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, but if it weren’t for those folks, then there wouldn’t be the festivals, events, and museums/farms to keep the traditions alive. 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. Nordic Needle has often participated in the Annual Scandinavian Festival. As you might have guessed there is a large population of Scandinavian descendants in the Upper Midwest. The Nordic Needle booth focuses 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. This photo shows girls in Finnish 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.
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."
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. 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 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 or an Elizabethan Laying Tool. A sewing Compendium was needed if you went visiting to sew with your friends. Some came in a glass bottle style that has a thimble as part of the cap, an internal piece to wrap your threads around, and your needles would be stored inside 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, bone, and metal.
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. 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. Sajou also manufactures specialty scissors.
Shells like Mother of Pearl were fashioned into various shapes to hold sewing supplies. Thread winders were very popular. Thread rings were the ancestors of our needle organizers. Shells were also a popular material for tatting shuttles.
Stitching Baskets, Accessories, & Beyond
We may take for granted the ability to go to the store and buy a package of needles for less than $5, and if some of us are extra lucky, we might even have a pair of scissors with each project, but many of our 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 station features a magnet for your needles, and places to hold your thread balls, scissors, and thimbles.
Sometimes the stitcher had needle books or scissors cases.
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.
Students from the Ackworth School in England created many samplers that have survived the ages. Reproductions are popular among stitchers. Many book style samplers are reminiscent of when Victorian women created books for their friends to write notes, leave drawings, or add tokens.
A great resource was the Sampler and Antique Needlework Quarterly Magazine (now discontinued). These magazines contain historical patterns, information on notions and relevant news.
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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