Thursday, January 1, 2015

Stitched by Hand

One morning, after milking and hauling water to the goats, Tasha and I lingered near the hearth, enjoying the fire’s warmth and a last cup of tea. For some reason, our conversation wandered onto the topic of women’s day caps and bonnets. Tasha recounted a tale of how one day while wearing an 1850’s bonnet and walking in New York City, women kept exclaiming over her stunning bonnet. The ladies complimented Tasha on having the courage to place such a creation on her heads and stroll through the city. Scampering off, Tasha returned with the admired bonnet, a small black style trimmed with a few silk flowers and tied with a wide black ribbon.
“We need to bring bonnets back into style,” Tasha said. “And day caps are also so feminine and practical.”
The year before my visit, Sturbridge Village had released, The Workwoman’s Guide, a collection of household and sewing information first published in 1838. Tasha found her copy, and we flipped to the day cap patterns, scanning the various styles. Because Tasha had provided me with one of her old dresses to use as a pattern, I usually wore her 1830’s style of clothing. I had also sewn a simple day cap, yet admired the frillier variations that Tasha sometimes donned.
“Would you like to sew a new cap while you’re visiting?” Tasha asked. “I could help you cut the pattern and have the perfect fabric for this style.” She pointed to the first cap in the guide. “The front of that one would look even better with a double ruffle.”
While I needed to dissect a dress in order to have a template, Tasha possessed the ability to simply look at a frock and cut a pattern that matched the original. Or she knew how to tweak the design to make her creation even lovelier. So Tasha sliced a paper bag, smoothed it out and drew me a pattern similar to the one in the book.
“Now to find some fabric,” Tasha said. From a trunk, she extracted several yards of the most delicate white lawn I had ever fingered. “I bought this years ago in Switzerland. You would have loved the shop; there were over three floors of any sort of fabric you could wish for. Wouldn’t it be fun to visit it together?” Tasha searched a sewing basket and presented to me a small wooden spool of extremely fine Styles Wax’t Thread. “Did you bring a thimble?” she asked.
Because I hadn’t, Tasha lent me one of hers. After cutting out the cap, she taught me how to roll a tiny hem on the edge of the ruffles with my left fingers while taking minute stitches with my needle. In fact, she told me to hem both sides of the ruffle and then on one side, draw the threads to gather it. Over the next few days, I sewed while Tasha drew and guided the cap’s progress. Tasha also displayed more of her caps, bonnets and pelerines so that I could marvel over the tiny stitches and embroidery. I wondered how nineteenth century women could produce such fine sewing without the benefit of electric lights.
Near the end of my visit, I finished the cap, and when my family returned for Tasha’s summer solstice party, I wore the ruffled creation along with an 1830’s gown sewn from calico that Tasha had given me, “because that looks like Joan fabric”. After that party, I donned both dress and cap for other special events. Now whenever my hands touch the delicate lawn, I can hear Tasha’s parrots chatting, inhale the scent of an blushing camellia, and most of all, relive the joy of sewing together beside her hearth on a winter afternoon.


  1. What a lovely memory! Although machine sewing skills are strong in my family( mother, grandmothers, aunts,etc) no one was comfortable with fine hand sewing skills and it's something I'm trying to master.

  2. The cap is stunning! And in your story I can hear Tasha's voice as she speaks. Thank you so much for this moment in time where Tasha was and still is.

  3. Thank you both! The above photo of Tasha was taken at Conner Prairie at a party given by Beth Mathers. Tasha sewed that stunning bonnet, and I am wearing a dress from her basic pattern.

  4. OH HOW FUN!!!
    Joan here is another lovey memory and I so enjoy these kind of times!
    I have been fortunate to get together with some ladies that were eager to share their skills.
    I am so thankful to read your reminiscences of these cherished times with a dear friend and mentor!
    Happy New Year Joan to you and your Family!
    May you have JOY and many BLESSINGS Warmly, Linnie

  5. Thank you Linnie and getting to know others who loved Tasha has been a blessing. Have a wonderful New Year! I am roasting one of homegrown chickens in the wood cookstove and the house smells marvelous.

  6. What a wonderful opportunity to be able to sew with Tasha by her hearth! Thank you for sharing this delightful memory. Happy New Year!

  7. Oh, BTW I just love the expression on Tasha's face in the picture. So cute! Is that you with her?

  8. Such a lovely, quiet memory. I appreciate you sharing these special moments with us! And how wonderful to have made that cap under her watchful eye. You have such a wonderful way of telling the story too, you're a talented writer!

  9. Such a lovely and very comforting story. Thank you so much for sharing, may God bless you.

  10. Joan,
    I just loved reading this, read it twice! Thank you so much for sharing this memory. I find the best days are spent at times with someone we admire or a kindred spirit that shares a common love or talent. You were so fortunate to have that time with Tasha stitching away in her home. Ummm...can I make a cap with you now, pretty please;-)
    Take Peace,