Friday, May 29, 2020

Sewing by Hand

Do you do much hand sewing? In between trying to finish up some Dear Jane triangles (by machine), I'm working on hand quilting a few small quilts. There's quite a backlog. It's very enjoyable for me and even though the quilts are small, the going is slow. As I was sewing yesterday,  I was reminded of the exhibit on Civil War dresses I saw a few summers ago. 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? 

Many of the dresses that were on display were sewn with exquisite stitches. By HAND. Including the fancy trim, piping, pleating.

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. 

*   *   *

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. 

[Note: 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?

Remembering Adelia has always been a special book to me and it is now out of print.  You can still find copies in some places but the prices are usually ridiculous. You can purchase an e-book version here from my publisher.

During earlier centuries, some women earned their keep by sewing and did piecework for a living. There were few work options for women in general and poor or widowed women took on needlework, millinery, dressmaking or shirtmaking in order to earn ridiculously low wages. 

Here's a poem I ran across written in honor of Mrs Biddell, a poor widow and seamstress living in England under wretched conditions - 

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread -

Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

The Song of the Shirt  by Thomas Hood, 1843

Thank goodness for the advent of the sewing machine is all I can say . . . . And the fact that my husband sewed a button on his own shirt last week. Gives me more time to enjoy my hand sewing.

Have a wonderful weekend!


Colleen said...

I'm "sew" glad I bought Adelia when it came out :) As a matter of fact, I have all of your books and love every one of them. Thank you. I was a quilter of large quilts for 18+ years but a year ago, I was burned out on quilting and brought out my cross stitch. I love hand sewing...of any kind...but never thought to hand stitch a small quilt. I use table toppers and table runners in my house all the time so I might try hand stitching a small. Thanks for the inspiration.

Jackie said...

I also love hand piecing and quilting. Right now I am piecing on Civil War Baskets Quilt..from Remembering Adelia book. I love all my books, they are like visiting with old friends.

Candee said...

I remember that fun day visiting those beautiful dresses! I’m so happy I don’t have to make clothes.

Barwitzki said...

Thank you for your contribution and the beautiful photos of the wonderful clothes from past days. Yes, we have it very well today, we sew and knit for joy, not because we have to do it for a living. I'm going to start a classic fishing sweater from the 19th century.
Have a happy weekend.
Kind regards from Viola

sue bennett said...

Thank you Kathy, Love those dresses. I am so glad that I own Remembering Adelia.


Lady Locust said...

I do enjoy hand stitching, but as you say - it's pretty slow going. I have a lap sized quilt in progress with 1" pieces that I've been working on "for some time" (it's okay to laugh.) I can't imagine sewing my clothes by hand. Yep, I'm with you TGF sewing machines:-)

Sandy said...

My mom sewed (most of) our clothes growing up. The sweetest little dresses for my sister and I, two years apart. Those dresses (and others) were handed down to the neighbor girls, and handed down again to their cousins. Mom taught us how to sew on her 1950's Kenmore. My sister sewed many of our outfits in high school. Unfortunately, garment making never " took" with me. I can, however, sew a straight line, which means I can quilt!

I loved reading your post today, Kathleen.

marian said...

What a lovely post Kathy. It surely makes me appreciate my sewing machine(s) even more; and to think I enjoyed making my own clothes in my teens thru to my 20's. Those civil war dresses make mw swoon, but can you imagine been trussed up, corset and all on a daily basis... makes me feel faint. I feel so grateful to be living now and not back then. However, in saying that, I love the romance of bygone eras and I must admit I love nothing more than to sit and sew by hand. It's so relaxing and contemplative. It was so lovely reading Adelia's diary entries again. It is one of my all time favourite books. Hugs, Marian

Cynthia@wabi-sabi-quilts said...

Hand sewing is so soothing, but I do also love my machine. I bought your book recently on Amazon and so glad I did!

quiltgrannie said...

Kathy ~ That was such a fun day. Such beautiful dresses we saw. And I am also glad that I don't have to sew clothes. I love to do hand work though on my smaller quilts. It is so meditative. And I love the look it gives verses being quilted by machine. I love that book, it's fun to read it knowing exactly the area that is being written about. It's one of my favorite books. I like to go back and visit it time to time.

Bea said...

Loved this post. Thank you for sharing. Where is the pattern for the little quilt at the end of your post? Second to last picture.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Bea - The pattern for that little quilt is free and available in the files in my online groups. Go to the sidebar on my blog for links to the groups.


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