a careless neighbour, I notched and nearly spoiled the patchwork.

Yes, I am a pair of old scissors. I cut out many a profile of old-time faces, and the white dimity bed-curtains. I lay on the stand when your grand-parents were courting—for that had to be done then as well as now—and it was the same story of chairs wide apart, and chairs coming nearer, and arm over the back of the chair, and late hours, and four or five gettings up to go with the determination to stay, protracted interviews on the front steps, blushes and kisses. Your great-grandmother, out of patience at the lateness of the hour, shouted over the banisters to your immediate grandmother, “Mary! come to bed!” Because the old people sit in the corner looking so very grave, do not suppose their eyes were never roguish, nor their lips ruby, nor their hair flaxen, nor their feet spry, nor that they always retired at half-past eight o’clock at night. After a while I, the scissors, was laid on the shelf, and finally thrown into a box among nails, and screws and files. Years of darkness and disgrace for a scissors so highly born as I. But one day I was hauled out. A bell tinkled in the street. An Italian scissors-grinder wanted a job. I was put upon the stone, and the grinder put his foot upon the treadle, and the bands pulled, and the wheel sped, and the fire flew, and it seemed as if, in the heat and pressure and agony, I should die. I was ground, and rubbed, and oiled, and polished, till I glittered in the sun and one day, when young Harriet was preparing for the season, I plunged into the fray. I almost lost my senses among the ribbons, and flew up and down among the flounces, and went mad amongst the basques. I move round as gay as when I was young; and modern scissors, with their stumpy ends, and loose pivots, and weak blades, and glaring bows, and coarse shanks, are stupid beside an old family piece like me. You will be surprised how spry I am flying around the sewing room, cutting corsages into heart-shape, and slitting a place for button-holes, and making double-breasted jackets, and hollowing scallops, and putting the last touches on velvet arabesques and Worth overskirts. I feel almost as well at eighty years of age as at ten, and I lie down to sleep at night amid all the fineries of the wardrobe, on olive-green cashmere, and beside pannier puffs, and pillowed on feathers of ostrich.

Oh, what a gay life the scissors live! I may lie on gayest lady’s lap, and little children like me better than almost anything else to play with. The trembling octogenarian takes me by the hand, and the rollicking four-year-old puts on me his dimpled fingers. Mine are the children’s curls and the bride’s veil. I am welcomed to the Christmas-tree, and the sewing-machine, and the editor’s table. I have cut my way through the ages. Beside pen, and sword, and needle, I dare to stand anywhere, indispensable to the race, the world-renowned scissors.

But I had a sad mission once. The bell tolled in the New. England village because a soul had passed. I sat up all the night cutting the pattern for a shroud. Oh, it was gloomy work. There was wailing in the house, but I could not stop to mourn. I had often made the swaddling-clothes for a child, but that was the only time I fashioned a robe for the grave. To fit it around the little neck, and make the sleeves just long enough for the quiet arms—it hurt me more than the tilt-hammers that smote me in Sheffield, than the files of the scissor’s-grinder at the door. I heard heart-strings snap as I went through the linen, and in the white pleats to be folded over the still heart I saw the snow banked on a grave. Give me, the old scissors, fifty bridal dresses to make rather than one shroud to prepare.

I never recovered from the chill of those dismal days, but at the end of life I can look back and feel that I have done my work well. Other scissors have frayed and unravelled the garments they touched, but I have always made a clean path through the linen or the damask I was called to divide. Others screeched complainingly at their toil; I smoothly worked my jaws. Many of the fingers that wrought with me have ceased to open and shut, and my own time will soon come to die, and I shall be buried in a grave of rust, amid cast-off tenpenny nails and horseshoes. But I have stayed long enough to testify, first, that these days are no worse than the old ones, the granddaughter now no more proud than the grandmother was; secondly, that we all need to be hammered and ground in order to take off the rust; and thirdly, that an old scissors, as well as an old man, may be scoured up and made practically useful.

Around the tea-table, Thomas De Witt Talmage, 1875: pp 50-52

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is a little strange to find a useful household article so sententious, boastful, and sentimental—all at the same time, but there was a 19th-century vogue for these whimsical first-person “autobiographies” of inanimate objects as we have seen previously in the life-stories of a corset and an old needle-book. In the current era, when nearly everything from fashion to spouses is disposable, one wonders what objects will be left to sell their stories to the tabloids?

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 Crazy-Quilt Mania: 1883-1891

crazy-quilt-1884-pa

A crazy quilt made c. 1884 in Pennsylvania by Lucy Richards Brock http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/50455.html?mulR=478039240|1

CRAZY QUILTS

A Feminine Mania Which Has Many Sides.

“What’s all this talk about crazy quilts?” asked a Chronicle reporter of a young lady acquaintance.

