Page from Barbara Johnson's album
or sewing diary
A sewing diary is a bound journal documenting fabrics, fashion and sewing projects. I've seen a few in museum collections and I know of a few you can see online.
They are personal swatch books with notes on when and where fabric was purchased, the price, what kind of dress was made with it and sometimes where the dress was worn.
Swatch book from a French manufacturer showing madder-style prints
They differ from swatch books or sample books like the one above in that sewing diaries are kept by the consumer. Swatch books are kept by the manufacturer as a record of what's been printed.
The Victoria and Albert Museum owns a sewing diary created by Barbara Johnson (1738-1825) who began her journal when she was 8 years old and continued pasting in swatches into her 80s. As you can imagine, it's a valuable record of cloth and fashion in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Page from Barbara Johnson's book
At the top she's written:
"Blue and white spotted lutestring [silk] negligee [dress]. Eighteen yards. Three quarters wide. Six and sixpence a yard. Brother Johnson's Birthday."
View it in the V&A Museum's online catalog by clicking here:
You can see she's pasted fashion plates and swatches into a used ledger. They call it an album. You can also classify it as a form of scrapbook.
The Museum printed a facsimile called A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics in 1987. It cost about $100 new and now brings $200-$500. (This book is probably going to remain quite valuable as a collectible book.)
The fabric blog called True Up has a posting on Barbara Johnson's album.
The American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts owns several sewing diaries.
Click here to see one:
Ann Eliza Cunningham stitched fabric samples from 1841 to 1890 and made notes on the pages.
On the ATHM page you will see in the lower middle of the page a blue line with the subject Sewing Diaries.
Click on that and several will come up.
Last year the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection at The Ohio State University displayed Susan Hunter Beall's album inspired by Barbara Johnson's. The exhibit called The Sewer's Art: Quality, Fashion, and Economy showed Beall's relatively recent records of her art.
Click here to read more:
Home economics teachers used to stress this kind of record keeping. Do any of you keep a Sewing Diary?