Books > The American Woman's Home (1869) > XXVIII. Sewing, Cutting, and Mending

The American Woman's Home

XXVIII. Sewing, Cutting, and Mending.

Every young girl should be taught to do the following kinds of stitch with propriety: Over-stitch, hemming, running, felling, stitching, back-stitch and run, buttonhole-stitch, chain-stitch, whipping, darning, gathering, and cross-stitch.

In doing over-stitch, the edges should always be first fitted, either with pins or basting, to prevent puckering. In turning wide hems, a paper measure should be used, to make them even. Tucks, also, should be regulated by a paper measure. A fell should be turned, before the edges are put together, and the seam should be over-sewed before felling. All biased or goring seams should be felled, for stitching, draw a thread, and take up two or three threads at a stitch.

In cutting buttonholes, it is best to have a pair of scissors, made for the purpose, which cut very neatly. For broadcloth, a chisel and board are better. The best stitch is made by putting in the needle, and then turning the thread round it near the eye. This is better than to draw the needle through, and then take up a loop. A stay thread should first be put across each side of the buttonhole, and also a bar at each end before working it. In working the buttonhole, keep the stay thread as far from the edge as possible. A small bar should be worked at each end.

Whipping is done better by sewing over, and not under. The roll should be as fine as possible, the stitches short, the thread strong, and in sewing, every gather should be taken up.

The rule for gathering in shirts is, to draw a thread, and then take up two threads and skip four. In darning, after the perpendicular threads are run, the crossing threads should interlace exactly, taking one thread and leaving one, like woven threads. It is better to run a fine thread around a hole and draw it together, and then darn across it.

The neatest sewers always fit and baste their work before sewing; and they say they always save time in the end by so doing, as they never have to pick out work on account of mistakes.

It is wise to sew closely and tightly all new garments which will never be altered in shape; but some are more nice than wise, in sewing frocks and old garments in the same style. However, this is the least common extreme. It is much more frequently the case that articles which ought to be strongly and neatly made are sewed so that a nice sewer would rather pick out the threads and sew over again than to be annoyed with the sight of grinning stitches, and vexed with constant rips.

If the thread kinks in sewing, break it off and begin at the other end. In using spool-cotton, thread the needle with the end which comes off first, and not the end where you break it off. This often prevents kinks.


It is very important to neatness, comfort, and success in sewing, that a lady's work-basket should be properly fitted up. The following articles are needful to the mistress of a family: a large basket to hold work; having in it fastened a smaller basket or box, containing a needle-book in which are needles of every size, both blunts and sharps, with a larger number of those sizes most used; also small and large darning-needles, for woolen, cotton, and silk; two tape needles, large and small; nice scissors for fine work, button-hole scissors; an emery bag; two balls of white and yellow wax; and two thimbles, in case one should be mislaid. When a person is troubled with damp fingers, a lump of soft chalk in a paper is useful to rub on the ends of the fingers.

Besides this box, keep in the basket common scissors; small shears; a bag containing tapes of all colors and sizes, done up in rolls; bags, one containing spools of white and another of colored cotton thread, and another for silks wound on spools or papers; a box or bag for nice buttons, and another for more common ones; a hag containing silk braid, welting cords, and galloon binding. Small rolls of pieces of white and brown linen and cotton are also often needed. A brick pin-cushion is a great convenience in sewing, and better than screw cushions. It is made by covering half a brick with cloth, putting a cushion on the top, and covering it tastefully. It is very useful to hold pins and needles while sewing, and to fasten long seams when basting and sewing.

To make a Frock.

The best way for a novice is to get a dress fitted (not sewed) at the best mantua-maker's. Then take out a sleeve, rip it to pieces, and cut out a paper pattern. Then take out half of the waist, (it must have a seam in front,) and cut out a pattern of the back and fore-body, both lining and outer part. In cutting the patterns, iron the pieces smooth, let the paper be stiff, and with a pin; prick holes in the paper, to show the gore in front and the depths of the seams. With a pen and ink, draw lines from each pin-hole to preserve this mark. Then baste the parts together again, in doing which the unbasted half will serve as a pattern. When this is done, a lady of common ingenuity can cut and fit a dress by these patterns. If the waist of a dress be too tight, the seam under the arm must be let out; and in cutting a dress an allowance should be made for letting it out if needful, at this seam.

The linings for the waists of dresses should be stiffened with cotton or linen. In cutting bias-pieces for trimming, they will not set well unless they are exact. In cutting them use a long rule, and a lead pencil or piece of chalk. Welting-cords should be covered with bias-pieces; and it saves time, in many cases, to baste on the welting-cord at the same time that you cover it. The best way, to put on hooks and eyes is to sew thorn on double broad tape, and sew this on the frock lining. They can be moved easily, and do not show where they are sewed on.

In putting on linings of skirts at the bottom, be careful to have it a very little fuller than the dress, or it will shrink and look badly. All thin silks look much better with lining, and last much longer, as do aprons also. In putting a lining to a dress, baste it on each separate breadth, and sew it at the seams, and it looks much better than to have it fastened only at the bottom. Hake notches in selvedge, to prevent it from drawing up the breadth. Dresses which are to be washed should not be lined.

