Saturday, December 22, 2012

Popcorn Strings....

My most memorable encounter with a visitor this Christmas at Old World Wisconsin was in St. Peter's Church. The small church was decorated in Victorian fashion was filled with visitors. Many gathered around the tree near the alter.

A woman moved through the crowd towards me. She was tall, slender, blonde, about my age in her early 40s and wearing a lovely knit wool cap.   Her eyes just sparkled with wonderment. "Excuse me, may I ask you a question?" she asked in a beautiful accent. I smiled, "Yes, of course." She proceeded, "Did they really decorate the tree with popcorn? Is it really a tradition?" I followed with, "Yes, it was quite common among Americans." She smiled more brightly, "I am from Russia. We did not have popcorn until after the Soviet Union fell. It was a special treat."

The first thought was simply "Wow". Choosing my words carefully.  "Popcorn has been a common, inexpensive treat for in North America for quite some time. A string of popcorn is a very inexpensive and an easy decoration that anyone can make. I imagine it was not allowed in the Soviet Union because it is very American."

"This is true", she smiled. "These are the things we discovered after... It is sooo beautiful. I cannot imagine they had so much. I must do this at Christmas. Thank You."  With that, she quickly moved back through the crowd to gaze at the tree for a second time.

The exchange was so brief  and yet, so meaningful. I am not sure that I am able to capture the wonder and excitement that was present in her voice or on her face over a simple string of popcorn.

We do not always take the opportunity to see our world through someone else's eyes. In the moments that we do take the time, we are often reminded....One person's mundane is another's magic.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Orange Cake...

Ladies, it has been some time since I last addressed you directly.  You have surely made note that Christmas is approaching quite quickly...

Soon, it will be time for your family’s Christmas dinner or the Christmas gathering your neighbor has graciously chosen to host.  I know many of you have been considering these challenges for some time and may still be searching for a new receipt.  You have wisely set aside a precious collection of favorite seasonal fruits tenderly preserved for this festive time of  year.  Dried currants, strawberries preserved in syrup and citron candied to perfection may indeed have been stored safely for this special occasion.

For those of you having made ample plans, a beautiful jelly will complete the Christmas table.  Sparkling in the evening light, guests will find it difficult to wait the serving of this special delight.  Sadly, you may be finding yourselves to be ill-prepared or hesitant to embark on this most grand gesture.  Fortunately, I have in my possession a simple receipt for a special cake that is both delicious and makes a lovely presentation on any table.  This receipt uses this season’s oranges and is simple enough for a child to make.  It is noteworthy to mention, with only a single adjustment this receipt can be used throughout the year.  When no longer in season, you may simply exchange the orange with another favorite seasonal fruit.


From: Nettie Horton Rodgers Diary (New Englander who moved to Fort Atkinson, WI in the 1860’s)

1-1/2 Cups Sugar                          
1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 Cup Butter                                 
½ teaspoon Soda
1 Cup Milk                                    
3 Cups Flour
2 Eggs                                      
1 Orange
Pulverized Sugar
Grate rind of 1 orange.  Squeeze juice of 1 orange. Grease and flour cake tin. Cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs. Dissolve baking soda in. Add to above ingredients alternately with flour, cream of tartar, and orange rind. Bake in a medium oven.
To make the glaze, put the orange juice into a small bowl.  Stir in pulverized sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, until a glaze consistency is reached. 

Orange Cake made as a layer cake
Now Gentlemen, this receipt does not exclude you from the limited competency you may possess in your wife’s kitchen.  Not only is it simple enough for any child to bake, you sirs, are also quite capable of success.  It may do well to note that her lack of preparation for a jelly may indeed be due to her desire to tend your comforts and needs.  Now having made this realization you may want to make a short trip to the neighboring store for an extra orange and don an apron for an afternoon.

Modern Notes: This is an easy, fool, proof recipe that has long been used at Old World Wisconsin. 

For an easy glaze, replace pulverized sugar with modern powdered sugar. You may want to add about a 1/4 cup at a time. Depending on the size of the orange you may need quite a bit of powdered sugar to obtain the consistency you desire.

