Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company

Why We Blame Helen: Or, What Happens When You Improve

HelenSewing historic clothing for living history use is an odd hobby, when you stop and think about it.

We spend an awfully lot of time trying to suss out the fine details and nuances of a clothing system that vanished 150 years ago or more. We try to replicate the shapes, the techniques, the textiles.

Sometimes, we finish up a project that used all our best, most recent research… and then turn around two years later and see how much more we know, and how that old piece doesn’t quite match up.

We’re also trying to coax our bodies to use skills that take loads of repetition to really “get”–and expecting perfection from ourselves with only a few brief experiences with a needle. I know my first 100 handmade buttonholes sure looked differently from my most recent 100. In workshops, I often tell people to focus on the mechanics of a stitch or technique; the beauty and refinement both depend on frequent repetition, and it will get better!

Sometimes, though, we just want a bit of a scapegoat.

That’s why we need Helen.

Helen is the maid-of-all-sewing you fictionally hired in the past to help make your wardrobe. Helen was a nice girl. She was willing, and she meant well.

But, compared to your current level of skill and knowledge, Helen just wasn’t very good.

Poor Helen.

Is one of your skirt breadths put in upside down? Oh, Helen.

Do you have buttonholes that look a bit like a worn picket fence, with gaps and sags and pulls, and made in three different sizes from top to bottom on your old bodice? Oh, Helen.

Does the piping on your bodice start out terribly fat, then disappear entirely where she missed the cord for 2″? Oh, Helen.

Do you have a whole stack of photos showing you with your collar basted in precisely 1/2″ off center? Do your darts have puckers at the top, every single time? Oh, Helen. That’s why you fired her, clearly.

Poor Helen.

Some of “her” work is probably salvageable. You could take it out and re-do it, using your Best Current Skills & Knowledge. There’s no reason to resist. It’s a period practice, remaking and remodeling, and certainly fits into a thrifty homemaker’s habits.

Some of “her” work will possibly go by the wayside, as no longer applicable to your living history needs. (Don’t perpetrate whammies… sell them off as dress-up or theatricals, not living history-appropriate!)

But don’t be discouraged when you realize you have progressed beyond Helen. Poor girl.

Just place the blame where it rightly belongs (Oh, Helen), gird up your loins, don your thimble, and allow yourself the grace to progress without regret or recrimination.

Unless you’re recriminating Helen.

Helen understands. You can tell. She holds no grudge.

Poooooor Helen.

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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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