Writing Road Trips – Vermont, New York, Connecticut

Plaque commemorating the first women's rights convention at the Women's Rights National Historic Park, Seneca Falls, NY.
Plaque commemorating the first women’s rights convention at the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, Seneca Falls, NY.

I’ve taken two road trips this summer as part of this suffrage + crochet project. The first trip was to Vermont, where I took Donna Druchunas’ “Birth Your Knitting Book” writing workshop. On the way, we stopped by Seneca Falls, NY, and visited the site where the first women’s rights convention was held July 19-20, 1848.

On the first day of the convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton read aloud, paragraph by paragraph, the Declaration of Sentiments, for approval by the three hundred or so attendees. The document was signed the next day by 68 women and 32 men, about a third of those in attendance.

The podium believed to have been used by speakers at the 1848 Woman's Rights Convention.
The podium believed to have been used by speakers at the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention.

Frederick Douglass and Lucretia Mott are among the better known signers of the Declaration; Lucretia Mott closed the convention with the following resolution:

Resolved, that the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce.

Few of those who attended the convention would live long enough to cast their first ballots.

Given the importance of textiles to women’s work in the era, I was struck by how little attention spinning, weaving, knitting, and crochet received in the exhibit. Indeed, I was amused to note that in the (very dated) National Park Service film, a mother and child in period costume assume the appropriate poses for winding a ball of yarn — but the mother was looping the wool onto the child’s hands, unwinding her ball! What a sad statement of how much knowledge about textiles we have lost.

Sunflower stick pin from Kenneth Florey’s Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia web site.

The second trip was to Connecticut, where my friend Margaret and I had a splendid visit with Kenneth Florey, a leading expert on woman suffrage memorabilia. His first book (Women’s Suffrage Memorabiliadocuments many of the fascinating items that suffragists (and their opponents) crafted, manufactured, and sold to support the cause. (Ken’s second book, American Woman Suffrage Postcards, has just been released.)

You can see a portion of Ken’s amazing collection on his website. Some of my favorite pieces include a ballot box just for women’s votes, a tin thread holder, and a dainty silver sunflower pin with “1848” in the center, in remembrance of the Seneca Falls convention. Several of the items in Ken’s collection provide inspiration for crochet projects I’ll be releasing over the next year. 

The Matilda Joslyn Gage home, in Fayetteville, NY.
The Matilda Joslyn Gage home, in Fayetteville, NY.

On the way back home, we stopped at the Matilda Joslyn Gage home, in Fayetteville, NY. Apparently, Gage is the forgotten member of what was a powerful suffrage triumvirate whose other  members were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Gage collaborated with Stanton and Anthony on several volumes of The History of Woman Suffrage and with Stanton on The Woman’s Bible, and much of the work was done in this very house. 

Adopted into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation, Gage could cast a ballot in tribal votes but was arrested for casting a vote in a local election. I was fascinated to learn that the matriarchal governance of the clan may have provided inspiration for much of Gage’s work on woman suffrage. Gage’s work also inspired her son-in-law’s children’s book, The Wizard of Oz (take a moment to think about the characters….) I can’t wait to start designing crochet projects that acknowledge Gage’s contributions to woman suffrage.

The Matilda Joslyn Gage home in Fayetteville, NY, is the only home open to the public where Wizard of Oz writer L. Frank Baum once lived.
The Matilda Joslyn Gage home in Fayetteville, NY, is the only home open to the public where Wizard of Oz writer L. Frank Baum once lived.

In the meantime, I’ve been busy writing for several publications. My first PieceWork article, “Letters from the Asylum,” is now out–and if you think getting the right to vote solved women’s problems…well, think again. And look for another article–complete with  suffrage crochet projects–in a future issue. I’m also working on something for Donna Druchunas’ wonderful Stories in Stitches book series.

’till next time,

Katherine Durack

© Katherine Durack 2015

Suffrage, Lace, and “Slow Fashion”

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk on Jazz Age (1920s era) clothing by Cynthia Amneus, the Chief Curator of Fashion Arts and Textiles at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Her talk, on how clothing styles changed with the transition from the Victorian era to the early twentieth century got me thinking about (you guessed it) crochet, women’s fashion, and suffrage.

