Copy That?

Christie Patent 2

1893 “Improved Stand or Holder for Sewing Requisites and the Like” by Clara Christie, London Court Dressmaker.

Copyright can be horrendously confusing. Most of us who write, sew, craft or create anything strive to be original. Of course, when we historical sewing fanatics are trying to reproduce something very old, whether it’s a pin cushion, a style of writing, or a baby gown, original takes on a whole “‘nother” meaning. We’re trying to be true to the original pin cushion, style of writing, or baby gown. The closer we get to someone else’s original, the greater the achievement!

But what about copyright and patterns? Once upon a time, I sewed things to sell. And occasionally still do. However, I’ve always been terrified of trespassing copyright. For years I’ve heard all sorts of “rules” concerning the use of patterns designed by someone else. You must buy a pattern for every item you make. You must buy a pattern for every five items. You may not sell items made from patterns. You may sell items made from patterns if you buy a license. You may copy a pattern for your own use. You may not copy a pattern for your own use. You may change a pattern X percent and consider it your original. And the list goes on….

I simply avoided the issue by making my own. Rather absurd for someone who collected patterns and squirreled them away (unopened) like acorns before a heavy winter. Or maybe not that surprising. If you’ve read some of my past blogs, you know that I read and write about making things more than I actually do it!

It seems like I may have been overly scrupulous. I recently came across a terrific article on debunking pattern myths, which you can find here, and a follow-up article here. The author makes a clear distinction between selling things made from the pattern (ok) and selling copies you made of the pattern itself (not ok). For even greater detail and Genuine Legal References, see the pages of pattern copyright info here. If you’ve been perplexed by the rules of sewing to sell, you might want to check them out.

I suppose I should follow all that with my own disclaimer: I am not qualified to give professional legal advice (not that anyone ever thought I was). But make no myth-take: do your research and I hope you’ll find you can relax and open those patterns!

Christie Patent 1Now what about the picture at the beginning of this post? Well, that’s a patent (a cousin of copyright) by Clara Christie for a “Stand or Holder for Sewing Requisites and the like,” which she designed in the 1890s.

It was meant to hold pins and needles in the weighted base, have a tape measure built in, and a spindle for spools of thread. Personally, I think the tape measure is overkill, since it would be pretty awkward to use without making a mess of the pins. But surely as a London Court Dressmaker she knew what she was doing?

As a reward for your fortitude in reading to the end of this post, if you would like to have the patent pages for your own (and live in the US), be the first to write and let me know. I’m cleaning out stuff that needs a new home and will send them to you free!

P.S. To answer a question about the copyright notice on the images on my blog – feel free to pin them, that’s what the button is there for. And to make it official, you may save them for your personal study as well. Want them for something else? Send me an email!

It Seams French

French Seam 1

Once upon a time, I thought every seam that was sewn, by hand or machine, had to be finished. By that I mean it could have no raw edges. Raveling? Horrors! Unthinkable. What would happen when the garment was worn? When it was washed? And so I zig-zagged, overcast, or French-seamed every seam so thoroughly that I might as well have used Super Glue.

I also assumed, when I first started to explore the history of hand sewing, that French seams must have been part of the basic sewing repertoire. After all, they didn’t have Super Glue back then, did they?

However, as I studied antique clothing I quickly learned that all seams weren’t finished. The only seams to match my hermetically sealed standard were felled, like those in shirts and shifts, and felling was used because underwear (or family linen, as they called it) had to withstand tortures that would have impressed Vlad the Impaler.

After scrutinizing sewing techniques in antique clothing, it also dawned on me that French seams didn’t show up in anything older than late-nineteenth century. Hmm. So when did French seams become common? I don’t know for sure, but out of all my sewing instruction books, the earliest (definite) explanation of the method I could find appears in a French dressmaking manual, circa 1860s, as shown above. Ah, French!

Perhaps it was used earlier in particular garments, by particular seamstresses, or in particular countries. My experience and resources are pretty limited, so if I come across more information on this stitch, I’ll certainly update.

But by the early 1900s, the French seam was common enough to appear in most sewing manuals. It was well-suited to the ubiquitous sewing machine, sheer waists and dresses yearned for neat seams, and it was soooo easy to do. Or teach. Or learn. And since efficiency was so very, very modern … pourquoi pas?

French Seam Sample

This sample by Miss Beulah H., early 1900s, shows a bias-cut French seam.