Medium oven = Approximately 350 Degrees Fahrenheit.  (I bake in a modern kitchen the same as I do using a wood-burning cook stove. Meaning, I "bake until done". The length of time needed to bake this cake varies slightly depending on the pan(s) used. I would set aside 30-40 min for bake time. Check with a toothpick. ...12/18/12 Tonight, I used both stoneware mini-loaf pans and c. 1940s glass bundt pan. Both took about 30 minutes to bake.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thank You, Marty...

This Thanksgiving Weekend seems an appropriate time for me to give thanks for having known and worked with a very special person, Martin C. Perkins, Curator of Research at Old World Wisconsin. Marty passed away unexpectedly on November 3, 2012. There are many people that weave in and out of our day-to-day experience leaving perhaps a thread in the fabric that is our life.  If we are lucky, we will encounter a few people who weave significant and lasting patterns in this same fabric.  For those of us who are fortunate enough to have known Marty Perkins, we have encountered such a person.  The woven pattern likely resembles that of timbers, fieldstone and cream city brick indicative of his passion for rural Wisconsin architecture.
I am not sure Marty would have ever considered himself in the roll of a weaver, so at best, this is an imperfect tribute.  He filled rolls of Historian, Restoration Worker, Researcher, Trusted Co-worker, Mentor, Student, Athlete, Boss, Optimist, and Teacher ….most importantly…Husband, Father and Friend.  Over the course of the past couple weeks, I have been unable to properly describe this multi-faceted man.  This post was started many times only to be deleted.  Nothing seemed appropriate, and I have been unable to finish it at loss for words and eyes clouded with tears.  While I was sitting at Old World on November 8th, the day of Marty’s funeral, I put pen to paper but was completely unable to write anything save for a few thoughts.  My thoughts drifted to the looms in the Schulz and Rankinen houses at Old World Wisconsin, the museum where he spent his entire career.  Marty’s impact on all of us is like the sturdy linen fabric and rag rugs often woven by rural immigrant farmers along with the complex  intricacies of the woven over-shot throws created by professional weavers.  He taught us all the importance of attention to detail, relevance, complex research and integrity.  This intricate pattern is held together with the strongest of thread that is spun from the fibers of gentleness, humor, patience, practicality and ever present kindness.
Marty, you taught so many of us that a simple log structure often opens a door to a story filled with ethnic importance,  social relevance and overwhelming beauty.  You taught us to listen to each structure as it tells its story and lets us touch the very people who built it.  When the structure’s voice became too faint to hear, you encouraged us to ask questions. Your answers always sent us back to the structure to hear more of its tales.  My love, as well as that of many others, for historic rural architecture was instilled by you.  You hired me in April of 1993 and started me down a path I could have never imagined.  As a new historic interpreter in 1993, I marveled at the sparkle in your eyes and pure passion in your voice as you spoke of the new exhibit at Old World Wisconsin, Thomas General Store.  Your voice while relaying the information regarding the acquisition, research and restoration of the field stone structure was like that of a boy receiving a new baseball glove for Christmas.  How could one not be inspired?  That was almost 20 years ago. This summer I saw that same sparkle when I worked one of our 1860s baseball games at the museum.  The game was won by the Eagle Diamonds, the team you so diligently coached.  In spite of the unusually intense summer heat, your enthusiasm did not wane.  Again, you were an inspiration.
I had the opportunity to sit down with you one Sunday morning in mid-September before any other interpreter arrived for the day.  We discussed the recent day trip Karl and I had taken through the U.P. up to Ontonagon.  We were looking for Finnish log structures, but unexpectedly encountered the intriguing Irish Hollow Cemetery.  You took the time to give me advice on our potential next steps if we were serious in furthering our interest in the cemetery and log structures we saw. Much of the advice was in the same vein as the training I received from you almost 20 years ago.  Unfortunately, next summer I will be unable to share with you our adventures when we return to some of these places.  Fortunately, these words of wisdom ring loudly in your voice.  
Our Director at Old World Wisconsin, Dan Freas, perhaps had the best words…and I paraphrase…“We all strive to leave a lasting legacy, and Marty has a left a legacy that will live on to inspire many at Old World Wisconsin”.  The great attendance at your funeral is a testament to the impact you had on many, many people from all walks of life.  Marty, your presence will be missed, but not forgotten, by Old World Wisconsin, the City of Mukwonago, the State of Wisconsin and the family you so greatly loved.  Personally, as I drive past old homes and commercial buildings with fascination, I will continue to think you each day as I have for almost twenty years.  
…and Marty, on a lighter note, Karl and I will continue to play one of our favorite games as we drive Wisconsin’s roads.  The game is simple.  When we encounter a small town, the question always is: Railroad Town, Mill Town or Crossroads Village? The quest for the answer often leads off our desired course and having missed a turn or two, but we always encounter a fascinating story…
Marty (Lower Right Corner) coaching
the Eagle Diamonds in July of 2009

