Sunday, May 22, 2016


Home dressmaking

Women had always made some of their own and their families clothing by hand, but the introduction of the domestic sewing machine transformed this activity from the 1860s. Dressmaking required cutting skills that few home dressmakers possessed, but some enterprising businesswomen in the bespoke dressmaking trade would also sell ready-cut out materials for sewing up at home. Commercial paper patterns, dressmaking magazines like Weldon’s Home Dressmaker (first published in 1888) and published dress cutting systems were widely available by the end of the century and gave ordinary women, through their own efforts and trusty sewing machine, access to fashionable clothing and styles as never before.

The availability of sewing machines and cheap cotton textiles from high street drapers in even the smallest towns meant that housewives sometimes also turned their attention to patchwork quilt making, with many examples of these surviving in local museums. The names of these domestic quilters are mostly long forgotten, but the provenance of one unusual case is well documented. It is a large and spectacular quilt in the collections of the McManus Museum and Gallery in Dundee, which was made by Nicholas White of Dundee, a steward on a whaling ship in the late nineteenth century. The quilt comprises over a hundred differently designed textile samples, mostly in Turkey red, which were probably taken from manufacturers’ pattern books. It is assumed that Nicholas White did the quilting while at sea and the design is one that was common in Scotland and Ireland at that time. How he acquired the pattern books is unknown, but perhaps, like the fabric that was purchased by female home dressmakers and quilters on land.

Below are Sarah's copies, which she sewed herself and wears for everyday life around our home.
(Black and white dress, green dress) Tea gowns in light cotton.  The fabrics are reproductions of fabrics specifically designed for tea gowns just like this one, and was ordered from the 1875 - 1900 wrapper collection of Reproduction Fabrics

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