Tag: Sewing

From Crinolines to Cross-Dressing Balls: A Two Year Anniversary Digest

Euphemia White Van Rensselear by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1842.

It’s my blogiversary!  Today, MimiMatthews.com is two years old.  I have no idea what the two year mark of a successful blog looks like, but I feel incredibly fortunate that my site continues to receive such a positive response.  I am especially grateful to all of my wonderful subscribers and to everyone who takes the time to comment on my articles.  Your readership means the world![…]Continue Reading

A Victorian Lady's Christmas Gift Guide

“A merry Christmas, with Love’s gifts for the young, Home’s comforts for the old, and Heaven’s bright hopes for all, is our fervent aspiration.”
Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1854.

An elegantly dressed couple walk arm in arm under an umbrella, 1905.
(Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0)

Shopping for Christmas presents in the Victorian era could be quite tricky, especially if one was a lady choosing a gift for a gentleman. Luckily, newspapers, magazines, and etiquette books of the day were only too happy to offer advice on appropriate gifts for all the men, women, and children in one’s life. They also offered advice on such thorny issues as re-gifting gifts and keeping to a Christmas budget. In today’s article we look at a few of these recommended Christmas gifts for ladies and gentlemen, as well as at Victorian advice on re-gifting and living within one’s means during the holidays.[…]Continue Reading

Death at the Needle: The Tragedy of Victorian Seamstress Mary Walkley

The Seamstress by Josef Gisela, 1897.

“Sir,—I am a dressmaker, living in a large West-end house of business. I work in a crowded room with twenty-eight others. This morning one of my companions was found dead in her bed, and we all of us think that long hours and close confinement have had a great deal to do with her end.” 

So starts the anonymous letter which brought the death of seamstress Mary Ann Walkley to the forefront of public attention. Originally printed in a June 17, 1863 edition of The Times, the letter—signed simply “A Tired Dressmaker”—details the miserable work and living conditions of seamstresses, not in the East End of London, but in one of the finest dressmaking establishments in London’s West End.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Sewing: A Brief History of Plain and Fancy Work

“Light or fancy needlework often forms a portion of the evening’s recreation for the ladies of the household…”  Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861.

Portraits in the Countryside by Gustave Caillebotte, 1876.
Portraits in the Countryside by Gustave Caillebotte, 1876.

During the 19th century, women were rarely idle in their spare moments.  Many preferred instead to occupy themselves with a bit of sewing.  This sewing generally fell into two broad categories: plain work and fancy work.  Plain work was used to make or mend simple articles of clothing.  While fancy work—which included knitting, crochet, and embroidery—was used in a more decorative sense.  A young lady skilled at both plain and fancy work could not only repair her current clothing, she could design and sew stylish new pieces to supplement her wardrobe.  As an 1873 issue of Harper’s Bazaar explains:[…]Continue Reading

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