Found photograph of a 19th century woman sewing
Monday, September 8, 1862
Went down to Boston in the early train. Stayed all day, went back at night. William went to New York (end).
Tuesday, September 9, 1862
Sewing machine here all day. Took a little walk after tea.
Wednesday, September 10, 1862
Very busy. Did not go out. What a dream the sewing machine is.
Sewing Machine from 1862
Thursday, September 11, 1862
Work, work all day. Had one of his disgusting tirades, if he isn’t the greatest specimen.
Friday, September 12, 1862
Saturday, September 13, 1862
Thank fortune the sewing machine went off at 3 o’clock.
Sunday, September 14, 1862
William came about 3. Went to see Mrs. Smith in the evening.
I find it fascinating to read that Sylvia acquired a new technology this week. She finds the sewing machine to be a dream, but a couple of days later, she is pleased it went off at 3 o’clock. I wonder about this. Was she just trying it out? Perhaps it was brought to the house by a crafty salesperson encouraging her mother to buy one, or did Sylvia merely mean that she just shut if off for the day?
I decided to research the history of the sewing machine in the United States more and I came across this fascinating article by Joan Perkin entitled: Sewing Machines: Liberation or Drudgery for Women. Here are two separate passages from the article that I thought were super interesting:
By 1862, three out of four new sewing machines were bought by garment manufacturers, but the makers realised their largest potential market was in the millions of families who meant to have a sewing machine in their homes when they could afford it. Yet how many people was that? The earliest machines were expensive and some men doubted that their wives would be able to operate them, so they were re-designed into smaller, lighter machines with polished metal surfaces, elaborate ornamentation and cabinets of fine woods. However, this did not solve the problem of cost, until the Singer company in America decided in 1856 to rent out the machines and apply the rental fee to the purchase price, as was already the way pianos were being sold in New York. Suitable buyers (i.e. men with good credit reputations) could purchase a sewing machine for $5 down (half a week’s average wage) and pay the balance plus interest in monthly installments of $3-$5. Singer referred to the plan as ‘hire-purchase’. Success was immediate, and by 1876 Singer was selling twice as many machines as its nearest rival. Eventually the cash price of the machine fell, but most buyers still preferred to pay on the instalment plan.
The American journalist and campaigner for women, Sarah Hale (1822-79), wrote in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1867 that to make the average shirt by hand required 20,620 stitches; at a rate of thirty-five stitches a minute, a competent seamstress could complete a shirt in ten to fourteen hours, work for which she was ill paid when she did it for a living. As Thomas Hood wrote in Song of the Shirt (1843), she was ‘Sewing at once, with a double thread/A shroud as well as a shirt’. Operating a sewing machine at 3,000 stitches a minute, a seamstress could assemble a shirt in an hour with neater results, though her pay was still low.
Here is the link to the full article, which I highly recommend!
The article went on to say that for women who made their own clothing the machines drastically reduced their time spent sewing, but the sewing machine had the adverse effect upon women who made clothing for a living because the expectation became that their work be done much quicker and for less money.
Maybe Sylvia was working on one of these dresses : ) : ) : )
I often think about Sylvia when I am doing laundry. I wish I could show her my washing machine and dryer. I think she would be amazed and think they were a dream too.