August 30, 2010

Corset Pattern from The Lady's Home Magazine and Godey's Lady's Book

Corsets or stays were worn in the 19th century by nearly all women of all classes. They were used to move the bust line upwards in a high position and to create a smooth line at the waist. They also had the more practical application of helping support the back when lifting and to support the weight of the clothing. During the Civil War Era, it was not common for women to drastically alter their waist. Small waists were created during this time period by lower shoulder seams, which visually enlarged the shoulders and by the large skirts. In comparison to the wide looking shoulders and large skirts, waists looked a lot smaller.   

It is very obvious when someone in Civil War Era clothing is not wearing a corset. Almost all women wore corsets, even when they were pregnant. There were specially designed corsets which allowed for a protruding belly. You can see a nicely reproduced maternity corset at A Day in 1862.

 These instructions and this pattern were printed in both Godey's Lady's Book (1857) and Arthur's Home Magazine (1858.) It was a common practice at the time to share material between magazines which were likely to have a different readership, frequently being from different countries or regions. In this case, Arthur's Home Magazine was a magazine also based in Philadelphia and the editor also wrote stories for Godey's Lady's Book.  The instructions call for whalebone but most "boning" was actually baleen (the filtering keratin) from baleen whales. Today many people use metal boning, plastic boning and sometimes even "zip ties," due to their cheap cost.   

The Instructions:

"Materials necessary for making a pair of Stays.— Half a yard of Coutille; a piece of stay tape for casing ; some whalebone, either ready prepared or in strips to be split and shaved to size ; a steel busk; wash-leather sufficient to cover it, and webbing to case it; a paper of 8-between needles ; a reel of 28-cotton ; a box of French holes; and a punch for putting them in.*

Measure round the waist as tightly as possible, noticing the number of inches; deduct two as an allowance for the clothes. Next take the measure of the bust, by placing the measure in the middle of the chest, at No. 1, (see engraving,) and pass it over the bosom to No. 8, not tightly, and no allowance here to be made for the clothes.
Then, from No. 8, passing the measure closely under the arm, to No. 1 of the back, which is not to reach the middle of the back by an inch and a half. Next, place the measure at the bottom of the busk, and pass round stomach and hips, allowing about four inches for clothes, and then take the length of the busk.

It will be found to simplify the directions very much, if a form similar to the following be first prepared, and the number of inches written against each as the part is measured, and then no confusion can possibly take place in the cutting out:
Length of Busk.
* If preferred, any stay-maker will put them in at a trifling expense.

A pattern must now be prepared according to the directions given in the engraving, which can easily be done by enlarging the design, and adding the requisite number of inches between each figure.

The Back.—Double the Coutille sufficiently wide to take two whalebones, the holes, and to turn in for felling down, as marked in the engraving ; then lay on the pattern, and cut out the two parts of the back together, allowing, for turnings-in, about half an inch at the seam under the arm.
The Front is cut out by placing the pattern so that the straight way comes in the direction of the little bones up the bosom, leaving a good turning-in up the front seam, which crease off in pattern on the double Coutille, as it is better to cut out every part in the double, that you may have each side exactly alike.
Should you desire to increase the size of the stays, it must always be done by allowing the required additional size on the front and back at the seam under the arm, and by proportioning the armhole to the increased size.
When the bosom gores are to be put in, the Coutille is merely cut from No. 2 to No. 3, and from No. 5 to No. 6, in a direct line, cutting none away. In cutting places for stomach and hip-gores, in front and back, cut straight up, and then from No. 7 to No. 8 in back, and from No. 13 to No. 14 in front. Then cut out all the gores as directed in the engraving.

