Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company


Cording by Machine

If you’re working on a corded corset, or a corded petticoat for pre-hoop-era use, you might be wondering if there’s a quick way to get those cords snuggled into their casings, without losing your mind or your religion.

In the interests of removing “colorful” language from the vocabulary of mid-century sewists everywhere, consider a few tips:

1: Feel free to use a machine. You can certainly hand-sew a corded garment, and for some items (such as a corded sunbonnet), the benefits of being able to precisely manipulate the fabric are great. However, it’s okay to use a sewing machine for much of the mid-19th century. Just use a plain straight stitch, and leave long enough thread tails that you can thread them through a needle, make true knots on the inside of the garment, and bury the ends within the garment layers.

2: Use an appropriate cord. I am particularly fond of the Peaches-n-Cream crochet cotton, as it’s a similar size and texture to the cording I’ve been able to handle in several original corded petticoats. Originals have cording both smaller, and slightly (slightly!) larger than the cotton yarn used modernly for crocheted washcloths, so you could of course vary your widths, but this inexpensive cotton yarn is widely available, and very inexpensive. Other alternatives might include kitchen string, and well-made hemp cord, but don’t use rope or clothesline, please!)

3: Consider a zipper foot. If you can use a zipper foot to get snug up against the cord, and then adjust your needle position over to skim at the very edge of the foot, you’ll find your cording goes in nice and smoothly, but very snug. It’s the repeated cords, snug in their channels, that start building body for your corded garment.

4: Rely on Colin Firth. If possible, sew in an area with a TV or computer, so you can pop in a Colin Firth movie (my favorite sewing companion is the CF/BBC Pride & Prejudice) and listen to something interesting while you sew. Corded petticoats are extremely tedious, and the occasional glimpse of handsome men in period clothing makes the process far more tolerable.

For complete instructions on how to make your own corded corset or corded petticoat, see The Dressmaker’s Guide in our Marketplace.

Free Children’s Pinafore Patterns

One item that should absolutely be in your young child’s wardrobe is a pinafore… or four.

However, we refuse to sell you the pattern.

(Wow–even the little fellow in the picture looks a bit dubious at that statement!)

It’s true! We won’t sell you one… but we’ll give you three for free, plus variations.

Pop over to the Compendium, scroll down, and you’ll find our free pinafore projects. You can use checks, plaids, prints, or even plain white cotton to make a pinafore (or four!) for your little one.

They work up quickly, require minimal sewing, and extend your child’s wardrobe tremendously. If you have a limited budget, or limited time, you’ll be better off making one dress and three pinafores than trying to finish three dresses, and your child will stay tidy through a multi-day event without a problem.

If you’re looking for our undergarment or dress patterns, we’ll be glad to sell you those… click here!

Stretch Your Living History Budget

If your household is like ours, you must organize your living history activities around a very real—and finite—modern budget. Keep a few things in mind to maximize your time and money.

Plan First, Spend Last
It’s exciting to get involved in the hobby! Without a plan, you could make some costly purchases that don’t serve you well. Research and plan first, so you can purchase or make the most useful items for your typical impressions the first time around. You’ll save money and time in the long run. If you only attend events with working class scenarios, an upper class wardrobe will be a waste of money, but an investment in clothing and books related to working class people will be well spent.

Think Critically
Not every willing resource is a good resource! It’s important to question the “status quo” and find out for yourself about the people and practices of the mid-nineteenth century. Consult multiple sources; see where they agree and where they disagree. Practice good research and documentation habits. Get in the habit of asking merchants and vendors for background information on their items, to ensure that the products really do meet your unique persona needs.

Do It Yourself
If you’re willing to gain a few basic skills, you can provide many things at a low cost, from home. For instance, learn a basic running stitch by hand and a straight stitch by machine, and you can construct the majority of a family’s undergarments at home, for the cost of inexpensive white cotton fabric and a few spools of thread. By making male shirts and drawers, and female chemises, drawers, and petticoats, you can focus your dollars on professional help with outer clothing—or, use the undergarments as practice for your trousers, vests, coats, and dresses. Sewing, knitting, woodworking, and other “do it yourself” skills, used with good historic patterns, can save you a tremendous amount of money.

