From the Work Box – Sewing Birds

Recently, Janet Smith of the Button Baron shared their reproduction sewing bird on a Facebook group. Many people asked “what is it?” This made me think it would be nice to do a series looking at tools in the Work Box. I will start with the sewing bird.

Here is my sewing bird, an original patented in February 15th, 1853.

A sewing bird clamps to the work table. The bird is meant to hold one end of your work in its beak. Some, but not all, sewing birds come with a pin cushion either next to or on top of the bird.The Knight’s American Mechanical Dictionary (1881) illustrates and describes it here:

Godey’s Lady’s Book hints at the advent of sewing birds in 1852:


While being called sewing birds, birds were not the only figure adorning them . They were also made with different figures, such as dogs, butterflies, serpents, dragons and other birds. See the variety on this Pin board

Sewing birds came with and without pin cushions. The pin cushions could be found in front of, behind, below and above the bird itself. Some also had two pin cushions. (There are also sewing clamps with just pin cushions, not clamping birds.)

Just six years following the Godey’s mention, we see the quick popularity in this poem, The Sewing Bird (Arthur’s Home Magazine, 1858)


Additional Resources:

This article discusses the differences between some originals and some reproductions. (I have yet to dig deep enough into the construction of sewing birds to evaluate statements in this article.)

Here is an article about an original sewing bird at the Museum of the Grand Prairies.

This is an image of assorted sewing birds in the National Museum of American History collection. ***A must see***

Patents for sewing birds and improvements in sewing birds can be found from the 1850s on.

Published in: on December 9, 2016 at 6:10 pm  Comments (2)  

Year In Review

I have an awful time remembering what projects I do each year. Luckily, I started a list at the beginning of this year. Then, I forgot to keep writing them down.

Projects of 2016:


PPandP book coverTo start the year off, I launched Paisley, Plaid, & Purled: Shawls of the Mid-Nineteenth Century. My many, many year writing baby was finally in print. Well, E-print.


We also started the year with a Sew-Along. The first of the year being a work bag in cotton or silk. I had no idea how popular these would be.

wpid-2015-11-17-18.16.54-1.jpg.jpegIt seems January was pretty busy. This is also when I started my pin cushion experiment. I took the same shape and size pin cushion, made of quilt weight cotton, and stuffed each with a different filling to see how each performed. This will be a continued experiment.



Going from February into January, the local historical Sew Along group worked on pin balls. Participants used a wide variety of researched techniques for their pin balls.


2016-03-30-10.25.47.jpg.jpegCome March and April, I was focused on preparing sewing boxes for a discussion during the 140th’s Civilian Seminar in the Greene  Gallery at GCV.


I lined two boxes, one for original tools and one for reproduction tools.I used hand marbled paper for the original sewing box. I used fabric for the box I was constructing a tray for.


20161001_160937.jpgThe next Sew Along: A Purse began in March, but became a many month project for me. I made a crochet long purse, known as a miser purse.


I first made one for Cali. Then made the one for me. Both are silk with cut steel beads.


As the weather warmed, estate and yard sales began. Several local friends were looking for appropriate chairs. Inevitably, as I was photographing chairs, some came home with me. In a couple ways this is good because my well used chairs are getting loose and now, we almost have enough seats for Christmas.


Galaxy arrived some time in May or June. It is kind of a blur. Clara joined the family in February.


June was pretty packed.This is when I fell behind on the purse project and way behind on the slipper project (see below.)


I decided I needed a dress appropriate for demonstrating sewing straw in. Something very much a work dress that could handle getting wet and I could be comfortable in.


The dress got a test run at GCV’s War of 1812/Jane Austen event in June. I had a delightful day demonstrating the cottage industry, sewing straw plait into bonnet and hat forms.



After the Regency era of June, was a switch to mid-Nineteenth century for July. I got to transform the museum’s Law Office into a Millinery for the Civil War weekend. This meant making the building obviously say Millinery – dressing the space with bonnet boxes, stands topped with bonnets and hats,  bringing in additional color. It was a great weekend.


