Summer Series – “Do You Hand Sew All of It?”

In person, as a visitor watches, the question is usually “Are you hand sewing all of it?” or something about the stitches itself. Online, the question I get is about what kind of machine I am sewing with.

Straw plait millinery was hand sewn up until the invention of the straw sewing machine in the late 1860s. The first straw sewing machine was for sewing the bind edge of a bonnet or hat, not the whole body. The machine for sewing all of the straw came just a short time later. These machines came into common, but not universal use, in the 1870s. I say not universal use because some original pieces from the 1880s still show hand sewing for the construction.

I sew my straw millinery as they did in the nineteenth century up through the mid-century: by hand.

I use little stitches on the outside and long, half inch to inch long stitches on the inside.

To this day, I am still amazed by the visible stitches inside many straw bonnets. Here is an original bonnet I have in my TLC collection. The left photos is outside. The right photo is inside. Notice how you can barely, if at all, see the stitches on the outside, while on the inside the stitches are very visible.

From an artistic or craft standpoint, I find I have far more control over the straw when working by hand. I can adjust the tension, slightly curve, shape, or even fold the straw as I work. This allows me to create the shapes of each style including the height seen in an 1860’s spoon bonnet or the straw bavolet in an 1840s bonnet or the V point of a Regency or late century hat. This straw manipulation is the job of my left hand. So, both hands get tired, often very tired and sore, when I push them. I go through a lot of creams and visit my massage person regularly.

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Published in: on June 20, 2022 at 1:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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