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How to Make a 19th Century Purse

on October 24, 2011 – 3:21 am

An 1833 dress is accessorized with a simple reticule of figured silk bordered in Valenciennes lace and attached to a belt of rose-colored taffeta ribbon. During the early 1800s, women carried small bags or purses such as this, called reticules, to hold money and small personal items. Introduced in the late 18th century as a replacement for the pocket, reticules were customarily in the form of a pouch with a drawstring. These round, hexagonal or lozenge shaped purses became a canvas to highlight a lady’s needlework proficiencies — from a novice’s modest stitches to the elaborate embroidered, beaded, and painted embellishments of the skilled needleworker. This simple pouch-shaped purse was easily crafted; instructions for two similar reticules were provided in an early nineteenth century book and are highlighted below. Add your own trimmings or embroidery to make your own period accessory.

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DIMITY  RETICULE

Take a quarter of a yard of fine cambric-dimity (or any lightweight cotton, muslin or small-figured gingham) and split it in two. Cut the shape of a small rounded scallop or a point out of cardboard or thick paper. Laying this on the fabric, draw a row of points or scallops all round, taking care not to go too near the edge, and turning the corners handsomely. The drawing may be done with a lead pencil. Baste or tack the two sides of the bag together, and following the outline of the scallops, run them along with very neat short stitches; taking care always to stick the needle through both sides, as it is that which holds the purse together.

ALTERNATE EDGE DESIGNS

When you have completed running the scallops, cut them out with a pair of sharp scissors, but avoid cutting too close to the stitches. Then turn the bag right side out, and with the blunt end of a bodkin poke out the scallops into their proper shape. Get some ribbon tape and sew it all round the inside of the bag, about two inches from the top. This will form the case, into which you must run strings of white cotton cord.

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BRAIDED  RETICULE

Cut out two pieces of cambric muslin or fine cambric-dimity. Each piece must be a quarter of a yard wide. Create a pattern for braiding drawn with a pen on a slip of thick white paper. Braiding is a type of needlework that can be done very expeditiously and provided below are some of the easiest patterns.

EMBROIDERY PATTERNS

Baste the pattern under the muslin, not too close to the edge. Take a piece of narrow braid of any color you like, (but scarlet, black, or dark blue will be the most durable,) and having wound it in a ball, stitch it neatly with sewing-silk on the muslin; taking care not to draw it too tightly so as to pucker it, and be sure to follow the pattern exactly. Then sew together the two sides of the bag, make the case at the top, and run in a white cotton cord. A very pretty reticule can also be made of small-figured blue or pink gingham, ornamented with white cotton braid.