Monday, November 11, 2019

. . . And Letters from the Western Front

Today is known as Armistice Day in the UK. In the US, it's known as Veterans Day. The holiday is on November 11 for a specific reason, which I assume a lot of the readers of this blog will know: the First World War (the Great War, as it was known then) ended with an armistice that was signed at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Of course, the peace didn't last, and it was not, alas, the war to end all wars.

The Great War is not as well-known and is less-studied here in the US than it is in Europe. It is still very much in the consciousness of the people of the UK, something I noticed while living there. Because of my research for my novel-writing, I've been getting more and more interested in the history of the Great War.

Today, on Armistice Day, I decided to work some more on transcribing the war letters of Peter Llewelyn Davies. If you've been following along at all, you know that Peter was the namesake of (and one of the inspirations for) Peter Pan. The Great War was a major disruption in his life. He was 17 when war broke out in summer 1914. He was about to start at Cambridge, but instead he enlisted alongside his older brother, George. (Their other brother Jack, who was, chronologically, between them, was a career Navy man and was already in service; their two younger brothers weren't old enough to serve, though Michael very nearly was, because he turned 18 in 1918 and the war ended the day before he was due to enlist.)

Peter spent what he considered to be too long in England, training and waiting. Even after George was killed in March 1915, he was eager to join the fight. When he got his wish at the very beginning of 1916, he found he didn't really like war after all. He quickly became sick of it (he said that while everyone hated the war to varying degrees, he and his like-minded friend had "reached the superlative" in their hatred of it). He wrote a bevy of really fabulous letters home to JMB, talking a lot about the conditions of the trenches. I'm still working through them, but you can see the grimness of the situation, and of his own mindset, coming through.

Peter was sent home with impetigo and shell shock (but mostly shell shock, I think) once during the war, then went back into the trenches, where he acquitted himself with distinction. For a stretch of several days, as his unit was retreating under heavy pressure, Peter was the commanding officer because all the more senior officers had been killed.He got the Military Cross for his service.

Like a lot of men, the stress of war seems to have gotten to Peter. He doesn't seem to have gone back to university. He was living with a married woman for a time, working in an antiques shop in Soho. Then JMB helped, with money and connections, to set up a publishing company for him ("Peter Davies Ltd.). Many decades later, in 1960, Peter committed suicide. Though there were a number of contributing factors (his health was bad, his wife was suffering from Huntington's disease, his finances were disordered), I think the trauma of the war stuck with him all his life.

Below is one of the letters I transcribed today. Peter makes an amusing [to me] reference to British versus American spelling and gives a vivid account of an aerial dogfight.




July 20th [1916; added later, by Peter, presumably]

Dear Uncle Jim,

The last few days have been marked by the total absence of dug-outs, washing, and p√Ęte de foie gras. That is to say, we have been roughing it considerably of late. One cuts bully-beef, one doesn't shave, the dirt remains untroubled on cheek and hands as well as the rest of the body, and one has to do without those delightful 20 foot deep refuges, which I as signalling officer have usually managed to frequent. I don't in the least enjoy lying in a little slit in the ground with or without a waterproof sheet over it while 5.9-inch high explosive shells are frightful all round. Nor do I much enjoy getting my wires broken at frequent intervals all day and night. In fact, [illegible] rather at sixes and sevens.

Which is also the title of one of the books by O. Henry which reached me two days ago. These are very good and just right for occasions such as the present. He is the leading American humourist, or rather humorist, of the day, I suppose.

The other day I heard that the 19th battalion was on our left, and walked over to them to find Pemberton, scarcely recognizable through mud and beard. He, I think, dislikes warfare as much as I do.

(Later) I have just witnessed an exciting but gloomy spectacle. [A] large fleet of about a dozen enemy aeroplanes suddenly appeared in the distance. Only one of ours was anywhere near, and this immediately attacked the leading German, either from sheer audacity, or because he couldn't see the others. There was a rattle of machine-guns, and the two wheeled and darted about with extra-ordinary rapidity. But after a few moments the rest of the Germans came up and several opened fire on ours, which very soon staggered and gave a lurch sideways, then came slowly and unsteadily downwards, finally dropping the last twenty feet like a stone. He fell in our lines, but I'm afraid there was no doubt about the result. It was exactly like a battle between birds.

loving

Peter

Sunday, October 6, 2019

. . . And the Llewelyn Davies Family Papers

If you've been following along, you will know that the five Llewelyn Davies brothers (George, Jack, Peter, Michael, and Nico) were the inspiration for Peter Pan and that I recently completed a novel about them. And that I've been, oh, let's say "mildly obsessed" with them for a while, especially since taking on the project of writing a novel about them.

In any case, a few months back, I discovered that an extensive cache of Llewelyn Davies family papers are held at Yale University's Beinecke Library. They are, more or less, the extent of the extant material on the family, including extended family. It was, it seems, deposited there by Andrew Birkin, writer of my main source for my novel: J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. Why the material went to Yale, I don't know, but it's lucky for me, since New Haven, Connecticut is a five-and-a-half-hour train ride away from me instead of an ocean away.

Now, to be clear, a whole lot of this material is in Birkin's book. So I wasn't expecting massive amounts of new material or any bombshells (except the artillery shells described in Peter and George's letters home from the trenches of WW1--see what I did there? bit of a joke). Spoiler alert: I didn't find anything earth-shattering. After all, I'd already finished writing the novel, so a bombshell would've been . . . problematic. But that wasn't really the point. The point was to see some of these things with my own eyes, hold them in my hands.

So I made my plans and headed up to New Haven on Sunday, ready to get my research started as soon as the library opened the next morning. I walked over to the Beinecke Library on Monday morning. I got there at opening (10 a.m.) and got myself all set up--I left most my belongings in a locker and went down to the reading room. The staff at the library, I must say, were really wonderful. They were much friendlier and more helpful than the staff at most other research institutions I've been to. Too often, the people working at these places are impatient and.or condescending when I don't automatically know their particular request system and protocols. But the staff at the Beinecke Rare Manuscript Library were helpful and thoughtful and a joy to work with.

In any case, the first box I got was actually box 10, which was an oversize box with only two items, certificates for Peter's marriage and for the birth of his son George (named for his brother George, of course). The second box was box 1, full of letters. There are some very moving letters from Arthur, the boys' father, to Michael and Peter at the time he was very ill with cancer. You can feel the protective love oozing from the letters--he's metaphorically smiling while knowing that his condition is very serious. On the back of one letter is MICHAEL in large, block letters. Most likely it was Michael himself who wrote the name on there, though it might have been Arthur (it does look more like a child's hand, but you never know). There was also a letter listed in the collection guide as from Nico to "George" in 1915. It's pretty clear that this is to his brother George (our George), not least of all because there's a drawing on the last page of a man labeled "Belgian". Well, at that point, George was in the fields of Flanders. I can't imagine 11-year-old Nico was writing some other George in Belgium.

Anyway.

Box 2 contained lots more letters. I was interested in particular in the letters between George and J.M. Barrie while George was in the trenches in 1915 (again, if you're keeping track, George and the other boys were Barrie's wards by this time because their parents had both passed away). I was interested because I've read the last letter Barrie sent George and that George sent Barrie (thanks to Birkin's book), and they're remarkable letters (if I recall, Birkin quotes bits of other letters the two sent each other, as well). It wasn't so much that I wanted to read those letters (since I had already done so), as that I wanted to see them in person, get to touch a bit of history. I also wanted to see if there was more to see--any letters that weren't in Birkin's book. As it turns out, there are three (if I recall correctly) letters from George to Barrie, and two coming the other direction. As I said, they're moving; George is clearly trying very hard to be upbeat, and he's talking about things in a general sense, and if he talks about the danger of being in the trenches, it's always to downplay it. At one point, he mentions that a man standing within a yard of him stuck his head slightly up over the top of the trench and had it blown off. Then (tellingly) he says that he really shouldn't have told Barrie that. Barrie's last letter is a real cri de coeur, full of his worry for George. He says he wishes George were a girl of 21 instead of a boy of 21, so that maybe they could talk about things more openly. He also says he has lost all notion he ever had of war being glorious. George's last letter back is, again, reassuring. He tells Barrie that if he's to stop a bullet, there's no reason it should be in a vital place. He tells Barrie to keep his spirits up. A few days later, he was shot by a sniper and instantly killed.

Peter's letters are no less harrowing, and maybe more so, though in a different way. Peter did survive the war. At the beginning, Peter expresses his desire to get into the action. Nearer the end, he says something about remembering a time when he was eager for the fight, and that he's been cured of all such desire now. He writes some really fabulous descriptions of artillery shellings and seems to have seen a kind of dark beauty in some things, although only at a surface level--and at the same time, it was clearly eating him alive. I was starting to run out of time after reading about half of Peter's letters (there are thirty or so), so I started taking pictures of them. I'll go back and read them as soon as I get a chance.

I should note that Peter's handwriting is the most legible of them all, and George's is, for the most part, legible. Michael's can get very sloppy, and JMB's is almost entirely illegible. Staring at some of his letters, I literally could make out one or two of every ten words. I have no idea how the people he wrote to had any idea of what he'd written.

This box also contained letter to and from the boys' nanny, Mary Hodgson. Again, time was not on my side, so I skipped all those letters, though I'm sure there was good stuff there, too. There were two letters from Daphne du Maurier (the boys' first cousin), which were, blessedly, typewritten. They were written in 1960 right after Peter's death. There is also a letter from Lord Tennyson's son, Aubrey, who was able to find out details on George's death and burial site. He relayed the information to Peter. There's also a polite little note from JMB to Lady Northbourne, mother of Nico's wife, saying how much he (JMB) enjoyed meeting Mary.

Box 3 was a bit lighter as far as what I wanted to see. There were a number of letters between extended family, but there was also a letter from the War Office informing JMB where George had been buried (which I believe he already knew from Aubrey Tennyson).

There followed a slight snafu, in that box 5 was ready but box 4 was not. I gave a shrug and took box 5, knowing that, given the time, I was going to have to stop with that box. (The library closes at 7:00, but I was hungry and tired and had been there since 10:00, so I cut myself off with this box, which ended up meaning I left a little after 6:00.)

Luckily, I was in for a treat to end my day. This box was photographs, which are always fun. Now, a lot of these photos are out there, online and/or in various books. I was, in fact, familiar with most of them in one form or another. There were a few group pictures--George and Jack and Peter at Black Lake as young boys (a wonderful picture of them in the clothes their mother sewed for them and in adorable little hats, wielding toy swords and axes), and Michael and Nico as teens. Pictures of Arthur and Sylvia, the boys' parents. And a folder of pictures of George. Here, I hit pay-dirt, so to speak. There were a bunch of pictures here that were FABULOUS and that I hadn't seen before. There was an AMAZING full-length picture of George in all white and a white cap, looking like Jay-effing-Gatsby (even though this was a full decade before Gatsby is set). It must have been 1913 or maybe early 1914, because he's a young man, and I suspect it is, in fact, a costume for a play, since he was in the Amateur Dramatic Club at Cambridge, and there are a few other pictures of him clearly in costume for a play. And he also seems to have mostly worn black suits, like most men at the time. A full-white get-up doesn't quite seem like him.

In fact, my favorite picture of the bunch was definitely a picture from a play: he's wearing a striped jacket with a high collar, knickers, shoes with big buckles, and an amazing hat, and it's clearly a costume from what I take to be the 1790's. I'm not all that precise on men's fashion, but it seems like a foppish look from about that time. It's just so delightful and charming, and I'd never seen it before.

I would LOVE to freely share these pictures. I did take pictures with my phone. But, well, there was a lot of glare because most the photos were in protective plastic covers that I wasn't allowed to remove. Also, a phone camera isn't going to give great-quality pictures. And last but definitely not least, I'm hazy on the copyright of all these materials, and I'm just going to play it safe and not share publically.

Well, with that delightful find to end to my day, I trundled off to get some dinner (Shake Shack), and head back to my AirBNB, where I watched some Netflix and chilled.

In the morning, I was up and at 'em, ready for more research at the Beinecke Library at 9:00. I only had until about 11:30, because I needed to check out of my AirBNB and then get to my train departing at 1:37 (actually, the train didn't leave until after 4:00 because of a delay, and it was a nightmare, and Amtrak treated me horribly, but that's a whole story unto itself).

Anyway.

