Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What We Actually Know About Petticoat Trousers (alias Slops, alias Skilts, alias Petticoat Breeches)

Some projects languish for a while, waiting for your attention. Such was the case with an old pair of "slops" that I made in 2005. Back then, I constructed them somewhat clumsily and used cotton thread not suitable for the period of living history I use them for (say 1750-1800). When I finally got around to reconstructing them using linen thread recently, I started to wonder what we actually know about these things. Most reenactors call them "slops." But, as it turns out, almost no one did in the eighteenth century.

The author wearing his "slops" at left, with Gwendolyn Basala and Michael McCarty

In the 1799 image below is pretty typical. What we might call "slops" are the thing the guy is wearing that looks something like a white kilt. It's hard to tell in this image, but they're actually two very wide legs attached to a waistband. "Slops" are the sort of garment we associate with sailors and pirates, and you may have seen then being worn by a reenactor, a living historian, or a film extra.

"No. 4, Cook," Thomas Rowlandson, 1799, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

In the the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, "slops" actually meant all sorts of clothing, not just this type of garment. I wrote a thesis and published an article about "slops" in general, the sort of ready-made garments (coats, jackets, trousers, and so on) sold to and worn by sailors and working men. The Museum of London owns a set of early slops, perhaps worn by a mariner, that includes a shirt and pair of baggy breeches. Their provenance is unclear and they are difficult to date with so few comparable extant garments. There are certainly images of sailors wearing similar clothing in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, some prints of which you can see here. Breeches of this type, the forerunners of later sailor garments, relate directly to the baggy breeches worn by men of all sorts in the seventeenth century.

Shirt and breeches, 1600-1700, from the Museum of London.

By the late eighteenth century, when men of all social levels were wearing tight, knee-length breeches, baggier protective legwear seems to have been used exclusively by sailors, becoming somewhat inseparable from the image of seamen as they appeared in popular media. You can see such garments in sketches, popular prints, and paintings.

"Man Selling Stockings," Paul Sandby, circa 1759, from Kitty Kalash (see also John Styles, Dress of the People [2007], 172). 

"A Sailor Miss Taken," Thomas Rowlandson and G. M. Woodward, 1801, from the Lewis Walpole Library.


"Watson and the Shark," John Singleton Copley, 1778, from the National Gallery of Art.

The only extant example that survives from the period between 1750 and 1815 is fragmentary, recovered recovered from the 1785 shipwreck of the British vessel General Carleton (you can download the report and see an image of one of the fragments here).

There are precious few documentary references to these garments. Copley's painting is the most detailed evidence we have, in fact, for their construction and use. Notice the pleating, for example, and the fact that the sailor is wearing them as a protective garment over regular breeches.

We don't know a lot about these garments. We don't even know what to call them.

Famed eighteenth-century dictionary writer Samuel Johnson defined slops as "Trowsers; open breeches" (here). But I've yet to see "slops" used in a period document to refer specifically to this type of garment rather than ready-made clothing in general. The term "skilts," also a somewhat common label for this garment among maritime reenactors, didn't appear in print until the 1840s (according to the Oxford English Dictionary).

So what did people call these things?

I had thought for some time that they used "petticoat breeches," a term for an earlier type of legwear, but when I recently went searching in period sources, I couldn't find any instances of it in descriptions from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Terms like "sailor trousers" appeared frequently in print, but they most often seem to mean a particular cut of trousers (or even ankle-length trousers in general, often associated with sailors in the earlier part of this period when most men still wore knee-length breeches). As Ike points out in the comment below, it's very possible that "trowsers" meant both ankle-length pants and knee-length "slops." The only instances I've come up wit that definitely refer to the latter are a handful of period references to "petticoat trowsers." Still, I think these instances do probably refer to the type of knee-length garment that appears in visual sources.

Servant and former privateer James Wickrey, who ran away from his master in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1749 was wearing "petticoat trowsers, half worn" (The Pennsylvania Gazette, June 8, 1749).

Servant Matthew Case wore, among other garments, "Petticoat Trowsers" in New Jersey in 1765. (The Pennsylvania Gazette, February 21, 1765).