“Is it possible that you have never seen one?” exclaimed the young lady, “when dozens of them have been exhibited and raffled right here in San Francisco. Why, I’ll show you mine. There,” said she triumphantly, after spreading before the attentive gaze of the reporter a dazzling army of bright-colored blocks, “that is a ‘crazy quilt,’ or will be when these blocks are all stitched together on the machine. You can judge of the effect by placing them together.”

“It’s a great deal of work, isn’t it?” asked the reporter.

“Well, that depends,” was the reply. “Mine is made on these squares with a piece of cloth for the foundation of every block; on each of which the silks and velvets and brocades are placed in erratic fashion, the more zigzag the pattern and the greater the contrast of colors the better. Some, though, put all their patches on one large foundation, which is a very bulky, clumsy way, for, as you see, each scrap must be worked all around its edges with a fancy stitch in bright silk or floss. The ordinary stitch is the featherstitch or else the old-fashioned ‘herring-bone.” But, of course, if one choses, the needlework may be very elaborate, illustrating all the stitches known to decorative art.”

“I should think that the silk for the ornamentation of the patches would an item of expense?”

“It was to me until I stopped buying it by the spool. I get waste silk now, all sorts of colors, for 25 cents an ounce.”

“Where did this idea of a ‘crazy quilt’ originate?” was the next question.

“Well, I’ve been told all sorts of versions, but I believe that the truth is this: The officers’ wives in a military post somewhere on the frontiers invented it. Of course it’s only a new variation of an old idea. Patchwork is as old as the hills. Silk patches are an innovation on the calico quilts of our grandmothers, who early in their tender years were initiated into the mysteries of ‘star quilt,’—that of the ‘rising sun,’ ‘fox and geese,’ ‘flowers’ and the ‘log cabin’—all the rage during the Presidential campaign of ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too,’ as the old Whig war-cry had it.”

COLLECTING THE PATCHES

“Tell me why this particular style is called a ‘crazy quilt?’” persisted the reporter.

“Oh, for any number of reasons. Because the pattern is crooked, confused, confounded; because there’s an infatuation in the work itself; because to see one is to want to make one; because in our search for pieces we drive dressmakers, milliners and dry goods clerks crazy.”

“Why, is it so hard to make a collection of patches?”

“Awful!” exclaimed the young lady in a tone of desperation. Everybody wants them. Whenever two ladies meet greetings are hurriedly exchanged, and if they do not both speak at once, the one who can talk the fastest says: ‘Oh, my dear, I’ve been wanting to see you this long time to ask you for some silk scraps.’ ‘You’re not making a crazy quilt are you?’ the other one interrupts. ‘I was going to ask you for some scraps myself!’”

“”Why, do you know,” continued the young lady, “I’ve had people I was visiting want to cut off a piece of my bonnet string.”

“Indeed.”

“Yes. I’ve asked all my gentlemen friends for their cravats and hat linings; there’s always a clean piece, you know, underneath. Last week I went to my milliner for some pieces and she told me all their customers were coming for the same thing. I didn’t get any there. Then I went to my dressmaker, who does a rushing business. ‘Mrs. F.,’ said I, ‘have you any—‘ ‘Stop,’ said she, waving me off with her hand; ‘don’t say “crazy quilt” to me. I’m wild. I’ve just taken away my own shears from a lady who intended to snip off some pieces of the goods on my cutting table.’ Nothing there. It’s no use going for samples—they won’t cut them for us at the stores. But you’ll save me your cravats, won’t you?”

DEVICES OF THE MANIACS.

The reporter, after giving the required promise, took his leave. On his way he stopped at a dry goods store, and as a query said “Samples” to the clerk at the silk counter.

“Don’t give any after 10 A.M. Are you making a crazy quilt, too?” “No. But tell me, do you have many such requests?” “Guess we do! The ladies have no conscience at all; expect us to cut and hack away at our richest goods. We’ve had to shut down on the sample business. Why it took time and cost us something. But we’ve had our fun out of it, too. One day a little girl came in and asked for samples of light silks. I noticed that she looked queer when I gave them to her. Before she got out of the store she began to cry. Mr. S., the proprietor saw her and asked her if she’d lost anything. What do you suppose she said? ‘No, sir; but that man over there cut the samples in such long, thin strips, that they’re no good for the built.”

“What was too bad,” said the reporter.

“I can tell you a better one than that of Mrs. __,” mentioning a well-known name that the reporter was surprised to hear. “She came in to look at some brocades. I showed her our handsomest. She couldn’t make up her mind. Then she said: ‘I really don’t know which of these blues will match my silk, but if you will cut me a piece of each I can tell when I get home and send for the one I like best.’

‘Why, mamma, that’s what you said at all the stores,’ said her small boy.”

“Dead give-away, wasn’t it?” said the reporter.

“Guess so, for the youngster, for she took him out quick.”

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 28 September 1883: p. 3

Tamar Horton Harris North (1833–1905) Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern, ca. 1877 American, Silk, silk velvet, cotton, and cotton lace; 54 1/2 x 55 in. (138.4 x 139.7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cooper, 1983 (1983.349) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/13907

Tamar Horton Harris North (1833–1905)
Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern, ca. 1877
American,
Silk, silk velvet, cotton, and cotton lace; 54 1/2 x 55 in. (138.4 x 139.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cooper, 1983 (1983.349)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/13907

Tamar Horton Harris North (1833–1905) Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern, ca. 1877 American, Silk, silk velvet, cotton, and cotton lace; 54 1/2 x 55 in. (138.4 x 139.7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cooper, 1983 (1983.349) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/13907

Tamar Horton Harris North (1833–1905)
Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern, ca. 1877
American,
Silk, silk velvet, cotton, and cotton lace; 54 1/2 x 55 in. (138.4 x 139.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cooper, 1983 (1983.349)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/13907

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that none of her readers are sample fiends. Dry-goods stores resented the “sample nuisance” as a form of shop-lifting:

A manager of a dry goods firm, when asked about this petty form of shoplifting [candy], said that what the manager of the candy department said was as true in his case as in others. He further made the statement that this form of theft [for crazy quilts] was actually conducted by mail…

“Well, that is where we lose, principally. Persons in town and out of it—women mainly—write to us for a bunch of sample of some particular color. That is the last we hear of the samples or the supposedly prospective customer. And if we had any means of checking it we would probably find that the same women were procuring samples of other colors from other stores. These silk and satin samples cost money, and the loss occasioned by this deliberate theft amounts to something considerable in the year.

“Another form of petty larceny is of the same class, practically, but really more expensive to us when you know that the samples that go in this case are fine cloths, such as are used for trouserings and coats. These samples are those used in the making of fireside rugs.” Watertown [NY] Daily Times 23 February 1905: p. 6

A scheme to stop the sample fiends was invented by a Boston retailer:

Fair dames who have been wont, when paternal and fraternal neckties ran short, to replenish their crazy quilt materials by writing to large dry goods houses for samples of this or that silk or velvet, will be obliged to exert their ingenuity in some new direction, if a scheme to be put into operation by a big Sixth avenue concern is generally adopted. This firm is now having printed on large cards a figure something in the shape of a numerously spoked wheel. The figure is in black lines, and the triangular spaces between the lines are filled on each side with a different shade of color. Above is a space on which is to be pasted a small piece of silk or velvet goods. This will show the quality of the material. The triangular spots, each of which has a number printed on it, stand for the colors. The fair applicant for samples “from which to order a new dress” will hereafter instead of a package of 15 or 20 scraps from as many different pieces of goods, receive a few of these cards and will read beneath

The Gay Wheel

A printed request that she will order her dress from the one the quality of the sample which suits her best, and according as to colors, to the numbers. The firm that is about to try this plan claims that its loss from its “sample” nuisance amounts to thousands of dollars annually, and that any attempt to refuse outright the demands of the ladies results in a severe loss of trade. Boston [MA] Herald 20 June 1886: p. 8

“Crazy-quilt fiends” would stop at nothing to get fabric, even importuning celebrities:

The “crazy quilt people,” we are assured, are worse than all. They apply by the hundreds to Mrs Harrison for scraps of her dress. Scores of them send her bits of silk, on which she is requested to write her name, the autograph being intended to form the centre-piece of a crazy quilt. If she does not immediately comply with their demands, they write and beg of her to hurry up. Wanganui Chronicle 12 September 1890: p. 3

The crazy quilt fiend has again tackled the Governor. This time the request is not for a piece of one his discarded neckties, but for a block of silk bearing his autograph and the date. Verily, some of the prevailing fads are peculiar. Idaho Statesman [Boise ID] 17 May 1891: p. 1

This narrator suggested that the styles of gents’ neckwear had been altered by the craze:

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.

 

Economy in Dress an Art: 1889

Make-do and Mend.

Make-do and Mend.

WHAT ECONOMY MEANS.

[Dinah Sturgis in Dress.]

Economy is a good deal a matter of habit, and one that is more honored in the observance than in the breach. Those who do not need to count the cost of what they have are a small, a very small, minority. But too many think economy only a bore, when it is in reality an art.

Being economical does not mean going without. It means managing thriftily—so ordering one’s expenditures that each dollar spent shall bring its full value in return. It does not pay to struggle with a mob of people for a half or a whole hour to get some handkerchief for twelve cents that may be had at the next corner in three minutes for twelve and a half cents; nor has one any moral right to ask or expect to get two dollars’ worth for one dollar. But one has right—indeed, it is a duty—to ask full value in return for one’s money. What is economy at one time and for one person is dire extravagance under other conditions. All one’s powers of judgment and fair-sightedness must be laid under tribute to keep one off the rocks of extravagance and niggardliness. This last is a very mild name for the quality of mind that is willing to enrich its material self at the expense of poor workwomen or workmen.