The first box I got on day two was Box 4, which contained what Peter referred to wryly as The Morgue. This was a project he undertook in the '40's, to collect family papers and compile an annotated family history. It's not really clear whether the intent was to actually publish this. It is comprised of handwritten page after handwritten page, Peter copying out family letters and then adding his own comments. It's hundreds of pages long, and a lot of it is material that, frankly, I wasn't especially interested in. I certainly didn't have time to read it all or even photograph it to read it later. In this case, I had to content myself with skimming it. I wish I'd had a couple hours to examine it. After that handwritten book, there are two folders of typewritten pages, which seemed to be the manuscript, just typed up. If I'd known I didn't have to go on reading Peter's handwriting and could've read something type-written.... Oh well. (Peter's handwriting was okay, but still much harder to read than type.)

The next two boxes were more photos--of Jack and Nico and Michael and Peter. There was Peter in uniform with the little mustache he grew. And there's Michael at Eton, making a game attempt at his own little mustache. For Peter, the mustache stayed, but not for Michael. Jack looks very sharp in his naval uniforms. There are photos of JMB with Nico's daughter Laura in 1928. She wasn't the first of the "grandchildren"; Jack already had a child, but he wasn't as close to JMB, and I'm not sure JMB ever actually met Jack's children. There were some lovely drawings of Sylvia, and pictures of the family home in Berkhamsted (beautiful place with a lush, almost Eden-like garden), and JMB's flat in Adelphi Terrace House. There's also a photo of JMB's funeral in 1937, with Jack and Peter and their wives. There were also some pictures of Nico apparently in uniform during WWII, which surprised me, as I had had no idea he served--and I still have no idea in what capacity he may have served. I thought he would be too old, but I suppose he was about 35 when that war broke out.

The final box, box 8, had a collection of items. There were newspaper clippings, centered around Arthur's death, Michael's death, and Nico's wedding (the press would not shut up about how "Peter Pan" was best man at his brother's wedding--that must have driven poor Peter up the wall). I managed to miss a few things, like Arthur's notes, written after he had had a surgery to remove part of his jaw and was unable to speak easily, and Eton cricket match results. But at this point, time was really running low and I had to hit the highlights. There was a floorplan of the ground floor of the house the family lived in last, before some of the boys went off to college and Michael and Nico moved in with JMB. Amongst the items in this box was also a copy of two poems that Michael wrote while on holiday at Eilean Shona in Scotland with JMB, Nico, and other friends. One poem was crossed out, but he was apparently pleased with the other one, which is just titled Eilean Shona.

The very last items I viewed were locks of Michael's and Nico's hair. It's a little odd, I guess, but saving locks of hair used to be very common (to be clear, these locks were saved when Michael and Nico were little boys). Michael's hair came in two small ringlets. His hair was a rich brown, about the same shade as mine, actually, and, I take it, slightly curly if not cut short. Nico's hair was lighter and had a hint of red in it. I did not take pictures of the locks of hair. I gently tipped them to the edges of the envelopes they were in and touched each gently with the tip of my finger. I took a moment to let my mind be boggled. Then I slipped them back into the envelopes, returned everything, and ventured back outside. I gathered my things and made my way home (I didn't get home until 10:00 p.m., but, again, that's another story).

It was a very successful trip.


Detail of envelope for letter from George to JMB. The red stamp says
"Passed by censor" because this was coming from the trenches of WWI, so
all letters had to pass a censor to be sure no sensitive info was being passed on.
The round stamp is "Field Post Office", which seems pretty self-explanatory. The address
is "Sir James Barrie, Bart [Baronet], 3 Adelphi Terrace House, Strand, London, WC"

[PS, I'm a littler unclear about copyright and am wary of doing anything that
might violate any copyrights, so I'm not going to share any of the pictures I took of the pictures
and documents, though I very much would like to do so.]












Monday, September 2, 2019

. . . And a Floor Plan

Several weeks ago, I wrote about some research rabbit holes I was wandering down. Since then, two things have happened:

1. I finished the MS in question, about the Llewelyn Davies brothers, who inspired Peter Pan (I'm calling it Proud and Insolent Youth for now), and,

2. I finally got in the mail the print I had been waiting for.

The first one probably deserves its own post, but I wanted to talk about the second one. Just to get it out there up front, here is a picture of the print of the floor plan:



I ordered this at the beginning of July from architecture.com. I had been blundering around Google and found that they had a print available of the renovations to JM Barrie's flat at Adelphi Terrace in London. This was interesting to me because it showed the exact layout of the flat, so I could picture the place. I already knew quite a bit from photographs of the interior, of course. Now, why did I want to know about the interior of JM Barrie's flat? Because, from 1918, the subjects of my work in progress (it was still in progress at that time) lived there. At least, two of them (Michael and Nico) did. It therefore played a pretty large role in their lives. Ergo, I wanted to know as much as possible about it.

I was getting up to the point in my WIP where the boys move into the flat with Barrie, and the print was still in the mail. I really wanted to see what the different rooms were, because I wanted to describe the place as the boys move in. Also of note, this floor plan was made by the architect when renovations were made to the flat in anticipation of the boys' arrival. The changes being made could certainly tell me a lot, and be fodder for a paragraph or two. So I was anxious to get the print so I could get on with that bit of the WIP.

But it didn't come and it didn't come. Nearly a month passed, and I was getting concerned. Granted, it was coming from England, but ships under sail made the journey in less than a month. At the one-month mark, I contacted them. I was passed along (via email) from person to person, but all these people were responsive and helpful, so I didn't mind that. At last, someone said to wait until Monday the 12th (of August--five and a half weeks after I ordered the thing). If it still hadn't arrived, I should contact them. Oh, and it had gone to Frankfurt, and from there they had no idea where it had gone. Because Frankfurt is on the way to the US from England . . . .

Anyway, I got home from work Monday, ready to email them back, but the package had arrived, and I was stoked. It came in a tube, so I opened the tube and unrolled it in a fit of glee, like a kid on Christmas morning. I stared all dewy-eyed at where the sinks and lifts and bookshelves were marked. Marvelous. And there, yes, was Barrie's famous inglenook, where he would sit and write, and where he hung a picture of George playing cricket and George's cricket hat. And there were four bedrooms, though who slept where I couldn't know. I had to guess.