1st.—Stitch a place for the first bone at back, and for the holes, the width of half an inch, keeping the line perfectly even by the rays in the Coutille, and fell down a place for the second bone on the wrong side.
2dly.—Fit the bosom gores by making a narrow turning-in from No. 2 to No. 3, and from No. 3 to No. 4; fix the gore at 3, the straight side of the gore next the busk, tacking it very closely up to No. 2; then fix the other gore in like manner at No. 6, the straight side next the arm-hole, tacking up to No. 7.
3dly.—With a measure, make the required size across the bust, by increasing or diminishing the gores at the top; tack the other sides very firmly from No. 3 to No. 4, and from No. 6 to No. 5, shaping them prettily, narrow at the bottom, and of a rounded form towards the top; then stitch them very neatly, and cutting away superfluous stuff on the wrong side, hem down, beginning each side from No. 3 to No. 6.
4thly.—Hem a piece of stay-tape at the back, for little bones, and stitch down the middle of it on the right side.The other half front to be done in a similar manner.
5thly.—Put in the stomach gores, turning in from 14 to 15, and tacking the straight side of the gore under it, and fix the hip gores in the back in like manner, the straight side to the holes.
6thly—Join the seams under the arm, by pinning No. 10 of half-front to No. 11 of half-back, to half the size of waist required, wrapping the front on to the back. Everywhere face each piece to its fellow piece, and crease it, that it may be exactly the same size and shape. Then do the other half in the same way.
7thly.—Having closed the seam, finish the stomach and hip gore, by measuring and making to the size required round the hip, by letting out or taking in, rounding them to fit the hip; face and crease the gores for the other half, which is to be finished in the same manner.
8thly.—Take a piece of webbing wide enough to case the busk when covered with wash-leather; double it exactly, and tack down the half-front, the double edge being scrupulously down the centre of the stays ; fell it on very closely. Then stitch the two halves together at the crease down the middle ; turn the other half of the webbing on to the unfinished side, and fell it down as before, turning in a little piece top and bottom, and finish.
9thly.—Bind the stays very neatly at top and bottom.
10thly.—Put in the holes, two near each other at the top of the right side, and two near each other at the bottom of the left side; the rest at equal distances.

Proceed now to the boning, which do by scraping them to fit nicely ; then, having covered them with a piece of glazed calico, cut at the bottom of each bone place a hole, like a buttonhole, and work it round like one. Put the bones in, and drill a hole through the stays and the bone, about an inch and a half from the top and bottom of each bone, and fasten them in with silk, by bringing the needle through the hole to the right side, and passing it over the top of the bone, as marked at No. 12. Then put in the busk, and if a hook is required at the bottom, put that in before the busk, which is best done by leaving a short hole in the seam, and passing the hook through, fastening it securely at the back. The busk must be stitched in very firmly top and bottom.

Should the stays have become soiled in the process of making, they are easily cleaned with bread, inside and out, and when cleaned, must be nicely pressed, taking care to make no creases anywhere.*
If these simple directions be strictly adhered to in the making up, a pair of well-fitting stays, at a trifling cost, will reward the pains of the worker, and which could not be obtained ready made under one guinea."

* It was common to remove a stain by cutting a slice off of a loaf of stale bread to expose the inside. The inside was rubbed against the stain until the bread absorbed some of the stain. Once the bread was too dirty to absorbed any more, a new slice was cut of and the process continued.

August 28, 2010

Stockings Should be Changed Twice a Week

I know knitting takes a very long time. I also know that I have to change my stockings every day on I will die. Yes. Die. Okay, maybe I won't die, but I certainly wouldn't want to be in the same tent with myself. It seems impossible to me that even for gentile ladies , stockings were only changed two or three times a week as is suggested in the book The Lady's Guide to Perfect Gentility.

If you are a reenactor, you know how smelly the guys can be--you can smell them before you see them. In an effort to be authentic, many of them refuse to wash their clothing or socks, even in between reenactments. I always offer to wash their clothing as a public service but many refuse.

Back then laundry could be a weekly or even a monthly thing. I could not imagine waiting that long for a nice, clean, fresh smelling pair of socks. I don't think I can put a dirty pair of socks back on once I take them off. It sends shivers down my back. I think I'd be one of those people who were trying very hard to invent stocking knitting machines during the 1850s.   

For instructions for knitting socks from an 1860s Godey's Pattern, please check out this post: Civil War Era Socks From Godey's Lady's Book.

August 27, 2010

Sontag Civil War Knitting Update

In theory I was supposed to be finished the sontag by now, but I'm probably going to need another month. It is getting to that point where I like to put it up to myself frequently and imagine what the rest of it will look like when it's finished as I always do with sewing projects.

I am at the point where I decrease once every 4 rows. I always have to keep a tally on scrap paper when I have to "shape" knitting or else I forget where I am after every row. I am bad at knitting with charts but when I do, I have to color them in and use a sticky note to mark my spot.