French Seam  Woolman 1

Instructions from Beulah’s book for making the sample…

French Seam Woolman 2

… and the conclusion.

 

Tick Tack Tocking, No Clocking on Her Stocking

Stockings

“A Lady’s Leg is a dangerous Sight in whatever Colour it appears; but shewing us your Legs in White, is next to shewing us them naked.”

It’s fun how a search for one thing can lead to other quirky discoveries. That’s what happened when I looked for information on stockings for Pharaby. Who knew that clocked stockings were the subject of a racy little song in 1902? (Will F. Denny, on archive.org)

I’m sure ornamented stockings were worth a peep in the 18th century as well! And did you know that wearing silk stockings could be hazardous to your health? At least during a thunderstorm.

Met Stocking

A late 18th century stocking, metmuseum.org.

According to the Scots Magazine in 1773, a lady in Switzerland nearly suffered a shocking fate:

Her disease, like all others which the doctors can make nothing of, was decided to be a nervous one; but it was afterwards discovered to be owing to her wearing silk stockings, and wires in her cap. How little do our ladies imagine, when they surround their heads with wire, the most powerful of all conductors, and at the same time wear stockings, shoes, and gowns, of silk, one of the most powerful repellents, that they prepare their bodies in the same manner, and according to the same principles, as electricians prepare their Conductors for attracting the fire of lightning.

Ladies may laugh at all this, but it is too serious a matter to be made a joke of. A very amiable lady, a Mrs Douglas of Kelso, had nearly lost her life by one of those caps mounted on wire. She was standing at an open window during a thunder-storm: the lightning was attracted by the wire, and the cap was burnt to ashes. Happily her hair was in its natural state, without powder, pomatum, or pins, and prevented the fire from being conducted to her head.

A good strong head of hair, if it is kept perfectly clean, and dry, is probably one of the best preservatives against the fire of lightning. But so soon as it is stuffed full of powder and pomatum, and bound together with pins, its repellent force is lost, and it becomes a conductor.

Hmm… personally (and modern-tastefully) I find the “loaded” hairstyle more repellent!

But I digress. Pharaby most certainly wanted stockings, and I wanted to make them. Well, I wanted her to have them. To be honest, I was at a loss for how to make stockings, so first I spent some time searching for ready-made.

What would fit her? Her limbs are not exactly the same size and shape (well neither are mine), and her feet are shaped to stand flat on the ground. Or table. So off-the-rack doll stockings, unless I was willing to accept nylon tubes, were not an option.

Stocking Foot

I know what it’s like to have baggy socks around my ankles.

I decided I’d have to make them after all. Knitting was out of the question since I don’t know how. The stockings would have to be cut and sewn. Pondering a source for slightly-aged stretchy silk one day, I experienced a flash of brilliant resourcefulness. Gloves! With silk lining! Ebay! I found a worn vintage pair that were just right and managed to extricate the lining from the leather.

Next I found and adapted a pattern on this lovely site and practiced fitting it, using an old t-shirt so I wouldn’t waste the silk. That took a while, but once I settled on the size, I had another idea. Why not embroider clocks on her stockings? My brilliant ideas are often followed by some real flops, and so this one proved.  I made three attempts to embroider a half-inch design on thin stretchy silk. It looked horrible, no matter what thread or stitch I tried. There would be no clocks this time.

Fortunately Pharaby didn’t know I was even trying, so she suffered no disappointment; she was pleased to have any stockings at all. They may be her only pair. We have a lot of thunderstorms.

Aprons, No Strings

Apron 1854

An apron pattern, c.1850 for the 19th century layette.

At three months old, it is usual to commence the use of aprons, which are made of bird’s-eye diaper, or, just now, brilliante, a firm, close-figured cambric, which will wear nearly as long. These last are bound with cambric, in solid colors, as pink, blue, buff, &tc. Bird’s-eye linen is usually trimmed with tatting or anything that wears well. At present, button-hole scollops, either plain or filled with dots, eyelets, &tc., are much used; they are made in this way ornamental, as well as useful. For an infant, the “bib-apron,” round front, coming a little below the waist, with a little shoulder strap buttoning around the arm (see cut), is the most suitable. From six months to two years of age, a similar front, with back to correspond, cut of bird’s-eye also. A large variety of shapes, however, are constantly to be had. The material and length is our province; no child needs an apron coming to the end of the dress skirt, as we have seen them made.

So says Sarah Hale, in a little instruction book written for new mothers in 1854. It amazes me that such a functional item could survive 150 plus years, but I come across them from time to time.  If you’d like an actual-size pattern of the one below, send an email to me, m at twothreadsback dot com, and I’ll send you a pdf – free. Gratis. No strings attached!

Apron 1A

An apron for a very small baby, made of cotton diaper by a mother who was cutting the pattern with one hand and holding the baby with the other.

The hems are almost invisible, so I assume Mother was able to use both hands for that. The tiny buttons are made of delicately carved mother of pearl.

You can see the tiny mother of pearl buttons.

A close-up of the buttons and narrow hem.

The photo(s) are slightly underexposed because the apron is so white it's hard to see.

The photo(s) are slightly underexposed because the apron is so white it’s hard to see.

Apron 1D

The fabric is still so strong that the fold-down part in the front refuses to fold down – and I refuse to press it that way. Not a good idea for preserving old textiles!

Another common pattern, made for an older child, is like the one pictured below. It’s also made of diaper – but in linen – and trimmed at the armscyes and hem.

Apron 2A

This one is less like a bib and more like what we’d call a pinafore today.

Apron 2B

A view of the back to show the tape threaded through the neckline and the pretty buttonholed trim.

Apron 1854 Thumb

Flower Patch 2

Flower Patch 02

A bright yellow and blue calico patch, early 19th century.

Here we are with another patch from the same collection. There are a LOT of them, so I’ll probably not even mention that in future posts, but simply add the photo.

This one is bright and cheery in yellow and blue, with an absolutely bizarre design. It’s also reminiscent of Mousey Mousey – but perhaps when he was feeling blue on a bad hair day.

 

Fluffy Ruffles

Fluffy Ruffles 1

Engaging engageantes for Pharaby.

I’m not sure how I got distracted and neglected to let Pharaby show off her new sleeve ruffles, but we shall make amends. Here they are!

Fluffy Ruffles 2

From that same stash of unsold ebay scraps I selected a pretty little bit of muslin. Now I admit I’ve handled a lot of fine muslin and can usually tell when it’s wearing Sizing of the Ages. But this piece had me stumped. It was originally an unfinished embroidery project with a homemade pattern marked in blue ink, a typical edging design, and I’m pretty certain it was mid-19th century. But washing – a lot – didn’t affect the nice bounce at all. So we got the effect of nicely starched ruffles without any stickiness.

Fluffy Ruffles 3

Fortunately, it was also forgiving. I managed to whip the edges with no problem, but one little ruffle had to be attached three times before I was satisfied with the linen band.

Fluffy Sheet Music

Fluffy Ruffles, 1907.

So now Pharaby has some fluffy ruffles. By the way, it was a family joke that my aunt named every pet she had Fluffy Ruffles. A little googling showed me why!

Fluffy was born in 1906, the creation of artist Wes Morgan, and featured in stories with verse by Carolyn Wells. Pretty, stylish, and spunky, she became a heroine of her era and the next few decades (that’s longevity for a fad!) saw her as a paper doll, a book, in music, on the stage, and yes, her catchy name was shared with crochet patterns and flower hybrids – and pets.

Fluffy Ruffles Contest

Fluffy Ruffles, the Perfect American Girl.

 

 

 

 

The Flower Patch

Flower Patch 01

An early cotton calico from English Paper Pieced Patchwork. (Say that really fast.) It measures 2×2 inches. The odd thing on the left is my embroidery scissors holding down the edge.

Welcome to the Flower Patch! Back in the olden days when I was a child, my sister and I would sometimes take our afternoon naps on “pallets.” These were great-grandma-made quilts, all soft and worn, laid on the floor in front of an electric box fan (we lived in The South). Compelled to be still and quiet, we’d make a game of picking out our favorite patterns. Of course it sometimes degenerated into squabbles: “You can’t have that first favorite, ’cause it’s my first favorite!” We’d usually fall asleep and wake up best friends again.

I’ve recently come across a few little quilt bits – can’t afford whole garments or quilts – from my favorite era, the early 19th century, and thought I’d post a picture of a patch now and then. I wanted to record all the patterns anyway, and this seems like a good way to share them at the same time. If you happen to recognize a print, or are blessed enough to have the whole garment (which might give me the vapours), I’d love it if you’d let me know!

These patches are from an “English Paper Piecing” set. I believe it dates to the early 1800s, not only because of the patterns but because some of the paper that’s used on the back is c1808-1812. There are a few pages from English newspapers (London National Register, Monthly Magazine, etc.), private letters, and a whole lot of pages from an old copybook. Of course that doesn’t make a certain date; some fabrics could be earlier or later and it all could have been pieced later. But I’ll leave that to the experts.

Mousy Mousy

Mousey Mousey: a survivor.

The first patch I selected has a peculiar pattern. It reminds me of poor old Mousey Mousey. Mousey Mousey was a beloved toy that I still treasure, though heaven knows how anything so small (less than an inch) could survive the many decades and almost two dozen moves he has (we have) been through.

Pictured above is Flower Patch #1. By the way, it’s not my first favorite.

 

All Dressed Up & Nowhere to Sew

Sewing in the Parlor

Sewing after dinner.

Except the parlor, perhaps? Well, it’s identified on the back as the boudoir, but the meaning of words changes according to time, place, and whim, so we’ll accept her terms. This is a charming stereoview image of two circa 1860s ladies in full dinner dress, sitting down to play with their new sewing machine.

I can’t identify the machine, but I see the seamstress has a music stand and harp close to hand, just in case she wearies of needlework. And a friend with a manual close by to instruct and advise. (Ok, it’s not a manual – what could it be?) A picture-perfect postprandial occupation while the gentlemen are smoking: a lamp, vases of flowers, elegant furnishings, and a congenial companion – what more could you ask?

Sewing in the Parlor Stereo

Full stereoview of the new sewing machine.

Little Biggin Two

18th C Cap 2a

Another 18th century baby’s cap – with frills.

This little cap is a favorite. Yes, the linen is coarser than the lovely smooth cambric in most of the other really old baby things I’ve found. The slubs are noticeable, and they show even more due to washing and wearing. But there’s just something about that little ruffle around the brim. And the extra gathers right in the center – can’t you just see them sticking up, stiff with starch? Rather like a little plume or crest!

18th C Cap 2b

A perfect frame for a baby’s face.

The measurement around the brim, including the ruffle, is about 12 inches; the center front to the back is about 9 inches.

18th C Cap 2f

Baby’s cap with the two-part brim folded open.

It seems like every time I examine a garment to write about it or list it for sale, I find something I’d overlooked before. And sometimes it’s unusual, a feature I haven’t seen before. That happened here, too.

The little crown was stroked and gathered and attached to the upper brim with backstitches, the same way cuffs or collars were attached to shirts. Then the under-layer-brim was hemmed to the crown from beneath. That does make the technique look like “setting in,” a construction process taught from (at least) the 18th to the early 20th centuries – if you’re one of the rare people who’ve seen my book Plain Needlework, you know what I’m talking about.

The strangest thing though, is how the upper layer is hemmed. It’s backstitched! But not securely on the folded hem itself; instead the stitching rests along the very edge. In fact, I really don’t see how it holds. I’ve looked at it with magnification because it’s so different from what I’m used to seeing. But that’s right. The hem is barely caught with the backstitches.

The under layer is normal – if you can call a 1/16 inch hem normal; it’s simply hemmed. Then the ruffle is whipped and gathered on both. The back of the cap is gathered and set in a narrow band, also with backstitching.

18th C Cap 2c

A closer view of the “plume” – and you can see the backstitched hem.

Like last cap I wrote about, this one is in remarkably fine condition and there are no vestiges of ties. Unlike many other fine linen bits, it’s lost its starch. I think the wearer would have approved. Floppy ruffles are more comfortable.

18th C Cap 2e

A back view of the cap.

18th C Cap 2d

Arsenic and Old Lace, or Why I Don’t Have Spiders in the Closet

Paris Green Perfume

Do you like to rescue old things, just because they’re old, even if you don’t know what you’ll do with them? I do. So years ago, when I was helping with a “collection deaccession” and saw this really cool old box that was being discarded, I offered it a home with me.

A green box from Paris.

A green box from Paris, Parfumerie indeed.

It’s been upstairs ever since. Periodically I clean, reorganize, and clear out because I’m compulsive that way. Maybe it helps me handle stress, whatever. I call these events The Counting, in honor of Cold Comfort Farm. Last year when it was time for a Counting, I put all the items I use for antique sewing displays, including the old painted box, together in a tightly sealed plastic bin.

In the following months I went up a couple of times to pull something out of it, and when I lifted the lid, gasped and choked over fumes some sort. The smell was a little like really nasty varnish, maybe mixed with bug spray. It was distressing because I didn’t know the source and I didn’t want it polluting my old textile bits.  I got up close and personal, sniffing the sewing box, the tools, the little lace sleeves and collars, and even the parfumerie box, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.  Since the green box was the only thing relatively recently acquired, I assumed that was the culprit and took it out. No more smells.

Early eye candy.

It’s just sat on a shelf, wrapped in paper, ever since. Until this week when perusing the fabulous Wearable Prints, 1760-1860, History, Materials, and Mechanics, by Susan Greene, and reading about green dyes. Of course I’ve heard of frequent use in the 19th century of arsenic in dyes, paints, and foods – it was even a scandal in its own day. But I never thought it would provide me with anything but some occasional macabre reading. Now I wondered, have I been harboring a criminal, a poisoner?

Some more internet research has left me a little warier of casual collecting or repurposing. I really don’t know if the green box is toxic (it isn’t all that old), but I’m not going to take any chances. It’s sealed up tight and stored under the eaves in the attic now. I can’t bring myself to trash it because you never know when you’ll need a nice conversation piece. For unwelcome visitors.

The Conversation Piece

The Conversation Piece

 

Featherweight Champion

Featherweight

I suspect I’ve got just as many ancestors as anyone else, but mine weren’t notable for leaving closets and attics full of heirlooms. The oldest thing I’ve got is my DNA. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some treasures! One of my dearest is my grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine. Yes, me. The hand sewing monomaniac loves a machine.

My grandmother, an amazing seamstress!

My grandmother, an amazing seamstress.

She (the machine) was born Christmas of 1948. My grandfather bought it as a present for my grandmother that year. I don’t suppose anyone knew that the featherweights would become classics.

She (the machine) had already earned retirement by the time I welcomed her into my home, but nope, I kept her going. She only does straight stitch, can you imagine? Why would anyone, some quilters excepted, want a machine that doesn’t do fancy stitches? Not even zigzag?

Weeell, just ask a featherweight fanatic. Simple, small, light, reliable, long-lived. What more could you ask? I wish the same could be said about me – well, maybe not the simple. If you have time, take a look at Singer Instructions for Art Embroidery & Lace. The possibilities using an older machine, even treadle, are dazzling. It’s hard to believe anyone could do such elaborate work without today’s technology. It was published (1911) and republished, and can be downloaded free  in a variety of formats. So don’t underestimate their potential, between the attachments and techniques, a seamstress could really do just about anything with an old Singer.

Notice I said “a seamstress”in that vague and distant not-me sort of way. Because just about all I’ve done is use the basic set up and a couple of attachments. Even the buttonhole kit remains in its sarcophagus, waiting for the day I’m brave enough to resurrect it. Although I do have Grandma’s buttonhole samples resting under the presser foot, like they always did.

For my birthday last year, I had the machine restored to her original condition. I found an expert who did a superb job and a talented friend who did the table. My little champion sewed beautifully before, but now she’s a dream to use. Even if only for plain (machine) sewing!

The Love Shirt

Love Shirt Cuff

The Love Shirt, a replica by Yours Truly

Ta da! After ten grueling years (ok, I don’t really know how long, but it has been years) I finally finished a 19th century gentleman’s square-cut shirt of fine linen. Complete with all twenty parts, including the frill. And Dorset knob buttons.

Where did the name come from? Well, a long time ago a friend and I (I miss you, Janet!) were studying one of these shirts, one that had a heart-bit (see that blog). We reached frantically for our vinaigrettes, trying not to swoon on the artifact, as visions of Mr. Darcy flitted around the room. Somehow we started calling that handsome relic The Love Shirt. So it has been to me, ever since. And I wanted to make one myself.

That type of linen is impossible to find nowadays. However, a dear friend (thanks, Dianne!) provided the closest thing possible, and with a pattern from an 1820 book, I commenced.

Darned little gussets, all the work I did backstitching was mostly hidden when assembled.

Darned little gussets, all the work I did backstitching was mostly hidden when assembled.

Unfortunately I have a memory like Dory, so every time I put away the project for a spell, I’d have to practically learn how to do the next step all over. A 19th century seamstress would have been appalled to see me.

Love Shirt FullUm, do I sew both ends of XYZ before I ABC? Do I cut or fold first? Did I sew the sleeve on backwards? Oops. Front and back are the same before the collar goes on, right? Not if you hemmed them first. Oh right, I was supposed to check that I was putting the slit in the front. Well… I’ll just cut the back shorter and make it be the front. And my g-g-g-g-great-grandmother could make one of these in a day or so? How embarrassing.

I did learn a lot. I learned how hard it is to backstitch over two threads without going blind. I learned that there is NO not-shiny sewing thread available today. I learned that linen thread breaks, other people’s buttonholes always look nicer than mine, knots are usually unnecessary, even poor work looks better when ironed, and a drawn thread is no guarantee you’ll sew a straight line. I learned that you had to love your man, or love survival to make one of these. And I learned how to make Dorset knob buttons, my own way! Maybe I’ll write about that next time.

Love Shirt Cuff

You can see the backstitching that nearly blinded me. And you can see the gauging thread I used to hold the stroked gathers in place. I’m going to leave it there a loooong time.

All’s Fair

S.C., R., O. & B. Agricultural Society Fair 1860

S.C., R., O. & B. Agricultural Society Fair 1860

Once upon a time, folks from all over would gather, bringing their best work to show off, to compete for prizes, and to sell. These were the agricultural fairs, a tradition whose roots go back many centuries and places. Nineteenth century America saw their development as a way to encourage innovation. By mid-century, agricultural societies were flourishing.

Today their records are a rich source of information on agricultural and domestic history of the era.  The premiums, which ranged from a few cents (female enterprise) to substantial sums (men’s categories!) must have been the source of great pride, outrage, bickering and boasting – oh to have been there to hear the drama! I spent a happy afternoon several years ago in a university library poring over the books full of juicy details. Yes, that was before google books.

“An embroidered map of Savannah… best collection of fall peaches … beautiful specimens of sewing silk … second best profane landscape … woolen counterpane, maker’s name unknown … from the crowded state of the room, and the great number of articles present, several paintings could not be found …  second best cow “Eloise” … the committee exhibited a marked partiality for apple pies, and awarded with singular unanimity fifty cents each to Mrs. … a basket of superb wax flowers, which the chairman of the committee on flowers pronounced superior to any in his department of natural ones … S. D., 7 years of age, worsted work executed while lying on his back with a broken thigh, .50 … worsted quilt, said to contain 9765 pieces; ingenuity and labor … lemons of enormous size, preserved in alcohol…” – the list fills volumes.

Crackers, lightning rods, stoves, plows, false teeth, butter, Muscovy ducks, headstones, cologne, down tippets, dog’s hair socks, essays, fishing boots, parsnips, daguerreotypes, golden pippins, rocking chairs, canaries, grain bags, gold pens, baby-tender. Was there anything they didn’t show?

To paraphrase one report, I am greatly embarrassed on account of the limited means placed at my disposal to mention such a large number of exhibits, and I wish to say, that I doubt not there are many articles not noticed which are as well worthy of premium or gratuity as some which have been thus honored. I am reluctantly compelled to pass them over.

Fair Chemise 2

Hand Sewn Chemise

One category is especially interesting to me: plain sewing (surprise!). Here are some examples from the Sandy Creek, Richland, Orwell, & Boylston Agricultural Society of New York, c1860.

The chemises are exquisite, and it’s easy to see why their maker entered them in competition. I regret to say that I don’t know if they won a prize or not. There was no record of one with them. Nonetheless, they are fine work and perhaps the maker would be even more pleased if she knew how much, and how long, they would be admired!

By the way, check the calendar and visit your own state or local fair. If you’ve never toured the exhibits before, you’ll be amazed!

A Grief Preserved

Because most plain sewing items (at least those I study and collect) are white, I confess I sometimes get weary of plain white! I love the variety of early cotton prints, the charming patterns and colors. Children’s dresses from the early 1800s are a good example of garments that could be very simple to make with only plain sewing skills. In fact, there is a very early book called Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor; Principally Intended for the Assistance of Patronesses of Sunday Schools and Other Charitable Institutions, but Useful in All Families that describes the process.

For those who would like more detail and patterns that they can easily use today, there is another book, The Lady’s Economical Assistant, which has been reproduced after the 1808 edition, available from Kannick’s Korner.

