M930.50.1.901 | Woman sewing

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Woman sewing
John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
1850-1885, 19th century
Ink on paper on supporting paper - Wood engraving
3 x 2.9 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Occupation (1110) , Print (10661) , work (389)
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Keys to History

Plain sewing and mending occupied a great deal of a housewife's time, with little obvious reward--few would see these workaday items. The introduction of the domestic sewing machine was therefore welcome. Somewhat surprisingly, the time spent sewing did not lessen. Rather, the sewing machine encouraged a new fashion for multiple ruffles, braids and fringes on clothing and domestic furnishings. Parallels between the cluttered interior fashions and the fringed dresses worn by Victorian women are obvious. This love of excess is a characteristic of a society that has recently discovered better times. The ruffles on the dress in this advertisement are typical of the fashions of the late 1860s.

  • What

    Domestic sewing machines were the most popular labour-saving device. Advertisements showed highly decorated machines being run by fashionable young women.

  • Where

    Early home sewing machines often had names like "The Family" and were decorated with gold stencils so they would fit into the décor of a parlour.

  • When

    The sewing machine predated electricity and did not need a motor. It was run by a foot treadle and became widely available in the mid-1860s.

  • Who

    John Henry Walker also produced a series of illustrations advertising "The Williams' Improved Singer Sewing Machine."