Well Worn

It has never been easier to get dressed than it is today.  After browsing online stores, we narrow our choice of an article of clothing according to design, size and color.  Click!  It’s on the front porch in a few days.  What would our ancestors think of that?  Subsisting for them meant making what they wore (as well as what they ate and a place to live) from scratch.

Eons before stretch denim jeans and synthetic Dryfit shirts, people had to first think about where the thread came from.  Then they wove it into sheets of fabric, and finally, constructed a garment, whether it be dress, trousers, shirt, or scarf.

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For his inauguration in 1789, George Washington didn’t want to wear anything made of imported fabric.  His brown suit was wool and cotton broadcloth (“homespun”) with a nap which resembled velvet, woven in Hartford, Connecticut.  http://www.mountvernon.org


The long, warm growing season of the South in which cotton flourished was a cause with far-reaching effects.  Large plantations required many workers, and owners resorted to buying slaves to cultivate and harvest their crops.  The situation almost prevented our country’s beginning; the divisiveness of northern and southern states led to the the Civil War less than a hundred years later.  Cotton remains a staple in today’s world, but it now comes from developing countries.

cotton plant


Spinning Wheel


An encouragement to industry, this 1749 English engraving also shows something of eighteenth-century clothmaking.

Eighteenth Century engraving of industrial cotton loom.   http://www.history.org

antique homespun coverlet fabric, hand woven indigo blue cloth table runner

Indigo-dyed homespun coverlet from the 1800s.  http://www.laurlleaffarms.com


Synonymous with a bride’s dowry, linen was in the makeup of fine bedding, tablecloths, blouses and underwear (ancient Egyptians used it to wrap mummies).  The flax plants from which it comes were raised by early colonists.  In recent times, according to Purdue University, it has been commercially grown in a few north central states for oil rather than fiber.

Colonial American Linen 

Flax being harvested for linen thread.  http://www.fabric-store.com


Silk speaks an exotic language through its texture and heritage.  Ancient China produced fine silk fabric for centuries before American colonists imported silkworms and mulberry trees to try and produce their own.  The experiment didn’t have much success.

Nineteenth Century engraving of the process which produced silk cloth.  http://www.enwickipedia.org

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Silk scarf made in France in the late 1700s.  http://www.newlive-auctioneers.com


The natural coat which keeps sheep warm has transferred its insulating power to humans throughout history.  New England colonists including the John Adams family raised sheep for wool, which they sheared off, cleaned and carded, spun into yarn, dyed and wove into fabric.  Native Americans, too, were skilled in making woolen garments and blankets.

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First Phase Navajo chief’s blanket of finely woven wool.  In 2002 it was appraised at the Antiques Road Show for over $300,000, and sold at auction for over half a million dollars.  http://www.pbs.org


Original residents of this country hunted deer, tanning and sewing with sinew their jackets and heavy leggings.  In the Revolutionary War some regiments wore buckskin uniforms.  Fringed shirts of our Indian brothers also became a symbol of mountain men, cowboys, and the West.

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Theodore Roosevelt in his custom-made buckskin shirt, 1884.  http://www.neh.gov

The subject of leather brings us into a whole ‘nother realm: shoes.  You can bet that between online window shopping sessions for my next pair of Nikes, I’ll be looking into the heritage of footwear.


Made Up

Dabbling in the history of cosmetics…

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Would you rub lead powder all over your face?  Or arsenic?  How about dried cat dung?  Women have always tried to make themselves look more appealing, and records of the past reveal how far they were willing to go.


Living in hot, windy Egypt 4,000 years ago naturally dried out the skin (just as it does today).  Queens Cleopatra and Neferteri applied castor oil to soften their faces, and ground up certain rocks to decorate them.  Malachite, a kind of copper, served as green eye shadow; black kohl outlined the eyelids of the images we’ve seen in drawings.  Ancient Greek girls came up with ingenious fake eyebrows made of ox hair.  The Romans mixed thyme, marjoram and rosemary in their olive oil beauty treatments (did they take the leftovers and go broil a chicken for supper?)  Geishas in Japan of long ago wore lipstick which included crushed safflowers.



Queen Elizabeth I of England was famous for her pale look, dubbed, “the mask of youth.”  She put a mixture of white vinegar and lead on her face to cover up the ravages of smallpox she had in her twenties.  Other ladies lightened their complexions with egg whites and dyed their hair red with henna.  For a hair remover, they ground dried cat dung and mixed it with strong vinegar.

A few hundred years later, Queen Victoria proclaimed that using makeup was immoral.  She associated it with ladies of the night and stage actresses.  When motion pictures were invented, the lights required special makeup so faces wouldn’t be washed out on screen.  From silent pictures to the first talkies and on to glamour days of the 1930s and 40s, female movie stars were identified with their makeup.

Max Factor had opened a professional studio for actresses in California in 1909, and soon ordinary women were coming in to buy his products.  During World War II, lipsticks were most popular because they were colorful and inexpensive.  Other makeup containing petroleum and alcohol were unavailable because those ingredients were being used in the war effort.

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Glam: Marlene Dietrich.  http://www.bestmoviesbyfar.com




Nobody who saw Twiggy on her first magazine cover in 1966 will ever forget it.  A totally unique look, her haircut and false eyelashes were done on the spur of the moment, and it went viral.  She didn’t wear it long, but the teenagers of the world did.

Then came the 70s when many girls stopped wearing makeup, and some never started.  Oh, perhaps occasionally, but even if the FDA prohibits lead and arsenic in those products, can any of them be good for your pores?

Today’s cosmetic looks run the gamut of soft and sweet to dark and Gothic, with most somewhere in between.  I won’t even get started on supermodels.  I do not pretend to be an expert on this subject, but as my husband says, “If a barn needs painting…”

Good Dishes

I love china.  Most of all I love the pieces which have belonged to my family, some for generations.  Each one, whether I have others to match it or not, has a special place in my heart.  The plate, cup and saucer of the Lenox “Harvest” pattern below belonged to my Great-Aunt Elsie, who grew up in rural Steuben County but moved away when she was married.  I think she chose it because it reminded her of the farm.

Elsie’s mother, Maria (pronounced with a long i), had a soup tureen which passed into my mother’s hands and then mine.  It is heavy, white stoneware.  I can imagine holiday dinners when Great-Grandfather lifted the squash handle and dished out hot food to his strapping sons.

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Delicate Depression Glass, like this fruit bowl of my dad’s mother’s, to me suggests a charmed life with tea parties and society ladies.  Far from it.  She did hard physical labor inside and outside the house.  But she liked pretty things.

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 Because I inherited her name, my maternal grandmother’s place setting of her grandmother’s transferware came to live in my china cabinet.  It traveled from England to America on a sailing vessel in 1843, according to a  handwritten note taped to the bottom of the saucer.  I photographed it (as well as the fruit bowl) on a linen tablecloth which Margaret Edith Beck tatted before she was married.  The transferware pattern is Canova, named for a sculptor; in the center of the design is always a large urn.

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Before I was married, I chose a china pattern.  Had I been a little older I may have selected something different.  But it was what I liked then, and so I cherish it because of those special days of looking forward to house and family and making more memories.  Are brides today choosing good china?  Is it practical to have a special set of dishes when time is so limited and schedules permit only the fastest ways to get things done, so time may be better enjoyed?  I don’t know.

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I had planned to include research about the source of Early American china, and how manufacture and sale of dishes have changed throughout the years.  But I think I’ll leave these photos as they are, with their special owners attached, and let them speak for themselves.  It is my history.  That is enough for now.


Abigail Adams in the early years of her marriage.

Manager.  Correspondent.  Editorial Writer.  Wife.  Mother.  Grandmother.  Advocate for women’s rights.  While any of these words might describe a woman of today, they also hallmarked the life of our second first lady at the end of the Eighteenth Century.

I recently looked into some biographies to portray Abigail Adams for a couple of fifth grade classrooms.  The daughter of a minister and his wife, “Nabby” Smith was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1744.  Typical of the time, she and her sisters weren’t sent to school as their brother was, but absorbed reading lessons at home.  Nabby’s father’s library, most of all writings of Shakespeare, Milton and Pope, was a source of many hours of happiness for her.  Family discussion of current events formed the basis for the opinions she developed early on; the French and Indian War began when she was ten.

