Women of New York – The Milliner’s Girl

I stumble upon a book I want to recommend to you. The Women of New York by Mary Louise Hankins, is filled with delightful portraits of the various women in New York. This 1861 view of women’s lives seems remarkably modern at times.

Maggie Brewer

The Milliner’s Girl

But then her face,

So lovely, yet so arch – so full of mirth,

The overflowing of an innocent heart. Rogers.


Maggie Brewer is all day alternating between the shop and the room back of it, selling bonnets, flowers and feathers in the one, and stitching “for dear life,” in the other. Never on any account, looking dull or stupid, or forgetting the fact that she is an exceedingly pretty girl.

Old Mrs. Stitchem, the proprietess of the establishment, declares that Maggie is worth fifty other shop girls, and Miss Betsy, the forewoman, had rather have her services than those of any of her assistants. As for the ladies who patronize Mrs. Stitchem, they are equally well pleased, for Maggie is never weary of looking for “just this shade of blue,” or “just that width of ribbon,” and will disembowel fifty boxes for the benefit of their curiosity, without a single murmur. May and many a young man, allured within the glass doors, by the pretty face behind the counter, and, intending to spend  nothing, has found his pockets lighter by several dollars, and his hands full of gauzy nothings, of which he could make now possible use – for Maggies is a thorough little tradeswoman, and uses her smiles and beauty as well as she does her nimble fingers. She can flirt in the most approved manner, and is as wicked as coquette as can be found upon this mundane sphere; but, as far as virtue is concerned, she is incorruptible, and would guard her honor with her very life.

Maggie is quick of speech, and can express herself, fluently, but her grammar is somewhat deficient, and she is fond of superfluity of negatives. Any thing she disapproves of, is stigmatised as “real mean.” Over-work is “real mean,” bad needles are “real mean,” and scolding is “real mean.” A rainy day, or too fastidious customers – a rent in her best dress or a bad dinner, all are “real mean.” There is no stronger term in her vocabulary. Maggie’s dress, on holidays, is as scrupulously arranged as that of any Fifth Avenue belle. Her bonnet, with its gay flowers, shades of the glossiest of ringlets, and her long skirt sweep the sidewalk with as great a disregard of economy as though she was worth a million. A shabby garment is the only thing which will give Maggie a fit of the blues, and a badly fitting basque is the object of her supreme and unlimited disgust.

Maggie’s home is situated on the “East side” of New York, beyond the Bowery, in on of the streets running down towards the river and there she dwells, in company with her widowed mother and several sisters, who are either dress makers or tailoresses. The young men of the neighborhood cast glances of admiration on Maggie, as she goes toward the shop in the early morning; and teh butcher around the corner is driven to distraction’s verge by the prejudice which old Mrs. Brewer entertains against him.

One of Maggie’s sisters is engaged to a prosperous journeyman tailor, and the others have each “their young man,” who is supposed to be paying “particular attention,” by all the watchful observers. But, in general, she passes to and fro without disturbance, thinking of all those objects of interest which the humblest life affords, or calculating (if it be Saturday night) how far the little sum in her portemonaie can be made to go; and on the whole is perhaps as happy as many a richer maiden who rolls past her among the cushioned seats of their father’s carriages. During her shopping excursions, Maggie patronizes the Bowery. There the colors are brighter, the patterns larger, and the clerks mor loquacious. There are bargains to be met with. Damaged lace at less than cost, veils from auction, at half price, pink lilies and blue roses, to be purchased for a mere song, and embroidered cotton handkerchiefs, which the shopmen declare can never be told from linen, for a shilling a piece.