I came across this one day while surfing for children’s print dresses.

John Marsden Dress

It is a simple child’s gown dating to 1803 that has a story, one I could never imagine. Made of a shabby, sweet calico print, it is typical for its day: simple in cut, with a little frill around the high collar. The tragedy lies in the last day it was worn. John Marsden was two years old when he died after being scalded in an accident at home.

The Marsden family were among the earliest to arrive from England to live in New South Wales and the Powerhouse Museum website has more information on the family and this collection.

I don’t need to create imaginary stories for this dress, since his mother said enough, “The loss of those I have parted from weighs so much on my mind that at times I am as miserable as it is possible to be – outwardly I may appear cheerful but I am very far from being happy – indeed happiness and me seem long since to have parted and I have a presentiment that peace will never more be an inhabitant of my bosom.”

Shepherd of the Lambs

In 1863, a missionary named Emmanuel Boehringer was traveling north from Virginia when he passed through Sharpsburg in September. There he met with a scene of devastation and misery. He stayed to help tend the wounded of the Battle of Antietam and was haunted by the thought of so many new orphans, a forgotten casualty of war. Inspired to make a home for them, he founded the Orphan’s Home of the Shepherd of the Lambs.

The name was later changed to Bethany Orphans’ Home, and hundreds of children were cared for and educated over the years. Boys also learned farming and girls learned domestic arts. But wait! Sewing is not just for girls!

Bethany Orphanage Boys

Bethany Orphanage Boys

Apparently it was deemed practical for boys to learn to stitch, too. And although rare in those days of division of labor, it wasn’t unheard of – I occasionally come across references in old sewing manuals to boys being taught sewing. According to Emily Jones, who wrote a manual in 1884, “Every infant schoolmistress who has tried the teaching of needlework to boys, speaks most warmly in favor of it.”

And the skill can be so useful! She goes on to give one of my favorite quotes, spoken in a Winnie-the-Pooh-sort-of-way:

“A Waterloo veteran said to me the other day, “I don’t know much about sewing, except putting on buttons, and I don’t know whether you would consider mine the correct way, but they used to stick on, and that is a good point in a button.”

The UFO

UFO

The UFO

I am referring to an Unidentified Fabric Object. From eBay to flea markets, mystery objects abound, and this one is often misidentified. No wonder, it’s not something that is used today, and it was probably a bit of a nuisance to the wearer in its own time!

Take a small rectangle of cotton or flannel, and gather or pleat a much longer rectangle to it, neatly finish the edges and there you have it: a tiny apron/skirt/slip/unfinished sleeve for a skinny short person! Or not. What you really have is a barrow, barrie-coat, barra-coat, barrar coat, pinning blanket, night flannel, or petticoat.

These skirts were worn by babies in days gone by, layered somewhere between the shirt and diaper (clout or napkin) and outer petticoats or gowns.

UFO Catalog Illustration

From an 1895 Montgomery Ward Catalog

According to The Nursery Basket, published in 1854, the night petticoats

“are nothing more nor less than the old-fashioned open pinning blanket, or the English barrar coat. In the simplest form, a night petticoat has a skirt of one breadth, three quarters of a yard in length. Turn a hem as shown above, of two inches, at the bottom, less than half an inch or the sides, and cross-stitch, as on the bands, with white silk. Gather it slightly into a double linen waist (waistband fashion), 22 inches in width, and 6 in length, which will allow for seams.

Choose the same quality as for the bands, finer rather than coarser, as it comes next to the shirt and at first completely wraps the delicate limbs of the infant. The real flannel petticoat is not usually put on until the child is six weeks old. The pinner is then used for the night, six weeks longer, when most babies of spirit kick themselves fairly out of its narrow limits.

We have found this sufficient for all ordinary purposes. There is another style, now in use, where the band and skirt are made to lap at the side, and the skirt is tied over by tape strings, instead of being pinned up, as in the first instance. This will require two breadths, of flannel, a yard in length, to keep the child’s feet and limbs sufficiently warm, and is more cumbersome to infant and nurse. The waist can be made in the same fashion as the second band, to tie over.”

The author, Sarah Hale, goes on to describe possible trimmings and ornamentation, but suggests that “as the garment is only for transient use, it would seem a waste to expend much time or labor upon it.” And after all, most “babies of spirit” wouldn’t appreciate it.