We southern ladies have had our resources taxed once again by the blockade which has caused a dearth of materials for even the most modest and necessary articles of clothing. Yet we have risen to the challenge and arrayed ourselves quite ingeniously in homespun with a beauty both rare and proud. Our sisters in Alabama pass on some secrets of their successes in keeping cloth upon their backs, which I will provide here for your use and interest.
Setting aside the issue of fabric for the moment, let us address the acquisition of buttons for our dresses. Recent news of a revival in wooden button machines has reached my ears, and I hear that, while formerly used only for the clothing of servants, when varnished with copal (when you can obtain it) these wooden buttons make a very pretty presentation.
If you cut a button shape from a dried gourd, in a square, oval or circle, and cover it with some scrap of contrasting fabric, say a bright red merino (wool), the effect is very pretty down the waist. Persimmon seeds also make a very attractive button.
Scraps of fabric may be layered to sufficient thickness, cut out in the size and shape you wish, and buttonhole stitching applied around the edges, very closely and with thick thread. These buttons, made of sturdy homespun, will withstand a washing. Additionally, if you have pasteboard, it may be cut into the button shape and the cloth wrapped around that.
If you have no pasteboard, there is no great difficulty in making your own. One of our sisters in Alabama gives this receipt for pasteboard: old papers are spread on a table, and a paste made from flour or bolted meal is spread over it. A layer of cloth is laid on, another coating of paste, alternating layers until it is the required thickness. Go over the whole with a hot iron to smooth it until it is glossy and completely dry. This pasteboard will be useful for all your needs.
Obtaining thread has been another challenge, as the homespun stuff is not adequate for the sewing machines. They sit idly by collecting dust while we ply our needles as our grandmothers did! I have learned that the extra warp left on the loom after weaving can be unraveled and used as a strong thread. The pieces will be less than a yard in length, but if knotted together and wound, you will have enough thread between the knots for most of your sewing.
The difficulties of producing cloth require more space than allotted here, but I will delve into those challenges in the next edition. Some interesting ways of obtaining glues and coffee or tea substitutes will be forthcoming as well. Meanwhile, happy stitching!
Submitted to the Monitor by Melodie Nichols, Mrs. H. Hewes
Information for this article was received from “A Blockaded Family; Life in Southern Alabama during the Civil War” by Parthenia Antoinette Hague. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1888.