Fashion before the age of mass production was the subject of a fascinating post from the blog of Dr Niamh Cullen recently:
In my research on dress in post-war Italy, people’s experiences of dressmaking were of course entirely different. Sewing wasn’t a pastime; it was an integral part of household management. Right up to the 1960s, the majority of households owned a sewing machine and even into the 1970s, it was customary in Naples for a woman to receive a sewing machine as a wedding present.
Reading the post, I was reminded of both my mother and her sister — my godmother — whose sewing machines played a central role in both their households. My mum received hers as a present from her parents for her 24th birthday (1975).
As a child I loved whenever her machine was taken out. One of my earliest memories is converting the up-turned lid of the cover into a make-shift rocking cot for my baby doll!
Trained in making and cutting patterns, she made clothes, curtains and bed spreads, did alterations and was always on call whenever costumes were needed for the school play. She was also particularlyy talented at knitting, and the homemade jumpers and cardigans she knitted for me when I was a child always attracted compliments. Sadly, the onset of arthritis in her fingers means that her knitting needles now lie discarded in a drawer, her sewing machine abandoned in the attic. That they have fallen into disuse, in some ways, seems appropriate: they are, after all, relics of times past. My mother and my godmother, were of, course, of a generation where women made their own clothing or used their sewing machines to alter clothes, creating new designs and looks. Mum frequently talks about how she’d buy lengths of fabric to create a new dress for dances at the weekend.
Because sewing, as Niamh Cullen noted, was an integral part of household management I wasn’t at all surprised to find a book of patterns among my grandmother’s belongings, which are turning into a real treasure trove of sources that provide an insight into everyday life. My Dad recalls his mother working on a pre-electric-powered sewing machine, which was operated by a foot pedal.
The Busy Bee Knitting & Crochet Book doesn’t offer quite the same social commentary as the Catholic guide for the young wife or the booklet advising against mixed marriages, which she also owned and I’ve blogged about recently, but it does give an insight into a certain style of clothing from a particular time period.
Published by J & J Baldwin & Partners, a supplier of knitting yarn, the booklet was number 21 in a series that also included patterns for infant garments, socks and stockings, a lady’s hunting jacket and sports sweaters. They give guidance on turning plain pieces of material into a myriad of creations. According to the catalogue of the British Library, this particular booklet was published sometime between 1915 and 1926. The beautiful coloured image on the front cover is somewhat Austen-esque.
The booklet was fifty-six pages long and, as you can see below, this particular issue catered for ‘grown-ups’.
Below are some of the garments that could be sewn following the patterns: