- Edited by Beth Harris, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, USA
Like the figure of the governess, the seamstress occupied a unique place in the history of the nineteenth century, appearing frequently in debates about women's work and education, and the condition of the working classes generally in the rapidly changing capitalist marketplace. Like the governess, the figure of the needlewoman is ubiquitous in art, fiction and journalism in the nineteenth century.
The fifteen articles in this book address the seamstress's appearance as a 'real' figure in the changing economies of nineteenth-century Britain, America, and France, and as an important cultural icon in the art and literature of the period. They treat the many different types of needlewomen in the nineteenth century-from skilled milliners and dressmakers, some of whom owned their own businesses selling merchandise to other women (forming a unique 'female economy') to women who, through reduced circumstances, were forced into the lowest end of paid needlework, sewing clothing at home for starvation wages-like the impoverished shirt-maker in the famous Victorian poem by Thomas Hood, 'The Song of the Shirt.'
This volume assembles the work of leading American, British and Canadian scholars from many different fields, including art history, literary criticism, gender studies, labor history, business history, and economic history to draw together recent scholarship on needlewomen from a variety of different disciplines and methodologies. Famine and Fashion will therefore appeal to anyone studying images of work in the nineteenth century, popular and canonical nineteenth-century literature, the history of women's work, the history of sweated labor, the origins of the ready-made clothing industry and early feminism.
Contents: List of Figures; List of Tables; List of Contributors; Introduction, Beth Harris. Part I Reading Out: 'Weary stitches': Illustrations and paintings for Thomas Hood's 'song of the shirt' and other poems, Susan P. Casteras; Workers' compensation: (needle)work and ideals of femininity in Margaret Oliphant's Kirsteen, Arlene Young; 'Let herself out to do needlework': female agency and the workhouse of gender in Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Joellen Masters; The retailoring of Dickens: Christmas Shadows, radicalism and the needlewoman myth, Ian Haywood; Chartism and gender politics in Ernest Jones's The Young Milliner, Ella Dzelzainis; The melodramatic seamstress: interpreting a Victorian penny dreadful, Rohan McWilliam; All that glitters is not gold: the show-shop and the Victorian seamstress, Beth Harris. Part II Writing In: Business or labour? Blurred boundaries in the careers of self-employed needlewomen in Mid-Nineteenth century Albany, Susan Ingalls Lewis; Scarlett's sisters: spinsters, widows, wives, and free-traders in Nineteenth century North Carolina, Pamela J. Nickless; 'Thinking and stitching, stitching and thinking': needlework, American women writers, and professionalism, Jacqueline M. Chambers; 'Furnishing girls with self-supporting trades': custom needlework and vocational education, 1890–1920, Wendy Gamber; Virtue, vice, and revolution: representations of Parisian needlewomen in the Mid-Nineteenth century, Judith DeGroat; 'A heavy bill to settle with humanity': the representation and invisibility of London's principal milliners and dressmakers, Nicola Pullin; 'Wanted: 1000 spirited young milliners': the fund for promoting female emigration, Jo Chimes; 'To be poor and to be honest…is the hardest struggle of all': sweated needlewomen and campaigns for protective legislation, 1840–1914, Sheila Blackburn; Bibliography; Index.
About the Editor: Beth Harris is Assistant Professor in the History of Art at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, USA.
Reviews: ‘… visual and ideological appeal which the book charts meticulously and from such a variety of angles, making an important contribution to research not only on labour history, but on 'the critical ideological role played by femininity in nineteenth-century discourses'… The sophisticated arguments of the essays in this volume, the cross-references between them and the wide range of sources consulted and analysed makes this an original and edifying read, particularly useful for postgraduates and scholars, which will certainly stimulate further research into both women's work and the figure of the seamstress in this period.' The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory
‘This interesting book is a groundbreaking exploration of women and the occupation of needlework in the 19th century, gathering together scholars from a variety of disciplines and examining needlework from the perspectives of class, gender and sexuality… The book is well edited by Beth Harris, who also contributes to the book, and her clear and thought provoking introduction sets the scene well. The chapters are readable, particularly for those interested in the occupation of needlework, or in feminism and/or Victorian history and literature. As a whole the book is well presented and clear, with themes connected across both sections… This is an appropriate book for anyone interested in feminism, literature, history, the occupation of needlework… Perhaps of most interest to researchers and educators, it will also appeal to interested practitioners.’ Journal of Occupational Science