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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

There is precedence in this

It has occurred to me that we are not the only group of women who have engaged in a white shirt project.

The school I work at once had a home ec. department, now long gone. Left behind though, are many books on clothing that I read, and sometimes I think I am the only reader.  

One of these is Barbara Burman's The culture of home sewing. It is an interesting book. One of the themes in it is that when women entered the workforce in the 20's (post WWI - after they had been called up to do the jobs that the men had left behind) and went off to work in offices, they had no idea what to wear.

What to wear at home, they knew. What to wear as domestic help, they knew. But what to wear in an office- well they had no idea.

This era, as a result, gave birth to the woman's magazine (they exploded during this period), many of which contained sewing patterns, and to the printed pattern, as women tried to teach themselves how to negotiate a strange environment in which there was no precedent.

Part of that process led to the feminization of male dress.

We would know this as the shirt waist blouse and the serge skirt.

It seems to me that this history is worth considering. 

The white shirt, after all, has a banded (wear with a tie) collar and other male details.

It also has me thinking of what it was like for working women, trying to dress on very modest salaries. (Come to think of it, that hasn't changed). 

I have found vintage patterns down in my collection that feature many details to be added to the same pattern, will  post some pictures tomorrow. Dollar stretching patterns.

What did they do to extend their resources to dress as well as the workplace required? How important to that was the white blouse, or shirt, that would go with every thing?

This all reminds me tonight of my grandmother who once went nuts when I unraveled thread from a bobbin so I could wind on a new colour.

"Save that," she said to me. "That costs money."

This was the same grandmother who was a book-keeper before she married, and was always wistful about her lost career. The same grandmother who used to tell me stories about friends  who had remained single and working - "She had a good job you know, she was in Coats at Eatons," (the late great Canadian department store).

Sometimes, she would end these stories with "better a good career than a bad marriage." I wonder what that bride of the 20's was trying to say to me?

Funny that I now, as I move to the end of a very interesting career, plot on many days how I can go back home and be the housewife I always felt I was, only one in disguise.

And wearing a white shirt.


a little sewing on the side said...

How wonderful that your grandmother shared so much wisdom with you. I never knew either of my grandmothers. (not my grandfathers, either, come to think of it.)

I actually like that shirtwaist.

Carolyn said...

Hmm, that was an enigmatic comment from your grandmother... I wonder if in those days people tended to jump into a marriage earlier, and without trying a few boyfriends first, as is more the custom nowadays.
I'm not sure if I properly said in it my last comment, but "please sign me up" for the white shirt project!

BetsyV said...

"Save that," she said to me. "That costs money."

OMG, Barbara, I say that very thing to myself whenever I have to unwind a bobbin, and if there's more than a few feet of thread, I do save it. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

Your grandmother was very wise! I'm going to be watching ALL of you white shirt-ers. IMO, tight paramaters begets great creativity. Can't wait to see what everyone makes!

badmomgoodmom said...

Thanks for this very thought-provoking post.

There are many parallels between my home production of clothes for my family work and my market work in software.

Both immerse me in the culture of MAKING vs. buying ready-made. If you knew what a small percentage of young people in this country knew how to code (or care to learn how to do it), it would make you cry.

Home Ec was my first school exposure to MAKING vs passive consumption.

badmomgoodmom said...

I would like to clarify that watching my mother and grandmother in home production (of food, clothing and rewiring our kitchen) were also formative educational experiences.