Historical Sew Fortnightly

The HSF/M ’15 Challenge #8: Heirlooms & Heritage

As sewers and historians we’re part of a long heritage of women and men who sewed and created to clothe and costume their world.  We carry on traditions of techniques that have been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and which helped to sustain whole communities and civilisations.

We’re the products of all those years of knowledge, and experimentation, and we use it to recreate and understand the past as best as we can.  We’re also the products of our own heritage – the history and traditions of all the people who gave birth to children who gave birth to children who gave birth to us.

For Challenge #8 of the Historical Sew Monthly: Heirlooms & Heritage we’re honouring history and the future by celebrating our own personal heritage, or creating something that will be a heirloom for the next generation of sewers and makers as we:

re-create a garment one of your ancestors wore or would have worn, or use an heirloom sewing supply  to create a new heirloom to pass down to the next generations.

For some of us our ancestry is important: perhaps you grew up with the traditions of your culture, or have, or have always wanted to, research and understand them more.

For others, ancestry is just the DNA that happened to go together to make you, and what matters is what you put into the future: the heritage you create on your own.

The challenge is for both groups of people: honour the history of your family, or create some history of your own.


Personally, I’m a little bit of both groups.  I’m close to my family, and thanks to aunts on both sides who have done some amazing genealogy work, I know quite a bit about my family history.

On one side I can trace my ancestors past the first one to arrive in the US (before the Mayflower no less!), back to England, and across generations and generations of minor nobility, and then back across the English Channel with William the Conquerer to France, and back through the French nobility, all the way to Charlemagne, and back through him as far as his line can be followed.

I don’t feel ‘proud’ of these ancestors particularly, but it does amaze me to think that you can start with me and name my mother, and her mother, and her mother, and her father, and so on and so forth (mostly fathers.  I’m afraid the records get a bit fuzzy on female names for a 400 year stretch in the Middle Ages) back for over 1,000 years.

I’m a bit of the other group because I do believe that what is important is not where I came from, but what I make of myself.  The history  I create is what really counts.

Whichever path you decide to take for this challenge: family history, new heirloom, or creating a heirloom using a piece of family history, I think the important thing is to make it count.  To create an item that really is worthy of the future, and that is the best possible representation of what you know and can do.  Something that you can be completely proud to have created, and that hopefully your descendants can also admire and cherish.

To finish up, my favourite family photo.  I’d hoped to recreate this for the challenge, but my sewing schedule  won’t allow it, so it will have to wait for another opportunity.,

This is my great-something grandmother in the 1860s.

My Great-Something Grandmother


I’ve always loved this photo because she looks quite a bit like me.  We’ve got the same slightly-too-prominent chin and nose (the chin is a very distinctive family trait), the same rounded oval of a face, and slightly too-full lips that droop at the corners when our face is still.  Even the small bust and wide ribcage are there – and the asymmetrical shoulders!  The similarities start to  get a bit creepy if you look too closely…


  1. I definitely can’t trace the family history that far back. But I’ve recently attended a big family meeting from the side of the family I wanted to pursue for this challenge, and kind of became reassured in my feeling that it plays into who I am, so that made me very excited about this challenge again. 🙂

  2. I immediately noticed the resemblance and thought she must be an ancestor! It’s uncanny!!

  3. I’m so excited because I’ve finally come up with an idea for this challenge. Ironically, this is the challenge I was least excited about when the challenges came out but now it’s the one that’s going to get me out of my costuming rut. I don’t know a lot about my family genealogy but I do have a bunch of photos of my great-grandma (who’s my historical doppleganger) and her aunts from the 1920s so I’m going to make a 1920s dress. I’ve never done 20s before so this should be fun!

  4. Well it sounds like we must be cousins! I am a fellow descendant of William I…although I think there are about 800,000 of us. It is fun to think about what our ancestors did, and who they were.

    • Ah, sorry, that wasn’t clear. I’m not (as far as I know – it’s highly probable, but I haven’t traced every possible line, because there are thousands of them) a descendant of William I – just someone who came over with him. And apparently over half of Europe is a descendant of Charlemagne, so I’ve got lots of relatives 😉

  5. Wow, you definitely can see a very good resemblance! That’s amazing isn’t it!

  6. She really does look like you. Not as smiley, but I guess it was hard to hold a smile for the length of time it took to expose a photo back then.

    Genetic resemblances can often be very strong. I recently found a photo of my great-times-several grandfather from the 1870s, and he looks exactly like my dad. His son Jurgen looks exactly like my uncle Steve. I’m not entirely certain if we’re descended from Jurgen, but the circumstantial evidence is quite compelling. I’m impressed that you’re able to trace your family back so far. I haven’t had a lot of luck with mum’s side, and with dad’s side I lose track in the 17th century.

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