Thursday, 28 August 2014

What is a 'Mother Hubbard' Dress?

I have been reading 'Daughter of Earth' by Agnes Smedley over the last couple of days. It is a beautifully written book, but not an easy read. The dire poverty of the turn of the 20th century in Missouri, US, is quite shocking.  As ever when I read a book, I am always looking for those references to dress. At one point in Part One, it talks of

'' My grandmother...went barefoot, smoked a corn-cob pipe and wore loose flowing Mother Hubbards.''

And the term 'loose flowing calico dress (or wrapper)' is used three times in chapter one alone to describe what the author's mother wore, which may or may not be a similar article of dress.

I have heard the term 'Mother Hubbard' before, but only in regards to this very old nursery rhyme : -

''Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To give the poor dog a bone...''

{Apparently the nursery rhyme was first printed in 1805, but the character's origins may be hundreds of years earlier.}

In the late nineteenth century a woman thief and criminal (Margaret Brown) was known as 'Old Mother Hubbard'. She was born in Ireland but ended up in the US. It would make sense to me if this woman wore large, loose flowing gowns to hide all her stolen goods in, and that is how the term came to be linked with this sort of loose gown, but who knows??

According to Wikipedia, a Mother Hubbard dress is
''...a long, wide, loose-fitting gown with long sleeves and a high neck. Intended to cover as much skin as possible, it was introduced by missionaries in [[Polynesia]] to "civilise" those whom they considered half-naked savages of the South Seas islands.'' 

The article has this fascinating image alongside it: -

Tahitian girls in their unadorned 'grandmother's dresses' between 1880-1889.

Deb at The Mantua Maker has a pattern for a Mother Hubbard wrapper: -

Over at Past Patterns, there is a pattern for a nightgown from the 1890s which states '': -
''This might be called a Mother Hubbard nightgown.''
This makes me think that the style of nightgown is very similar to the Mother Hubbard Dresses- which indeed do look like nightgowns to me.

During my search, I stumbled across another pattern which is titled 'Prairie Dress or Victorian Nightgown Pattern'. (I don't know the pattern company, or anymore information about it.)

Whilst having a look at some Amazon items, I came across a wonderful print from Period Paper, which illustrates a pattern for a 'Ladies improved Mother Hubbard Wrapper' from the 1890s : -

And there is this book, which can be read for free at Google Books:-

'Calico Chronicle' - Betty J. Mills 1985

This looks very interesting. One of my particular areas of interest is rural and provincial clothing, so it has immediately gone onto my wishlist. (I'm not a fan of reading much on a pc, or this kindle business. My eyes just can't bear to look at a screen for very long). There is a lovely section about ''At Home Wear-The Wrapper', which talks about the Mother Hubbard wrapper, although the author cannot say where the term 'Mother Hubbard' originated. There are many photographs of Frontier Dress in this book- wonderful.

Oh, this the real deal :-
''Searching for Mother Hubbard: Function and Fashion in Nineteenth Century Dress''

Sally Helvenston Gray has written the above paper, which can be purchase for $4 here at Chicago Journals:-
Sadly I can't read it as I do not belong any university, but if you are, and you're interested, the little that I can read online looks superb!

Naomi x

Saturday, 9 August 2014

1860s Wool Paletot

I am continuing to work through my 1860s mini-wardrobe for a customer, and have just completed her wool paletot.

The pattern she asked me to use is KayFig's 1860-67 Lady's Paletot Pattern:-

KayFig's Paletot Pattern 1860-67

This pattern comes in S, M, L and XL, so there is a fair amount of work to do to the pattern and toile before it will fit anywhere near well. Having said that, I really liked the style of the paletot, the pattern was very, very good, and was well constructed. It looks much better in a heavier wool fabric- I don't think the images that come with the pattern do it many favours, which is a shame.

My customer chose a gorgeous dusty pink medium weight wool, and a pretty pink lining. The buttons are made from the same wool, and the button holes are hand stitched. Originally she wanted a dark brown trim, but decided against it once I had sent her photographs of the finished coat.

Apologies for the quality of these images. In the summer I don't have much light in my workroom; it is blocked out by lots of lovely trees and our hedge, full of yummy green growth.

I must also apologise that it looks rather poor on my model. I don't even have a hoop which would have assisted in giving that lovely round, 1860s shape.

So here is a fashion plate of the time, to remind us of how it will look when actually on a person:-

Godey's Lady's Book 1866
I am beginning to love the shaping of the 1860s! :)

Naomi x

Monday, 4 August 2014

World War I - Remembrances of My Family

I am aware of only one person's story of WWI in my family, and that was my maternal Great Granddad.

My mum adored her Granddad. She was devastated when he died in her late teens after complications for a heart surgery which he desperately needed. During the last year or two, since it has just been mum and I, I have learnt much not only about the beloved Granddad, but also the wonderful man he so obviously was.

He worked throughout his life as a policeman, at The Port of London Authority. Fortunately we have a bag full of documents about him- his work, medals for service and letters from colleagues on his retirement, professing the pleasure it had been for them to know and work alongside him.

This man was John Henry Douglas. He was born in 1891 in Whitechapel, London, and passed away in 1962 in Winchmore Hill. He was one of seven siblings; 4 boys and 3 girls. One of his brothers, Alfred William Douglas died in The Great War; of his wounds at 21 years of age in 1916 on the Somme. We have a photograph of his resting place:-

''In loving memory of 2nd Lt. A.W. Douglas
14th Royal Warwick Regiment
who died Sept.3rd 1916 of his wounds.
Aged 21 years.''

This cross is somewhere in France.  No doubt now it has been replaced with a proper headstone, as they all were over the years.

Thankfully my mum's Granddad survived WWI, as did his other 2 brothers. But he did not come out unscathed. My mum tells me that she remembers sitting on his lap, and looking at his face. On both of his cheeks there were scars, and she used to put her little finger up to him and touch those strange looking places on his face. She asked him why he had those marks there, and he replied that a bullet had entered through one side of his face, and had gone straight out the other. She doesn't remember anything else of that conversation, but as I sit thinking about it now, surely his teeth must have been damaged? It doesn't bear thinking about. John Douglas went on to have a good life- he married a woman he adored, had 3 of the most gentlemanly men you could ever wish to meet (one was my Granddad whom I adored, just as my mum did hers), and in his retirement was able to live with one of his son's, wife and daughter (my mum), when his dear wife died from cancer.

My Great Granddad with his wife and 3 sons- my Granddad is bottom right. 

What I always seem to end up thinking about, when I remember of  all those who lost their lives in any war, is how did those left behind carry on? A mother loses all four of her boys, all of her children gone. Or the soldier who continues to put one foot in front of the other, after seeing and experiencing so much horror, and losing many friends and relatives. I simply don't know. I also often wonder how people of my generation would cope with just a tiny part of what people coped with during a conflict; at home or in battle. I fear that we would not have the courage or tenacity to get through. I hope that I'm wrong. I also hope that I never have the opportunity to find out.

Naomi x