Utilize Local Resources
No budget could purchase every book that would be helpful for learning about the nineteenth century. Get familiar with your local library; ask the librarians to help you search the collection for helpful volumes. As you come across book titles not in the local collection, ask for help with inter-library loan. It’s a no- to low-cost way to borrow books from other libraries on a lending network, to preview nearly any book, in or out of print, before deciding if it’s one you need to buy.

Maximize Your Wardrobe
How many sets of outer clothing do you own? How many sets of undergarments? In period wardrobe lists, undergarments outnumber dresses and suits; recreate that ratio, and you’ll recreate a functional historic wardrobe that works just as perfectly today. Invest the time and funds to make three to four sets of undergarments and accessory items (aprons, collars, cuffs, neckerchiefs), and you’ll be able to attend a three to four day event with only one set of outer clothing.

Keep it Simple
Don’t try to do everything right away. It’s just not possible! Set reasonable goals for acquiring material goods, upgrading your research, and incorporating new information into your impression. Make continual steps forward as your plan allows. If you start with the basics of what you need for your most common scenarios and situations, you’ll create a solid base, and expand from there. It’s effective for every budget!

Post-Traumatic Dress Disorders Part I

Studying history is not always serious and somber. In fact, most of the top-notch researchers in my acquaintance have a very wry, sometimes odd, but always influential sense of humor.

Here are a few gems related to the medical woes we risk facing with regards to living history and clothing.

Post-Traumatic Dress Disorder:
That nagging feeling that the dress over which you labored for ages on end still does not appear to meet that undefined word called “accuracy.”

Symptoms include:

  • Self-doubt
  • Continuously looking and re-looking at the same references over and over, asking the same questions on the SA to anyone who will answer
  • Long nights re-doing something that just isn’t quite right
  • Re-making the dress or parts thereof several times in an attempt to “get it right.”
  • Waking up in the middle of the night from a seemingly deep sleep with a dream induced revelation about the garment in question. Followed immediately by turning on all the lights and piling books around you in the middle of the floor to check your half-awake vision against documentation.
  • Some sufferers experience heightened anxiety and pre-occupation with a finished dress acquiring grime or dust, or a finished trim application being crushed or damaged. They can be recognized by the “shoo-ing” motions that occur spontaneously whenever anyone approaches within their 15-foot-diameter Personal Space.

Treatment Options
Many have found S’mores Schnapps and liberal use of copious amounts of good chocolate for temporary relief of anxiety symptoms. There is no long-term cure, though research continues. Research is hampered somewhat by the S’mores Schnapps and liberal use of copious amounts of good chocolate, but mostly, the Schnapps.

One unfortunate related disease is Dress Abandonment. A new, national organization, DAPS (Dress Abandonment Prevention Society), seeks to aid those afflicted. One member recalls:

I am a proud member of DAPS. My turning point in realizing I was a Dress Abandoner came when my husband fished a dress from the trash while calling my friend; together, they convinced me to give the dress another chance, and to realize it is not the dress’s fault.

This syndrome is sometimes related to PTDD, but afflicts the sufferer in the pre-cutting stages. Dress after dress is dreamt of, sketched, researched, and planned to excruciating detail. In many cases, fabric is purchased to complete these projects. However, the planning stage becomes an insurmountable wall for the Plandometriosis sufferer, and rarely does a dress actually result.

Because the syndrome involves no cutting or construction, and thus, no fabric waste or actual errors committed, there are very few related anxiety or guilt symptoms, and chocolate in modest quantities is usually enough to stifle the sufferer’s intermittent musings about “maybe cutting out a project.”

In our next installment, we’ll discuss the twin syndromes, Kliptomania and Kliptophobia.

Contributors include forum members Noah Briggs, Joanna Jones, Denise Butler, Barbara Smith, Bevin McCrae, Rebekah W, Anna Worden Bauersmith, Eileen Hook, Annette Bethke, Amanda Rawls, Amanda Carol, Sarah Meister, Mary Gutzke, Jeni Hulet, K Krewer, Melissa Marie, Carolann Schmitt, Jean, Sarah King, Kimberly Jackson, Cassandra, Michael Mescher, Stormi Souter, Rebecca Roberts, Lissa Wilson, and of course, yours truly, since I just can’t control myself when terrible puns are in the offing.


In our last discussion of unfortunate historic clothing maladies, we discussed Post-Traumatic Dress Disorder and its related syndromes. Today, let us turn our attention to the twin maladies of Kliptomania, and Kliptophobia.

Kliptomania has only one symptom: sufferers habitually buy fabric, pin down patterns, and cut the pieces, then fail to sewn a single section together. Unfinished projects can stack up over time, increasing the risks of Toppled Pile Crush Accidents and Gangrenous Rusty Pin Grazes. Most sufferers have, if not entire wardrobes, large portions of wardrobes in various body sizes and even eras, stacked on floors and flat surfaces. Some try to disguise the true extent of their affliction by boxing the evidence, lining the boxes against a wall, tossing a nicely pressed bedsheet over the top as a “table drape” and calling the whole assembly a decorative feature. However, the success is short-lived: the stacked and draped boxes create a new flat surface upon which to pile other kliptomania-derived stacks of cut, but perpetually un-sewn, projects.

Kliptophobics purchase fabric in dress-cuts or bolt quantities, but are unable to bring themselves to commit the fabric to a project or cut into it. Many kliptophobics spend some amount of time communing with their fabric stash, stroking or petting the fabrics, waiting for the fabric to “speak” to them and give them the courage to cut and sew a project.

Some researchers claim that the application of simple muslin can help treat the moderate kliptophobic, by providing the opportunity to work out dressmaking mistakes in cheap cotton first, thereby reducing any potential issues with cutting the stash goods.

In some cases, advanced kliptophobia is re-classified as Obsessive Compulsive Fabric Syndrome. OCFS sufferers experience the permanent urge to buy multiple bolts of fabric simply because it is “authentic” for their era. In severe cases of OCFS, the syndrome leads to encroaching on the closets, attics, basements, and under-bed space of family and friends. The disease can be fatal if allowed to progress to the point of justifying the purchase of a larger house simply to hold more fabric.

Contributors include forum members Noah Briggs, Joanna Jones, Denise Butler, Barbara Smith, Bevin McCrae, Rebekah W, Anna Worden Bauersmith, Eileen Hook, Annette Bethke, Amanda Rawls, Amanda Carol, Sarah Meister, Mary Gutzke, Jeni Hulet, K Krewer, Melissa Marie, Carolann Schmitt, Jean, Sarah King, Kimberly Jackson, Cassandra, Michael Mescher, Stormi Souter, Rebecca Roberts, Lissa Wilson, and of course, yours truly, since I just can’t control myself when terrible puns are in the offing.

PTDD III: Gentlemen’s Afflictions

Historic clothing maladies are not limited to female sufferers. The manly set has their own unique afflictions. Most choose to “tough it out” without seeking treatment. We urge all distaff sewists to exercise extreme compassion for the brawnier sex; their suffering is rarely recognized, and even less often mitigated by proven remedies.

Pantar Faciitis
The patient is never satisfied with the facings applied to pants. Said “pants” might actually be trowsers (alt trousers), drawers, breeches, britches, or even, in Naval cases, slops.

One known treatment for Pantar Faciitis is the liberal application of tequila. For Naval sufferers, add lime.

Benign popaloma may be diagnosed when the sufferer exhibits an unfortunate tendency to lose buttons in largely less-vital garment areas, such as sleeve cuffs, or the lower shirt button. Acute popaloma refers to the chronic and sudden departure of key trouser buttons, often while the wearer is in a crouched or otherwise vulnerable posture.

Tieromaniacs become unhealthily obsessed with cravats, and the spider’s web of knots one can tie them with. Many sufferers were former Boy Scouts.

Contributors include forum members Noah Briggs, Joanna Jones, Denise Butler, Barbara Smith, Bevin McCrae, Rebekah W, Anna Worden Bauersmith, Eileen Hook, Annette Bethke, Amanda Rawls, Amanda Carol, Sarah Meister, Mary Gutzke, Jeni Hulet, K Krewer, Melissa Marie, Carolann Schmitt, Jean, Sarah King, Kimberly Jackson, Cassandra, Michael Mescher, Stormi Souter, Rebecca Roberts, Lissa Wilson, and of course, yours truly, since I just can’t control myself when terrible puns are in the offing.

