Date of this Version
Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario
Home sewing is the most feminine of all the arts and crafts. It is an easy as well as a basic way for a woman to add to her femininity, whether she sews for herself, her children or her home. The woman who sews can be creative, make herself and members of her family attractive, and also stretch the family clothing budget.
The above paragraph is from a home economics thesis written in 1959. It neatly sums up the decade’s attitudes towards femininity and home sewing. In the years following the Second World War, the notions of public, active femininity that had prevailed during the war were rejected, and expectations of women returned to quasi-Victorian ideals of modest respectability and selfless devotion to home and family. Publications for women portrayed femininity as best expressed through the practice of three essential virtues: thrift, practical creativity and attention to appearance. Sewing, as an activity that was done at home and demonstrated female industry and service to others, was not only seen as inherently feminine, but as a way for women to increase their femininity through the practice of these virtues.
To understand how real women experienced home sewing in the 1950s and 60s, I talked to fifteen women from Alberta who sewed at home through the period. They were also kind enough to lend me their patterns, photographs and articles of clothing that they had made. This paper will explore the meanings that these women placed on their clothing, the activity of sewing, its impact on their identities, and how these meanings could change as accepted notions of femininity began to change in the 1960s. I have used the three “feminine virtues” of thrift, practical creativity and attention to appearance to frame this exploration.