Sunday, July 24, 2011

Civil War Housewives

Reproduction Housewife by Donna Di Natale

Donna's housewife buttoned up.
See the pattern for this sewing kit in Confederates in the Cornfield by Edie McGinnis.

"I suppose you all know what a housewife is? It is a long piece of cloth with a number of small pockets sewed along one side, and made to fold up like a pocket-book, having separate places for buttons, thread, needles, pins, &c., such as some of you may have seen your mothers or grandmothers use."
The Reformed Presbyterian magazine. Sept. 1, 1864.
Reproduction housewife by Susan of the Homespun Quilts blog
Click here for more pictures

These reproductions were made with scraps from my Civil War Reunion collection for Moda---a great use for charm squares.

Vintage Roll-up or Housewife: Oilcloth or leather on the outside
Some, like this vintage example, were made in red and blue wools

Moth-eaten wool and silk from the Kansas Memory website
See more at Kansas Memory

"Each soldier will carry one greatcoat, one blanket, one forage cap, one woolen shirt, one pair of drawers, one pair stockings, one towel, two handkerchiefs, one line and one coarse comb, one sewing kit, one piece of soap, one toothbrush..."
General Orders 1862. General Orders, Headquarters. Dist. Of Southern California, No. 3. J Los Angeles, February 11, 1862.

A South Carolina soldier's sewing kit

"...a housewife which Helaine's uncle had carried all through the Civil War. The outside was made of oilcloth, and this was lined with silk. The pockets were also of silk, and bits of black flannel formed leaves for the needles. The edge was bound with narrow black silk, and it all rolled up into a compact case, which was fastened with a rubber band."  New York Observer, Sept. 29, 1898
The roll up with pockets was a traditional form used for centuries.
My favorites are the scrappy versions

Fastenings included buttons, ties and elastic bands.

Roll-up from about 1830
It's important to realize that housewives or sewing roll-ups were used by women for centuries, so not all roll-ups were for soldiers. The kits were known as housewives, husswifs, etc. 
Silk roll-up with seam covering embroidery from about 1880.

Contemporary soldier's sewing kit
Soldiers still go off to war with sewing kits.

Links to more information about reproduction and antique sewing kits. Scroll down the pages to see some great examples. 

Donna Finegan Antiques has two kits for sale. http://www.donnafineganantiques.com/shoesandaccessories.html


  1. Barbara, that was fascinating, thank you for sharing! I have to say, even though I'm impressed with the 'completeness' of the modern military sewing kit, the Civil War era kits are much nicer to look at! :)

  2. Oh boy. more inspiration! I have some scraps of civil war fabric, a heat wave and some iced tea. time to get busy with a fun project for today.

  3. Thank you for sharing this info with us. I have a sewing kit/housewife from my grandfather that he carried during WW One. It's made of leather on the outside and an undetermined fabric on the inside. He later carried it out on the Ranch when herding cattle.

  4. What a lovely way to use those scraps of fabric. I'll be making one of those.

  5. I have military sewing kits from WWII, one Navy and one Army. I think what is most interesting about these kits is that the items they contained really haven't changed. Warfare has changed drastically, but whether a housewife from the 1800s or a sewing kit from 2011, they all hold buttons, thread and needles. Our basic needs do not change.

  6. I have always intended to make one of these and have just never done it, you have inspired me to get with it and make one.

  7. Thank you, you've made my day!

  8. That is really interesting. We have a dentist tool kit in a "housewife" and I never really understood it before.

  9. I want to make myself one of these - to take out sewing when I'm on the go! I will use up a couple of trial spools blocks I made in the process - it would be appropriate!