It is Maggie’s delight to visit these stores by gaslight, in company with several young women of her acquaintance, and then and there expend all her superfluous cas in the purchase of various articles of adornment, and go home chatting about that “real pretty clerk who measured ribbon,” or that “real mean man who would not throw off sixpence on the muslin.” Another great enjoyment is to be escorted in the evening, by some spruce young beau, to an ice cream saloon, and there to be overwhelmed with attentions. Other girls are there to observe and admire, and other beaus to grow jealous. There is always such a pretty fountain in the centre, with a white statue throwing water over its head, and such a nice display of artificial flowers, and the waiters, in their white aprons, are as polite as though they were serving a princess. Indeed, Maggie quite imagines herself a great lady, and draws off her kid gloves with an air. Going home, they always walk slowly, and are disposed to talk sentimentally. The young man says, he “would have like to have stayed in that place for a considerable time.” And the young lady inquires “”Why?” And her escort answers, “‘Couse he had such good company.” This brings a brighter red to her cheek, and she turns away from him. Then, somehow, Maggie finds herself looking out of her little attic window, long after she ought to be asleep, wondering “whether he really meant anything by it,” and imagining the feelings of a bride, in white attire and orange flowers. Some of these bright evenings there will be more smiles and blushes, and a strong palpitation of a certain, honest heart; and after that, Maggie will “keep regular company,” and will have lovers’ quarrels, and make them up again; and finally, she will get married, and settle down as wife and mother, in some compact little second of third floor. Such a time as they will have at the wedding defies description. All the relatives and friends will be invited. Sarah’s young man, and Lizzie’s young man, will come, of course; and there will be a plentiful feast prepared for their entertainment. The rich old aunt, from Peekskill, will bring a present of teaspoons, and will make Maggie blush by whispering to her, that “in a year she will also give her a cradle.” The bridesmaid will have to endure sundry jokes, about bridesmaids being always destined for brides, in the shortest space of time. And the sisters will be informed, by all the old ladies, that their turn is coming next. All the gentlemen will salute the bride, and try to kiss the bridesmaids; and there will be much screaming, and running into corners, and the ugliest damsel will be far the easiest to capture. And after supper, there will be a good deal of singing, and a number of tunes upon the somewhat cracked piano-forte, and as much dancing as can be managed in the limited space between the table and the fireplace; and a little after midnight, the guests will take their departure, and Maggie Brewer will bid them adieu as “Mrs. Smith.”

If Maggie’s husband is prosperous, she may some day move from the second floor to a brown stone mansion, and, perhaps, eventually keep her own carriage, and a dozen servants. Should you meet her after she gets up in the world, you will recognize her by some lapses in grammar, and a habit of wearing very gay flowers in her bonnet. But, although neither refined nor educated, she will still have the same light spirit, gay heart, and nimble fingers, as when she measured ribbon for Mrs. Stitchem; and although she may be sneered at “for having risen from nothing,” and looked upon with ridicule by some of her more well born neighbors; she will be very happy, and make a loving wife, and good mother.

But Maggie Brewer is better off than the great multitude of shop girls in New York. Maggie has a home where she can live with a good, kind mother, and in the companionship of her sisters and little brother. She receives nine dollars a week for her services in the shop of Mrs. Stitchem, while her co-laborers get only three or four.

There is a mischievous spirit governing the will and actions of all working females. They seem to cherish the idea, that being women, they should live without labor. From Infancy up, they are continually counting upon assistance and support from relations or friends, or looking forward to the time when they shall have a husband to provide for their wants. It is frequently said, that in New York, there is nothing for working females to do; or that the compensation they receive is not adequate to their wants. How could it be otherwise, when there is such a total lack of care or concern, on the part of operative females, towards the interest of their employers. They work only for their wages, and anxiously watch the clock for the hour to quit. They submit to it spitefully, and only for the time being, expecting, of course, to drop it to-morrow or next week, and fly into some harbor of rest, – some have of repose, where their wants must be provided for, and where luxuries shall be showered about them. And such is the feeling of shop girls generally. No wonder then, that their employers can not pay them more. It would be unreasonable to reward their assistants for inattention and neglect. Maggie Brewer is an exception to the masses, and consequently she receives fair compensation.Some get even higher wages, but they are still more competent and useful, and increase the profit of their employers, where others would carelessly let in waste and destruction. If shop girls acted upon the same principle that men are obliged to, they would be worth far more to their employers, and feel a thousand times happier themselves.

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 6:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Don’t Feed The…..

A comment in a FB discussion has prompted me to reboot this post. This is important.
Please be aware of those with food allergies and sensitivities at events. It was just brought to my attention that some people are bringing coconut water to events and putting that in their pitchers. This could be very bad for someone with a coconut allergy.

If I Had My Own Blue Box:

[Adding: If you don’t want to know the personal stuff, skip the italics.]

For a few weeks I’ve been occasionally thinking about writing a post about food at events and those many of us that have food issues. I kept pushing it back as silly. But, between a quasi-recent FB post about someone having food issues at an event, a less recent FB discussion about children needing allergy identifiers and today’s ALFAM post regarding interpreting butchering, I think I am going to go ahead and write a little something.

Past experiences make me want to make a yearly statement of:

Don’t get pissed off or offended if I don’t eat your food.

I have food issues. I am a long, long term, nearly 30 year vegetarian. This means I do not have the enzymes to digest meat, meat products, meat by-products, meat juices, meat flavorings, etc. I also have trouble…

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Published in: on April 21, 2018 at 8:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Millinery Materials

It seems at different times in my millinery adventure I have different favorite resources, including which is my favorite period publication. I find lately I am quite fond of M’me Demorest’s Quarterly Review. I would love to find a compilation in print for sale, for a price I can afford. At present, it appears I can get a scaled down version printed from Amazon. If it happens to be a quality printing, I would need a magnifying glass.

I thought you might be interested in this particular column from the spring of 1860:


Published in: on April 20, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

April’s Update

I am finally in full swing for the spring straw season. So far, I’ve been focusing on hats. I was going to start bonnets. But, it has been hats, hats, hats. That’s just the mood I am in. Here is a recap of what I’ve made so far:

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I was so excited to attend GCVM’s opening of Victoria’s Closet in the Wehle Gallery. This year’s Closet exhibit focuses on the 1840s. The displays are packed full of clothing and accessories of the era.

I am not getting quite as many millinery pieces made as I planned because I am deep into a new e-publication focusing on the Dolls of Godey’s Lady’s Book. This book will cover the many fun doll projects from Godey’s, from those in the youth department to the imaginative recreations using dolls. This started out as a mini-book idea, but has evolved into a larger project that will be packed full of fun.

_20180327_175408I decided to start offering a pinking service I still need to decide on the pricing. I am leaning towards a base amount plus yardage.

While awaiting the predicted ice storm, I set the skirt of my red stripe dress. Sure, it’s a plaid but it is all about that red stripe. I figured the hand sewing for the skirt was a good option with the heightened likelihood that the power was going out. It didn’t go out. I went a little extra low with the guaging stay stitches because I want the attention on the stripe. We will see how that looks on my body. I need to remember where I put the red wool hem tape. Taking this photo actually gave me an idea for the sleeves. I was going to go with a simple funnel. But, now, I am picturing something slim through the top to just above or below the elbow. Then the lower being full with guaging controlling the fullness. Or, that original funnel idea with a section along the top of my arm from my armscye to my elbow gathered in tight, then let to flare from the elbow down. I have to see if something like this exsisted. (And exsisted in a cotton)

I am also working on a new component to my millinery shop display I do at the museum. Here is a peek at what I’ve been acquiring. Any guesses? 

I have a myriad of other projects running circles in my head. I am not sure what will get done or when: new hat stands, painting chairs, giving a border shawl a new center, the dolls’ millinery or closet, repairing Dan’s trunk, another hanging organizer for the work box…..

Coming in May (how can it be May already?)

  • I don’t have a whole lot on the schedule for May because I get really busy at work this month and the next. But, there are some events in the area….
  • May 12th is Opening Day at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. Traditionally, this is Mother’s Day weekend. This year, they also are hosting the Hooked on History program.
Published in: on April 15, 2018 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Two fashionable hats 

I have two hats available this weekend. 

First is a hat for an average to large head. This hat has a low but not too low 2″ crown that is 22″ in circumference. The brim dips front and back while curving down a little all around. This brim is 12″ wide while being only 11″ front to back with the curve. 

The second hat will suit an average to smaller head. This hat has a shallow 1 1/2″ crown that is 20″ in circumference. The brim curves front and back. 

I am adding these hats to my Etsy shop now. 

Published in: on April 15, 2018 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Low Crown Hat

This cute hat has a shallow crown and a shaped brim dipping in the front. I was inspired by a pretty painting that came up on Facebook, The Doll, by Henry Nelson O’Neil. The hat in the painting has a brim the come out further in the front, dipping in the front. It is finished with a narrow black ribbon around the base of the crown and a black feather plumes. 

This hat has a very shallow crown, rising just an inch on the side. It will sit very high on the head. I recommend ribbon ties inside as well as a lining or ribbon. It is 20.75″ inside, making it suitable for an average size head. Because of how shallow it is, someone with a larger head may find it sit well. (It is definitely too big for my 21.5″ head.)

I am adding this hat to my Etsy shop. 

You may want to read my recent post on size and fit

Published in: on April 10, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Petite Black Hat

This is a CW era appropriate hat for an average size head in a petite fashionable low brim style. It has a 20.5″ crown that is an 1.5″ deep. The brim is only 10″ wide and 11″ front to back. 

Adding it to my Etsy shop now. 

Published in: on April 5, 2018 at 11:55 am  Comments (1)  

Straw Bonnet Fashion Descriptions

If I Had My Own Blue Box:

From Harper’s Monthly and Harper’s Weekly


June 1850 – Open-work straw bonnets, of different colors, are adopted for the earlier summer wear, trimmed with branches of lilac, or something appropriate… Many of the straw bonnets are of dark-colored ground, ornamented with fine open straw work.

April 1851 – Fashions for Spring – Straw bonnet – Figure 4 shows an elegant style of a straw flat for little miss, trimmed in connection with the tie, with several folds of satin. The only external ornament is a long ostrich feather sweeping gracefully around the front of the crown, and falling upon the side of the brim.

July 1851 – Rice straw bonnet; a very small open brim, the interior trimmed with tufts of red and yellow roses and their foliage, and white brides. The exterior of the bonnet is decorated with a wreath of the same flowers intermixed with thin foliage…

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Published in: on April 4, 2018 at 11:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Measuring (the quick version)

This is a quick and rough version of measuring for my Civil War Era hats. I have this really cute version of understanding how CW era hats sit and how to measure for mine. But, that is going to take a couple days of computer work. So, for now, here is this version with quick, hair roughly tied up, taken in the bathroom photos of me. 

Step one: Push what you know about modern hat sizes and fit out of your mind. Nineteenth century hats are not worn how modern hats are worn.


Measure your head at the hairline. This is close to where most of your hats for this era will be worn. Measure here, parallel to the ground, or at least fairly parallel to the ground. 

Here is my head with the tape showing where to measure. This is where I wear most CW era hats. This is the circumference of my head. My measurement is 21 1/2″. (Note: this is a full inch smaller than the modern measurement take lower.)  

When selecting a CW era fashionable hat, subtract an inch from your head measurement. A 19 1/2″ to 20″ low brim or Mousquetaire hat fits me.
Another thing to know about your head is whether it is more round or more oval. This is because some of my blocks are more oval or more round. If you know this, I can advise you if this is a factor. Here is the top of my head. I have an average oval head. Very round hats dont work for me without adding to the lining. 


The majority of Civil War Era fashionable hats are worn high on the head. This is roughly at the hairline for most people. There are some that are worn higher and some that are worn lowered. Here is a sampling of photos from my “ooo, I need to make that folder” in my tablet. Notice how high each sits and that some of them sit tilted back (admittedly this may be for photographing purposes) which may be earlier. 

Here is an assortment of illustrations to compare: 

Here is a look at how I would place a variety of styles on my head. Please note, this evening I do not have a hat that is my size on hand. I just want to get this posted due to the number of questions and comments regarding fit and measuring. 

This is a low brim hat. It sits at my hairline. This one is an inch too large for me. 

This is the Mousquetaire style with the higher crown and narrower brim. This sits at my hairline as well. Illustrations and photos suggest this style sits at or below the hairline in the era. 

This is the brimless toque style. Photos suggest this should sit lower on the head than other fashionable styles. For this style, select a hat the same as the measure of your head or a little larger if you want to bind the crown edge.   (so tempting.) 

Published in: on April 3, 2018 at 10:47 pm  Comments (5)  

I am going to need more black straw 

I’ve been enjoying working with black straw this spring break. Okay, maybe my eyes have been getting a bit tired. I’ve made a chapeau cloche, a brimless toque, a Mousquetaire finished in purple velvet, and a Mousquetaire that will be finished in green. 

I have narrow black set aside for two doll bonnets (already claimed) Beyond that, I am going to need to order more black straw to make the other black straw pieces I have in my visual project list. (Aka my tablet’s photo files, which shamefully does not have source citations.) 

Show me your favorite black straw hat or bonnet…. 

Published in: on April 3, 2018 at 7:44 pm  Comments (1)