Monday, 27 June 2016

Monday morning musings

Stitchery is not a word that is in common use in my part of England today or at least in my vocabulary, and on reading the word I stopped and looked it up. The dictionary definition of the noun is "needlework, sewing, especially modern embroidery". It is good to learn something new everyday even a small word.

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Besides embroidery, stitchery can be used to refer to plain sewing,  dressmaking and mending. How many of us make our own clothes and darn socks?

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There was a time when it was taken for granted that all women could plain sew. I remember being taught in school how to hem, seam and gather whilst making an apron. It is very different learning a stitch at school and using the skill in adulthood. Poor teaching can make a school lesson dull but a good teacher can open up a fascinating world and start you on a life long journey that can take you to many different places.

If you think back to your school days and remember "domestic science" as boring, think again. In researching different forms of needlework I am learning about their historical, geographical and economic backgrounds. Take the simple Dorset button for example.

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Photo Rachel Reynolds
A Dorset button is a style of craft-made button originating in the English county of Dorset. Their manufacture was at a peak between 1622 and 1850, after which they were overtaken by machine-made buttons from factories in the developing industries of Birmingham and other growing cities.

'Wheels' are the most characteristic form of Dorset button. They are also known as Blandford Cartwheel, Crosswheels, Basket weave, Birds eye, Yarrell and Mites.

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Image copyright Potter Wright and Webb

Toggles and simple buttons had been made throughout England since time immemorial to meet local needs. Buttons were traded between towns by itinerant peddlers. but there was no organised trade or centres of production beyond this. Around 1600, men's upper-body clothing was beginning its transition from the doublet to the coat.  Buttons became larger, more prominent and became a specialist item made by button-makers, rather than tailors.

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The first Dorset buttons used products of the local sheep farms: ram's horn as a base and locally produced cloth over this.

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Image copyright Potter Wright and Webb

These were the High Top buttons. The doublet or peascod was fastened by a single central row of small, closely spaced buttons. These were made tall, to avoid the small buttons slipping out of the stiff fabric. As the button line of fashion moved outwards and the garment became more flexible, a wider and lower button was needed, the Dorset Knob.

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Image copyright Potter Wright and Webb

In 1622 Abraham Case moved to Shaftesbury and set up the first commercial button making enterprise.His first buttons were made in a small workshop. Later buttons for the growing trade were made by outworkers working from their homes as piece work. Some farm workers worked farmland during daylight hours, button making in the evenings or in Winter. Most though were full-time button makers. This outwork became the norm and became an important source of income for many families, and for those too old to work in the fields.

A good buttoner could make around six dozen (72) buttons a day and could earn up to 3 shillings.[11] Buttons sold at retail for between eight pence and three shillings a dozen. This compared to wages of perhaps 9d a day as a farm worker.

By the end of the 17th century, Buttony had grown to become an important industry, controlled within the Case family. In the early 1800's new forms of button were developed. Wire was imported by wagon from the Midlands, then twisted into rings and soldered. These ring formers replaced the previous horn discs and began the characteristic Dorset styles of the wheel buttons. Ring making was carried out by children working as 'Twisters' who formed the rings, 'Dippers' who soldered them shut and 'Stringers' who tied them into strings for distribution to the button makers.

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The hand made Dorset Button was slowly replaced by machine made buttons. The first cloth and thread button machine was invented by Benjamin Saunders 1825. The Saunders machine was closely followed by others including one by John Aston in the early 1840s.

Amongst the many industrial machines on display at the Great Exhibition was Mr John Ashton's button-making press, first patented in 1841.This could manufacture buttons from thin metal sheet far more quickly and cheaply than hand work. These new buttons had the advantage of smart modernity. Birmingham would soon become a major centre for this type of costume jewellery and small presswork. The centralised factories, steam power and access to venture capital could not be competed with by the small-scale enterprises of rural Dorset.

Although the agrarian economy of Dorset remained profitable, the collapse of button-making led to much personal hardship. Many joined the mass emigrations to Australia, Canada or the USA. Some became destitute and entered the workhouse.

Information taken from Wikipedia

TRIVIA



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