Looking to transform into an 18th century pirate? Or maybe a widow from the Civil War? From movie sets to local reenactment productions, Heidi Mosier’s work makes history come alive. A seamstress of historical costumes, Heidi Mosier has sewn thousands of outfits. Customers, particularly reenactors, eagerly join a waiting list for her authentic period clothing.
“It’s quite an undertaking, and they’re really into it and they want it right,” Mosier says.
A native of Appen, Germany, Mosier moved to the United States with her husband, Quentin, when she was 22. Necessity is the mother of invention, and she disliked all the clothing selections at local stores.
“The only way to have nice clothes was to make them myself,” Mosier says. “I taught myself how to do it. I got into this by making it [clothes] for myself and family.”
Mosier was nothing if not resourceful. In the 1970s, she made her husband’s leisure suits. She also learned to make jeans for her two sons, one of whom was very label conscious and refused to wear his mother’s handmade clothing. She outsmarted him by cutting designer labels from clothes she bought at thrift stores and sewing them onto his jeans. He never figured it out, she says, or at least he never cared.
In fact, Mosier finds many unique accessories and tools of her trade at thrift stores, including crinolines and tulle from bridal gowns and ballroom dancing costumes.
Mosier started making historical costumes in 1976 and quickly learned that reenactment clothing works well on full figured people. The structured elements of the clothing, such as rigid bodices, lift the breasts and shoulders to create an illusion of a more slender waist.
“Women want a shape. It shaves about 20 pounds off of you,” Mosier says.
A whiz with a pair of scissors and some thread, she can even make lace and cloth from scratch. But Mosier’s specialty is period Spanish costumes.
She perfected these skills during her nearly two decades of work as a museum artisan at the Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum in St. Augustine. There, she made and repaired period authentic outfits for woodworkers, blacksmiths, wine barrel makers, spinners and weavers, as well as other miscellaneous items.
The state eliminated her position four months before her 20th anniversary, an action she says nearly broke her heart. But it didn’t take long for word of her reputation to spread.
“I got my first call from Castillo de San Marcos asking if I could make their uniforms,” Mosier says. “I said sure. It’s been steady from then on.”
She has worked from home for many years now and gets more than enough orders to keep her busy.
“I always have a waiting list,” Mosier says. “I’ve turned down a lot of people now.”
She built her reputation for quality through a love of history, years of researching in her costume book collection and an eye for detail and style, says Anthea Manny, a reenactor who placed her first order with Mosier in 1983.
“As a dedicated living historian, it’s really important to me that my clothing is accurately reproduced,” Manny says. “Heidi is a fine tailor, but her best asset is her artistry.”
That’s what helped Mosier design a client’s 16th century leather jerkin, a close-fitting jacket which has open slash work. Mosier designed the pattern, cut the leather and sewed the piece.
“Then as if by magic, using her sharpest scissors, she set to work cutting the slashes as if she was a painter adding a few brush strokes on an almost finished canvas,” Manny says. “The jerkin was truly exceptional. I examined each side and realized that, by free hand, she had expertly matched both sides.”
The vertical slash, or cut, on the outer surface of jackets, sleeves and breeches was high fashion for upper class individuals in the medieval period. Sometimes taken to extravagant levels, the seamstress would pull through and puff out the contrasting linings underneath to emphasize colors, fabrics and materials. The costume was Mosier’s favorite piece.
Mosier also designed a costume for Chaz Mena, a New York City actor and a devotee of St. Augustine’s founder, Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Mena, who played Judge Marc Montaldo on NBC’s Law & Order, brought Mosier a key lime pie in 2010, when he arrived to try on the Menendez costume she made for him. The captivating costume has a red dagger medallion on the breast of its doublet, and black and silver puffed breeches. Mena wore it to the Noche de Gala birthday celebration at The Lightner Museum.
Some of Mosier’s costumes will also appear in an upcoming PBS documentary series, “America: Revised,” about the Siege of St. Augustine in 1702. Her latest project was making the costumes for three bodyguards who escorted the Spanish royals during their visit for the 450th celebration of St. Augustine.
It generally takes a day to make a costume, Mosier says, but that can stretch into days or weeks depending on the material and complexity of the construction. Prices can range from a $100 tunic to $1,000 for the most extravagant costume. Mosier says many people don’t realize it is the right shoes and hat which truly make the costume authentic.
“Oh, it is a lot of fun,” she says. “I have seen so many people say, when it’s all done, ‘ohh I look so pretty.’ I love that. I really love that.”