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,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

19th Century Aromatherapy?

Amid the rows of cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, and pole beans is a small patch of vines that look like they may hold cucumbers or squash, but instead these vines hold a magical little fruit. The orange striped fruit are actually small melons. They are called Queen Anne's Pocket Melons. Surprisingly, by at least the 19th c., they are used for nothing more then their scent and beauty as they are not considered palatable. They do not have much flavor.

I suppose you could call them a pomander if you would like, but whatever you choose to call them know that a lady's day is made better by keeping one in her pocket. By just reaching in her pocket, she could just lift the tiny melon and give it a good sniff . She would be greeted with an intense cantaloupe-style melon scent, and it is guaranteed to make her smile. 

Not practical, you say, and a waste of space in a garden that should provide a harvest for the household during the winter months? Depending on your perspective, you are correct, but for those that could spare just a small patch perhaps a 4'x4' area one would be be able to harvest many little melons. The melons themselves fit in the palm of your hand, and are usually not more that 3" in diameter. A bowl of melons placed on a table or sideboard would fill a room with a pleasant summery scent of melons. Its important to remember that beauty in many Victorian homes is practical and necessary. If while at work one could take a moment to sniff something that made one smile, that is a very pleasant necessity.

If you are interested in trying your hand at growing these little gems, you can find them on the Seed Saver's Website:


Marsha Carmichael, "Putting Down Roots: Gardening Insights from Wisconsin's Early Settlers", (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2010)

"Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen" (G.W. Johnson, Volume 11, 1866)

Vilmorin-Andrieux et cie, The Vegetable Garden, (London, John Murray Albermarle Street, 1885), (English Edition Published under the direction of W. Robinson)

"The Gardener's Chronicle: A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Horticulture and Allied Subjects" (London, Haymarket Publishing, 1894)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sad Perspecitve...

Franz Friederich Groth
Fought with the GAR
Dec 10, 1842 - Sept (?) 18, 1863
Trinity Lutheran Church Cemetery
Freistadt, WI

The following excerpt is not intended to diminish the horror of 9.11.01 nor be a forum for politics. It is intended to give a perspective of a time in our American history that is difficult for us to "wrap our contemporary heads around". Most of us hold vivid memories of that fateful day 10 years ago that served to change our world as we know it. With that said, I let the following stand on its own....

More Americans died in the Civil War than in all other American wars combined through Vietnam. The Union side lost more that 360,000 lives. The figure for the Confederacy is less certain because of incomplete record-keeping, but at least 260,000 rebels died, for a total of more than 620,000. It is estimated that approximately 2% of the adult population of this country lost their lives (1). The equivalent figure in terms of today's population would be 5 million people. In terms of life lost as a proportion of the population, the losses of the Civil War were as though an event equivalent to September 11, 2001 occurred every day for nearly four years.  96,000 Wisconsinites served in the [American Civil] war, and 12, 216 died, about 13% of the men of the state who marched off to war.

--Jacob Conrad, Interpreting the Civil War through its Impact on a Wisconsin Community (Old World Wisconsin Research Files), August 2002  

Colonel Hans C. Heg
Fought for the GAR
Dec. 21 1829 - Sept. 19, 1863
Norway Lutheran Cemetery
Wind Lake, WI
(1) James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York, Ballantine, 1988), p. 854

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ladies, a Gentle Reminder for the Coming Winter Months...

Original Crocheted Wool Petticoat
 in Afghan/Tunisian Crochet with
cross-stitch decoration
Ladies, I am sure that you have noticed that the nights are getting cooler and the days have been getting shorter. It is none to soon for you to turn your attention to an important task at hand before the weather turns too chilly. It is time to check the condition of your woolen petticoats. It is true that these early autumn days are surely filled with many a winter preparation. Much needs to be tended in the garden, harvested garden fare is in need of preserving, children must be properly sent off to school, your home still is in need of daily attention and of course there is always charity work to keep a lady fully engaged. Yet, it would benefit you greatly to steal a few moments and fetch your winter petticoats from storage.

Petticoat of Red
Wool Yardage
with knit trim in
black cotton thread

It has been brought to my attention, there may be many ladies that although may not want to admit to it, did not properly examine and mend this very important winter garment before setting it into storage for the summer months. Do remember, Ladies, that it is not uncommon for our boot heels and natural debris to catch our hems and tear them. Waistbands, metal closures and button holes are often in need of mending due to the rigors of daily wear. These warm, often colorful garments are not meant to be simply pretty but are intended to keep us warm, comfortable and healthy during the long winter months.

