Etikettarkiv: dress

The Travel Wardrobe

When Kerstin and I started Augusta’s Journey, we decided that in order to get into character of a wealthy 1840s girl (or to be honest, her mother), we should construct garments based on historical records and wear them when we follow in Augusta’s footsteps. We would need a travel wardrobe!

For our first leg of this journey, the cruise on Göta Canal, we made 3 different dresses each, and bonnets to match. And of course we also made petticoats, corsets, hat boxes, carpet bags, and parasols.

In a couple of weeks, we are embarking on our German journey, and we realized that this would necessitate new outfits suitable for traveling by train and hiking in national parks. And as Augusta visited the opera in both Berlin and Dresden, we would also have to make ball gowns suitable for going to the opera.

The fall dresses should be in fine wool and dark, fall colors. Kerstin soon found beautiful fabrics in Sweden and sent me pictures. I found nothing in Lincoln, because as Joanne Fabrics told me “we don’t stock any wool or silk fabrics”. So I scoured the local thrift stores for large pieces of clothing with a fabric label of 100% wool. The first one I found was a dark green women’s suit jacket for $1. That would make a fantastic pelerine. And then I also found 3 yards of checkered orange and green cotton for $5. What I had in mind was something like the outfit of Emilie Bronte in BBCs series To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters. The Bronte sisters were contemporary with Augusta and the similarities between their world and Augusta’s warrants a blog entry just by itself.

Emile Bronte in To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters
Emile Bronte in To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters

Anyway, I cut up the jacket. The wool fabric was just enough for the pelerine after I had done some little patchwork of pieces. The lining of the jacket was also just enough for making a matching bonnet. The checkered fabric would not be enough for a full dress, which usually requires 5 yards. But it would be enough for one with short sleeves and not quite as wide a skirt. In the end, I was satisfied with the outfit. The only problem I foresee is having short sleeves in October! Maybe I can find a thin cardigan to wear over it.

Having made one outfit, I realized that I would need to make two more – I would have to resort to ordering fabric online. A heavy package containing 5 meters of brown, twill wool fabric arrived last week. That would be enough for one dress. I would still need to figure out one more dress or skirt.

In the meanwhile, I started on the ball gown. First you need to figure out the pattern – then make a test dress in cheap cotton – and then, finally make the gown in silk. Figuring out the pattern took several days – I actually used sturdy paper towel that I could stitch together and try. The benefit was that I didn’t have to buy special paper and I could then reuse the paper towel pieces in the kitchen. I then purchased $2.97/yard clearance cotton fabric from Walmart and made a prototype ball gown. That took another week. Will I ever use this one?

And last Friday, I started on my silk fabric that I bought last fall in the Gold Souk area of Deira, Dubai. It is ox blood color and will have black lace. I am hoping to finish it this week so I can make my wool dresses.

So what I have I learned?

  1. The best places for cheap fabric, lace, and spools of thread are thrift stores or charity shops. And the best place for safety pins are dollar stores.
  2. Paper towel is great for making and testing patterns – you could sew a whole outfit just of paper towel!
  3. Zip ties or duct tie straps make good substitutes for whale bone, and buckram is also a very useful material for clothing construction.
  4. Hand sewing takes less time than one thinks, and you make fewer mistakes than when you use a sewing machine. Undoing mistakes take a lot of time and is frustrating.
  5. Making bias tape is quicker than going around trying to find bias tape of the right color.

Finally, and most importantly (at least to my husband)

  1. It is easier to find pins on the floor if they have the colorful heads.

Table Etiquette and Food Aboard a Steamboat

Still Life: Corner of a Table, 1873, by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)
Still Life: Corner of a Table, 1873, by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)

Only 3 weeks until our Göta Canal cruise!  Now is the time to read up on Victorian table etiquette.

What food could you buy on a Swedish steamboat in 1850?

