Monday, August 18, 2014

Keeping up Appearances

In these days where most Americans think nothing of wearing shorts, t-shirts and sandals to a restaurant or even a wedding, we sometimes forget the importance our society once placed on "making a decent appearance," as the saying once went.  

I was reminded of this today when I got into a discussion on the Texas Living History Association group site on Facebook about how important fashion might be to American frontier women working at home and in public.  The initial question was about head coverings in the first decades of the 19th century and extended generally to work clothing.  I'd like to offer here a few period images with comment.  

The first is "The Life and Age of Woman," a popular early print that shows age-appropriate dress for various stages of life.  You'll notice that the girls and women are all dressed for the same period (c. 1845) and not a span of eighty or more years as we might at first think.  This is a cross-section of the dress of middle-class females in the mid-1840s. [Image from the Library of Congress]. 

Notice that the day cap, once a necessity for any respectable woman, is beginning to lose favor even with young married women. 

 Here is another example, "The Bashful Cousin," by Francis William Edmonds.  The setting is rural New York State, c. 1841, but it could be almost anywhere in the United States or the "settlements."  Here we see a young, unmarried girl from a family that is comfortable enough to own their home, employ a cook and wear decent clothing, but also needs to do some housework themselves.  Many frontier settlers came from this class.  The girl is dressed for general house work in the bodice of an old silk gown, a red flannel petticoat and sensible pumps and stockings. She has a black fichu tied loosely over her shoulders and what I take to be a blue dish cloth tucked into her waistband to serve perhaps as an apron or hand towel as needed.  Compare her dress with the older woman's (her mother?) - pink gown and fine linen day cap - and the African American servant coming from the kitchen - head scarf and bib apron.  As we've seen, younger women at this time were just freeing themselves of the day cap;  even young mothers.  But the cap as a sign of respectability was hard to let go of.  [Image from the National Gallery of Art].

Our final picture is a detail from "The Times," a satirical print published in New York City in 1837.  Here we see a drunkard and his family who represent the lowest rung of society. Notice, though, that the man attempts to keep up appearances of respectability by wearing all of the necessary garments expected of a working class man or farmer, (hat, shirt, neckerchief, jacket, trousers and shoes), even though they are shabby and broken down.

His wife, too, tries to maintain appearances.  She wears a shapeless gown, obviously without a corset or stays, and has neither stockings nor shoes.  But, though she is falling-down drunk and her hair hangs loose, she still has on a cap, proudly signifying that she is a married woman. [Image from the Library of Congress].

Monday, August 11, 2014

Paño de Querétaro


Over the weekend, I posted some information about Querétero cloth  (paño de Querétaro) on several Facebook group pages that I thought might find it interesting.  Mostly, it was just a repeat of what I wrote recently on this blog.  

On the “Alamo Legacy & Missions Assoc.,” this led to further discussions about just what kind of cloth paño de Querétaro was, and more research. []

I found that Querétero cloth was the only woolen fabric called for in the Mexican Army’s 1832 uniform regulations for enlisted infantry and cavalry.  Since there is a growing interest in Mexican uniforms of this era, I thought I would publish an excerpt from those regulations here. These are screen shots from the original online publication.[1]                                          

According to Joseph Hefter’s classic, El Soldado Mexicano,“To speed up and simplify manufacture [of uniforms and equipment], the items were divided into groups of 30 and 60 month duration."[2] 

As you can see, Querétaro cloth was widely used in the manufacture of enlisted infantry and cavalry uniforms, for everything from coats to shabraques. 

Our one description of Querétero cloth likens it to kersey (“narrow Yorkshires”). I’ve already given some information about kersey in that earlier post.  But Kochan and Phillips Historical Textiles, which manufactures the highest quality reenactor fabrics, has this to say,

Generally, Kersey was a relatively cheap twill cloth made in imitation of the more expensive Broadcloth. The use of a twill weave enabled the finishers to raise a nap on the cloth more easily than Broadcloth, although the cloth had less substance and the finish was consequently slightly less hard wearing.[3]

Though there was a “double milled” kersey that was used for greatcoats and other garments, so far there is no evidence that Querétero cloth received this treatment.  Compared with most European armies of this era, which used broadcloth, Spanish colonial and early Mexican era uniforms appear to have been made of somewhat inferior fabric. 

Notice also the widespread use in the 1832 regulations of the word grana, which was the subject of an earlier post on this blog.  This scarlet dye made from cochineal insects had long been used for uniforms in Mexico.

A. Plate 1 from Joseph Hefter, El Soldado Mexicano, 1837-1847.  Except for the officers’ uniforms, which would have been of finer and most likely imported fabric, the wool cloth here would have been paño de Querétaro, which was similar to kersey.


[1] Recopilacion de leyes, decretos, bandos, reglamentos, circulares y providencias: ‪de los supremos poderes y otras autoridades de la Republica Mexicana, Mexico, 1836.  See pp. 10-12. This is available online through Google Books.ño+de+Querétaro%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s
[2] El Soldado Mexicano, 1837-1847. Organizacion, Vestuario, Equipo. Mexico City, Nieto, Brown and Hefter, 1958, pp. 4, 52
[3] The full text of this description of military kersey is available as a download on the Kochan and Phillip Historic Textiles website, under “Current Products.”

Friday, August 8, 2014

Time Traveler


While working on the next post about the 1772 Regulations, I thought I'd take a moment today to mention a few of my other past projects.   I've said that I am a freelance illustrator and that my specialties are historical and ethnographic subjects.  Sometimes, authors, curators and other authorities will either give me the research I need to recreate worlds of the past.  More often I do this myself.  


I have illustrated a wide range of subjects, but I keep coming back to an American West that very few people know.  It is not Hollywood's Old West, but a more colorful, varied, and culturally complex West.  It is a world where Siberian nomads first sight the untouched wilderness of the Americas.  Where Native Americans adopt Russian names, religion and clothing.


Where Native Americans wear their real clothing, not something invented by a costumer in Burbank, and the wiry, rugged builds of both men and horses reflect a way of life that was far removed from regular meals, gyms and oats. 


I like adding the little details, like finding a cat entrance carved into a doorway at a California Mission. 


I also enjoy reclaiming forgotten people and cultures, such as this Native American war chief from Sitka, dressed in bearskin, wood, paint and copper and carrying a Russian blacksmith's hammer as a weapon. 


The journey has been a long one and has taken me many places.  It has also led me outside of illustration into research, writing . . . 


And even costume design.  


No, this is not Hollywood's West - it's better than that.  And it fascinates me because it actually existed. 

A. The New World is an illustration I created for Mesa Verde National Park. 
B. Native American Man Ploughing.  Illustration for Fort Ross State Historic Park, California.
C. Illustration of Blackfoot warrior and horse for Warriors of the Plains; Native American Regalia & Crafts, by M.S. Tucker and Joe W. Rosenthal:
D. Illustration from California Missions Coloring Book, by David W. Rickman, Dover Publications.
E. Tlingit war chief Kotlean, Sitka National Historic Park, Alaska. 
F. A picture of me taking a photograph of a garment in the American history collections of the Smithsonian Institution.
G. The Sutter's Fort Costume Manual by David W. Rickman 

H. For the 200th anniversary celebration at Fort Ross State Historic Park in California, I worked to research, design and oversee the production of more than thirty historical costumes.  I was aided by a grant from the Renova Fort Ross Foundation and administered by the Fort Ross Conservancy.