What is in Your Sewing Box?

I was planning to talk about what tools to have in a sewing box/case/basket later this year in the fall. But, there are a few conversations happening now. So, let’s take a look now at what the original cast keeps in their work-box and what we keep in ours.

When looking at what they kept in their work-boxes we can look at extant cases, advice manuals, personal & descriptive literature and paintings. Virginia Mescher has already done a very nice job discussing recommendations from advice manuals and descriptions, while sampling originals in her article “The Case of the Lost Thimble.” I strongly recommend reading that first, before assembling a sewing kit of your own. Interestingly, we don’t see a sewing box or basket in “The Seamstress“, 1858. Bloch’s “The Artist’s Parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bloch in Their Sitting Room“, 1855 shows a nice knitting basket. (Knitters may also be interested in this painting.)

Sewing Box Filled This is my basic simple sewing box for going to day events where small sewing jobs  may come up or I may have a little back-up cloth project such as making a sewing case, sewing a quilt block or making a set of under-sleeves. In the box from left to right is a bone bodkin, bone stiletto, a metal bodkin, small pair of scissors, thimble, two thread winders and a case of needles. These easily fit into my 4″ box or a rolled sewing case.

???????????????????For events where I plan to be sewing most of the day, I have a basket as well. This basket tends to become a collect-all at events. I like to have:

  • The above items in a rolled case
  • Two pairs of scissors that are also good for cutting fabric, each in their own cases (I tend to loan or bury a pair.)
  • Spools of thread I know I’ll be using. Usually, this is white, natural, black and a couple colors plus a heavier white and maybe a heavier black.
  • Paper and pencil
  • Measures (My fabric one is next to the spool. The metal one is one I still need to date.
  • A few spare buttons (side pockets)
  • Pinball with pins (bouncing around tables at the time of the photo)
  • A small ball of crochet cotton (missing)
  • A small ball of wool (missing)
  • Scrap bits of fabric (pulled for sorting. You can see a couple small pieces and some paste board in a pocket)
  • A Magnet for finding lost needles and pins (missing)
  • Wax
  • Assorted ribbons
  • My emery if I can ever find it again.
  • If I’m going to be working with straw, I bring those scissors, those needles and a cloth for my lap.
  • Yes, those are walnut shells

???????????????????This is Bevin Lynn’s Shaker box dressed as a sewing box.  We live in an area where there were multiple Shaker communities. GCV has and interprets a Shaker building. These oval boxes were available in our area. Trish Watrous Hasenmeuller took time to contact South Union Shaker Village regarding some conflicting views as to the availability of these oval boxes to the public rather than being kept in the Shaker community. Trish writes “They said that the oval boxes were often sold to the public but were usually made in the northern Shaker settlements. They have catalogs of items for sale from the 1870’s that have them. Evidently they didn’t print a catalog in the 1860’s. Tommy Hines, the Executive Director at South Union said: “The northern Shakers both marketed and used the sewing boxes. The oval variety is more common and probably more prevalent in the period.”” (Thank you, Trish)???????????????????

I would say this is 8″-10″ on the longest side.  (Suddenly wishing I would have measure these.) Bevin has lined the box as well as the lid. In her box, we find a pincushion, measure rolled in a bag, thimble in a pocket, wax, thread winders, tailor’s chalk, a bodkin, small container and little bits of thread. In the lid she has a pincushion, scissors pocket and needle pages.

???????????????????This next box, also Bevin’s, is a pasteboard box covered in period decorative paper and lined with period printed paper. This box has multiple levels. Inside the lid fits a large pincushion, decoratively embroidered. This has ribbon loops to make removal easy. ???????????????????Inside the box, a blue velvet covered tray holds a number of tools with ribbon loops. We see a fish needle-case, a bone bodkin, a bone stiletto and a seam-ripper. This tray sits inside the base of the box on top of divided compartments inside. As with the lid, ribbon loops help to lift the tray out.  In the compartments we can see a small balloon bag, tailor’s chalk, a thimble, bees wax, a shell case, thread, rigs, a pencil, a measure in a bag and a thread winder.

I’m hoping to have one more sewing kit to share soon.

I am also adding a post for Sewing on the Go.

Edit to add: Be sure to catch Liz’s “Fitting Out a Sewing Box”

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 1:01 am  Comments (6)  

Seaside, Gardening, Resort and Other Shape Straw Hats

Now that I’ve talked about Fashion Straw Hats, there will of course be people saying “but what about this one”. One word:


Yes, there were other shape hats…. They all have their place. It is very important to understand the context of these other shapes before you wear one.

Harpers Monthly June 1850Hat shapes are time sensitive, such as the promenade hats to the left from June of 1850, age sensitive, such as hats for youth, year sensitive, such as hats from late in the war, and situation sensitive.

Garden Hats:


William Sidney Mount’s Returning from the Orchard shows a good example of a garden hat. She wears a hat with a shallow crown and a round, full brim.

