Sunday, 6 October 2019

Focus on - The Culture of Sewing

I'm into the final stretch, so it's all getting a bit frantic. I haven't taken up smoking, but apart from that, this is a fairly good representation!


This week's book is the most academic of the titles I've looked at. The Culture of Sewing is an edited collection of writings on the history of home dressmaking in Britain and the United States. I'm not including an image of the book, as the cover is a black and white version of a photograph which may not be to everyone's taste - there is a link to the original image here.

I've referred to this book before, when I wrote about Bestway patterns. There are 37 chapters in total, covering a wide range of topics. These include among other things: Janet Arnold writing about the 1808 instruction manual The Lady's Economical Assistant; Joy Spanabel Emery on the history of the paper pattern; a case study of one family's pattern collection held in York museum; personal recollections of home dressmaking; the development of the domestic sewing machine; and Britain's Make Do and Mend campaign.

One chapter which was nothing at all to do with my dissertation, but I found fascinating (and I did manage to squeeze in a reference to it) is about the wives of U.S. Army officers in the second half of the nineteenth century. These women accompanied their husbands to remote postings, far from shops or dressmakers. They were unable to keep up with fashion and nor were they expected to, but they were expected to maintain standards of dress suitable for an officer's wife. Also very entertaining is the account of Singer's post-war advertising campaign for their Teen-Age Sewing Course, which is by turns funny and depressing. The basic gist seemed to be 'Never mind anything as boring as learning a useful skill, make a frock and Get A Boy'!

Like all academic books this one is not cheap, although Berg's publications are better than many in that regard. If you are able to get hold of a copy though, it is well worth a read. Barbara Burman, who edited The Culture of Sewing, has recently co-authored The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women's Lives, 1660-1900 with Ariane Fennetaux, which is (yet) another item on my (long) reading list. I'm not going to be at a loose end when I finally finish, that's for sure.


  1. One of the more interesting articles I read was a Georgian woman writing in the 1880s about the american civil war. How because the south was blockaded and the mail and rail was blocked, women were making up outlandish and freakish outfits for the novelty, to have something to do that wasnt war, and the excuse to go see your neighbor. But that fashion was important and its not like anyone knew better! And as soon as the war was over and the fabrics and fashion magazines came in, they all swiftly switched and never really spoke of the craziness they had come up with under war situations. Its such a bizarre mind set too, because most women these days arent being left home to run plantations when their countries go to war!

    But keep on keeping on! Home stretch!

    1. Thank you Tegan! That sounds like a fascinating article.