I had the material I needed for the few paragraphs about the flat, but I had moved on in the meantime. I'd made a vague stab at it but mostly left it blank, so I went back and filled it in. I talked about coming out of the lift and entering the doors to the flat itself, about the dining room and study and the bedrooms. Here was where I had to guess about who took which room, and I apparently got it wrong. I had Barrie in the back room near the kitchens, which was apparently the spare room, and I had Michael and Nico's rooms switched. (I still need to fix that.)

How, you might ask, did I find out that I was wrong?

Well, there is a treasure trove online at jmbarrie.co.uk. In addition to scores of wonderful photographs of the family and Barrie, there are audio interviews conducted by Andrew Birkin, the heroic biographer of Barrie and the Ll. Davies boys. In the '70s, he sat down with Nico, the youngest of the boys and the longest-surviving, as well as Jack's widow, Gerrie, and a few others who had known Barrie and were still alive. The key was this clip, which is Nico describing a house guest they once had (it's an amusing story) and giving a quick verbal tour of the flat. You enter, and the study was to the right, Barrie's bedroom was directly ahead, the dining room was to the left, then there was a hall with Nico's bedroom to the right and Michael's to the left, then the spare bedroom. (He doesn't mention the kitchen, which was a bit further on; presumably, he didn't spend much time cooking, as they had several servants.)

So, time to revise that little bit of the manuscript.







Saturday, July 20, 2019

. . . And Research Rabbit Holes

I thought I would check in because I've been a somewhat-busy little bee. I won't say I've been "busy" because that would probably sound way more impressive than it is. My work ethic has been modest at best. The fact that I've binged like 4 shows in the last few weeks can attest to the fact that I haven't exactly been devoting every waking hour to writing/researching . . .

In any case, I've been getting progressively deeper into the story of the Llewelyn Davies boys. The Llewelyn Davies boys were the five brother who, to a greater or lesser degree, inspired J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. That's the most basic form of the story, but it's much, much more complicated than that, and much more complicate than Finding Neverland (movie or stage play) would have you believe. In some sense, it's a very tragic story: the boys were orphaned at a young age when their father, then their mother, died of cancer. The eldest, George, was killed at 21 during World War I. Michael died five years later, at the age of twenty, having drowned in the Thames outside of Oxford (no one will ever know whether it was accidental or suicide). And, many years later, Peter committed suicide at the age of 63 (there were a lot of factors that contributed to that, many of them not at all related to Peter Pan or Barrie).

But it's not all tragedy, and I just find the strange, multifaceted relationships here to be endlessly fascinating.

My interest has manifested itself in a novel-in-progress. I'm about 50k words in, and we've just reached the Great War (sigh). I won't get too deep into the conceit for the ms, but it's told in first person from the perspectives of George, Michael, Peter, and their mother, Sylvia. I'm really enjoying it. It can be slow work to keep referring to my source materials or to have to pause to look something up. I usually don't write about real people, so the only research I usually have to do is about the period and situation in general; I don't have to contend with getting a real person's life right.

So what're some of these rabbit holes I've tumbled down, mostly willingly?

Well, just last night I found a page affiliated with the Imperial War Museum that gave a brief outline of George Llewelyn Davies's service in WW1. He enlisted as soon as Great Britain declared war and was in the King's Royal Rifle Brigade, then the Rifle Brigade (somewhat confusingly, these are separate units). On that page, there was also a picture of what looked like a button adorned with a badge: a hunting horn hanging from a string that formed a triangle with the curved horn. I figured it had something to do with his unit, so I spent some time poking around Google, especially its image searches. I found a bunch of badges in the shape of a cross, but no horn. However, I eventually realized the horn emblem was part of the cross badge, embedded into it.

Another rabbit hole was info gleaned from records relating to George's grave (in France). The official records record his dates of birth and death and his rank and unit. But there was also a document attached to the grave records that gave, I suppose, "next of kin". Peter, George's brother, who was also in the army, was listed, and the address given (presumably by Peter) was Adelphi Terrace, J.M. Barrie's home. So Peter, though an adult, listed Barrie's residence as his own home.

I also managed recently to find a book that contains a full chapter on Peter's military service (Famous 1914-1918). I knew he'd served and that he was awarded the Military Cross, but I'd been having difficulty finding any additional information. I was thinking I'd have to contact, perhaps, the Imperial War Museum for help. But then I found this book while performing a Google search. Peter's experience in the war is pretty crucial to him as a character in the WIP; it most certainly affected him as a person. I was able to read a lot of the chapter online but ordered the book in order to read the whole chapter and be able to mark it up with pen and pencil. As a bonus, it has chapters on some other famous and semi-famous WW1 soldiers, which will be interesting in and of themselves. Alas, the book has yet to arrive, and I'm anxious for it to get here already.

I still want to learn more about George's war experience. I know he was slightly wounded in the leg and didn't mention it to Barrie in his letters. I also know he was killed almost instantly while he and other officers were being briefed about a coming movement. That's a bit sketchy.

Speaking of George, I wanted to learn a little more about his time at Cambridge (Trinity College). I knew he was in the Amateur Dramatics Club and that he enrolled 1912 and left for the war 1914. I also inferred that he was in the Office Training Corps (my information is mostly from Andrew Birkin's wonderful book Lost Boys). I contacted Cambridge University, and the only info they had was his date of enrollment. They directed me to Trinity College, whom I contacted but haven't heard back from. I was also pointed towards the ADC's archives, but it's difficult to navigate and it appears most the records are kept in Cambridge. I'm in the US, so the chances of me getting there to view those records are slim. Still, I might take another stab at finding out more about Cambridge when I get a chance.

Oh, and since I mentioned Adelphi Terrace, I happened to stumble upon an image of the floor plan of Barrie's flat there. However, it was from an architectural site in the UK, and to view the image, I would have to buy a print of the image or pay for a license to view/use the image. I took the least expensive option, an A4-size print. That, too, is still in the mail, and I'm awaiting it with bated breath. I only hope that size/quality are good enough for me to read what all the various rooms are! Or else my money will have been wasted.

I also found, some time back, that huge amounts of material related to the Llewelyn Davies family and Barrie are kept in the Beinecke Library at Yale. I'm not entirely clear how it all ended up at Yale, but it's lucky for me that it did, because it's only a six-hour train-ride from me in the DC area. They have letters and photos that I'm VERY interested in seeing, and they even have the only surviving copy of The Boy Castaways, a book of pictures of the boys that Barrie had professionally bound. The captions tell the boys' story of being "shipwrecked". Only two copies were ever made, and one was, ahem, "lost" by the boys' father, who might not have liked Barrie's intrusion into his family's life.