An enslaved man, "who commonly call[s] himself Robert Heart amongst his own Colour" but whom his master called only Bob, had "a Pair of Petticoat Ozenbrigs Trowsers" when he ran away from Cecil County, Maryland, late in 1765 (The Pennsylvania Gazette, December 5, 1765).

John Hilt, a Dutch brick maker who skipped bail in Philadelphia in 1766 with "Cloathing much like a Sailor... and frequently wears Petticoat or Sailors Trowsers in the season." (The Pennsylvania Gazette, April 3, 1766).

Detail, "My Poll and My Partner Joe," Isaac Cruikshank, 1799, from the Lewis Walpole Library.

The two British criminals in the links offered by Ike in his comment below were both sailors who wore "trowsers" over breeches. But only James Wickrey among the individuals listed above had any other type of legwear noted (in his case, leather breeches).Were others wearing something underneath their petticoat trousers, like the sailor in Watson and the Shark, or did they wear nothing else at all besides shirttails? Were petticoat trousers really as common among early nineteenth-century sailors, men who might have chosen more fashionable ankle-length trousers, as satires would have us believe? Did anyone use the feminine idea of petticoats to deride wearers of petticoat trousers? They may have been baggy partly because of the shape of earlier breeches styles that inspired them and partly so they could fit over other garments. But they didn't have to be as baggy and skirt-like as they were. How did fashion and function interact when it came to petticoat trousers? Did more men than just bricklayer John Hilt adopt them as a sort of affectation, mimicking real sailors? Did they fall out of favor because men began to wear ankle-legth trousers instead of breeches, or for some other reason?

Mysteries remain for curious researchers. Let me know if you find any answers! I'm still not sure petticoat trousers was the only phrase people used to describe these garments, or that there aren't mentions of "slops" in this specific sense or some other term people used to refer to them lurking in period documents. But I do know that the words we choose to describe the past matter. John Hilt didn't wear skilts or slops. He wore petticoat trousers. If we're not careful, we might end up talking about people like him using words they wouldn't even understand.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Unanswered Questions at the Wyckoff House Museum

Last weekend, Nicole and I took a trip up to Brooklyn, New York, to hunt for a wedding band. But along the way, we stopped at two historic houses, the Old Stone House in Washington Park and the Wyckoff House, farther east. We had read that the Wyckoff was hosting a "Free Family Day," and there's nothing that says grad-students-about-to-get-married like "free." So, with no family in tow to excuse our visit, we found our way there.

The Wyckoff House is a remarkable survival. Built about 1652, it is the oldest building in the boroughs of New York City but also the entire state. Like many houses, it was modified, repurposed, and eventually sold out of the family (eight generations after its construction). For most of the twentieth century, it was neglected, until it finally ended up as a gas station storage shed after the Second World War. Some years later, a descendant of the family happened to take an interest in it, galvanizing other relatives to fund its purchase, restoration, and donation to the City of New York. Today, you can tour several rooms of the house, each furnished in the style of a different historical period.

The Wyckoff House, from Open House New York.

And tour we did. Our leader was undeniably knowledgable, informative, and exceptionally poised when faced with a full tour group that included several distracted children. Our tour was meticulous and logical. We began in a kitchen space, the oldest portion of the house, evocative of the sort of one-room kitchen-bedroom-parlor-workspace in which many early New Yorkers lived. We talked about Dutch building techniques and seventeenth-century cooking equipment. In the next room, an eighteenth-century addition, we discussed the conspicuous consumption evoked by ceramics displayed in a wall cupboard. We ended in another room, where the guide showed us photographs from the twentieth century of the surrounding neighborhood and the delapidated house as it appeared in the 1970s before its restoration. The tour ended, and we were released to the grounds.

Your standard historic house tour. Chronological, explanatory, site-specific. A model followed by most other historic houses.

But something about this one made me realize just how many missed opportunities lurked in a half hour inside the Wyckoff House, or inside most old houses for that matter.

