Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sewing Circles: Things Don't Change

American Home 1849
"The 'Sewing Circle' has just departed, leaving nothing behind but confusion and disorder." 
Diary, Catherine Barrett White (1828-1915), Worcester, Massachusetts, March 5, 1850. Collection of the American Antiquarian Society.

American Home 

Catherine Barrett, about 22 years old, speaks for many of us who enjoy the entertaining but hate to do the dishes.

It's fun to read about the past and find that not much has changed.

January, 1863
[Grandmother] let us have the Ladies's Aid [Sewing] Society here to supper because I am President....Anna made the girls laugh so, they could hardly eat." Diary of Caroline Cowles Richards, Canandaigua, New York.

Of course it's not all laughs and dessert. One has to have organized meetings. In 1805 ''The Select Society: Juvenile Band'' published rules for the Philadelphia girls' society:
''We are to meet at half-past two, to sew till eight, and to withdraw as soon after as convenient. 

That singing is entirely prohibited; 
That we are to have neither wine, nuts, nor anything of the kind, in the evening. 
And that there shall be no conversation whilst the minutes are making.
           And that boys shall not be admitted until eight o'clock.''
Sounds just like the guild meeting---You can't stop people from talking while the minutes are being read.

Harper's Weekly, 1883

And the part about the boys not being admitted: They might take over the whole event as transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to have done at "the sewing-society at R.W.E-'s" attended by Harriet Robinson in 1857 and reported to friend Lucy Larcom. Lucy wrote back without a word about the sewing or the women attending.
"Didn't it seem funny to go a-gossiping to the house of the Seer? I wonder at your expecting the parrot to talk 'transcendentally'.... Well, it's a fine thing to be on visiting terms at Olympus."   Harriet Jane Hanson Robinson, Loom and Spindle: Or, Life Among the Early Mill Girls
Emerson's Concord, Massachusetts home still stands


  1. This is wonderful, thank you for sharing! Do you have any extra info about that Harper’s Weekly image from 1883, with the mn present?

  2. I've just come home from retreat where someone else did do the dishes!

    One of the topics of conversation was your fabric. I realised it's been a while since I have seen a fabric line from you. Are you still designing, and if so where can we find your fabric?