Oorijzers – ‘Ear-irons’ – Part 1

Oorijzers are a type of metal headgear which have been worn in the Netherlands for a very long time. Literally translated the name means ‘ear-iron’, but I don’t think there’s an official English word for them, so I’ll keep using the Dutch term. I wanted to just write one post about oorijzers, but it became a bit long, so this is part 1 of 2! In this article I’ll give a little background on the history of the oorijzer and one example of it’s continued use throughout history. The next article will be about the oorijzer in various traditional Dutch costumes!

Just a quick disclaimer: I’m writing this article as an interested layman, I’m not a scholar on this subject by any means. My information comes from museums and books, and I’ll try to give an overview of sources at the bottom. I’m also writing this more as knowledgeable on Dutch traditional costume than on 16th and 17th century dress, to give an idea of my perspective.

But back to the topic on hand! What is an oorijzer? The basic description would be ‘a piece of metal  worn on the head underneath a cap’. That’s a very bare description, mostly because the function, appearance and material of the oorijzer all changed throughout time and place. Below you see a collage of different existent oorijzers ranging from 16th to 20th century, all worn in different parts of the Netherlands (source for all images: Het Geheugen van Nederland ).

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Origin

In origin, the oorijzer was a simple wire often made of brass. It was worn around the head and meant to keep the cap (which was worn on top) in place. It was a very utilitarian object, of which the largest part was not seen. The tips could be a little decorated with wire or small knobs, because these would stick out a little in the front. The rest of the wire was narrow and undecorated. Below is a brass oorijzer with copper wire around the tips found in Amsterdam, believed to be made in the 16th century. This is a good example of the style and shape of oorijzers around this time.

This type of oorijzer was worn throughout the entire country as a part of regular fashions of the time. These would’ve gone out of fashion for the elite around 1650. The lower classes would keep wearing them for a little longer. After 1700, you see oorijzers mostly in regional and local wear.

Although the earliest examples of oorijzers are twisted wire, at some point you also start seeing plated (I’m not sure if this is the correct technical term for how they’re made, sorry!) examples with little loops attached. The one below is from the last quarter of the 17th century, made of gilded brass. This one might’ve been for a wealthier woman, given the gilding and decoration of the knobs. It might have been worn with an early version of regional clothing as well, given the date.

Oorijzer, vermoedelijk laatste kwart 16de eeuw

The oorijzer would be made such that it would grip the head, preventing the cap from sliding off. The cap could be pinned to the ear iron. Because it was a bit tight (otherwise the grip wouldn’t work), you often see the knobs or ends making indentations of the cheeks of wearers.

Although few oorijzers from the 16th and 17th centuries have survived (being the practical accessories they were), they were worn widely. Luckily for us, the 17th century is a great era for the Dutch painters. Even though most of the upper class stopped wearing them at some point during the century, lower class portraits were also done. This means a fair number of paintings have survived which show women wearing oorijzers. Below a small selection.

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Top left to right: “Vrouw aan de maaltijd” Gabriël Metsu ca. 1661, ca. 1664 – “Portrait of Catharina Hooghsaet (1607-1685)”  Rembrandt, 1657 – “Studie van een oude vrouw in een witte dop” Rembrandt  – “Woman eating”  Gabriël Metsu 1664-1666. Bottom left to right:  “Meisje maakt kant”  Caspar Netscher – “Portrait of a Lady” Frans Pourbus the Elder 1580 – “Portrait Of A Young Woman” Frans Hals 1655,1660 – “Portrait of a woman” Frans Hals 1640

 

In the 18th century the oorijzer disappears from regular fashions. In some regional costumes the oorijzer disappears (if it ever existed at all, sources pre 1700 being scarce). In others though, it is kept on and starts to transform. The 18th century is the base of most of the regional traditional costume we see today, it’s when the differences start becoming larger. The same is true for the oorijzer, which becomes different for different regions.