Part of what got me thinking about missed opportunities was our remarkable tour group. It included an African-American family with three children, the mother of whom taught special needs students at an elementary school just down the road; a white mother with her young daughter; a South American family whose adult son had visited the house several times before and was now bringing his parents and siblings, for whom he carefully translated the guide's remarks; and us, two white graduate history students from Delaware. Why does this matter? Because it's a far more racially and ethnically diverse group than I've seen in most other tours I've gone on. And yet we didn't talk at all about New York's history of race relations. Did Pieter Claesen (later Wykhof/Wyckoff) own slaves? Did his neighbors? How did this part of Brooklyn, Canarsie, go from being a Dutch agricultural center to and African-American neighborhood? What better place to talk about demographics, enslavement, emancipation, and even white flight?

The Wyckoff House is doing something right, even if it's just by the accident of its location, in a diverse part of Brooklyn. But our tour guide never asked us about ourselves. And what stories we might have told. Why would a South American bring his entire visiting family to the house of a seventeenth-century Dutch New Yorker? What was it about this place that he found so compelling? Was it that Pieter Claesen himself was an immigrant to New York? Or was it that for this man, this house symbolized something else about the past or present of the place where he lived? What better place to talk about immigration in all its historic and contemporary incarnations than the home of one of New York's earliest European immigrants?

Pieter Claesen came to New York as an indentured servant, we were told. Nicole and I knew automatically what this meant, but most visitors wouldn't. How in the world did someone manage to come to New York in the seventeenth century, having literally sold themselves into a period of servanthood, and then, in the space of only fifteen years, manage to acquire substantial acreage in Brooklyn? Was this sort of upward mobility common or rare in this period? What does it say about New York's history of hopeful aspiration? What does it say about false promises? What does it say about the history of social class in America? What better place to talk about what New Yorkers, native and adopted, hope to achieve in their lifetimes?

And speaking of natives, where were the previous residents of the property? Yes, Pieter Claesen and his wife, according to the museum's website, "acquired a farm" here in 1652. But this place was more than vacant land. For thousands of years, as you can read about at the Manahatta/Welikia Project, Native Americans had lived, worked, worshipped, and died on the land that would become New York. What happened to them? They certainly didn't just disappear or go quietly into the night. As historian Russell Shorto has traced, early Dutch settlement in New York was made all the more complicated by peaceful and violent interactions with the original New Yorkers, Native Americans. But these people, whose homes had been on the Wyckoff property for centuries before Pieter Claesen ever owned it, didn't get a mention on our tour. What happened to them? What did people like Claesen think about Indians, and what did Indians think about them? What better place to talk about cultural contact, interethnic exchange, and the mysteries of prehistory?

The Wyckoff Parlor, from Not Intent on Arriving.

And then there was the size of our group. We had something like fifteen visitors. And as we stood in what had once been the only room of a seventeenth-century house, the docent dutifully pointed to a linen bed ticking in the corner and explained that everyone - seventeen residents at one point - also slept in this room at night. Here we were, standing in the middle of a room with nearly that many people. Why not have us all lie down for a moment? Why not give it a try, and see - feel - what it was like to lay down in a room with that many people? What better place to talk about changes in living arrangements, personal space, and comfort than a room that was once home to as many living, breathing humans as stood in that tour group?

As we moved into another room, our guide pointed out the back window, explaining that the topography of the site itself had changed substantially since the seventeenth century. Where we looked out now on a steep embankment leading up to a street and a scrap yard, Pieter Claesen would have seen a wide expanse of flat salt marsh. But in the twentieth century, (in)famous city planner Robert Moses instigated a series of construction projects that included, among other things, filling in bottomland in the neighboring to facilitate construction. By some happy accident, this infill tapers off just out the back door of the Wyckoff House. But on our tour, that fact was simply that - a fact. But who was Robert Moses? What did his choices have to do with his ideas about politics, the city, and race (on the latter, see Robert Caro and Langdon Winner, and Bernward Gorges)? This place was very nearly buried by the vision of one New Yorker. What better place to talk about the city's complicated rural and urban history and its equally complicated future?

As we left the house, I was reminded again about its location. Today, the Wyckoff museum sits on less than an acre of land in a busy and relatively gritty section of Brooklyn. Rowhouses, a scrap yard, a used tire dealer, and other small businesses are now its neighbors. The prevalence of Caribbean restaurants and accents suggests that this neighborhood is no less made up of new New Yorkers than it was in the 1650s. But the Wyckoff House is physically, almost painfully, segregated from the rest of Canarsie by a tall iron fence.