As you can tell, I've been having a good time with my research rabbit holes, and there are plenty more to pursue.


Friday, June 28, 2019

. . . And an Edwardian Outfit

I've blogged a few times about my sewing of mid-Victorian-style dresses (try this post, or this post, or this one, or even this one and this one). The reason I chose that era is that I am interested in and write fiction about the antebellum and Civil War era (i.e., the mid-Victorian era). I am also, however, interested in the Edwardian and Great War era, and have written in that time frame, too. So, I decided, what the hell, let me give it a go.

There are a good number of Great War and Edwardian sewing patterns out there to try, and I settled on a blouse and a skirt pattern from Wearing History (specifically the Elsie blouse and the Evelyn skirt). I also made the chemisette but didn't end up using it for this outfit (it would've been an underthing).

The first step was to print out the patterns, because I went for the e-patterns. They were cheaper, there was no shipping charge, and I could get started right away. With the many pages of printed-out pattern laid out, I set to work taping them together. Pro tip: more tape is better than less. I did the e-pattern for both the blouse and skirt, and I think it was a great option.

Let me start with the blouse. The blouse included elbow-length sleeves, cuffs, a collar, lapels, and a waist stay (which you attach the gathering to at the waist). The first step was, of course, to cut the pieces out of my cloth. Not exciting work, or very interesting, so let's just skip ahead to the part where I had all of my pieces cut out of the fabric.

(Note: the fabric I used is the white Swiss-dot fabric I used for my very first dress! I had quite a bit left over from that.)

I was now staring at all these bits of fabric and feeling slightly out of my depth. I had never sewn anything like the blouse, with buttons up the front and a lapel and integrated collar and cuffs! By comparison, the 1860's dresses were much simpler. Unfortunately, the directions included with the pattern were only slightly helpful. They used terms I wasn't familiar with, referred to the various pattern pieces with inconsistent terms, and left out what I felt were important steps and failed to answer what I felt were crucial questions. By playing around with a mock-up and thinking about it hard, I was able to figure some things out, but what really helped was watching the video tutorials provided by Wearing History. They were immensely helpful in teaching me techniques for this pattern, the skirt pattern I tackled next, and sewing in general.

Anyway, the next step was facing everything, that is, adding the necessary pieces so that you don't have raw edges. Take the collar and cuffs below for example. I cut out two pieces for each (that is, I cut two identical collar pieces and four identical cuff pieces--two for each cuff). I put the rights sides together and stitched around the edges, then turned it inside out. Voila! The seam is now encased and you have a neat edge and no raw edges. 




For a little bit of style, I decided to top-stitch around the edges with black thread. This just means I ran a line of stitching all the way around.


I also had to sew the facing to the edges of the front opening. When completed, those facings fold over to become the lapel. I also top-stitched these pieces with black thread.

I sewed the shoulder seams, which involved a bit of gathering, and sewed the sleeves together and attached them to the torso (again, a bit of gathering).

Perhaps the hardest part was setting the collar in. This took a little bit of concentration and pinning and re-pinning. The seam between the collar and lapel would be visible when the lapel was folded over, so it had to be neat and crisp. Though the recommendation was to encase the underside of the collar in a bias strip, I left it alone because it wasn't visible and I was afraid that I would bumblingly mess up what was (currently) a tidy job. Since this isn't something I'll be wearing and machine-washing on a daily basis, this is fine.

If I'm remembering the order of things, I attached the cuffs next. This was simple enough, though I had to jerry-rig it a bit since I'd narrowed the sleeves and forgotten to make the cuffs shorter. Attaching the cuffs was just a matter of putting the *wrong* sides together (while everything was turned inside-out) and sewing around the opening, then turning it right-side-out. Voila, the right side of the cuff AND sleeve are visible.

Last was the waist. As a note, I did add length to the bottom of the blouse because it ended far too high for me. Yes, the waists are meant to be high, with the skirt reaching above the natural waist, but I felt more comfortable having a little extra leeway in the form of extra shirt length. In any case, completing the waist meant taking the waist stay (which was a bit less than my waist measurement) and pinning it in place at either end. Here the pattern and directions were a little sketchy, so I winged it. I did a patch of gathering at the center back and at the center of each front panel. I used two parallel lines of gathering stitches and gathered until it fit the waist stay, which stopped at the edge of the lapels, which was where the closure (buttons) would be. Then I sewed the waist stay in place.



The result was this:



And yes, Penny was hanging around again to help! I mean, generally she's actually snoozing while I sew, but she seems to pop out when I'm taking pictures....

Here is a picture of what the cuff looks like with that black top-stitching.




The final touch was to add buttons. I finally figured out how to do button holes on the machine, which was a godsend, lemme tell you. I used wooden buttons that I already had. I sewed them on with black thread, then realized the black thread would show on the underside of the lapel when it was turned over, so I redid the top few in white thread.




And here it is, on me. It looks pretty good with jeans, I think!


And here it is with a necktie, which I LOVE SO MUCH.


With the blouse done I turned to the skirt. After dillydallying and ho-humming at the fabric store for a long while, I had bought some brown cotton to use for mocking up the skirt. I planned to buy some black wool for the finished thing. But then I started looking at my brown cotton and at price of the black wool I could buy, and I said to myself, "Self, you do not need the wool; this cotton will do just fine."

And so it did. I didn't mock up the skirt, I just sewed it, and you know what? It turned out fine. I was wise enough to take six inches off the length of the skirt before even beginning to cut my pieces (I drew it onto the pattern). And from there, off I went. I cut the large panels for the front and the back, the belt, the facings, and the tabs. The pattern called for some faux pockets that each appeared to dangle from two long strips that folded over the belt and ended in a pointed tab. I didn't want the faux pockets (which were optional), but I wanted the tabs. So I cut out the shape of the tabs only, no pockets. Another instance of me going rogue.

Like with the blouse, I decided to top-stitch in black. I cut out eight pieces for the tabs (because there were four tabs total), stitched them together, turned them out, and top-stitched them in black. I did the same thing with the belt.

