RSS Feed

Category Archives: Victorian

General catch all for Victorian era

Come play with us!

Posted on
Come play with us!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just a quick update to let you know we will be setting up at the Vista, CA event this weekend – March 8/9. The event takes place at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, 2040 N. Santa Fe Ave, Vista, CA. Call for directions 760/941-1791, or go to Gold Coast Festivals for more information! That link will take you directly to the Vista page. We are very excited to visit our friends, immerse ourselves in history, and teach doll making and home making to all visitors who stop by. Hopefully we will see you, too!

Victorian style pomanders

If you are looking for a historical craft activity to do with your kids, or just on your own for the joy of it, you might try out a Victorian style pomander. Pomanders were made from citrus fruits pierced with cloves and date back to the 15th century. The cloves helped preserve the fruit from spoiling and the aromas helped fragrance the home for many months. They were often hung in bunches from ceiling beams. Remember, homes often had one great room for cooking, eating, socializing and sleeping, so the pomanders helped to keep unpleasant odors at bay. Cloves were sometimes inserted in symbolic shapes and as the fruit dried the pomander became a good luck charm. They could be made annually to continue the good luck in the home. By the 17th century, the wealthy had decorative holders to put the pomanders into so they could hold them close to their nose. Not only did they help hide unpleasant odors, but they were also used for disease prevention as it was believed that certain spices could prevent diseases or noxious vapors from entering the body through the nose.

Pomanders enjoyed a revival during the 19th century with the greater availability of citrus fruits. Americans had access to oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits grown in Florida and California in particular. Follow these simple instructions to create an aromatic and lovely historical holiday item. They can be hung from the ceiling as in old, or displayed in a bowl on a table.

Citrus spice pomanders

Orange, lemon or lime

Whole cloves


Implement for poking holes – some people suggest a clean 2″ nail

Pour a small bowl full of whole cloves.

Create a design on your fruit – spiral, stars, crosses, etc. – by poking holes into the skin of the fruit. Place the holes no closer than 1/4″ apart, otherwise the skin of the fruit could tear; also because they shrink as they dry you could lose some of the cloves if they are too close. Place a clove into the premade holes. If you are working with oranges or lemons, you may want to make a few holes, place the cloves, then make a few holes, place the cloves, etc., as the lighter colored fruit skins can disguise your holes and you may lose your pattern.

Proceed this way until your design is complete. Gently but not loosely wrap a ribbon around the fruit, tying it in a knotted bow at the top. You can also tie it in a loop to hang from a hook. We used boutonniere pins to ensure the ribbon did not slide off the orange.

The pomanders will dry but should not spoil because of the preservative effects of the cloves. As they dry the pomanders will naturally lose some of their scent. To refresh their fragrance, place them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with ground cloves, then bake at a very low temperature for about 15 minutes. At that time you can also adjust the ribbons to ensure they do not come off.


Enjoy your traditional holiday pomander!

Slates & Slate Pencils

If you have stumbled across this site because you were browsing historical topics, at some point you likely have come across references to school children using slates to perform their work. We all know (somehow, by osmosis perhaps) that a slate is a chalkboard. But, who exactly knows the how and they why of the slate?

Many sources reference the fact that paper was expensive while slate was inexpensive. Now that really turns our modern concept of school supplies on its head, doesn’t it!? But, in perspective, a slate was a one-time purchase, and for practicing at something such as penmanship or arithmetic, it wasn’t practical to keep the work. Paper would have been reused to start the fire. Slate is a type of stone you might have seen used as stepping stones or patio paving, but in the 19th century, the stone was “flaked” into thin sheets and then cut to size. The average size was 8×10 once encased in the frame. Slates could be bound in a book to protect the surface, and smaller 3×5 slates were available for adults to jot notes and work math on. Both sides of the slate would have been used as a work surface.

