Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Polar Vortex Strikes Back

Except image Darth Vader as a big snowflake, or Snow Miser, or something.

Sorry dude, you're too much
Both the first and second waves of bitter cold are probably no surprise to, oh, all of you, since the entire northern US was hit with chill and snow. The first time around we ended up with over a foot of snow (I have pictures of my car, they're scary); this time around is more just cold. The insides of my windows have ice and frost on them, I've spent most of the past week in a blanket, and I drink ungodly amounts of warm beverages. That last one is nothing new. I found a fantastic recipe for root veggie and ginger soup that I'm planning to make tomorrow.

Because it is so cold, I don't want to move very much. Counterproductive, I know. I really don't want to go outside, except for a few minutes while Peaches proves that teaching animals to use the toilet is probably the best unattainable idea every. She, on the other hand, wants to sniff around and explore. The apartment gets boring after a time, I understand, I just lack an indoor, fenced, heated space for her to dash around and explore. Anyone with ties to a dog-friendly, leash-free place inside, hit me up!

Like last time, I've taken this cold snap/extended dance sequence as a change to hunker down and indulge myself. Between watching The Daily Show and Parks and Recreation, I've also been reading a fascinating book about clothing and textiles in the colonial and federal period. Mostly the clothes and accessories explored are from Colonial Williamsburg, and run from the early-ish 1700s through the very early 1900s. Even though I love pants and don't really like corsets, many of the dresses are just gorgeous. I love the shape they give, and would really enjoy working in Williamsburg sometime if my life takes a different path. Or even if it doesn't, who knows? Summer would be kind of brutal in Virginia. That might just be a price I pay, like October in Salem when our cloaks were mostly for show.

One fascinating detail from the studies of 18th- and 19th- century clothing is that the really nice clothes were usually not made particularly well. They held together just fine and looked lovely, of course, but they wouldn't have been finished on the inside or stitched particularly carefully. Homemade linens - chemises, shifts, shirts, and so on - were often stitched very neatly and carefully. No loose edges, no raggedy bits, finished seams, everything would have been made really well. This was because those homemade, everyday items had to stand up to wear and tear, as well as regular washing and bleaching. Dressy clothes were worn far less often, were not worn next to the body, and would have been sent out to a specialist to be cleaned when necessary. They didn't have to stand up to daily work, body oils, or regular scrubbing, so their construction didn't reflect that concern. The book talked about this difference in the context of what is a "masterful" item, since we often think of such items as being the best specimen of whatever it is they are. While some very impressive wealth displays and beauty can be found in nice clothes, some of the best craftsmanship can be found in much humbler items that required it.

I'm sure there's a deep lesson there somewhere. For instance, write syllabi carefully. Also notes on papers?

Another factoid: indigo dye (the only good blue available at the time) oxidizes and sets upon contact with air. Clothing patterns were often made by stamping an adherent on the clothing and then submerging the whole thing in a dye so the dye stuck to the clothing. The alternative was stamping the clothes themselves. In both circumstances, indigo wouldn't adhere nicely because it would set on the stamp or get all strange in the dyeing vat. The blue parts of 18th-century textiles tends to look a bit sloppy because it was applied by hand with a brush, but quickly. This is true for really nice fabrics like expensive silks as well as much cheaper cottons and wools. All the other colors are perfectly in line, and the blue is just a little smudged.

Probably also a lesson there.

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