Leslie, MI Sewing Academy Report!

October 1-3 found me (Elizabeth Stewart Clark) in lovely Leslie, Michigan, for a Sewing Academy On the Road series hosted by Kim Lynch of The Dressmaker’s Shop. A genial total of 28 ladies gathered in Kim’s historic goods shop for a very full weekend of learning (and laughing, as I have a hard time being serious for any great length of time. For instance: greater than three or four minutes together.)

Some comments from participants:

I had a wonderful time and learned a lot!       ~H.Y.

I had a great time! I especially loved all of the sewing tips and the fabulous pictures of original clothing items from the Civil War era. Meeting new friends and catching up with some long time friends while learning new things was a wonderful way to spend the weekend.        ~L.S.

Great to know the face behind the words. Thank you for the awesome workshop!     ~J.F.

The Weekend was amazing,I learned so much that I will not only use for reenacting, but it is knowledge that I will use the rest of my life, Thank You. You are an amazing educator, I appreciate what you do and hope to learn more from you in the future.      ~L.L.

Been to many a workshop and have taught a few too. Never have I left with such a feeling of confidence in the knowledge I gained. Even the stuff I already knew, was taught in such a way, it felt new again, and I am refreshed!! Thank you to Liz and Kim and every single lady that was present; the entire group made the experience unforgettable.     ~L.L. II

I had fun, too! The participants came from as far away as Pennsylvania (with most much closer to home), and brought with them a wonderful range of experiences and passions. It was fantastic to hear the instant buzz of conversation and delight as each woman picked up new handwork techniques (or refined old ones).  Though there wasn’t time to fit a full workshop on draping into the weekend, we did get to do a demonstration drape on a willing class member (thanks, Rose!), who did a great job with “turn, hold…. yes, there, just right” for 20 minutes.

Beth Turza kindly brought in some of her children’s clothing collection to share, which was truly a delight! We also ogled the gorgeous repro clothing work of multiple workshop members. Being right in Kim’s shop was good and bad… good, because of the wonderful fabric just calling out to be fondled, admired, and brought home, and bad… for the exact same reason. Most of us succumbed, I believe. What a great opportunity to get hold of some gorgeous fine cottons and real lace or whitework trims to whip up a few collars, cuffs, or other white accessories after Friday’s Frippery workshop!

I brought the cooler weather with me, just as I did for Arizona this past spring. Perhaps in the future, I ought to post a “bring shawls” notice for workshop participants? At any rate, the weather was gorgeous and crisp! I had no idea Michigan was so lovely… I can’t believe my own ancestors left it so many years ago.

It was great to meet everyone. I do hope our paths cross again, soon! Thanks to everyone for coming, and to Kim Lynch for hosting so beautifully!

A Brief Account of the Children’s Aid Fairs

“The work of Charity is ever a work of pleasure, and the great work of charity to sustain that noblest development of this cruel war, the Sanitary Commission, in which we are all now enlisted, is bringing pleasures in its train we had never anticipated. A movement which so thoroughly enlists the sympathy of all classes, and all ages, from the millionaire to the poor sewing woman; from the grandsire to the school girl, was perhaps, never before witnessed. All are doing something, contributing each according to his or her means or opportunities; and what an amount of latent power to do good has thus been developed. How many new ways of assisting in the good work have been discovered. All that is asked is that each shall contribute of what they have; if they are not blessed with riches, then give of their talents, their art, their skill, and there are none too poor but can contribute in some of these ways to the work in hand.”

~The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 23 January 1864

One interesting aspect of the American Civil War is the degree to which everyday citizens became involved in the war effort. All across the nation, from areas directly affected by the battles, to areas far removed from the conflict’s front, ordinary citizens came together in a multitude of ways to support “our boys”—regardless of the color of “our boy’s” uniform.

The Aid Fair was not a new idea; expositions and fairs had become a popular means of fundraising and entertainment in the first half of the century. It was natural, then, to use the arrangement of a Fair as a means of raising the funds and supplies needed for the war effort on both sides. Continue reading

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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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