Wednesday, 10 August 2016

27 November 1880 - 'Seasonable Clothing, and How to Make It'

Our bonnets and hats are usually a question of very deep consideration to all of us, and it is most natural they should be so; when we consider for a moment how really important they are as being the frames and shelters to our faces, and adding to or detracting from the pleasantness of our looks. A cheap bonnet or hat is hardly to be had unless we are fortunate enough to make them ourselves, when, I am sure, we have all been surprised at the great show which can be made at very little cost. This has been my own case this very season, when I have made two lovely creations (as the French milliners would call them), starting with one elderly bonnet, which, purchased in May, had lasted through the season. It was a very pretty and good black-jetted one, trimmed handsomely with jet, but it had quite done its duty and seen its best days. However, there was a new bonnet to be made from it, I was sure, and some little assistance toward another, perhaps, and my expenditure over both must be limited if other parts of the wardrobe were to be supplied as well.

Now my rule is to make such purchases invariably at a large shop - never where there is only a limited stock - as I am then sure of cheaper and better materials, and much newer and fresher things. On this occasion I followed my usual rule, and here is my bill in extenso -

1 black straw bonnet - 1s 1/2d
1 shape bonnet - 6 3/4d
1/2 yard black velvet, at 2s 11 1/2d per yard - 1s 5 3/4d
4 yard black ribbon, at 1s 1/2d a yard - 4s 1d
1 flower and leaves - 2s 6d
11s 1 1/2d

The black straw bonnet was one of coarse straw in the princess shape, small and closely fitting. A rummage in my bag of odds and ends soon found me enough black silk to line it with, and then it was bound all round back and front with a gathered bias of black velvet, which was slightly full, and was about half an inch on the edge of the bonnet. Above this all round were sewn on my strings of beads, which were as big as peas, and were kept on the thread on which they were strung, which was caught down at intervals with a stitch or two. On the front of the bonnet I placed one of the long knots or bows now so much worn cut from my half-yard of velvet, which I forgot to say was bought on the bias. This bow was about three inches wide, and was "slip stitched" round to prevent the stitches showing on the right side. A narrow band of velvet crossed the back above the beads. Then the strings were sewn on, and my little bonnet had reached completion.

I then turned to my old bonnet, which I carefully unpicked and brushed with a bonnet brush, before reconstructing it. After this I covered the coronet front of the new shape with some new black velvet, and bound the back with the same, first transferring the silk lining, which was quite clean and nice. Then the crown was covered with the embroidered bugle covering of the other bonnet, and the velvet coronet was quite covered with the deep-jetted fringe, which was sufficient to go all round to the back also. Lastly, my pretty old gold flowers were put deftly on the top of the front, the strings sewn on, and my second bonnet was done, the expense of both bonnets being 11s 1 1/2d - 5s 6 3/4d each. One, of course, was entirely new, but did not cost any more than the other with the flower and new strings. Now this little account has been given with a view of showing what can be done, either for ourselves or for others, if we choose to take the trouble of thinking about the matter.

I have always been thankful for my knowledge of millinery and dressmaking, which I derived from my nurse, who had been apprenticed to a milliner and dressmaker. Under her instructions I dressed and redressed my dolls, who went to endless entertainments, and altered and re-arranged their clothes with a boundless extravagance, which would have brought their male relations to the verge of bankruptcy if they had been anything but dolls. I do not remember either to have had any new things for my dolls in those happy busy days; nothing but a big band-box full of scraps of every kind, to which everyone seemed to contribute bits of lace, ribbon, and silk, besides anything and everything which could be turned to account for a doll or a doll's house. For my dolls lived in a big cupboard for a house, every room of which had been furnished by nurse and myself with wonderful home-made contrivances, much of which knowledge I have made use of in after life. But I fear very few girls have nurses like mine, and they must acquire their knowledge later in life, even if they are lucky enough to acquire it at all.

But to return to our "Seasonable Clothing." Now that we have disposed of our bonnets  for the moment, I am very anxious to help those amongst our girls who have just begun to have allowances, and do not yet know how to use them to the best advantage. There is no doubt that without a fixed plan we shall waste our money, and we must begin by making a fixed rule that we will try to buy everything we want at once, and not be always buying, or else we shall never get anything really good. There are a few rules which I think may be useful, and the first thing is to have as few dresses as possible, and nothing but what is good. One winter and one summer dress are quite sufficient to add to your stock yearly. Two bonnets and two hats are also enough; two pairs of shoes, and two pairs of boots. Four pairs of gloves will be found sufficient, if you buy only the very best, as 3s 9d, or 4s, and having worn a pair three months for best, take them for second best, and get a new pair to replace them as best. You should always manage to have two pairs of boots in wear at once, and two pairs of shoes, and never wear your best boots in wet weather. Stockings are another thing it is foolish to be saving in, as nothing really good in woollen can be obtained under 3s 6d or 4s. Three pairs are enough, and if of the best will wear for three winters. As occasion offers, take out the worst from your stock and replace them with new ones.  For the summer you will require six pairs at least; and if you darn and wear them carefully they will last three summers also, observing the same rule of replacing them.

All underclothing is kept in good order by the same rule, and every girl should always have some articles in hand, and endeavour to keep her stock of chemises and drawers up to six, while three or four night-dresses are quite enough. Flannels, too, are treated by the same rule, adding one at intervals (generally every autumn) to the stock, and using the thin petticoats in the summer. Summer petticoats are a very small item in the expenses, as they can be purchased by the yard as low as 10d and ready made for 3s, and they do not last beyond the season. Winter ones are rather more; I think that black moreen, or that satin-faced woollen material used to line gentleman's coats, are the best to use, but they may frequently be made from old black dresses. Black silk dresses are most economical wear, and, as a rule, one every four years is quite enough to keep anyone in best dresses. A few yards of new brocade, satin, or velvet will make a half-worn dress look like a new one. French merino and cashmere are also materials that will wash and wear to the last thread.

For those who require them I give two flannel (figs.1 and 2) dressing-gowns, which will be most useful to invalids. About eight yards will be required for each, and the trimmings may be of old black silk or cashmere for either, with a little cheap lace or work to enliven them, which can be taken off and washed.

Fig.3 is a flannel dressing-jacket, trimmed with flannel embroidery bands, or with torchon lace, and rows of herring-bone embroidery done with coarse purse silk.

The large illustration gives an idea of the winter fashions. A small coat-like jacket is in much favour, which reminds one of what is known, I believe, as a gentleman's "Newmarket" coat. The cheapness of Ulsters is quite astonishing in London this winter; I have seen them well made and of wonderfully good material for 12s 6d, and very excellent ones of a better class at 19s 6d.

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