Burgerweeshuis

One very interesting place where the oorijzer is kept is the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam, the main orphanage in Amsterdam. Founded in the 16th century, the orphanage was quite well known and located in the same place up to 1954. The uniform for the girls was very distinctive, with dresses which were black on one side and red on the other, worn with white caps including oorijzers. After the oorijzer goes out of fashion in the 17th century the orphans keep wearing it and it serves as a part of their dowry when they leave. Throughout time it grows a bit from the 17th century version, becoming wider. The oorijzers worn in the Burgerweeshuis are eventually made of silver, making it one of the most valuable possessions the orphans were likely to have. The costume, including oorijzers was worn up to 1919 when they stopped wearing the uniform. This is an example of a costume which is not as much regional but institutional, but which therefore stays nearly the same for centuries. I couldn’t find any pictures of the uniform before late 19th century, so these images below best reflect the uniform as worn in the last years.

Below is a print of the costume made in 1914 after a doll (date unknown, but I’d guess late 19th/early 20th century) which clearly shows the silver oorijzer beneath the cap. At this point, it has become wider than the original 17th century oorijzer and the little knobs are high on the head.

 

Some existent examples. The pins would’ve been put through the knobs at the top

The painter Nicolaas de Waay painted a good number of paintings of girls of the Burgerweeshuis in the early 20th century. This is one of his portraits, again clearly showing the oorijzers beneath the caps.

Currently, most Dutch people know the oorijzer purely from their use in various traditional Dutch costumes. In Part 2 of this topic I’ll attempt to give an overview of how the oorijzer evolved in different regional wear, and how they’re still worn today!

Sources:

Het Geheugen van Nederland

Amsterdam Museum – Burgerweeshuis

Wikipedia page Burgerweeshuis

New bonnet

A while back, someone on the Jane Austen forum I’m a (not very active) member of asked if people wanted to join in an order for straw bonnets. A friend of mine already had one which was lovely, so I decided to join in. And then someone else suggested to have a bonnet-decorating meetup when they came in. Which was a great idea, and I had a really lovely afternoon looking for trims, sewing on ribbons and placing flowers. It was also great to get to know everyone, and join up with people with the same weird hobby.

So after that day, I had a half-finished bonnet! I managed to do most of the outside trimming that day, and finished off the lining at home. That’s also why I only have pictures of the second part. The straw base for the bonnet is the Eliza from Austentation. The pleated trim I bought as is. I was actually planning to pleat ribbon for the trim, so when I saw this one I figured I’d save myself some time.

To line the bonnet I first needed a pattern. I pinned some paper in the hat to get the shape of the brim. By drawing a pencil line I got the outline for the brim pattern.

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Because I wanted the lining to be gathered I divided half of the pattern into strips and cut them out. Re-spacing them to make it about 2x as wide gave me the final pattern. I didn’t quite get the curve right in the end, but I’d cut enough fabric for it not to matter. After gathering both the inner and outer edge I re-cut it to shape.

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The brim lining was made with 4 pieces to line the edges and a circle for the crown. The whole lining was stitched in place around the brim and at a couple of points where the brim meets the crown. The crown was left loose.

Finally, the edge was finished with bias tape. It’s all stitched by hand, which was a bit of a pain as it meant sewing through 2 layers of straw plus 5 layers of cotton. It is pretty though.

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The finished bonnet! It has pleated trim around the base of the brim and over the crown. The flowers are plastic and bought as is. The bow hides the base of the flowers and was made with ribbon. The decorative bias tape around the brim finishes the lining and was bought as is.

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The decoration is all on one side, leaving the other side simple.

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These show the lining, gathered around the brim.

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Some different perspectives of the flowers and bow.

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And I couldn’t resist putting it on my bear. Doesn’t she look fabulous in it?

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Victorian chemise

The most important undergarments for my 1870’s dress were the corset and bustle. Those are the items which give shape and form the silhouette. But they’re not everything that would’ve been worn. For that, a chemise and drawers are also necessary. And a corset-cover and additional petticoat also wouldn’t hurt.