For those of you interesting in further reading...
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
From (a site dedicated to cordwood structures) reprinted an article written in 1990 for Wisconsin Architect in November/December 1990:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stolen Sunday Solace...

The misty grey sky, palpable humidity and indescribable scent of rain foretells there is scarcely enough time to gather flowers for a fresh bouquet on this Sunday morning before the impending shower arrives…

There is just enough time to gather a few colorful flowers, chamomile and a large bunch of mint. Once placed in a vase, there’s no need to breathe deeply. The heavy wet air instantly infuses the mint and chamomile scent into the dining room.  Back in the kitchen, there is a stash of maple logs and cedar kindling. They make the perfect fire in the dining room stove. The fire is small enough so as not to warm the room, but large enough to slightly dry the air in the room and infuse yet more fragrance into the air on this August afternoon. 

On a quiet Sunday afternoon, it is easy to steal a few simple moments of bliss. Sip a cup of coffee, quietly knit and enjoy a bit of 19th century aromatherapy.

 Photos take in the Sanford House at Old World Wisconsin

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Frivolities of Tatting... 3rd in a Series of 4

Whether you call it Tatting or it's French name, Frivolite, tatting saw it's popularity rise in the mid-19th century. Growing out of the family of lace known as knotting, it's technique would not be fully realized until approximately 1868.  One can see portraits of 18th century ladies holding their fashionable shuttles wound with thread. It is very easy to mistake their fancy and beautiful shuttles as tatting shuttles. These large shuttles are knotting shuttles rather than tatting shuttles which are much smaller. Wealthy ladies passed time and showed their fancy shuttles and graceful handwork by creating a series of individual knots on a thread. These strings of knots were then couched onto fabric. This type of knotting had it's limitations and would fall out favor and be replaced by other forms of knotted lace like netting and well, tatting.

"A lady knots while her companion reads"
This silhouette was painted 
by Mrs Delany ( 1700-1788) (1)

It is thought the earliest known book showing tatting was published anonymously in 1843 and was titled A Lady's Handbook of Millinery, Dressmaking and Tatting. Its patterns are limited and very rudimentary, barely resembling the tatting we know today. These simple patterns, however, do have the recognizable knots and picots of modern tatting. Modern tatting is also a series of knots but unlike earlier knotting techniques, these knots rely on one another and cannot separately stand alone.

Found in Godey's 1857
One of the the simple patterns described in the book, can be seen in the engravings on the left. These engravings were published in 1857 in Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine and a year later in Peterson's Magazine. It is a series of scallops made of partially closed rings. By the 1860's partially closed rings are uncommon, and now it is rare to see partially closed rings in today's tatting.

Seemingly, destined to languish in moderate obscurity with its limitations in design and technique, tatting would see an abrupt change as Mlle Eleanor Riego de la Branchardiere chose to embrace it.....

Contemporary tatting in its most basic form. Notice the rings (circles)
 and the picots (small loops at the tip of the rings). 
Lace c. early 19teens - 1930s from my collection

It is easy to see the chain in the 
above doily. They are the "arcs"
that connect the rings.
This is a pattern from the 1940s 
that I tatted several years ago.

