What exactly is a reenactment? This is an event where people recreate a specific historical event often at a location that is relevant to the original event, such as a fort or battlefield. Living history tends to recreate the lifestyle and conditions for an era, such as Civil War, or a culture, like Scandinavian.
How does this differ from the tour guides you find at some museums? The tour guide imparts specific information, like a history book. The items on display are usually off limits so the visitor can’t get a real feel for how the people lived. A person who gets involved with a reenactment or living history group often "becomes" a character that might have existed in that era. There can be a lot of research involved in developing a period-correct character and gathering all the accoutrements necessary to portray the person.
Many people get hooked on reenacting and it becomes a time- (and money!) consuming habit. However, if it weren’t for those folks, then there wouldn’t be the festivals, events, and museums/farms to keep the traditions alive. Think back in your life. Have you ever attended a Renaissance Faire or a shootout at an Old West town? Even theme parks have been built around this idea such as Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.
Other events focus on a particular heritage. Last weekend Nordic Needle participated in the 32nd Annual Scandinavian Festival. As you might have guessed there is a large population of descendants in the Upper Midwest. Our booth focused on Hardanger Embroidery which is credited to the Hardanger region of Norway. The festival goes on for three days where you can eat traditional foods like lutefisk, rommegrot, meatballs in brown gravy, and an array of pastries. Lectures, musicians, dancers, artisans, and displays keep the visitor occupied. Many of the participants dress in regional costumes. Jess is one of our shippers. Her in-laws are Finnish and her mother-in-law made Jess’ girls costumes for the opening Parade of Nations.
One of the hardest parts of reenacting is to find period correct clothing and house wares. Some groups are very strict on the items you have in camp. For example, in the Civil War reenacting world a "farby" is something that is not period correct, for example a dress made with polyester fabric which wasn’t invented yet. On the other end of the spectrum is a "threadcounter" which is a person who takes reenacting to the extreme trying to match even the exact thread count and buttonhole shape typical of the time.
Two of us here at Nordic Needle have been bitten by the re-enactment "bug".
My husband and I were involved in the cowboy era when we adopted our two children. David demonstrated blacksmith techniques while I managed the "home" consisting of a canvas wall tent and wood cooking fire, showing a needle art. The kids had lived with us for only two weeks when we took them to their first event. They thought they had gotten the worst set of parents ever when they found out they could not have their electronic gadgets in camp and were expected to wear appropriate clothing. However, they soon loved to go, especially enjoying the music and fancy dances. David went the next step and worked a year as the blacksmith at the Agricultural Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs and a guest blacksmith at the Shepherd of the Hills Farm in Branson.
One of our readers, Nancy K., wrote "My family and I started volunteering at a living history museum in our hometown… the longest continual 1812 reenactment in Canada. I received my B.A. in History and ended up at Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto, Ontario. Ten years later I am still there. I have specialized my embroidery to the mid-Victorian era, the village represents. At the village, I cook on the open hearth and bake oven, churn butter, design and stitch the quilting projects for demonstration and later sale, and embroider. Sometimes I also herd sheep. I also stitch historical reproductions for sale in the gift shop. I have been able to go from ‘it will do’ to the actual source and a project made from the given instructions."
Our store supervisor, Sue K. and her husband are also very involved in living history events. Darrell is a blacksmith also and demonstrates at several locations like Ft. Abercrombie and Ft. Mandan. They specialize in the mountain man era doing several events a year. Later this month they will be at a mountain man rendezvous encampment during the North Dakota State Fair, where Darrell is the blacksmith. Sue helps one of the traders sell his wares during the fair. Here is Sue and her friend Nick, in front of his trader’s tent.
A rendezvous was held once a year for trappers to sell their furs and stock up at the trader’s tents with necessities for the coming year. This era covered approximately 1800 to 1840. Merchants have been very important to the growth of a nation. During the Civil War era (roughly 1857-1865), sutlers provided goods for soldiers. Click here for an excellent website about Civil War sutlers. However, in the towns and cities the Dry Goods Store or Mercantile was the main supplier of food, hardware, and cloth goods. Nordic Needle is a modern day Mercantile and many of the items we sell today are directly linked to the past. Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
TOOLS & SEWING SUPPLIES
Sewing tools were created by artisans with the materials they had available including wood, shell, bone, and metals. We are fortunate to be able to carry a wide variety of tools suitable for your workbasket whether you are stitching in the 15th, 18th or 21st century.
