Book review: Civil War Ladies

I’ve been reading a lot about antique/vintage crochet lately, so I’m going to review one of the books I’ve been using as reference. The book is Civil War Ladies: Fashions and Needle-Arts of the Early 1860’s, and it’s a collection of articles from Peterson’s Magazine, coming mostly from 1861 and 1864. I got it from a friend of my grandfather’s, who was also very fond of older patterns and craft history. 

Overall, my general impression is definitely good; it’s very clear that the patterns are not reproductions, they’re original. This does mean the patterns are hard to understand sometimes, and they occasionally look odd to my modern eyes, but I can follow most of them. 

The subject matter is mixed. Peterson’s published patterns for all sorts of fancy work, alongside poetry, songs, and fiction (mostly cut out from this book). There’s embroidery, patterns for sewing, knitting, crochet, netting, the occasional tatting project, and some that are unclear or useable for multiple crafts (early examples of filet charts included, useful for netting and cross-stitch as well!). In terms of what the patterns are making, the end results are mostly things that would be useable during the 1860s: table runners, bags, muffs, mittens, hats, doilies, and some patterns for clothing as well. 

The patterns themselves vary in quality, and in depth of instruction. For instance, a few offer only a picture, and say that the pattern is easy enough to figure from the pictures. These are mostly crochet edgings, though, and the patterns are actually not that bad to figure out most of the time, so it’s not a downside. Many have written instructions, some have pictures, but very few have crochet charts (not filet charts but actual crochet charts), so if that’s your thing you may want to look elsewhere. 

I was disappointed with the materials list in many cases. I’m familiar with older patterns that call either for discontinued threads or say “something not too large” or other vague descriptors, but I was disappointed that not even the amount of thread needed was listed, and sometimes there was no description other than “blue thread” or “purse twist”. Sometimes nothing was listed at all! At the time of writing, many people would have had an idea of what was needed from what the patterns gave, but I wish that modern reprints would provide a guide for converting threads to modern equivalents — not to a specific brand, but more where they say an older category and then provide a qualitative idea of what that looks like. I want to know: is purse twist thin or thick? Is it tightly spun and plied or looser? What’s the general feel of the thread?

Even though I didn’t always understand, though, I thought this was a good book with an excellent selection of representative patterns. 


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