Stitch Not In Time

March 4th, 2011

Alright, alright, I’ve learned my lesson. Don’t make hand-sewn undergarments out of plain muslin. It’s oh, so tempting at less than $2 a yard (actually, it might as well be free — I’m still sewing through a bolt of white cotton muslin that my mother bought for me a decade ago).  But look what happened to the chemise I made last year. I’ve only worn it three or four times too.


I think it might have ripped while I was fitting my new stays, twisting around this way and that, trying to slide into them without unlacing. Drat!

Always one to look for the silver lining, I have decided to use this as an excuse to practice my mending. Many of the manuals that I used to learn 19th-century hand-sewing have extensive sections on mending, including this catechism from England’s Finchley School manual Plain Needle-Work, in All Its Branches, 1852:


Q. You have told me how you would manage a sheet, or any large coarse article; but should the linen, cotton, or whatever the material may be requiring a patch, be of a finer description, or printed in colours, how would you proceed?

A. I would cut the piece with which I intended to repair, exactly to a thread, and place it on the decayed or worn part, to a thread also, and on the right side; taking care, should the article have any pattern, to fix the patch so as to make the parts of the pattern correspond.

Q. “What next?

A. I then tack the patch on slightly, to keep it ia its place, and sew it at the edges in the manner of a hem, taking care to manage the corners neatly.

Q. And then?

A. Having made the cloth very flat and smooth, I carefully cut out the old piece on the wrong side, leaving sufficient to form a hem, the same as in patching a sheet.

Q. How do you manage to make the hem sit neatly at the corners?

A. I nick it a little, at each of the four corners, carefully turning-in the raw edges, making allowance for turning them in, and then proceed with the hem.

And just in case I’m tempted to put speed ahead of quality (especially since I need to rip out the armhole facing and hem it back down again over the patch):

“Patches should always be well shaped, and basted on perfectly even; a round, angular, or slanting patch, is the sure sign of a slut.”

The Girl’s Own Book, by Lydia Maria Child, 1853

Anyone having a sale on Kona cotton broadcloth? Or should I finally break into that stash of cream linen for my next chemise?

  • Ava Trimble says:

    Personally, I think that Kona is just too thick and heavy for a chemise – I can’t stand having bulk under a corset. Pima cotton could work, but whew, so expensive. Fine cotton sheeting (or, ahem, even sheets) without TOO high a thread count would be good. I ended up deciding to go the muslin route for the chemises I’m working on right now, but I dug around in JoAnn’s for a good, smooth, rather firmly woven one…and then bought the whole bolt, with a 50% off coupon. 25 yards of 36″ wide muslin (perfect for mid-19th century authenticity!) for 25 dollars, yippee! The really thin muslins can have some applications, but they definitely don’t hold up well – the poor fibers are just too short in muslin to manage, when it’s not a sturdy weave.

    However, I am using white Kona cotton for a couple petticoats (including an 1830s corded petticoat), and possibly drawers. And I’m using red Kona for my 1860ish covered crinoline (since I can document a red skeleton cage, a red wool covered crinoline, and various other colored covered crinolines, I decided to go for it). I will be extra blinding, with my red crinoline and coral sateen corset. I shall be much more demure in my all white 1830s undergarments! (Of course, that has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been planning a semi-sheer light-colored dress all along!)

    I hope you’ll post pictures of your patch! Your, um, hopefully non-slutty patch. 😉

    • eva says:

      Thanks for the advice on Kona…it makes sense. Lucky duck to stumble into 36″ muslin!! I have lately considered taking up weaving again in my frustration to find correct fabrics.

      But as far as undergarments go, I think I’ve found my answer in this passage from Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North & South,” 1855:

      “Yes,” said Mrs. Hale, almost indignantly, “but, at any rate, the Gormans made carriages for half the gentry of the county, and were brought into some kind of intercourse with them; but these factory people, who on earth wears cotton that can afford linen?”

      Now if I can just have your good fortune and find some closely woven yard-wide linen that is even marginally affordable.

      I’m very much looking forward to seeing all of your underwear!! Sounds strange when I type that out…

  • […] Is it fate? What am I doing wrong? After only three more wearings, my (relatively) new chemise has another tiny […]

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