Anna Allen photo essay “A Stitch in Time”

The Amana Colonies are known to Iowans hither and yon as a mecca of cheese, wine, wool, barns and buggies. Certainly everyone knows that in the Amanas, there is an old church or two. What they might not know is that in one of these churches there lives a girl–a girl who sews; a girl who blogs and cooks. A girl with the power to take us back in time.

Anna Allen ( is a seamstress and designer whose fashions are reminiscent of days gone by–way by. Her artful pieces range from 1930s-inspired frocks with a modern twist to Civil War-era gowns every bit worthy of Scarlett O’Hara. Allen, an Iowa native, has been in the old-timey garment business since 2003. After a stint at a bridal shop in Cedar Rapids, she now sells her fashions online from her studio in an old church in South Amana and makes dresses for Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, as well as for living history sites in New York and for individual clients.

A lifelong history lover, Allen has been sewing since the age of three and became enchanted with 1860s fashions during a visit to Usher’s Ferry at the age of 13. A bit more than a decade later, she has stitched a name for herself in living history and Civil War reenactment circles. Drawing inspiration from nature, the Toast catalogue, and music by The Tallest Man on Earth, Jack White, and various 1930s artists, Allen bases her 1860s-era creations on vintage patterns by JoAnn Peterson’s Sacramento-based Laughing Moon Mercantile. She drafts the patterns for her modern designs herself. “It’s not the kind of stuff you get at Target,” she says.