doing things the victorian way

Tag Archives: living history

Handmade buttonholes are time consuming, I’ll admit, but I always find them much more secure than those made my machine. Before I begin the tutorial I should note that it’s best to stitch buttonholes through at least two layers of fabric or a layer of fabric and interfacing. This ensures that the buttonhole will remain strong and resist stretching. As to the type of thread to use, in this tutorial I use a double layer of 3owt. cotton but almost anything will do, including embroidery floss and even crochet thread. So, let’s get started.

First, determine the length you would like your buttonhole to be by measuring the button you plan on using. Buttonhole size should be determined by adding the diameter plus the thickness of the button. I prefer a tighter buttonhole as they tend to stretch eventually but if you’d like a little wiggle room, add two millimeters to overall measurement. Mark fabric.


Next, using a simple backstitch, stitch along the outline of your marking.


Stitch two rows of backstitches. This will help secure the fabric once it has been cut and as you work the buttonhole stitch.


Next, carefully pierce the fabric through which the button will eventually pass. You can use an awl or simply a small, sharp pair of scissors. Pierce near the corner where you wish to start working the buttonhole stitch.


Enlarge the hole just slightly with a pair of scissors. I prefer to cut as I stitch as opposed to cutting the whole buttonhole all at once. I find this works better as it eliminates fraying and slipping of the backstitches. Bring needle and thread up through the fabric on the outside of the backstitches near a corner to begin buttonhole stitch.


Begin the buttonhole stitch by passing the needle and thread through the buttonhole opening. Do not pull taut. Instead, bring up the needle directly left of where the thread originally emerges. Take that thread and bring behind the needle, wrapping it around the front of the needle and hold taut as you pull the needle through.



Continue stitching around, carefully clipping the fabric as you go.


To finish off, bring needle and thread through the fabric to the back directly next to last stitch made. Run needle and thread through a series of stitches along the back and simple trim.


And now you’ve got a buttonhole!



I just finished embroidering my 18th century pocket and, since I’m waiting for the wool for my next project to arrive, I thought I’d be indulgent & embroider myself a nice handkerchief to use during our humid summers. I had ordered a couple of yards of white voile in December to use for chemises but there wasn’t enough length. After much debate, I decided it would be perfect and cut into it before I could change my mind.

This interim project  presented me with a good opportunity to post another hand-stitching tutorial. Rolled hems are great for projects like handkerchiefs because they create a narrow hem with little bulk and a delicate appearance. They do feel a little tricky at first but as you work you’ll quickly get the hang of it, I promise.

To start, fold the edge of your fabric over desired amount (in my case, a little over a millimeter) and pinch between your fingers.


With your needle, pick up one to two strands of thread from the fabric right before the edge that’s been folded over.


Then insert the needle through two to three strands of thread from the fabric on the fold.


And just pull your needle and thread through and repeat!

I hope that makes sense. I’m crap at explaining instructions verbally since I’m a visual learner and so I tried to take photos that were fairly clear. Also, our gas company has been laying new pipe and jack-hammering three feet from my bedroom window for a week, so I’m running on pretty minimal sleep. If I’m not explaining this well, drop me a comment, I’ll take a nap & try to explain it better when cognition has returned.

I really don’t understand America’s obsession with daily hair washing.  I blame it on ad campaigns and ignorance mostly but it makes me a bit angry. It irks me in particular when people assume that, pre-WWI, everyone walked around with greasy, smelly hair (and also that everyone smelled in general, but that’s a different post). Our society is so much healthier now, isn’t it?

Let me dish out some science here – the scalp and body only produce as much oil as it needs to be healthy. The reason modern folks “need” to wash their hair everyday is because they wash their hair everyday. Your scalp is just trying to fight back. The more you strip the oil, the more oil your body produces in order to compensate. I only wash my hair once a month, and even then without any soap, and it looks perfectly fine. In fact, it’s incredibly healthy, shiny, and soft because I’m not damaging it on a daily basis. It also grows like a fiend. I know it sounds gross by modern standards but I’ve even had several beauticians ask me what my secret is. Seriously, stop spending so much money on hair care products and just stop washing it so often. You can thank me later.*

All right, lecture over. On to Victorian Hair Care!

rosemarySoap was incredibly harsh back in olden times and the average person didn’t have the luxury of running water. That meant hauling and heating water to bathe and, as someone who does that, I can attest that it’s a big pain in the ass. So, at the very least by necessity, washing hair didn’t happen often. Instead, there were many remedies and solutions to keep hair looking healthy and I’ve listed just a few of the healthier treatments below.

  • To Strength Hair and Improve Growth – A handful of box (buxus sempervirens) leaves added to a pint of boiling water. Infuse until cold, drain liquid and add to it several drops of alcohol to preserve. If box leaves are unavailable, add instead one ounce black tea.
  • For Dandruff – Beat thoroughly one egg yolk, one pint of rain-water, and one ounce of rosemary spirit. Use warm and massage into scalp repeatedly.
  • To Wash – Boil one pint of water with a handful of bran and a dash of white soap, and wash with this solution once every two weeks. Next, rub a beaten egg yolk into scalp and let it remain for several minutes before rinsing with warm water.
  • To Maintain Healthy Hair – Brush 100 strokes twice a day, being sure to maintain a clean hair brush by washing it in warm water and bicarbonate of soda.
  • In Between Washes  – Add five sprigs of fresh rosemary to a pot of boiling water. Infuse until cold, drain liquid and add several drops of alcohol to preserve. Rinse hair weekly with mixture, being sure to massage scalp.
  • To Prevent Hair Loss – Steep six ounces of boxwood shavings in twelve ounces of alcohol, at room temperature, for two weeks. Strain and add two ounces of rosemary spirits and two ounces of spirit of nutmeg. Rub into scalp morning and night.
  • To Soften Hair – Beat four egg whites until frothy and apply to the roots of hair, leaving to dry. Wash clean with equal parts rum and rose water.
  • For Growth-Inducing Pomade – Boil half a pound of green southern wood, a pint and a half of sweet oil, and half a pint of port wine. Strain and add two ounces of bear’s grease.

I haven’t tried all of these nor, perhaps, should anyone but I can attest to using both egg and rosemary. Rosemary has natural astringent properties and, in between washes, I regularly use it on my scalp to keep oil at bay and promote growth. I also wash my brush every other day and brush my hair often, as the action helps redistribute the oils throughout the hair – a natural conditioner.

* Note: It’s really hard to wean yourself off of daily washing, I know. If you’d like to give it a try, I suggest lengthening the time between washing as opposed to going cold turkey. When going cold turkey, your scalp doesn’t realize you’ve stopped abusing it and, thus, it still produces the same amount of oil. Try, instead, to wash every other day for a week, every three days for the next week, every four days, et cetera. Your scalp will rapidly adjust and you won’t have to worry about going to school or work looking like a 50’s greaser.


prepped to add the boning

Well, after much struggle, I’m ready to add the boning to my first corset. Given that I drafted the pattern myself and didn’t make a muslin before hand, it’s turned out damned decent. I did have to rip a bunch of seams and redraft them but all mistakes are an opportunity to learn, I suppose.

Now, to just keep everything from shifting horribly while I sew the channels. Each channel will be hand-sewn as will the binding so who knows when it will be finished. I was hoping by Monday, to have it done in time for the third deadline of Historical Sew Fortnightly, but that’s likely a pipe dream. So long as I eventually finish it, I’ll be happy.