Saturday, May 30, 2009


I have a weakness for early fabrics. The texture from years of numerous washings and the wear of generations can not be easily duplicated today. I not only adore the fabrics themselves but also their names: baize, fearnaught, everlasting, linsey-woolsey, moreen, dimity, diaper, tammy. Such creative names. The list of stuff * is almost endless. But my all time favorite is a simple fabric, homespun linen. I love the feel, the texture and the look of linen. And when I think of all the many steps and the work involved to produce a homespun linen sheet, well I'm in awe. When linen comes off the loom it is brown. It can be dyed or it can be bleached. One would think that after all the work and the many steps involved to get raw flax to a linen sheet, the bleaching process would be easy. Not so in the 18th century. Before 1760, the bleaching process was time consuming and labor intensive.
1. Soak the linen 30 to 40 hours in warm water, rinse and dry.
2. Soak in lye and cow dung for 48 hours.
3. Stretch cloth over the grass in bleach-yard.
4. Wash off the cow dung.
5. Beat cloth with "bat staffs" for 2 to 3 hours.
6. Place cloth into boiling lye and soak 24 hours.
7. Wash cloth. Stretch it over the bleach-green 4 hours.
8. Beat with bat staffs.
9. Repeat the last three steps for 8 to 10 days.
10.Place cloth in buttermilk for 1 or 2 nights.
11.Wash and beat the cloth again and then stretch it over the bleach-green.
12. Sour it again with buttermilk.
13. Repeat the process for another week, until the cloth is white enough.

OH MY GOODNESS!!!! This process takes a month to complete. If I didn't have a respect for our ancestors before I sure do now.
*Textiles in general and especially a lustrous, English fabric of cotton or wool.

Friday, May 22, 2009


It is no secret that women go to extreme lengths to be attractive. Million of dollars are spent on cosmetics each year for the sake of beauty. It was no different in the 18th century. Face patches were extremely popular for both women and men. They were made from the gummed pieces of taffeta, silk or even leather and were placed on the checks to heighten the brilliancy of the complexion and to hide the pock marks. They were made in different shapes, like stars, crescents & lozenges & were often dyed brilliant colors. Other people who did not want to wear patches choose to use a thick coat of face powder. Recipe: Several thin plates of lead, a big pot of vinegar, a bed of horse manure, water, perfume and a tinting agent. Steep the lead in the pot of vinegar, and rest it in a bed of manure for at least three weeks. When the lead finally softens to the point where it can be pounded into a flaky white powder(chemical reaction between the vinegar and lead causes the lead to turn white), grind it to a fine powder. Mix with water, and let dry in the sun. After the powder is dry, mix with the appropriate amount of perfume and tinting dye. Yuck! Since the base of the powder was lead it was also very poisonous! All for the sake of being fashionable and beautiful.