Straw Garden hat clip 2

Lily Martin Spencer gives us a very nice look at a garden hat in her painting The Artist and Her Family at a Fourth of July Picnic, ca1864. On the right, you can see the hat held just behind the woman in pink. It is an almost circular hat, though still an oval crown, with a wide brim.

To give us even more perspective on the garden hat, take a look at this story snip-it:

Straw Garden hat clip 1

Seaside and Resorts:

One of the first things you will notice when looking at seaside/resort images is that the range of millinery is in addition to rather than instead of. We see round, wide brim hats in addition to fashionable hats, in addition to bonnets. This 1859, Harper’s Weekly image demonstrates this.

Seaside hats from Charles Wynne NichollsNotice – Charles Wynne Nicolls paints several of his seaside women with hats that don’t fit the norm we see seaside. This is important to note because these pieces were painted on the other side of the pond in England. These were also painted late or just after our Civil War eras. A further detail of how important context is.

Reform Dress Hats: 

The American ladies’ new costume. (1851)

Many 1840s – 1860s illustrations of reform dress show a wide brim, shallow crown hat as part of the attire. This shape of hat was seen a practical, shading the face and eyes from the sun.

More coming. I just wanted to get this much up….

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 2:52 pm  Comments (1)  

About Mourning Bonnets

The question of mourning bonnets came up twice this week. ???????????????????????????????

In the past couple years, I have been asked to make mourning bonnets for times of real mourning, for a family member who has just passed or who is expected to pass soon. The requests were each uniquely genuine and heartfelt in their own ways. I was honored to be asked to make such a meaningful piece for such a sorrowful occasion.

Making these pieces was very important to me. I did not know the deceased at all. Nor, did I know the wearers well at all. But, I have lost many beloved family members. I have mourned in both centuries. I know what it is like to put on the external symbols of mourning so prominent in the nineteenth century and so lacking in the twenty-first.

To me, these pieces are incredibly meaningful, personal and heavy.

I have decided not to make mourning millinery for faux mourning or mourning impressions. I feel, for me, this will lessen the importance of when I make real mourning pieces. I feel I need to be able to put the full importance each of those pieces.

I will consider making “light mourning” or “half mourning” pieces as those are notably under-interpreted and I think I can approach them from the artistic and historic directions.

Thank you for understanding,




For a view on interpreted mourning, please take a moment to read Beth Connolly’s blog post. She has very good insight on the weight of such an impression.

For additional information on mourning attire, please see Garments of Mourning.

(*Note about the image. I have discovered that a post is more likely to be read if there is an image attached.)


Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 4:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Today is the FanU “Red Swap” Sign-up Day

RedsToday is the day to sign-up for the FanU The Red Swap!

For Red Swap, we will exchange Red color fabrics from the 19th century.

We will mail our fabrics on February 28th.

Please read all the details below. 

To Sign-up, simply comment below with your email and mailing address. (I’ll erase those before approving your comment, so the whole world doesn’t have that info.)

What is a Swap?

This is a chance for to exchange fabric with a small group of people. Each group will have 8 people exchanging pieces of fabric. All you need is a half yard of fabric and envelopes along with your copy of Fanciful Utility.

To Participate:

1: Sign Up Day!
On sign-up day, groups will be assigned on a first-in basis; the first eight will be the first swap group, second eight in the second group, etc. **Please be certain you will be able to fully participate by mailing your fabrics on the Mail-Out Date.**

The Red Swap Sign-Up Day: February 20th


2: Mail-Out Day:
Place a 9×9″ piece of fabric suited to the mid-19th century in envelopes for each of the 7 other people in your swap group, stamp them (be sure to double check at the post office, but the small 9×9″ pieces should mail in a regular envelope with a normal stamp),8 and send them off no later than the Mail-Out Day.

The Red Swap Mailing Day: February 2th


3: Get Fanciful!
Use your Fanciful Utility templates and techniques to make a project from the book, or copy your own from 19th century sources. We’ll all look forward to seeing your projects! You don’t have to sew right away, but don’t keep us waiting forever to see all the fun things!

(If you need a copy of Fanciful Utility, you can purchase them from the publisher at www.thesewingacademy.com

Fabric Guidelines:

  1. For the cotton and silk categories, your fabric should be early to mid-nineteenth century appropriate. (If there is a want for an earlier or later group, we can do that.) Prints and motifs should reflect those available in the 1840s, 50s and 60s. Cotton should be 100% cotton. Silk should be 100% silk.
  2. To keep the swap and sewing possibilities interesting, please avoid solids as best we can.
  3. Fabrics that do not work well for sewing cases should not be swapped. These include sheers, gauzes, heavy, thick, easy-to-fray, slippery and stretch fabrics.
  4. For the “crazy swap” category, think crazy quilt in a sewing case. This could include satins, velvets, textured fabrics. Quality synthetic fabrics are invited.

Swapper Guidelines:

  1. Please be certain you can fully participate in the swap before you sign-up.
  2. If something arises after you sign-up that will effect the date you are mailing your fabrics, please email your group so everyone is aware.
  3. If you fail to fully participate in a swap, you will not be able to sign-up for future swaps. (We do understand medical and family emergencies. I need to be able to ensure swappers will receive fabrics when they send fabrics out.)