Do any of you want to continue to add your links within the next few weeks as well or should I end them here? I'd still like to see everyone's projects as I don' t think any of us are finished yet. Everyone's sontag is looking really good. I thought that the basket weave pattern would be a problem for those of us who were new to it, but everyone has been doing really well with it. Is anyone also familiar with crocheting? If you are, are you considering crocheting the border?  

August 25, 2010

School is Almost Here!

Ugh! School is about to start again. Where did the summer go? School is hard because I won't have time to study the things I like as I am free to do in the summer. In school they tell you what and how and when to learn. How stressful!

Today certification is everything. I know we want to make sure that everyone is qualified for the job that they wish to do, but I think we have gone a little overboard in recent times.

Remember, in days passed, that many things and jobs were learned by apprenticeship. Little Timmy would show up at the shop with the rest of the men. At first, Tim would only sweep the floors and help customers out with their purchases. But soon he would learn how to stock the shelves. In a few months he would be cashiering and helping his aged employer with ordering. In less than a year he would learn the ins and outs of commerce and business. As anyone who has learned a new skill can testify: 10 minutes of hands on experience is worth years of a traditional school course on the same subject.

Of course, there are certain jobs that people need lots of traditional classes and hands on experience to be good at what they do, such as doctors; however, I am going to school to be a teacher. Remember when all you had to be able to do to be a teacher was to be able to read, write and do simple math? Not so anymore. We have to take classes on "lesson planning," "time management," "Spanish," (which I am notoriously bad at) and even "childrens arts and crafts." I truly believe that one week in a classroom will teach you more about these things than 4 month in these classes. Why do we make it so hard and time consuming to learn things?

I think the worst thing about it and probably the thing I feel guilty about is the fact that I feel no more qualified to teach now than I did my freshman year of high school. I'll end my rant here and applaud all of you who did not fall into the "everyone has to go to college" trap. I know many perfectly intelligent, caring and capable people who never set foot in a college--not that they couldn't pass, I know they could easily, they probably could teach college classes! I'm sorry about this post, but school just makes me so sad. :(

August 22, 2010

Colonial Kitchen Garden: Directions for the Year from 1799

The Kitchen Garden in Colonial times was tended to by the ladies of the house. In the garden were grown vegetables, greens, and herbs. Most of what was grown in the kitchen garden was used to feed the family and was not sold for a profit. Many herbs were grown by the family for use as flavorings and medicines.

The ladies of the house would also be responsible for the cooking or preserving of everything in the kitchen garden. The common methods of preserving were drying, smoking, salting, pickling, or jellying. Canning had not been invented yet. Following is an excerpt from The Laboratory, written in 1799, at the end of the Colonial era. It is very interesting to see that there was always something to be doing on a colonial farm, even in December. I am very interested that they would still be growing things in the winter.       

Civil War Era Knit-Along Update

Sorry this is late, I was stuck at the binding off part. I have decided to make the wings as is stated in the Piecework Magazine, to ensure that they are long enough. Even though the back is about 12 inches long, it still doesn't look long enough to reach my natural waist. I think it might reach after I put the trim on.

I hope I have enough yarn. With the alterations at the beginning, I might have to order more. Overall I am excited that I have even gotten this far in it. Binding off one side and working on part of it seemed like the hard part to me.

August 19, 2010

Bartram's Gardens: Historic Botanical Garden and Arboretum

Today, a few friends and myself visited Bartram's Gardens in West Philadelphia. The gardens were started in the 1700s by John Bartram and his son, William Bartram.

They were well known botanists during their lives and traveled all over the country to collect samples for their collection. They learned to care for and propagate many unique New World plants. Many New World plants and seeds were sold to the wealthy in Britain.    
During the 18th century, traveling was difficult. John and William rode on horseback and traveled by small boats as far away from Pennsylvania as Florida and the Mississippi River to gather specimen.  They were widely acknowledged as being adventurers, according to a personal account, they claimed to have beaten an alligator to death with a club, to save on bullets.

The Continental Congress took a day trip to the Bartram's home to see the gardens in 1784. George Washington visited the gardens in 1787 and thought the wild, hodgepodge of plants was distasteful. 

During a trip to Georgia, they discovered a tree with brilliant blossoms. They named it Franklinia after John's best friend, Benjamin Frankin. By 1803, wild Franklinia trees became extinct. All current Franklinia trees are descended from the one that the Bartrams collected. 

It is very cool to see the variety of plants that are native to the U.S. Our group was more interested in the "Kitchen Garden" as we all love to cook 1700s style. Many plants that we think of as weeds were eaten as vegetables or used as herbs. Purslane, dandelion and sorrel were common in cooking.

One of the neatest things to see was a period cider press carved out of stone, right along the Schuylkill River. The juice dripped out of a small hole into a large stone carved basin. The amount of cider made must have been astronomical!   

The gardens run right along the river and even include a modern day picnic area complete with a baseball field. We had a lovely picnic together talking about colonial recipes and the gardens.

It was a very picturesque area you would never know that you were in the city. Visiting the gardens is free, tours of the buildings are a few dollars. Our tour guide was very nice, he even let us taste a fig off one of the trees. They taste a lot different than the dehydrated kind! It was nice of them to give us a tour, they only offer them on the weekends. It is amazing that the gardens are still being kept up after hundreds of years. Bartram's is the oldest botanical garden in North America. You can find more information at Bartram's Garden.

August 16, 2010

1850s Street Etiquette

When I am at reenactments, my shoe comes untied about a thousand times. Each and every time, my significant other, Andy, always ties it for me. It is a life saver because in a corset and with all of that fabric, I can't reach my feet and would look silly and perhaps show more than I wished if I attempted to tie it myself. 

People laugh at us but it was actually very proper for a gentleman to tie a lady's shoe. It was also his duty to help her on with her shawl and any other assistance she might have needed-- ladies' clothing was very frivolous as many of us have realized as we try to adapt to it. It is very sad for us if we drop anything on the ground.     

Behavior in the Street.  

"-When you meet a gentleman with whom you are acquainted, you bow, raising your hat slightly, with your left hand, which leaves your hand at liberty to shake hands if you stop. If the gentleman is ungloved, you must take off yours, not otherwise.

-Meeting a lady, the rule is that she should make the first salute, or at least, indicate by her manner, that she recognises you. Your bow must be lower, and your hat carried further from your head; but you never offer to shake hands; that is her privilege.

-The right, being the post of honor, is given to superiors and ladies, except in the street, when they take the wall, as farthest from danger from passing carriages, in walking with or meeting them.

-In walking with a lady you are not bound to recognise gentlemen with whom she is not acquainted, nor have they in such a case, any right to salute, much less to speak to you.

-Should her shoe become unlaced, or her dress in any manner disordered, fail not to apprise her of it respectfully, and offer your assistance. A gentleman may hook a dress, or lace a shoe, with perfect propriety, and should be able to do so gracefully.

-Whether with a lady or gentleman, a street talk should be a short one; and in either case, when you have passed the customary compliments, if you wish to continue the conversation you must say, “Permit me to accompany you."

-Don't sing, hum, whistle, or talk to yourself in walking. Endeavor, besides being well-dressed, to have a calm, good natural countenance. A scowl always begets wrinkles. It is best not to smoke at all in public, but none but a ruffian will inflict upon society the odor of a bad cigar, or that of any kind, on ladies.

-Ladies are not allowed upon ordinary occasions to take the arm of any one but a relative, or an accepted lover, in the street, and in the day time; in the evening—in the fields, or in a crowd, wherever she may need protection, she should not refuse it. She should pass her hand over the gentleman's arm, merely, but should not walk at arm's length apart, as country girls sometimes do. In walking with a gentleman, the step of the lady must be lengthened, and his shortened, to prevent the hobbling appearance of not keeping step. Of course, the conversation of a stranger, beyond asking a necessary question, must be considered as a gross insult, and repelled with proper spirit."

From the Ladies' Indispensable Assistant, (1850) Pg. 123

August 13, 2010

Civil War Knit-Along Update

I'm almost at the "scary" part of the pattern! The last time I tried to knit a sontag, the "wings" turned out to be much too tiny. I plan on making the additions that Mrs. Formby suggests on the Ragged Soldier pattern. It is starting to feel cozy on my lap, I'm sure it is going to be really warm.

