Gifts From The Heart

In A Memory of Musketsthe 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.

Look at the detail in this one.

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).

By the end of the war, many of the housewives were well worn.

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.

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12 Responses to “Gifts From The Heart”

  1. Lois Scorgie Says:

    Kathleen, my sister in law, Jean Scorgie, was editor and I think creator of the magazine PIECEWORK. She will be delighted to read this. Thank you for every interesting idea you thoroughly and correctly research for your books.

  2. janekirkpatrick Says:

    Lovely collection. And I so enjoyed this book!

  3. Nancy Smith Says:

    What a fascinating article about the housewives made for the soldiers by their wives, girlfriends or other loved ones. Thank you for sharing this historical information you find about the books you write. It amazes me all the research that goes in to your books.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Thanks, Nancy. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book and the post! I love the research, actually. I never know what I’m going to find, and I enjoy having the opportunity to showcase these special objects and stories.

  4. Ann V. Klotz Says:

    I loved reading this post and learning more about these gifts of love.

  5. Liz Says:

    I love this collection. I have sadly fallen behind on reading your books. (I moved, books in storage, taking care of elderly parents, etc. I do have one in my TBR pile)

    I collect hand knitted stockings from this era, I believe I only have one pair of men’s socks as most of the women’s stockings are wedding socks, not the everyday stockings that were worn.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Welcome back! I certainly understand how life can overwhelm the TBR pile. If you ever want to share a photo of your men’s socks, let me know! I don’t know a great deal about knitting of that era.

  6. Sheila Connolly Says:

    How lovely! I must keep an eye out for these in the dark corners of antique stores.

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