This section is from the "The Ladies' Work-Table Book: Domestic Needlework in Nineteenth-Century America" book, by Margaret Vincent. Also available from Amazon: The Ladies' Work Table: Domestic Needlework in Nineteenth-Century America.
The subject of this chapter is one to which it is hardly possible to pay too much attention; since, on the judicious selection of materials, depends, to a vast extent, the success of that prudent and well-regulated economy, which is so essential to the welfare and prosperity of every family. On the account, we have thought it right to place before our readers the following observations, which should be carefully attended to, as of the utmost importance. In purchasing goods, be careful to examine the quality; and, if not experienced in such matters, take with you an experienced friend. Cheap goods generally prove the dearest in the end. The following rules may assist you in this respect, if under the necessity of relying upon your own judgment. Be careful, in purchasing articles, such as linen, calico, etc, for a specific purpose, to have it the proper width. A great deal of waste may be incurred, by inattention to this important direction.
Calico is often so dressed up, as to make it extremely difficult to ascertain its real quality: hence, it is best to buy it undressed. It should be soft, and free from specks. It is of various widths, and of almost all prices. A good article, at a medium price, will be found cheapest in the end.
Linen is of various qualities. That which is called Suffolk hemp is considered the best. Irish linen is also in great repute. But you must be careful to escape imposition; as there are plenty of imitations, which are good for nothing.
Muslin Checks are much used for caps, etc., and are of various qualities. You may form a good judgment of these, by observing the thin places between the checks and the threads; if the former be good, and the latter even, they may generally be relied on.
These may be procured either of cotton or linen ; but the linen ones, though highest in price, are cheapest in the end: they will wear double the length of time that the cotton ones will.
Give a good price, if you wish to secure a good article. Some colors, as red pink, lilac, bright brown, buff, and blue, wear well; green, violet, and some other colors are very liable to fade. The best way is to procure a patch, and wash half of it This will test the color, and may prevent much disappointment.
The Welsh flannels are generally preferred, as those that are the most durable. Lancashire flannels are cheapest, but are far inferior in quality. You may know the one from the other by the color: the flannels of Lancashire are of a yellowish hue; those of Wales are a kind of bluish gray tint
These vary exceedingly, as to quality. The low-priced ones are not worth half the purchase money. Good woollen cloth is smooth, and has a good nap. If the sample shown you, be destitute of these qualities, have nothing to do with it, unless you want to be cheated.
The quality of these is sometimes very difficult to delect. Holding them up to the light is a good plan. You should also be particular as to the dyeing, as that is sometimes very indifferently managed, and the stuff is dashed. Black dye is liable to injure the material. Low-priced stuffs are rarely good for anything.
This is often damaged in the dying. You should spread it over a white surface before you purchase it, as by that means, the blemishes in the material, if any, will be more likely to appear.
These are, if good, costly; and great care should be exercised in selecting them. They should not be too stiff, as in that case they are liable to crack; and on the other hand, they should not be too thin, as that kind is liable to tear almost as soon as paper. A medium thickness and stiffness is the best. If plain, you must be careful that there are no stains or specks in them; and if figured, it is advisable to have the pattern equally good on both sides, This will enhance the price at first, but you will find it to be good economy afterward. In silks that are to be sold heap, a kind of camel's hair is frequently introduced. This may be detected by pulling a piece of the suspected silk cross ways, and if camel's hair be mixed with it, it will spring with a kind of whirring sound. This should be attended to.
It is of various qualities and prices. The best is soft and thick. When used for trimmings, it should be cut the cross way, as it then looks better, and has a much richer appearance than when put on straight.
These general observations will be of great use, and should be well impressed upon the memory, so as readily to be called into exercise when needed.
In making up linen, thread is much preferable to cotton. Sewing-silk should be folded up neatly in wash leather, and colored threads and cotton in paper, as the air and light are likely to injure them. Buttons, hooks and eyes, and all metal implements, when not in use, should be kept folded up; as exposure to the air not only tarnishes them, but is likely to injure them in a variety of ways.