A heavy chain-link fence nearly surrounds the concrete and metal structures that will eventually be the Janey II apartments. It’s the “nearly” part that intrigues me. One small section of the site is sealed off by a wooden wall and a padlocked wood-filled door.

Wood. My favorite. It’s the timeless material that fits in a prehistorical tale about velociraptors and can still make a fashion statement the Portland 2059 world of Book Three.

The first draft of Book Three mentions an “eco-fiber Fem-Form” that covers the body of my main character.  She’s basically dressed in wood. Or, to be more exact, cellulose. My imaginings? No way.

Leave it to the Finns, who have as close a relationship with forests and lumber as Oregonians do, to be working on a cost-effective way to turn wood into threads for the garment industry. According to Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre, fiber from wood-based biomass is an eco-alternative to water-intensive cotton and petroleum-based polyester fabrics. […]

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A couple of years back, Patricia Zanger was selling hats in Bonnet, her shop nine floors below my apartment, while I was writing Blue Thread. We were both working on revisions. I was polishing the story of Miriam and her involvement with the Osborne sisters, two milliners from Chicago who rented a tiny hat shop in northwest Portland in 1912. Downstairs in her real live shop, Patricia was taking a bolder step. Eager to provide her customers with hats they liked, Patrica decided to make her own.

Unlike the Osborne sisters, Patricia does not use toxic dyes in her hats. She buys the best materials and imports ribbon from France. She hails from New York City, not Chicago, and has owned shops for about 20 years. It takes several days to steam, shape, and stitch a hat, and then to add the finishing touches. Like the Osbornes, Patricia will sell you a ready made hat or personalize one. […]

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In Blue Thread, Miriam goes to a Halloween party dressed as Marie Antoinette. Her mother, Lillian Josefsohn, gives her a pearl necklace to wear. Later,

Mama came to the front hall. She insisted that Mrs. Steinbacher’s chauffeur drive Charity and me to the railroad depot. Sure enough, a few minutes later the Packard was once again in front of our house. I feared for a moment that Mama would come with us, but she didn’t. Instead, she gave me the pearl necklace I’d worn as Marie Antoinette.

This pearl necklace will show up about fifty years later in a companion novel to Blue Thread. More about that later. For now, let’s focus on those pearls.

The first cultured pearls were developed in about 1916, and Blue Thread takes place in 1912. Clearly Mama’s pearls were wrested from the sea, and, in my story, most likely by the Ama, Japanese women divers. […]

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Amelia Bloomer didn't design bloomers!

Last week we looked at tops that women cyclists might have worn a hundred years ago. Today we get to the bottom…which in the late 1800s and early 1900s were often bloomers. Bloomers–those baggy pants usually gathered at the bottom–are associated with Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894). Bloomer edited The Lily, what’s believed to be the first newspaper in the United States directed at women. The Lily grew out of the temperance movement (educating the public on the evils of alcoholic beverages) and expanded to include other issues important to women, including the right to vote. Among the contributors to The Lily was a person who signed her articles “Sunflower”–suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Courtesy Library of Congress

Stanton and Bloomer became friends and allies in the fight for women’s rights. They both began to wear the knee-length dress and pants that Stanton’s cousin, Elizabeth Smith Miller, designed. […]

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Blue Thread didn’t have any scenes of Miriam riding her bicycle, but in her life beyond the story (and characters do have lives that don’t fit into the book) she loved to ride around her neighborhood on her bike. She was among many teen girls and women who did. Cycling was so popular in Portland and in other cities by the early 1900s that fashion designers had special clothes for the two-wheeled set. You’ve likely heard of bloomers (and I’ll take that up in a separate post). Here’s an ad for “Two Pretty Bicycle Blouses from the Sunday Oregonian on May 20, 1900. Bikes were made in Portland, too. You can still see evidence of that in the Pearl District, which used to be part of the Northwest Industrial District and before that Couch’s Addition. The Ballou & Wright Company building that now houses Hanna Andersson was originally a bicycle factory. […]

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Our fictional Miriam Josefsohn was 16 years old in 1912. Now, a hundred years later, most girls Miriam’s age in the U.S. wear lipstick—or not—and no one bats an eyelash. But back then it was a different story.

