Full Chisel Blog

July 12, 2009

Living in Nineteenth Century Clothing

Filed under: Hide Glue,Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,The Trade,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 12:19 pm

Certainly is a challenge.  In the first place the clothing is a bit different, broad and narrow fall trousers held up with braces, long sleeve shirts, a neckerchief and a hat.  I usually wear a vest or sleeveless jacket as well and a duster or slicker (rain coat) in foul weather.  In the winter the material goes from cotton and linen to linen and wool.  I have a great coat of wool as well as a morning coat of serge, a combination of silk and wool.  My hats are made of straw, linen and felt.

stocking boards

My stockings are made of cotton, wool, linsey woolsey (linen and wool) and silk.  Worn in particular order they can provide protection in bitter cold as well as sweltering heat.  The pair above are linsey woolsey and require that they, as well as my wool stockings, be dried on stocking boards.

Washing, drying, mending and wearing them also requires certain considerations.  I don’t use detergent but use soap, to which I add borax, washing soda and baking soda.  When they are rinsed, I will add starch and / or bluing to the rinse and let them soak.  I don’t starch my stockings or drawers.  After they are washed I hang them out to dry.  Using a heated mechanical clothes dryer is not good for the natural textiles.

If I get linseed oil or walnut oil on my clothing, I wash it immediately before the oil polymerizes and dries, after that it doesn’t wash out.  Hide Glue of course easily washes out of clothing, shop aprons, extra sleeves and glue clean up rags.

Some of the historic clothing I buy has a tag that says DRY CLEAN ONLY.  I immediately remove the tag and wash the piece of clothing.  There is however an interesting dry cleaning technique that works well for textiles that probably shouldn’t be washed, like my wool Civil War period hand sewn great coat.  So I use a technique used by museums to clean textiles, corn meal and corn starch.

I place the item in a container that can be closed, add either corn meal or corn starch, close the container then agitate it to insure it gets covered in the corn.  Corn meal for coarse textiles and corn starch for finer weaved textiles.  The corn absorbs the grease and oil and dirt and is easily removed by shaking vigorously.

I also use an architect’s dry erase pad and an art gum erasure to remove surface soil.  Blood is best rinsed out immediately, just after you wipe the blood off the sharp tools, so they don’t rust.

Starching (adding corn starch to the rinse) makes the clothes crisper and more resistant to dirt from daily wear.  After the wash and starch rinse, I hang up the garment and make sure everything is hanging properly and let it air dry.  As it is drying I can form nice curves to my collars and crisp lines to my cuffs.

I have heard of a technique of mixing wax and starch to treat collars and cuffs, I must do more research.

The clothing is remarkably comfortable to wear, my linen shirts are cool in the summer and warm in the winter as are my linen trousers.  Linen from flax gets harder with age and is a very durable fabric.  In the nineteenth century linen was the common material and cotton was considered a much finer material and more expensive.  The reverse is true today.  Wool is warm even when it is wet and wool naturally doesn’t catch on fire.  My trousers have the traditional ample seat that never binds up.  And there is some adjustment built into the back for an expanding waist line.

The shoes are another subject.



  1. Stephen,

    Interesting article. Thanks for writing.


    Comment by Luke Townsley — July 12, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

  2. speaking of flax, did you ever get the flax and hemp cord samples?

    Comment by t. tutt — July 13, 2009 @ 10:04 am

  3. Luke,

    You are welcome,


    I have not received the samples are you sure you sent them to the right address?


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — July 14, 2009 @ 5:26 am

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