From The Work Box – Scissors

I started writing a From the Work Box series of posts a last year, but never finished them to post. With a recent question about scissors coming up in a particular FB group, followed by a reply from an exceptional merchant pointing out which scissors are most popular with reenactors, I decided I really need to finish this post for the sake of balanced accurate material culture interpretation.

Do I have I have a bias against stork scissors? Yes. I am just not a fan. I just don’t see the point of having an asymetrical bird hanging out on my scissors. I also just don’t understand why they seem to be everywhere. They are like the poly-cotton tomato’s best buddy. They are, without a doubt, over represented in historical settings. Why are there so many of this one kind of scissors when the 1851 Great Exhibition has 230 different pairs in a single display? Um, proportional variety please?

Okay, enough of my whining.

At the minimum, every interpreter’s sewing kit needs at least a pair of scissors. According to Miss Leslie, everyone in the mid-nineteeth century should have three:

You will find it necessary to have three pairs of scissors; a large pair for cutting out things that are thick and heavy; a smaller pair for common use, and a very small pair for work that is nice and delicate. They should all be sharp-pointed. When your scissors begin to grow dull, have them ground at once. The cost will not exceed six cents for each pair, (even if ground at a surgical instrument shop,) and haggling with dull scissors is very uncomfortable work. (Miss Leslie’s Lady’s House-book. 1850)

What did these scissors look like?

What I would love is an 1850 catalogue filled with illustrations of each and every household item someone would have needed. Wouldn’t that be nice. Instead, we can look at a few other places for glimpses of scissors: Paintings, museum collections (inside sewing cases), and occasional illustrations. Just keep in mind we want the scissors an ordinary person in the US would have had; we don’t need the uber-pretty pair that we could not have afforded. Here is a catalogue illustration of scissors that would be plausible for a working class impression:  


What do I use?

IMG_7487When sewing on the go, I am doing one of two things: Either I am sewing small things with pieces already cut or I am sewing straw. This means I need two types of scissors – One for cutting thread and one for cutting straw. To the right are some of the scissors I use in my various sewing kits for the thread snipping part and the occasional ribbon cutting. Two are reproduction. Three are antique. My straw cutting scissors are roughly 5″ long, an estate sale find. To have a rounded visual interpretation I should carry a larger pair of scissors as well.  Admittedly, I remember these when I take my large box, but tend to forget them when I have my smaller kits.

Looking for your own?

(Liz posted some of her picks in said FB thread)

wpid-2015-06-14-10.16.48.jpg.jpegSmall Scissors options:

Full Size Scissors Options:

More information:

Published in: on January 2, 2018 at 7:00 am  Comments (2)  

Are You Ready for Winter?

Here in the Northeast, summer held fast through much of the fall and Mother Nature was fierce. Temperatures would dip into the seasonal fifties, then hop back up into the seventies, close to the eighties, only to swing back again. Each swing was accompanied by a shift in air-pressure, wind, and rain. Some of these spells sent waves of walnuts bouncing off the neighbor’s new metal barn roof. Oh! That Sound! We had to be quick to catch the changing leaves because as soon as they would change the wind and/or rain would send them to the ground. Then… Thursday night came. Wind, pressure, rain became snow as the temperatures dropped. It was 50 degrees as I drove into work that morning; barely 25 the next.

Winter arrived begging the question:

Are You Ready for Your Cold Weather Events?

I invite you to enjoy this version of a long favorite blog article, with a couple revisions:

November tends to have cemetery services and even candle-light tours in honor of Veteran’s Day. A good many attend Remembrance Day activities in Gettysburg, which can be delightfully mild or down right blustery.

December brings Yuletide and Christmas events for many living history sites. Communities may also have festive caroling or even a Dickens festival.

January and February are perfect for social sledding events. I believe this is also when some groups do Winter of ’64 weekends in the depths of the snow.

March brings maple sugaring events when it can still be snowy or just plain wet, with the promise of cold.

For each of these events, attendees deal with ….. Cold!

(and also wet and wind and ice.)

How to be Ready for Your Cold Weather Events

Keep in mind – Layers are the Key to Warmth. This means your:

  1. Underpinnings
  2. Dress
  3. Outerwear
  4.  Accessories.

Your underwear  acts as your warmth protector and your moisture protector. Even though it is cold, you still sweat. You need to pull that moisture away from your body without it feeling retained in the fabric near your skin. Consider the following that can help you keep warm:

Aspects of your dress to consider:

Your Outerwear acts as warmth, wind and moisture protection. You want a garment that will protect you from the wind and snow, while minimizing the restriction on your movement and not requiring you to hold it in place.

While your outerwear protects your core, your Accessories help keep your hands and head warm. Consider these:IMG_20170402_102219

What did they say about dressing for the cold?

The following passage, published in The Home Monthly, comes from an area often struck with frigid cold and an incredible amount of snow, Buffalo, NY, in 1859

Winter Clothing – Style and Material

We do now propose keeping our readers in the latest Parisian style, for we have no Genio Scott, Genin or Brodie to consult, and we hardly think we shall fail of our purpose without them. We do not choose to cater to fastidious fondness for the very latest pattern, and encourage ladies in exhausting their entire time with thoughts in the “where-withal shall we be clothed.”

Every lady ought to be dressed well, if not her purse will permit, but that does not mean to cast off a garment, because something later than that has appeared in the fashionable world, and that too with no regard to the better uses to which such expenditures could be put. But of course we need not mention this, for that sort of woman would scarcely read a magazine without fashion plates.

To dress meanly with no reason for so doing, and above all, to make religion an excuse for shabbiness, as Timothy Titcomb says, is abominable. It lessens our usefulness. We should be as beautiful as we can make ourselves, but that is not accomplished by any means in following the rule of fashion plates.

Merinos, and all wool Delaines are the most sensible as well as most durable of all materials for out-door wear at this season. Cut with pointed basques on slender figures, and trimmed neatly, with a dainty cambric collar and sleeves, and you have a costume suited to all ordinary occasions for winter wear. One’s own taste and length of purse should be the guide for extraordinary ones. Large plaids on small people, stripes on very tall ones; and Bayedere on short persons, are all equally unbecoming. Indeed, all conspicuous patterns weary the wearer who has refined taste, as well as the beholder. Above all thinks, consult, if possible, in an indirect way those you love best as to color, &c., provided your complexion will permit a choice.

The prettiest and most serviceable bonnet for winter is a black velvet. It admits of remodeling, and can be worn with propriety with any colored outer garment, and any color about the face.

The loose sacque or raglan of ladies’ cloth, is exceedingly convenient, as well as pretty and inexpensive for a cloak, as not trimming is required – nothing but a binding neatly stitched on.

The same material to be used for children’s wear, both boys and girls. Pretty wool cheques are cheap and durable for girl’s winter dresses, and boy’s coatees for the house. Above all things, don’t let them be made too short at the top and bottom of the garment. Many a mother’s pride has been gratified by the praise bestowed upon the fair neck and rounded limbs of her child, and after her heart has been broken, while laying them from her sight forever. Which will your choose?

Dress them warmly and let them out into the frosty, fresh air to grow rounder and fairer, albeit no one but yourself see how fair. We did not purpose saying this much, but it is written. Quarterly we will endeavor to suggest whatever is worthy of mention among the novelties of the season, always keeping our peculiar views of substantiality and beauty side by side.

New Materials

The challies which are offered at very reasonable prices this fall, are pretty, and seem likely to be the most durable of any commone dress goods that we find. They are nearly all in bayadere stripes – some of them high colored, but where warmth and durability are required we think they will be found very desirable. There is also a new material of Angola wool for dresses – heavier than wool delanes or merinos, which we judge to be very desirable for these qualities, viz: strength and durability, unless the satin stripe that adorns it should be found to fray out. – Dresses of this material can be bought in New York at $6, the pattern. This comes the nearest to ladies’ cloth of anything we have seen. The high-colored printed cashmeres – merino styles – are offered as low as six shillings per yard, while we found recently at Stewart’s the best colors of printed French merinos at a dollar per yard. The bright chintz, patterned, all wool delaines are offered lower than ever before. But no delaine can be as cheap as a good merino at least to those who wear their dresses out. We are glad to see more durable material for dresses coming into market. Much time and labor in dress-making will be saved by those who emply these materials. It is also a saving of expense, for the cost of making and trimming a dress of good, and of worthless material is very nearly the same. Every lady, then, should feel that time and labor are wasted in the making up of flimsy material and even if her means should be at first seem too limited to purchase that which is better, she should make a special effort to save up “capital to economize with”.

(bayadere stripes = horizontal stripes)

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Keeping Warm in Winter

(Previously published in 2009)

Most everyone who knows me well knows I am by far not a fan of cold winter weather. I am continuously cold to the bone and fearful of ice all winter long. Between my general dislike of winter and the impending cost of keeping our homes warm we will all be facing this winter, I couldn’t help but be curious about the techniques our 19th century counterparts used to keep themselves and their homes warm in the winter cold.

            To get a general understanding of how our mid-nineteenth century counterparts saw their winters, let us look at some reports on the weather and descriptions of the home in winter. These reports come from the January 10th, 1856 New York Times presenting a cold spell of weather from a few major cities:

In New York City – “Yesterday was a very cold day. The thermometer at sunrise was 4 degrees below zero, and throughout the day it ranged from 8 to 20 above. The wind blew fresh all day from the northwest. The mean temperature of the last fifteen days has been unusually low, being 19 deg, at sunrise, and 24 deg. At 8 P.M. We seldom have so long a continuance of consecutive cold. Excepting only on the 3d inst., the thermometer has not risen above the freezing point once during that time, even at the warmest part of the day.”

In Boston – “The weather is much colder, The mercury at sunrise yesterday indicated 29o; at 11 o’clock, 33 o; at 6 ½ o’clock, 22 o; at 8 ½ o’clock, 14 o; and at midnight only 4 ½ o above zero. The wind was light from the southwest of the day, but went around towards the northwest in the evening. –Boston Advertiser, 9th inst.