By the time Mlle Riego, as she was known, wrote her first of 11 books on tatting, the 2 most common elements of tatting had been the achieved. The ring (a circle of linked knots) and the picot (the tiny loops around the ring. She would use these two elements to create enough designs to publish books until 1864. In 1864 she would take the craft to the next level nearly completing what we recognize as modern tatting with the creation of the chain. From this point forward, little has changed in tatting technique. 1868 would be her last book on tatting.

Top: Tatted lace in the style of late 1850s - 1860s
Middle: Gutta Percha tatting shuttle
Bottom: Tatted Lace in the style of the 1840s

Tatting became an easy craft for any of the publishers of  ladies' periodicals and books to market. Women could master these techniques fairly quickly and with very little expense. Although much money could be spent on fancy shuttles made of sterling silver or carved ivory, most ladies used very basic tools. By the mid-19th century a basic gutta percha shuttle could be purchased for a few cents. A ball of cotton tatting thread was also very inexpensive. Tatting became a brand new form of fancy work to be embraced by the modern Victorian woman desiring to keep with the latest styles.

It is easy to put a tatting project in a workbasket or a pocket ready to be picked up when a few moments of free time may be spared. It does not require the concentration or space that more complicated forms of lace making may require. Tatting's French name, Frivolite, does give a good indication that a lady may only produce decorative pieces as opposed to something utilitarian. It is however, important to note that tatting is the most durable form of lace. Look closely at the rings. Once a ring is pulled closed, it cannot be opened easily and will therefore never unravel. During the high Victorian era, it was more common to apply it to children's garments than to women's garments. It was an attractive decoration that in turn wore well on children's apparel.

In the photo above, there are two vintage pieces of tatting from my collection. Left: Tatting on a linen table runner (c. 1860s-1880s)
Right: Doily with lace edging (c.19teens-1930s)

1916 Tatting Pattern Book
Tatting, like crochet, would keenly hit its zenith between 1900 to about the mid-1920's. At this time, both forms of handwork would flourish in both household decor and in women's apparel. Never before nor since would the complexity of designs and availability of challenging, complicated patterns exist. Women of any background had the ability to produce an ample supply of lace, and indeed they did. Many of the pieces that exist from this time are exquisitely beautiful.  

Top: Vintage Doily c. 1930s-1940s
Bottom: Doily Pattern from 
1940s tatted by me.

Tatting would again see a renaissance in the 1940s and 1950s when color would be added to the mix. What was a craft that was almost exclusively produced with white or ecru thread reached another level of whimsy. Dozens of choices of colored tatting threads would become available often variegated with odd mixes of color. It was also at this time when very thin thread became more common than the heavier threads seen in the 19th century. The most familiar tatting to many of us is the tatting from this era. We have seen it on edges of table runners, pillowcases, women's collars and of course, the handkerchief that every lady had in her purse. 

Tatted Lace, Shuttle and Thread from c1940s - 1950s

Tatting has had a difficult time surviving since the 1970's. It sees peaks and valleys every few years, but has fallen into a more obscure place than its cousin, crochet.

Next up the Copycats.....

 (1) Pam Palmer, Tatting, (Buckinghampshire, UK: Shire Publishing Ltd., 2004).

 Elgiva Nicholls, Tatting Technique & History, (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1984).

Mary E. Fitch, Tatting - Series No. 6, (Brookline, Mass: 1916)

Heidi Marsh (Compiled By), Knit, Net, Crochet and More of the Era of the Hoop, (Greenville, CA: Self-Published, 1993).

Kathleen Warnick, and Shirley Nilsson, Legacy of Lace, (New York: Crown Publishers, 1988).

