Saturday, 16 April 2016

Three dates for your diary

The free display in gallery 116 at the V & A - A Stitch in Time: Home Sewing before 1900 which has been running since  May 2015  closes on Sunday  1 May 2016.

If you are in London in the next fortnight it's your last chance to attend. The display examines some of the tools used in domestic sewing.

Sewing tools could be highly decorative in their own right and many carried coded messages in their design. Thimbles are a good example, as they were often given as gifts and their mottoes and images can be read as a message often relating to love and marraige.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This thimble depicts a wedded or betrothed couple, alongside erotic nude figures. It is inscribed ‘La puissance d’amour/Desire n’a mon repos’, meaning ‘The power of love/My desire has no rest’. This suggests that it may have been a gift given to a bride.

The expectations would have been clear to the woman who received this thimble: love, marriage, children, and lots of sewing.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Before the first Married Women’s Property Act was passed in Britain in 1870 a married woman was unable to call any property her own. A wife had no individual status under the law and could not own property or enter into any contract independently of her husband. A wife was her husband's property - a chattel.

This meant that women who earned money in the needle trades could not, if married, claim their wages as their own. Sewing tools which were considered feminine and relatively low in value, were among the few types of portable items which women could informally bequeath to daughters, sisters and friends. As such, they had a special resonance, both for sentimental reasons and as a means of subverting the established gender hierarchy

Before the advent of factory-produced clothing, sewing and knitting were everyday tasks, especially for women. These skills were a demonstration of feminine virtue, as the ideal wife or mother was supposed to provide for her family by making and mending household linen.


Sewing changed dramatically with the advent of the sewing machine which  was patented in the United States by Isaac Singer, in 1851. The sewing machine was revolutionary as a labour-saving device.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Like the elegant implements that preceded it, the early sewing machine was most definitely a status object. Decorated with lacquer and housed in a fashionable cabinet, these machines were designed to sit at the heart of the drawing room, advertising the domestic virtue of the lady who occupied it. It was not until prices began to drop after 1900 – and poorer women could buy them on hire-purchase – that the sewing machine became strictly utilitarian.


The increasing availability of shop-bought clothing meant that home sewing lost its cachet, and became a thrifty expedient to be hidden where possible. The technological and manufacturing advances that enabled the production of sewing machines also meant that factories could use the machines to mass-produce clothing that was cheaper and more consistently fitted and finished than the home-sewn equivalent.

This is a really interesting display which has been very popular.

Date 2 for the diary

Many sampler lovers adore Jane Austen. On April 22nd the V & A are holding An Evening with Jane Austen in Gallery 52b.
Advertised as "a magical evening in the company of Jane Austen's most memorable characters, from the comic absurdity of the Dashwoods to the heartfelt passion of Wentworth and Anne, not to mention the charming duplicity of the notorious Mr Wickham!

Set in the beautiful surroundings of the V&A’s Norfolk House Music Room, the evening will consist of duologues performed by actors Caroline Langrishe (Lovejoy, BBC) and Adrian Lukis (Pride and Prejudice, BBC), alongside regency-era musical entertainment from Classical Soprano Rosie Lomas and harpist Valeria Kurbatova.

Featuring extracts from Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion.

19.30 – 21.30, including a short interval"

Date 3 for the diary


You expect to see Brian May on stage at a Queen concert rather than writing a book on Crinolines !!


On Wednesday  27 April 18:30 - 19:30 in  The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre at the V & A  Brian May joins Denis Pellerin and Professor Lynda Nead in conversation about crinolines.


Advertised as: - Popular at various periods since the mid-19th century, crinoline is typically described as a stiffened or structured petticoat designed to hold out a woman's skirt. In association with “Undressed: A brief history of underwear”, and with the use of 3D projection, the speakers discuss why it became such an object of fascination and derision in its own time and why it continues to inspire and intrigue fashion designers today.

Brian May and Denis Pellerin, will be signing copies of  their book “Crinoline: Fashion’s Most Magnificent Disaster” after the event.

Crinolines always make us think of the "King and I" and Deborah Kerr swirling around the floor with Yul Brynner. We will be humming "Shall We Dance" now for the rest of the day.

Some Trivia

The word crinoline comes from the French word "crin", meaning "horsehair," and "lin" the thread that it was woven with. Before the invention of the steel hooped crinoline the early crinoline petticoats were made with horsehair and were stiff, very heavy and unhygenic but their story is for another day.

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