Levy Tube, circa 1915. Note the slide on the side.

First off, there was no such thing as “lipstick” in 1912. Women—and men in some eras—had been reddening their lips for thousands of years with home-brewed concoctions. Maurice Levy, of the Scovil Manufacturing Company in Waterbury, Connecticut, designed and produced the first tube of lipstick in 1915. It looked like a rather large bullet case with red gunk inside. A common recipe for American lipstick was beeswax, olive oil, and crushed insects.

Second, in 19th century America, polite and proper women didn’t wear lip rouge. They might bite their lips to make them red, or run dampened red paper over their lips, but that was as far as they’d go. […]

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And while I was downtown, I could replace my black shoes. Surely Meier & Frank would have the same pair. I took four dollars from my rainy day fund—a serious depletion, but it couldn’t be helped.

Judging from its ads, Meier & Frank was the department store to go to in Portland in 1912, and four dollars would have bought a decent pair of shoes. The elegant five-story building on Fifth Street between Alder and Morrison boasted more than 100,000 square feet of floor space. There was a ten-story annex about a block away. The store grew from a partnership between Aaron Meier and Emil Frank in 1873. Here’s a detailed description of the store’s history, including the Meier-Frank connection to Harry Weis, Max Hirsch, and the White Stag Company. Hirsch is an ancient surname derived from an old German word for deer or stag.  And Weis? You guessed it—a name that means “white.”

In 1912, Miriam could have looked for her black shoes at Lipman Wolfe & Co. […]

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This snapshot from 1915 will give you a pretty good idea of what (fictional) Miriam Josefsohn and her parents might have worn when they ventured into the Pacific surf off the Oregon coast. Not far from their home in Portland a (real) sweater manufacturing company was starting to experiment with lighter weight and more revealing bathing suits.

 

For centuries, people swam in the nude. Then some folks went for the cover-up-everything look that made swimming difficult. Bulky suits were still in fashion in 1913 when men from the Portland Rowing Club asked John and C. Roy Zehntbauer and Carl Jantzen, to design a knitted swimming garment. The three men had started Portland Knitting Co. in 1910 and were members of the Club. They used a sweater cuff machine to design a virgin wool garment that revolutionized the swimwear industry. The company changed its name in 1918 to Jantzen Knitting Mills and set to work making itself an international success. […]

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A corset might have been a delightful garment in medieval France. The word came from the diminutive of “cors” meaning “body” and it meant a lace bodice. But by about 1800 a corset referred to a stiff, restricting undergarment.  Miriam Josefsohn in Blue Thread, was thankful that she wasn’t wearing one during her travel back to the steppes of biblical Moab.

Corsets…I don’t know how Mama can stand them.

Here’s an ad for a corset from the Morning Oregonian, February 18, 1912. The corset featured here boasts of steel rods that never rust. Ouch!

By 1908, corsets reached to well below the hips, making it difficult to sit down. Coutille (similar to denim) was used for the less expensive corsets, but one could buy a corset made from brocade, ribbon, and lace for an extravagant $50. Corsets began to “loosen up” during World War I (1914-1918), when women took jobs in business and industry to replace men who had left for military service. […]

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The cover of Blue Thread features a bow that Miriam Josefsohn might have worn in the 1912 campaign to give women in Oregon the same voting rights as Oregon men. Eliza Lane made that bow, which, as she shows us, is a cinch to make. Take it away, Eliza.

Tools and materials: button with a pin back scrap of fabric scissors permanent marker needle and thread 24″ of ribbon 6″ piece of thin wire (such as from a twist tie) safety pin

To make the VOTE button, cover pre-made pin with fabric. Cut a circle from fabric about 3/4″ larger in diameter than the button you want to cover. Write a message in permanent ink. (Note the Mockingjay button Eliza used for this project.)

Use a needle and thread to make running stitches around the edge of the fabric, slip the pin inside and pull to tighten. Tie a knot.

 

 

Now you are ready to make your bow. […]

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