In the matter of a wardrobe, as in all else, true economy is based upon getting the best qualities of materials at the outset. The best is the cheapest in the long run, but the best is not always the highest priced. Fancy fabrics bring the highest prices, but these are usually short-lived in favor and often they are not at all durable in texture. She whose purse is limited will be best dressed if she confines her purchases to standard fabrics, depending upon cut, finish and fitness, and not upon extreme novelty, for style. Having the latest “fad” in dress is an expensive hobby that in no way compensates for the lack of the sterling qualities of appropriateness and becomingness. One who cannot keep pace with fashion’s scouts will save herself much heart-burning by not entering the competition. One is never “out of the fashion” who is becomingly dressed in unobtrusive styles. Pronounced styles must be renounced the instant they become unfashionable, else the wearer is rendered conspicuous, something the woman of refinement always avoids.

Nothing is cheap that one does not want, but it is economical to look ahead, and to buy with an eye to the future. If one finds between two seasons, selling at less than the regular price, just what she is going to need later on, it is a legitimate bargain that she has every right to accept. It has nothing whatever in common with the “bargain” hunting that throngs the counters of largely advertised shops, with women tumbling over one another to get the sop thrown to them in the shape of worthless three-cent trash. While people are crowding in at the front door of shops to secure the “wonderful bargains slightly damaged by fire, water and smoke,” not infrequently the shopkeeper is bargaining with some agent at the back door to supply cheap grades for this “drive” as long as it lasts. Truly there are bargains and bargains.

A few well-made clothes of good quality are far preferable to twice the number of poor quality. Economy has to do not only with providing clothes at the outset, but with caring for them properly afterward. An article of clothing carefully kept will outlast any two that, when they are found to be going, are allowed to go. Sponging, pressing, new braid, and some little alteration, such as redraping, the addition of new vest, collar, cuffs, etc., will give a new lease of life to a gown thought to be quite passe. When a waist is too far gone to be of any more use, and the skirts are good or may be made good by the changes already suggested, there are the pretty plaited, smocked, or tucked blouses to be brought to one’s notice. These may be of inexpensive cashmere, or of expensive silk, according to one’s purse; the point of consequence is that they shall be suitable in texture, color and style.

The makeshifts of women-students, who in order to go on with their work must sacrifice every available penny of their slender incomes, would, if written out, make interesting studies in economy. From the music-student, who washes her own handkerchiefs, and dries and irons them by stretching and pressing them on a marble table, to save on her laundry bill, that she may hear the Gotterdammerung, to the art student who buys soiled white slippers at quarter-price, and turns them into respectable black ones with a bottle of liquid dressing, that she may have something to wear with her many-times renovated black-lace dress when she is asked to meet the artist of high degree, there are doings, often funny, often pathetic, that milady in her boudoir, who thinks economy means merely a jewel less, does not dream of. But it is well she should know about them. Perhaps it will make her more tolerant to know that the gods have not been so generous to everybody as to her own sweet self.

One is never at a loss to put what she has learned or evolved of economical devices to use. It is well to know, whether one is remote from the professional cleaner or has too few ducats to employ him, that silk ties, light gloves, slippers, etc., may be easily cleansed by washing them in naphtha. The cost is but a tithe of the cleaner’s prices. One needs only to know that the liquid is very volatile and very inflammable. Hence but a little of it should be poured out of the bottle at a time, keeping it tightly corked in the meantime, and it should be used out of doors or in a room where there is no fire or lamp. Gloves should be put upon the hands, and the hands then washed in the liquid, rubbing the soiled places lightly. A few hours’ exposure to the air, of articles thus cleaned, will remove every trace of odor. Feathers may be recurled, with a little patience and a knitting needle. Soiled white feathers may be cleansed by washing them in the lather of white curd soap, and dried by shaking them before the fire; they are then ready to curl, done by drawing each thread over a knitting needle. It sometimes saves a few pennies to know that wrinkled but unworn canvas out of old skirts, etc., may be restored to usefulness by sponging it clean and ironing while damp; the pressing with a hot iron restores its stiffness. One’s “good” gloves may be made to last as long again as they usually do others are substituted in their stead rainy-day wear, shopping, etc.; and these second rate gloves need not be depressingly shabby either. Naphtha will cleanse them when soiled, and a little care will keep them neatly mended, and provided with buttons. Thread of the same shade as the kid should be used in mending gloves. Ripped seams need only to be neatly oversewed, but when the kid breaks away oversewing the edges together does not answer; the edges of the break should be button-holed around in fine, even stitches, using a very fine needle, and then worked back and forth in “lace” stitches, drawing the button-hole stitches together, making a “tidily darned place.” The better to strengthen the place, when the kid has already proved to be rotten, put a piece of fine court-plaster, rather bigger than the spot, over it on the under side of the glove. A glove thus mended will give no further trouble—in the same place, at least. Soiled  places on white wool garments may often be entirely removed by rubbing them with Indian meal. Pour a little meal over the place to be cleaned, and rub it lightly with a clean, soft cloth, using fresh meal from time to time, then shake off, and dust the spot with a clean cloth.

One’s peace of mind is so disturbed by the consciousness that she looks shabby that it is of no small importance that the evil day should be warded off. Frequent sponging in ammonia and water will keep one’s black frock and coat, that are trying to shine, in subjection, and also remove spots that come by accident, but which no ordinarily neat person can allow to remain. The shabbiest boots look comparatively elegant if they are kept blacked, supplied with buttons, and free from rips. These last, when sewed up, should be stayed upon the wrong side, a bit of black velvet answering well for the purpose. The bonnet that is gray with a season’s accumulations of dust, and flaunts its dismantled plumes to one’s chagrin, will take on an air of positive elegance if the trimmings be taken off, the felt sponged (with the grain of the felt,) the velvet steamed and brushed, the ribbon turned and pressed, and the hat or bonnet retrimmed, omitting the plume if it is past being an ornament. Trimming, once nice but grown tawdry, spoils the effect of the handsomest material and should be taken off bonnet, wrap, or frock as soon as it reaches that condition.

Once more, economy is not a synonym for poverty; it is the hand-maiden of rich and poor alike. Being economical means making the most of one’s resources, selecting and arranging materials to bring the most generous returns for one’s investments, be they much or little. Economy is not an independent art; it depends for its best results upon one’s general knowledge of ways and means.

The Eastern Star, Volume 2, June 1889

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The authoress (and one suspects that she was born under a less elegant name) is not persuasive that economy is an art form with all of her turnings, and spongings, and pressings, not to say marble-topped tables full of sodden handkerchiefs. It all sounds unutterably dreary and Mrs Daffodil speaks as one who grew up with such dismal economies and found them useful in her career as a lady’s maid. Naphtha in particular, leaves a Smell, no matter how well-aired and one cannot depend on some careless flat-mate not leaving the cork loose and then lighting the gas…

‘Another Camphene Horror. —’A daughter of Rufus S. King, 770 Greenwise street, New York, was dreadfully burnt on Saturday night. She called on a lady, whom she found cleaning her gloves with camphene, and rubbing her own gloves with the liquid, went to the fire to dry them. Her clothes instantly took fire, when she threw her arms around the lady, and they fell upon the floor. A servant girl had the presence of mind to roll the carpet around Miss King, by which her life was saved, though her hands will never be capable of use. The Liberator [Boston, MA] 1 March 1850: p. 3

“Hand in Glove,” by Elizabeth Bowen, is a cautionary tale about the use of benzine to clean gloves, in the guise of a ghost story.

However, remaking articles of dress does have its satisfyingly creative side, as in this story of “The Dress Doctor,” a lady who made her living from remodelling garments. 

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.

 

“They look as if they were somebody:” Two Would-be Swells: 1891

NEW YORK’S MYSTERIES.

“Van Gryse ” reveals the Devices of two Female Would-Be Swells.

Any one who has been a student of life in the metropolis, who knows the faces on the avenue and in the lobby on first-nights as well as he knows those on the Rialto and Wall Street, can not but have noticed that new feminine type which has come to the fore in the last twenty years, but which is as yet unclassified.

No one seems to know under what head this type should come, or what name to call it. Yet every one knows of it, and a few people have watched its gradual development with thoughtful interest. It has two or three salient characteristics, but none of these are as yet prominent enough to warrant one in classifying it as a new specimen evolved by metropolitan life.

The women of this class seem to be female prototypes of the cheap swells among men. At certain places during certain hours of the day you may see them — not in large quantities, for they are not a numerous order, but scattered through the crowd of well-dressed fashionables. The casual way-farer, though he may have been born and bred between four brick walls and have never seen the sunset except at the end of a street through a cobweb of telegraph wires, may pass them by unthinkingly as women of the patrician rich world. For they are perfect in every outward appointment of elegance and good taste.

An accomplished and sharp-eyed flaneur will notice that their smooth completeness of appearance is here and there ruffled— there is too strong a suggestion of rice-powder about their faces, their shoes are worn a little, and though they assume a look of bland and somewhat haughty complacence, their glance is at times restless and quick. They appear to be nervously on the alert to apprehend every admiring and approving look directed toward them. They expect and desire admiration, and though they make a good attempt to hide this expectation, it sometimes will not be hidden.

There are generally two of them — a mother and a daughter — and a stranger passing them would say to himself: ” There go two typical, well-dressed, aristocratic New York women of the highest class.” It is a natural supposition. They look as if bom to every luxury and comfort. In dress they are perfect — not merely perfect in the general air of their clothes, but perfect in detail. They look healthy and fresh and blooming. Their hair shines as though a maid brushed it by the hour every day. Their lips are red and smooth, and their eyes clear. They wear the newest fashion in everything — not such new fashions as will grow cheap and shoddy, but the new fashions which will only be adopted by the rich and exclusive. When a fashion falls to Fourteenth Street, they are done with it forever.