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Crochet Bursts onto the Scene.... 2nd in a Series of 4

Detail of crochet lace done by me.
Although a modern pattern, it
does have 19th c. elements.
"Lace...It All Starts Somewhere" was a piece I posted in August 2011. Filet, Needle and Pillow/Bobbin Lace were presented as early and popular forms of lace making. These lace techniques would remain popular to varying degrees through the Edwardian era on into the 1920s, but their decline would begin much earlier. The decline of these popular laces is complex and can be found in the changing tastes, technology, talent, and introduction of new forms of lace-making that would become available.  To use a modern euphemism, the introduction of Crocheting and Tatting would  burst onto the scene in the 1840s and 1850s forever altering the art of lace making.

Reproduction lamp mat with beaded
crocheted lace edging I crocheted
fusing a couple different 1860s
Peterson's magazine patterns.
It is not uncommon to read texts describing crocheting and tatting as centuries old or even ancient techniques. In short, this is simply not the case. Indeed, these forms grew out of old, even ancient techniques, but the crocheting and tatting we recognize today have only existed for approximately 155-170 years.  It is difficult to pin down an exact year that modern crochet begins, but we can say it is fully realized by 1845 and not earlier than the 1820s. It appears its modern seeds are found in the 18th century techniques of tambour (or nun's work) and shepherd's knitting. Tambour is most frequently credited to France and Shepherd's Knitting to Scandinavia. Both areas have a rich history of needlework.

Lady's wool petticoat (c.1860s-1880s) 
done primarily with the Afghan
crochet stitch from my collection.
There is also Afghan or Tunisian Crochet a slightly different and less familiar technique. This technique ebbs and flows in popularity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Afghan crochet's beginnings are even less certain than traditional crocheting, but there is evidence that it may indeed have begun in or around Afghanistan or Northern Africa.

Much of crochet's appeal lies in the ease of technique, inexpense of materials and quickness of results. The main reason the technique to spread throughout Europe and North America quickly after its development lies in technology. At the same time the technique is perfected in the 1840s, so is the ability for middle class ladies to subscribe to monthly periodicals or magazines and have the purchasing power for readily available and inexpensive materials. Publications like Godey's Lady's Book and Peterson's Magazines, companies like DMC and JP Coats and creative, influential women like Therese de Dillmont and Mlle Eleanor Riego de la Branchardiere were eager to instruct, influence and sell to the growing middle class.

Detail of Irish crochet lace collar
c. 19teens from Old World
Wisconsin's collection
It would be remiss not to mention the Irish Potato Famine in the spread of the popularity of crochet. During this time of great tragedy for the Irish, Ireland would, too, play a roll in crochet's popularity. French Nuns taught crochet lace to some of the poorest Irish women and children. They hoped to create a cottage industry so these women could work and feed their families. In short, they were indeed successful. Imported Irish Lace would be popular throughout the the 2nd half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Irish crocheted lace would also become a sub-culture of crochet all unto its own.

Piece of crocheted lace
c.19teens-1920s from my collection
The average Victorian lady in both America and England was eager to consume the latest styles and learn the newest techniques in handwork. Easy to learn and quick to master, crocheting would indeed burst onto the scene in the 19th century and become a beloved form of handwork.  Rather than villanize the myth that crochet is an ancient art. I would rather put forth the idea that in a relatively short period of time crochet has been so fully embraced that it has become one of the most recognizable forms of handwork in the modern world. So recognizable in fact, we cannot imagine a time when it did not exist.

Full view of the lace doily. This is one of my favorite pieces
that I have crocheted. It was done about 10 years ago.
The pattern was found in one of the late-1990s
monthly editions of Magic Crochet published
by Les Editions de Saxe S.A, Danbury, CT.

Up Next: Tatting....

Liz Paludan, Crochet History & Technique, (Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1995).

S.F.A Caulfield, and Blanche C Savard, The Dictionary of Needlework, (London: 1887).

Kathleen Warnick, and Shirley Nilsson, Legacy of Lace, (New York: Crown Publishers, 1988).

Heidi Marsh (Compiled By), Knit, Net, Crochet and More of the Era of the Hoop, (Greenville, CA: Self-Published, 1993).

Annie Louise Potter, A Living Mystery: The International Art & History of Crochet, (United States of America: AJ Publishing International, 1990).