Choose from laying tools, thimble cases, tape measures, needle minders, seam rippers, and threaders. These beautiful wooden tools are individually created by hand in Canada from exotic wood.
The Soldier’s Friend (380-913-0011) is a reproduction of a Civil War tool given to soldiers as they headed to war.
The English lady had beautiful pewter tools that often hung from a chatelaine. Feel like a Queen with a pewter chatelaine with scissors (305-700-1425) or an Elizabethan Laying Tool (380-371-1717). A sewing Compendium (380-700-1850) was needed if you went visiting to sew with your friends. This tower style has a thimble as part of the cap and an internal piece to wrap your threads around. Your needle goes into the glass bottle.
Awls were an important tool as they punched holes in materials so they could be laced together. Some doubled as needles or laying tools. They are still made from a wide variety of materials including wood (6735), bone (6745), and metal (380-371-1719).
Maison Sajou was founded by Jacques – Simon Sajou in the 1830’s to sell embroidery, bobbin lace, crochet and weaving supplies in France. The company eventually closed. However, Frédérique Crestin-Billet developed a fascination with the pattern books and sewing notions. She turned her passion into a business, re-opening SAJOU.
We have several SAJOU products including a brand new sewing set (355-079-0001). This set has a lift- out tray that contains a pair of scissors, thimble, straight pins, seam ripper, tape measure, and six rolls of thread. Underneath are three thread cards and a package of needles. Sajou also manufactures specialty scissors including the Eiffel Tower Scissors (305-079-0001). Thread cards (364-079-0001) and thimbles (380-079-0001) are also authentic reproductions.
Shells like Mother of Pearl were fashioned into various shapes to hold sewing supplies. Thread winders (364-475-0012) were very popular. Thread rings (364-475-0001) were the ancestors of our needle organizers. Shells were also a popular material for tatting shuttles (7285).
STITCHING BASKETS, ACCESSORIES & BEYOND
I often take for granted the ability to go to the store and buy a package of needles for less than $5. It’s not unusual for me to have a pair of scissors with each project. However, my ancestors were not as blessed. Needles and other sewing accessories were critical to the successful management of their household. It was important to keep track of the supplies and to keep them in good shape because it was expensive to replace them. Also, they might not be able to go to the local Mercantile for several months.
A needlework station was one way to keep everything together. This pewter station (6520) has a pincushion, scissors in a holder, and a thimble on a stand.
We are pleased to provide you several kits to create reproduction sewing kits. The designer has a collection of vintage needlework accessories which gives her the inspiration for these designs. Thistle Stitcher’s Purse (K2014), Antebellum Sewing Kit (K2015), and a Scissors Pouch (K2016).
Samplers were created for many reasons. There were beginning samplers to teach young girls the stitches they needed to know to perform their basic household duties. Especially in the early years, there weren’t published patterns so stitchers created copies of patterns and stitches on their sampler cloth. During the Victorian era, stitched designs contained moral mottos, scriptures and motifs.
Samplers have a lot of symbolism. This 96-page hardcover book (105-001-4601) looks at the meanings behind old sampler motifs and includes four traditional-style samplers with complete graphs.
Students from the Ackworth School in England created many samplers that have survived the ages. Reproductions are popular among stitchers. The Ackworth Friendship Book (105-362-9915) is reminiscent of when Victorian women created books for their friends to write notes, leave drawings, or add tokens.
This is a very unusual antique purse; the pulled thread border on the purse could have been worked in the late 1700’s. Possibly it was an unfinished school girl sampler, which was recycled sometime in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s as a purse (1824A). See also the 19th century book bag (1825A).
A great resource is the Sampler and Antique Needlework Quarterly Magazine. These magazines contain historical patterns, information on notions and relevant news.
Just imagine….the things that are being designed and stitched today may some day be part of newsletter about antiques and the people who stitched them!!!
If you want to try a new hobby where you can use your stitching skills, check out reenactment. Here are several excellent websites for US reenacting. For those who live outside the US, there are probably groups in your region also.
- Reeancting in general
- Civil War
- Living History Museum directory – includes museums around the world
- Living History
- Renaissance and medieval
- Pre-16th Century needlework
We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”