In Philadelphia – “The Mercury was lower in Philadelphia, this morning, then it has been for many years. On the 20th of January, 1852, the thermometer was 2 ¼ o below zero. On the 7th of February, 1855, the thermometer was at zero. We well remember that day. It was the only occasion last Winter upon which the mercury got below Zero. – Philadelphia Bulletin, 9th

In Newark – “During the present Winter we have not experienced such severe cold as was felt here last night and early this morning. They day promised to be as moderate as could be desired; but late in the afternoon the thermometer fell rapidly, and during the night reached, in one part of the City, 5 o below zero, in another, 9 o, and in another 10 o. If these reports are to be relied upon, last night was even colder than the memorable 7th of February last, which was at the time, said to be the coldest weather felt here since the year 1850. – Newark Adv.

Two weeks later the Times  prints a letter from Lawrence, Kentucky reporting “Excessive Cold” in Leavenworth causing some to evacuate to Lawrence. “Matters have not changed materially for the last three days, nor is there any serious apprehension that they will for the next three. At Leavenworth the waters have settled clear again, so far as pertains to anything outward that the public can discern. Four of five more ‘fugitives’ have arrived in town from that place during the last twenty-four houses, and Mr. Minard, who attempted to return to his family on Wednesday, came back last night, having learned that scouting parties were on the alert for him, and that it was for him to be seen in that vicinity. He has decided, together with the others from that place, to take up his residence in Lawrence until Spring, for personal safety. …This is called the coldest Winter known here for twenty years. There is about six inches of snow now upon the ground, and the weather is by no means severe, today. Wednesday morning the thermometer was 12 o below zero, but for the last two days it has stood above zero. The ground is frozen about 18 inches deep, and the river about the same. Several nice ice-houses have been well packed with ice since the cold weather began.”

Mrs. Stowe describes in her House and Home Papers what she considers a typical household living through the winter:

“It is a terrible thing to reflect upon, that our November to May, six long months, in which many families confine themselves to one room, of which every window-crack has been tightly calked to make it air-tight, where an air-tight stove keeps the atmosphere at temperature between eight and ninety; and the inmates, sitting there with all their winter clothes on, become enervated both by the heat and by the poisoned air, for which there is no escape but the occasional opening of a door.

“It is no wonder that the first result of all this is such a delicacy of skin and lungs that about half the inmates are obliged to give up going into the open air during the six cold months, because the invariably catch cold if they do so. It is no wonder that the cold caught about the first of December has by the first of March become a fixed consumption, and that the opening of the spring, which ought to bring life and health, in so many cases brings death.

“We hear of the lean condition in which the poor bears emerge from their six months’ wintering, during which they subsist on fat which they have acquired the previous summer. Even so, in out long winters, multitudes of delicate people subsist on the daily waning strength which they acquired in the season when the windows and doors were open and fresh air was a constant luxury. No wonder we hear of spring fever and spring biliousness, and have thousands of nostrums for clearing the blood in the spring. All these things are the pantings and palpitations of a system run down under slow poison, unable to get a step farther.

“Better, far better, the old houses of the olden time, with their great roaring fires, and their bed-rooms where the snow came in and the wintery winds whistled. Then, to be sure, you froze your back while you burned your face, your water froze nightly in your pitcher, your breath congealed in ice-wreaths on the blankets, and you could write your name on the pretty snow-wreath that had sifted in through the window-crack. But you woke full of life and vigor, you looked out into the whirling snow-storms without a shiver, and thought nothing of plunging through drifts as high as your head on your daily way to school. You jingled in sleights, you snow-balled, you lived in snow like a snow-bird, and your blood coursed and tingled, in full tide of good, merry, real life, through your veins – none of the slow-creeping, black blood which clogs the brain and lies like a weight on the vital wheels!” (Beecher, 1874 quoting Stowe)

In drastic comparison we find the poor living in homes ill equipped to withstand blowing winter snow or able to purchase what is needed to keep a family warm. A New York Times writer paid a visit to tenant houses and shanties during the winter of  1855. Of one shanty he describes: “The door, which opened from the wood-house into the room, had a large gap over it, and another under. The wooden walls had great chunks, in which the snow filtered. There was no fire in the little stove, and the mother and two little children lay head by feet in the bed, under a covering of some bits of old carpeting, a thin shawl, and a piece of an old blanket. Newspapers were used to keep off the snow. They shivered as they lay, and the woman, with a chattering tone, said she was waiting for her husband, in hopes he would find something to bring home. A chicken was frozen to death under the table. It was a wretched place.” (February 12, 1855)


In the modern world we deal with issues of ice sealing our car doors closed, our water pipes freezing in less heated parts of our house, and snow piling up in our driveways. While we have de-icer, electrically heated pipe insulation and snow-blowers, what did our predecessors do to face the complications of winter head on?

Icy steps transcend the centuries. Looking at domestic advice books, we see using salt to melt and soften the ice was used then similar to now. “ICY STEPS – Salt strewed upon the door-steps in winter will cause the ice to crack, so that it can be easily removed. (Child 115) Eliza Leslie gives us more specific directions for maintaining the steps and to prevent ice along with subsequent injuries.

“THE FRONT DOOR – It would be well if all door-steps were furnished with hand-rails. Without them, there is much danger of slipping down in icy weather, or at night, or for persons that are lame. …. A foot-scraper is an indispensable appendage to a front door. As soon as a snow has done falling, and before it has time to freeze, it should be immediately cleared entirely away from the door-steps, and pavement. It is then an easy task, but a very difficult one after it has frozen. To say nothing in regard to the danger of persons slipping down on the ice, and being severely injured, (of which there are instances every winter,) an ice door-step or pavement has a wretched and slovenly appearance, gives a mean aspect to the house, and is altogether [unclear] for if you have not a man-servant to clear it away with a space or large shovel, you can get it done for a trifle by the poor men who go about for that purpose after a snow, and to whom such a job is frequently an act of charity. We have seen stout little boys, the sons of gentlemen, fid great pleasure and good exercise in shoveling the snow from the front door in a bright winter morning. Also, let the pavement and steps at the back door be cleared from the snow as soon as possible. If, however, the snow has been allowed to freeze on these places, keep the ice always well covers with ashes, or sprinkle salt on it. Every winter there are limbs broken, and lives endangered, from falling on icy pavements or frozen door-steps; accidents that would never happen, if every citizen did his duty in keeping his own premises free from ice, and if the public bodies were equally vigilant in having the snow immediately cleared away from the vicinity of the public buildings.”(Leslie 330-331)

I am particularly fond of her suggestion of making use of the boys eager to clear the steps of neighbors. She continues to suggest, as many other advice writers did as well as a few newspaper articles, the wearing of carpet slippers or moccasins. “If obliged to walk on snow or ice: carpet moccasins are excellent preventives from slipping; and so are broad-soled India-rubber shoes, of the thick old fashioned sort. (Leslie 331)

Water sources freezing was a concern for everyone whether water was supplied by a pump or running water. If you have a pump outside, Child suggests: “In winter, always set the handle of your pump as high as possible, before you go to bed. Except in very rigid weather, this keeps the handle from freezing. When there is a reason to apprehend extreme cold, do not forget to throw a rug or horse-blanket over your pump; a frozen pump is a comfortless preparation for a winter’s breakfast.” (Child, 16)

For those with plumbing in the house insulation with straw or cloth is suggested.

“When frost appears to be approaching, water-pipes should be covered with straw or cloths, or anything which will keep in the heat and prevent freezing; but in order that this may be done, the pipes should be place where they can be conveniently got at, and not hidden in some inaccessible recess in the wall if the outside of the house, so much the better, for cracks in the pipe, which are not observed so long as it is filled with ice, will soon show themselves when a thaw comes and the water rushed through them down the stairs, or forces its way through the ceilings into bedrooms, drawing-room, dining-room and kitchen” (Stevens 64)

I was surprised to find a suggestion from Eliza Leslie regarding sky-lights during the winter.  “Care should be taken that all the wood-work of the sky-light (as well as the glass) fits   tightly; otherwise it will not only leak from rain, but from melting of the snow, when it thaws. As soon as the snow has ceased falling, some one should go up and remove it at once (while it is still soft) from the skylight, which will otherwise be entirely darkened; and, if the snow freezes on it, may probably remain obscured for some weeks.” (Leslie 328)


In either century, we often find we need to go out and travel in the depths of winter for both necessity and for pleasure. Numerous methods of keeping warm were used to keep warm while in the carriage, sleigh, or wagon.A description of sleighing in the New York Times covers some of the basic clothing for a winter outing. On with rough coat and warm gloves, thick soled books, and throat wrapper… hire a gallant sleigh; drive round to —-‘s house; receive there a consignment of shawls, wrappers, and buffalo robes, surmounted with a pretty Winter bonnet, relived by the sight of a delicate kid-gloved hand, peeping out from the comfortable mass.” (New York Times January 17, 1853)  A Quaker girl from Wheatland, NY used hot bricks to keep warm during an excursion to Bergen.  (January 19, 1856) Another suggestion from Eliza Leslie is to use little baskets lined with fur to put your feet in while riding in a carriage or sleigh. (321)



            A key part of keeping the home warm in the mid-nineteenth century was the use of a fire-place and/or stoves. A home could be heated with wood or several other fuels. Homes using wood to heat and/or cook with needed to plan ahead seasonally and yearly to have the right wood. Wood needed to be seasoned, dry, not freshly cut and green. Eliza Leslie suggests laying out wood for winter fuel in the summer due to the cost of the wood. Beecher says to purchase wood in August and September saying it is cheapest and most plentiful then. This is a slightly later time than Leslie’s suggestion, possibly a slight geographical variation from Philadelphia to New York. Each domestic advice author had different preferences for types of wood. Leslie’s suggestions for woods:

“The best wood for fuel is hickory, and the next is oak. Locust is also very good; so are walnut, beech, and maple. Birch is tolerable. Chestnut wood is extremely unsafe from its tendency to snap and sparkle, and to throw its small coals all round. Pine wood is of little value as house fuel. It blazes freely at first, but when its resinous qualities have exhaled, (which is almost immediately,) the sticks turn black, and seem to moulder away without emitting any heat. Pine chips, however, from the rapidity with which they ignite, are excellent for kindling.” (Leslie 121)

Comparatively, Beecher considers the best woods to be hickory, hard maple, white ash, black birch, yellow  birch, beech, yellow oak and locust in that order. She considers elm, soft maple, white birch, pepperage, and pine to be inferior fire woods along with chestnut, butternut, cedar, sassafras, red oak and buckeye.

The other fuels available in the mid-century included charcoal, anthracite coal, coal, coke, and bituminous coal or English coal. It takes approx. 3 tons of anthracite to heat during 1 season in the middle states, more in colder areas. It needs to be ignited with charcoal or chips of dry wood. It needs to be replenished about every six hours (Leslie 134) Also according to Leslie “It goes further, lasts longer, gives out more heat, with less waste from slate-stones and ashes, and leaves better cinders when it is extinguished; and good cinders may always be turned to account by burning them over again.” Bituminous is softer than anthracite, emits more smoke, and produces more dust and ash. It creates a less intense heat and a bright blaze. It is imported from England and from the Appalachian region. Bituminous is softer than anthracite, emits more smoke, and produces more dust and ash. It has a less intense heat, bright blaze.

Coke was considered a very convenient and economical fuel for spring and autumn because it emits a moderate heat. It makes fewer vapors than other coal. It ignites quickly and makes a bright fire. “Charcoal is extremely useful to burn in portable furnaces for making sweetmeats, and cooking various little things.” (Leslie)

“For those, who use anthracite coal, that which is broken or screened, is best for grates, and the nut-coal, for small stoves. Three tons are sufficient, in the Middle States, and four tons in the Northern, to keep one fire through the Winter. That which is bright, hard, and clean, is best ; and that which is soft, porous, and covered with damp dust, is poor. It will be well to provide two barrels of charcoal, for kindling, to every ton of anthracite coal. Grates, for bituminous coal, should have a flue nearly as deep as the grate ; and the bars should be round, and not close together. The better draught there is, the less coal-dust is made. Every grate should be furnished with a poker, shovel, tongs, blower, coal-scuttle, and holder for the blower. The latter may be made of woolens, covered with old silk, and hung near the fire.” (Beecher, 1854, p281)

Living Spaces – Parlors, Dining Rooms, Kitchens

In living spaces, such as the parlors, dining rooms, and kitchens a key concern in domestic advice books is the drafts in a room. As many of us know from our own homes, drafts can come from doors, windows, fire-places, and mysterious places we try to seek out. Securing the cracks, crevices and gaps at the onset of winter helps keep a room draft free and feel warmer. These are Eliza Leslie’s suggestions for stopping drafts:

“Before the cold season commences, the window-sashes of the chambers should be made tight, and the doors secured against the admission of currents of air when shut. This will scarcely be necessary in a very well built house, where the doors and windows all fit perfectly, and where the wood-work, being well seasoned, has not shrunk.

“When there are large cracks at the bottom of the door, have a thick slip of wood nailed on the floor outside. A similar slip may be nailed along the side of the door-case where it opens. We have seen these lathes covered with green baize only. Also, keep the key always in the lock, as a strong draught of air rushes through an open key-hole. For inferior rooms you may nail a stout slip of listing (the selvage of cloth) all along the outside of the crack; taking it off in the spring. We have seen, in old fashioned houses, gilt or brass nails round the crack of a door; and as it was considered ornamental as well as useful, it was left there all summer. A long narrow bag, made of carpeting or thick cloth, and filled hard with sand, will somewhat lessen the draught at the bottom of a door, if laid on the floor outside.

“For the outside doors, and those of the best rooms down stairs, it is usual, to have a broad, thick, brass ledge fastened to the floor, so as to screen the crack at the bottom of the door.

“In the chamber of an invalid, it is well to have a tall, standing screen, place just within the door, that when it is opened, the rush of cold air may be felt less sensibly.

“In a very severe climate, where it is thought best not to raise the sashes during the winter, they may be made air-tight, by pasting slips of thick paper over the cracks, fitting them neatly; or by nailing all round the window-frame, laths covered with baize. Some persons stuff the cracks with wadding, put in with knife or scissors. There is frequently, however, great difficulty in removing the wadding in the spring; bits of it working in so far, and sticking in so fast, as to prevent the sash from going up and down. A window-sash may be kept very tight, by merely sticking into the cracks little wedges of wood two or three inches long, and about and inch and a half wide, and shaved quite thin towards one of the ends.” (Leslie 322-323)

I still haven’t figure out how the last suggestion works with piece of wood this thick.  Leslie also points out some houses in the north have double sashes. (Leslie 232)

Another method to make a room more comfortable is through the use of carpets and curtains. While most advice authors do not directly discuss the use of carpets and curtains in the winter, they do suggest taking carpets out in the summer, replacing them with straw matting as well as not leaving heavy curtains up in the summer to allow fresh air to enter the room.  Both of these recommendations suggest that curtains and carpets were seen as adding warmth and comfort during the winter.

One more suggestion is like a portable heater. “Small portable foot-stoves of perforated tin, set in a wooden frame, and containing a little iron pan to be filled with hot coals, are excellent for keeping the feet warm in the winter, when sitting still. They cost but a trifle, and no house should be without them, particularly where wood is burnt.” (Leslie 321)

Bedrooms, Beds and Sleeping

A comfortable bed was essential to a good night sleep and, as some were learning in the mid-century, important to health as well. There were numerous suggestions to take the winter chill from the bed and make it more comfortable in the winter. Combining a feather-bed on top of the mattress provides more insulation with-in the bed. For sheets, linen was the preference for summer while thick cotton was preferred for winter as it was considered warmer. For blankets, Leslie suggests a progressive series of up to three blankets.

“Except in very cold climates, it will not be necessary to allot more than three blankets to each bed; beginning with one in the autumn, and adding the second and the third as the weather grows colder. The blankets should be larger every way than the bed, to allow for tucking in, and for turning down at the head. Blankets of the best quality will last many years. At the close of spring they should always be washed before they are put away. Where the winters are very severe, eider down quilts and cotton comfortables are frequently used, in addition to one or two blankets.” (Leslie 310)

Bed curtains are useful in keeping the immediate sleeping area warm.

“We think, however (to say nothing of the dreary and comfortless appearance of a curtainless bed, in cold weather, particularly when a sick person is lying in it,) that the winter climate of most parts of America is such to render curtains highly desirable at that season, to all who can conveniently procure them. It is not necessary to draw them closely all round; but if the heads of the sleepers were always screened from the cold air of a cold room, there would, perhaps, be fewer tooth-aches, rheumatic pains, coughs, and sore-throats.” (Leslie 304)

To warm the bed or to keep it warm while you are sleeping, a few options are suggested. The warming pan is a long-handled, often brass pan, which is filled with hot coals. It is placed under the sheets with the upper layers of bedding turned down. The pan is moved about to heat the bed. This is a temporary heating since the pan must be removed. A brick, heated in the stove or fireplace can be wrapped in a thick old cloth and placed in the bed. The wrapping must be secure and thick enough to prevent the burning of the bed clothing or the bed’s occupant. It is suggested the brick remain at the foot of the bed through the night. [Author’s note – if you plan to try to use a brick as a heating device, be sure to use a brick safe for heating.] A hot water bottle can also be used to warm the foot of the bed. This bottle is described as a “large black bottle” with a cork. This is also wrapped in cloth. This bottle must loose its heat sooner than the brick because Leslie suggests having a second bottle ready to replace the first. Another suggestion is for a bed-tin filled with water:

“If any of the family keep late hours, it is unkind to keep a hard-worked housemaid up for the purpose of warming the bed. This may be avoided by having a bed-tin, filled with boiling water, and covered with flannel, placed in the bed by the servant before she goes to her own room. At any hour it will only be necessary to move this tin about a little to have the whole bed comfortably warm. The water will remain hot for many hours, and if left at the foot of the bed under the clothes, will keep the feet quite warm.” (Bowman 63)


The right clothing can make all the difference whether you are inside or out in the cold. The New Orleans’ Daily Picayune has a January 10th, 1864 advertisement for S.N. Moody’s who lists several warm items for the cold weather.

“Scarlet and White Shaker Flannel Undershirts and Drawers.”

“Woolen, Merino, Cashmere and Canton Flannel Undershirts and Drawers.”

“Heavy Hosiery of Every description.”

“Traveling and Campaign Wool Overshirts”

“Seasonable Gloves of Every description.”

“Wool and Cashmere Mufflers.”

“Silk and Wool Scarfs and Ties.”

“Wool stockings”

“Flannel wool drawers and petticoats”

Since many other resources are available detailing clothing for different weather conditions, I will briefly summarize the suggestions for what to wear. Warm stockings and socks were a must. These can be made of thick cotton or wool. Under-clothing such as drawers or petticoats can be made from wool flannel. A quilted petticoat can be especially warm in extreme cold. Leslie gives this description for how to make a quilted petticoat from two old dresses:

“The skirts of two silk dresses will make a very good winter petticoat, interlining them with cotton wadding. They should first be ripped apart, ironed smoothly, and turned. If you have not a quilting-frame at hand, you may quilt a petticoat on a large table, or by spreading it on a bed. The most convenient way will be to quilt the breadths separately, (each with its wadding and lining,) and then sew them together afterwards. They should be quilted in large diamonds, with three or four rows along the bottom of the petticoat, which ought afterwards to be bound with very stout ribbon or broad galloon.

“A wadded petticoat may be made without quilting, by tacking or basting sheets of wadding to the lining, as is done in making a cloak or pelisse. It should be basted with very strong sewing-silk in long needlefuls; taking care to tie firmly the end of every fresh needleful to the end left of the last. Run several straight rows along the bottom after you have put on the outside silk.”

(Leslie 314-315)

For sleeping, night-gowns of white flannel can be worn instead of cotton or linen. The Workwomen’s Guide suggests “dressing-gowns are generally made of warm materials, for the winter, as flannels, either printed or plain, merino, shawl, either the real or imitation, and for gentlemen, of cloth or jean.” (p68) In the morning at home a double or quilted wrapper can be comforting. Directions for double wrappers and quilted wrappers can be found in Leslie’s book on pages 400-403. Shawls were the most frequent recommendation for keeping warm. Wristlets and knee warmers were knitted accessories meant to keep these areas warm. [Knitting directions can be found in Knitting A La Mode and Knitting Two A La Mode.] When looking at outer garments, we see a variety of coats worn far more frequently than a cape. These coats, accompanied by a warm hood can keep out most of winter’s chilling winds. Directions for hoods can be found in Leslie’s book on pages 403-405.

Types of clothing in the winter not only helped keep you warm, it also served to protect you from the dangers of several sources of fire in the home. Mrs. Leslie details how and why it is important to dress children in woolen clothing in a section of her book where she addresses the very important topic of fire safety. “Children, in winter, should be dressed entirely in clothes of woollen or worsted, as these are less liable to catch fire and blaze, than linen or cotton. Even their aprons should be of worsted; for instance, bombzet or merino. Small children should never be left alone in a room in which there is a fire; and their sleeping apartments should, on no account, have the doors locked. Every winter, we have at least one instance of a little child perishing horribly, by the mother leaving it alone, tied in a chair, and placed near a fire, while she is engaged in a distant part of the house, or perhaps gone out on some errand. This is a practice too dangerous for any circumstances to excuse. So is that of the parents going out in the evening, locking up the house, and leaving all the rest of the family in bed. Such parents, on coming home, may find their house on fire, and their children perishing in the flames.” (Leslie 148)


“TO MAKE A SILK QUILT. – This is a light and convenient article for a couch or for a child’s crib, and will be found extremely useful in a sick-room. It can be made economically out of two silk dressed, after the bodies are past wear. Take the two skirts and (first removing with Wilmington clay any grease-spots that may be on them) rip them apart, turn them and sew them together again. You may add to the length by taking the two sleeves, cutting them straight after ripping them open, ad joining them across the top of the breadths. After all the silk has been turned and resewed, sprinkle and fold it, and iron it on the wrong side, pressing the seams well. Take care that the irons are not very hot, or they will discolor the silk. Then put it into a quilting frame, a lay one thickness of glazed cotton wadding in sheets. Quilt it in large diamonds.

“In most families, at least one quilt a year might be made of left-off silk dresses, exclusive of those that may be converted into petticoats.” (Leslie 314)

“TO MAKE COTTON COMFORTABLES.  – These are soft thick quilts, used as substitutes for blankets, and laid under the bed-spread. One of them is equal in warmth to three heavy blankets; and they are excellent in cold winters for the persons who like to sleep extremely warm. In chambers with fire, or in a room that has had a fire all day, a comfortable will generally be found too warm a covering, except in severe weather. IT is best to use them in cold apartments only. If the house should be crowded with guests, so as to cause a scarcity of beds, a thick comfortable may be found a convenient substitute for a mattress.

“Early in the spring, all the comfortables belonging to the house should be washed and put away till winter.

“A comfortable for a large or double bed ought to be three yards long and three yards wide. You may make it of glazed coloured muslin, (in which case it cannot be washed,) or of furniture chintz, or cheap calico. It is best to have both the lining and the outside of the same material. Having run the breadths together, place it on a quilting-frame, and lay on that cotton bats thickly and evenly, each one a very little over the edge of the other. A comfortable of the above size will require three pounds of carded cotton bats. It should be quilted in very large diamonds, laid out with chalk and a long ruler, or with a cord line dipped in raw starch, wetted to a thin paste with cold water. In quilting a comfortable, you need not attempt to take close, short stitches.

“In laying the cotton between the lining and the outside, leave unstuffed about half a yard on each side and at the bottom; but continue the stuffing quite up to the top or head of the comfortable. Let the thin part, however, be quilted the same as the rest. By thus leaving a thin border round the sides and bottom, you prevent the inconvenience so often objected to comfortables, their tendency to slip off the bed; as the thin part can easily be tucked in, so as to secure it perfectly from the danger of sliding out of place.”

(Leslie 313-314)

Author’s reflection

Now for a confession: in the cold of winter, I am very happy to became obsessed with this hobby. Not only do I have an excuse to stay at home doing research or sewing, I also happen to have a few useful items hanging around. On extremely cold mornings, I wear my quilted petticoat or wool flannel petticoat to work. It keeps my achy legs nicely warm in the car during the morning drive. My wool wristlets are great to wear while typing or writing. One of my many shawls is a must in my cold classroom to either keep my shoulders or knees warm depending on the day’s lessons. Another favorite are my wool stockings.

This brings me to a favorite method of keeping warm which happens to be a gap in my findings. I grew up with what we called “soap-stones” decorating the fireplace mantle and speckling antique shops. In my first apartment, I found these warmed nicely when stored in the gas kitchen stove heated by the pilot-light and warmed the chill from my bed. I also used these fairly regularly when I first began reenacting during events in the early spring and the cold fall. But, I was unable to find period documentation of these particular stones by the name soap-stones. I did find references to the use of bricks in the bed and to stones from Cornwall, which could retain heat for an extended period of time. At a recent antique show numerous dealers displayed these stones, each labeled as soap-stones. Either these stones were not yet used, not written about, or were called something else. I would love to hear from anyone who can shed light on this subject.

Works Cited:

  •  Beecher, Catharine Esther. A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Young Ladies at Home. 1854
  •  Beecher, Catherine. Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book. New York: Harper, 1856.
  •  Beecher, Catherine. Miss Beecher’s Housekeeper and Healthkeeper. New York: Harper, 1874.
  •  Bowman, Anne.  The Common Things of Every-day Life. London and New York: 1857.
  •  Mrs. Child. The American Frugal Housewife: Dedicated to Those Who are Not Ashamed of Economy.  New York: Samuel S. & William Wood, 1841, 27th edition.
  •  Daily Picayune. January 10, 1864, p. 2, c. 4. Vicki Betts’ newspaper research.
  •  Haskell, Mrs. E. R.. The Housekeeper’s Encyclopedia of Useful Information for the Housekeeper. New York: Appleton, 1861.
  •  Leslie, Eliza. Miss Leslie’s Lady’s House-Book: A Manual of Domestic Economy. Philadelphia: A. Hart, Late Cary & Hart, 1850.
  • New York Times. 1850-1865.
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher (Christopher Crowfield). House and Home Papers. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1865.
  •  Stevens, Rev. Edward T.. Domestic Economy for Girls. London: Longmans, 1877.
  •  The Workwoman’s Guide. London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., 1840.
Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

FanU Workshops at the Domestic Skills Symposium


I will be teaching two Fanciful Utility workshops at the Genesee Country Village and Museum’s Domestic Skills Symposium. 1

The Symposium takes place on Saturday, November 1st, with Workshops on Friday and Sunday. This is an incredibly affordable program at $75 for Saturdays Symposium with 4 full presentations.

Key lectures include:

  • A survey of printed fabrics from 1760-1860 by Susan Greene, author of Wearable Prints
  • Midwifery from colonial times to the Civil War, by Nancy Webster
  • A history of 19th-century sweets and confections by Patricia Tice
  • Kitchen Gardens and Seasonality by Emily Conable.

Friday and Sunday Workshops cover domestic skills such as:

  • 18th century Pastry Making
  • Wool Spinning
  • Making Your Own Trivet
  • Choosing Appropriate Fabrics for Reproduction Clothing
  • Sit Not in Idleness
  • Make your Own Hand-bound Notebook
  • Custom Draping a Personal Pattern
  • Recreate a Day Cap From the Susan Greene Historic Clothing Collection
  • Making Green Sage Cheese
  • Civil War Cookery
  • Fun will flax
  • Tin Care & Make a Tin Nut Grater
  • The Complete Confectioner
  • Making a Rolled Sewing Case **My Workshop**
  • Making a Mid-19th Century Sewing Box **My Workshop**
  • Make a Cheese Basket

The only bad thing about teaching workshops is missing attending the others. “Sit not in Idleness” sounds like so much fun. I’ve really wanted to get Lily a trivet. I would love to have a hand-bound notebook for when I set up the millinery. Um, Yum, Cheese! And, a basket too?! It would be great to know more about taking care of tin. Plus, I loved the little tin nut grater we had when I was a kid.

I hope to see many of you there. The museum is just outside of Rochester, NY; about an hour from Buffalo/Niagara Falls and 2ish hours from Syracuse. There is a beautiful B&B right down the street. There are several nice hotels in Henrietta too.

The full description of the program along with registration information is on the museum’s site:



“Throw Back Thursday” – Previous Articles

For those who do not know, “Throw back Thursday” is a trend that has moved its way to Facebook resulting in the sharing of older photographs. Well, as many of us history minded folks do, I have twisted the idea a bit.

For this “Throw back Thursday” I am sharing with you a piece of my Google Drive, a folder of “older” articles I wrote from 2010 and before.

Anna’s “Older” Articles Folder

This is partially me wanting to make sure this old work isn’t collecting digital dust; I want it to be useful. This is also me making friends with Google Drive, seeing what it can do so I can actually use it for work/school.

Be sure to read the READ ME file first.







Examples of Trunks


One on the Left is pre-CW. One on the Right is post-CW

Jenny Lind TrunkDome top trunkLid compartmentswpid-2012-06-17-14.28.12.jpg wpid-2012-06-17-14.22.49.jpg wpid-2012-06-17-14.21.47.jpg wpid-2012-06-17-14.21.02.jpg

Published in: on June 30, 2014 at 2:28 pm  Comments (2)  

Dad’s and My Trunk Article

Here is the article Dad and I wrote in 2006:
Types of trunks
By Anna Worden and Floyd Worden
            Many of us want to use trunks during our living history events for various reasons, storage, transportation, furniture, scenario enhancement and interpretation. There are many situations where the use of a trunk is appropriate. Trunks were used for short-term travel and relocation as well as home storage. Multiple diaries and journals refer to getting trunks ready or having trunks searched during the war. If we choose to include a trunk for whichever reason, there are several factors to consider when choosing which trunk to use. In the two decades prior to the Civil War trunks made by individuals and by companies creating a variety of trunks available. Trunks could be completely made in a factory with machine parts, made by hand with some machine made parts or occasionally still made entirely by hand. While some trunks were very basic, others were made for specific purposes or for a specific market. Advertisers listed trunks for ladies and trunks for gentlemen. They also make some distinction between these and packing and traveling trunks. Large trunks were made to harness to a carriage, often by a harness maker. Smaller trunks were made easy to handle for stage travel. Specialized trunks were also made for a variety of purposes.
Before and during the Civil War

This is a Post-CW Trunk based on the lock. Just an example of a flat top.

This is a Post-CW Trunk based on the lock. Just an example of a flat top.

Flat top trunks were popular for many decades prior to the Civil War then again from 1870 to 1920. The frame of these trunks is most often wood, though some patents suggest a metal frame in addition to the wood. The wood is most often covered with canvas, oiled canvas and eventually paper and metal. In pre-war trunks, the trunk body is supported with wood slats, metal trim and metal or leather hardware. Some later trunks are covered with sheet metal.  The basic frame and support structure of the flat top trunk is applied to most round and dome top trunks. Some flat tops developed into dresser, wall or desk trunks.


Round top 1864

Round top trunk circa 1864. This trunk is covered with “Western Squares” paper patented in 1864. The trunk body is constructed from wood, supported by iron stripes at the edges and lid lip. Narrower straps are mimicked in the decorative paper studded with buttons. Lock pairs are less common than a single lock.

Round top trunks have lids that are rounded front to back and not rounded on the sides. The rounded shape can be rather shallow, almost undetectable from a distance or very deep. The slats on the top of the lid can run end to end or be curved and run front to back. If the slats run front to back, they are bent to the shape of the lid. The front, back and side slats can run horizontally or vertically. The slats of a round top trunk are often wider than flat top trunks. These trunks are most often covered in a combination of leather, metal and canvas. Additional compartmentalized storage is created in the round top (see below.)


Dome top trunk

Shallow dome top trunk circa 1854 – 1875. There is a patent identification located on the lock plate marked May 1854. This trunk is labeled inside “From W. R. Drakeford, Manufacture of and Dealer in Harness, Saddles, Bridles, Whips, Trunks, Blankets and every description of Horse Furnishing Goods, 132 Canisteo St., Cor. Park, Hornellsville, N.Y. Canvas Trunk Covers Made to Order.” The wooden stave on the lid runs side to side. It would have been hand bent/shaped for the lid. This trunk retains a pair of buckles and part of their leather straps.

Dome top trunks curve front to back and side to side. They are also called Humpback and camelback trunks. The domes can be very shallow or very high and deep. The basic body of the trunk is constructed in the same way a flat or round top trunk is. The difference, of course, is the lid. The lid slats bend with the shape of the lid whether they run from side to side or front to back. These slats would have been bent by hand. Dome trunks are covered with paper, plain or embossed tin, leather or a combination of these.

Stage Coach Trunks or travel trunks became popular a few decades prior to the Civil War as travel by train or train increased. These trunks were most often wider than their height, such as 28 inches wide, 15 inches tall and 16 inches deep. Fully packed these trunks could be lifted atop a stage for travel.

Jenny Lind Trunk

Jenny Lind trunk, circa 1850-1870. Constructed from 14 pine boards. Ends and lid lip secured by iron straps. May or may not have been covered with leather. (Found with layers of green paint.) This trunk used to have leather straps, handles (replaced) and lock cover. 27.5”wide by 16” deep by 13” high.

Jenny Lind Trunks were a popular form of travel trunk from about 1850 to 1870. These trunks were named after the popular Swedish singer Jenny Lind the “Swedish Nightingale”. Jenny Lind trunks are easy to identify by their shape. Looking from the end, the trunk outline resembles a  keyhole, bread loaf or hour-glass. They were most often made of pine boards then covered in leather and bound with metal bands around ends and edges. Straps often wrapped from back to front, buckling in the front. The metal bands were studded with brass buttons. Size varied for these trunks, each being fairly easy to carry due to their width to height dimensions.

Leather Trunks are wood base trunks covered in leather. There were many types of leather-covered trunks made through the 1800s (and prior). Sadly, these trunks often suffer great damage to the leather over time. Advertisements list trunks made with rawhide, sole leather and hide. Some leather trunks are very early and vary in size. These are completely covered in leather. Decorative and identifying marks were added with studs or “buttons”. As time progressed into the 1800s, leather or hardware was added to the exterior. Smaller trunks would have handles on the top instead of or in addition to the side handles. Shapes include flat and dome tops. On flat tops, edges at front and back could be curved. Some leather-covered trunks are called “immigrant trunks” though immigrants used not all trunks of this style, nor did immigrants solely use leather-covered trunks.
New and variant designs show up all through the United States patents and advertisements. There were new ideas to make a trunk more useful, more accessible, more secure or safer. You can find trunks that dual as beds, desks, or dressers. One commonly adopted variation was the half trunk. Half trunks are those that are roughly half the width of a regular trunk so that from above the shape would b almost square. These trunks were advantageous for 1850’s train travel for women because a few days clothing could fit inside with a space for a bonnet at the top.  
Post War
Saratoga trunks were very large trunks most frequently having a dome top.  Most secondary sources list Saratoga trunks becoming popular in the 1870s when the New York resort of the same name was popular. But, in the Columbus Enquirer, the Trunk Depot lists Saratoga trunks in their advertisement. This was in 1860.
Steamer trunks were intended to stay with the owner while on a ship voyage while larger luggage was stored away. These were most popular from 1890 through1910. They were usually about half the height of a 19th C. Flat top trunk.
Wardrobe trunks were often the same shape as a steamer trunk, but it opened when standing on end. The bottom, top or both was designed to hang clothing within. Some had drawers opposite the hanging section. These trunks would not have been practical for the dress of the
Basic anatomy
Slats are the wooden strips that support the trunk body. They can run vertically or horizontally on the bottom and front to back or side to side on the lid. Wood slats range from 1.5 inches to 4 inches wide. Later wood slats were replaced by metal ones.
Slat clamps or caps are the metal pieces that connect the wooden slats to the sides of the trunk or each other. They serve to strengthen the connections primarily. As trunks became more decorative, the hardware became more decorative.
Corner supports or caps are the metal, sometimes leather, pieces located on or very near the corners of the trunk. Supports and caps hold corners tightly together and serve to aid in the movement of the trunk. Most pre-war supports are “L” shaped. Three sided caps begin to appear toward the end of the 1850s or the beginning of the 1860s. The first patent using a three sided cap is dated ______.
Latches/draw-bolts/catches also called hasps.  These, normally in pairs on the front of the trunk, secure the lid closed.


Clockwise from top left. Images 1 & 2 are the lock from the shallow round top. The right shows the lock closed while the right shows the open keyhole. Image 3 is the lock from a Crocodile patterned Dome top trunk, circa 1850 to 1875. Note the handle above the lock in a different material. Image 4 is a flush mount lock from a specialty trunk made by Taylor Trunk Works circa 1868-1900. Image 5 is a handmade lock with latch, plate and pivoting keyhole cover. Image 6 is a lock from the Jenny Lind trunk Circa 1840-1860. Note this lock is internal. The leather cover is gone. You can see parts of the leather where it attached to the wood. The iron strap on the lid over the lock is bent.

Locks secure the trunk. There are several locks you may see on a trunk. Hasp locks swing down from the lid and secure to the body of the trunk. Chest locks have a panel built into the body and lid with locking mechanism hidden inside the closure.



Examples of hinges – Left to right – Two square hinges from hand made box/trunk and a Jenny Lind trunk. A combination hinge from a box. Three variations of triangular, gate style hinges.

Hinges enable the lid to open and close. Hinges come in variations of two basic styles, a rectangular hinge and a triangular hinge.


Caster patents

Three United States Patents for improvements in casters for trunks. The 1856 patent combines a caster with a threes sided trunk corner cap. The 1863 and 1855 patents are meant to help enable a trunk to be moved flat or upright.

Casters allow a trunk to roll when moved. Not all trunks have casters. Pre-war patents are shown for roller and ball castors.


types of handles

Top left – Handle from flat top Likely trunk, 1844-1870. Leather handle sewn at the edges and encased completely in hardware. Top right – Handle from post-war Taylor field desk trunk. The hardware is patented – Taylor Trunk Works Chicago patent Oct 23, 1883. Center – All leather handle. A single strip of leather secured directly to wood by nails. Lower left – Handle from round top trunk, circa 1840-1870. Note similarity to handle on the Likely trunk. Lower right – Handle from a round top trunk, circa 1840-1870.

Handles  Some handles were hand wrought iron attached directly to the trunk sides. Other handles were leather attached to the trunk with metal end caps or brackets. These metal pieces could be hand-wrought, punched or cast. As designs progressed, handle irons became more decorative and could serve a dual purpose as a catch.  The leather handles were created from layers of thick hide sewn together. Some trunk handles have designs pressed into the leather.

Leather straps help secure the lid closed. Straps usually run back to front or around the belly of the trunk. They are buckled in the front.
Exterior decoration Most coverings are placed directly on the wood under the wooded slats. The most common exterior was a simple plain canvas or oiled canvas. Decorative paper mimicking wood or leather designs is delicate. Several secondary sources list paper consider “Western Squares” a post 1870s covering but there are a couple 1860’s patents for similar papers and trunks with definitive 1850’s hardware with similar paper. Leather hide and sole leather covered trunks in whole or part. Plain and embossed tin was also used to cover trunks. Some trunks are divided into three sections on the front, top and back. The end sections match, while the center section frequently off sets the ends. This is seen frequently on dome or round top trunks.
Trays, inserts and compartments Trunks could have one or multiple trays in the lower portion and compartments in the lid. Trays could be simple or have compartments with separate lids or smaller trays. Compartments in the lids could be lidded, or have trays or drawers. Lid compartments or tray lids could have decorative portraits or scenes.
Lining Prior to the 1800s many trunks were not lined. Newspaper was used in the late 1700s and early 1800s in many trunks. In the early 1800s “some newsprint was embellished with decorative dots that were stamped onto the paper with wooden stamps and ink. This gave the impression of a polka dot pattern from a distance.” (Brettuns Village Trunks, outline of trunk chronology.) In the early 1800s printed-paper began being used to line trunks starting with simple patterns in dull colors. They were lined with paper through the late 1800s as cloth began being used.
Trunk covers Some household manuals and a few advertisements mention canvas covers for trunks. These covers would protect the trunk and contents from dust and some damage caused while moving. Other covers were patented with the intent of protecting the trunk from damage, breakage or water during travel. I have not yet seen these unique patents actually produced.
Closing thoughts:
Choosing a trunk for living history. While there are several reenacting situations where using a trunk is appropriate, not every trunk is appropriate. Anyone of us can wander through an antique shop, flea market or village yardsale and find a fabulous trunk. But, how do you determine if this fabulous trunk is suitable for reenacting? The first step is determining if this is the type of trunk you will need. Are you traveling by train or storing clothing during an event? If you are traveling during the event, you will want to be able to move the trunk easily. Consider a small flat top trunk or a travel trunk or a Jenny Lind trunk. If you are stationary during an event a slightly larger trunk may be useful. Consider a dome or curve top trunk if space is not an issue. If you need the trunk to serve as a functional piece of furniture, consider a flat top trunk. The second step is determining the age of the trunk. Looking at the hardware on the trunk can help determine age. Locks and end-caps can give a good idea of the date of a trunk. Most trunk restorers consider the popular machine made brass locks post Civil War. The three-sided end-caps began around mid-1850. The third step is considering location. Is this a trunk that you would have had in the region you are depicting? This is a minor question considering how frequently trunks moved around the country, and even across the ocean. If you are looking at a carriage trunk hand-made in Hornell, NY, you may not want it for an event in Alabama.
Using a trunk for living history. Just like there are things to consider in choosing a trunk there are things to consider in using a trunk. While it is very tempting to use a beautiful trunk you find at an auction, antique shop, flea market or yard sale, remember the trunk is an antique. Most likely the trunk does not appear as it did in 1855 or 1860. It is important to consider the discrepancy of appearance between now and then. Beyond the impression is the integrity of the trunk. This antique is 130 to 150 years old with weakened wood, hardware and handles. You need to take good care of the trunk. My general rules for my trunks include – never moving it by the handles, never packing it full or heavy, never putting it where it might get damp or wet and never storing anything heavy on top. I also prefer a trunk I can move myself and that fits in the back seat of my car. (The trunk of a car is a dangerous place for your trunk and your back.) It is possible to find a trunk that has reached the end of its days and restore it to be useful. This is worth considering in order to avoid damaging a nice trunk at an event.



Recommended ReadingGeneral

  • United States Patent Office – The Patent Office site contains hundreds of trunk and trunk related patents.
  • Advertisements for trunks and trunk related items in newspapers, books and magazines can be interesting. I highly suggest the Library of Congress American Memory site and Vicki Bett’s Newspaper Research, 1861-1865.  (
  •  The Library of Congress website also contains catalogs for trunks:Homans, I. Smith A Cyclopedia of Commerce and Commercial Navigation.  New York: Harper & brothers, 1859.
    • “Conrad Becker Importer and Maker of Harness, Saddlery, Trunks and Satchels” –This catalog lists trunks including ladies dress trunks, toy trunks, veneer trunks, packing trunks, steamers, sole leather and Saratoga, with prices ranging from $.75 to $62.00.
    • Price List of H.W. Roundtree &Bro., Wholesale Manufactures of all Kinds of Trunks, Traveling Bags, Satchels &ct. – This catalog included descriptions and a chart of trunk sizes, options and prices.
  • Federal and State Censuses list trunk makers with harness makers, trunk manufacturers are sometimes listed separately. The Census may give number of makers, number of establishments, number of employees, production value, production rates and county distribution. Each state has a different format. These are the sites for the Federal and New York Censuses:

Trunk production

  •    New York (State). Secretary’s Office. Hough, Franklin Benjamin. Census of the State of New York, for 1865. Albany: Printed by C. Van Benthuysen, 1867.
  • The State Register: Comprising Historical and Statistical Account of Louisiana. Baton Rouge: T. B. R. Hatch, 1855. – State and local accounts like this may list local trunk makers or manufactures. This lists 38 trunk makers registered in Louisiana (p 133.)
  • Tucker, George. Progress of the United States in Population and Wealth in Fifty Years. New York: Press of Hunt’s Merchants Magazine, 1856.
TravelingRemember if you were traveling by stage, train, ship or at time carriage, your trunk would contain items you would not have easy access to. The items you would need during your transportation or during a night over would be carried in a bag or smaller luggage of some sort. Trunks were packed well and not easily unpacked on a whim.

  • Carter, St. Leger Landon. “Modern Traveling” Southern Literary Messenger. November, 1836. pp 733-735.
  • Porter, Horace. Railway Passenger Travel, 1825-1880. Scotia, NY: American Review, 1888. – I suggest caution in reading this post-war publication, which gives an idea of how some viewed rail-way travel.
  • Redfield, Issac. The Law of the Railways: Embracing Corporations, Eminent Domain, Contracts, Common Carriers of Goods and Passangers. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 1867.
  •  Swayze, J. C.. Hill & Swayze’s Confederate States Rail-Road and Steam-Boat Guide.  Hill & Swayze, 1862. – Available at Documenting the American South. Contains advise for transporting and checking baggage, including trunks.
  • Beecher, Catharine. A Treatise on Domestic Economy. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850
  • Beecher, Catharine.  Miss Beecher’s Housekeeper and Healthkeeper. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1874.
  • Beecher, Henry Ward. Motherly Talks with Young Housekeepers.  NY: J.B. Ford, 1873.  Beecher describes how to care for trunks.
  • Beeton, Isabella. The Book of Household Management. 1861. Beeton describes how to pack a trunk.
  • Hart, A. The House Book
  • Leslie, Eliza. The Behaviour Book. Philadelphia: Willis P. Hazard, 1853.
  • Leslie, Eliza. Directions for Cookery or a Manual of Domestic Economy. Philadelphia: E.L. Carey and Hart, 1840.
  • “The Linen Closet” Godey’s Lady’s Book. Philadelphia. July 1855. This article describes how to store lines including storing them in a trunk.
  • Brettuns Village Trunks. This site contains an ongoing list of trunk makers that is very useful in locating where a labeled trunk may have been from.
  • Ettinger, Roseanne. Trunks, Traveling Bags, and Satchels. Atglen, PA: Schiffer. 1998. This contains late 1800’s trunk advertisements.
  • Gulshan, Helenka. Vintage Luggage. Willson. 2003. This book contains some beautiful trunk and non-trunk options as well as some useful history.
  • Labuda, Martin and Maryann Labuda. Price and Identification guide to Antique Trunks and How to Repair, Decorate, Restore Antique Trunks. Cleveland: 1968. These short booklets contain some nice black and white photographs with brief, general descriptions.
  • Morse, Pat and Linda Edelstein. Antique Trunks: Identification and Price Guide. Iola, Wisconson: Krause Publications. 2003. This book contains color photographs arranged chronologically as the authors see the trunks.
  • Treasured Chests. Nicely organized website with trunks arranged by type.


House-keeping, including packing

  • Beecher, Catharine. A Treatise on Domestic Economy. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850
  • Beecher, Catharine.  Miss Beecher’s Housekeeper and Healthkeeper. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1874.
  • Beecher, Henry Ward. Motherly Talks with Young Housekeepers.  NY: J.B. Ford, 1873.  Beecher describes how to care for trunks.
  • Beeton, Isabella. The Book of Household Management. 1861. Beeton describes how to pack a trunk.
  • Hart, A. The House Book
  • Leslie, Eliza. The Behaviour Book. Philadelphia: Willis P. Hazard, 1853.
  • Leslie, Eliza. Directions for Cookery or a Manual of Domestic Economy. Philadelphia: E.L. Carey and Hart, 1840.
  • “The Linen Closet” Godey’s Lady’s Book. Philadelphia. July 1855. This article describes how to store lines including storing them in a trunk. 


