19th Century Hairstyles

Nothing quite finishes off an outfit like a great hairstyle.  And when it comes to historical outfits and reenactments, like it or not, the right hairstyle is vital.  Nothing, in my opinion, ruins a lovely historical gown then a scrunchie and a messy bun.  I have seen it.  It bothers me.  You definitely do not need to create some elaborate design, but a proper bun or braid just makes such a difference!

In my experience, the length of hair really isn’t all that important, as there are many tricks and pieces to use.  In fact, I have shoulder length hair and have no trouble creating a passable 1850’s look.  Even those with short hair can use extensions, winglets, appropriate caps or nets etc. to help maintain authenticity.  While I have limited experience with the unique Apollo knot styles of the 1830’s, the majority of the styles from the 19th century can be recreated with a bit of practice.

Several years ago, I created a few tutorials for hairstyles.  They are linked below:

1860’s Braided Hairstyle

1860’s Twist with a Bun

How to Make a Hair Rat – The Modern Way

Read More

Historical Winter Recipes

I love to bake…I even enjoy cooking dinners most nights of the week!  😉

However, when it comes to reenacting, I have had very limited experience, as I tend to focus and highlight sewing and fashion.  Over the summer, however, I was able to connect with the Foodways Historian at my local museum and just watch her in action.  While there is most definitely a method and way to cook over fire, it is also surprisingly simple.  Precaution must be taken when cooking near an open flame and when touching and handling the tools, but anyone who has a little knowledge of baking and cooking will see the similarities of modern and historical food preparation.

Today I have collected a few recipes perfect for cold, chilly days and the holiday season.   While these are unlike recipes we see today, I;m sure those of your who like a challenge and figuring out puzzles, will enjoy these 19th century recipes!

Scotch Short Cake Recipe: Leslie, Eliza. Miss Leslie’s Lady’s New Receipt book 3rd ed.

Philadelphia: A Hart. Late Carey &Hart. 1850


Read More

My Favorite Things

Today I want to share with you a few of my favorite things that help make my sewing and reenacting just a little bit easier.  For the most part, these items are simple in nature, inexpensive and relatively easy to find.  But don’t let their simplistic nature fool you, all these are immeasurable in their usefulness!  I have also done my best to link each item mentioned.  I hope you enjoy!

PART ONE – My Favorite Sewing Things

  1.  Moldable Ruler
  2. Mary Ellen’s Best Press
  3. Fiskars Thread Snip Scissors
  4. Fiskars Sharpener
  5. Thimble
  6. Dritz Small Iron
  7. Wrist Pincushion

PART TWO – My Favorite Reenacting Things

1. . Basket

2. Notebook

3.  Stockings

4. Fleece Leggings

5. Quilted Petticoat

6. Shawl – I used this pattern.

7. Handwarmers


As I mentioned above, none of these items are all that fancy.  But I have found them to be true workhorses and my go to items.  As you begin to build your own sewing and reenacting tool kits, take note of what works and doesn’t work.  And while we always want to be as accurate as possible, sometimes a little modern cheat can make a difference between freezing or enjoying your event!



Laundry Tips and Tricks

Laundry is just one of those things that will always exist.  Always has and always will.  It has really only been the past two hundred years or so that the method of doing laundry has changed.  With the invention of the mangle, washboard, and eventually, the washing machine, that act of laundering has become easier and easier.

For those of you interested in 19th century laundry practices and reenactments, you are in luck.  There are a few extra tools to make the job easier then the 18th century or earlier.  In today’s post I am going to share a simple set up I did at a local museum, a few primary sources for more specifics, and some ways to keep your historical wardrobe clean.

Over the past summer, I put together a small laundry demonstration for visitors on simple ways to do laundry in the 19th century.  I had a few buckets, some wooden dowels (agitators), soap, and some water I fetched from the pump quite a few yards away!  I even was able to have our bread oven baker heat up some water (which on a hot summer day was a blessing so I wouldn’t have to start the wood stove inside the house I work out of) to help dissolve the soap.  It was interesting to hear peoples reactions ranging from interest, disdain, and surprise that there wasn’t more to it.  And I think that last observation is a great one on two counts – first, laundry didn’t always mean harsh chemicals, boiling cauldrons of water, and yards of clothesline  –  second, putting together a quick display for my museum (and any reenactment or vent for that matter) doesn’t have to be some complicated affair.    Also, grass bleaching white cotton is the best way to take your muddy looking garments from bleh to almost brand new!  Warm sun and green grass, who knew!?!

A few images from a simple laundry demonstration I did early in 2021.  I used a goat’s milk blended lye soap (gentler on the hands) to clean white undergarments and then sun bleached them on the grass.  I also create a potato starch (recipe for this was taken from the Working Woman’s Guide) to starch the petticoats when dry…to middling success! 🙂

My knowledge on 19th century laundry practices is no way as in-depth as my knowledge on fashion and sewing.  However, I have compiled a few primary and secondary sources to help guide those of you who are thinking of dabbling in a bit of garment cleaning.

Sources and Information on 19th Century Laundry

Article on Technology and Laundry

The Work Woman’s Guide By A Lady, 1838  *

White Clothing and Victorian Laundry

Looking for some more modern tips and tricks to keep your historical wardrobe clean?  Read on!

