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Sewing techniques site

Ocrafty1 | Posted in General Sewing Info on

In my unending search for info per Civil War period clothing, I’ve come across a site that has fantastic books online.  Some of them are non copyrighted or out of print.  I had to pass this one on….






  1. Josefly | | #1

    I'm so glad to be reminded of this site. It is amazing. Thanks for posting it.

    1. Ocrafty1 | | #2

      You're welcome!  I love it when I find great sewing/crocheting sites. There is always something new to learn and many of the OLD techniques are so close to being lost....besides, the old directions can be so much fun to read.

      I'm learning a lot about Civil War era clothing and how they were made.  I'm working on my 'outfit' from the inside out and have located a lady who makes custom corsets not too far from me.  Hopefully, I'll have one made shortly after the first of the yr.  It takes her about 12 weeks to make on. Then I can get started on making my first ball gown.  I probably could make my own corset, but I'd rather pay her for a well made, custom fitted one....without the headaches.  Besides, its a good excuse to go to her shop...she stocks silk fabrics, Italian trims, and lots of other goodies....like a good candy store :)

      Here's a link if anyone wants to check it out...lots of good stuff there...but don't blame me if you get lost checking out all of the links.....the first time I went there I was online for 5 hrs....LOL



      1. Josefly | | #3

        Well, I took a quick look at that site, and oh, my! I can't imagine all the work necessary to create one of those authentic gowns. Twelve weeks to make a corset?! Wow. There must be a lot of fittings and a lot of handwork.

        1. Ocrafty1 | | #4

          There is a lot of work in making a ballgown. Not only in 'regular' construction, but those gowns have stays built into the bodices. No zippers are used, but either grommets and ties, or lots of hooks and eyes. I have a vintage traveling 'costume' from about 1880, and it has 27 hooks/eyes up the back of the top.  They were always made with a top and skirt, never a 1 piece garment.

          I think the reason it takes so long to have a corset custom made is because this lady is in so much demand. She also teaches classes at various places around the country (she'll be in SC for the next 2 weeks) in period sewing, bonnet/hat making, etc., and she makes custom gowns for clients. Most 'reenactors' like myself (although I haven't really done one yet) want their new garments made in time for the start of the next season...which starts in the spring.

          I'll be lucky if I can get a corset from her by mid Jan.  Then I can start drafting/fitting a pattern for my gown. If you had a good look at the corsets she makes, you can see that the figure is very different than what we are used to today...especially around the bust. With a corset, 'the girls' are not as confined and shaped as they are in a bra. When wearing a corset, 'the girls' are supported underneath by the corset, but 'above the midline' they are 'controlled' only by wearing a chemise.  A chemise is basically a loose nightgown with a 'peasant top' styled drawstring neckline. Understandably, if I'd take measurements now, my gown would not fit once I put on a corset. 

          I'm amazed at how much I have learned, and still have to learn about how/what women wore then.  For instance, last night I went to one forum and spent 3 hrs. reading part of a thread about how they styled their hair.  I learned that they used 'rats' in their hair....not quite the 'teasing' that we remember from the 1960's...they saved the hair from their brushes, rolled it tightly, put it into very fine hairnets, and used that as a foundation for the beautiful braided or twisted 'rolls' that were around their faces.

          I've always been a history buff, although I never considered myself one until a professor called me one about 8 yrs ago.  I was really surprised at how quickly interested I became when DH and I attended a 'War of 1812' re-enactment, and 2 wks. later, a CWR (Civil War Re-enactment) in our area!  It is amazing that they have these even in our small community. The people who are doing the re-enactment do a fantastic job. For instance, when we went to the 1812 one, the reenactors really wear peiod costumes.  Women only wore chemises, petticoats, and stockings with garters under their dresses!  No drawers. The reenactors that dress as Native Americans wear authentic garments as well.  There is a whole industry built around this!  Not only women's clothing, but men as well.  Think of all of the military uniforms, daily garments, Sunday wear, etc.!  Its mind boggeling!

