Some people enjoy hand sewing and others do not. In today’s modern age of digital patterns and embroidery machines we can choose whether to hand stitch or take the short cut and use our monogram machine. However, the life of a seamstress wasn’t always so easy! Up until the early 1900s and the arrival of the first Singer multi-head embroidery sewing machine , the majority of embroidery was done by hand. Wealthy families with vast supplies of beautiful linens employed servants to care for and monogram this linen, and ladies of the house created beautiful artistic embroidery. A mastery of the needle was an essential skill back in those days and so it was part of a young girl’s schooling.
At school, girls as young as five and six would begin to learn to sew. They would learn all the different elements of sewing. They would learn how to construct clothing, make button holes, tat lace, embroider, knit, darn, patch, mend, and every thing else imaginable!
Through the course of a year these girls would complete these projects beneath a teacher’s watchful eye. Then, at the end of their school year, they would assemble all their projects into one long quilted strip and then each of them would have a “school-girl roll”. It would serve as their portfolios to show any potential employers in large homes where they could be hired as servants.
Sampler work would also be done as a way to learn the alphabet. In a stroke of genius efficiency, teachers would require their students to stitch rather than write their letters-fulfilling two educational requirements at once!
Today, these projects serve as beautiful pieces of history. We are amazed at the delicate featherstitching and exquisite embroidery that was done by little children’s hands so long ago! We can enjoy these relics of bygone days and think about the lives of the little ones who created them.