Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years Greeting....

This post is simple. On the same day I found Master Floyd Clark's greeting cards, I also found this New Year's Card.  It is printed by the Gibson Art Co., Cinn. O. It was never sent, but it would have only cost 1 Cent to send in the US, Possessions, Canada and Mexico. Had you have wanted to send it someplace foreign, it would have cost you 2 Cents.  I presume it is from the early 1900s, but I could be wrong as the history of Greeting Cards is not my strong point. I thought the sentiment was lovely. 

Loving New Year Greetings

May the castles you built in the air last year
become solid realities in the present one. 

May you build a kingdom of 
castles in 2012!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Master Floyd Clark's Holiday Cards...100 yrs ago...

While I was out and about yesterday enjoying a day off, I found a few cards addressed to Master Floyd Clark. Apparently, he was living in Milwaukee. I found a card as early as 1908.  I'm not sure how old he was, but with the title "Master" clearly he was a child at this time. Two of cards have wonderfully fun inscriptions and are a tiny window into the Holidays 100 years ago. Please note: I have typed them as they are written...errors and all.

Postmarked from Deer Lodge, Mont. Dated Dec 19 1910

Inscribed on Back in Ink:

Dear Floyd,

How are you? We are all well We have a new brother four months old and his name is Clark. What do you want Santa to bring you?

From Ruth & (two other illegible names)

Postmarked from Deer Lodge, Mont. Dated Dec 31, 1911

Inscribed on Back in Pencil:

Deer Floyd,

I am a little rascal and take all my brothers & sisters toys. I wish I could see you all. 

With Love from Clark Stoddard

Well, apparently little Clark was doing very well at 16 mos. since someone had written to Floyd on Clark's behalf. 

I wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 16, 2011

New Socks Revisited....

It was this past Monday that I actually wore the first pair of socks I ever made. I must admit to being childishly excited, too. I did indeed finish them, but as with a first attempt at any new thing, they are not perfect. Wearable? Yes, they are wearable. Would I give them as a gift to someone? No.

Let me first say that I did enjoy knitting them. In fact, I found it fun and extremely relaxing. I am grateful to Karl who helped me turn my first heel. He was very patient. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be, but I would have struggled without his help.

The socks really have 2 problems. First, they turned out about a size too big for my feet. My gauge was very close. I used the size 2 needles found in the pattern, but my feet are rather narrow. I honestly didn't consider my narrow feet. The solution: I washed them in hot water and threw them in a hot dryer. As Karl stated, "It is washable wool. It is not necessary dryable wool."  They shrunk just enough to be a better fit.

Kitchener Stitch found in 
Folk Socks by Nancy Bush
The second problem was in the finishing. The pattern called for the toes to be closed with the Kitchener Stitch. This stitch is essentially the process of seamlessly grafting two raw edges of knitting together. I haven't used the Kitchener Stitch in a few years and never did use it much. I did not do it very well. I found the directions confusing. I have since found a better set of directions in the book by Nancy Bush titled Folk Socks. I will try this stitch again on my second pair of socks.

Yes, I am knitting a second pair of modern socks. I have already turned a heel without any help. The sock pattern I have used is from a how-to book published by Coats & Clark.  The book had been reprinted from the 1940s through part of the 1960s. I am using size 1 needles, and so far, they look to be a better fit. I love the ease of the pattern and enjoy the process of knitting a sock. I find the repetitiveness to be relaxing after a long day. Knitting a pair of socks is a small thing, but it was a lesson certainly worth learning.

Nancy Bush, Folk Socks, (Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1994), 58.

Learn How Book, (USA: Coats & Clark, 1941).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oranges, Oranges, Oranges...