General Secondary Sources

  • Brettuns Village Trunks. This site contains an ongoing list of trunk makers that is very useful in locating where a labeled trunk may have been from.
  • Ettinger, Roseanne. Trunks, Traveling Bags, and Satchels. Atglen, PA: Schiffer. 1998. This contains late 1800’s trunk advertisements.
  • Gulshan, Helenka. Vintage Luggage. Willson. 2003. This book contains some beautiful trunk and non-trunk options as well as some useful history.
  • Labuda, Martin and Maryann Labuda. Price and Identification guide to Antique Trunks and How to Repair, Decorate, Restore Antique Trunks. Cleveland: 1968. These short booklets contain some nice black and white photographs with brief, general descriptions.
  • Morse, Pat and Linda Edelstein. Antique Trunks: Identification and Price Guide. Iola, Wisconson: Krause Publications. 2003. This book contains color photographs arranged chronologically as the authors see the trunks.
  • Treasured Chests. Nicely organized website with trunks arranged by type. 




Published in: on June 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm  Comments (5)  

Information on Trunks

Last week someone on FB was asking about trunks. Here is the article I wrote in 2008 called “Carrying Your Impression” (I need to get the images fixed). I’m going to pull out some additional information and images as well. It all depends on what I have buried where.

Carrying Your Impression

The question “what do you carry your stuff in?” is one that comes up regularly with new and experienced reenacters. We need small containers to store things like hairpins, jewelry, hairnets, sewing supplies, medicine, a first aide kit, etc. In the nineteenth century there were a wide variety of boxes made from wood, tin, pasteboard, bark, papier-mâché, straw, etc.. They included Deed and Document boxes (wood, tin, paper covered), Small traveling boxes/trunks, Bark boxes, Sewing boxes, Pasteboard boxes, Chip boxes, Cash/money boxes, Dressing boxes, Snuff boxes, Patch boxes, Band & Hat boxes, Pantry and spice boxes, Artists’ boxes, Salt boxes, Candle and tinder boxes, Liquor boxes, Teas boxes/caddies, Boxes for games, and many more. We also need larger containers to transport our gear and smaller containers in and out of an event or throughout the weekend.The following containers are organized by type regardless of size. I have included notes on the advantages and disadvantages of each type of container along with some reading suggestions to learn more about each. One book I highly suggest is Neat and Tidy: Boxes and Their Contents Used in Early American Household by Nina Fletcher Little.

Considering Your Scenario

            You will want to consider the situation of your event scenario when choosing what to carry your gear in. If at all possible, look to documentation of someone from the period in a similar situation to help you determine what to use. Long term refugees may have full furniture transported in wagons including chests of drawers, blanket chests, beds, tables, etc.. Comparatively, a refugee who left in haste may have only what could be carried quickly. This could range from a traveling bag to a stuffed sheet or pillow-case. A person traveling may have a few pieces of baggage depending on the situation and duration. (See Virginia Mescher’s article “Traveling Tips for Ladies”) Someone out for the day would carry far less than those above. A woman in town visiting may only have a purse or the contents in her pocket (See “Dress Pockets: A Lady’s ‘Carry All’” by Glenna Jo Christen in the February 2007 Citizen’s Companion) A woman going marketing or shopping may have a basket (not to be mistaken for the modern-day catch-all purse) in which to carry her purchases.

Environment and Usage

When considering containers for an event, each one has its advantages and draw backs. You will want to consider factors such as the weather prediction including humidity and rain, moisture in what you are storing, weight, lid tightness, wear and tear, and organization within the container.  If the forecast calls for a weekend of heavy rain, you may want to consider a water resistant container to carry your extra clothes if you don’t have a nice dry location to store it.  If you are carrying fragile items such as dishes, glasses, or original books, a soft-sided container may not suit your needs.

Personal Needs

Over the past years, I have used many methods of carrying my gear to events and during events, some successful, some not. Since each method has advantages and disadvantages, I tend to go in phases of what I take. Personally, I need the area I am staying in to be very organized and I need to be able to transport everything up and down stairs and in and out of storage without being overwhelmed. For some, storage containers need to do double duty as furniture or decoration at home. For others, storage containers can stay nicely in a garage or trailer while at home.  

Options for Carrying Your Goods

Trunks  carrying 1

Trunks would have been purchased from a harness maker during the first half of the nineteenth century. They were a common item for transporting and storing household items. Trunks from the mid-century were generally smaller than the later steamer trunks used on trans-Atlantic journeys. Some trunks had inset trays for convenient packing. Dome and curve top trunks often had organized storage in the lids. These trunks were good for moving items in wagons but not good for on trains where they were difficult to stack. Stage coach trunks were small enough to lift, while full, up on top of a stage coach.

Trunks vary in size and shape. Original pre-war trunks should be reproduced for use as most originals are delicate and valuable. Trunks are good for transporting most materials and give some protection against moisture. Large or heavy trunks can be difficult to transport. Stage coach trunks such as the Jenny Lind trunk have ample space inside while being easy to carry by one person. My Jenny Lind trunk is 27.5” wide by 16” deep by 13” high. With the curved sides and lid, I can easily wrap my arms around the body of the trunk to carry it.  For addition information on trunks please see “A Study of Trunks” in the December 2006 Citizen’s Companion. For clothing storage see  “Hanging it Up or Not: Clothing Storage in the Nineteenth Century” by Virginia Mescher available on

Wooden Boxes

            A basic wooden box can be made in a variety of ways to store many things. In the era these were homemade or purchased. Some had latches and/or locks. Most lids were flat or domed and hinged while some can have sliding lids. The exterior can be carved, stained, painted, gilt, or inlayed. Early nineteenth century boxes could reflect a patriotic theme with stars, flags, eagles and the like, either freehand painted or stenciled.  Mid century painting tended towards sponging or swirling, faux graining or marbleizing, stylized foliage, life scenes, and stenciling similar to that done on interior walls, floors, and fireboards.  Some late 1700s boxes resembled miniature dower chests. The interiors could be compartmented.  Some of wooden boxes can be document or deed boxes used to store important papers.  Some boxes were covered with leather or hideresembling small trunks. Some hide used to cover trunks retained the animal’s hair or fur. These often had latches and locks as well as strapping and decorative nails. A packing or shipping box can be very simple, possibly stenciled with contents or destination.

A wooden box can protect contents from rainy weather. Depending on construction and tightness of the lid, it may or may not protect from the humidity. Weight and ease of transportation can also be a factor. The type of wood, the size of the box, the shape of the box, and what is packed inside all contribute to the weight and how difficult it will be to carry.  Attention needs to be given to construction techniques and the hardware used. Detailed information can be found in Nineteenth Century Wooden Boxes by Arene Wiemers Burgess.


There are a number of bags available for use. Some can be purchased while others need to be made by hand.

Directions for travel bags  are available through-out the pages of Godey’s and Peterson’s. A travel bag was intended for carrying what you would need during a journey. In the case of stage or train travel, this may include a shawl, reading material, and extra set of underpinnings, and needlework. The idea was not to have to access your larger baggage during the trip.

Similar to the travel bags, carpet bags were used during travel. These were both manufactured and homemade as they are in reenacting today. The Carpetbagger and Heirloom Weavers both make authentic reproductions with reproduction carpeting. Tapestry and some carpeting is available to make a homemade bag following period illustrations or mimicking an extant bag.  Depending on the size of your bag, you can pack a day’s or a weekend’s goods and clothing. Valises are similar in size and shape to many manufactured carpet bags, but they are made from leather.

            Each of  these bags are easy to carry. They work nicely for soft goods such as clothing. The soft nature of the bags does crush some items inside. The carpet-bag has more firmness to the body of the bag than the travel bag shown. This makes it a little better for items such as books.  Since these bags are fabric or carpet, they do not withstand heavy rain or heavy humidity while carried or set on wet ground. Some carpet bags have leather bases, protecting the contents a bit more from a damp ground. But, I do not suggest leaving it set on a very wet surface for a prolonged period.


Cloth Sacks and Pillow Cases

Simple sacks or even pillowcases can be an easy way to carry soft goods. These are especially appropriate for a poorer impression. Cornelia Peake McDonald’s step-daughter, Mary, packed her last minute items in a sheet from the crib before departing Winchester with her children on a stage coach while wearing her calico morning dress. (A War Diary with Reminiscences p182) Bevin Lynn shared on the Sewing Academy how she asked a group of new teen reenacters to store all their materials in a single, monogrammed pillow case for their first events. This helped during carpooling and while sharing a camp location at events.

Bandboxes and Pasteboard boxescarrying 2

Band boxes were made of thin wood then covered with wall paper. Pasteboard boxes were made of paper-pulp pressed into thick sheets. These were also covered with paper. Some papers were wallpaper while others were printed specially for pasteboard boxes. These could be printed with information or illustrations regarding the bonnet, hat, or hair-comb inside. Either of these boxes can be used to hold headwear as well as other items. Pasteboard boxes were made in nesting sets intended to carry or store a wide range of lighter weight articles of clothing such as dresses, caps, gloves, and collars. Oval ones were sometimes considered bride’s boxes given as gifts to store finery and delicate trinkets. Band-boxes and pasteboard boxes of the mid- nineteenth century did not have the convenient cording used to secure the lid that we are familiar with in the 20th century. Instead they were secured with a strap of clasp. Cotton bags were made to carry one or more of the pasteboard boxes. Pasteboard boxes can be round, oval, or rectangular of many different sizes. You can make one with a base box, period wallpaper and interior paper.

Bonnets could also be stored or transported in wooden boxes or bonnet trunks that were becoming more popular in the middle of the century.carrying 3

Sometimes we need very small boxes to carry medication, a key, a dollop of sun-block, etc.. There were small wooden stave boxes made for medicines held in the pantry. This may not be the best choice for modern medications. Consider boxes similar to snuff boxes or patch boxes for this use. These boxes sealed well and were made from fine or utilitarian metal, enameled metal, tortoise shell, ivory, horn, and papier-mâché. (be careful not to put moist contents in the latter part of the list.)

