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The Humble Housewife

By Brad Ireland, 4th Virginia, Co. A

The personal sewing kit, affectionately called a “Housewife”, was an indispensable tool carried by Civil War soldiers both North and South. Soldiers were issued clothing in limited quantities. They couldn’t pop out to their local Wal-Mart to buy a new pair of pants every time they wore hole in them. The soldiers had to learn how to mend their own clothing. The Housewife is also an important part of the reenactor’s kit as rips occur in the field, and buttons always seem to pop off just as we are gearing up to go into battle or on a march.

A typical housewife contained needles, pins, thread, scissors, extra buttons, and sometimes patches of extra fabric for mending holes in cloths. Housewives were made in all sorts of materials from wool to cotton to velvet, and even metal. They came in many different shapes and varieties, though the most common seems to be the rolled up rectangle. Some were extremely fancy and others were very plain. On the following pages of this essay, you will see documented original housewives. Use these as an example of what to look for when you decide to purchase one or make your own.

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