Monday, May 11, 2015

Opening Weekend!!!

This past weekend was the official opening of the Museum! I can't believe that the season is already here, although it feels like an eternity since the last one. I'm eyeing my pile of sewing yet-to-do very nervously, here, this is a very busy May for me and I know it's going to be some late nights getting all of my Needs done. 

Anyway, opening weekend we always have a fashion show! We bring out some of our best clothes here to show off in a representation of fashion from the time of the American Revolution to the sinking of the Titanic, and the public seems to enjoy it because we always get a good sized crowd coming considering all the other things going on at the same time elsewhere on the Museum grounds. My first year doing the fashion show was the year before last. You can see the video here. Yup, I did 1830s - and you can see very clearly that the 1830s hadn't grown on me yet, because I certainly wasn't thrilled to be wearing it. I was a newbie to the Museum and was really only interested in the late 1850s-first half of the 1860s and not the craziness of the 1830s. Now the 30s is one of my very favorite decades, I just prefer the second half of the decade, when they toned down the crazy sleeves a little. This year, I represented the first decade of the 1900s, which I think of as "the S-Bend period" because of the corset style that was most popular then. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I Hate ELHOS (or, Making a Pair of Mid-19th Century Slippers, Part the First)

“So, tell us how you really feel about the book Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker, Lydia.”

Well, dear reader. Sit yerself down for a little rant, here, about false advertising. Perhaps you have heard of ELHOS but haven’t picked one up, perhaps you own a copy or have a friend who will loan one to you, perhaps you’re thinking to yourself ‘good repro shoes are pricey! How complicated could it be to get this book and teach myself?’

Here are some excerpts from the prologue of this book:

“No apology is offered for presenting the present small work to the attention of the ladies. Every lady ought to know how to make every article of clothing that she wears….The art [of shoemaking] is so simple that it may be learned by any person of ordinary capacity; and it is not so laborious to make a cloth shoe, but that any lady of tolerable health, can make the whole of one without experiencing any injury.
            “The comparative ease with which we make our own…has induced us to publish these instructions for the benefit of all the ladies.
            “The first pair of our own making was the handsomest we ever had; no one would have suspected that they were not made in a shop by an experienced workman.”

HA! I say and again, sir, HA! 

You see, the anonymous writer (I would want to stay anonymous too, if I was publishing a book that would cause so much suffering to modern lay-people) wants you to believe that shoemaking is easy, that the pros who spent decades learning the craft were twiddling their thumbs for most of those years. They weren't. Shoemaking is not something you master in one pair of shoes, nor is it something you master after two pairs, or three, or four, or five. Learning one method of shoe construction (because there are at least a half dozen different ways of constructing shoes) to perfection takes months if not years of working at it every day, as a full time job. Even your most basic turned shoes cannot be mastered on the first try. Also, that without injury thing – totally not true. I hope you’re up on your tetanus shots and don’t need to worry about getting a little blood on the leather and/or fabric. You’re working with leather – not glove leather, sole leather, which can be almost half an inch thick and not easy to work with – and you’re working with extremely sharp tools (or tools that need to be extremely sharp). Don’t place any bets that you won’t injure yourself at all.
But really my biggest complaint is this – the book professes to be practically a For Dummies book, when in actuality this “complete self-instructor” will leave you wondering why on earth you haven’t produced museum quality shoes on your first try. I recommend finding a historical shoemaker to give you advice, taking a class teaching how to make a pair of shoes based off of ELHOS, or getting supplementation for the instructions.

Speaking of supplementation for the instructions… following shortly will be my supplementation, tweaked so that you’ll be able to make a pair of mid-19th century slippers (as those seem to be on the up and up in terms of popularity), without ripping out your hair or ending up with junk or ruined materials. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

HSM Challenge 1: Foundations/ Or, “Facing my Fears”

“HSM? What’s HSM?” You ask.
Historical Sew Monthly,” I answer. 
“Lydia, you aren’t doing so hot keeping up with HFF! AND you have yet to post your series on making pegged shoes! Why on earth are you doing another historically themed “challenge” series?! Don’t you have enough on your plate?!”
And to that, dear reader, I have absolutely no reply.

So to avoid that awkward topic, here’s my entry for the HSM’s first challenge after the jump.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

HFF Challenge 16: Celebratory Foods

This challenge is about coming up with a historical dish that is made for a celebration - either New Year's or otherwise. In my case, this celebration is for the discovery that I didn't owe as much as I thought I did on a car insurance payment. Small pleasures in life :)

My wonderful boyfriend took me to the Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York a few days after Christmas. Even though it's mostly about planes and motorcycles, which I consider to be more "guy stuff", I really enjoyed myself (I saw a MASSIVE circa 1860 hair wreath -un-joined, so not memorial - that contained hair from 15 [or 16, now I can't recall] people!). Knowing how much it costs to keep a museum, especially a little one, going, I couldn't leave without getting a little something. So, I bought this interesting little cook book.

The recipes in here really aren't all that weird to me, but then, working at the Museum, I'm kind of jaded to things like brains, tongue, and chickens encased in aspic as food items.

