Embroidering for a First Date

A while back I did a post or two on the history of English embroidery, so when I spotted ‘The history of English Embroidery’ by the Victoria and Albert Museum,it seemed £2 well spent. Sadly, the pictures in it are in black and white, but this is a piece showing how little things have changed:

“in spite of the popularity of embroidery for costume and household articles, it would appear that the young ladies of the early 18th century were not so industrious as their Elizabethan and Stuart ancestors, although there were exceptions. the set of wall-hangings at Aston Hall, Birmingham, which are signed and dated ‘Mary Hold, spinster, aged 60, 1744’ must indeed represent nearly a lifetime’s work. a correspondent, writing to The Spectator in 1714, complains of the idleness of her pleasure-seeking nieces:- ‘those hours, which in this age are thrown away in dress, play, visits and the like, were employed in my time in writing out receipts [ie recipes], or working beds, chairs, and hangings for the family.’ The Spectator is in full agreement with the writer and makes the following suggestions to the mothers of young daughters,namely,

‘1. That no young virgin whatsoever be allowed to receive the addresses of her first lover, but in a suit of her own embroidering.

‘2. That before every fresh humble servant she be obliged to appear with a new stomacher at the least.

‘3. That no one be actually married until she hath the child-bed pillows, &c. ready stitched, as likewise, the mantle for the boy quite finished.’

Other magazines encouraged the practice of embroidery as an occupation for women. The Ladies Magazine, founded in 1949 by Jasper Goodwill, of Oxford, issued embroidery designs as supplements to the magazine; for example, ‘an elegant border for a petticoat, quilted in the Italian manner’, and ‘an elegant Pattern of Sprigs for working a gown or apron.’ The same magazine, in 1776 commends the study of geography to ladies and as ‘one method that would probably answer that purpose, the map of England is recommended to the consideration of the ladies. It should be executed in needle-work, on canvas, which may afterwards be applied to the purpose of a fire-screen or framed for an ornament to a room… the executive part will be far from difficult.’ This idea evidently found favour with the readers, for three months later ‘an elegant map of Europe for needlework’ was issued.


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