There’s a great irony here, it seems to me: toward the end of the 19th century, print technology had at long last advanced to the point it was economically feasible to include the kinds of illustrations that are truly helpful in explaining how to make various crochet stitches and patterns. And, thriving textile manufacturers flooded the market with “how to” books and pamphlets having figured out that a good way to sell their cotton, silk, or wool yarns and threads was to provide instructions for projects especially designed for their goods. But just when women could enjoy the proliferating supplies needed to make their own lace, glory be, “fancy work” fell out of favor. That dratted New Woman, finally able to pursue education and even a career, set aside her crochet hooks and knitting needles for tennis rackets and bicycles — and opted for looser fitting, simpler garments that complemented her new freedoms.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, from the Library of Congress, Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-28195

Curious now, I started looking at photos of suffragists and paying attention to how they dressed — were they wearing any lace? Based on the few photos I have seen of suffragist Lucretia Mott, the Quaker woman seems to have preferred the plain clothing typically associated with her faith, even for the special occasion of having a portrait taken. But both Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Quaker Susan B. Anthony (longtime friends and collaborators) wear an abundance of lace in various photos.

You can see how lace has fallen out of fashion by the time Alice Paul (another Quaker) shakes up the country with her more active and aggressive activism. Her clothing is typically  simple and modern, though occasionally she does sport an outfit with a bit of embroidery, and she proudly wears her Jailed for Freedom brooch on her breast.

Alice Paul in 1919, from the Library of Congress, Reproduction No. LC-DIG-hec-12352. Miss Paul has pinned her Jailed for Freedom brooch in the center of the embroidered design.

This same period saw the beginnings of ready-made clothing for women. Early suffragists were concerned about the plight of needlewomen, and later suffragists like Alice Paul had to consider how events like the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (in 1911), brought together upper crust and working class women and could affect political strategy. I’d like to think that things have improved since that fire, in which 146 garment workers (mostly women) lost their lives because the exit doors were locked.

They haven’t. Clothing manufacture has been exported around the globe, and working conditions in some locations are not much different than they were in this country so very many years ago. You can buy hand-crocheted sweaters and tops at department stores for  ridiculously low prices.

Some unique garment labels remind us of the gendered division of labor when it comes to clothing, and one recent effort (also using garment labels) reminds consumers of what workers — often women — sacrifice so we can have inexpensive clothes. The “slow fashion” movement was inspired at least in part by the 2013 Bangladesh factory collapse, is an effort by designers to encourage consumers to purchase fewer items of higher quality clothing, and to pay attention to the social and ecological consequences of voracious clothing consumption.

I suppose I’ve embarked upon my own “slow fashion” campaign — I’ve just learned to use a drop spindle to spin my own yarn. In coming weeks, I’ll be finding out first-hand just how much time goes into crocheting a collar or shawl or shrug.

’till next time,

Katherine Durack

© Katherine Durack 2015

“The Uncertainty of Life”: Crochet & the Progressive Agenda

In the same 1913 issue of Harper’s Weekly that I wrote about last week appeared the following ad, for Traveler’s Insurance.

IMG_2458_4webIn an era when few jobs were open to women, families were in real peril at the loss of a male head of household. Here, a mother and her two children have had to “take in sewing” for a living because father “forgot the uncertainty of life, and dying left nothing.” While the mother works at her machine, her son and daughter help out with handwork.

It turns out that the reality was much worse than the sad image shown in the ad — where the children and mother wear clean clothes and work in a sunny window in a tidy room. Photographer Lewis Hine investigated and documented the actual conditions under which families and children labored at home and in factories in his work for the National Child Labor Committee. His work played an instrumental role in establishing federal regulations on home work and child labor. Here’s an image from the stunning collection of photographs by Hine at the Library of Congress.

From the Library of Congress.

The four children shown in the photo are crocheting outside their tenement home in Somerville, Massachusetts. The boy is 9 and has been working (doing crochet) for 2 years. The older girls — his sister and a cousin — are 13 and 10 years old. No information is provided about the toddler, but the description of another photo in the collection indicates that a 5-year-old child was old enough to begin crocheting for money.

The grim collection includes images of families whose members have ringworm and running sores, yet work all day in filthy surroundings adding crochet trimmings to underwear.

Today you can buy hand crocheted doilies at craft stores (or t-shirts at discount stores) at prices that suggest workers are getting at best pennies per hour. It seems we’ve never really moved ahead from the sweatshop economics that made the clothing industry highly profitable in the 19th century — we’ve just relocated production around the globe, insulating consumers from awareness of — and outrage about — inhumane working conditions.

’till next time,

Katherine Durack

© Katherine Durack 2015

To learn more…
Photographs of Lewis Hine: Documentation of Child Labor. Online at the National Archives web site.

On factory work, you might be interested in this piece on the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, an event that motivated working women to participate in the suffrage movement.

This story about the 2013 building collapse at a Bangladesh clothing factory makes the same point, about the need for safety standards in manufacturing, more than 100 years after the fire that shocked America.

Crocheting in meetings — Courageous act or outrageous inattention?

Last week, I brought my crocheting to a meeting that I attended as an observer. After the meeting adjourned, another woman reflected on her corporate career and told of a male executive who knitted during meetings. She wished she had been “brave” enough to do the same. I’m not sure why bringing our needlework out in public requires courage, but the exchange reminded me of a story I had come across in the November 29, 1913, issue of Harper’s Weekly.

Mrs. Pankhurst Departs, by O.E. Cesare.
Mrs. Pankhurst Departs, by O.E. Cesare. Emmeline Pankhurst toured the United States in 1913, and this image was featured in Harper’s Weekly in the November 29 issue.

“The Culture Club of Deadham” tells of a suffragette who speaks at a women’s club. “Miss S.Tonethrower,” is nearly undone when as she begins her speech,

every woman settled back in her chair, dug up a bag from some place and began to crochet. This was a new stunt for Susan and it rattled her considerably–rattled her more than the throwing of stones or the crashing of windows.

Nevertheless, Susan continued her speech, telling the clubwomen of the global suffrage movement and of the issues that the movement was concerned with, like how in many states women lacked parental rights, and that the age of consent was “disgracefully low” (a girl could be married at 12). Apparently unaffected, “the women crocheted on.” In her mind, Susan despairs–

If she could only hurl a few stones or smash a few windows or do something to break through this knitted fabric of indifference!

Ultimately, Susan is defeated–after a word of thanks for her address, the clubwomen turn to a topic that utterly captures their attention, “our study of Spain.”

These women of Deadham became so interested in that defunct institution with a Hapsburg jaw called a king, that they sat with their mouths wide open and actually forgot to crochet. […]

Clearly author Mary Swain Wagner viewed the crocheting clubwomen with distinct disdain–the kind of disapproval we face today when we transgress boundaries and bring our needlework (a profoundly domestic activity) out in public. But what of the suffragette? Were any of the barbs in the story intended for her?

Harper’s Weekly editor Norman Hapgood.

It wasn’t until I investigated further that I realized the suffragette really was the hero of the piece, and that her name, “Miss S.Tonethrower,” was descriptive–a proud, rather than ridiculous, appellation. Newly appointed editor Norman Hapgood intended to use Harper’s Weekly as a platform for advancing a progressive agenda and devoted attention to topics like trust-busting and the need for a minimum wage. According to a brief editorial, “What is Feminism?”  Harper’s Weekly would be part of …

that new striving toward higher and fairer standards in morals, politics, and economics which are classed generally together under the head of the Feminist Movement.

Mary Swain Wagner was part of a new generation of suffragists who infused the languishing movement with vigor and “borrowed new political tactics from their more militant sisters in England” (Buenker, p. 349). Indeed, just 3 years earlier, Swain Wagner had “arranged a successful lecture tour by a militant English suffragist” — so the story could be thinly veiled fact rather imaginative fancy (Buenker, p. 349).

By this time, it seems needlework–as pastime or cause–had so fallen out of fashion with the new generation of activists that crochet came to symbolize the failed movement of decades past and women whom Swain Wagner characterized as “doddering old ladies” (Buenker, p. 349).

’till next time,

Katherine Durack

© Katherine Durack 2015

Sources
Buenker, John D. The Progressive Era, 1893-1914. Volume 4 of The History of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Historical Society, 2013. 

Harper’s Weekly, November 29, 1913.

Stitch Diary: 1846 – Knitting, Crochet, and Netting

stitch diary

Given her association with Irish crochet, I had hoped to find patterns for making the fabulous lace in a book by Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere. I was disappointed. It turns out techniques for making the tiny shapes that are central to Irish lace were closely held secrets, and while Mlle. Riego shared in her books how to make lots of different kinds of stitchery, she did not reveal (at least in this book) her secrets for making Irish lace.

A penciled note inside the front cover of the book identifies Knitting, Crochet, and Netting — with Twelve Illustrations as Mlle. Riego’s first book. The “Teacher of Fancy Works” dedicated the work to her patron, Lady Martins. Sold for 2 shillings, readers were assured that if they had any questions, they could contact Mlle. Riego by leaving a message at any of the “principal Berlin shops” or in care of the publisher and Mlle. Riego would gladly provide additional instruction.

You can understand why Mlle. Riego was renowned for teaching (as well as her needlework) when you read this book. The work is free of the moralizing sermons characteristic of other works in the period, and the written instructions she provides are clear and precise, especially in comparison to the confused prose in some of the other available books. She defines only a few basic stitches, and mentions other common names used to describe the same stitch. The definitions themselves provide clues that hint at the logic underlying the UK terminology conventions, which seem to have originated from some combination of the number of loops on the hook and the number of times you “take the wool up.”

Below, I provide excerpts from the definitions as she wrote them; contemporary US equivalents appear in brackets.

“Shepherd or Single Crochet. This stitch is usually worked in the round…. Put the needle in the 1st chain stitch, draw the wool through; there will now be 2 loops on the needle; draw the last loop through the first.” [SL ST]

“Plain, Double, or French Crochet. … put the needle in a stitch of the chain; draw the wool through; there will be 2 loops on the needle. Take the wool on the needle again, and draw it through the 2 loops.” [SC]

“Treble Crochet. … put the wool round the needle, put the needle in a stitch of the chain, draw the wool through; there will be 3 loops on the needle. Take the wool on the needle again, draw it through 2 of the loops; take up the wool again, and draw it through the 2. This is 1 stitch.” [DC]

As a side note — the illustrations included in the book are “patterns” for crochet (or netting), designs made up of marked blocks on a grid that could be executed in filet crochet or with beads on a solid ground.

’till next time,

Katherine Durack

© Katherine Durack 2015

Source
Riego de la Branchardiere, Eleonore. Knitting, Crochet, and Netting, with Twelve Illustrations. London: S. Knights, 1846.

Irish Crochet and the Great Potato Famine

Last week, I read this interesting commentary on how poorly high school textbooks describe the devastation of the Irish potato famine. So much is missing from our common knowledge of this tragedy — like how 400,000 Irish peasants starved that winter of 1846, while “landlords exported 17 million pounds sterling worth of grain, cattle, pigs, and poultry.” Yet another often overlooked aspect of the famine is its connection to crocheted lace.

Child’s dress by Mlle. de la Branchardiere

Irish crochet is a kind of crocheted lace in which small motifs — crocheted leaves, flowers, and other shapes — are assembled into fabulous lace cloth or trimmings. As families faced starvation because of the potato crop failure, many Irish women and children turned to lacemaking to earn the money they needed to survive or emigrate (Potter, p. 125).

Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere, who made this child’s dress, is recognized by crochet historians as a major contributor to the lace industry. Deeply concerned with the working conditions of the Irish peasants, Mlle. Riego  was “uncommonly determined to make the conditions of life better for the Irish peasantry by helping to develop new ideas, designs, and marketing for the entire Irish crochet industry” (Potter, p. 85).

I don’t know if Mlle. Riego would have considered herself a suffragist, but certainly her work — and her status as a professional — reflected some of the concerns of the early women’s movement. Needlework was one of the few areas in which women were permitted to excel — which Mlle. Riego certainly did. Not only was the quality of her hand work exceptional (she received the Prize Medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851, plus medals for excellence in 1855, 1862, and 1872), she was also an innovator in writing needlework instructions. And indeed, her descriptions of the basic stitches provide some suggestion as to the logic of their names — stay tuned for a future Stitch Diary entry on Mlle. Riego’s first book.

’till next time,

Katherine Durack

© Katherine Durack 2015

Sources
Ballantine, Barbara. Mlle. Riego and Irish Crochet Lace.

Bigelow, Bill. “The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools.” Common Dreams.

History of Irish Crochet. Irish Crochet Lab.

Potter, Annie Louise. A Living Mystery: The International Art and History of Crochet. A. J. Publishing International, 1990. 

Stitch Diary: 1877-1879 – The Lady’s Crochet-book

stitch diary

Published in New York in 1879 by Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, The Lady’s Crochet-Book seems at first glance to be yet another pirated needlework book that has made a trans-atlantic crossing — There’s also a Lady’s Crochet-Book (third series) by E.M.C. that was published two years earlier in London, by Hatchards, Piccadilly.

But these two editions of The Lady’s Crochet-Book have little in common except the title and author credit–to E.M.C., Elvina Mary Carbould. There are many differences, as a quick look at the “index” (or table of contents) at the front of each book reveals. First off, the two books don’t even list the same number of patterns:

  • The 1877 (London) version has 28 entries
  • The 1879 (New York) version includes 45 entries, including a section “Terms used in Crochet” that is completely absent from the 1877 London book

Some patterns–like ones for “braces” and “Red Riding Hood” from 1877 (London)–are clearly absent from the other. And even patterns that from the title seem to be identical — like the “long purse” listed in both books — have little in common when you compare the directions. Did Elvina Mary Corbould really write both books? The near total difference between the two copies begs the question. Since E.M.C. was apparently author of several popular British knitting books, I can’t help but wonder whether the New York publisher simply attributed authorship to E.M.C. and applied her title to some other author’s work to generate sales.

In any case, the fact that crochet stitches are frequently called by different names is acknowledged by the author (whomever she may be) in the 1879 (New York) version:

Almost every one can crochet; but the stitches used are sometimes called by different terms, therefore the following explanations will serve to prevent any confusion….

To me, it’s interesting that the terms that follow use today’s UK meanings–so we have yet another instance in which an early crochet book published in the US adopts what seems to be the older UK standard. Here’s a list of the terms from the 1879 (New York) Lady’s Crochet-Book (in bold), with the US equivalents in capital letters.

chain stitch – CH

single crochet – SL ST

double crochet – SC

treble – DC

long treble – EDC (extended double crochet)

tricoter – TSS (Tunisian simple stitch)

Before I close, here’s a bit of context:

  • In 1877, Colorado first considered women’s right to vote. While that referendum campaign failed, Colorado women succeeded in gaining suffrage 16 years later, in 1893. You can read more about that effort here.
  • In 1879, Norwegian immigrant and Minnesotan Oline Muus sued her husband, Lutheran minister Bernt Muus, seeking access to funds she had inherited from her father, money she wanted to use to care for her children. Characterizing life with her stern husband as “torture-a-plenty,” Oline later sued for divorce, which was granted–although her husband retained custody of their children. More about this story can be found here.

’till next time,

Katherine Durack

© Katherine Durack 2015

Corbould, Elvina Mary. The Lady’s Crochet-book. London: Hatchards, Piccadilly, 1877. Openlibrary.org

Corbould, Elvina Mary. The Lady’s Crochet-book. New York: A. D. F. Randolph & Company, 1879. Hathitrust Digital Library.

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