A Heart-bit for St. Valentine’s Day

Heart-bit? No, I don’t mean smitten with love, phrased in a folksy sort of way. I mean a little bit, or piece, in the shape of a heart! Worn right over the heart.

Heart Bit Shirt

Heart-bit with decorative knots on an early 19th century man’s fine linen shirt. The shirt was rescued from captivity where it had been altered and abused with scissors, sewing machines, and synthetic trim!

That perfect specimen of plain sewing, The Shirt, has a romantic soul. Back in days when shirts were only slit down the front, and not buttoned closed the full length, that end of the opening was vulnerable to tearing. There were various ways to prevent it, and I came across references to this lovely way when researching early sewing instructions. For example, Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor, 1789, gives a description of cutting linen for shirts:

This half overplus being a quarter of a yard in length, serves to cut out hearts for the bosoms.

 Or a sewing manual from 1833:

 HEART-BIT

Before commencing the shirt, small pieces of muslin are given to each girl, for the purpose of learning to settle in, and work the breast-gusset.

Of course not all shirts had them. Some had a triangular gussets, or a buttonholed reinforcement, or a tiny rectangular piece to prevent a tear, and some had nothing at all. But you have to love linen with a heart!

Heart Bit Shirt 2

Another early 19th century man’s fine linen shirt, with a beautifully worked heart-bit. Unlike the shirt above, this lucky gentleman spent his retirement carefully packed away.

Heart Bit Chemise

An early 19th century woman’s chemise made of muslin, showing she had a heart, too.

Heart Bit Manual

A girl’s sewing manual from the mid-19th century displays an alternative shape for the gusset, but still called in the instructions a Heart-piece.

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