          I highly recommend researching the clothing from various periods for anyone who sews.  The day dresses that little girls wore in the 17-1800's are easily converted into precious garments for today's little girls!

          OK....I've really had diarrhea of the hands this AM...time to get off of my soapbox! 


          1. Josefly | | #5

            I've enjoyed your "soapbox" history. It is amazing how much is involved in producing the clothes and other items for re-enactments. Since the corset is fitted and supported with boning or stays, does the ball gown you wear over the corset also require that kind of support?

          2. Ocrafty1 | | #6

            Glad you're not bored....thought it might be tmi.

            Yes, the ballgowns are boned as well.  Actually, the "gowns" are two piece ensembles...sometimes 3 or 4 pieces...but mainly the bodice, which is boned, and may have detachable undersleeves, and the skirt.  Most of the ensembles have hooks and eyes that attach them to each other. That way you could use a different bodice with a skirt.  Sometimes women would have an evening gown (not as fancy/expensive as a ballgown) that could have a skirt that was interchangable with more than one bodice; making several ensembles available to her. There was a lot of fabric in those skirts and changing bodices could either dress it up or down....as well as being economical.


          3. cafms | | #7

            I've enjoyed your postings as well.  I have always thought it was interesting how much clothing they wore at a time when laundry was much more difficult to do.  The skirts going through the mud, bathing not as easy, etc.  Though I suppose with outfits in parts not all of it would have to be washed at the same time. 

          4. Ocrafty1 | | #8

            One of the first things I learned is that on many of the 'skirts' they sewed an extra panel on the inside of the hem. It was usually made of muslin and was about 6-8" wide. This was sewn by hand and protected the inside of the gown from being ruined by mud, being stepped on, etc. They could replace it as needed. They even did this on ballgowns. Probably due to the fact that they were more expensive and more difficult to clean than a day gown made of cotton.

            This journey that I'm beginning into historically correct reenacting has been very enlightening!  I'm learning many new (old - tee hee) techniques that I can incorporate into my sewing today. There is so much to learn!!!  Every aspect of reenacting has so many pieces to it. I spent 3.5 hrs last night just reading about the basics of doing one's hair, and I only touched the surface!  The reenactors' forums are full of tips and tricks that the 'pro's' have learned over many yrs. experience. Most are very quick to answer questions and are happy to do so.


          5. Josefly | | #9

            I had not realized that "rats" were originally made from hair. When I was a child, I remember seeing rats for sale in the hair notions departments of department stores, "dime stores", and drug stores. They looked like a tangle of springs wrapped in nylon netting or mesh, and they were used under a layer of the hair, to give more volume and/or shape in twists and other "up" styles. In some of the photos on the site you referred to us, there are some huge hairstyles! Just think how long it took to get clothes on and have hair dressed in those days.

          6. Ocrafty1 | | #10

            From what I've been learning, they did use something similar to the ones you described; but for those of us who can't find those or those who couldn't afford them, they used real hair....thus the post that I found the info at.  Loads of info...ain't it great!


          7. Ralphetta | | #11

            they used rats for 40's styles,also. The kind from the dimestore were not good because they were inflexible and the results were lumpy and not soft and malleable like the human hair ones. The dimestore kind is so dense that it's difficult getting pins in it to anchor in place. I made some a few years ago by cutting up a synthetic hair piece and wadding it in a couple of hair nets.

          8. Ocrafty1 | | #15

            Why did you make the rats?  Do you do reenacting also?


          9. Ralphetta | | #16

            I'm an actor. I was doing a show with a fast costume changes and didn't want to wear wigs. My hair was down and long and needed to be quickly put into a Gibson-girl type updo. I told them what I wanted and someone else thought of using synthetic hair and it worked great. They anchored the rat to the crown of my head, pulled my own hair up and over and fastened it in place and within seconds I was ready to go. I still use it for updo's occasionally instead of teasing my own hair. With a little experimenting you can make the exact size you need for whatever style you want. Wadding up the synthetic hair seemed more hygienic than hair combings...plus it would take an awfully long time to amass enough of your own.