Staved Boxes 

            A pantry favorite, the staved box, can be very useful for an event kitchen. Staved boxes were used for many kitchen goods including cheese, butter, herbs, and flours. One New Hampshire example held hand-woven, hand-dyed linen handkerchiefs and towels (from Neat and Tidy). Those with pine staves/walls held together with hoops of a harder wood were used for moist items like butter. (This may not be practical for events because this box would need to be kept consistently moist. Consider a crock for butter instead.) Stave boxes were also made in sets that could nest. Round sets consisting of one large round box and seven or eight small round boxes set inside the large one were used beginning in the 1850s to store spices. Most often these were labeled: cloves, cinnamon, mustard, nutmeg, pepper, ginger, allspice, mace.

Round and oval Shaker spice and work boxes are the most recognized stave boxes. These were made with maple sides and pine tops and bottoms. These were available in most areas by 1825 either varnished or painted. (be aware, most cheese boxes available from Mennonite shops have staples instead of nails holding the staves. Early handmade stave boxes had headed nails clinched on the inside. Manufactured boxes starting in the mid-century had machine made tacks holding thinner, often poorer made staves.)

Tin boxes and Tin trunkscarrying 6

Tinsmiths made numerous tin containers for use in the mid-nineteenth century including canisters, tin boxes, tin trunks and small tins. Some have hinged lids with latches and handles such as the tin trunk which some used to hold documents. These can be nicely painted solid or painted with designs including stencils.

  carrying 4          Tin containers are excellent for storing items you do not want to get moist or invaded by insects. A container with a tightly secure lid can also hold up against the most curious of chipmunks, squirrels or raccoons. For this reason, I like to use tin to store baked goods. I don’t recommend any food with moisture, because some modern ‘tin’ does seem to spot rust from the inside out. For additional information on tin, consider The Art of the Tinsmith   by Shirley Spaulding DeVoe.

Basketscarrying 5

            Baskets were used for a variety of purposes in the mid-century. There were egg baskets, cheese baskets, market baskets, field baskets, laundry baskets, storage baskets, fruit drying baskets, garden baskets, and many more.  Baskets can be light weight and easy to carry with a built in handle or handles.

Baskets tended to be made for particular uses in mind. Their construction generally reflects this and should be kept in mind when choosing a basket. To strengthen the base of a basket for carrying heavy goods a basket may have a solid turned wood base or a “kicked-in” base. A buttocks basket with the handle encircling the bottom distributed the weight of the contents in the two bulbs of the basket making the basket easier to carry. A field or fruit basket could have an open weave on the bottom allowing dirt and particles to fall through and also allow the contents to dry. A basket meant for drying or for storing the contents could be footed or have runners, keeping the basket up off the floor allowing air to circulate under the basket. Regional variation and cultural origins should also be kept in mind when choosing a basket. While I, in close proximity to Shaker establishments, could choose a Shaker style basket, I could not as easily choose a coil basket made in a Pennsylvania village with German roots or a Nantucket lightship basket.

Baskets are relatively easy to find at craft stores, yard sales, even department stores. You may even be able to take a basket making class at a local history museum or through a continuing education program. For detailed information on baskets, please read Virginia Mescher’s articles in the in the Fall 2005 and Winter 2006 editions of the Watchdog and the books by Gloria Roth Teleki, The Baskets of Rural America and Collecting Traditional American Basketry which include several mid-century notations and baskets.

Baskets do come with a few drawbacks. Baskets provide minimal protection from weather and moisture. If the basket contains modern items, a cloth cover must be continually arranged to conceal the contents. Baskets, though popular for picnics, provide little barrier for hungry insects. I will never forget one of my early events when I had been sitting with a basket on my lap which recently had been on the ground. When the basket was set aside, my entire lap wasn’t the stripes of fabric but a mass of moving black and brown… ants, hundreds of ants. 


 Specialized Containers

            At times you will find you need a specialized container to suit your needs. A common one is a spectacle (glasses) case. These cases were shaped for the spectacles, made from metal, covered metal, leather, and papier-mâché. They were most often lined inside. They are the best way to carry your period glasses. If you will be writing letters or a journal during your event you may want a writing desk. Writing desks are useful for writing letters or journal pages. They are wood with a slanted top or fold down top with a writing surface. Inside there are compartments for holding paper, pens and ink. Some men may who plan to shave at events may want a razor box.  These wood boxes had swivel or slide tops. Some had compartments inside for razors and brushes. Another box, useful to most reenactors, especially during rainy events are candle and tinder boxes.  At an event you will want to keep your candles dry and if it is hot, straight. These boxes were wood or tin, the length of the candle. You will also want to keep tinder for the fire if it particularly wet. A period tinderbox would contain a piece of flint, a steel striker, dry tinder, and possibly a tin damper to shield or extinguish the tinder. You will want either those items or dry matches, a striker, dry tinder (charred linen, paper, or wood shavings) or a fire starter and possibly a dry candle stub.

Well-stocked sewing baskets or boxes are essential for anyone who plans to sew during an event. Directions for both smaller sewing kits and larger sewing boxes and baskets can be found in Godey’s and Peterson’s. Chances are, even if you are not an avid seamstress, you have or eventually will need at least a small sewing case during an event. Small kits such as housewives, needle-books and needle-cases abound for purchase. They are also easy to make.

Boxes shaped like books are sometimes popularized for smuggling at events. These book-shaped boxes weren’t an unusual item. They were constructed most often from wood to store important books or other items. They would open like a book or with a sliding cover in the back. Some had humorous titles. The author of Neat and Tidy says hollowed out books were popular in the early 20th century.

Toilet or dressing boxes and trinket boxes were popular for both men and women in the 17th and early 18th centuries among the wealthy classes. By the late 18th and 19th century, these boxes were popular for middle classes. Trinket boxes were similar to what we would now call a small jewelry box. (A trinket was a small ornament, usually an article of jewelry for personal adornment.) 19th century boxes were decorated or painted frequently by the woman who used it. They were most often rectangular or octagonal, occasionally with locks. Some were decorated to match dressing tables.


Each one of us will find different modes of packing our goods works well at different times under different circumstances. In my experiences I have found some favorite modes of packing ranging from carpetbags to a wide assortment of trunks to a jam cabinet. I have seen a several successful methods as well. One, which stands out in memory, is an entire kitchen’s goods including flour, sugar, eggs, etc. packed into a copper double boiler. Each item was well packed in a period appropriate container within the boiler making it easy for the cook to carry her weekend’s ingredients from kitchen to kitchen. I am certain I have neglected some favorite containers of other reenacters. If I have, I am eager to hear what you use.



Raycraft, Don and Carol. Country Baskets Wallace-Homestead, 1976. and The Basket Book. Paducah, KY: Schroeder, 1981.

Schiffer, Nancy. Baskets. Schiffer Publishing: Exton, PA, 1984.




Published in: on June 30, 2014 at 1:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Book Notice: Wearable Prints, 1760-1860

It is here! Well, it isn’t here with me…. yet. So, here are KittyCalash’s thoughts on the arrival of Susan Greene’s book we’ve been waiting for Wearable Prints, 1760-1860.
Remember, the Greene collection is now housed at the Genesee Country Village in Mumford, NY.

Hmmm….. Now, I’m picturing a “Greene” Swap for the Fall. Wouldn’t it be fun to find fabrics similar to those Susan talks about?

Kitty Calash

This just in, literally, from the mail carrier: Susan W. Greene’s long-awaited book,Wearable Prints, 1760-1860. It’s discounted (and out of stock) at Amazon, but should be shipping soon, since I have one right here on my desk.

It’s fair to call this book lavishly illustrated (1600 full-color images in almost 600 pages), and while I have access to a copy at work, I am seriously thinking of buying my own copy, based solely on about 10 minutes skimming the book. There are images not just of fabric samples but also of garments, paper dolls and illustrations that help put the fabrics into context. Images of garments from collections I can’t get into? Delicious! Information to help me understand how to use a printed cotton? Even better.

The book is organized in three main sections: Overview, Colors, and Mechanics. Appendices include timelines, prohibitions, price comparisons, print characteristics, and more…

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The Newest “Must Have” Books for Your Christmas List

Whether shopping for the perfect gift for someone special or making your own wish list, there are some great new books out this fall that ought to be on your Christmas list.

For the needle-worker, seamstress and quilter, there is Fanciful Utility: Victorian Sewing Cases and Needle-books by Anna Worden Bauersmith. This book shows step-by-step how to make an assortment of well researched sewing cases, housewifes and needle-books. Filled with templates and color photographs, this book is sure to keep the hands busy all winter long.

Everyone who dresses for the Civil War era will want Dressing the Victorian Civil War Lady: A Guidebook to Dressing the 1860s by Joy Melcher of the Civil War Lady. This book is filled with original photos, illustrations and tips for interpreters, reenactors, seamstresses and stage costumers.If you love to dance, you will have to have the West Side Soldiers Aide Society’s release of  The Ball-Room Manual of Belfast, Maine from 1863. The facsimile book has page after page of period contra dances acceptable to “the Young, as well as the Old Folks at Home”.

I was very excited to see this second volume available. The Way They Were: Dressed in 1860-1865, Volume 2 by Donna Abraham. Volume 2 takes a closer look at the details of the clothing women, men and children wore through newly published photographic images magnified for an indepth study.

The following books aren’t brand new, but if you don’t already have them, you should have them on your wish list:

Anyone making their own mid-century clothing, or just looking to understand it better should own The Dressmaker’s Guide by Elizabeth Stewart Clark.

Donna Abraham’s The Way They Were: Dressed in 1860-1865 is packed full of original CDV images. I just love this book as my copy is filled with notes and arrows.

What else is on my wish list? Well, I need to learn more about men’s clothing so I can make my husband a full set of civilian attire. (I also need to convince him this is a great idea.) With that in mind, on my wish list we find The Victorian Tailor by Jason Maclochlainn as well as Mr. Ruley’s digital version of Louis DeVere’s 1866 Handbook of Practical Cutting on the Centre Point System.