Jennie Megquier — Sewing in San Francisco

Jennie Megquier’s letters from Gold Rush San Francisco record a few interesting notes about clothing. In November 1849 she wrote:

I have starched twenty shirts this evening. I tell you this to give you an idea of the amount of work I have to do. Uncle has given me a whole piece of calico, one of de laine, one balererine. I shall make it all into broad aprons as I cannot get time to make a dress and when they get dirty throw them away that is the order of the day in this rich country.

Calico is a plain weave cotton fabric, and delaine was a lightweight wool fabric with a print. What balererine is I have no idea. It isn’t in any online fabric dictionary, like this one or this. Delaine is the sort of fabric that Jennie would have ordinarily used to make a nice dress, not aprons.

Uncle had some washing done for which they charged six dollars a dozen, they looked so bad, he gave them two dollars to keep them.

Which sounds like a joke, but that’s what Jennie wrote.

A fashion plate from Godey's Lady's Book 1853.

A fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Book 1853.

Later she had more time to sew, and in 1853 wrote:

I was in at Mrs. Calkins today, all well, she and Mrs. Davis are making dresses all the while, I presume they have twenty five in a year, a silk dress lasts but two months at the best. I know not why but everything goes to destruction in a very short time here. . . . I have been making me a brown silk, and next week I am going to make a black one, today I have been making a pink thibet sack trimmed with velvet ribbon but I am sure I do not know when I will wear it.

Thibet was another fine woolen cloth used for making dresses. By a “sack” she probably meant a free-hanging dress with a loose waist.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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