Somehow, I don’t have photos of just the boxes I worked on. Here is a mini-verion for Cali. I made a couple boxes. Then I recovered a number more in period appropriate papers. For next year, I really want to get to Cooperstown to buy a few of their boxes.



August was all about sewing, sewing, and sewing. I did break my “no more folding chairs” rule when I saw this chair in a yard sale listing.

August also saw Lily off. We spent much of the summer trying to visit a museum or site each week.


It was back to school in September. These transitions are usually difficult for me. I get in such a rhythm of heavy sewing through the day. Though I did have one project for October I was greatly enjoying….



I had so much fun making my basket of vegetables in velvet. Some were cotton velvet, already dyed. Others were silk velvet, needing to be colored in chalk after I made them. I do wish more people were able to see this at the fair.



November was back to being busy again. First came the Domestic Skills Symposium at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. I lead a Sunday workshop on Millinery in Miniature with my helpful side-kick, Cali. Each participant made a doll scale hat while learning period appropriate straw sewing techniques.


The following weekend was Preparing for the Holidays, back at the museum. This is when I was just amazed by how interested people were in the strawberry emery cushions I was making. I left completely thrilled and dumbfounded.


My big goal for December was launching my new Mid-Nineteenth Century Winter Hood Pattern. Drafted directly from an original hood in my growing collection, this pattern has two sets of directions in the information packed booklet.

Millinery, straw and winter, spanned the year. I had a few goals with straw  for this year. I wanted to explore fancier plaits, learn decorative manipulations for plait and learn to make straw motifs. I also wanted to dig further backward and forward in time. I didn’t get quite as far as I had hoped. But, I did expand quite a bit. Here is a gallery of this year’s millinery:

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Projects Yet to Complete (Or start in some cases):

This year has more than its share of projects not yet finished. Here is just a few:

I had this whole plan to roll research on veils into making veils. I got as far as doing a good bit of research and even a materials comparison. I have yet to make more than the veils used for the July millinery.


I have a box of Shaker boxes I meant to line and make sewing accessories for. So far, I have made this one and one that is a gift. I will hopefully get the others finished before it is time to buy some more. This really is one of the most convenient sewing boxes to have.


I have an on-going pin cushion project. One part is the filling analysis. The other is making pin cushions from original directions or replicating originals. I thought I might do one a month…  Not so much. Next year.

Picture1The slippers that were started last spring have not been touched in months. Some time in the depths of winter, when my feet are cold, I will finish them just to have them done.


I had wanted to learn to make straw decorations and motifs. I got as far as learning to make leaves in the spring. Then I got so busy with bonnets and hats, I didn’t get back to it. This will definitely be explored more next year.


Next Year….

I will be doing a looking forward post soon(ish). I have dress lengths that have been long neglected. I also have some presentation/workshop topics churning around in my head.


Published in: on December 5, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Baskets at Work

A-Tisket, A-Tasket…. While neither yellow, nor green, this year saw to the task of getting the right baskets.

As with many tasks and utilities, I am picky, very picky. I fussed and searched and fussed some more for just the right baskets. I had a list of what each basket’s duty would be: to house and carry wool, to carry and hold straw for demos, to carry the day’s or weekend’s food stuffs. Each also had to be well made, sound, accurate and pleasing to the eye. In the end, baskets have been matched with their tasks and I am shy only one: a large, round basket I eyed at the flea market but failed to go back for… the basket I see holding straw in progress and bonnets at museum demos.

The baskets at their tasks….

My largest basket is a rectangular one that serves nicely to carry small containers and stands into the millinery for set up. Here it is this past July under the desk in the Millinery Shop. It is in need of some tlc repairs due to cracked and broken areas from when I bought it. This large carrying basket is much like those we used in the 90s and 00s for carrying program materials about. Here is a similar basket at HSV.