One of the difficult parts of this skirt was the closure. With my earlier dresses, my technique wasn't very advanced, and I did no facings for the openings. But here, I figured out how to do it properly, with the help of another of Wearing History's video tutorials. It's really hard to describe in words, but essentially you add an extra strip to one side that keeps going beyond the edge of the skirt panel, and on the other side you sew a piece that lays against the underside of the opposite skirt panel. The flap sticking out has one side of the snaps that close the skirt, and the bit that lays against the underside of the opposing skirt panel has the other side of the snaps. Snap the two sides together and you have a neat closure.

Well, I mean, you'll have a neat closure as soon as you sew on a ridiculous number of snaps by hand. Holy crud, the amount of hand-sewing of snaps! It drove me mad, especially since I started putting them on the wrong way and had to redo a bunch of them. I also added a hook-and-bar closure at the top of the opening, so more hand sewing!

By the way, this is a side opening; I think it's supposed to open on the left side, but I ended up with the opening on the right, and it really doesn't matter.

The other hard part was the waist. The instructions here were again rather sketchy. There was a 2" internal waistband (I used 2" ribbon; you actually add darts to make it lay flat against your body, narrower at the top and a bit wider at the bottom, because curves!). The instructions explained how to make the seam around the top of the skirt work. Essentially, you sew the top of the internal waistband to the right side of the skirt, then fold it under. Fine, cool, got it. The trick was figuring out how to make the tabs work, and then what to do with this waistband, which seemed to kind of be floating now that it was turned under. Do I stitch it along the bottom to the skirt? That didn't seem right. Did I leave it unattached, only folded under thanks to ironing it into place and the grace of God? And what to do with the belt and the tabs?

As far as the waistband, I secured it with a few hand-sewn stitches on each side of the opening, i.e. where the waistband begins and ends, and then stitched it halfway between.

The tabs I ended up slipping between the waistband and the skirt panels. This required picking out a bit of the seam I'd already sewn so that I could slip in the top of the tabs. Once I'd done that, I re-sewed that seam, folded the tabs down, and pressed (ironed) them into place. These pics give a good idea of that. You'll notice that in the back of the skirt, there's a bit of gathering between the tabs. I also did some gathering on the front, hidden underneath the tabs. I had to redo the gathering to take the skirt in a bit. I am, in fact, going to have to do so again because when I wore it the other day, it kept slipping down a little too far. (This is probably because I was thinking I'd be wearing this sans corset, but in fact it looks much better avec corset, which means my waist is just a tad smaller.)




The belt was still a bit of a mystery. In the directions, it doesn't really say what to do with the belt, which I still hadn't attached. It seemed to indicate that you ought to put the belt in place, then stitch over the tabs, belt, internal waistband, and skirt, securing them all in place. But I didn't want that additional line of stitching on my tabs, and I wasn't sure I wanted the belt to be stationary. So what I ended up doing was using the tabs like belt loops. I used some brown thread to stitch down only the tips of the tabs, and I passed the belt through.

The last thing was hemming the bottom of the skirt, which was easy-peasy. I used black thread again. The end result looked like this:


Here's a close-up of how this poppy closes:


I had thus far completed this project very economically. I'd used some left-over fabric for the blouse and some inexpensive cotton for the skirt, so I'd spent maybe $20 so far on the whole thing (not counting the already-purchased white fabric and counting the ribbon for the waistband).

But with this kind of outfit, shoes would be decisive. The skirt is calf-length, so the shoes would be very visible, and the shoes of the era are fairly distinctive in shape and quite unlike modern shoes.

So what's a girl to do? Buy some shoes from American Duchess, of course! I reasoned that I'd economized on the rest of the outfit, so it was reasonable to allocate money to the shoes. I also reasoned that the shoes were on sale (for $75) and, anyway, I might just be able to get away with wearing them in other contexts (though not every day).

That is how I ended up the (very happy) owner of these lovely shoes (the Amelie black satin pumps):


I tried them on immediately with my skirt, though at that point the skirt hadn't been hemmed:


With everything in place, my outfit was complete! I tried with and without a scarf at the neck and found I definitely preferred the scarf, in brown:



It's definitely a turn-of-the-twentieth-century librarian look, isn't it? I love it!

I'd bought this boater hat as part of my 1860s look, but it actually works better for this look:


And standing:


Looking forward, I might raise the hem just a tad (so much easier on this skirt than an 1860s dress that had 4.5-yard-long hem!) and take in the waist again so it doesn't slip. The look is to have the skirt start quite high, slightly above the natural waist.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

. . . And a Costume Party

This week/weekend, I took part in the 2019 Historical Novel Society Conference at National Harbor in Maryland. It was a fabulous convention, with wonderful panels and much networking. The highlight for me was the costume party/contest on opening night, which was this past Thursday.

I recently wrote about the process of sewing my tan dress, which I actually completed a few months ago. Aside from putting it on and swanning around my apartment (which was fun but limited because my apartment is small and full of furniture), I hadn't worn my dress out anywhere. This was a perfect occasion, and I was both stoked and a little nervous. I mean, what if things started going wrong when I wore it for more than half an hour at a time and started moving around in it for real? What if the hoop started falling down, or buttons starting coming off? And what if someone stepped on my hem or spilled something on my dress? It is the result many, many hours of work, and everything about it is entirely irreplaceable.

You will be happy to know that everything went swimmingly. Once I had the whole costume on (drawers, stockings, shoes, chemise, corset, hoop skirt, dress, snood; I borrowed a friend's hotel room to change), everything felt secure and looked great. I'd spent months thinking about this event and had been really focusing on it for at least a week. I was really well-prepared, though, and I need that kind of preparation for things to go smoothly.

Once I was dressed, I had to get to the event, and I didn't quite know how to get there. I got lost in the hotel/convention-center. In the process, I discovered that I could stride along perfectly well in my hoop skirt. I had no trouble walking, and I didn't get sweaty or uncomfortable (that's right; I was wearing a corset and it was fine). I also discovered that people were fascinated by a lady striding around in a hoop skirt!

I did find the party, and I had a blast. I was "Jo March", and everyone was very complimentary, especially when they discovered that I had sewn the dress myself. I have never in my life been asked by people if they could take a picture of me/with me, and I got that so many times that evening! It was unexpected and a little strange but ultimately a lot of fun. I didn't win the costume contest, but I was fine with that. I was so pleased to *do something* with all my hard work and show it off!