Figured silks do not generally wear well if the figure be large and satin-like. Black and plain-colored silks can be tested by procuring samples, and making creases in them; fold the creases in a bunch, and rub them against a rough surface of moreen or carpeting. Those which are poor will soon wear off at the creases.

Plaids look becoming for tall women, as they shorten the appearance of the figure. Stripes look becoming on a large person, as they reduce the apparent size. Pale, persons should not wear blue or green, and brunettes should not wear light delicate colors, except shades of buff, fawn, or straw color. Pearl white is not good for any complexion. Dead white and black look becoming on almost all persons. It is best to try colors by candle-light for evening dresses, as some colors which look very handsome in the daylight are very homely when seen by candle-light. Never be in haste to be first in a fashion, and never go to the extremes.

Linen and Cotton.

In buying linen, seek for that which has a round close thread and is perfectly white; for if it be not white at first, it will never afterward become so. Much that is called linen at the shops is half cotton, and does not wear so well as cotton alone. Cheap linens are usually of this kind. It is difficult to discover which are all linen; but the best way is to find a lot presumed to be good, take a sample, wash it, and ravel it. If this be good, the rest of the same lot will probably be so. If you can not do this, draw a thread each way, and if both appear equally strong it is probably all linen. Linen and cotton must be put in clean water, and boiled, to get out the starch, and then ironed.

A "long piece" of linen, a yard wide, will, with care and calculation, make eight shirts. In cutting it, take a shirt of the right size as a guide in fitting and basting. Bosom-pieces and false collars must be cut and fitted by patterns which suit the person for whom, the articles are designed. Gentlemen's night-shirts are made like other shirts, except that they are longer, and do not have bosoms and cuffs for starching.

In cutting chemises, if the cotton or linen is a yard wide, cut off small half-gores at the top of the breadths and set them on the bottom. Use a long rule and a pencil in cutting gores. In cutting cotton winch is quite wide, a seam can be saved by cutting out two at once, in this manner: cut off three breadths, and with a long rule and a pencil, mark and cut off the gores; thus from one breadth cut off two gores the whole length, each gore one fourth of the breadth at the bottom, and tapering off to a point at the top. The other two breadths are to have a gore cut off from each, which is one fourth wide at the top and two fourths at bottom. Arrange these pieces right and they will make two chemises, one having four seams and the other three. This is a much easier way of cutting than sewing the three breadths together in bag fashion, as is often done. The biased or goring seams must always be felled. The sleeves and neck can be cut according to the taste of the wearer, by another, chemise for a pattern. There should be a lining around the armholes and stays at all corners. Six yards of yard width will make two chemises.

Long night-gowns are best cut a little goring. It requires five yards for a long night-gown, and two and a half for a short one. Linen night caps wear longer than cotton ones, and do not like them turn yellow. They should be ruffled with linen, as cotton borders will not last so long as the cap. A double-quilted wrapper is a great comfort, in case of sickness. It may be made of two old dresses. It should not be cut full, but rather like a gentleman's study-gown, having no gathers or plaits, but large enough to slip off and on with ease. A double-gown of calico is also very useful. Most articles of dress, for grown persons or children, require patterns.

Old silk dresses quilted for skirts are very serviceable, White flannel is soiled so easily and shrinks so much in washing that it is a good plan to color it. Cotton flannel is also good for common skirts. In making up flannel, back-stitch and run the seams and then cross-stitch them open. Nice flannel for infants can be ornamented with very little expense of time, by turning up the hem on the right side and making a little vine at the edge with saddler's silk The stitch of the vine is a modification of button-hole stitch.


Silk dresses will last much longer, by ripping out the sleeves when thin, and changing the arms and also the breadths of the skirt. Tumbled black silk, which is old and rusty, should be dipped in water, then be drained for a few minutes, without squeezing or pressing, and then ironed. Coffee or cold tea is better than water. Sheets when worn thin in the middle should be ripped, and the other edges sewed together. Window-curtains last much longer if lined, as the sun fades and rots them.

Broadcloth should be cut with reference to the way the nap runs. When pantaloons are thin, it is best to newly seat them, cutting the piece inserted in a curve, as corners are difficult to fit. Hose can be cut down when the feet are worn. Take an old stocking and cut it up for a pattern. Make the heel short. In sewing, turn each edge and run it down, and then sew over the edges. This is better than to stitch and then cross-stitch. "Run" thin places in stockings, and it will save darning a hole. If shoes are worn through on the sides, in the upper-leather, slip pieces of broadcloth under, and sew them around the holes.


The best beds are thick hair mattresses, which for persons in health are good for winter as well as summer use. Mattresses may also be made of husks, dried and drawn into shreds; also of alternate layers of cotton and moss. The most profitable sheeting is the Russian, which will last three times as long as any other. It is never perfectly white. Unbleached cotton is good for winter. It is poor economy to make narrow and short sheets, as children and domestics will always slip them off, and soil the bed-tick and bolster. They should be three yards long, and two and a half wide, so that they can be tucked in all around. All bed- linen should be marked and numbered, so that a bed can always be made properly, and all missing articles be known.