Augusta never described in her diary what she ate on her Göta Canal trips – did she and her family bring their own food or did they buy food on board? What food could you buy?

The Swedish author, Carl Jonas Love Almquist, in his classic novelSara Widebeck (Det går an), published in 1838, described the dilemma of choosing what to eat aboard a steamboat departing from Stockholm on Lake Malaren:

The family fathers had to “consider very attentively what they may venture to eat on board without becoming completely bankrupt…”  Also, there was the issue of food safety:  ”Many gentlemen here still had lingering memories of cholera.” But from the novel, one learns that, depending on social class and the ticket one bought, one could purchase food and drinks from a buffet downstairs, and coffee was provided even to people on deck.

So how will we be dining on our Göta Canal cruise?

It sounds pretty fantastic:

“ When it is time for lunch and dinner, the beautiful dining room is elegantly set with linen tablecloths and fresh flowers.”

“When the gong sounds, it’s time to sit at the table for a two-course lunch or a three-course dinner. Coffee is served in the afternoon, usually on deck, weather permitting.”

“Tradition has it that the guests change to something a bit more elegant for dinner. It does not have to be dark suit, smart casual wear is quite enough.”

M/S Juno dining room
M/S Juno dining room. M/S Juno is the world’s oldest registered cruising ship, launched in 1874.

With this in mind, I decided to consult my new indispensable book on Victorian etiquette and politeness, and copy down the most important points to remember when dining aboard M/S Juno,

Table Etiquette for Ladies

The following quotes are cherry-picked from the chapters on Etiquette for the Guest and Table Etiquette:

  • When you take your seat, be careful that your chair does not stand upon the dress of the lady next to you, as she may not rise at the same instant that you do, and so you risk tearing her dress.
  • Sit gracefully at the table; neither so close as to make your movements awkward, not so far away as to drag your food over your dress before it reaches your mouth.
  • It is well to carry in your pocket a small pincushion, and, having unfolded your napkin, to pin it at the belt. You may do this quietly, without its being perceived, and you will thus really save your dress. If the napkin is merely laid open upon your lap, it will be very apt to slip down, if your dress is of silk or satin, and you risk the chance of appearing again in the drawing-room with the front of your dress soiled or greased.
  • Gloves and mittens are no longer worn at table, even at the largest dinner parties.
  • Never use an eye-glass, either to look at the persons around your or the articles upon the table.
  • Eat your soup quietly. To make any noise in eating it, is simply disgusting.
  • No lady should drink wine at dinner. Even if her head is strong enough to bear it, she will find her cheeks, soon after the indulgence, flushed, hot, and uncomfortable; and if the room is warm and the dinner a long one, she will probably pay the penalty of her folly, by having a headache all the evening.
  • Never take more than two vegetables; do not take a second plate of soup, pastry, or pudding. Indeed, it is best to accept but one plate of any article.
  • If you find a worm on opening a nut, or in any of the fruit, hand your plate quietly, and without remark, to the waiter, and request him to bring you a clean one.

Hmm, I don’t know how I will eat without my eye-glasses, without drinking wine, and only two vegetables. Sitting gracefully in my 1850s dress, and with my chair not standing on Kerstin’s dress, might also be challenging. Eating without gloves, no problem!

dinner party 1850
Dinner Party 1850

Travel Advice and Hotel Etiquette for Ladies in the 1800s

Eduard Gaertner ( 1801-1877) Unter den Linden mit Oper
Eduard Gaertner (1801-1877) Unter den Linden mit Oper

Berlin, 3 July 1847

”In a couple of exquisitely decorated rooms in Hôtel de Rome on Boulevard Unter den Linden, yours truly is sitting with pen in hand to recall from memory the wonderments I have seen since my arrival in the great Prussian capital.”

This is Augusta’s first description of a hotel on the European continent during her and her mother’s journey down to Prague.  There are not many remarks regarding hotels in Augusta’s diary but Hôtel de Rome must have been the most impressive hotel. There, they engaged a servant to show them the attractions of Berlin.