Wednesday, June 19, 2019

. . . And A Tan Dress

Oh boy am I way behind on intended blog entries! The last sewing-related blog entry I made was about my green dress. I've sewn another (tan) dress and a full Edwardian outfit (blouse and skirt) since then. And I've done a lot of work on both the green and tan dresses, refining them to the best of my somewhat limited ability.

First thing's first. I liked my green dress (still do) because it was sturdy and brightly-colored and fun. The style was largely historically accurate. But I knew the pattern (and color, alas) were not period accurate, and I did feel like it was a bit clunky and frumpy on my petite form. So I decided I was going to do the same pattern (which I generally liked) but in a more appropriate pattern in a lighter-weight cotton.

Which is exactly what I proceeded to do. I already had the pattern, of course, so I went searching for the right fabric. I used the following picture as my inspiration. I really like the windowpane pattern and hoped to find something like it:



Luckily, this type of pattern isn't horribly hard to find. I was able to get 6.5 yards of a tan cotton with this pattern. It was actually listed as green, but it's most definitely a soft fawn color. It's actually a lovely color, so I'm not at all unhappy about it.

The next steps involved quite a lot of cutting out of pieces, lining of the bodice, sewing of seams, hemming of hems and pleating of pleats. I don't want to bore you with the details, since I spent quite a lot of time on the details of the same pattern with the green dress. I did essentially the same things, having learned my lessons.

The difference here was that I attempted a few different types of sleeve. I tried bishop's sleeves, using the pattern for my sheer dress that I made back in December. They were just too full and didn't work. I tried gathering them at the forearm and upper arm, but then it looked like an attempt at a Renaissance sleeve. Those sleeves were okay but not quite right. I attempted a sort of capped sleeve, as well, trying to draft my own pattern. Let's just say it was frustrating and that I'm not skilled enough by far to be trying to make my own sleeve patterns. So I went back to the sleeve pattern than came with the dress, a simple two-piece coat sleeve.

Having used up much more of my fabric on sleeves than I'd meant to, I was left with only about 4.5 yards of fabric for the skirt. It sounds like a lot, and I figured it would be enough, but I was a bit concerned it would look skimpy. Remember, this has to go over a big ol' hoop skirt. The skirt for my green dress was SIX yards of fabric. So I laid it out, and it looked a little like this:



Now, you may wonder what that lump there is. I wondered, too. And then it moved . . .


 So, yeah, Penny was still around to help out with my sewing!

I did alter the neckline slightly on this dress, and I added piping around the waist. That required the use of strips of bias material folded over a length of twine (I actually had to double it up to make it substantial enough). I hand-stitched the bias strip around the twine, then hand-stitched the piping to the bodice, then hand-stitched it all to the waistband of the skirt. So, yeah, plenty of hand-stitching. Not my fav.

Last (for now), I slapped on a collar I bought online, et voila:

You can see my hard-won piping around the waist.


I posted these particular pictures because they show a few issues. The collar doesn't look right, and there's a little bit of white peeking out at my waist (it's the hook-and-eye tape). In the second picture, you can see that the sleeves are just too big and shaped wrong. The dress as a whole is also quite plain. I knew this was going to be a simple day dress, but it needed more.

Because of these issues, I got to work. The first issue was to fix that little bit of white peeking out. I fixed that by (hand)sewing a strip of the fashion fabric over the white strip of hook-and-eye tape. For decoration, I added lace around the cuffs and ribbon in a yoke pattern (stitched by hand, natch), like these ladies:


I needed a different collar, one that was narrower and that came together neatly at my throat with a brooch pin. So, using the collar I had as a start, I drafted my own collar, which is, incidentally, not easy but not as hard as trying to draft a sleeve.

I liked the result of the decorative touches but but still wasn't satisfied with the fit. I slimmed down the sleeves yet again (I've taken inches and inches off the length and width of these sleeves). I also took the arch out of the shoulder seam, because it was too bulky--I simply made a straighter line from the tip of the shoulder to the neck, and it made a difference.

Lastly, I fiddled with my hoop skirt to improve the shape. It still isn't as bell-shaped as I would like, but it is better. This necessitated taking up the skirt another 1.5". If it sounds like a lot of work, it was and more. It was a whole lot of fiddling, but the result was much improved:

Gives a good idea of the overall effect.
Some more of the detail.
Just lounging around in the sun.
This one shows what a difference the sleeve
and shoulder seam made. It looks so much less bulky and frumpy!
Hanging out under my American flag painting (it has 32 stars
and the design is from a Civil War flag hanging
in the Gettysburg museum).

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

...And a Green Dress

"...but not a real green dress, that's cruel..."

Bonus points to anyone who knows that reference.

Back in December, I regaled you all with the long and sordid tale of my 1860s sheer dress. And I ended by noting that while I liked my dress and was proud of myself, I thought I could do better. So I set out to do better. And I think I did (do better, that is).

I decided to make a relatively simple day dress, of cotton. Not sheer cotton, just regular cotton. So I ordered the sewing pattern (Truly Victorian's darted bodice) and went to Jo Ann's Fabric to pick out some fabric. I hemmed and I hawed and eventually picked out a nice, bright green with a small-scale, light-green floral print. It was not necessarily, I knew, 100% period correct, but it felt roughly appropriate. (I did feel kind of meh about it at several points during construction, and it still isn't really a perfect period pattern, but I still love the color, so I'm overall pleased with my choice.)

The first step was to mock up the bodice, which I did in white muslin:



It's a little hard to tell here, but the sleeves are far too long and bulky. I'm a very petite lady (4'11"), so things tend to swamp me unless scaled way down. What's a girl to do? Well, redraw the pattern, that's what. I kept the lines for the arm hole (armscye) the same, because otherwise I'd have had to alter the torso, but I took off about 3 inches in length and 2 inch in width (from each piece of the two-piece sleeve).
This was attempt one; I actually had to take a little more off the width.
Ta-da!



As I worked, I got a little help from a friend:


This is Penny, and she likes to hide under the pattern paper when I lay it out. She pretty much just likes hanging around and "helping", and she'll be our companion for the rest of this post. Oh, just for s's and g's, here's my sweet Penny-pie when not hiding underneath a pattern:


Anyway, once I was pleased with the fit of the sleeves and the bodice, it was time to cut into that fashion fabric and start sewing.