In air and appearance they look as if they were somebody.

They do not appear to notice the passers-by, but they forge along with a self-confident, haughty swing, their eyelids indolently drooping and their mouths curved into smiles of rather blase indifference. The daughter — you may see her almost any week-day morning, shopping on Twenty-Third Street — is rather pretty and very good form. She is a slender girl, about twenty-five, dressed always with quiet elegance. Her face, which is delicate, almost sallow, with dark eyes and a few locks of hair on her temples, is marred by a somewhat arrogant and cross expression. She looks like a young lady who was spoiled and could be querulous if she were thwarted.

She appears to lead the life of a woman of means and fashion. In the morning, in her warm street-suit and rich furs, she goes shopping. Sometimes her mother is with her–a pleasant-faced and refined-looking woman — but generally she is alone. She always shops in the best and most expensive stores, and she has a way of asking for what she wants which makes you think she could buy up the whole place if she wanted. On the contrary, however, she is almost invariably dissatisfied with the wares placed before her. She seems to disdain them, and an air of scornful irritation crosses her face as she pushes them aside and goes away. When she does make a purchase, were it but a spool of thread or a handkerchief, she would not dream of carrying it. It must be sent. And, as she gives the address, she leans across the counter and speaks it very low.

At all the openings of the most expensive places for hats and women’s clothes she is present. With her lorgnon up, she goes peering about at the new chiffons. She takes many of them in her hand and examines them disparagingly. They rarely suit her. When she was in Paris, last year, she saw just those same things — and now they are old and passe. The only way to get your clothes and have them at all chic is to go over there yourself and buy them. A modiste’s taste is invariably inclined to be shoddy.

When she gets out into the crisp winter sunshine, she tucks her trim little hands into her sable muff and walks briskly up the avenue, “toward home.” All the fellows in the club windows make flattering comments upon her as she swings along — a most attractive figure, with her neatly hung skirts, her pointed shoes, her close hat setting so snugly over her beautiful, smooth-braided hair, her sallow, high-bred face, with the rice-powder thick on the bridge of her nose, and her general air of calm unconcern. When she gets far uptown, she turns suddenly to the left, and, walking down a block, waits on the corner for a car. While she stands here, one sees how nervously alert and sharp this young woman’s indifferent eyes can become. They shoot anxious glances up and down the street. When the car comes, she springs into it with undignified speed, and nestled in a corner of it, her feet buried in the straw, the draughts blowing her hair about, she is borne across town to regions of corner-groceries and dingy boarding–houses, unkempt children, and frowsy maids-of-all-work.

She does not stay in this obscurity for long. That evening, at half-past eight, she and her mother have just rustled into their seats in the parquet for a Bernhardt first-night. She has on a pale-gray dress and wears some long-stemmed Jack roses fastened on her corsage. Her pale-gray wrap is thrown back to show these, for Jack roses are very rare at this season.

Her black hair is braided up under a little gray-gauze theatre-hat. She is altogether as well dressed as any one in the house, and many people look at her and ask who she is. Nobody knows, however. This is particularly strange, for she appears to know every one who is any one. She points them out to her mother, speaking of them with intimate personal comment, as though they were her friends since childhood :

The lady to the right, in the red hat, is Mrs. So-and-So. She has grown fat since she was at Lennox — the So-and-So women were always inclined to run to fat. That was Tommy Thingumbob there by the door. Isn’t he getting bald ? He must be tired, poor fellow ; he was up till all hours last night leading Mrs. Montgomery-Jenkins’s german. That girl there, with the turned-up nose, is the youngest of the Marshmallow girls — Toosie. They say she is going to marry young Doosenbury — the Doosenbury whose sister eloped with the coachman. Awfully sad affair. It nearly killed her mother. Betty Smith is sitting in the first row of the balcony with the Tompkinses. Betty looks very pretty to-night, yellow becomes her — and so on, and so on all through the evening. To hear her talk, you would think this young woman the most intimate friend of these people, upon whom she comments in rather a loud key. Then, when the lady next her is looking at her with curious admiration, she suddenly feels that the little filagree-edged comb is slipping out of her back hair, and draws off her glove that her hand may be free to readjust it. The hand thus revealed is wonderfully slim, white, and delicate, and is covered with pretty rings — not magnificent rings, they are not the thing for a young lady, but dainty, pretty rings of small, glittering stones.

