Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2000 Years in 12 Courses: A Clothing History Celebration

For our end-of-unit celebration, I decided we'd have a big feast, with one course representing each historical era we studied. As we ate each course, we reviewed the clothing styles for the corresponding era and talked about various political and social events that occurred during that time period. Each child chose an era to focus specifically on, and gave a little oral report about it. They each made a project to go along with their era, too. Some of us dressed up in "historical clothing" of one of the eras.

Here are the (fairly subjective—after all, it's hard to whittle down periods of tens or hundreds of years to just one or two characteristic foods! Still, these were all things that seemed representative to me!) foods we ate and the historical eras that went with them:
1. Classical world: Pita Bread, Olive Oil, Olives, Feta 
2. Middle Ages: Bacon, (Root) Beer 
3. French court (1600's): Melon (a favorite food of Louis IV) 
4. Age of Revolution (1700-1800): Tea (representing Boston Tea Party), Baguette (representing the Grain Riots in France) 
5. Regency/Victorian eras (1800-1900): Hot drinking chocolate, Shrewsbury Cakes
6. Edwardian era (1900-1910): Cucumber Sandwiches (as mentioned in "The Importance of Being Earnest")
7. World War I: Homemade Donuts (referencing the Salvation Army serving donuts to soldiers, who were called "doughboys") 
8. 1920s: Pointes d’asperges a la Mistinguette, a la Anatole (a food referenced in one of the Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse—see the rest of the menu here). Could also have done Tapioca Pudding to reference "Thoroughly Modern Millie." 
9. 1930s-1940s: Fritos, Cheerioats (Fritos and Cheerios, called "Cheerioats," were first made in the 1930s) 
10. 1950s: Deviled Eggs, Jello 
11. 1960s:  Tunnel of Fudge Cake, Celery with Cream Cheese 
12. Modern Times: Fruit Smoothie, Salted Caramels
Daisy and Junie dressed up as beautiful Victorian ladies. Well, they were really trying to be ladies of the French Court, but the tutus they wore under my skirts looked more like crinolines than like farthingales or panniers. Still, at least they got the birds in their hair! :)
Abe gave a presentation about the Victorian Era. He wore a top hat and cravat. Very handsome.
Malachi talked about the 1920s. He wore a bowler hat and made a banjolele like Bertie Wooster's.
Seb talked about the 1950s and made a model cockpit of the 1952 Cessa 172 Skyhawk. As you can see, none of instruments are digital!

You may wonder if it is possible to eat 12 courses in one meal! It is difficult. But not impossible. The key is just having tiny bits of each thing. We loved it. (But I do wonder how in the world Louis XIV managed meals with forty-four courses, or equally preposterous numbers!)

This was such a fun celebration and a good review of all the historical eras we'd been studying. We hope to do it again someday! :)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Clothing and Identity; Costume Design

Throughout this unit, we talked a lot about clothing and identity: what clothing says about a person, what clothing doesn't say about a person, etc. That was one of the main things we wanted to convey to the children: that their clothing choices matter, but that dressing to fit in can also have drawbacks. And that wearing something that fits well and says what you want it to say—and wearing whatever you wear with confidence—is a lot more important than fitting in to someone else's arbitrary definition of "stylish." Sam and I felt like we would have been so much more empowered had we had that kind of perspective when we were young!

Sam taught a day on Costume Design, stressing how for costume designers, every clothing choice must reveal something about the character. We learn a lot more than we realize just by looking at how a character (or any person) is dressed!
Nutmeg was very happy while Sam was teaching. He kept hopping in circles around Sam's legs.
Finally Sam had to pet him.

Sam drew two character outlines and had the children draw in costumes to fit a specific character profile which he gave them. They had to justify how their clothing choices showed various aspects of that character's personality. It was fun to see what they came up with!
Malachi, Daisy, Malachi
Sam chose one of the designs (Malachi's) to paint over and make more realistic. I love how it turned out!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Clothing History: A Timeline through (my favorite) Movies

It was an interesting exercise for me to put the movies I love into some sort of historical order. I hadn't even really placed many of them in time at all, and seeing which ones overlapped and which were historically more precise was really quite fun! In addition, we don't really watch movies in our family very often (at least the children don't). We generally have family movie night once every couple months, and we started that tradition maybe 5 years ago, so even the older children have probably only seen movies numbering in the dozens. Thus, there are a LOT of my favorite movies I had yet to introduce them to and I knew everyone would feel this was a VERY special unit!

I'm sure lots of these movies aren't costumed with complete historical accuracy, but they were good enough for our purposes. My main objective was to find a movie I LIKED (and that was child-appropriate) for each period, not just one that was accurate. And I suppose there aren't all that many movies I really love. This list covers most of them. There are a few I had to just stick in there because I couldn't think of anything else (Hercules!) but even those are at least movies I think are okay.

For this Clothing Unit, we only picked ONE movie to watch from each time period (marked with a *), but I put down all the movies I thought of in case we do this again someday, or in case someone else wants other ideas. That Victorian Period really has a wealth of great movies, eh? And I hard time thinking of any 80's-era movies I loved. I'm sure there's something I'm forgetting. :)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

American Girl Doll Clothing History Timeline

Here is something I made for Daisy. She has a doll—not American Girl brand, but the same size and style—which she loves to dress up, so we looked up all kinds of historical costumes that are available for those dolls (and even bought a few!). There are some amazing doll costumers. You can find very expensive, gorgeous historical reproductions on Etsy and cheaper period-style clothing from China on Ebay. I don't even know if it's worth putting up links because they are always changing, but it's easy to find beautiful things!