By seventeen when she became acquainted with John Adams, Abigail was a well-rounded young woman.  She married the country lawyer, ten years her senior, at nineteen.  They set up housekeeping in Braintree (now Quincy) on the Adams farm, in a house next to his mother’s.

While John was away in Boston or at circuit court, Abigail remained at home to tend things.  She was by all accounts a very hard worker.  The couple had six children, four of whom grew to adulthood.  Their first was a girl also named Nabby, their second, a boy named John Quincy.  By 1770 the young family was in the midst of an embroiled colonial relationship with England.  John was called upon to defend the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.

At the time of Lexington and Concord in 1775, he wrote to her to “flee to the woods” in case of danger.  During the Battle of Bunker Hill, she took John Quincy by the hand and climbed Penn’s Hill in the distance to watch.  A good friend, whose children were in her care, was killed in the melee.

John represented Massachusetts at the First Continental Congress, and was on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence at the Second.  “Remember the ladies,” she told him, “and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.  Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands….we will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice.”

She was adamant that girls be given the same opportunities for education as boys.  “How can the republic produce heroes, statesmen and philosophers if it does not produce learned women?”

All the while she was writing, she was managing the farm.  She bought and sold property, got rid of an overseer who wouldn’t do his work, and shared in the physical labor of preserving food and making clothing.  From their sheep she carded wool, spun the yarn, wove the yarn into cloth, then cut and sewed it.

In 1783 she was able to visit John in France for several months, while he worked as ambassador and John Quincy served as his secretary.  The portrait above was painted there.

John and Abigail, who considered themselves best friends, exchanged over 1,000 letters during their marriage, but this is one she wrote to her sister.

John Adams served as Vice President under George Washington for eight years, during which time she helped Martha host public receptions, in New York and then Philadelphia.  John was elected President in 1796; for the last four months of his term in November of 1800 the first couple moved into an unfinished President’s House in the swampy new town of Washington, D.C.  Abigail famously hung her laundry in the East Room.  Less well-known is the fact that at least one politician called her “Mrs. President.”

It had not been a contented time for the couple, with Federalists and Anti-Federalists at each other’s throats.  John’s friendship with Thomas Jefferson was severely strained (she was able to help repair it at the end of her life).  Abigail, never one to curb her outlook, had to be careful.  “My pen must grow cautious,” she wrote.  “There is envy and hatred and uncharitableness in all three branches of government.”

Finally, they were together again at home in Massachusetts.  The new state was enormous, including what we know as Maine until 1820.  Just as had happened in the original colony of Carolina earlier, the center of government was far from those living in the north.

Abigail and John enjoyed following the success of John Quincy’s political career in their retirement, and also growing number of grandchildren, some of whom stayed with them.  She would live to be 73.  Her husband, though, reached 90, passing away on July 4, 1826, as did Thomas Jefferson.  It was the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.


As I straightened the bow on my white lace cap, my audience had questions.  “What games did your children play?”

“Some the same as you, tag and hide-and-seek.  They had marbles made of clay.  And they played an outdoor game called quoits, a lot like horseshoes.”

“Did you own slaves?” they wanted to know.

“No, our family was firm against it.  In fact, the issue of slavery almost stopped our country from starting in the first place.”


“I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in those who have deprived their fellow creatures of theirs,” Abigail Adams stated.  But in order to unite, the northern states had to compromise with those in the south.  It would cause a civil war on American soil not quite a hundred years after she and so many others worked to form the new nation.


Images from http://www.firstladies.org


It was one of THOSE days.  A late winter snowfall and multiple days of temperatures below freezing finally incensed me enough to do something about the pileup downstairs.  So at about 8 a.m. the “Sorting in the Basement” regimen began.

It was a crap shoot as to where to begin.  Bins or boxes first?  Left or right side?  Our stuff or our kids’ stuff?  They’ve told me they have all they want, but I know as soon as I give it to Goodwill, one will ask, “Mom, do you know what happened to my…?”

It was safe to start with our woodcrafting material.  We probably have 50 different historical models, all of which have leftover parts, so they started going in separate, labeled boxes.  It was a situation when we’d finished with one design and started on another, and didn’t quite get them filed correctly.  Theodore Roosevelt’s cabin, Indiana schoolhouse, Native American chief’s house, general store, Christmas ornaments, and so on.

Then (again) I got into my school leftovers.  After teaching hands-on projects in elementary classrooms for 25 years, I accumulated a wagon load of materials.  When I retired I gave much of it away.  But my grandchildren (right?) might want to have the inside scoop on how to remember art in Colonial America, so I can’t give up the scherinschnitz lesson, or the marbled paper.  I have Math and Science manipulatives, and still lots of books.

A cousin in another state just put out an SOS for books for her classroom library.  Bingo!  Filled a corrugated box full and wrapped it in packing tape.  My readalouds are on their way to a good home.

When your paper trail gets to be too much, do you ever put it in boxes to look at later?  I sorted through that stuff.  Half gone.  And Christmas wrapping paper and cards – put away in the underbed bin or trashed (Why do I keep smashed bows and wrinkled tissue paper?)


Behind the scenes life of a craft blogger. Boxes, boxes everywhere! CraftsnCoffee.com.

http://www.craftsncoffee.com  Not our basement, but you get the idea.  When we get it transformed into a media center for the old VHS tapes, I might take a picture.

General history memorabilia occupies another big department in our basement.  When we go on trips, we take lots of photographs.  Lately, they’ve been stored on our phones, but for the first 30 years of our marriage we took and printed them en masse, also foraging pamphlets and small, interesting souveniers.  It sure adds up.  This doesn’t include family history ephemera, which now occupies a large trunk in our living room.  That was the big job last year.

Of course I had to stop in the middle of the day to write this blog because I was so proud of myself.  Will I complete the initiative?  Already I’m thinking about PIG Day (Purging in the Garage).  But that will wait for warmer weather.  Maybe we’ll celebrate by grilling hot dogs.

Robert’s Rules

“Hi, I’m Robert Osborne.”  The silver-haired gentleman in jacket and tie stepped forward, introducing himself as he previewed another film.  He seemed like one of our parents’ friends from childhood we can’t remember not knowing.

His absence from the Turner Classic Movie channel will be difficult for many, as he passed away this month at 84.  An actor for a short time, he appeared in the pilot for the Beverly Hillbillies in the early 1960s.  While he worked for Desilu, Lucille Ball encouraged him to begin writing, and he authored many articles on the history of film including a classic book about the Academy Awards.

Always tasteful, always a class act, Robert was trusted equally by actors. coworkers and audiences.  In 1994 he joined TCM and quickly became its anchor, accumulating interviews of movie stars from the golden age of film.  He preserved for posterity Private Screening spots with Betty Hutton, Mickey Rooney, Robert Mitchum, Ann Miller and many more.

I remember one time, perhaps before Singing in the Rain was shown, he revealed he’d been on the set the last day Gene Kelley was in front of the camera.  It was for That’s Entertainment II, and the famous dancer wasn’t feeling well, but you wouldn’t know it because he carried on like he always had, with finesse.

Mr. Osborne had just as much finesse.  We identified with him and he with us.  He was interested in the viewers, as shown by his willingness to invite them to his program from time to time to help host their favorites.

He was the Dean of Movie Watchers; he was warm and gentle, and funny too.  A recent 20th anniversary special showcased outtakes that made me laugh out loud.  Apparently Olivia DeHaviland enjoyed his conversation, because they spoke on the phone every Sunday evening.

This is a history blog, but entertainment factors into history in a big way.  It is both cause and effect in our lives.  When Thomas Edison invented moving pictures, the new medium of expression transformed the way the world would be seen from that time on.

I am grateful that Robert Osborne decided to share his experiences with his wide audience.  His rules were simple, and he followed them well.  Rest in peace.

On March 18 and 19, Turner Classic Movies will air a special tribute to Mr. Osborne.


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The Art of TR

View of sculptures in Theodore Roosevelt library at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site


Remington’s Broncho Buster at home with several other bronzes on the mantel of the North Room at Sagamore Hill.

