Women’s Work is Never Done

July 8, 2010 at 11:56 pm (a day in the life, books, fashion) (, , , , , , , , )


“Women’s work,” in 19th century parlance, meant their needlework. And thanks to Craig in Australia (who gave me access to some vital library material), I have come across a most fascinating article on this subject — Amy Boyce Osaki’s 1988 article in Winterthur Portfolio (vol. 23, no. 4, winter) entitled “A ‘truly feminine employment’: Sewing and the early nineteenth century Woman.”

Osaki’s study is on the du Pont women of Winterthur (Delaware), but what she says holds equally well for those, like Emma, Mary and their sisters, living in England about the same time as the du Ponts. In fact, there is one letter, at the Essex Record Office, in which Mary traced out the embroidery done on a cap for Charles by her sister Elizabeth.

I am a dab hand myself at embroidery; though some illustrating Osaki’s article are done on impossibly-sheer muslin. Just contemplating the amount of time required to complete such a project boggles the mind! (I once crocheted a German townscape window curtain, using crochet cotton and a OO crochet hook; it took about an hour to complete ONE ROW! It hangs in my upstairs hallway window.)

The Ackermann volumes (see page link at right) are rich in lovely embroidery designs; check them out! Even Augusta Smith (mother and daughter) writes of using thimble, scissors and thread to come up with collars and hems that the du Pont sisters would undoubtedly marvel at. Jane Austen, too, used to embroider during her “free” time…. Her work is on display at Chawton Cottage.

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