After co-writing the biography of my Irish great-great grandmother (Harriet Susannah Ellis, 1863-1939), I am now writing the biographies of all four of my great-great grandmothers. One was born across Ireland, one was born in Canada, and two were born in U.S. – in the 1840’s – 1860’s.
As I write about female ancestors, I periodically write about my own connection to my ancestors in my effort to learn “skills of yesteryear” – sewing, gardening, etc.
A Twitter post today – from the account of “Women’s Fashionable Tailoring,1750-1920” (@TailoredDress) – reminded me, as I research my ancestors, that my own tailoring today has a historical context.
As the 1800’s became the 1900’s, my Irish great-great grandmother’s rural household in County Wicklow, Ireland was visited every six months by a travelling seamstress who would stay at the house for a week. During that week, the seamstress would make new clothes for everyone in the household. Given that there were ten children, that’s a lot of sewing! A century later, one of Harriet’s daughters – by then a centurian – told me about the travelling seamstress; I seem to recall that the daughter got one or two new dresses every six months.
Later, and on the other side of the pond, the youngest daughter of another great-great grandmother – my maternal great grandmother’s sister Myrtle – never married. Myrtle spent at least parts of her adult life living with relatives. Myrtle – who was born in the U.S. state of Iowa in 1879 and died in Seattle, Washington in 1965 – earned income as a “milliner;” she tailored clothing that would be displayed and sold in local clothing shops.
How many people today make their own clothes? Not as many as there used to be. I am among the people today who make some of their own clothes. This allows me to have clothes I want, rather than having to depend on the whims of fashion designers. Further, tailoring my own clothes means that my clothes will always fit! And, it provides me with a connection – a “make-one’s own clothing” connection – to ancestors of yesteryear.
Kim Burkhardt writes about women ancestors who were born pre-1900.