Two familiar western artists of Theodore Roosevelt’s lifetime, Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, were intermingled with the twenty-sixth president’s life as cowboy and lover of nature and history.

A sick, asthmatic boy, “Teedie” read The Leatherstocking Tales while resting indoors.  Living on the frontier appealed to his imagination and sense of adventure.  He yearned to be a western hero like the characters in the books.

So as an adult, he bought a ranch in Dakota Territory and roughed it himself (albeit as the cowhands’ boss).  Then he began to write about it.  Theodore Roosevelt’s Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail was serialized in Century Magazine in the late 1880s, and he hand-picked Frederick Remington for the illustrations.

The National Gallery of Art, “Stampede by Lightning”

Remington lived most of his 48 years in New York.  He attended Yale and was drawn to the romance of the west, working on ranches and in saloons for a time.

Douglas Brinkley says in his massive volume Wilderness Warrior (HarperCollins 2009) “To Roosevelt, at least before the Spanish-American War, Remington (who’d once herded sheep) was a plebian, not fit to share a private club.”  The artist was assigned by William Randolph Hearst to cover the Rough Riders in 1898.

And after the brief war, the volunteer soldiers presented their colonel with Remington’s The Broncho Buster while mustering out on Long Island.  He tells in his autobiography how touched he was at the gesture.

Remington also wrote his own novel of the west, John Ermine of Yellowstone, in 1902 along with 30 illustrations.  Roosevelt liked his description of roaming Crow tribes.  “It may be true that no white man ever understood an Indian…but you convey the impression of understanding him!”

Two years before the artist’s death during an appendectomy, Roosevelt said that he had done “real work” for this country and Americans owed him a debt of gratitude. “He is, of course, one of the most typical American artists we have ever had, and he has portrayed a most characteristic yet vanishing part of American life…”

In 1888, Century Magazine published a series of articles about the West written by Roosevelt and illustrated by Remington. In a May article, Roosevelt told the story of his daring capture of three thieves who had stolen a boat from his Elkhorn Ranch. Remington depicted their capture in this painting.

Remington’s 1888 illustration for Century Magazine, accompanying TR’s story of chasing boat thieves in North Dakota.

The president also said, “The soldier, the cowboy and rancher, the Indian, the horses and the cattle of the plains, will live in his pictures and bronzes…for all time.”

L164 RUSSELL Cowboy on a bay horse


Charles M. Russell, on the other hand, was born in St. Louis and lived his adult life in Montana, providing drawings and paintings for authors Bret Harte, Owen Wister and Roosevelt.

Iconic were the ones of dying cattle on ranches in the severe blizzards of 1887.  Skulls, ribs, skin and bones.  Devastation, starvation.  And the ruin of many cattle operations, including Roosevelt’s.

Correspondence between Roosevelt and Russell is housed at libraries around the country.  On the occasion of the loss of the Progressive Party in 1912, Russell relays to his friend the disappointment felt by the school children of Great Falls.

Guardian of the Herd 1899 By Charles M Russell - Oil Paintings & Art Reproductions - Reproduction Gallery

http://www.reproduction-gallery.com “Guardian of the Herd”

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The Freer Gallery was built in Washington, D.C. in 1906 because Theodore Roosevelt, pounding on his executive desk, demanded the United States accept a large collection of art (including oriental paintings and the famous Peacock Room by James M. Whistler) and half a million dollars for the building to house it.  Smithsonian officials had been dragging their feet.

Frederic Remington     Frederic Remington    Image result for theodore roosevelt young man

                                                                             Remington, Russell, Roosevelt

TR established by Executive Order 1010 the Council on Fine Arts, a federal agency, in 1909.  President Taft replaced it with the Commission on Fine Arts the next year.

When Roosevelt saw works of cubism early in the Twentieth Century, he exclaimed “This isn’t art!”  Art was life to him, and life, especially among the landscape, people and animals of western plains and mountains, was never abstract.  It was real.

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The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, has an extensive collection of Remington and Russell art, which may be browsed at http://www.amoncartermuseum.org.