Historical Sew Fortnightly

Five for Friday: Inspirational Innovations.

I’ll be doing favourites posts every four challenges this year, which highlight the creations I feel best captured the spirit of the challenge, but I’m going to do a special post all about the Innovations challenge, because I loved what came out of that challenge so much.

Of every Challenge we’ve ever had in the HSF, this was my favourite by far.  I was so impressed and inspired by all the research.  I learned so much from reading all the blog posts about it, and seeing the way that people considered innovations.  It’s all very well to create pretty things fortnight after fortnight: this challenge let us show off the understanding behind all of the items.  I can’t thank all the participants enough for entering into the spirit of the challenge, for researching, considering, and bringing a multitude of fascinating innovations to light through their creations.  I’m really hoping that the research and investigation doesn’t stop with this challenge, but continues on throughout the HSF 2014!

Here are five of my favourite Challenge posts for the knowledge they shared, not just the charming challenge item they created.  As always, it was so hard to choose!  At one point I had thirteen tabs open in my browser window, for all the innovations I wanted to highlight.  You’ll see more of them when I blog about favourites for Challenges 1-4.

  1. Elizabeth of Sewing and Sightseeing considered both textile and societal innovations, and made a gorgeous 1820s-remodelled-in-the-1830s block printed dress based on clothes worn by mill girls.  She discusses roller printing, and the much bigger innovation of women living alone outside the family home, and working and earning their own livelihood.  Wonderful!
  2. On Living History made a beautiful Marseilles cloth petticoat, and wrote about the development of the cloth (with lots of lovely links). A gorgeous petticoat, wonderful research, and good reminder to me that my Matellase/ Marseilles cloth terminology post has been sitting there half finished for over a year!
  3. A Modern Needle Through Time wrote a fabulous blog post on Ellen Louise Curtis and the development of paper sewing patterns.  Sadly, she didn’t get to use that particular innovation it in her finished Challenge item, but the story is a joy in and of itself.
  4. Caroline of Dressed in time looked into the history of riding habits, and made a late 19th/early 20th century riding apron.  I found it particularly fascinating because I’ve catalogued turn-of-the-century riding habits for museums, and have always been slightly mystified by the aprons.  Not anymore!
  5. Sewing machines were one of the most popular innovations, with many people making 1860s machine sewn items.  Parva Sed Apta  wrote a beautiful history of the sewing machine,   and  took it a step further and considered how sewing machines would change sewing and crafts, beyond just ‘this item has a machine sewn seam’.  Instead of a garment she made a box to hold sewing machine notions from 19th century instructions.  Beautiful!

I hope these all inspired you as much as they inspired me!  There are more through the comments on the challenge page, and through the photos in the facebook album.

To finish off, here is an illustration of calico printing in 1805: you can see how labour intensive it would be, setting that individual block over and over again, and how roller printing would revolutionise fabric production.

Calico Printer, 1805, New York Public Library

Calico Printer, 1805, New York Public Library


  1. Great creations, and a great list!

    I’ve been kind of a wimp on the last two challenges, partly because of a new job and partly because of the weather! We’ve had 3 major snow storms in less than 2 weeks (they were named Maximus, Nika, and Pax, respectively) and I’m losing time from work as well as life because each has been bad enough in its way to shut the region’s transportation down. Last week, we lost power for 3 1/2 days because Nika put so much ice on the trees and power lines. I’m so tired of it.

    I probably will be late on my sprang piece but I may try to get to it this weekend anyway; we’ll see!

    • Catherine! I feel your pain. Living here in Massachusetts, winter is the gift that keeps on giving. We’re in the midst of Pax now; another foot of snow in my front yard and a grill on the patio in the back that I won’t see until May at this rate! And if we’re not winter-weary enough, they’re talking about another storm for this weekend. Sheesh!

      I’m hoping to get my stays complete for the next challenge!

    • I totally understand! Life gets in the way of planning. I can’t even imagine that kind of weather, and how disruptive it must be simply accomplishing everyday things. I’m currently dealing with a huge unexpected project/complication myself, and so my ‘Pink’ and ‘Under it All’ items are going to be a little simpler than I’d hoped, but you carry on and do what you can.

      And who knew that snowstorms had names! Not me.

      Here is hoping that this is the last gasp of winter, and you get more clement weather from here on out.

    • I doubt it – printing like that was a very skilled trade, not something they had child labourers do. I suspect we’re just dealing with an artist who was better at conveying a scene than getting anatomy right!

  2. I really didn’t know you linked to my project, I only saw this post when following your link in your favourites-post.
    Thank you very much!
    Love the illustration of the calico-Printer. Switzerland has a long tradition of printed cotton-fabrics, because so many of the huguenots working in this industry that fled France in the 17th ct. settled in Switzerland. My former university runs a research project on “Indiennes” as these fabrics were called here. There haven’t been any publications yet, but I still hope they will find out lots of interesting facts.

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