Two days later, they arrived at Hôtel de Saxe in Dresden – the most luxurious hotel in town.

”Our stay here at Hôtel de Saxe is very nice and I would say elegant, if I had not just arrived from Berlin, with its fabulous, luxurious furnishings. There are certainly not, as at Hôtel de Rome, six or seven doormen in livery to greet you on the stairs and to take the things you carry. I have to admit that these elegant and conversable domestics made me embarrassed upon my arrival in the great Prussian capital. Here in Dresden, you miss the elegant, carpeted vestibules and staircases, this wealth of stuffed armchairs, canapés, and sofas; however, Hôtel de Saxe, although not as brilliant as Hôtel de Rome, is both gentile and comfortable.”

What could one expect from luxury hotels in the mid-1800s and what was expected of the guests?

In 1860, the American author Florence Heartly published The Ladies Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness. The book includes chapters on Travelling and on How to behave at a hotel.

“After breakfast, pass an hour or two in the parlor, unless you are going out, whilst the chambermaid puts your room in order.”

It just so happens that while writing this blog today,  I am staying at a hotel in Dubai and Heartly’s suggestion sounded like a good idea. Heeding the advice, I took Florence Heartly’s book and Augusta’s diary with me and headed for the “parlor” (aka, the mall connected to the hotel). Heartly’s second advice also sounded good: “It is best always to carry writing materials with you.”  I skipped her next etiquette rule for hotels: “Never sit down to the piano uninvited, unless you are alone in the parlor.” Instead, I ordered a cappuccino and started reading Heartly’s book – highlighting advice that Kerstin and I might need for our Göta Canal cruise and our train journey through Germany (with the exception of those regarding an escort):

Regarding your escort

  • If you travel under the escort of a gentleman, give him as little trouble as possible … [!]
  • It is best, when starting upon your journey, to hand your escort a sufficient sum of money to cover all your expenses … [hmm]
  • Find out the position and number of the stateroom occupied by your escort, in case you wish to find him during the night. [that is, if you were able to secure a stateroom to sleep in on the steamboat]

Regarding sea sickness

Avoiding seasickness by reading a book.
  • …never leave home without a straw-covered bottle of brandy, and another of camphor, in your carpet bag.
  • Try to occupy yourself with looking at the country through which you are passing, or with a book.

Regarding your luggage

  • Have a strong pocket made in your upper petticoat, and in that carry your money, only reserving in your dress-pocket a small sum for incidental expenses.
  • In your travelling satchel, carry an oil skin bag containing your sponge, tooth- and nail-brushes, and some soap.
  • Have also a calico bag with hair brush and comb, some pins, hair pins, a small mirror, and some towels. In this satchel, carry also some crackers or sandwiches…
  • In your carpet bag, carry a large shawl, and if you will travel by night, … your night clothes and what clean linen you may require …
  • If you carry a novel …, it is best to carry the book in your satchel.
  • If you are to pass the night in the cars, carry a warm woolen or silk hood – that you may take off your bonnet at night. No one can sleep comfortable in a bonnet.
  • Carry also … a large shawl to wrap round your feet.

At the hotel

  • When you arrive at the hotel, inquire at once for the proprietor. Tell him your name and address, and ask him to conduct you to a good room…
  • It is best to mention the time when you wish to breakfast, dine or sup.
  • If you stay more than one day … request one of the waiters always to meet you as you enter, and wait upon you to your seat.
  • When you have finished your meal, cross the room quietly; if you go into the parlor, do not attract attention by a hasty entrance ….
  • A lady’s dress, when alone at a hotel, should be of the most modest kind.
  • Never, even at supper, appear alone at the table with bare arms or neck.
  • If you wish for a carriage, ring, and let the waiter order one for you.

Those were Heartly’s advice for travelling ladies. Augusta and her mother probably knew all about travelling etiquette. Now, Kerstin and I will also know what is expected of us when we embark on Augusta’s Journey.