Half-an-hour after the performance is over, she and her mother are in the corner of the cross-town car, on the last stage of their homeward journey. They sit close together, for it is biting cold. The people in the car are a sordid-looking lot, who stare stolidly at the two ladies. Through the rattling windows come in freezing blasts of air, and no matter how deeply you bury your feet in the straw, it is impossible to keep them warm. When they finally get to the wretched boarding-house where they live, it is past twelve and the house is dark. They stumble upstairs, tired and stiff, to the two tiny rooms, under the leads, which is their home. It is so cold up here that there is already a skim of ice on the water in the pitchers, and before they retire they spread their heavy ulsters and cloaks over the beds to act as coverlets. The mother is soon asleep, but the daughter, the ruling passion strong even in an atmosphere like that of a cold-storage warehouse, dallies long and lovingly over the putting away of her finery, smoothes it out, hangs it up, puts it into boxes, and folds it into bureau-drawers, finally becomes so engrossed that she takes out some of her new costumes still in process of construction, and, shivering in her meagre deshabille, holds them off at arm’s length, rapturously gloating on their beauty.

The creating and wearing of a new dress is the great event of her life. All morning she and her mother sit up in their little room, their feet against an oil-stove, cutting, snipping, and fitting on. The solemnity of the occasion is such that they do very little talking, but bend over their work in absorbed silence. An observer would hardly recognize them as the two aristocratic ladies who created quite a sensation at “Fedora” last night. The mother is now a fat and somewhat blowsy person, shrouded in a voluminous “Mother Hubbard,” her front hair twined round hair-pins. The nymph-like daughter looks thin and haggard in the searching light; her curls have gone, and her hair is wound up in a tight little knob on the back of her head. Her wrapper is dirty and faded, and hangs round her long, straight figure in limp folds. Even her rings have disappeared, locked up in a little box on the toilet-table.

In the afternoon she will go for a stroll on the avenue, and come home at half-past four, happy in the consciousness that for two hours she has been a swell. Such is the life of this modern Cinderella. She cares for nothing but this daily masquerade. Her existence is singularly lonely and profitless. She has no “circle,” no friends. She will not associate with the people in the boarding-house — the feeble, half-starved, shabby-genteel kind which haunt such barren places — and she has no means of knowing any other sort of people. The goal of her ambition is to be a fine lady, not in fact, but in appearance, and for this she lives.

She and her mother have a tiny income, left them by her dead father. They are both remarkably clever dress-makers, and if they had chosen to ply this trade, they could have placed themselves in thoroughly comfortable circumstances. But the daughter would not hear of such a thing. Their talents are employed to copy the various dresses she sees in the shops, on the streets, at the theatres, in order that she and her mother may make a good showing when they walk abroad.

Their manner of living is poor past belief. They are only half-fed, and certainly half-frozen. For sometimes the materials that the daughter chooses to buy are extremely expensive, and when there is a particularly fashionable first-night, they save out of their breakfasts and dinners enough to buy the two best seats in the house.

They always buy these themselves. The young lady has no followers, no beaux, no best man. The men whom she sees at the boarding-house are not of a kind to suit her elegant taste, and the men whom she sees on Fifth Avenue are unattainable. For, with all her faults and frivolities, she is a cut above vulgar sidewalk flirtation. She wants always to do the correct thing, and she would as soon think of bowing to a man she did not know as she would of wearing a bustle. Moreover, she is not particularly fond of men or flirtation. If they look at her admiringly on the avenue, she is quite satisfied. She would rather a great deal have one of those long, new cloaks, edged with Russian sable, than a lover. Such capacity for feeling or emotion as she possesses has all been swallowed up in her inordinate love of dress. She is one of the products of the life of a metropolis — the husk of a woman, a creature entirely passionless, heartless, and soulless.

New York, January 7, 1891. Van Gryse.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 14 August 1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well, really…. Mrs Daffodil feels that the author is being unduly severe upon the young woman who would rather have a cloak edged with Russian sable than a lover. The cloak is assuredly a better value. The mother and daughter lead a sad enough life without being excoriated for their little deception. One suspects that class distinctions and the vulgar subject of money enter into this prejudice. It is doubtful that the author would have called Mrs Vanderbilt or Mrs Marshal Field of Chicago, “heartless” or a “husk of a woman” for her “inordinate love of dress.”

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.

 

Reminiscence of an Old Needlebook: 1872

Here you will find the story of the pictured needle-case. http://npobjects.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/victorian-needle-case/

Here you will find the story of the pictured needle-case. http://npobjects.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/victorian-needle-case/

REMINISCENCE OF AN OLD NEEDLEBOOK.

I “’spect I grow’d,” in the city of Chicago, in 1849, under the deft fingers of Mrs. Pierce, a very estimable lady of the Presbyterian Church, though she usually attended the Sewing Society of the Canal-Street Methodist Episcopal Church. If I could, I should love to tell how the little old Canal-Street Church graduated into the Jefferson, and from that to the present splendid, commanding Centenary; but I leave that for some one better posted in Church history.

