28th Jan 2014 5:30pm
Carolyn Dowdell, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada
This paper presents original research gathered between 2008 and 2013 comprising in-depth, direct examination of approximately four hundred extant eighteenth-century English women’s garments and their construction. The approach taken is that of ‘reading’ dress objects as a form of historical document. The insights gathered from extensive object-based research enable a new approach to the study of female involvement in the sewing trades of eighteenth-century England and craft practices. By combining this methodology with documentary research eighteenth-century needlewomen’s skills are more fully revealed than in previous scholarship for this topic, and nuanced interpretations become possible.
Such interpretations include the rationale and motivation behind various techniques, the possible breadth of women’s participation in the sewing trades (such as physical evidence of women’s participation in tailoring), and transfer of skills across both time and place. The intent of this work is twofold: to demonstrate and promote object-based research practice; and in so doing pull away the veil of generalization regarding women’s skills and practice of craft in the sewing trades of this period. Thus revealing the ingenuity and resourcefulness they could demonstrate in the pursuit of survival and self-sufficiency.