As seen in "Weldon's
Practical Needlework Vol. 1"
(Interweave Press
(Revised Text 1999))

For you ladies who discover that repair is not enough and are in need of replacement I do say you may be in need of more than a few stolen moments. There is a surplus of suitable patterns for both knit and crocheted woolen petticoats, but the completion of such a project at this late date may prove to be too great of a challenge except for the most accomplished ladies. There are however plenty of pretty examples that can be completed with functional yet attractive woolen yardage. Red is always a delightful choice that may be decorated very prettily with a knit or crocheted trim.

Close-up of Knit Edging
 Petticoat courtesy
of Old World Wisconsin

For you Gentlemen, who may snatch a glimpse of this very practical reminder, do not dissuade your wives from the important task. Do remember that their comfort and health is indeed important and will lead to a happy and efficient household. Should you notice that they are in need of a few extra moments, it may behoove you to check you wife's darning basket and help with the mending of your own woolen winter socks. It is not ungentlemanly to lend a hand at a this practical task, but rather you will find your thoughtfulness will not go unnoticed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lace, It All Starts Somewhere.... 1st in a Series of 4

Reticella, Venetian, Hedebo, Point d'Alencon, Needle, Filet, Pillow, Bobbin, Vosges, Brussels, etc. One could lose a bit of sleep at the thought of attempting to present a brief overview of lace... The world of lace is a mad world of regional techniques, styles and socio-economic conditions. .  

The story of Victorian and Edwardian lace starts long before either era exists. It is in the Bobbin (Pillow) Laces, Filet and Needle Laces of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries where the roots lie. Victorian and Edwardian lace is a culmination of all of these laces in an ever changing world of technology, fashion, migration and again, socio-economic conditions. Entire volumes can and have been written on lace. I only have one goal here. I merely want to give a brief overview of 3 types of laces whose techniques and motifs appear and reappear during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The three types are: Filet, Bobbin/Pillow and Needle Lace. There are other types of lace, but they are for another day.

FILET LACE is the oldest of the three.  The most basic element is the creation of a grid made by the joining of knots much in the same way we see netting done biblically. The motifs are made by darning on the grid. The only tool is a needle along with a pair scissors/snips needed to snip the threads.

NEEDLE LACES develop during the Renaissance. Again, the only tool is a needle, but their forms are much more free-style and complex than those of Filet Lace. Reticella is the oldest type, and is formed by drawing threads from fabric. This early needle lace will give way to other forms that do not require any type of background fabric such as hedebo, Point d'Alencon, Venetian Point, etc. and are created "in air" so to speak.  
If you look at the sample to the left. The tiny rings, all the connecting threads, and the thin "stems" are made only with a needle and thread. The thicker strips of fabric that form the leaves are known as tape. Tape will appear in many styles of lace.  

BOBBIN OR PILLOW LACE takes its name(s) from the two main tools used to make it: thin bobbins that hold the thread and the pillow used to hold the lace while it is being made. Bobbin lace is said to be an incarnation of the Sixteenth century.  It is made be twisting threads together. Simple patterns may require only 4-6 bobbins full of thread. Complex patterns will require dozens of bobbins of thread. The patterns can be infinitely complicated. Below is an example of bobbin lace.
     As the Victorian era progresses, needle and filet laces grow and change. The techniques are borrowed, imitated and combined. Technology will streamline techniques and increase the audience for these laces. Handmade grids will give way to machine-made mesh allowing for more time to be spent on the darned motifs.  The widespread publication of lady's magazines will provide an audience for regional, specialty laces throughout the United States and Europe. Bobbin lace, however, will suffer. In a world of increasing speed, mechanization and the changing roles of women, bobbin lace does not progress in the same way.  The progression of bobbin lace leads to entirely machine-made bobbin lace eliminating any need for handmade, but that is also a topic for another day. It is here in what arguably is the peak of lace popularity that we begin to see the seeds of its decline.

            Now for the time being, it is time to put this topic to rest and as this piece of Bobbin Lace states in Swedish: "Sleep Well".
de Dillmont, Therese (1884 (reprint 1996)). The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework. Running Press Book Publishers; Third Edition

Warnick, Kathleen (1988). Legacy of Lace. Crown Publishers; First Edition