The Wyckoff House, from Yelp.

As someone who has worked in and loves museums, I understand this. The house has little security, and it would be much harder to close and lock its shutters at night than it is to lock a large iron gate. What if someone smashed a window, lit a fire, spray-painted graffiti on its walls? All of these are very real risks. So the house sits in an oasis of grass, surrounded by a protective fence.

But this is perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of all. The Wyckoff House has literally walled itself off from its community. Instead of presenting itself as a welcoming, receptive, open member of the neighborhood, it is instead a fortress of capital-h History, accessible only to those with the time or inclination to pay a small fee, take a short tour, and look at an old house.

Museums should be in the business of tearing down fences. And I mean that in two ways. We should be removing the barriers between the present and the past and between people like me and the South American man on our tour. Both of us came to see an old house. Surely we have other things in common.

But also literally. Imagine a Wyckoff House that instead of being surrounded by a  fence was simply on open land. What a valuable commodity in Brooklyn. Let people actually use the few picnic tables that now sit neglected inside the fence line. Instead of wide expanses of barren, unused grass, why not plant a field of wheat or corn? The property, according to the museum, includes "1.5 acres of some of the last remaining farmland in Brooklyn." Why not farm it, actually make it farmland, even if in a small way? Imagine how strange, how thought-provoking, how bizarre a passing pedestrian would find a field of oats growing in Brooklyn. Certainly more thought-provoking than grass. 

The Wyckoff House is doing as well as can be expected from a small house museum. They host school groups, family days, and a country fair. They are working with what I'm sure is a shoestring budget, a skeleton staff, and a community with many other concerns besides historic preservation. Many of the things I've said about their tour in particular are applicable to any number of other historic houses across the country.

Too often, though, we forget that our job as public historians is not really to explain architecture or herb gardens or furniture styles. Our job is to take down fences and ask uncomfortable questions, using the past as a starting point. It's dangerous. People might argue with you. They might tear up your planted field. They might leave litter. They might deface a building. But others might just stop to read a sign or look at this beautiful old house and wonder, even if for just a moment, where it came from. What happened in this place? Who lived here? How did this house survive? What was New York like back then? What is it like now? What will it be like in another three hundred years?

Aren't those questions worth the risk?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

So Two Material Culturists Walk Into a New Apartment...

Nicole and I moved early this year, leaving a great old historic house for a very modern apartment. Much of January was devoted to moving instead of research and writing. But, of course, as material culture scholars, we never really clock out, and we learned quite a few things about the material culture of moving, about our stuff, and about ourselves during this big process.

There are a lot of things I could blog about.

Like about some of the bizarre box labels we ended up with.


Or about our priorities when we decided to move our favorite antiques before anything else.


Like the boxes that have unbelievably seen us through at least two moves with storage use in between.


Or about this little contraption that I assembled from the bottom of a broken desk chair and a used plastic tub (RIP MoveBot).


Like about how our book box labels sometimes reflected longstanding historiographical debates about terminology and agency.


Or about how opening some boxes felt a little like Christmas. "Oh, what cool bottles! I would buy these if they were at an antique market."

"Oh wait, I already did."


But what I actually want to write about is not what was in our boxes or what a pain it was moving them (all half-dozen large, seven "medium," 61 "small," and 73 "smaller," using Home Depot box sizes as a base line) across town, but about the moving boxes themselves. Nicole and I were sitting in our kitchen in one of our last nights in our old house, surrounded by full boxes, when I got to looking closely at one and thinking about what it said as a piece of material culture.


Even our moving boxes are complex artifacts of our culture. What does this one tell us about ourselves? What might some future archaeologist conclude when he finds this box amid our rubbish heaps?

First, we value convenience. This box costs all of 77 cents at Home Depot, and you can throw it away when you're done moving. This is certainly easier than what people had to do when the moved in the past: build crates, fill trunks, and bundle valuables.

