|A detail of the right pleated sleeve on my hunting shirt|
For hundreds of years, women and schoolgirls (but not this girl) have been compiling their own bound collections of reference and bragging rights stitches into books. Labored over in a variety of settings from elite private homes to working-class home economic classrooms, these sewing sample books typically include a series of plain-sewing sample stitches and other standard sewing practices such as patching. Some include miniature completed examples of clothing, an exercise meant to train young sewer's before executing the full-sized piece. Check out this 1850s beauty completed by Ellen Mahon, currently in the Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, which features not only plain sewing but also decorative embroidery and needlework. It's hard to argue with the pronouncement that these gems are at once charming and informative, giving us tantalizing glimpses into how stitchers learned about making stuff.
Here's an early twentieth-century example of a sewing book a school girl made in a Reading, Pennsylvania, sewing class, which Tyler kindly brought home for me after a recent solo antiquing adventure.
|Cover of Miss Ethyl G. Yanster's sewing sample book, 1912 (Nicole Belolan's Collection)|
What can we learn from the book about the nature of education for girls in early twentieth-century America? How might have this sewing book served Ethyl in her childhood? And why the heck aren't your kids coming home with these today?
First, sewing was part of a curriculum that, according to the list on this sample book, coverered some of the usual suspects, with boys meeting separately from girls: English, "General," History, Civil Government, and Physics. Based on the "general directions" Ethyl pasted at the front, we know that, at least in Ethyl's case (if we assume school is where she learned to sew first), she learned how to sew among her peers (and not alone). It was meant to be completed systematically, but it's hard to say whether Ethyl followed the "system" to the T. The progression of work roughly follows what printed contemporaneous guides such as Anne Loden Jessup's The sewing book: containing complete instructions in sewing and simple garment-making for children in the primary and grammar grades (1913) prescribed.
|Excerpt of "General Directions" for completing the sewing sample book, 1912 (Nicole Belolan's Collection)|
|Basting and back stitches on wool, Ethyl's G. Yanster's sewing sample book, 1912 (Nicole Belolan's collection)|
|"Sewing gather on a band" and "Sewing embroidery with facing band," Ethyl G. Yanster's sewing sample book, 1912 (Nicole Belolan's Collection)|
(Despite the rise of ready-made clothing (or "industrialized" anything, really), we need look only as far as Etsy to gauge the ever-increasing popularity of the textile-related DIY movement and the related polarity of purchasing "handmade" stuff for everyday use.)
I'll probably never know if Ethyl kept up with her sewing, but I'll try to keep this manifestation of her early effort at the skill safe and sound. Maybe I'll even use it as finish my hunting shirt and start new projects.
The Winterthur Library has several examples of these sewing books in its collection. When I visit for research over the next few weeks, I'll take a few photos and share them with you. I'll scan Ethyl's book in its entirety and post it when I get a chance.