So when I wanted a quick and easy side project next to working on my 1870’s evening bodice, I made a chemise! I showed my corset over my Edwardian chemise, and that will not work under an evening bodice as the neckline is too high. For this chemise, I needed a low neckline. I also wanted something that would work not only for the 1870’s, but also the 1880’s. That meant a chemise with straps but no sleeves, as many 1880’s evening dresses were sleeveless. I settled on a free online 1889 historical pattern. It’s a bit late, but chemises didn’t change too much, so I’m just assuming it’s plausible. (Also, this pattern is very simple, which was a big plus for an easy side project.)

As a chemise is a very good project to start with historical costuming, I figured a full write-up of how I made mine might be useful. A slight side-note, I don’t know if this method is 100% historically correct. It is pretty much the same as is advised in the TV Edwardian chemise pattern though. If you’re less interested in the process, scroll down to the bottom for the finished product.

The first thing I did was adapting the pattern. I only used the pattern for the general shape. Front and back are the same, so that’s already easy. I then pulled a simple shift-dress from my closet and used this to trace the dimensions. Where the strap would be, etc. I added width for the neckline as it would be gathered. From this pattern, I made a mock-up out of an old sheet. I pinned it together and gathered the top to check the fit. My mock-ups are generally ugly, but functional.

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This was just the top, to save fabric. I only ended up shifting the straps to a slight tilt so they would lie a bit off-shoulder. I re-drew my full pattern on pattern paper first. Then I pinned it to my fabric on the fold. I cut out the pattern twice with room for the seam allowances. The ruler is for scale.

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I always trace my pattern in chalk if I don’t have a seam allowance, as here. The little part is the extended strap.

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I used French seams, which means you make the seam twice and catch the raw edges inside. It gives for a nice clean finish and a sturdy garment. To start, I pinned the two pieces together wrong sides together, as well as pinning the straps. This will mean the first seam will be on the outside, as is the goal with a French seam.

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Next up, sewing! You should sew a little away from your chalk line here. How far depends on how wide you want your seams. I was stupid and forgot this, and sewed on the line, but I’d advice 0,5 or 1 cm.

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The next step is ironing. So important for sewing! This is what the seam looks like before pressing.

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You press the seam open.

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To get this! (sorry for the blurry photo)

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Time to trim the seam allowances. They should be smaller than your seam width, or the distance you sewed away from your line initially. (As I stupidly sewed on my line, I cut them off to be very small).

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Turning the whole thing inside out, pin the seams again. I made sure my pins were just outside of where the raw edges were on the inside.

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Time to sew!

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And press. Before:

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And after. This time you can’t press the allowance open (as it’s caught inside). So I just pressed from the right side.

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I now trimmed the neckline and armhole to about 1 cm away from my chalk line. These will have a very narrow seam. I could’ve done this when initially cutting out, but didn’t decide on the narrow seam until this point, and I always rather cut too much fabric than too little.

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I used a zig-zag stitch around the armholes and neckline first to prevent fraying.

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Next I folded over all edges and pinned in place. (again, blurryness, sorry!)

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And I sewed the hem around the neckline and edges!

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For the hem, I ironed the bottom over twice first.

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After pinning the hem in place for extra security, sewing time!

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This pattern works with a gathered neckline, so I made 2 rows of gathering stitches just below the neckline front and back.

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Pulling the thread, I gathered both pieces (front & back) to 23 cm. I decided I liked the look of the gathers as they were, so I left the tread in. To stop them from undoing, I made a knot in the threads of both stitches on every side.

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To secure the gathers, I went over them with a regular stitch, attempting to stitch in the middle of the gathering stitches.

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I had a little antique lace left-over from my Edwardian blouse, and it was just the right length to sew over the straps. I first pinned it on, folding over the raw edges on both sides.

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And then I sewed it in place20160904_190913

Almost done! I debated extra lace along the neckline or hem, but I quite liked the way it looked now. I also didn’t have lace which really matched the antique, so I decided to leave it plain (very non-Victorian by the way).

To finish off, I added little bows to mask the end of the lace on the straps.

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And finished (my dress form was being used by a bustle, two skirts and Victorian bodice in progress, and I was too lazy to remove them all to take this image. Hence the lying flat):

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Worn underneath my corset. I love how the little gathered ruffle looks on top of my corset. (Picture without bows, as they were added last)

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