I decided to make chocolate apricot cookies from the 1940's section of the book. This is a secondary source, which makes me twitch a little, but I don't think that the author has altered the recipes all that much to suit modern palates. Here's my end result (there was a little misunderstanding with the flour and the first sheet that went in the oven was wasted, so I only ended up with 9 medium sized cookies. But yummmm.
Not too chocolatey-looking are they?
The Date/Year and Region: 1940's America

How Did You Make It?: It's really a basic cookie, and like my historical counterparts, I'm going to assume you know how to make a basic cookie.

Time to Complete: 20 minutes, max. You know I never time these things, haha!

Total Cost: I honestly don't know, my father was going to the supermarket and offered to get baker's chocolate and dried apricots for me. He never did tell me what I owed him for it.

How Successful Was It?: HAHAHA After the disastrous first tray, where my cute little cookies just oozed all over the place? Very good! The chocolate flavor is much more delicate than we're used to these days, and the apricot flavor even more so (in the future I might add a little apricot jam, just to boost the flavor), but the cookies were perfectly baked, to toot my own horn :P

How Accurate Is It?: Assuming that the recipe wasn't altered (other than the author recommending the addition of chocolate chips, to boost the chocolate flavor), pretty accurate. Of course, I didn't bake them in a 1940's oven, or mix them by hand, and I used butter instead of shortening because...butter.

I'll definitely (tweak these a smidge and) bake them again!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Travels to Sturbridge Village

I promised not to wait too long before posting this, and then I went and waited almost a whole month! And as a matter of fact, I think I might do this as a series, there’s just so much that I could nerd out about that to do it as a single post it would be reeeeeally long.
In case you missed it before, in November I had the opportunity to go to Massachusetts and visit Sturbridge Village, to learn how to bottom (or attach the soles to) pegged shoes with their shoemaker there, Peter Oakley.

I was really excited to go, about 50% because of the learning opportunity and 50% because this was my first road trip on my own (which almost didn't happen because I left just as Snow-vember hit Western NY). The drive was great – I made up a playlist for my iPod and got an audio version of Walden by Henry David Thoreau to listen to in the car. Armed with snacks and coffee, I was on my way!

I was fortunate enough to be staying in Sturbridge for free, in the Village’s intern housing. It’s so close to the Village that the parking lots are actually all interconnected and if I really wanted to, I could walk. Another great perk of the Village is that I got free coffee (I’m not even joking. It was so incredible to get free coffee whenever I wanted that I could have cried tears of joy) and discounts on food. I had a spectacular gluten free brownie there. Well, two actually.

Jim (my coworker, who has been teaching me the parts of shoe-making that are general leather-working, like constructing the uppers) and I went over to the Sturbridge Village Visitor’s Center to meet up with the staff-member who was serving as our liaison to orient us. We met Shaun, who is an awesome shoemaker from Fort Ticonderoga and then we met Derek, our liaison, who took us to costuming. I had realized about halfway through the drive to Massachusetts that I had forgotten my corset at home, so I was feeling pretty ashamed that I had forgotten a crucial part of my luggage. Still, we managed to sort me out and my back didn't suffer too much from hunching over on a bench without support. After that we went and got coffee and then headed to the shoe shop to get to work.

Photo used courtesy of Shaun Pekar. Peter Oakley is in the background there - a very patient teacher!

We spent two days working in the shoe shop, not just learning but also interpreting – it started to feel a little like being back home in our little Museum. I didn't quite finish my shoe, but all that needs to be done is to put on the heel and some little cosmetic finishing touches.

I had a wonderful time, loved the learning experience, and definitely want to go back to Sturbridge, but perhaps next time as a regular visitor so that I can take lots of pictures! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Flint Hill, '64 Chapter 3: In Which Our Heroine Oversleeps and Everything Goes Downhill from There

Read Chapter One here and Chapter Two here.

As I mentioned at the end of Chapter Two, the house was much warmer Saturday night than it was Friday night. As a result, I slept much too soundly and didn't get out of bed until 7:30! Breakfast was not done on time and the poor children were sent off to school with nothing but applesauce and a single piece of French Toast shared between them in their bellies. Mr and Mrs Craig got a slice each as well but that was all - the fourth had sat too long in the batter and fell apart and that was the last of the bread. The ham that we were going to pretend was bacon took ages and ages to cook and was never eaten. I certainly wasn't figuring that I was going to be a cook for much longer.

The Aid Society tea was at ten thirty and my suffering only grew when I opened the jar of apple pear chutney, thinking that it would be something sweet to serve with the cider cake, and discovered that it was in fact a PICKLE! A pickle cannot be served on top of cider cake! So I ran to Hosmer's Inn where I pleaded with the cooks there to give me some sweet preserves to serve with the cider cake and plain bread to serve with the chutney. I was prepared to drop to my knees and sob, if necessary. Thankfully, that wasn't necessary, my friend Allison (who was Clara for the weekend), gave me the last of their bread and some apple butter and strawberry-raspberry preserves. I ran back to the farm and did my best to plate our Savory and Sweet as nicely as possible. Perhaps it was a little too haute cuisine for the period, but I was feeling desperate. Actually, I wish that I had a camera so I could take a picture of the two plates and show off my biggest success of the weekend.

The cider cake I sliced and arranged in a fan on the platter, with dollops of preserves alternating between the slices and a dollop of each preserve right in the middle of the fan. The chutney was put into a bowl and placed in the middle of the other platter, with slices of bread arranged fan-like (again) around it, topped with sage leaves. The coffee pot, tea pot, creamer, and sugar went in the middle between the two platters. It was all deemed very good and my self esteem was a little boosted. All's well that ends well.

After the Aid Society tea disbanded, all that was left to do was clean up, go to Thomson Tavern for the group picture, and go home. The event's main theme was actually the presidential election of 1864 and the men in the village had been given ballots in order to vote. Lincoln won by a landslide in our town, but the election part of the event was very insignificant to me - there was far too much to worry about that had nothing to do with some stranger in a city very far away for me to sit around and worry about who was going to be president.

Another aspect of the event was mail service - we were each to contribute two letters to the mail service that weekend. I wrote one note to Allison/Clara, and one letter to myself from a fictionalized version of my very dear boyfriend. In truth, I Googled Civil War love letters and plagiarized one. It was not a very good result, really - I knew that I had mail and I knew who it was from and what it said, because I had written it. I also failed miserably at writing in a masculine hand. In the future, I think my mail contributions will all be to other people.

All in all, I enjoyed the weekend. It was hard to stay in character when we weren't around other people, though I did my best, and I didn't have any moments where I felt like it was really 1864, but that I contribute to being in a building that has become something of a second home to me rather than anything else. I'm looking forward to more opportunities to be in First Person in the future!

In the meantime, I'm preparing for a trip to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts on the 18th - I'm getting my hands-on training from their shoemaker there. Very exciting!

Flint Hill, '64 Chapter 2: In Which Our Heroine Sleeps Very Little and Cooks A Lot

Read Chapter One here.

We left our brave heroine recovering from a battle with a mattress tick. After my embarrassing trip back and forth between Kieffer and Jones, I waited some more for the Craigs to arrive and then decided to bank the fires and head over to Hosmer's, where I knew there would be people to keep me company, as I was getting lonely in that cold, dark house.

The Craigs arrived, I guided them back to Jones farm, and then they left to get dinner. I lay down on my defeated bed to have a little nap until it came time for the Meet 'n Greet in Thomson Tavern. With everyone having met and my employers back in the village, everyone headed to their temporary homes. I decided it was time for bed and was encouraged to lounge luxuriously (while I had the chance) while the Craigs moved in their belongings.

With a chilly house and my own paranoia that the fire would go out and we would all suffer, I slept in short bursts and frequently found myself trying to quietly sustain the fire. Around 4:30 in the morning I was forced to restart it entirely and it responded angrily by being the crackliest, brightest, most obnoxious fire it could be. Mr. and Mrs. Craig's twin children slept in front of the fire near me and I threw telepathic daggers at the fire for risking waking them. I lay in bed, feeling very restless, for another half hour and then gave up and got up to get dressed and start the day.

I lit the fire in the stove, hauled wood, hauled water, heated water for washing faces and for washing dishes later, read the entire volume of the American Frugal Housewife that was in the kitchen, and started up breakfast. I had intended to make waffles, but had no waffle receipt handy and tried to make do with using a tweaked variation of pancake batter. HA! Not a chance! So we had pancakes and bacon. I burned the bacon. Quite the start, right?

Mrs. Craig and I went for a walk down to Kieffer to get cheese for the macaroni pudding I was making for lunch and then I mixed up a tin of cider cake for the Aid Society tea the next day. The macaroni pudding went over very well, although the water decided to be cruel and took ages to boil (The biggest downfall of a cast iron stove, even with a lid on it and the burner cover removed). The cider cake baked and then I made cottage tea cakes, which are like mashed potato hash browns, to bring along with my Indian pudding to the get-together at Hosmer's Inn that evening. We were meant to bake some squashes as well but they had done nothing at all when the time came for us to head to the inn. I was really batting a thousand.

Dinner was good and the entertainments were wonderful! We heard a very nice recitation of the Lady of Shalott, I got over-enthusiastic when I correctly solved a riddle and then was stumped when the others were read out, we played a game with conversation cards (a row of men and a row of ladies sit opposite each other. Each man reads a "question" card, the lady opposite reads the "answer" on her card, the cards are moved to the back of the deck and passed on to the next pair. They were very flirty cards and I was awkwardly paired with my boss at one point. I told him we should just be friends, since he was my boss), and read a parlor play. I also had the opportunity to play a doll-sized version of the Checkered Game of Life with Miss Craig and Miss O'Byrne, who whupped me very soundly. The game is similar to the modern game of Life, but centered around morals and the impacts of one's choices. At one point, I was forced to choose between poverty and suicide. I ended the game with 15 points, while the girls tied with 25 each. I think I might like to find a people-sized version of the game, it was very fun to play, although difficult by candlelight.

After the evening's entertainment, we all went to bed. This time the house was much warmer!

Read on for the final installment of our adventures!