These next two baskets are “all purpose” baskets.  The larger, top is one that was Dad’s it was loose on the top. I am sure basket makers are cringing at my millinery repair using the straw plait. The bottom one is by the GCV’s basket maker. They are nice for carrying. As you can see, each nicely holds a project at home. They can also carry a day’s or weekend’s food into the village. As crocks, especially full crocks, and water can get heavy, neither are overly large. Here is an oval example at HSV, and a rectangular, non-Shaker example at the same.

I have named this basket my wool basket as that is its task. When I am making hoods, I need a stash of wool easily at hand in an eye pleasing container. This moderatly sized basket fit that need nicely. Until I find the right straw holding basket, this may do double duty.  The shape, with the squared bottom, and round, belly bulging sides, seems to be a common shape. I do still need to look into the decorative shaping in the reed. Here are two examples from HSV showing handles that fold down like this: first one with a loop construction, second with a pivot construction.

The newest edition joined us this weekend. I saw this basket a few weeks ago at my favorite bakery while I was picking up treats for work. We chatted about how nice it would look filled with seasonal greens for a table center piece. Well, the basket took root and I just kept thinking about it. This basket is just over a foot tall, perfect for its task as table decor. After the holidays, I think it will continue to serve a decor or have a light task because I suspect it is a bit old. This basket is quite like this example from HSV.

Additional Random Thoughts…..

Clara’s Basket

While Clara is not a box loving cat, she is a basket loving cat. This basket was part of a gift basket we won. While it isn’t strong enough to carry anything heavy, Clara declared it perfect for her.

[photo stuck in cyberspace]

Missing Basket?

While looking back through my posts for a previous article on baskets, I came across this photo. I forgot I had this basket. This was taken in my old apartment. I  wonder if I have this in storage still. It would be nice.


*There are a few, okay several, other baskets at use around the house. But, given their more modern aspects, I’ve not included those.

Videos of Interest on Baskets and Basket-making

Baskets from the Smithsonian

 Nantucket baskets (text):

 Baskets of the Appalachia

Traditional Oak Swill (England, longer video)


Published in: on December 4, 2016 at 8:09 pm  Comments (1)  

Why do I Love this Winter Hood?

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, I was at the Genesee Country Village and Museum for their Preparing for the Holidays event. As I arrived at the museum in the morning, it was a beautiful sixty degrees. A beautiful and unseasonably warm morning. 

Well, that was not to last. 

As mid day came, so did the wind. The wind blew and the temperature dropped. It felt more like plummeted. 

I needed to walk across the square to the bathroom. The warmth and sunshine were solidly replaced by chilly and grey. Brrrrrrrrr. On the way back, this odd mix of rain and icy sleety stuff not only fell from the sky, it blew around me as I walked back. 

Luckily, I had this hood on. The protection was impressive. The only ice  that hit my face was the ice that bounced up off my chest. While the wind wanted to blow off my shawl, this hood stayed put. The layers of wool and batting were warm, while the silk inside was oh-so-soft. 

I was very pleased. 

I believe you will be too. 

Visit my Etsy shop for your e-pattern.

Published in: on November 29, 2016 at 6:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Now Available!!!!

Announcement: New Pattern!!! –

Published in: on November 28, 2016 at 6:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Announcement: New Pattern!!!

I am very pleased to announce the publication of my newest pattern:


Available December 1st 

Monday, November 28th

In my Etsy Shop

This Quilted Winter Hood is incredibly comfortable with the long draping brim, while providing both protection from the winter wind and moderate warmth.


Published in: on November 27, 2016 at 5:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

What is Better than a Sewing Basket?

A sewing basket filled with notions!

I have two special sewing baskets in my shop. Perfect for gift giving. 

Both vintage baskets are lined with silk and filled with:

  • Scissors 
  • Sewing wax (molded by me)
  • A heart pin cushion (by me)
  • A strawberry emery (by me)
  • A black wax marking chalk
  • Two wooden spools of thread (vintage used spools) 
  • A starter roll for little Fanciful Utility projects 

The smaller one is 5.5″ in diameter and 3.5″ tall, lined with pink silk. 

The larger is 8″ in diameter and 4″ tall, lined with green plaid silk. 

