The Life of a Seamstress

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I recently discovered that my Great, Great Grandmother was a seamstress in the 1860’s in the little village that i live in now and i’ve always wanted to know how hard they used to work and feel it for myself. I found this quote on the old internet from the ‘Children’s employment commision’, which wasn’t very encouraging..

EVIDENCE TAKEN BY Children’s Employment Commission
February 1841
Miss — has been for several years in the dress-making business…The common hours of business are from 8 a.m. til 11 P.M in the winters; in the summer from 6 or half-past 6 A.M. til 12 at night. During the fashionable season, that is from April til the latter end of July, it frequently happens that the ordinary hours are greatly exceeded; if there is a drawing-room or grand fete, or mourning to be made, it often happens that the work goes on for 20 hours out of the 24, occasionally all night….The general result of the long hours and sedentary occupation is to impair seriously and very frequently to destroy the health of the young women. The digestion especially suffers, and also the lungs: pain to the side is very common, and the hands and feet die away from want of circulation and exercise, “never seeing the outside of the door from Sunday to Sunday.” [One cause] is the short time which is allowed by ladies to have their dresses made. Miss is sure that there are some thousands of young women employed in the business in London and in the country. If one vacancy were to occur now there would be 20 applicants for it. The wages generally are very low…Thinks that no men could endure the work enforced from the dress-makers.

Sounds pretty awful really, can’t have been long before they were crippled by back pain, my Great, Great Grandmother only did it  for about three or four years before she got married, i can imagine that it must have been a relief for her to get married.

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I also read somewhere else, lost it now, that they only took three breaks throughout the day and lunch was about 20 minutes, though i imagine it would have varied depending on who they worked for.

I also wrote down a quote from the BBC period drama The Paradise, the older dressmaker who is being put out of business by the blossoming department store remembers “times in the old days when we had to produce a dress overnight… a real dressmaker is an artist, he needs to know flawless stitching, to cut finely and have a delicate eye, but more than anything else we need to know people, a women will love a dress because it was made to fit her character, not just her body” “a secret beauty”. I thought this was really lovely and encourages me to keep going and learn as much as i can.

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So, i’m going to try and complete a day as a seamstress, all 20 hours of it and see how much i can achieve.

Pride and Prejudice (1813)

So, Monday 28th January (technically yesterday, but today according to my body clock) marks two hundred years since Jane Austen first published Pride and Prejudice, I have to say its probably my favorite book, closely battling it out with Northanger Abbey, it always gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

So i thought i would honor it and the great lady with a series of posts throughout this year and a rereading of the book (though after i have read my set books for uni, i REALLY should read those!!). I am going to try and have a methodical and consistent strategy and creative at the same time, because apparently people do that with there blogs! (I read somewhere). I’m really excited about this because i do love Jane Austen ….. YES now i have an excuse to watch all those adaptions added to you-tube of ALL Austen work WOOHOO.

Neglect

So… i have neglected my blog shamefully over the last week or two, but i am back on it now after writing my first essays and have several things planned. I have almost finished Arabella and i started Lydia, my 1810’s day dress, inspired by this picture from pinterest.

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I am also planning a 1840’s day dress inspired from another picture on pinterest and from my own books…. there’s a bunch more which I’ve forgotten, but it will all be up here anyway. I am also going to try an experiment, i was reading about the daily lives of dressmakers and seamstresses in Victorian England and learnt how hard it was for them.

I had read the book Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell and in in it Ruth is a dressmaker before she runs off and scandalizes everyone by getting pregnant, (good book, made me laugh to read that some eminent authors of the time burnt the book in disgust lol) but she does describe life as a dressmaker and how hard and drool life was for them. Anyway, i read here on the lovely internet by this lady that women could work up to 20 hours a day and get 10 minutes for breakfast, 15 minutes for lunch and 20 for supper, only if they had got on well or they would have no supper and had to carry on until 4 or 5 in the morning. I though this was epic and made me appreciate my measly 5 and 6 hour shifts sat at my checkout; so i decided that i would try it out. I am on holiday this Monday for a week so after i have walked the dog tomorrow i am going to do an all-day-er and stick it out for 20 hours.

I am going to make my 1840’s dress from above and it will be interesting to see how far i can get, i will be doing it all by hand as well, as that was how Ruth worked and my working class equivalent would have not been able to afford one anyway. I also found out a while ago that my Great Great Grandmother was a dress maker in the early 1860’s when she was about my age so this will bring home just how hard she worked everyday just down the road from where i am now.

ALSO, very shamefully i will add the final episode details of Downton Abbey, which was amazing and so lovely with its very English game of cricket :D.

RESULTS !!!

WOW…. I recently received my exam results and am very, very happy with what i received, a B, so i am well on the way to getting the 2.1 i want, which is brilliant.

  But i have been doing other pattern related things, mainly making patterns and organizing, as it turns out i am very unorganized.

 

While also delving into the library and researching in the lovely books i have. I absolutely love Janet Arnold, her books are wonderful.

 

I will be trying to post a lot more regularly on here now, hopefully everyday.