Sewing kits had special
purpose for Civil War soldiers
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 4:17 AM
Have time for a short history lesson? Ever hear of a hussif or "housewife" that are carried by soldiers? Wonder how that tradition originated?
Kerri Teske from the Minnesota Historical Society gives instructions to the participants on how to construct their own personal hussifs.
The Harmony Public Library hosted a special event to educate those who may have never heard of a hussif. On Saturday, Nov. 16, Kerri Teske from the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul presented a workshop on the history of this sewing kit to a group of nine people.
What was it like for men going to battle during the Civil War? They received only one uniform a year and carried 40 pounds on their backs.
Much is different today than it was 150 years ago. Today men and women both go to war, wear bulletproof armor, receive more than one uniform and carry almost 90 pounds of equipment.
One item today's soldiers carry finds its roots all the way back to the Civil War. That item is the hussif, which is a "housewife" or sewing kit.
Teske stated, "Back in the Civil War, one was not able to send a ripped uniform home for his mother, wife or sister to repair it. Traveling took months to even return home from a battlefield. No one could afford such luxury."
So what compensated for the lack of another uniform? The hussif. Women of the community at that time usually worked in the house. Sewing machines were not invented until the mid-1800s, so most sewed by hand and had their own special stitches.
When war broke out, these women pooled their resources and abilities together and made the sewing kits for the soldiers. The sewing kit contained sewing provisions and needles for the men to patch their uniforms since they had no change of clothes.
Teske provided the opportunity to make one of these essential items that seemed to be a particular lifeline for the fighting man. The kit consisted of oil cloth on the outside to prevent water from soaking the contents. The lining often was either fabric from an old garment or silk.
For the kits made at the event, the lining and pocket were made from cotton scraps. Another scrap of cloth was sewn into the middle of the kit to hold pins and needles. In the Civil War, this scrap could be used to patch a ripped uniform. The kit was held together with the blanket stitch around the edges, rolled up and tied off with a ribbon.
Teske shared that the soldiers often used the kit for more than simply housing sewing supplies. They sometimes put special keepsakes such as a portrait of family members or loved ones into these kits.
The hussif had one more special use for Civil War men. Dog tags were not standard issue until over 50 years after the Civil War. Thus, the best possibility of identifying a body could be found in the keepsakes tucked away in the kit, Teske also explained.
Because the hussif was so important to the men, the soldiers kept the kit in their pockets rather than in their packs, which could easily be lost on the battlefield.
The event held in Harmony on Saturday provided an enjoyable and educational time for those who attended the session, both young and old.