Anyway, I made this chart of American Girl dolls wearing clothing styles from the various eras. She loved it. And she's actually quite good, now, at pinpointing which eras various styles come from!
And here is Rosie (her doll) dressed in a few of her costumes:
Marie Antoinette :)
Junie's doll Violet wearing the Christian Dior "New Look"
Matching (Daisy put her sweater on backwards to make it match) :)

Thursday, January 7, 2016


After we learned about the fibers that make up different fabrics, we learned about how those fibers are spun and woven together to make fabrics. And of course, when learning about weaving, it is always fun to make paper baskets! These woven hearts are traditional decorations for Danish Christmas trees (my Danish grandmother had a whole tree full of lovely red and white ones) and, while they're slightly more complicated then just a regular double-sided woven paper mat, they aren't too hard. We had made them before so we were quite good at it! This template made them even easier.
After getting the hang of the basic "over-under-over-under" idea in weaving, we were ready to get a little more complicated. My friend let us borrow a tiny American Girl loom (I think it was for the Kirsten doll) that has a shuttle, beater, gears, and all the parts you need. That was really fun. We finally understood the warp and the weft and how the shuttle interacts with the threads to separate and lift them. Sebastian was probably the most persistent, but we all took turns weaving and making a couple of cute little woven doll sashes.
I can totally see why weaving is getting popular these days. It is really fun! Even on a doll-sized loom.

We also used my sari to demonstrate different ways that a length of woven fabric could be worn and tied and draped once it's made. There were a lot of draped styles in ancient times that didn't require sewing or much fastening at all!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Fibers and Textiles

I'm lucky enough to have a friend who spins and knits with all sorts of fibers, and she kindly let us look at several of her yarns under a microscope. Unfortunately, my notes on these pictures were a bit cryptic and I'm not sure I got them all right! I will write what I THINK they are, but you can see this page for more (and possibly more accurate) pictures of what various fibers look like at the microscopic level.
Linen (flax)?

I had a clothing and textiles class in college which was very interesting, and I had tons of fabric swatches from that, if only I could have found them! :) We raided all of our closets instead to find different fabric types, and visited a fabric store for more. The children were delighted to discover, among other things, that some of the boys' ties were "100% silk"! "We live like kings!" they said. :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Clothing History Timeline

During this unit, we put up a big timeline on the wall and wrote all kinds of things on it from other units we've had. Then we put up small pictures to show clothing from each period. That was really fun. Again, it helped us so much to visualize how the history of it all fit together! I love walking by this timeline on my way up the stairs every day and seeing the things that people have added to it. :)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Clothing and Fashion Unit Study and Lesson Plan

Click any of these 3 images to enlarge—I split it into 3 parts so the writing wouldn't be so tiny!
This looks like a monstrously long unit, and it WAS. But it was so, so fun. Sam has been wanting me to do a clothing history unit with the children for a long time now, because he says when he took his costume design class in college was the first time he really understood the whole sweep of history and how different events fit together. I can see why. The history of clothing is like a measuring stick you can use through the years to see where and why other things were happening. So, while I knew there was no way we could cover ALL there was to cover, I wanted to hit all the major historical clothing periods and get that macro/overview feeling.

My truly brilliant idea came as I was putting it all together. I decided we would watch a movie from each historical period, so we could note the costuming and have easy-to-remember references. It worked so well! If we forget what, exactly, were the hallmarks of clothing in 17th century France, we just have to think "Three Musketeers" and we instantly get a picture in our heads of what that silhouette looked like, along with some of the important things happening in that time period. (It also worked out well because this unit stretched over Christmas and New Years, so we had lots of free time for watching movies.) You can read more about our movie choices in this post.

I should stress that this was a beginner's overview of costume history. I read a costuming blog sometimes which will (quite amusingly) critique period dramas—"back lacing?! In the 1420s?!"—and I know that people much more expert than I can tell clothing trends down to half-decades and even specific years. We didn't get that detailed. Hundred-year periods, and later, decades, were the divisions I worked within, and even within decades we focused much more on broad, well-known trends and iconic fashions, rather than a true overview of all countries and social classes.

To see a visual timeline overview of clothing styles, see this post.

My Pinterest page for this unit is here.

Various clothing-related links:

Futuristic clothing with LEDs

How zippers are made

How buttons are made

Loved this article on "costume design" in Animated movies---a focus that is getting more necessary all the time, as computer graphics get more realistic!

Article about costume design in the "Pride and Prejudice" miniseries

Lots of these "Horrible Histories" clips are fun and funny. This one is on clothing laws in Elizabethan times.

This article (and whole site) is good for starting discussions about cultural ideals of beauty and modesty. The article talks specifically about the use of photoshop in print media.

More on "extreme photoshop use": here and here

We got this program, "Tales from the Royal Wardrobe," (about royal clothing through history) from the library and really liked it. She gets to try on actual clothing from those eras and you can see all the farthingales, petticoats, corsets, etc. Very interesting!
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