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( Originally Published 1963 )
So are the yards of knitted or crocheted lace that a lady made herself to edge her petticoats. Strangely enough, centuries ago knitting was man's, not woman's, work. Of course knitting has been used to make all sorts of things from rugs to stockings. Knitting was almost as important as needlework for the early American women-so important that little girls learned to knit almost as soon as they could hold the needles. At some time during her schooldays, a girl knit a sampler too, a piece about six inches wide and a yard or so long displaying any number of patterns, each one carried on for a few inches and never repeated.
Not all knitting was strictly serviceable. American women knitted lacy, delicate stockings and mitts of white cotton thread to wear "for best"-on Sundays and special occasions. Almost as fine as the personal wearing apparel that they knit were the doilies and table sets.
Although the crochet stitch itself is very old, having been used by some American Indians as well as inhabitants of the Near East, the art of crocheting is comparatively new to American women. It probably received its greatest impetus from the patterns published by Sara Josepha Hale in Godey's Lady's Book, starting in 1846. In a sense, crocheting is lacework, but unlike the old traditional laces, it is hooked, freehand as it were, in the air. Pinwheel, popcorn, spiderweb, filetinnumerable stitches and delicate patterns are created by the person who crochets. Weaving and knitting patterns also can be duplicated by crochet.
Bedspreads usually were crocheted of cotton thread but warmer coverlets were crocheted of wool. Bonnets, mufflers, mittens, and caps also were crocheted from various types of woolen yarns. Doilies for many purposes, tray cloths, piano covers, and tablecloths might be crocheted entirely or at least edged with a lacy crocheted border. Even rugs were crocheted. And of course yards and yards of crocheted laces were made to adorn clothing.
Incidentally, the trunks and boxes in which clothing, laces, and household linens were packed away and forgotten may also contain a few lengths and remnants of old textiles. Most desirable would be a Toile de Jouy, a linen or cotton fabric printed with a scenic design in one color on a light background, and chintzes with copperplate printed designs made in England during the 1700's and 1800's. Calicoes and some of the old silks are worth looking at twice.
With all the work there was to be done by hand, it might seem that a woman never could sit still and fan herself on a hot day. Nevertheless a fan was as important on a summer day as a shawl on a cool one. Fans are said to have been invented in Japan as early as A.D. 670, and were common in China and Europe during the sixteenth century. During the 1600's Paris became a center of fan manufacture, and the next century saw fans reach a peak of popularity as well as fine workmanship. Incidentally, at that time fans were carried by both men and women. By 1800, cheap printed fans began to appear.
Fans were carried by ladies in Europe and America during the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth centuries. Surviving examples are not necessarily of great value, for the material and decoration depended on what a family could afford. Many old fans that were not originally high-priced ones seem charming today. It is hard to date a fan accurately unless it is a family heirloom or can be documented by some means or other.
During the 1800's, fans were made of many materials. Lace, ivory, silk, feathers (peacock, ostrich, turkey), fragrant sandalwood or other rare wood, parchment, and paper all were common for folding fans. Often the material was painted or embroidered. Some famous artists of the period painted fans. Wood, ivory, and other fine materials were used for the sticks and mounts, and if the material permitted, were sometimes carved.
Special fans were made for ladies in mourning. These were black, with jet decoration and with sticks of dark tortoiseshell or polished black wood. Black lace fans, sometimes embroidered with sequins or beads, were a little too fancy for mourning but not for an elderly lady to carry to church.
The screen fan, a different type, often was woven of straw, cane, or reeds. This style also was made of parchment or silk and decorated.
Novelty fans included the rosette type that folds into the handle, the mask, and the mirror fan. In the 1890's, young ladies sometimes decorated their own fans. They would paste cutouts of college pennants, headings from writing paper at resorts, and similar mementos on the heavy silk or paper of a folding fan.
If you think you have found a fan that is valuable or unusually attractive, it deserves the best of care. Old fans must be protected from excessive heat and cold, both of which can cause discoloration and separation of the parts. Opening and closing a fan subjects it to strain and may cause wear and tears. It's best to keep an old fan opened out in a glass case or frame. In this way, one or more frequently are used for room decoration. Poor condition detracts from the beauty of a fan, and even in the case of a rare one, reduces its salability.
Every woman also treasured some jewelry, particularly during the Victorian era of peace and prosperity. Not all of this jewelry was expensive. Coral, turquoise, amber, jet, onyx, garnet, and moonstone were prized, and these at best are semiprecious stones. The miscellaneous jewelry that was not considered valuable enough to mention specifically in a will probably has some cash value today. For one thing, coral and turquoise are fashionable again. So are charm bracelets and the bangle bracelets beloved by Victorian ladies. The long chains on which they wore their watches are frequently turned into bracelets with the slides as ornaments. The earbobs worn in pierced ears can easily be converted into screw or clip earrings.
The fact that you fail to turn up any diamond rings, pins, or bracelets is not necessarily anything to bewail. As much money can be realized from other old jewelry as from a piece with any but a very large diamond, because the diamonds in old pieces are likely to be "old mine cut." This cut admittedly is unusual now, but there is little market for these diamonds. They cannot be sold for their full appraised value because some of the stone will be lost when it is recut in one of the several currently fashionable shapes.
Old mine cut is a recognized shape for diamonds, slightly oval with a pattern of facets and a deep point below. A rose cut diamond, another old style, varies more than old mine cut. Oval, oblong, and square diamonds with rounded corners are old cuts that are more acceptable nowadays than old mine and rose. Year and heart shapes also are old, but are newly fashionable; the marquise or boat-shaped diamond is not much more than 75 years old.
Adult as well as young Victorian ladies were fond of rings of lovely, softly gleaming old gold set with small diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds alone or in combination. A band of five or six sapphires or of some other gem stone is currently enjoying a revival of popularity. Combinations of small emeralds and diamonds, of pearls or moonstones and garnets, are charming rather than salable curiosities.
Bridal sets of jewelry were important to Victorian couples. A set usually consisted of earrings for pierced ears, two bracelets, and a breast pin or brooch, possibly a necklace. Sets of seed pearls or pearls on mother-of-pearl probably are the most valuable today. Around 1870, sets of garnets were popular. Similar sets of jewelry often were given on other important occasions. They ranged from simple gold with black enamel decoration to onyx with pearls and more valuable stones.
Mourning jewelry was made of jet. Bracelets, pins, and other personal ornaments woven from human hair were memorial pieces or mementos of a loved one.
One of the charms of Victorian jewelry is the rich, soft, real gold color of the gold in which stones were mounted and of which chains, watchcases, and the like were made. A gold locket an inch or two long, often set with one stone, was worn on a long chain, as was a watch. Chokers of gold beads, usually all the same size, may be too snug for today's women to wear, but they were invariably of excellent quality. A considerable amount of jewelry -bracelets, earrings, pins, and lockets -was gold with colored enamel. Cobalt blue and black were favorite colors.
In spite of the excellent workmanship, many pins that Victorians wore proudly seem to have no particular distinction today. Cameos, however, often are interesting, sometimes unusual. The classic profile always has been common, but some old cameos were carved to display groups or a scene. Cameo pins were mounted in beautiful, quite plain gold settings.