But we also worry about the very damage that this convenience might cause our world. This box features a variety of logos and slogans (at least fourteen, in fact, depending on how you distinguish them) advertising that it is made from 100% recycled materials. "Be Orange," it says, evoking the chosen color of Home Depot, but "Think Green."


The box also speaks to the type of consumer Home Depot thinks will be using their products. A list on the side allows more careful packers than I to denote the final destination of each box: Bedroom, Family Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, Bath, Basement, Garage, Attic, Laundry. All familiar room names in 2016. Remarkably, though, four of the nine potential destinations are entirely or partially storage spaces. Will your extra junk go in your new basement, your new garage, your new attic, or the back of your new laundry room?

What's on the list is interesting, but what's missing is also fascinating. Gone are once-popular room names like the parlor, the den, and even the living room, replaced by the more contemporary "family room." If your ancestors of a century ago were among the upper classes, they would be disappointed that our homes no longer apparently include libraries, music rooms, or conservatories. If they were among the lower sort, they might be surprised that our homes are so exclusively domestic. There is no entry on this list for a workshop, a dairy, a stable, a studio, or even an office. Of course, we definitely have an office; that's where we put some two thirds of the couple thousand books we own.



The box is bilingual, though not completely. It offers both English and Spanish words for the size of the box and its destination, but all of the recycling statements are in English alone. Our future archaeologist might be inclined to investigate whether Home Depot was simply saving space with English-only recycling logos or whether there is something more subtle at work here. Embedded in this box might be presumptions about the values of different ethnic customer bases or even a presumption that the people buying the box will be English speakers while the people moving the box to its destination might be Spanish speakers.

And there is much we might decode. What does the printing process tell us? The inclusion of website addresses? The placement on every upper surface of advertisements for Home Depot? The idea that this box, at 1.3 cubic feet, is only "small"?

But perhaps what it tells us most of all is that when we take the time to look, even mundane things have a lot to say.

Monday, February 15, 2016

My Many Years Aboard the Welcome

Historical writing is like cooking. Some essays are as easy as a quick stir-fry, moving from inspiration to finished product in a flash. Most require more simmering, time to let flavors mix and new ideas emerge. But occasionally, a writing project ends up on the stove for an inordinate amount of time, way longer than any recipe would call for. Maybe you got distracted by other meals. If you're really lucky, when you get back to it, your project hasn't reduced itself to a scorched pot of goo.

I was reminded of this when I was cleaning out some old files after our recent move. Not because I found any scorched goo. But because, amid papers from high school, I found a portfolio I prepared almost exactly ten years ago, in my senior year. Among the list of my various accomplishments was a photograph of a wooden ship suspended from a crane. This was a reproduction of the 1770s sloop Welcome, built in the 1970s and refurbished for a number of years by the Maritime Heritage Alliance of Traverse City, Michigan, before they relaunched her in 2005.


Under the image was a line about my own involvement with the Welcome:

"I am also currently working on researching and transcribing the logbook of the Welcome. Through analyzing the daily log entries, it will be possible to chart the Welcome's service when employed by the British crown during the Revolutionary War."

Well, eighteen-year-old Tyler, I'm happy to report that you finally did it, albeit a decade later. Improbably, that pot managed to cling to the back-burner for quite some time. It wasn't a project that took ten years of arduous labor. But it did take on-and-off research, a graduate writing seminar, and many rounds of editing. I have other dishes on the menu in the coming years, and it's nice to see this one leave the kitchen.


Sometimes what matters, at the end of the day, is that you get a meal on the table.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Waistcoat with Stockings for Sleeves

I can't remember when I first came across a description of a waistcoat "with stocking sleeves" in an eighteenth-century source, but I know I was immediately intrigued. Men did wear some knit garments in the late eighteenth century, including breeches and coats made from frame-knit material sometimes called "stocking web," but I'd never heard of knit sleeves. As it turns out, people made stocking sleeves not from new knit yardage but from old stockings. A handful of runaway advertisements published in the years around the American Revolution indicate that creative individuals cut the feet off worn-out stockings and sewed them into the armscyes of waistcoats as makeshift (and warm) sleeves.