William Powell Frith (1819-1909 ) The Railway Station

Dress Detectives

– Do you remember when we tried on Augusta’s dresses in the attic of Aunt Agneta? Kerstin asked me.

No … I didn’t remember that. I remember staying in the 18-century washhouse by the lake shore in which our aunt had lived during our childhood summers.

– Sure you were there too! It was probably in 1977. There was an old trunk there with two dresses. They were both beautiful ball gowns. One was made of pink silk taffeta and the other one was a purple velvet dress. And they were so small – there were bones sewn into the bodice and I couldn’t even fit into it because the waist was so small – and I was just a teenager!

I wish I remembered, but I didn’t. So, were they Augusta’s gowns and where were they now? A few phone calls to cousins shed some light on the dresses. The ones Kerstin had tried on were probably gone. But there was still a suitcase with dresses that our aunt had kept, and our cousin invited us to come and see them.

Nestled in tissue paper were lace blouses, silk shoes, finely knitted stockings, lace cuffs, parasols, and dresses! The first dress we uncovered was a bright purple, silk taffeta dress. It had a form-fitted bodice and a separate skirt. Kerstin and I examined it as if we were some dress detectives. Could it be Augusta’s?

First we looked at the skirt and realized right away that the model was later than those in the 1850s and probably even Edwardian. The bodice, with a high neck, also pointed to a later date.

And then we realized that some seems were machine stitched.

The first European sewing machine company was founded in 1863 and in Sweden, Husqvarna started making sewing machines in 1872.

Could it have been Augusta’s daughter, Gerda’s? Gerda was born in 1854 and if it had been hers, she would probably have worn in around 1874. We all agreed that it was not likely Gerda’s as she was not very tall, and this dress was made for a tall person. The silk shoes in the trunk were also a European size 40 (US 9.5).

If it was not Gerda’s could it have been her daughter, Eva’s? Eva, our grandmother, was born in 1884 and if it would have been hers, she might have worn it around 1904.

The dress had a train in the back which would have brushed the floor. This was typical of the first decade of the 1900s. The high neck was also popular at this time.

And looking at fashion plates from 1907-1908, there are some very similar styles.

Admitting that we are only amateurs at fashion history, we do believe that the clothes in the trunk belonged to our grandmother and not our great-great grandmother, but that is also really cool!

And who knows, maybe someone in the family has a photograph of Eva in this dress!!!

My Valentine’s Dress

A couple of weeks ago, I finished my Victorian laced corset and the corded petticoat. Time to make the 1847 dress using my beautiful fabric from Sweden. All blogs tell you that you should make a test dress first in some cheap cotton to make sure the pattern works.

Well, I didn’t even have a pattern. After having tried for a week to create one, I decided to spend $18 on a well-reviewed pattern suitable for the California Gold Rush, the Mexican American War, and the Oregon Trail. For this dress I would need almost 7 yards of fabric. Did I really want to spend that much money on a test dress?

I checked out thrift stores instead and had some luck.  I found several pieces of a pretty fabric with lots of ruffles – maybe some bedroom set? For $4 I got 3 Laura Ashley ruffled curtains and a matching round table cloth – probably about 7 yards in all and perfect for the project!

The pattern arrived in the mail with 51 pages of instructions and patterns for 3 different dresses. I picked the simplest design and began the work. I had no idea how time consuming it would be – but the instructions were very clear. Unfortunately, the size I had cut out was too small and I had to adjust and add pieces here and there. I guess that is the reason for doing a test dress.

Just as in the corset, there were bones to be inserted in the bodice. But I didn’t have any more and I couldn’t find any locally either. What else could I use? The eureka moment came when I found nylon cable ties that were of the right dimension! It worked perfectly.

About 40 hours later, on Valentine’s Day, the dress was finished. Hopefully it will take less time to make the one with the expensive fabric!