Stitching Past to Present

As could happen only in the PieceWork editorial office, we’ve recently been talking about the technical construction of nineteenth-century women’s underwear. You’ll have to wait for our November/December issue to learn more about that, but the discussion of how one goes about stitching a historically accurate pair of bloomers reminded me of some of my favorite sewing articles and projects in PieceWork over the years.

Frog sewing bird, featuring a decorative iron and bronze clamp with a painted metal frog perched on top. The small fluted urn at the top is a pincushion holder. Collection of the Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, New Jersey.

The first article that came to mind was Erin Gilday’s history of nineteenth-century decorative sewing clamps, “The Sewing Bird: Love Charm, Health Tonic, and Lady’s Companion” (March/April 2012). Sewing clamps can be traced to the late seventeenth century, but the sewing bird—a thumbscrew clamp with a bird perched on top whose “trick” beak held the fabric taut—emerged in the 1800s. How these birds evolved to include pincushions, thread holders, thimbles, and other accessories, as well as to take on the shapes of dolphins, dogs, frogs, and even monsters still fascinates me.

Hummingbird appliqué on Sandi Wiseheart’s button bag. The bag’s design was based on the button blanket traditions of the peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast.

And then there was Sandy Wiseheart’s instructions for how to sew a messenger-style button bag, “Sacred Winged Messenger: A Pacific Northwest Coast First Nations-Style Button Bag to Make” (September/October 2013). Sandy traces her lineage to the First Nations peoples, which added a touching and personal element to the story of this beautiful sewing project.

And there’s also Margreet Van Der Kleij’s May/June 2012 article “My Mystery Bag” about the early-twentieth-century handsewn doll’s clothes that she inherited from a friend, and Akiyo Murono’s Sashiko Bag to Stitch that accompanied her history of sashiko, “Sashiko Practical and Beautiful” (March/April 2011), and so many more.

A perfect complement to PieceWork’s historical sewing articles and projects is our sister magazine Sew News, featuring fabulous projects, techniques, and tips from the experts in every issue. Celebrate sewing past to present with style!