In A Memory of Muskets, the 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery, I had one of my Civil War-era characters, Rosina, make a housewife. In period parlance, housewives (or “hussies” as they were sometimes called) were little sewing kits. Women often made them as parting gifts for husbands, sons, or sweethearts who were leaving for war.
My dear friend Lynn has been studying antique housewives for years, and agreed to share photos of some of her favorites. The jpg files she sent were labeled “Gifts From The Heart.” I can’t think of any better title to convey the care and concern women stitched into these housewives.
Lynn wrote, “I love them all and often imagine the story in each one.” I’m grateful to her for sharing, and I hope they help you imagine the stories as well.
Each housewife is unique. Lynn notes that the housewives were often the width they were because that is the exact size of bonnet ribbon ties, which were often used to line the housewives, along with fabric scraps.
Some women embroidered her soldier’s initials or regiment on the housewife. The stitching on this one identifies the owner as a member of the 1st regiment, company F. (State unknown).
I love the fabrics used in this one—different, but clearly chosen to complement each other.
This one was designed to be rolled up instead of folded.
The strings on the first example below would tie the housewife closed. Pockets might hold a thimble, thread, a bar of soap, or some patent medicine. Flaps were added to store pins and needles. Some women tucked in a lock of their hair or a small image or note.
Lynn has also found newspaper clippings inside housewives. A clipping in one of the housewives in her collection was folded into a star shape.
Each of these is a treasure. Each represents both the woman who made it, and the man who received it. In this holiday season, they are a reminder that gifts from the heart, however simple, are always the best.