Don Hagist wrote a brief article in The Brigade Dispatch: Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution (Spring 2005) and included this interesting 1777 expedient from the orderly book of the British 49th Regiment of Foot:

"Sir Henry Calder desires A Return may be given in of the No. of Caps wanting in each Company The Men are not to wear their Hatts or Coats on any Account; they are to put Sleves to their Waistcoats out of Old Stockings, or Such other Stuff they can procure."

No original such garments, civilian or military, survive. I'm aware of only one period image depicting one. Johan Joseph Zoffany's 1772 portrait of London optician John Cuff and an assistant shows two men wearing distinctive waistcoat sleeves. The man on the viewer's right wears stocking sleeves, identifiable by their contrasting color, the darker binding at the wrist (sewn on to prevent the cut knit from unravelling), and the texture you'd expect from a knit sleeve section.

From the Royal Collection Trust, here.

Detail published in Desmond Shawe-Taylor, The Conversation Piece: Scenes of Fashionable Life (London: Royal Collection Publications, 2009), 122.

I'm not the first person to try recreating a waistcoat with stocking sleeves. Jay Howlett at Williamsburg wears one regularly, and here's a blog post about one made by another reenactor. But I was curious how this sort of garment was assembled and what it felt like to wear. In recreating a stocking-sleeved waistcoat, I chose similarly blue stockings and a white flannel body. Flannel was a common material for waistcoats and underwaistcoats, and numerous runaway ads mention sleeves whose color contrasted with the jacket body, probably because such garments resulted from the combination of old waistcoats and worn-out stockings, with color matching less of a concern. The body of my jacket matches the dimensions of one recovered from the 1785 wreck of the General Carleton (you may remember I wrote about sewing a copy of this jacket here).



Image of my waistcoat with stocking sleeves. You'll forgive the anachronistic beard and glasses, I'm sure.

My waistcoat is indeed warm. The stockings I had to use were for a smaller man than I, and so they they fit my arms more snugly and end higher on the forearm than my own stockings might (at least without being taken in and thus tightened for sleeve use). Where my sleeves end, you can see the same sort of tape binding the wrists as in Zoffany's painting. This is the sort of garment that someone used to the loose clothing of 2015 really feels when they're wearing it. It gives you a sense of how the fit of clothing, whether loose or tight, shapes the body, supporting or hindering certain postures and actions.

Optician John Cuff's use of such sleeves was probably more related to a sensitivity to cold that came with age and historical heating methods. But I've run into two hints that stocking sleeves may have been part of the occupational clothing of weavers, at least in the nineteenth century. In fiction stories from 1825 and 1863, respectively, weavers wore blue-stained aprons (a strange detail I can't explain) and stocking sleeves: "wearing his stocking-sleeves on his arms" (The Hull Advertiser, and Exchange Gazette, November 4, 1825), and "a pair of stocking sleeves drawn over his otherwise bare arms" (The Saturday Press, December 5, 1863). Unrelated to weaving or runaways, stocking sleeves also appeared in two notes on play costuming in 1826 and 1835.

Stocking sleeves even made a much later appearance during the lean years of Britain amid the Second World War. "Sometimes, too," wrote a columnist documenting the make-do solutions of wartime women, "they convert the legs of the boys' wool stockings into sleeves for a jersey which has 'gone' at the elbows," (Somerset County Herald & Taunton Courier, February 12, 1944).

But the most numerous and detailed accounts of stocking sleeves come from American and British newspapers. Using databases, I've located ten American  and five British descriptions of stocking-sleeved garments dating between 1765 and 1829. Certainly more eluded my keyword searches and lurk in undigitized newspapers. I've provided full quotations and citations below for those who may be interested in more detail. In short, they suggest that the people who turned worn-out stockings into sleeves attached them to garments known as jackets, waistcoats, vests, coats, and even "a kind of hunting shirt" (for more on hunting shirts, see Neal Hurst's work here) with little regard for matching sleeve and body color.