          10. Ocrafty1 | | #17

            LOL, when I worked with the Peru Circus we called quick changes 'strip & zip.'  As per taking a long time to aquire enough of my own hair...I don't think it will take too long. My hair is quite long, coming down past my waist. When I clean out my hairbrushes, there is always a nice-sized handful. Not that I'm going bald, by any means (teehee)...but I think I can come up with a nice amount relatively quickly. As per being hygenic...I think I'll be OK for the first few reenactments. The costs of getting everything that I'll need just to start is going to be pretty extensive. Perhaps after I've been in it a few months I'll be able to splurge on an inexpensive hair piece (I may be able to find one at a garage sale.)

            DH has decided to 'join the party' and wants to create a Naval Officer character.  That will be an added expense. I'm just hoping that he doesn't expect me to make his costume....one can dream.....(oh, please!!!!)


          11. Ralphetta | | #18

            Since the human hair rats would certainly be washable I think it was just a psychological thing. I used to watch for sale items at beauty salons, etc., and picked up several human hair pieces really cheap. there isn't a big market for that kind of thing, so any time I saw wigs, etc. for sale I would ask. As long as you buy one that is lighter than your own hair color you can usually dye it to match. I always used temporary rinses because, (for some mysterious reason, ha) my own varied from season to season. When I would wash and tint them it looked like scalps hanging from the towel bars around my bath tub. I had 3 custom made pieces that were very expensive and matched in both color and texture. The sale stuff I got was a very different texture but as long as I used it twisted or braided and not hanging loose, it worked just fine for "period" curls, etc. The long switches are really versatile because if you twist them really tight, like a rope?, they will form big fat curls. Keep watch and you might be able to find something. If you are good with color and patient, it isn't hard. You'll have a lot of fun creating.

        2. cat42 | | #19

          I've become involved with a local sustainability group in my community. We encourage people to explore low-energy ways of doing things. The most common reaction we get is "I don't have the time to do all that by hand." so true. In our modern world, we just don't have the time.Yet, imagine the satisfaction one would get from taking 12 weeks to sew a corset! (one can easily imagine why low self esteem was not the problem in older times, that it is today). And imagine that, while sewing on the corset, that woman also slaved over the wood stove, hauled water, milked the cow, tended the chickens. That is, unless she had servants to do all those chores.Many people are gardening now, ever since the economic collapse, and are discovering the rewards of this example of low-energy living.So for those of you who are interested in making period-original costume, I applaud you, and hope you have a wonderful journey of discovery in low-energy living. Try making one part of the costume by hand-sewing (instead of machine).Cat

          1. jjgg | | #20

            >>>>The most common reaction we get is "I don't have the time to do all that by hand." so true. In our modern world, we just don't have the time.<<<<So what is it we're doing with all of our time? sitting in front of computers! which for the most part I find to be very antisocial (and yes, guilty as charged)

  2. Ceeayche | | #12

    Oh this is great!  This is why I love our Gatherings community! I've just spent entirely too much time (should be working on my paying job) wandering through the site! And the commentary from our fellow Gatherings members:  priceless.  Thanks for the history lesson, it was unexpected but I learned a lot!

    1. Ocrafty1 | | #13

      Tee hee, I didn't intend for this to be a history lesson...just to pass on a really nice site...I love learning...about anything, but especially about sewing.  I also love to pass it on to whomever might want to know about the same sort of things. There is so much information that you can have at your fingertips due to the 'Net.' There's no way we can find it all by ourselves, so why not pass it on....


      Edited 11/10/2009 4:32 pm ET by Ocrafty1

      1. Ceeayche | | #14


        Well I for one am thankful!

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