In those days sewing society and prayer-meeting expressed what we meant, just as well as the “circle,” which is now so much in vogue; and for my part I think it sounded quite as religious. There are so many circles—”circles around the moon,” “select circles,” “spiritualist circles,” and “political circles,” that I feel like discarding the word entirely, only when speaking of those things. But pardon this digression.

I was composed of the best material—light-blue enamel cloth and deep-blue satin, neatly bound with blue silk, though I do not know as I need to mention my color, as this is not as essential to respectability now as it used to be. My center was a roll about two inches in diameter, covered with the enamel and satin, and a band around each end, to hold the scissors. My leaves were white flannel, edged with a neat stitch; in one end a porte-monnaie, and the other a satin pocket, shirred with a blue silk cord. I was very nicely stitched by hand, not with one of those painfully accurate machines which leaves no room for complacency at your own handiwork.

I remember well when I was finished off and passed round to the ladies for inspection. I was greatly admired, and pronounced as pretty as I could be, until some one suggested that if there had been a thimble-sink in the roll I should have been perfect. Alas! thus early I learned we are not to look for perfection either in feature or form.

I can even recall the names of many of the ladies who were present, and whom I often met during my stay in the city. After a whispered consultation, they decided to make a present of me to the wife of their pastor. I need not say that our admiration was mutual, and neither of us has ever regretted our intimate relation as mistress and servant. I shall not attempt a pen-portrait of her. She would not allow it; she would shake her finger at me deprecatingly

if I were even to tell you her name was, for she is naturally retiring, and does not like her name to appear in print too often. She feels it is presuming too much on the magnanimity of her friends. For many years I was favored with a place by her side or in her reticule, wherever she went, whether for an afternoon visit or a month, and I never failed to attract attention and excite admiration. Indeed, I do not know but my vanity was a little stirred by such expressions, “Perfectly beautiful!” “How convenient!” and the like. But after a while “a change seemed to come over the spirit of my dreams.” I could scarcely define what it was, only I felt there was something wanting, until accidentally I observed a change in the tense of the ladies’ remarks, who noticed me particularly. Instead of as formerly, it was “What a pretty needle-book this has been— to which my mistress would reply, sometimes with a sigh—for I think she sort of analyzed my feelings—”Yes, it has been a beauty, and I cherish it still for the sake of the dear friends who gave it me.”

Ah, my friends, there are none but old folks and old needle-books who know the sorrowful grief that comes to our hearts when, conscious of our own failing energies, we hear such remarks as “she has been a splendid woman,” or “he has been a giant in intellect.” Happy is it for us if we may take to ourselves the “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I think I may take this much to myself, without arrogance—if I have not always carried the best needles for my mistress, it has not been my fault, but she seldom used any others. My needles were always ready for every good work, either at home or abroad, from making the ”dainty dresses” to garments for grandpa and grandma, and the snowy shroud in which the little loved ones were tenderly infolded as they were laid to their last sleep, as well as the wedding trousseau of my young mistress; and, too, many of my needles, like Dorcas, have gladdened the hearts of the poor. My young lady was a baby when I came to live in the family, and she was such a darling, just as all babies are. Her little blue eyes would dance at sight of me, especially while I was a forbidden object for her inexperienced fingers, and it was really amusing, as she grew older, to see with what womanly dignity she would select a needle, for she “must go to sewing.” It was not uncommon, after this, to find needles on my leaves as crooked and pointless as an infidel’s argument.

At length my last great trial came and passed, as they will with all old folks and old needlebooks. It happened on this wise. Last Christmas my young mistress made a beautiful new needle-book and sent it to her mother, with this message: “Now, mother, I do hope you will not use that old thing any longer!” She did not mean to be ungrateful to an old family servant, but only had a thoughtless way of speaking, as young ladies often have. Accordingly, to indulge her, as mothers love to do, my mistress removed my needles to the new needle-book, but I noticed her eyes grew humid as she carefully brushed and rolled me up, to lay me away with other cherished mementos of the past. Doubtless the power of association brought familiar forms and faces vividly before her, many of whom still live…while others have crossed the flood and found their promised reward. I comfort myself with the thought that not one of my companions in this “old folks’ retreat” will awaken more sacred, loving memories than myself.

The Ladies’ Repository, Volume 32, 1872

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In the days when needles were dear and needlework was an important domestic skill for clothing one’s household as well as the deserving poor, a needle-case was an essential part of a lady’s equipage. Some were shaped like books or pocket-books, while others, like this one, had pincushions or compartments, were rolled up, and were often called “huswifes.” Although this particularly garrulous specimen did not have a “thimble sink,” it had a porte-monnaie, which is a coin-purse or wallet. Dorcas was a New Testament disciple “full of good works and almsdeeds,” known particularly for her skill with the needle. When she died, women showed Peter (who then raised her from the dead) the many garments she had made. (Acts 9:36-38)

Here is another pretty specimen:

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.