Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company

Nailed It

There you are. Ready to start a neat new project from a period source. You’re all set to sew.

And then: someone tossed carpentry into the mix?

What does it mean when you see a number on a mid-century diagram, with a little letter N after it? Or read directions indicating “nails” as a unit of measure? What the heck, Original Cast?!?

Calm your steam engines… a “nail” is simply an antique unit of measure, equivalent to 1/16th of a yard. Here’s how it goes:

36″ = 1 yard

18″ = 1/2 yard

9″ = 1/4 yard

4.5″ = 1/8 yard

2.25″ = 1/16 yard, OR 1 nail.

(Oh, and there’s also the fabric measurement of an “ell”. For our purposes, that’s often an English ell, or 45″… or 20 nails!)

Rather than do a bunch of increasingly-tiny division when your project calls for measurements like 1.5 nails (which is 3 and 3/8″, by the way), you can make a nail measure with a bit of card or firmly-woven tape, a piece of paper cut 2.25″, and a fine permanent marking pen. Fold the paper in half, and in halves again, and transfer the quarter marks to the tape or permanent card; repeat to make multiple nail sections.

(Don’t, though, hit a “normal” or “mundane” fabric shop and ask the cutter for “2.5 nails of this cotton, please.” She will stare at you, and then she will probably hate you.)

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About The Sewing Academy
With a focus on the 1840-1865 era, The Sewing Academy is your home on the (internet) range for resources to help you meet your living history goals!

Elizabeth Stewart Clark has been absorbed by the mid-19th century for over 20 years. She makes her home in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, four children (from wee to not-so-wee), far too many musical instruments, and five amusing hens.

Email Elizabeth Or call 208-523-3673 (10am to 8pm Mountain time zone, Monday through Saturday)
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