Published in: on November 20, 2016 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

What is an Emery?

An emery is a small pin cushion filled with a special sand which helps keep needles and pins sharp.

Emery itself is also known as corundite. Egads, I am about to reference Wikipedia. Check out what Emery is here. As a sand, it is quite fine, nearly resembling a teeny tiny gray powder.

A small amount, because only a small amount is needed, is put inside small cushions. In the cushion, the emery is an abrasive that polishes away the burs and rough spots on your needled. You know when you are putting a needle or pin through a fine piece of silk and something snags? It takes off those things.

The emery we know best to day is the small strawberry that accompanies the little red tomato cushion. But, during the nineteenth century, these strawberries were greatly varied and often made at home.

 As you can see, there were different caps used for emeries – metal, embroidery and fabric. One example here shows that some caps were glued on and in this case lost. (A relief as I was facing the adhesive decision.) 

Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  

Tonight’s Millinery 

Looking for festive colors for a Yuletide event or Dickens Festival? Or do you just love red and green? 

Here is the winter bonnet for you. 

The red and green plaid is a 100% silk twill. Inside is local, soft wool batting and a black polished cotton lining. 

Find it in my shop. 

Published in: on November 16, 2016 at 9:04 pm  Comments (2)  

Preparing for the Holidays

This coming weekend I will be at GCVM for their Preparing for the Holidays program. You can find me in Foster making gifts for family and friends. Shhhhhh! The gifts are secrets.

Have you wondered what gifts people made for each other during the nineteenth century? Here is a list from  Treasures in Needlework; Comprising Instructions in Knitting, Netting, Crochet, Point Lace, Tatting, Braiding, and Embroidery, by Mrs. Warren and Mrs. Pullan. (London, 1855)

“There are many occasions in life when ladies desire to mark their esteem for a friend by some gift or token; and they are often in the choice of what to give or to work. Hence it is that no question is more frequently asked than, “What will be a suitable present for so-and-so?” or, “What will be the most valuable things I can make for a Fancy Fair?”

In making gifts to individuals, the leading idea is, to assure them of our regard. That the gift is out own production, greatly adds to its value in the estimation of the recipient; and, indeed, there are many circumstances in which, when desiring to show gratitude for kindness, a lady may very properly offer a specimen of her own work, when a purchased gift would either be unsuitable or out of her power. For the same reason, – that it proves the receiver to have been an object of our thought and care, – any article evidently intended for that person only, is more welcome than such as might have been worked for anybody. The following list of articles, suitable for the respective purposes, will be found suggestive:


Braces. – Embroidered on velvet, or worked on canvas, from a Berlin pattern.

Cigar Cases. – Crochet. Velvet, and cloth applique, velvet, or cloth braided. Embroidered or worked in beads.

Slippers. – Braided on cloth, morocco, or velvet; applique cloth and velvet; Berlin work.

Shaving Books, especially useful. – Braided. Worked in beads on canvas. Crochet, colored beads, and white cotton. (washable.)

Smoking Caps. – Velvet braided richly; cloth, velvet and cloth applique. Netted darned, on crochet.

Fronts for Bridles. – Crest embroidered with seed beeds.

Waistcoats. – Braided on cloth or velvet. Embroidered.

Penwipers. – Worked in beads, and fringed. Applique velvet and cloth. Gold thread.



Sermon Cases.

Comforters. Driving Mittens. Scarfs.


Chairs. – Embroidered in applique. Berlin work ditto. Braided ditto.

Sofa Cushions. – Braided or embroidered.

Screens. – Raised cut Berlin work. Berlin work with beads.

Hand Screens. – Netted and darned. Applique. Crochet.


Table Covers. – Cloth, with bead or Berlin borders. Cloth braided.

Set of Dish Mats. – Worked in beads, with initials in the centre; border round; and grounded in clear white beads.

Fancy Mats. – For urns, lamps, &c.

Ottomans. – Braided. Applique, or embroidered.

Footstools. – Berlin or bead work. Braided.