The American runaway ads also indicate that stocking-sleeved jackets were a regional garment. All of them appear in advertisements for runaways from the Mid-Atlantic, from Westfield, New Jersey, west of New York City, to Culpeper, Virginia. I don't mean to discount confounding factors (such as the problematic nature of digital keyword searches; the higher number of newspapers and corresponding digitization in this region than in those farther south; and perhaps a higher number of runaways than in New England), but these still can't account for why I couldn't find any examples in digitized sources from New England or the South.

Instances of stocking sleeves with dates, plotted with Google Maps. Some locations are approximate, based on county given.

With the documentation and the sewing behind me, I'm just waiting for an appropriately cool living history event to really break in my stocking-sleeved waistcoat. I figure it needs a few miles and some good stains on it before it will look like the sort of "old flannel jacket" mentioned in the advertisements below. Until then, I'm quite ready for whatever winter has in store.


Thanks to Neal Hurst, Michael McCarty, Joseph Privott, and Nicole Belolan for discussions related to this research.


American Primary Descriptions of Stocking Sleeves (Sources: "America's Historical Newspapers" and "Accessible Archives," unless otherwise noted)

A servant butcher from Kent County, Maryland, "with stockings for sleeves to his jacket," (Pennsylvania Gazette, March 28, 1765).

A servant from Uwchland Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, wearing a "blue and white striped jacket, with old blue stockings for sleeves," (Pennsylvania Gazette, January 19, 1769).

A supposed servant from Culpeper, Virginia, wearing a "blue waistcoat with stockings for sleeves," (Virginia Gazette, March 22, 1770).

A slave from Westfield, New Jersey, wearing a "white woolen waistcoat with stocking sleeves," (The New Jersey Journal, May 10, 1770; page 14 here).

Two convict servants from Elk-Ridge, Maryland, wearing "an old flannel ditto [jacket], with black stocking sleeves" and "an old flannel ditto [jacket], with grey stocking sleeves," (Virginia Gazette, September 20, 1770).

A convict servant  from Langford Bay, Maryland, wearing "a brown vest, with stocking sleeves," (Pennsylvania Gazette, April 4, 1771).

A servant from Charles Town, Maryland, wearing "a striped linsey ditto [jacket], with blue stocking sleeves," (Pennsylvania Gazette, December 23, 1772).

A servant from Brandywine Hundred, Delaware, wearing "an old blue cloth jacket, with stocking sleeves, of near the same colour," (Pennsylvania Gazette, August 2, 1775).

A servant from Chester County, Pennsylvania wearing a "light coloured cloth coat, with blue stockings for sleeves in it," (Pennsylvania Gazette, July 7, 1784).

A probable servant from York[town], Pennsylvania, wearing "a kind of hunting shirt with grey yarn stocking sleeves," (Carlisle Gazette, May 29, 1787), from here.


British Primary Descriptions of Stocking Sleeves (Source: "The British Newspaper Archive")

An apprentice currier of Southampton, wearing "a short Waistcoat, with the Leggings of a Pair of Blue Stockings for Sleeves," (The Hampshire Chronicle, March 22, 1773)

A man from Morcot, Rutland, "deranged in his intellects" wearing "a brown Fustian Jacket with Greased Stocking Sleeves," (Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury, June 6, 1800).

A murder victim of Straid, County Antrim, Ireland, wearing "a wylie-coat (flannel-waistcoat), into which witness had sewed the legs of worsted stockings, as sleeves to it, and put check buttons on it," (Belfast Commercial Chronicle, August 25, 1810).

A young runaway from Higham Ferrers wearing a "yellow striped Waistcoat, with cotton stocking Sleeves" (The Northampton Mercury, December 25, 1825

A Littlebury highway robber wearing "a waistcoat, with stocking legs for sleeves," slash "a waistcoat with stocking sleeves stitched into it," (Evening Mail, December 11, 1829).

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Joseph Long's Slops: Ready-Made Clothing in Early America," in Winterthur Portfolio

I'm very happy to note that an article I wrote appears in the current issue of Winterthur Portfolio. Based in part on my master's thesis research, it examines the history of "slops" in early America. These ready-made garments clothed sailors and laborers in port cities. The production and marketing tactics of slops-sellers laid the groundwork for the birth and growth of the ready-made clothing industry in the mid-nineteenth century. You can download a copy of my article here. For some material I had to leave out, including the probate inventories of two Philadelphia slops-sellers and data on clothing production in use in the Philadelphia almshouse, you can read my thesis here.