Slate & slate pencils

Because the slate was for temporary work, memorization was crucial for learning and in passing examinations. A teacher could walk around the room and review a student’s progress much like today, but assignments couldn’t practically be collected and then returned at the end of the session with a grade. There was just too much chance something would be erased accidentally. Once the work was reviewed at the student’s desk, the slate was wiped clean and new work commenced. And now you know where that saying comes from…

School children had a slate which they carried back and forth from home to school. But, what did they write with? Until recently, I assumed “chalk of course!” because that is what the teachers of my childhood used on the chalkboard. But! that was not the case in the 19th century. Slate pencils were most common, and made from soapstone or of a softer grade of slate than the actual tablet was made. They were commonly wrapped in paper and slate pencils wrapped in wood (akin to a modern #2) were also available into the 20th century. The softer the pencil, the fewer scratches it made into the slate surface, preserving the slate for a longer amount of usage. Chalk was also available which was softer and easier to write with on slate. If you don’t like the sound of nails on a chalkboard, plug your ears when learning to write with a slate pencil on a slate! The scratching sound is something like a cat catching its tail under a rocking chair’s runner.

The slate was phased out in the 20th century as paper making became less expensive. They are still widely available on auction sites like ebay where you can get an antique slate and the pencils, but don’t look for them at you local craft store because they are no longer the “in thing” to decorate apparently. The ones you might find there would be chalkboards rather than slates anyway – particle board painted with chalkboard paint rather than an actual piece of slate. While researching for this article I found the following history sources, although I know nothing about them and this is not an endorsement.

Early Office Museum

PBS’s School: The story of American Education

Faire Tyme Toys

Historical Folk Toys

My friends and I will be visiting Huntington Beach’s annual Civil War event this Labor Day weekend. Hope to see you there!


Recently we were asked to put together an educational program for a senior center. Mrs Brewer (aka Kathy) contacted some of our friends in the Civil War reenacting community to find out if they would be interested and available. Due to the very busy 2011 season, it took us almost a year to get this date on the calendar! But once we had our program finalized, we were very excited because we had a very well rounded program.

Widow Peters discussed Victorian Mourning

Sergeant Pavitch speaking on weapons and military life

Mrs Marvel discusses infant clothing

Mrs Marshall spoke on Victorian etiquette

Mrs Brewer coordinated the program

All in all it was a fabulous program with many many questions and quite a large number of people who lingered afterwards to view artifacts and talk to the speakers. For me, the best part of the event was hearing that my four-year-old daughter had been speaking to one of the guests who was handling an antique photo album and said “we aren’t allowed to touch but we can look.” I must be doing something right!

Be sure to view our photo stream on Flickr by clicking here or on the thumbnails over on the right. We can put together an educational program for you too…just let us know!

The latest in tailoring

Posted on

August 1900

Dear sister,

I enclose for your perusal a copy of the latest tailoring guide from the Dobbs Brothers entitled the United States Tailor System. You would use this along with your French curve to draft patterns much more accurately. Not to say that you have any difficulty with clothing but I feel it is always good to read of new techniques and methods do you not also? This particular guide is updated from the ’95 version and includes enhancements for drafting clothing for children and adult women. I hope that you find this useful.

Give my best to all.

Your loving sister,


Click to view the full book

Baby Shoe Pattern

Dearest Mrs. Castillo,

I so enjoyed visiting with you Saturday last and playing with your precious new baby boy Maximiliano! He will certainly be a delight to you and Mr. Castillo, and a great friend to his older brother Alejandro. The baby days flee so quickly, do they not?

As promised, I have enclosed the pattern to make the baby shoes. They are quite versatile and I made a pair for Melody once she began toddling around. You will find these shoes very easy to assemble and comfortable for the baby as well. While the shoes can be made for a baby who is not walking, you could also make them with a leather sole, as I did.

First, trace this pattern here to the size of Maximiliano’s foot and then cut it out of wool or any other soft and fleecy material. You should stitch around the inside curved section of the shoe top so that it does not stretch out of shape. Next, take the right sides together and sew up the single straight edge of the shoe top with a narrow seam. That piece goes at the heel. If you will be making a slipper to wear indoors, you can sew the sole on wrong side to wrong side. If you will be making a shoe to wear outdoors, place them right sides together. Stitch all the way round with a narrow seam and then cut the curves, then turn the shoe right side out. Next you will sew a snap into place on the strap. I have enclosed a few photographs to assist you.

I hope to visit with you again soon and watch little Max grow up into a fine young man!

Your friend,

Mattie Marvel

Shoe Upper showing stitching

Shoe Upper showing stitching

Shoe stitched and notched before turning

Turned shoe showing leather sole

Infant shoes, wool felt with sueded leather soles


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 305 other followers