Whatnots. – Braided. Berlin work.

Doyleys., – The set – bread, cheese, and table doyleys – worked in broderie and chain stitch.


Netted Curtains.


Point-Lace Collars, Chemisettes, Handkerchiefs, &c.

Embroidered Ditto.

Handkerchief Case or Box. – On satin, embroidered or braided in delicate colours.

Glove Box. – Worked In beads. Initials in centre; grounded with white beads.

Slippers. – Braided or embroidered.

Workbaskets. – Netted and darned, or darned on filet, or crochet.

Carriage bags. – Braided. Worked in Berlin work or beads.

Purses. – Netted or darned, or crochet; delicate colours, as pink and silver.

Porte-Monnair, or Note Case. – Crest or monogram in centre, grounded in beads.

Embroidered Aprons. – Worked in Brodierie-en-lacet. Braided, or embroidered.

Toilet Cushions. – Crochet or netting.

Reticules. – Darned netting; or embroidery.


Infants’ Caps. – Point lace, crochet, or embroidery.

Frocks. – Ditto.

Quilts. – Crochet. Bead borders with motto, and drop fringe. Crest in the centre.

Pincushions. – Crochet, or embroidered satin.

Blankets. – Knitted with white wool, in double kitting, – a real “blessing to mothers.”

These are a few of the leading and most useful presents. They are equally appropriate as offerings to a Fancy Fair.”

Jennie June takes a look at the gifting season in her Jennie Juneiana: Talks on Women’s Topics (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1864):

The Season of Gifts

“Who to give to?” is sometimes a puzzling question; for each one cannot give to all, or all who have claims upon them, and it is sometimes hard to decide between sisters, and aunts, and cousins, and still nearer and dearer relations. Some philanthropic people, who, however, rarely follow their own advice , advocate the ignoring of family ties altogether on these festal occasions, and urge the giving only to those who absolutely need something. But this is too hard and rigid a policy; it may be, and probably is the extreme of unselfishness, but we frankly own that it is beyond us. Give all that is possible to those whose friends are few and wants many, but yield something also to inclination and affection, and the kindly feelings which prompt and demand a fitting expression.

            But who to give to is not yet received a definite answer. First, as a loyal woman (we are talking to women), to those you love best; second, to those to whom perhaps you have done an injustice, if only in thought, and to whom you feel is due some slight reparation; and third, to those who need it. But it must be remembered that the sentiment of the gift is more than the gift itself. A very costly gift is sometimes not half so much valued as a flower, a book, or a kind word; but this is only true of very unsophisticated people. We have seen vulgar women, in garb of silk or satin, who would coarsely express undisguised contempt for a gift which did not come up to their ideas of cost. Such persons are incapable of appreciating a sentiment, and therefore give them nothing, or if that is impossible, let it be a check for so much money, which is the only point for which they care.

            What is proper to purchase for gifts, is a very embarrassing question to sensitive individuals, who desire to do the thing just right, and are afraid of making some mistake or committing some gauche-rie. Between husbands and wives, or in a family circle, such a difficulty can hardly exist, a wide range of the useful, as well as the sentimental and beautiful, being proper to choose from. For mere friends, however, the choice is sometimes very perplexing, notwithstanding that the variety of goods in every department is almost infinite, and books always exist as a dernier resort, although, in fact, they are the most suitable and valuable of gifts. To pretend to indicate those things which are most adapted as gifts to varied circumstances, would be to give a catalogue of every jewelry establishment, dry goods store, and fancy goods house, not to speak of toys, furs, groceries, bonnets, greenhouses, picture galleries, and furniture shops, all of which supply their quota to the generous influences of the season. A safe way is to ascertain a want or a taste on the part of the recipient, and then supply the one or gratify the other, according to means or convenience. Young ladies, or others who have time, and know how to execute the different kinds of fancy work, cannot pay a more delicate compliment to their friends than by presenting them with some pretty trifle of their own making.

PS – Here is a cute story starting on page 143





Published in: on November 16, 2016 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment