Wednesday, December 31, 2014

To Keep One's Self Warm

Object: Warming Pan, ca. 1770-1800
Accession#: 1900.0061

Winter presented a difficult time for families simply trying to keep warm, including the Randolphs. As one historian states, “for most American colonists, winter could be anything from inconvenient to challenging to deadly.” The fireplace provided the only source of heat until Benjamin Franklin invented the wood stove. A fireplace gives but takes away, as much of its heat goes up the chimney and pulls cold air back in to replace it. So heating a room could be a somewhat unsuccessful venture. The following quote, from the Farmer’s Almanac (1784), gives advice on how to keep warm during winter:

Take a piece of wood, fling it out the window into the Yard;  then run downstairs as hard as you ever can; when you have got it, run up again with the same measure of speed; keep throwing and fetching up until the Exercise shall sufficiently heated you.  Renew as often as the occasion shall require!

However, during the night when one might not be energetic enough for such an exercise and is ready for some rest, a warming pan might be filled with hot coals. It would then be used to warm the beds before being occupied.

Usually made of copper, warming pans were circular with a hinged cover that was perforated and etched with landscape designs or flowers. It would also be fixed with a handle made of oak. Better quality ones had handles made of mahogany that were “richly carved with elaborate designs.” An example of a warming pan similar to what might have been used by the Randolph family is this one in Wilton’s collection. It is made of brass, copper, and wood and has a long handle which ends at a round pan with hinged lid. 

Originating in England in 1740, warming pans were preceded by stone water jugs that would be filled with hot water. Similarly there was a foot warmer which was a pierced tin box in a wooden frame that was filled with coals and placed in coaches or in rooms. They might also have been used in church and set in the bottom of the box pew to keep worshipers warm. Warming pans were hung by the fire place for ease of use in one’s bedroom and as one historian attests, “Their burnished faces added glory to the stern faces of Colonial interiors.” They were inserted constantly and repeatedly into the bed as to not scorch the sheets, which might have been linen at that time. The Randolph family had as many as 5 bedrooms that each might have taken part in this luxury which would have been a treat for whoever was the first to hop into bed. 

Works Cited

Jennings, George Wilson. House and Garden, Volume 34. “Keeping Warm in Colonial Winter:

Robinson, David. “Coping with the Cold”. Colonial Williamsburg. 21 November 2014.

“How Hampton Citizens Lived in Colonial Times: Part 4: Colonial Fireplace: Source of Heat and
Light”. Lane Memorial Library. 21 November 2014. <>

“Keeping Warm in the Winter”. The Senate House. 21 November 2014.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Sophisticated Art of...Tatting?

Object: Tatting Shuttle
Accession#: 2008.0010

This brown tatting shuttle in Wilton’s collection is made of ivory or bone and a faded white thread is wrapped around middle. This simple yet important tool is what holds the thread and is held in the right hand like a pencil, blade uppermost. The thread leaves the shuttle on the side furthest away from the holder. To form the knot, the shuttle is passed over and under a taut thread held in the left hand. So the stitch or knot is made by the movement of the fingers. More elaborate designs may be made with more than one shuttle being utilized. A tatting shuttle can be made of bone, ivory, mother of pearl, or tortoise shell. Two oval blades are connected in the middle forming a spool-like tool.

Real lace, “the manufactur[ing] of which was a sophisticated art,” is composed of many kinds of ornamental knots and stitches of which the tatting knot is one. The word tatting does not seem to appear in print until 1843 and the origin of tatting is unclear. The knot may have originated about 2000 years ago when sailors used a large shuttle to weave heavy cords into fishing nets. This technique then might have been passed onto weavers who used a finer stitch to weave lace. According to one historian, “lace making was a thriving business in Europe” catering to the royalty who could afford garments trimmed with lace. Children and handmaidens were taught to tat edgings which were bought by weavers to be added to garments that were then sold for large sums of money.

Anne, 2nd Countess of Abermarle
by Sir Joshua Reynolds
The commonly held belief, however, is that tatting evolved from the “old craft of knotting.” Practiced toward the late seventeenth century in Western Europe and the British Isles, it was particularly popular with the ladies of French and English courts. Around 1760, Sir Joshua Reynolds painted a portrait of Anne, 2nd Countess of Abermarle, engaged in the craft. Lengths of thread were knotted at quarter inch intervals. The pre-knotted thread was added to other fabric. A shuttle was used to manipulate the thread. The technique of tatting starts with a similar smaller shuttle which merely is the holder of the thread as it is in knotting.

The tatting knot is created by looping and tying knots that are formed on a core thread which gives, as one historian attests, “the strength and comparative firmness of the work.” In England it was called knotting, in France frivolite, and America tatting. In the 19th century, when the craft became popular, women’s fashion magazines, such as Godey’s and Harper’s Bazaar, included tatting patterns and instructions in their issues. This technique is used to trim anything from undergarments and pillowcases. Although the craft of tatting may have come later, the Randolph daughters may have been taught knotting.

Interested in lace? Visit Wilton between now and January 15 to see a site-specific lace installation as part of Wilton's current exhibition Anywhere But Now. Displacement, by Olivia Valentine, mimics the wood paneling of the house with thread in a bobbin to create a large lace piece.

Work Cited

Leslie, Catherine Amoroso. Needlepoint Throughout History: An Encyclopedia. 18 September 2014. <

Kelly, Donna.  “What is Tatting?”.Victoriana Magazine. 8 August 2014.

Nicholls, Elgiva. Tatting Techniques: Old Revivals and New Experiments. Charles Scribner’s
and Sons, New York: 1976.

Tabler, Dave. “Reviving the Ancient Art of Tatting”. Appalachian History: Stories, Quotes, and
             Anecdotes. 7 October 2011. 29 August 2014.

Image Credit

The Tatter’s Guild of Australia. 29 August 2014. < >

Wikimedia Commons. 18 September 2014.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Select Airs

Object: Music Book, Select Airs, for the Piano Forte, arranged from De Webers Celebrated Opera Der Freichutz
Accession #: 2005.0019

Lithography was invented in Germany in 1796 by Bavarian playwright, Alois Senefelder.  Greasy crayon was applied to slabs of limestone and then his scripts printed with rolled on ink.  Crayon marks were retained so well that duplicate copies could be made in unlimited quantities. Lithograph comes from the Latin for stone, litho, and mark, graph. This music book, Select Airs, for the Piano Forte, arranged from De Webers Celebrated Opera Der Freichutz, includes 23 pages of music and a lithograph of Weber’s Opera. Carl Maria von Weber, a German composer, conductor, pianist, and critic lithographed a set of Variations for the Pianoforte himself under the guidance of Senefelder.

Born in Eutin, Holstein and raised in a family of singers, Weber’s father made sure he was given an education which included literature and art. He had several music teachers, met many musicians and composers including Meyebeer. Weber's first opera, composed in 1800 when he was 14, was Die Waldmädchen (The Forest Maiden), parts of which survive. The composer studied under Michael Haydn in Salzburg and later in Munich under singer Johann Evangelist Wallishauser and organist J.N. Kalcher. From 1813-1816, Weber was Director of the Opera in Prague. From 1817 he was director of the opera in Dresden, “working hard to establish a German opera, in response to the Italian opera which had dominated the European music scene since the 18th century.”  Weber’s works influenced the development of the romantic opera in Germany and Der Freichutz was an instant success in Berlin, in 1821, and within a few years was performed in every major opera house in Europe.

It has been said of Der Freischütz, “Weber’s beguiling score is full of rustic energy and vivid evocations of the natural world,” and that, “his study of aesthetics, of German folk tales and his interest in the supernatural were brought to bear on Der Freischütz. Fred Plotkin, a commentator and writer on opera, continues

Der Freischütz, often referred to in English as "The Magic Marksman," draws from German Romanticism’s use of the supernatural as a threatening presence, especially when it emanates from the forests found at the edge of villages. Weber introduced hunter’s horns and adroitly used various instruments in the orchestra to depict these natural and supernatural phenomena, and the chorus is deployed to spooky effect as the sounds of scary spirits. Weber used other instruments, such as the clarinet, to express the emotions and frustrations of young, sentimental love.

Almost 200 years after its debut, the scope of Weber’s opera continues to be enjoyed by audiences around the world. In the United States, the first opera to be performed in 1796 was Gretry’s Sylvain, in New Orleans. Although it is not known for certain that the Randolph family participated in the viewing of operas or similar theatrical productions, they did have an appreciation for music. This can be seen through the harpsichord they owned which was the most expensive item on their inventory of 1810. Music is once again enjoyed at Wilton through the museum’s free summer concert series and other events throughout the year. 

Works Cited

Ives, Colta. "Lithography in the Nineteenth Century". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. 30 May 2013. <> (October 2004) 

Larner, Gerald. “Overture Der Freischütz”. Scottish Chamber Orchestra. 31 May 2014.
Plotkin, Fred. “Overlooked Operas: Weber's Der Freischütz”. WQXR: Operavore. 8 July 2013.
29 May 2014. <!/story/305476-overlooked-operas-der-freischutz/>  

Tommasini, Anthony. “London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus: ‘Der Freischütz’”. New York
Times. New York Times, 21 June 2013. Web. 29 May 2014. <
“Opera in New Orleans”. OperaCreole. 23 June 2014.

“Carl Maria von Weber”. Classic Cat. 5 June 2014. <