Among the figures in my article is this image, one of only two known firsthand depictions of early American slop shops. It shows the shop of slops-seller Jacob Abrahams in New York City, circa 1813. Its publication in my article is the first time the shop owner and purpose have been identified




Among the figures in my article is this image, one of only two known firsthand depictions of early American slop shops. It shows the shop of slops-seller Jacob Abrahams in New York City, circa 1813. Its publication in my article is the first time the shop owner and purpose have been identified.

William P. Chappel, The Dog Killer, mid- to late nineteenth century. Oil on slate paper; H. 1⁄8", W. 1⁄4". (Bequest of Edward W. C. Arnold, 1954, Edward W. C. Arnold Collection of New York Prints, Maps, and Pictures, © Metropolitan Museum of Art; source, Art Resource, NY). Online here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Flax to Linen, the 1765 Way, Part V: Scutching/Swingling

In my ongoing experiment in making linen from seed to thread (about which you can read here), I've progressed through growing, harvesting, retting, and breaking. After breaking flax, early Americans moved on to "scutching" or "swingling" the plants to remove broken pieces of the woody cores from the fibrous bark of each stalk. 

John Wily explained that there were two methods for what he called swingling flax: "one is performed by a Wheel, the other with a wooden Knife, which is the common Method." (41)

You can watch a video about scutching wheels here (skip to about 3:00 to see the wheel in operation). Wily believed a wheel only made sense for larger producers, and for the rest of us he offered a very simple description of making a scutching board, the base upon which you rest the flax when striking it with a scutching knife:

     Get a Piece of Plank about 5 or 6 Inches wide, 1 Inch thick, and 3 Feet long; plane one Side of it a  
     little overlong, tenant one End of it in a Block about 14 Inches long and 10 wide, so that the said
     Plan may stand upright; then within 3 Inches of the Top saw it within one Inch of being through,
     then split off the sawed Part for the Flax to lodge on, and leave the other Part as a Guard to keep
     you from striking your Hand with the Knife. (42)

It takes a while to make sense of these directions, especially because most swinging boards I've seen have a piece cut out from the middle of the top of the board, as in Diderot's plate (Figs. 12-14; the objects around the lower right corner).

Diderot's flax tools, from "Sifting the Past".

But eventually I figured out that Wily meant to leave a higher portion one one side of the board. I later learned by experience that this portion should be on the side of your dominant hand. That's how it protects your other hand, holding a bunch of flax, from accidental strikes.

My scutching board with its extending protective piece on the upper left.

The scutching knife, Wily wrote, should be "almost in the Shape of a Dagger, the Blade to be about 16 or 17 Inches long, 2 and a Half broad, and 3 Quarters of an Inch thick at the Back" (42), but I varied a bit from his instructions. There are indeed scutching knives that look exactly like daggers. But I made one that resembled something more like a cricket bat or a fraternity paddle, based on Diderot's example in the plate above.


Rather than tenoning my board into a block, I simply seated it in the the ground and got to work. The idea behind scutching is simple: you're using the knife to strike and scrape what you don't want (chaff from the plant cores) from what you do (flax fibers). As artist Linton Park's 1885 painting illustrates, this was often a community event.


I was skeptical that such a simple process (scraping it with a piece of wood?) would have much effect on the flax, but it was in fact remarkably effective. Almost immediately, the roots and upper portions flew off the fibers.

Flax fibers (top) and chaff removed from stalks (bottom).

Although there are videos of more capable scutchers out there, here's my attempt.

video

I was, however, rather frustrated with how much fiber I was inadvertently scraping off along with the chaff, so after I had scutched all of the flax, I went back over what was left for another go. My final result was thus one bunch of quality flax and another with more tangled and chaffy fibers, the sort of coarse, short-fiber flax known, after further processing, as "tow."


Fine flax fibers (left) and tow flax (right).

With these fibers in hand, the next step in processing flax into linen is "heckling." That involves a rather sinister-looking tool, the heckle, that I'll discuss in my next post.