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Archive for the 'Craft History' Category


Happy Birthday, Rodin!

Monday, November 12th, 2012
By Twistie

Today marks the one hundred seventy-second birthday of Auguste Rodin, the great sculptor. In his honor, I thought it might be fun to see some of the unusual and crafty ways his most famous sculpture, The Thinker, has been interpreted over the years.

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Something Else That’s Fifty Today

Thursday, September 13th, 2012
By Twistie

(Illustration via Cathy of California)

1962 was a pretty good year for crafts. This gorgeous, vibrant wall hanging was woven by Jerome and Evelyn Ackerman, and yours truly came into the world.

Just thought you might find that interesting.

Oh, and if you feel like doing something festive about it all, may I recommend this cake?

Developed by amazing pastry chef Elizabeth Faulkner, it’s full of my favorite things: chocolate, hazelnuts, and oranges. Yum.

Add a touch of lace, and Twistie’s your uncle!… er… auntie.


Never Honk Off the Crafty

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012
By Twistie

There have been many cases of political and social unrest connected with live theater. In 1937, Mark Blitzstein’s allegorical musical, The Cradle Will Rock, was actually shut down by the WPA for fear of legal retaliation. So the author, the director (Orson Welles), and producer (John Houseman) rented a theater down the street and set up  a performance with Blitzstein and his piano. Various cast members risked retribution by Actor’s Equity to perform their roles.

But that’s  a story for another day.

Once upon a time, theater caused not just protests, but actual riots. One of these occurred in August of 1805 in the little theatre in the Haymarket.

You see, that was the month and the year that a benefit revival of a 1767 satire by that prolific author Anonymous entitled The Tailors: A Tragedy for Warm Weather was to be performed. Unfortunately, actual tailors plying their trade at the time did not see anything very funny in this little burlesque.

Threatening letters were sent to those connected with the production. The actual tailors vowed to arrive en masse and hiss the play. One of the letters was even signed DEATH. The company, however, did not take this seriously. Plans for the play continued as scheduled.

When opening night arrived, it turned out they might have done well to pay attention. Nearly every seat in the house was filled with an angry tailor. They booed, they hissed, they hurled sewing shears at the stage. Outside, still more tailors were trying to get in and cause yet more confusion and consternation.

A magistrate and the local constable were called out, but they were inadequately equipped to deal with the situation. Eventually, a troop of the Life Guard was called in and some sixteen arrests were made.

Let that be a lesson to us all: never, ever honk off crafty people. We may be gentle, peace-loving souls most of the time… but we can be roused, and when we are, we are formidable.

Also, we are armed with many sharp, pointy objects.


Victoria Had a Secret in the Fifteenth Century

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
By Twistie

It may be badly deteriorated, but this scrap of linen may be one of the most important discoveries in the history of human dress for many a decade. Why? Because it proves that women’s underclothes existed in the fifteenth century.

For hundreds of years, most costume historians have believed that until well into the sixteenth century, women’s undergarments consisted pretty much entirely of the smock, a sort of undergown.

How did this amazing discovery come to light? Well, some renovations were recently done to Lengberg Castle in East Tyrol. During the work, more than three thousand fragments of clothes and other items of day to day usage were uncovered. The pieces were believed to have been buried when the building was expanded in about 1480.

The piece pictured above is described as a bra, but there is a strip down the lefthand side of it that clearly shows holes for a lacing to go through, indicating to me that it’s more along the lines of an early corset. There is apparently another garment similar to this one and two ‘shirts with bags’ that appear to have been meant to serve a similar function of breast support.

Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that two pairs of what seem to be women’s underpants were also found.

My guess? From the number of layers of cloth in the front, and the fact that there don’t seem to be so many layers in the back, is that this is actually medieval Kotex. Some experts in the subject believe that women didn’t do anything to contain menstrual flow back in the day, but there have been some vague references here and there to ‘clouts’ for women which seem to have been worn at certain times and not others. Hmmm… this looks like some strong potential evidence to me.

I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to see what new facts can be gleaned from these exciting finds!

If nothing else, SCA costuming will never be the same.


Bead Week: Pearls of Not So Great Price

Thursday, June 7th, 2012
By Twistie

Welcome to day four of Bead Week on Crafty Manolo! Enjoy your stay.

Pearls have always been greatly prized jewels. Whether set as cabochons or drilled to make beads that can then be strung together or sewn on clothing, there is no natural jewel considered so elegant, so subtle, or so timeless.

Because of that beauty, elegance, luster, and association with Very Rich People, the pearl was also one of the first jewels that people tried very hard to reproduce out of lesser materials.

In ancient Rome, the method tried was to take glass beads coated in silver and then coat them in another layer of glass.  Not a bad idea, actually. By 1300, ‘pearls’ were being produced using a combination  of white powdered glass mixed with egg whites and snail slime. I shudder to contemplate how that last ingredient was gathered in sufficient quantities!

The real breakthrough came in the 17th century when one Jaquin of Paris came up with a process using hollow blown glass balls coated in varnish mixed with fish scales. The balls were then filled in with wax to make them sturdier. Jaquin got a patent on the process, and people of both sexes began wearing a lot more pearls. Those who could not afford the real thing, used the Jaquin jewels. Those who could afford the real thing did so… but also sometimes used the Jaquin ones for everyday clothes with a massive profusion of pearls. Many rich folk used the fake pearls and paste jewels for daytime wear and saved up the real diamonds and pearls for evenings and special occasions.  Some imitation pearls are still made using Jaquin’s method of varnish and fish scales.

I love it when an old method stands the test of time so very well.


Dinnerware or Diet Aid?

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
By Twistie

When I was a wee sprout of nine summers, I visited the White House. Yes, I took the tour with my family, and was duly impressed. We did not see the president, who, at that time, was Richard Nixon, for those keeping track.

I saw a lot of interesting and important things that summer afternoon, but the one that really stuck with me was the exhibit of Presidential China. In particular, the ambitious and wildly hideous dinnerware designed especially for Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy, who then didn’t even allow guests alcoholic spirits to help them deal with scenes like this on the dinner table:

Note that the fish on that platter is captured in a net and bleeding profusely.

That wasn’t even the worst piece. There was also a caribou in a snowstorm being taken down by a pack of wolves that still haunts my nightmares. Nixon to Obama, and I’m still shuddering.

I honestly thought I would never find another plate so utterly unappetizing again… until I saw this:

I know it’s not easy to see in this size, but there is a detail shot on the site. I just didn’t think you all needed quite that graphic a vision of a snake devouring a baby bird while a second baby bird begs for dinner.

Etsy artist hdmann has named his series “Dinnertime” but is unsure whether the pieces are food safe.

I cannot speak to food safety, but these are definitely not appetite safe.


Toothbrushes, Rugs, and Naalbinding

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012
By Twistie

This fabulous lady is Maymee Campbell, as photographed by one Schmalstig. What, you may ask, is she doing with that big, honking knife? Why, she’s whittling an old toothbrush, as you do.

And for what purpose is she whittling that toothbrush? To make a rug with naalbinding techniques, of course!

Okay, it’s not something done much now. It’s something you may never have heard of. I know I didn’t until I started learning a bit more about naalbinding as a technique this year. But it’s something that has been done for generations, apparently.

Maymee Campbell learned the technique when she wanted some old-fashioned looking rugs. How did she learn? From a friend of her daughter’s! I love that. When people see you doing something crafty in public, or see your craft work, they usually assume you learned it from an older relative… but some people get the skinny on old-fashioned crafts from younger friends of the family or the internet, too.

Anyway, if you want to read Maymee’s story and get learn how to make her ‘toothbrush rugs’, head on over here to this 1981 article from the Springfield-Green County Library.

And if you happen to have an old toothbrush (or very large naalbinding needle) and some cloth in attractive colors that go with the room you want it for… well, you can make yourself a dandy rug!


The Past Was Colorful, Really

Friday, April 13th, 2012
By Twistie

I always find it kind of amusing that films set in the far, far past tend to show people dressed mostly in shades of brown and ecru with little touches of muddy green or dull ochre here and there. Oh, and the more poor people, the less color in general.

But the fact is that some surprising colors – and surprisingly bright shades of them! – can be produced via natural dyestuffs that would have been found growing by the side of the road.

For instance, I once chatted with a woman who dyed her own thread and wove her own fabric. She only used natural dyestuffs. I admired a scarf that included a rather delicious salmon pink stripe. What created that color? Mushrooms!

I still don’t know what kind of mushrooms they were. I didn’t think to ask and I’ve never met up with her again. All the same, there’s a variety of mushroom in the world that produces a clear, bright salmon pink when dying wool. Somehow, that makes me happy.

Depending on circumstances, using Queen Anne’s Lace as a dye might leave you with purple, green, or yellow. Oh, and dandelion roots can produce red dye.

Curious to know more? I found this handy chart of natural dyestuffs and what colors they produce over at Pioneer Thinking. You’ll also find some good basic information to get you started dyeing for yourself. Oh, and there are pages of tips from readers.


This One Wigs Me Out

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012
By Twistie

Rooney Mara wore one in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Lucy Lawless was fitted for one for Spartacus, but didn’t wear it in the end.

Heidi Klum wore a huge, terrifying one in Blow Dry.

Kate Winslet refused to wear one in The Reader.

Fifteenth century prostitutes wore them.

What potentially not safe for work fashion item am I talking about?

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Share and Enjoy!

Monday, April 2nd, 2012
By Twistie

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time, you know I have a passion for the history as well as the techniques of crafting. I own several antique books on various needlework techniques, reprints of a great many more, and some fascinating pamphlets, as well. One of the bobbin lace patterns I used for my wedding gown was taken from the oldest known printed collection of bobbin lace patterns, dating back to 1559. It was a pretty – and surprisingly complex! – edging, which I really enjoyed making.

So when I find a good cache of patterns, books of instruction, and historically significant pamphlets available online, I just have to share the wealth with my fellow enthusiasts.

The Antique Pattern Library is a fabulous resource for the modern practitioner of antique needlework techniques. It’s a completely free collection of antique and vintage books and pamphlets for techniques ranging from knitting and crochet to quilting, bobbin lace, tatting, needle lace, beading, embroidery… almost anything you can imagine. Each book or pamphlet is in PDF format for easy downloading and use. There are literally hundreds of resources on this site and every single one is free.

Some of the names listed as authors are familiar to those of us who love antique needlework: Therese de Dillmont, Isabella Beeton, Butterick, Coats and Clark, and the Red Cross. Others are less well known, but have equally interesting and inspiring patterns to play with.

Oh, and if you have an out-of-copyright book or pamphlet in your needlework collection, consider offering it up so that another needleworker out there can have a chance to do the patterns. You’ll find all the information you need to do so right here.












Disclaimer: Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Manolo Blahnik
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