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  

Anatomy of a Straw Bonnet

Each of these points are general for fashionable bonnets made of straw, primarily straw plait, from approx 1858 through 1863. Finer points adjust with each season’s prevailing fashion.

General Construction – Straw bonnets were sewn by hand in the round. Plaits ranged from 1/8″ split straw to wider whole straw and fancy plaits. Woven straw was also used.

Anatomy 1

Tip – The back section of the crown in the tip. On a straw bonnet this can either be domed, flattened at the back curving to the side of the crown. It should not have a sharp angular transition from the back to the sides.

Crown – The crown of a straw bonnet should create a smooth transition from the crown to the brim. Much of the shaping in the bonnet will be created in this transition area.

Brim – The brim of a straw bonnet will vary according to fashion. The brim’s edge should be a single or double row of straw plait. It should not have raw edges needing to be bound.

Cheek-tabs – The cheek-tabs should have a gentle curve coming from the neck edge of the crown along the side of the bonnet dropping down to roughly your jaw line meeting the brim edge. This is a graceful line, not a straight edge or angular transition. There is a variation in the twist of the cheek-tab from the fifties into the sixties. The cheek-tab is part of what helps hold a bonnet in place.

Binding – The binding on a straw bonnet should be straw plait. Raw edges were covered on the exterior and sometimes the interior along the back of the cheektabs, sides and tip. Multiple rows were used as well.

Lining – A lining is a functional layer of light weight, open-weave cotton covering most of the interior of the bonnet. It aids in keeping the straw from snagging the hair while worn. The lining can not be seen when the bonnet is worn.

Frill/Cap/Ruche –This decorative layer of gathered cotton or silk  covers fills the inside of the brim. This is very fine most often net, lace or organza. The full frill aides in holding the bonnet in place.

Facing – Some bonnets have a facing of silk from the edge of the brim through the first couple inches of the interior brim.

Bavolet/Curtain – The bavolet is attached to the binding edge on a straw bonnet along the sides and crown. This silk piece should be lined with net to give it more body. The bavolet may be a single piece of fabric, most often on the bias and occasionally on the grain, or pieced from bias cuts of ribbon. The bavolet may also be decorated.

Functional Ties – The functional ties are attached to the interior of the cheek-tabs or under the decorative ties. These are narrower ribbon to hold the bonnet in place.

Decorative Ties – Decorative ribbons are wide, 3″-8″ based on a wide survey I did years ago. They are on the grain, not bias. Tied, they do not take the support of the bonnet.

Interior Decoration – Interior decoration also helps hold the bonnet in place.

Anatomy 2

Sun Trouble

SAMSUNGI have trouble with the sun and heat. Some years are better than others. Some days are worse than others.

Every day, I need to be sensible about what I wear and what I do throughout the day. This is a good time of year, before it gets warm and busy, to think ahead about what will help keep you comfortable. Here are some things that help me:

As I spend most of my days going in and out of a house or shop, wearing a fashion bonnet, I find a veil is extremely helpful. An every day veil protects my face from the sun, acting like sunglasses would. (It can also protect against dust as well.) I find white can give some glare on particularly sunny days. Black and green seem to temper the sun quite well. (Though, I have noticed a green veil can play with the light, mimicking what happens when I get a migraine) Some worry about a veil trapping in heat. I have not found this to be the case. Veils, whether silk or net, breath nicely and are light enough to let air pass under it.

Similar to a veil, a parasol lets you bring the shade with you. I find a parasol quite nice for walking from one end of the village to the other. It can shade the face, neck and shoulders as needed.

For working days or days I may be outside more than inside, a sunbonnet is a must. Sunbonnets can be corded or slat. They are practical for the sun and for the budget. They can also be made with a sheer or an opaque fabric. Personally, I prefer a corded sunbonnet as it is light weight and gives me good sun protection for my face.

I find open weave or sheer fabrics help a good deal. Even though most of my body is already covered by my chemise, corset, drawers, etc., having the sheer allows air to reach my neck, shoulders and arms, giving me more comfort. This may or may not be significant. But, I feel as though there is a difference.

Stockings that are not tight. This may seem like something little, but it makes a big difference. To me, the fit of my stockings is far more than whether they are wool or cotton. A properly loose wool stocking gives me less of a heat issue than a too tight cotton stocking. Mind you, when I say “properly loose”, I don’t mean baggy or ballooning. I mean it slides on and off comfortably, there is no constriction, the garter holds them in place without needing to be overly tight.

Meals seem to be important for many reenactors. This isn’t really the case for me. I do better with eating light and fresh food as a grazing through the day and, of course, staying hydrated. Fresh food, preferably local, with lots of water, ginger beer and/or shrub keeps by insides happy. I’m a big fan of cherries, berries, apples, pears, peaches, hard boiled eggs, bits of cheese, molasses cookies, some pickles and soft, moist bread. Some people are particularly fond of pickles as a hydration indicator due to the vinegar content. (A little warning: Don’t eat a whole jar of pickles if you are prone to water retention and will be sitting most of the day. The results are less than pleasant.)

It has been hard, but, I am coming to know my limits. Ten years ago, I would have scoffed at the thought of limits; limits would have been a challenge. Just look at the photo of me trying to help push a wagon. The process to learning my limits has been highlighted with broken bits of me and the occasional emt. Now, I know I can not spend hours in the mid-day sun setting up or hauling heavy boxes down stairs to the car. I also can not trek across an event mid-day to get to an activity or even to lunch with friends. Early morning or late evening set-ups are easier on me, as are later afternoon or evening activities away from ‘home base’.

EDIT: I forgot to mention sunblock. Yes, it is a modern item. Yes, you should be using it. I recommend transferring some to a small tin with a secure lid. For me, a shallow tin 2-3″ in diameter works nicely. If you have multiple tins to carry, remember to label them.

EDIT 2: Here are some photos of one of the veils I use. This is one Bevin made me. The silk gauze breathes nicely. This sorta shows how this is attached. There is a cord run through the top. The ends of the cord are pinned into the bonnet. A couple points are pinned along the top as well.

IMG_3831 IMG_3832

Published in: on April 4, 2015 at 2:22 pm  Comments (2)  

“The Shopping Itch” carry along

Some years ago, I wrote a quick piece called “The Shopping Itch” as a guide for newer reenactors and interpreters who enjoy shopping at events. Here is a nifty carry along version:

Shopping Itch Mini Booklet Thumbnail image

Click Here for PDF

Follow these directions to create a small booklet:

  • Fold in half the short way, putting the dashed line on one side.
  • Cut along the dash line being sure to stop at the end.
  • Unfold and lay face down.
  • Fold in half the long way.
  • Fold the right hand side in along the dotted gray line. Then fold backwards.
  • Fold the left hand side in along the dotted grey line. Then fold backwards.
  • Turn the booklet up on end. Pull the sides along the cut out wards to form a star.
  • Fold into a booklet with the front on the outside.


Published in: on February 28, 2015 at 9:17 am  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.







Resources for Life

It is not polite to invite persons to your house, when you do not desire to see them.

It is not polite to have foul teeth. A brush should be used after every meal.

It is not polite to question others, in idle curiosity, respecting that with which you have no concern.

It is not polite to utter the ideas of another as your own, and thus attempt to shine in borrowed plumage.

It is not polite to take down a book, or any article, in a store or dwelling-house and not return it to its proper place.

It is not polite to stand at the corners of the streets to stare at those who pass, or to make improper remarks.

It is not polite to wear a peculiar dress, or pursue any irregular course for the sake of oddity or notoriety.

It is not polite to speak unadvisedly to another, or to thrust your opinion, unsolicited, upon a neighbor.  

It is not polite to vote for yourself as a candidate for office, or to solicit the votes of your friends.

It is not polite, if you insist on wearing mourning on the death of a friend to wear that mourning garb for too long a period. When we see ladies persist in wearing sable, we are reminded of the reply a young widow made to her mother: “Don’t you see,” said she, “it saves me the expense of advertising for a husband.”

It is not polite for ladies to wear dresses so long that people are continually stepping upon them.   

Hints of Common Politeness (Boston: 1867)

Published in: on March 20, 2014 at 1:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Resources for Life

With regard to the mode of destroying the traffic in liquor in the several villages and cities, it has been substantially the same everywhere.

1. Preparatory prayer in the closet and church, in some instances lasting for two of three weeks, before any effort was made openly by the women to persuade men to quit the business.

2. Circulating the personal pledge of total abstinence; also, for druggists, grocers, real estate owners, lawyers, and physicians.

3. Going out in small companies of two or three, and quietly conversing with dealers, with or without prayer.

4. Increasing the party to five or ten, and praying either vocally or silently in each place visited.

5. Visiting in large bodies daily the several saloons in the town and singing and praying in them, or, if refused access, in front on the pavement or in the street.

In many place in Ohio guards have been assigned to watch the saloons when not invested by the praying-band. These ladies usually took down names of visitors, and sometimes exhorted and plead with them to sign the pledge. This last course was a very unpopular one the saloon keepers.


The following pledges, with slight verbal variations, have been used in the campaign:

Citizens’ Pledge

We, the undersigned, severally pledge ourselves, upon our integrity and honor, to abstain from the use as a beverage of all spirituous liquors, wine, beer, and ale; and that we will not give away or offer in any way the same to others to be so used, or use the same in cooking of for table purposes.

Property-Holders’ Pledge

We, the undersigned property-holders, pledge ourselves not to let or lease our premises (or  premises for which we are agents) in this city or permit them to be used or occupied, for the sale or dispensing in any way of spirituous liquors, wine, beer, or ale.

Dealers’ Pledge

We hereby severally pledge ourselves not to sell, furnish, or give away or allow to be sold or given away by any agent or employee of ours, either by retail or wholesale, any spirituous liquors, wine, beer, or ale.

Physicians’ Pledge

We, the undersigned, upon our honor as professional me, promise here-by not to prescribe the use of spirituous liquors, wine, beer, or ale, only in case of absolute necessity.

Druggist’s Pledge

We, the undersigned druggists, hereby pledge ourselves, upon our honor as business men, that from this date we will under no circumstances sell or give away, or allow to be sold or given away by any of our agents or employees, any alcoholic or intoxicating liquors, wine, beer, or ale, except upon the prescription of a reputable practicing physician, said prescription to be filled but once.

Grocers’ Pledge

We, the undersigned grocers, do hereby promise and agree that we will not hereafter sell, or allow to be sold in our stores, intoxicating liquor to any person; and that we will heartily, and in good faith, perform this obligation.


The Woman’s Temperance Movement, by Rev. W.C. Steel (New York, 1874)

Published in: on March 6, 2014 at 1:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Resources for Life

 There are many different theories concerning the moral purposes of this world in which we dwell, considered, I mean, in reference to us, its human inhabitants; for some regard it merely as a state of transition between two conditions of existence, a past and a future; others as being worthless in itself, except as a probation or preparation for a better and a higher life; while others, absorbed or saddened by the monstrous evils and sorrows around them, have really come to regard it as a place of punishment or penance for sins committed in a former state of existence. But I think that the best definition, – the best, at least, for our present purpose, – is that of Shakespeare: he calls it, with his usual felicity of expression, “this working-day world;” and it is truly this: it is a place where work is to be done, – work which must be done, – work which it is good to do; – a place in which labor of one kind or another is at once the condition of existence and the condition of happiness.

Well, then, in this working-day world of ours we must all work. The only question is, what shall we do?

To few it is granted to choose their work. Indeed, all work worth doing seems to leave us no choice. We are called to it. Sometimes the voice so calling us is from within, sometimes from without; but in any case it is what we term expressively our vocation, and in either case the harmony and happiness of life in man or woman consists in finding our vocation the employment of our highest faculties, and of as many of them as can be brought into action.

And work is of various kinds: there are works of necessity and works of mercy; – head work, hand work; man’s work, woman’s work; and on the distribution of this work in accordance with the divine law, and what Milton calls the “faultless proprieties of nature,” depends the well-being of the whole community, not less than that of each individual.

Sisters of Charity, Catholic and Protestant. And the Communion of Labor, by Mrs. Anna Jameson. (Boston (1857)

I must say that while reading the paragraphs following these on the work of men and the work of women, I have an urge to make charts of “men’s work” and “women’s work” at various times in our history. I think it would be interesting (and quite telling) to see how the individual tasks move from one to the other.

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 1:34 am  Comments (1)