18th Century Sewing Kit

A great thing to do at events is sit and sew!  Period correct activity + getting your hand sewing tasks done – what more could you ask for?  Add to this the endless problem of how to carry around all of your stuff – some of it modern that must be kept out of view – I decided it was time to put some more thought and effort into this.  I have a reproduction sewing box, but it is large and bulky to carry around.  I need something that fits in my carry all basket.

Work Bag, Pin Cushion, and Housewife   Looking around on the internet and Etsy for inspiration, I decided to make a work bag, a pin cushion, and a housewife sewing kit all with the same fabric remnant I bought years ago.  I found it on Ebay – SO SAD I was never able to find any more of it – like an entire bolt for a gown … Lucky for me it matched some silk I already had in the stash.

Nevertheless, I thought it would make a beautiful housewife, which is a sewing kit that folds up.  And is incidentally also good at holding cash, credit cards, and your driver’s license (he he).

The Housewife: has a space for scissors, two pockets, and a needle book.

There are a lot of ways to make these and different options.  Some have a pin cushion built into the housewife but I decided to make mine separately to make it less bulky.  I had a pattern which I adapted, since I wanted at least two pockets and a needle book.  The needle book is just 3 pieces of wool broadcloth trimmed to size with pinking shears and sewn down.  All of the pockets and accessory holders were sewn to the silk lining, then the lining was sewn to the outside cover and turned right sides out, and slip stitched closed.

The only thing I bought are some of the accessories!

Beeswax, Scissors, Bodkin, Stiletto, Tape Measure, and Thimble.

I had the beeswax  – which honestly will probably just be loose in the work bag – and the thimble.  The scissors, bodkin, and stiletto I ordered from Burnley and Trowbridge, the adorable hand labeled tape measure came from Fashionable Frolic on Etsy.

The Tools: Thimble, Tape Measure, Beeswax, Stiletto, Scissors, Bodkin.

What are they you ask?

  • Thimble – put over your finger to prevent the needle from poking holes in your finger.  Happens a lot if you don’t use one.
  • Tape Measure – measuring things, obviously.
  • Beeswax – running the thread through this before sewing helps avoid tangles.
  • Stiletto – for making holes in things.  Specifically, hand made eyelets.
  • Scissors – cutting stuff.
  • Bodkin – for lacing ties through casings, ribbon in insertion lace, etc.

This, plus some needles, a few pins, and a project – are the basics of a hand sewing kit.

Pins – speaking of, here is my matching pin cushion that has an attached ribbon so you can pin it to your apron or skirt.  In the 18th century pins are for more than just sewing.  Women’s clothing was held on primarily through ties and pins.  So you never leave home without extra pins!

And to hold it all, plus cell phone, head phones, car keys, etc is the work bag:

Work bag – just a draw string bag with a lining!

So now I am ready for some hand sewing this weekend!

Work Bag, Pin Cushion, and Housewife

Allegheny West Christmas House Tour 2016 – Garnet Bustle Dress Debut

December 10, 216

One of the nicest Victorian Era historic districts around Pittsburgh is Allegheny West.  Originally a different city (Allegheny City) it was built up right after the Civil War and has some really spectacular examples of Italianate and Second Empire stow row houses, and a few giant mansions.  Back in the 1970’s the city was selling them for a dollar.  Not kidding!  A DOLLAR.  My mother wanted to buy one but my dad was like, no way.  Long story short of why I don’t live there.

Anyway!  Lots of people did buy one and now most of the surviving houses are restored.  Many are done with period wall papers and furnishings and they are a delight to see!  Every year, since at least the 1980’s, they have had an annual Christmas House tour where you can see some of the houses.  I thought this sounded like a grand place to go in a bustle dress – they match the houses well!  Being kind of last minute, this year only four of us went, but I hope to make this into an annual event and draw in more people.  We met up with some friends from years ago who have been trying, unsuccessfully, for years to get the home owners to dress up in period costume.  And … they aren’t having it.  So … if you can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, perhaps we can bring the mountain to Mohammed.

My husband Bill and I with our good friend Christina and Kevin, in front of a decorated mantle.

The rest of our photos were taken in Holmes Hall, a huge Renaissance Revival mansion.  Odd coincidence that back when I was researching how to paint my walls and ceiling for my Renaissance Revival parlor, I ended up using photos of this one as inspiration.

Painted ceiling at Holmes Hall, now owned by John DeSantis.
My painted ceiling and walls. The cat is the reason I painted them instead of using (expensive) wallpaper. She chews wallpaper!

Yes mine is not as elaborate, but even with the simpler design I barely managed to keep ahead of the guy putting up the woodwork, and I had a terrible case of tennis elbow for months afterwards.  But, it is cat proof.

So back to the photos!  I started this bustle dress several years ago as part of Jennifer Rosbrugh’s Bustle Day Dress class.   I got the skirt and overskirt most of the way done, and life intervened, and it sat for another year.  I took the class again this spring and finished most of the dress.  I planned 3 bodices and the first to be completed is the day dress bodice.  More details about the dress can be found in the portfolio page, here.

To say that this place has high ceilings is an understatement!

It was quite cold that and snowed during the tour, so I wore my ermine fur.  It is all antique and was purchased on Ebay.  The cape with lappets came from Scotland and is of 1930’s vintage, I think.  Someone was cleaning out a “Downton Abby” type house and selling all the stuff on Ebay!  There is a smaller wrap over it that is probably Victorian.  I am not sure how old the muff is.  It was all very warm!

Dress with matching hat and ermine fur set.
Closet of ermine set
Side …
And back ….
Closeup of back.
Day dress without fur.
Side Back
Back – interesting shot looking in the mirror.
Two shots of Bill and I


Part of the fun of putting together an outfit for an event is accessorizing!  In addition to the fur and matching hat, I wore Manhattan button boots from American Duchess, a pair of white kid leather gloves, a set of antique bohemian garnets that belonged to my great grandmother (brooch and earrings), and carried an antique Victorian purse.


I can’t wait for this even again next year!