Yes, you can participate in 1, 2 or 3 of the swaps.

Yes, if we end up with multiple groups, you can participate in more than one group to swap more fabric. If you participate in 2 groups, you should swap 2 fabrics.

Yes, you can swap large and small scale prints.

Yes, you can swap now and sew later.

Yes, we would love to see what you’ve made with the swapped fabric.

Yes, you can use your own fabric in your swapped project.

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 6:00 am  Comments (9)  

Regency Shape


I have long loved the shape of these bonnets. I have no idea why.


You’ll notice these two have similar shapes with two very different constructions. The one with the scallops has the brim shape develop from arcs coming off the crown. The one with the black ribbon gets its brim shape with arcs that circle the brim.

I tried the first method.






I am not entirely happy with how it turned out.

I tried and tried to get that transition from the crown to the brim right with that little flare up.

The straw was determined to go straight, flat, flareless. It is a bit more like this illustration. A bit.

As a result, the crown looks like it is sitting at an odd angle. It is very tempting to try to take that crown off and re-position it. On problem. Every single one of those rows is layered into the crown. Not going to happen.

So, half a hank of Italian plait later… here it is.

??????????????????????????????? IMG_5919 ???????????????????????????????



Published in: on February 17, 2015 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Veil Finding –

I think this is a white veil.

It is also over on Etsy from the same seller. 19″x41″

Published in: on February 15, 2015 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Veil Finding – Not a Doll Shawl

This might be my favorite “not a…” yet.

It is currently over on Etsy.

Published in: on February 15, 2015 at 8:19 pm  Comments (1)  

Fanchons for 1865

There are only two Fanchon bonnets left in my Etsy store.

Here are a few finishing ideas.


Bonnets of April 1859

“In bonnets, chip, crinoline, crape, and straw are used singly and in combination. On the street, Leghorn and the plainer straws have made their appearance. The Leghorns are exquisitely fine, and trimmed in a variety of ways. Ribbons approaching the straw color are much used, mixed with blue corn-flowers, to give the desired contrast; sprays of grass, black and maize-colored wheatears, laburnum, acacia, etc etc. For young ladies, wreaths of a single flower, as roses, the daisy, the violet, are used upon chip, crinoline, and all the purer straws. A violet crape bonnet with wreaths of purple azalias—a bonnet of chip, with a soft crown of blonde and thulle, and cordons of Chinese Westeria—bonnet of white crape and blonde, with blue marabouts, twisted towards the curtain; plaiting or torsades of blue crape, lightened with marabouts inside the brim; strings of blue ribbon and thulle lappets. We give one or two styles that will illustrate the trimmings referred to.” (Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1859)

d e f

Published in: on February 9, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

How to wear a shawl


On the shoulders, draped open or held with the hands

This woman, dressed in evening attire, wears a lace shawl on the edge of her shoulders

This woman wears her shawl high on the shoulders, rather close to the neck. It drapes down the front of her.

This woman wears her lace shawl on her shoulders while holds her dog with the shawl draped through the arms.

This lace shawl is held on the shoulders, fully covering the arms.

This lace shawl is held closed with arms.

This image is harder to see. It appears to me the shawl is held on the shoulders.

This shawl is draped off the back of the shoulders. I believe this is a posed wearing.

These women wear their shawls on their shoulders tucked high under their arms.

Painting, 1860 another painting


On the shoulders, held closed with pin or other item

This lace shawl is held closed at the neck.

This woman is seated, wearing an open neckline dress. The striped silk shawl drapes around her shoulders and is closed at the front.

This lace shawl is worn high on the shoulders to the neck where it appears to be pinned.

This paisley family shawl is folded square and pinned at the neck. It is unusual to see a shawl folded this way.

Just off the shoulders

This woman wears a loosely knit shawl just off her shoulders. She holds it closed with her hands. She appears to be in her 30s or 40s.

The woman on the right wears her shawl just off her shoulders and holds it closed low as she poses.

This shawl appears to be pinned in place. The woman is Cornelia Van Ness Roosevelt, taken in 1857.  I believe this is a posed wearing.

This woman wears her shawl with a paisley border just off her shoulder with a significant amount draped over her arms.

This shawl is worn just off the edge of the shoulders and held fully with the arms.

This is likely a later 40s or early 50s image based on the dress and bonnet. The shawl is one that could possibly have been made at home.

Woman wearing a knit shawl

Draped on mid-upper-arm

Lace shawl worn by a woman in her 40s or 50s, draped over her upper arms as she is seated.

 This lace shawl is worn on the upper arms. It is possibly a later 60s image based on the neckline.

On the arms/elbows

, draped low on the back, held at the elbows. Woman 20s or 30s.Solid shawl with possible border

This painting shows a woman, likely from the 1840s, in an open neckline day wear dress with her shawl draped around her arms loosely at the elbows.

Published in: on February 7, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment