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.
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.
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.
Sewed on Mother's dress.
Slept until eight o'clock then sewed on Mother's dress and almost finished it.
Here's an interesting link if you'd like to read more on this topic.
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?