Saturday, December 20, 2014

Butterick 4514 - Shawl or Travelling Case

May, 1892

Are you traveling over the holidays?  Don't forget your shawl case.  What?  You don't have one!  How are you going to keep track of your shawl, raincoat, galoshes, train ticket, drawing tablet and pencils, book, and cheese sandwich?

The wonderful latin word for "stuff we feel compelled to lug along with us" is impedimenta.  The Romans, naturally, used the term mostly to refer to "stuff the army feels compelled to lug along with it,"  and although they didn't have train tickets, I hold out a hope of cheese sandwiches.

Impedimenta has always been with us, and we've always come up with imaginative ways of lugging it, and sometimes we make our luggage at home.

The shawl case is a member of a whole family of soft luggage that could be made at home or at sea, in the case of ditty bags made by sailors.  The Workwoman's Guide of 1840 gives extensive instructions on making travelling dressing cases for both gentlemen and ladies,  glove cases, brush and comb bags, boot bags, housewives ("hussifs,") and watch pockets.

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century the term "shawl case" had become a generic term for a smallish case, carried by hand by women, not unlike today's ubiquitous tote bag.

The exact form of the shawl case varies.  The shawl case pattern listed in Demorest's Family Magazine for August 1879 is a standard duffel or hold-all shape.  It had to be decorated because the Victorian decorated everything.

The flat form of Butterick 4514 makes it a little easier to make.   Nineteenth century instructions for making shawl cases often recommend making them of "hessian."  Today hessian is usually defined as being equivalent to burlap, so I decided to try making up my shawl case in burlap.  I used a good quality burlap from James Thompson.  But fabric definitions frequently change over time and today's burlap is, I think, a far coarser material than nineteenth century burlap.  The Thompson burlap was too loosely woven to be used on its own, so I decided to use it only as an outer covering, and to make the inside of the case from ticking, my go-to fabric for all kinds of utilitarian sewing.  I decided on a bright red wool binding to liven up the potato brown of the burlap.

Here's the finished case, outside.  The little rectangle is a pocket for your train ticket.

And here's the inside in ticking.  All kinds of nice pockets for tucking away cheese sandwiches and things!

But how does it really perform?  Let's pack it up for a day trip to go to the countryside to watch birds.  This is about enough for a warm day in winter.  No cheese sandwich yet, but the all-important chocolate bar makes its appearance.

Now let's get it all tucked away:
And finally, a rain jacket, just in case:
All buttoned up:
And ready to go.  Hmmm.  There seems to be a design problem somewhere.

Perhaps the design team at Butterick never tried out their shawl case. I think a little retrofitting to allow the bottom edge of the flap to button would fix the problem.

Originally posted August 3, 2008, entirely re-written December 20, 2014.


Laura said...

This actually looks quite useful - assuming a button to keep it closed. I can imagine it shrunken down a bit as a sort of packing aid for small items, rolled up and put into bigger luggage.

I love reading this blog - thanks for sharing all the old patterns.

Kathryn said...

It looks like a cute, useful bag, except for the design flaw with the flap, but probably could be fixed with adding snaps for buttons.

Little Black Car said...

It's almost like a giant housewife (of the sewing-kit variety, I mean).

I actually really like this, but I think you're right that the flap needs to button, and that patterns weren't always tested before they were published. I have a 1920's dress pattern that doesn't make sense to me yet, too.

Unknown said...

Dear Unsung,
Love your blog. Fantastic!
I think the bag would work really well with a piece of timber like a ruler but thicker sewn into the bag, lengthwise across and underneath where the handle is located. Then the bag should not flex at the top when carried.
Kind Regards, Susie

Dianne said...

In looking at it, I think perhaps they forgot to mention sewing the straps down to the flap ends.

panavia999 said...

Back in the day. maybe they really did pack a shawl or lap robe for a trip. (Trips took longer in those day, more sitting and waiting, less heating options.) The more uniform shape of a warm shawl or blanket would fill out the volume nicely.

Nic color and trim!