  1.  My #1 rule when it comes to any historical garment is to never wash it in a modern washing machine.  It will reek havoc on your hand stitching, gathers, pleats, etc.  Especially as modern garments do not have serged edges, fraying can be a major concern.
  2. Hand wash or spot clean as needed.
  3. Line dry and lay flat your garments make sure to give them a gentle shake and slight shift during the drying time.  This will ensure they dry evenly and as wrinkle free as possible.
  4. Use a wrinkle release spray.  I use this on my petticoats and skirts, especially on the areas where I sit.  Then I just hang up to let gravity do its thing.  You can get a natural organic
  5. If you have silk which has had mud on it, do not wash.  Instead t let the mud dry and beat it off rug beater style.
  6. Use a mild soap when hand washing to avoid bleeding staining on delicate fabrics.
  7. Let the weather and location help dictate what you wear to avoid damages to delicate fabrics – also, choosing natural toned fabrics (brown, grey, etc) for outdoor events will also be helpful in disguising mud.

Looking to create your own Laundress?  Make sure and check out the Working Woman’s Gown Sewing Course in the Classes section of the Membership!

Happy Laundering!

Prepping Your Historical Wardrobe for Cooler Weather

I have several friends who do not look forward to the change in weather from summer to fall.  They dread it and often refuse to admit that there is even the slightest chance that summer is ending.  I am not one of those people.  Seasonal change has never bothered me, although I definitely wish February and March along as quickly as possible.  Perhaps people have always felt this way, or perhaps it is a luxury of modern life, but regardless of feeling, preparing for winter was a necessary and important part of life pre-furnaces and thermostats.

Living outside of Buffalo, NY, one is very used to experiencing all four seasons, snow, and a lot of wind.  So when I know that I will be attending an event between the months of October to May, I need to be prepared.  Perhaps you think that with so many layers to historical clothing, one will be warm enough.  And while there is some truth to that, the types of layers really make a difference.  Therefore in this post, we are going to look at various ways to stay warm and comfortable during those chillier months.  Disclaimer – not all of those options are 100% historically accurate.  But they work and if carefully concealed, will not be noticeable.

Here I am at an event on a chilly April day.  A thick cotton Sontag, finely woven linen/cotton blend fabric gown, AND a full set of cream long Johns underneath!

Read More

Folding and Storing Your Gowns

When I first began this blog almost 8 years ago, I created a post on how to properly fold a gown.  I referenced it numerous times over the years and decided the overall look needed updating.  So unlike the first post which was only pictures, this time I recorded it!

But first, why is it important to learn to properly fold and store a gown?  I know that I have many newbies make the critical mistake of hanging their one piece, 5 yard gowns on metal hangers.  Then a month or so later when they wish to wear the gown, they discover the damage the skinny hanger did to the shoulders and the strain put on their hand stitches.  Unless your gown is two pieces (where the bodice can but hung but the skirt folded) folding your gown really adds longevity and preserves the shape and design of the gown.

But what about in the 19th century?  Didn’t they have hangers?  Well, yes.  Hangers were around and would be used (for those who could afford closets and more then one garment) for pieces that were light enough such as men’s garments, children’s clothes, and bodices.  Otherwise, gowns were hung on hooks using long ties sewn to the waistband of the interior of the gown.  The gown would hang with the bodice laying over the skirt portion inside out.

Yet for seasonal gowns, or if you lack closet space, folding your gown really is the best option.  And this particular method, taken from a late 1830’s guide, creates a nice little bundle that can be safely stored for travel or long term without damage to the gown.  Once the gown has been folded, you can either wrap in plain white tissue paper or brown paper.  Avoid anything with a pattern or dye to avoid staining your gown.

Ready to learn how to fold your own gown?

I hope this tutorial has been helpful!  Remember, this technique can be used for both gowns and undergarments.

Happy Folding! 


Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell, 1788-1879. The workwoman’s guide: containing instructions to the inexperienced in cutting out and completing those articles of wearing           apparel, &c. which are usually made at home : also, explanations on upholstery, straw-plaiting, bonnet-making, knitting, &c. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University,     Mann Library. London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co. …, 1838

“What Do I Need to Start” Living History Checklist

Now that you have begun the process of getting connected with a living history group or museum ( you can read that post HERE) it is now time to begin working on what you are going to wear and need.  This really will range on what decade you are doing, whether it is event based or something more continuous, and the weather.  When I start to plan for a new ensemble for living history, I really like to use a checklist.  This way I can keep track of what I have, what I need, and what I need to buy or make.

I have taken my basic checklist and updated it  to include explanations to help guide you as you begin your planning.  The expanded  and detailed outline is below, but you can also download the PDF copy (link below the checklist) to make your own notes.  I highly recommend printing it out and writing all over it.  If you are making items, staple fabric samples on the pages so you can see everything in one place.

Living History Garment Checklist

Do I have the proper type and number of clothing?

Below is a list of just about anything you would need for an historical look.  Do you need to have everything listed?  NO!  But it is a great place to start and see what are your first priorities to purchase, make, or what you already may have.

Read More

Getting Started in Living History

So, you have been thinking for a while about getting involved in living history….maybe even connecting with a local museum or historical chapter.  I mean, you joined a living history membership to try and get connected..that is why you are here!  But you just aren’t sure where to go, what to say, and how to even find a museum or living history group that is interested.

Don’t worry.  We will get you on the right path!

So first off, lets go through the main similarities and differences between living history (a.k.a. Reenacting Groups) and museums.   Museums are (usually) stationary buildings that focus on either a wide or a narrow part of history.  They can feature information on local, state, and national history, or on a particular facet of history (i.e. transportation, women’s history, a specific individual etc.)  Many museums are  a simply display or exhibit only, while others may feature a “living”portion with dressed individuals portraying various parts of historical life.  These individuals may be volunteers (docents) or paid employees.  Living history groups, in comparison, tend to be independently operated and attend and/or create historical events.  Both strive to provide a true, historically authentic experience for both attendees and reenactors.  Both are great places to get involved based on the type of reenacting you are thinking of trying.  And both hope that you have done your research!

Read More