As the rind is broken, the smell of orange hits your nostrils. Your thumbnail accidentally punctures the fruit sending fruit juice squirting and the cold, fresh juice landing on your cheek.  You peel away more of rind; more fresh, citrus smell fills the air. All the the peel is removed. It is time to break into the fruit. Holding the newly peeled orange in both hands you press both thumbs in between two slices. The further you press your thumbs into the fruit the more cold juice hits your face. Now, two slices are separated, and it is easy to separate two slices on the opposite side of the orange. Only after you are satisfied the orange has been pulled apart into individual pieces but before you take a bite, you raise a slice to your nose and inhale. It is time to bite into the sweet, cool slice of the orange. Your mouth is filled with the sting of the citrus and sweetness of the natural sugars. ..... Now savor that flavor ....and savor that next slice ....and the slice after that.... When you reach the next slice, remember this might just be the last fresh orange you have until next Christmas......

....but we are far removed from the above scene. We seldom experience an orange in this way except if you maybe have the wonderful opportunity to enjoy an orange freshly picked from the tree. In modern America, it is such a simple thing.  An orange.

If we have a taste for an orange we simply go to the store and buy a bag.  Many of us start the day with a glass of orange juice. We find an orange in the toe of our Christmas stocking. It is very nice; it holds the shape of the toe, but really...we want the candy that is inside our stockings.  We, as contemporary Americans, even forget that oranges do have a season. Currently, it is mid-late December through the winter months. This is when we find the very best oranges...especially clementines. The tiny little oranges purchased often in 5 lb. boxes or bags.  The Victorians, however, never forget that oranges have a season. It is a short season. Oranges are a Christmas treasure.

If you are poor, your only Christmas present may be an orange. If you are middle, middle class, you may have many oranges. If you are wealthy, you may have many more oranges. BUT, there is a great equalizer here. Whether you have one orange or many oranges, once the season has past you may not have ANY more oranges until next Christmas and if you inhabit the northern half of the United States you will probably not have any more fresh fruit until May or June when the berries begin to show.

The scarcity of fresh fruit in the north during the winter months does not truly begin to change until the late 1890s, and that change is mainly found in the big cities (1). Oranges were arriving from places like Spain. By the 1870s-1880s, the middle, middle class American family often had enough oranges to have use them in a variety of ways. The juice of an orange could be mixed with pulverized sugar to make an orange icing for a cake. The rinds could be candied or ground into cakes or cookies. Whole oranges could be decorated with whole cloves just by pushing the cloves into the rind. These oranges could be stacked like a pyramid and their scent released into the room. In the right setting, these clove-oranges would dry and retain their scent for a while. If many oranges were to be had, the juice could be cooked down with sugar until it was a syrup concentrate and then stored in a bottle for future use.  Orange marmalade is also a good use for many oranges.  Mulled cider and wine always tastes better when oranges are added. These are just some of the ideas for oranges, but never forget that fresh orange in the toe of the Christmas stocking.

...and regardless of variety, all 19th century oranges have seeds. Navel oranges are a product of the 20th century.  Now, quick, go find an orange and enjoy it in a way that you may never have imagined.

Pyramid of Oranges &
Apples as Decoration

Layer Cake with Orange Icing

(1) Glenn Porter, and Harold C. Livesay, Merchants and Manufacturers; Studies in the Changing Structure of Nineteenth Century Marketing, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971), 10.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Christmas Party...

The lamps on the sill twinkle while the small Christmas tree on a table in one corner is just big enough to send a fresh, evergreen scent through the air.  On a table in the opposite corner, there is a pyramid of oranges on a glass cake stand. Decadent, baked treats filled with sugar and preserved summer fruits surround their Christmas center pieces. The small dainty snacks are tasty treats stolen between dances. Glasses of warm mulled cider scented of cloves and cinnamon tickle your fancy while quenching your thirst.  

You are only 16 and wearing your first formal dress to a Christmas party. This afternoon, Mother sewed the final touch of a two inch deep trim of white lace topped with white ruched ribbon along the neckline. The soft yellow silk of your dress gently shimmers in the lamplight as you giggle with your favorite childhood friend and closest cousin while noticing how dapper a certain, young gentleman looks this evening dressed in his new frock coat.

The string trio begins to play a waltz. Reluctantly, you grant your brother a dance. The swish of your formal cage crinoline is still new to you. While swaying and twirling to the music you jest to yourself, "Surely the Queen of England could not be feeling grander than you this evening."....except this waltz is being shared with your brother. Perhaps, you will be able to partner with that dapper, young gentleman for the next schottische. 

The gathering of neighbors and family help the the wood stoves warm the hall. Music and laughter fill the evening while the crisp winter air is kept safely outside.  Hours pass without anyone paying heed. As the evening ends you are warm, flushed and filled with dreamy thoughts. You welcome the crisp winter air as you step outside in your warm winter clothes not least of which is your heavy wool cloak that is all but impervious to the wind. You say good-night to your favorite childhood friend, but your cousin,will be joining you at home this Christmas Eve. Although sad that you are leaving the party, you know there are more treats waiting to be enjoyed. Meanwhile, there is still the sleigh ride home.  Lending his hand, your brother helps you into the sleigh. You hear the snort of the horses and then feel the tug of the sleigh as Father sets it towards home. It is a beautiful starry evening as the young pair of horses pull the smooth moving sleigh over the snowy road and the hour ride is over almost before it has begun.  This evening a ride that many times has been no more than a bumpy, muddy mess has been turned into a Christmas thrill.

As Mother promised, the hired help has set the dining room table before heading home to their families this Christmas Eve. In the middle of the table, there is a tall jelly. The jelly is made from apples and preserved mulberries. It glistens in the candlelight. Mother had prayed her jelly would work, and the young, hired ladies had followed her instructions perfectly. The presentation is beautiful. The evening is turning late, but there is still time enough to enjoy more Christmas treats. You, yourself, tried your hand at fruit tarts under the watchful guidance of Mother.  You admit to yourself the tarts look to be a success. They are artfully decorative on the table. Hopefully, their taste will also delight.

The evening grows late, but before climbing the stairs to go to sleep, you and your cousin peek into the parlour to spy Christmas gifts. Quickly before your brother catches you, you shut the parlour door and head upstairs with your cousin. Rather than sleeping under warmth of a large feather tick, you and your cousin giggle and share daydreams of the Christmas treats hidden inside the stockings....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Socks...

The red socks are reproduction
Flammegarn Norwegian socks 
made by our friend Kristi who 
spun and dyed the wool as well 
 as knit the socks.  The white  
stockings are artifacts in Old 
World Wisconsin's collection.
So yesterday, I decided to try to make something that I have never made before now. Socks. I am not sure why it was so necessary for me to start them yesterday. Maybe it is because I am in the mood for new experiences, or maybe it is just time for me to do something that I should have learned years ago. Either way, I guess I will find out if I am able to knit myself a pair of socks that I can wear.

Reproduction socks Karl knit
from a WWI pattern using
commercially spun wool. 
Please excuse the paw. I gave up
attempting to make her co-operate.
I am a competent knitter. I love to knit mittens, bags, pincushions and have knit dozens of  modern knit washcloths. I have also made a couple scarves but I find them to be a bit tedious. I have toyed with knitted lace, but I like making crocheted and tatted lace better. I would never refer to myself  as an expert knitter. I think that is a title reserved for those who make scads of sweaters, socks, shawls and/or lace. That is not me, but it is high time for me to try my hand at socks.

Another sock Karl is knitting with
his favorite ebony needles.
Yesterday, my friend Kami and I drove to my favorite yarn/fiber shop, Studio S Fibre Arts in Delevan. It is a small store out in the middle of nowhere at the intersection of Hwy A and Hwy 89. It is stocked full of all kinds of yarn and fiber...everything that you can imagine. If you want to start a project, need help, find a pattern or simply marvel at the beautiful yarns from all over the world this is a great place to go. Studio S is a bit out of the way, but it is a beautiful drive out in Wisconsin farm country.

I have watched Karl and our friends Becky and Kristi knit 19th and early 20th c. style reproduction socks. Me, I decided to knit a pair of modern socks with a pattern that I know will work, and I can understand. Well, let me define modern. It is modern in the sense that the pattern in from 1941 as opposed to the 19th c. and early 20th c. patterns I regularly use. After drooling over many skeins of gorgeous colors and fibers, Kami helped me pick out fun modern sock yarn from Germany. These two 50 g balls of Regia Brand sock yarn are 75% wool and 25% polyester, so they should hold their shape and last a long time. The pattern calls for wool floss; I am using fingering weight yarn. It is a self striping yarn in black, greys, reds and white.  Fortunately, I  already possess the Size 2 needles the yarn requires in my favorite Swallow Brand needles.

Currently, I am turning my first heel... I will keep you apprised of my progress.
Turning my very first sock heel.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fall Fun with Autumn on the Farm...

Plowing and Planting
Well, I have taken a bit of a hiatus from this space. The main reason for this lapse in my writing was Old World Wisconsin's Autumn on the Farm. It is the largest special event of the year. It is a celebration of activities, sounds and scenes that were commonplace on farms in WI during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Processing Lumber Demonstration 
with a Mechanical Saw
These activities include plowing, planting winter crops, cutting firewood, processing timber, sausage-making, butchering, soap-making, rendering lard, making sauerkraut, smoking & curing meat, making pigs feet jelly, drying vegetables, canning produce, etc.  Historically, many of these activities often would be done communally with work being shared by several families at a time. Working in a group often allowed for more work to be done in a more timely manner. In keeping with that tradition and out of sheer necessity, the museum relies heavily on volunteers. The farming, gardening and interpretive staff would be absolutely unable to show the scope of these activities without the help of dedicated volunteers and their animals and/or machinery.

Steam Engine to Power Sawmill for processing
large quantities of the lumber
Sausage Making Demonstration

These activities and the sheer quantity of volunteers and staff provide a fine opportunity for a large home-cooked meal made in one of historic homes at Old World Wisconsin. The Koepsell House and accompanying farm yard provide the perfect setting.
This great back porch is only one of
many reasons the Koepsell House is
the perfect place for a large meal

Karl and I along with our own set of crazy volunteers cook for 30-40 people. The stove top is always full. The oven is never empty....and dinner is always promptly served at 12:30. Over the last few years, Autumn on the Farm has been held on 2 consecutive weekends in October. That means 4 dinners all with different menus. The menus are usually a combination of American and German-American Dishes. I will let the photos speak for themselves or this post will never end...

Preparing Chicken and Vegetable Soup

It is a dance to move all the pots and pans to give
them all adequate time on the top of the stove.

Chopping Vegetables & Peeling Apples
The finished food is usually appealing...

Desserts made by several ladies served
as dishes "brought to pass"

Cooked Custard

Stuffed Cabbage

Red Cabbage & Apples

I have been told that dinner is usually very good...

This dinner includes: Turkey,
Mashed Potatoes, Sauerkraut,
Apple Sauce, Squash, Bread,
and Many Desserts

 You cannot imagine the amount of dishes until you have seen them for yourself...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Childlike Discovery...

Food. We all relate to food. We all have our favorite foods and of course, the foods that we prefer to never, ever eat. Some of us, like the challenge of trying new foods and others of us would simply rather stick with the foods we know and love. The same can be said of the people of the 19th century. As they arrived in Wisconsin, people brought with them their traditional and favorite foods.  Immigrants learned to accept and love traditional American favorites. Over time, Americans learned to love traditional European and Asian favorites. In the end, we find the 19th century palate is diverse, sometimes familiar and sometimes very surprising.

This past Friday, Karl and I had the opportunity to introduce grade school children to 19th century foods. We were fortunate to participate in a program at Wade House in Greenbush, WI.  This weekend is their largest special event of the year, Wade House 21st Annual Civil War Weekend.  Area grade schools were given the opportunity to participate in an educational program. Each class was able to visit 18 separate stations. Each station represented a different facet of civilian or military life during the years of the American Civil War. Our station was basic 19th century food. We of course could not bring everything, but Karl did try to find an array of different items.
This little girl was fascinated with
the tiles of tea. She readily told us
that she "really likes tea".

Part of the fun of seeing children discover the foods is that their surprise and curiosity is so easily observed. Many of these school children are growing up on farms or in families with large gardens. Their approach to the produce is often different then the children who live in urban areas. For example, they often ask questions that center around how the foods are cultivated before they ask about taste. There may even be a few patches of Queen Anne's pocket melons next year. Even modern young ladies found their scent irristable...and there were a few boys to jump on the pocket melon bandwagon, too.

It is fun to see which things they recognize and which completely stump them. Not surprisingly, children from Wisconsin readily recognize the bratwurst and many of them recognize the cheese even though the cheese was formed by hand instead of in a mold. Karl and I were both impressed that many of them recognize the spice chest and know what will be inside. White tomatoes and pickles made with lemon cucumbers threw them for a loop.  Lemon cucumbers are yellow, small and often rather round, but taste like a traditional-looking cucumbers. White tomatoes are white or at best a very pale yellow. It was the salt pork and bowl of freshly churned butter that completely baffled them. Even farm kids in the 21st century have not any opportunity to encounter freshly churned butter.  They were pleased to discover that tomato ketchup could be made and indeed does smell the same even if it contains no sugar like our modern ketchup. Although none them had heard of teacakes, they were all pretty convinced they would indeed be very yummy especially with the hot chocolate made with a wedge of chocolate in the chocolate pot. They were able to touch and smell, but unfortunately, we could not let them taste.

The blue willow chocolate pot is on the left.
The tea tiles are on the right.  The hand
cheese is behind the tea tiles. The fresh
unmolded butter is behind the empty glass.
Karl and I are surrounded by 19th century recipes, foods and kitchen tools on a regular basis. It is important for us to see the wonder in the school children's eyes. We are then able to again see these items through fresh eyes and experience them in new ways. These children are also a testament to how our American palate continues to change, grow and in some cases rediscover foods, recipes and wisdom of our past.

The pocket melons are in the tin pan.
1 large white tomato is in the bowl
with a red tomato. The striped
vegetable is a beet, but I don't
remember the variety's name.

Karl explaining that not all food in the 19th century looks
the way we expect it to look. The example in his
hands are white carrots versus orange carrots.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Madder Matters...

Detail of  Quilt from
Old World WI collection
 That's Madder the Dye Plant...not Angrier the Emotion...

Reproduction Cotton Fabric
Brown, Orange, Red, Purple (dusty-brown purple), Rust, and Pink (Yes, pink) were common colors throughout much of the19th century.  These colors were very easily achieved with natural dyes from the root of the madder plant. Madder was the most common dye plant used in the 18th and 19th centuries. By 1869, these colors could be obtained with synthetic (aniline) dyes. Whether dyed with natural or aniline dyes, madder colored fabrics sold during the 19th were inexpensive and readily available across all economic strata. 

Detail of Quilt from
Old World WI collection
Reproduction Cotton Fabric

These colors were common for both women's and men's clothing with the pinks often being reserved for children or young ladies. So common are these colors, they are very recognizable and often abundant in mid to late19th century scrap quilts. It is also quite easy to find them as reproduction fabrics today. It is impossible to discuss 19th century colors and fabrics without recognizing the madder colors.  
Reproduction Summer Weight
Cotton Dress c. 1861
Madder Plant

Quilt from Old World WI Collection
Meller, Susan, and Joost Elffer. Textile Designs. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991.

E. Sanz Rodríguez, A. Arteaga Rodríguez, M. A. García Rodríguez, M. del Egido and C. Cámara, A. Bailão and M. Garcia, "Identification of Natural Dyes in Historical Coptic Textiles from the National Archaeological Museum of Spain", e-conservation magazine, No. 15 (2010) pp. 32-45,