I was going to switch to my really long needles for the photo so you could see it stretched to the fullest but I couldn't find them.  The photo doesn't really show how big it is.I hope it fits, I will be incredibly disappointed if it doesn't. It looks a little small but the border will add a little bit of length.

I believe I forgot to mention that we need a button for one of the wings for fastening it. I am thinking of getting a pretty mother-of-pearl button for it.

I would like to put a fancy crocheted border on it, but I can't crochet. If I figure out how to crochet one, I will, if not I'll just have to knit the one in the original Godey's pattern.  I can't wait for these to be finished! They look so pretty.  

August 10, 2010

From the Archives

I really like art. I haven't done much lately, I guess I haven't been much inspired. Which I guess can be a good thing because when you are inspired you have to work on a piece or your brain will explode. Yes, you have to work on it until it is done, ignoring your family, friends and even food. I hate sharing my artwork because while I am working on a piece, it is my favorite piece, but once it's finished, I think it's crap. Everything is this post is so old, I KNOW it's not good and I know I've improved.

It's hard to share art, you just want to fix it every time you look at it. I found a bunch of old drawings on my computer, I decided to share. This stuff is at least 5 years old or so. I don't even know where most of it is anymore. The drawing at the top is a truly "lost work." Someone stole it years ago (there's a huge back story where it was "lost track of,") who knows where it is now or if it even is in existence still. 

I repeatedly failed art and never started drawing seriously until I dropped art. There's something about time limits and rules that just make it impossible to draw something you like or care about in the least. 

Who can draw or paint on a schedule and then get graded on it? It's horrible! I could never do it. My younger sister is an art major, and very good, I don't know how she does it. I'd go crazy, producing art like a trained monkey. 


The model in the picture at the top, requested that I draw him this for his room. I oblidged since it was nice of him to model for the drawing, he was just some random kid in my math class at the time...I guess I should have been doing math? The next day after I gave it to him, he told me his mother complained that I hadn't signed it. I didn't really realize it until then, that I don't sign anything. I still don't. My signature is atrosious and would only make things worse.  

I have a lot of doodles in my sketchbooks. Doodling is just so relaxing. I am not a good doodler, some people can doodle and it just turns out amazing. My doodles are just squiggles and shapes. It mortifies me when people look in my sketchbook. It looks like a third grader drew in it. Sometimes I even doodle with crayons. It's fun and makes you feel like a kid again. 
I used to draw a lot of anime and manga. I had a couple manga stories going which a lot of people liked it was just way to much work to draw it all. I am much more of a story person. I have passed the baton to my little sister. She draws anime very very well. I help her make complete stories out of her ideas, she draws the comic, I ink it and then she colors it. We can both make comics alone but it's much more productive and fun together. She is currently working on one that sounds fun. 

I'm sorry I was lazy and didn't feel like writing an interesting post today. It's just so hot! I've been aching to draw something but haven't started. I cleaned off my ink pens and have just been doodling. Looking over these drawings is horrific for me. It's like looking at your baby pictures.  

August 8, 2010

How Close are the Guns? How to Calculate How Close a Storm is

"Men go back to the mountains, as they go back to sailing ships at sea, because in the mountains and on the sea they must face up."

 I hate math. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a firm believer in the "when you need to know it, you will learn it," math method. I am the first person to say "I'll never use this," and that has been the case for most math. I normally kick myself when I need some geometry for sewing or something but it normally only takes a minute to look up a formula and figure it out. Not that I hate math itself, I have just never been any good at it. I know that all math is functional but I feel that teachers tend to leave out what we would really ever use certain formulas for. Since I love practical math and this math formula is easy and fun, I thought I share it:

Figuring how close guns are by using the time lapsed between the flash of it and the sound it makes is practically the same as figuring out how close a storm is by counting the seconds between when you see lightning it and when you hear the thunder. I think it is interesting that many movies will have the flash of a cannon and the sound at the same time. If you were any distance away, there would be a discrepancy due to the fact that light travels faster than sound. 

To find out how far away a storm is you would sound how many seconds from after you see a lightning flash until you hear the thunder. You take that number and multiply it by 1080ft (How fast sound travels on average, temperature and medium affect how fast sound travels. At sea level, it is 1125ft.) Then divide that by 5,280 (the number of feet in a mile for us who forget,) and you get how many miles away a storm is.