This is just pinned closed, and the collar is just draped around my neck. The collar I bought separately because I didn't want to fiddle with making one myself and because the one I bought has a nice lacey edge.

Now that the torso of the bodice was done, it was time to turn to the sleeves again. Now, the sleeves are a two-piece coat sleeve, curved at the elbow with just a bit of fullness until they end in an open circle with no cuff. The bodice is, as you see above, likewise undecorated (the collar notwithstanding). And so, feeling that this just wouldn't do, I decided that the dress needed some embellishment in the form of ribbon. So I did some googling of CDVs (cartes de visite--photographs) and Pinterest-ing, and found THIS:


This was a perfect reference for my sleeves. So I bought myself some white ribbon to contrast with my green fabric (though honestly it appears from photos that the trim was always darker than the fabric). I cut the sleeves out of my green fabric and used string to lay out exactly how I wanted the pattern to look. Then I sewed on the ribbon and sewed together each piece of the sleeve:


The next step, of course, was to attach the sleeves to the torso:


A note about the sleeves and the bodice. This is a lined bodice. In the sheer dress, the outer shell and the lining are separate for a reason. Here, the lining and fashion fabric work as one. In this pattern, you cut the same shape out of both the fashion fabric and the lining fabric, then you sew them together along the edges and continue, treating them as one piece. So I did that, and it worked perfectly for the torso, which needs structure. The sleeves, however, ended up very stiff. The fabric I chose (the green) is a fairly sturdy cotton. It's a little heavier weight than average t-shirt cotton. Add another layer of lining, and it's pretty sturdy. That's fine for the fitted torso, but it made the sleeves stand out on their own, and it looked pretty bad. The picture above minimizes the effect (I was trying to show off the decoration). I'd already sewn on all my ribbon, though. I wasn't about to redo all that. So I just went in and very carefully cut away the lining from between the ribbon decoration, and it worked WONDERS. The sleeves looked much better.

I still had a few refinements to the bodice. I added the closure (hook-and-eye tape) and then covered the white bit of the hook and eye tape that peeked out from underneath. That made a surprisingly large difference, not to see that bit of white. I also had to adjust the neckline because, even though I followed the directions for the pattern, it closed unevenly at the neck. I also needed to actually attach the collar, which I did loosely.

With all that done, the next step was the skirt. Now, the skirt had been a bit of a struggle for me on the white dress for a few reasons. First of all, that fabric had a lot of give to it. This green cotton had a lot more structure to it, meaning that when I folded and pleated it, it didn't stretch and distort itself. That was greatly appreciated. For the white skirt, I actually cut out three panels, then sewed them together. This fabric was 44" inches wide, and I needed a skirt 38" long, so in this case I just used it as one continuous piece; no piecing together panels.

I'd also figured out a plan for the waistband and for how to pleat. For the pleating: cut a strip of lining fabric as long as my waist, plus 1 inch for closure overlap. Mark off that overlap allowance on each end, then find the center. Mark off an inch to each side of the center, to give space for the last of my pleats to be laid down. You'll then have two halves, to either side of the center. Start folding each of those two sections in half until you have fourths, eighths, sixteenths, et cetera. I reduced each quarter of the waistband into sixteenths. Then I moved over to my fashion fabric. First, I decided to add three parallel, horizontal lines of ribbon around the bottom of the skirt to make it pretty. Then I hemmed the length to 38". I should note that this was SIX YARDS of fabric. SIX YARDS. So I had to run SIX YARDS of fabric through the sewing machine four times, once for the hem, and three times for the ribbon.

Anyway, pleating: I laid out my six yards of skirt and folded it IN HALF, and this is what it looked like:

This is six yards, folded in half.
Then I did what I had done with the waistband I just created: I marked off an inch for the closure overlap and an inch at both side of the center-back. Here, I also marked off an inch on each end for the seam closing the skirt. Then, like with the waistband, I started folding and marking the fourths, eighths, sixteenths, etc, until I had exactly as many marks on my fashion fabric as on my waistband. Then I started matching the two. I started at the center back, pinning together the inch of waistband and the inch of skirt that would be un-pleated. Then I matched up each mark and folded over the excess, laying the first pleat on that flat 1 inch of fabric I'd just pinned in place. Then I worked along, matching up my marks, pinching up the fabric and laying the excess flat as a pleat. I repeated until I had pleated all those six yards of fabric down to 27" of waistband (plus an un-pleated inch on each side for the closure overlap, so 29" total).

It looked like this prior to being ironed down (in future attempts, I figured out how to do this without an enormous amount of tedious ironing of pleats):


And Penny again tried to get underneath the things I was working on. I didn't mind. I mean, look at that furry little butt!


Once I had it all pleated and pinned and ironed, I sewed it in place to my strip of white lining fabric. Next came the actual fashion waistband. I cut a length of the fashion fabric that was as long as my white strip, plus a bit for seam allowance on each end. It was twice as wide as I wanted my eventual waistband to be, plus, again, seam allowance. I folded it over lengthwise (to its intended width) with the right sides together, and sewed both ends. I then turned it out so that I had a long rectangle with the right side showing, a nice-looking seam on both short ends, a fold along the top edge (ironed flat), and an opening all along the bottom with raw edges. It was kind of a long, thin pocket. I then slipped the top of my pleated skirt, attached to my white strip, into that pocket. I folded under the raw edges of the green waistband and sewed it all in place. The only thing left to do was sew together the main seem of the skirt to make it a circle instead of a rectangle of fabric, and add the hook-and-eye closure. And there it was, a pleated skirt of six yards of fabric:



As soon as I was done, I tried it on:


Not a great picture, because it was dark and the lighting in my apartment isn't great, and of course my hair and glasses are modern, as is the window A.C. behind me. But still, I HAD A DRESS.

Now, I still had some work to do. I had to redo the collar. It really is too long for the neckline, so I had to kind of bunch it up a bit at the back, but oh well. I also ended up taking the skirt up an inch and sewing the skirt to the bodice by hand instead of having them as separate pieces. I also added buttons and a brooch and did something with my hair (I parted it in the middle, then put a hairnet over it; I also tried on my nifty boater hat). And of course, Penny was curious and came to check things out, too!