Monday, December 7, 2015

Sewing in the 19th Century

I'm working on hand quilting a few small quilts. It's very enjoyable for me but the going is slow and I was reminded of the exhibit on Civil War dresses I saw last summer. When I pick up my needle, I cannot help but think about the amount of hand sewing that went on during that era. How in the world did they do so much of it?


Most of the dresses on display were sewn with exquisite stitches. By hand. Including the fancy trim, piping, pleating.

Sewing, Needlework, and Other Textiles in Art

Look at those pleats!

By the mid-nineteenth century, some households had treadle sewing machines, but not all families could afford one. In my book Remembering Adelia, Adelia Thomas noted in her 1861 diary that her family was lucky enough to have a treadle machine. At times. some of the local women would come over for the day to sew on it. 

                                                      How to prepare a chicken. 1915:

Oops - couldn't find a photo of several women sewing on a treadle. If the machine was busy I guess they'd go into the kitchen  and "baste" a chicken while they waited their turn . . . .

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Here are a few more entries from Adelia's diary -

July 29, 1861

The anniversary of my nineteenth birthday! Worked all the day till three o'clock then sewed on my basque—seems as though I should never get it done. [A basque was a form-fitting jacket or bodice perhaps worn over a hoop skirt. Some references I found say it was a corset. Imagine having to make your own corset!]

Aug 5, 1861

Emma's seventeenth birthday. Anna and I did quite a large washing. Mother helped to wash the colored clothes. Cut the little girls some purple calico dresses.

 Aug 8, 1861

Washed three calico dresses for myself and one for Em. Got dinner and after the work was done sewed on some embroidery. Finished the girls' dresses and cut out two night dresses for Mother and myself.

Aug 20

Sewed on Mother's dress. 

Aug 24

Slept until eight o'clock then sewed on Mother's dress and almost finished it.

You can see that sewing was pretty much a daily chore among all the other household chores that needed to be finished. My goodness. How lucky we are today. The little bit of hand sewing I do is so pleasurable. I would be very stressed if I had to make clothes for myself and the family too - wouldn't you?

Here's an interesting link if you'd like to read more on this topic. 


Samplings from Spring Creek said...

Hand sewing is becoming a lost art--such skilled hands which turned out exquisite pieces

Sharyn Mallow Woerz said...

How did they find time to do it?
They didn't spend 8 hours a day on social media...

The Civil War Quilter said...

I love to hand sew, especially quilting. I definitely would not want to make all our clothes by hand. I do enjoy sewing doll clothes by hand though. Love the pictures of the vintage dresses. Can you imagine what their laundry day was like with all that fabric in each dress? Another chore done by hand. Ugh.

Rose said...

Lovely post. I can hand Stitch for hours... Embroidery and quilting. But dresses...!

quiltgrannie said...

I love the soothing feeling I get while hand sewing. It truly is my therapy!! Loved seeing those beautiful dresses in person!!

Pat said...

Love the acorn buttons (or toggles) on the first dress.
Hand sewing is very relaxing as long as it's something I choose (quilting, embroidery, etc.) to do rather than have to making clothes....yuck!
Thanks Kathy.

Carmen y Prady said...

Guauuuuu, que maravillosos trabajos cosidos a mano. Tienen muchisimo merito.
Un beso

Feathers in my Nest said...

I Love hand quilting & sewing...I love all handwork! It does make you wonder where these women got the extra time to sew...such lovely dresses.

Aaron said...

Lovely post. There is so nice hand made things. I like to make some easy

embroidery machine sometimes. I don't Know too many, only very simple ones.