Ex. 10 seconds x 1080 (How many feet sound travels in a second) / 5,280 (Number of feet in a mile) =  2.045 miles

It roughly equates to a mile every 5 seconds. Remember that for next storm!

Class dismissed!

August 6, 2010

Civil War Era Knit-Along Update

Hopefully, many of us have all been knitting a period item for about a week now. I haven't gotten very far on mine. Regardless of how far you are or what you are knitting, you can show off your color choices and pieces so far. Just write up a blog post and link to it using the link function at the bottom of this post. You can link until Monday. 

I chose to use a forest green and a dark brown for my sontag. I keep forgetting to increase at the beginning of each row and end up remembering half way through the row. Once you get the hang of the basket weave pattern, it is fun to work on. I have been using a yarn called "Swish" from and have been using size 8 needles.        

 I have seen sontags laid out and it never looks like it will fit the body the right way, but they always do! I am happy with how it looks so far. I was really undecided when I was choosing colors. I have too much maroon knitted period items. I thought the dark green and brown would offset them nicely. I only have two reenacting dresses, one is green checkered and the other maroon and white calico. I know that one of the biggest reenactor pet-peeves is being too "matchy." I try my best but I know what I like.

As you can see from the photo at the top, Coal the Kitty is such a full supporter of the Civil War Era Knit-Along that he has chosen to play with a period correct toy--around the room and eventually down the stairs. As usual, I can't wait to see everyone's work. It is amazing how many talented bloggers there are out there! 

August 2, 2010

The New England Primer: Colonial School in the Northeast

In the Early Colonial period, religion was the backbone of education.  In 1642, the Puritans in Massachusetts passed a law which used elected members of the colony to oversee  education to make sure that children were receiving an appropriate education and that they understood the laws of the colony. Many colonies followed the model that the Puritans set. 


 In 1647, the Puritans passed the Old Deluder Satan Law which was designed to make sure that all of their citizens were able to read the Bible to protect themselves from Satan. To make this possible, the law required that every town with fifty houses to pay a teacher to teach reading and writing. Also, every town with at least one hundred houses was required to erect a grammar school to prepare boys for higher learning.


By 1683, William Penn made a law which fined the parents of children who could not read and write by the time they were twelve, five pounds. A lot of money back then. While educating slaves was not illegal yet, few were educated. Some African schools were erected by Quakers but elsewhere in the colonies, few were taught. 

Schools during the American Colonial period were typically one-roomed buildings built by communities or churches. School boards were elected by the community and they built the school as they saw fit without any regulations. Each school board chose their own teacher and set their own tuition costs. Teaching was a predominately male profession, with men making about one hundred pounds a year and women teachers only making thirty percent of that. Some schools even had their teacher board at students' houses to reduce financial strain on the teachers. Many students also paid their teacher in foods and other farm goods.

 In the schoolroom, boys and girls had separate benches. The children were of mixed ages and girls tended only to stay for a few years, so they could learn home skills. Since school took place only in the winter and months when children weren't needed on farms, the students were expected to bring wood to feed the fire. It was very rare for students to have textbooks. Normally the schoolmaster had the only textbook. Children typically had a horn-book (pictured top, left,) which was a small paddle of wood which had a lesson printed on it which was then covered by a thin sheet of cow horn to protect the print. Horn-books could be threaded with string and worn around the neck.

Paper was scarce so most work was done verbally. Reading, writing, religion, and spelling. Latin grammar schools for boys only, taught Greek and Latin. Students were expected to memorize and recite their lessons, which were usually a religious rhyme. Copy-books taught nice handwriting, which was considered more important than good spelling as many words of the time were spelled phonetically. 

Learning handwriting by tracing over letters written in a faint ink is attributed to John Locke and very similar to how we teach children to learn to write in modern times.   

*Note: The poem and etchings are from the most popular Colonial textbook, The New England Primer from 1727. Int he late 1700s, the poem was changed to include more religious rhymes and to exclude all references to the King. Etchings of King George II were ripped out of the older Primers during the revolution and few exist today. In future printings, George Washington was printed at the beginnings.  

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