Sunday, September 28, 2014

HSF Challenge #18 -- Poetry in Motion. An 1830s "housewife".

This challenge is to find a poem and make something inspired by it. Or, make something and find a poem that fits it. Yikes! What poem could ever describe the kind of stuff I like to make? Poems about drab New England farm women in the 1830s? They call that "The Romantic Era", but I don't think those ladies thought of their lives as all that romantic.

However, I came upon a poem called Dorothy: A Country Story, in Elegiac Verse by Arthur Joseph Munby (1882). It's about a young servant girl on an English farm, and although it would be dated later than my time period, some things don't change all that much. I focused on the third chapter, which describes Dorothy's clothes and few possessions. There is so much in there, I could make a long list of projects! One object mentioned is her "housewife", the common name for a small sewing kit made of fabric and rolled up to carry. Also called a "huswif" or "hussif", every woman had some version of one, and soldiers were given one to mend their uniforms. Here is one from the 1830s.
See the handy pockets for holding sewing tools and notions, and the wool flaps for pins and needles. Each pocket and piece of trim is made from a different piece of calico, scraps from clothing made by the seamstress.

Below is the one I made, rolled up and ready to tuck in a drawer or pocket.  Unrolled, it has a backing of a flowered print, bound with green and tan floral bias tape.  The inside is lined with yellow wool cloth, has three pockets, and an extra layer of wool for needles and pins. 

I put a little book with it called The Complete Country Housewife, published in 1770, and no doubt it was the go-to book for many hard-working women for many years. 

I'm sure I'll use my "housewife" often!

Historical Fortnightly Challenge #18 – Poetry in Motion
Date: Sept. 28, 2014
Object: Housewife, a portable sewing kit
The Challenge: Poetry in Motion, to create something inspired by the poem, Dorothy: a Country Story, by Arthur Joseph Munby. (See exerpt below).
Fabric: Printed cotton calico, yellow-dyed wool.
Pattern: Self-drawn from extant item.
Year: 1830
Notions: cotton thread, cotton embroidery thread, cotton twill tape.
How historically accurate is it? Completely. All hand sewn.
Hours to complete: 5
First worn: Immediately used for sewing kit.
Total cost: All scraps from previous sewing. $0.

From “Dorothy: a Country Story.” III. Dorothy’s Room

Arthur Joseph Munby (b. 1828)

’T WAS but a poor little room: a farm-servant’s loft in a garret;

  One small window and door; never a chimney at all;

One little stool by the bed, and a remnant of cast-away carpet;

  But on the floor, by the wall, carefully dusted and bright,

Stood the green-painted box, our Dorothy’s closet and wardrobe,
  Holding her treasures, her all—all that she own’d in the world!

Linen and hosen were there, coarse linen and home-knitted hosen;

  Handkerchiefs bought at the fair, aprons and smocks not a few;

Kirtles for warmth when afield, and frocks for winter and summer,

  Blue-spotted, lilac, gray; cotton and woolen and serge;
All her simple attire, save the clothes she felt most like herself in—

  Rough, coarse workaday clothes, fit for a laborer’s wear.

There was her Sunday array—the boots, and the shawl, and the bonnet,

  Solemnly folded apart, not to be lightly assumed;

There was her jewelry, too: ’t was a brooch (she had worn it this evening)
  Made of cairngorm stone—really too splendid for her!

Which on a Martlemas Day Mr. Robert had bought for a fairing:

  Little she thought, just then, how she would value it now!

As for her sewing gear, her housewife, her big brass thimble,

  Knitting and suchlike work, such as her fingers could do,
That was away downstairs, in a dresser-drawer in the kitchen,

  Ready for use of a night, when she was tidied and clean.

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