Case 1 of 2: Narrative Threads    

"Death of President Lincoln." Currier & Ives, publishers. Lithograph. 1865.

This print of the room in which Abraham Lincoln spent his last hours includes a beautifully detailed crochet cover on the bedside table. In The Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion, published in 1866, Frazer Kirkland describes this same crochet doily: "The furniture of the apartment consisted of a bureau covered in crochet, a table, several chairs of simple construction, adapted for sleeping rooms, and the bed upon which Mr. Lincoln lay when his spirit took its flight."


"Death of President Lincoln"

"The Sewing Machine as Mr. Sanguine Imagined It."Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. New York: April 17, 1858.

This series of cartoons depicts the short-lived effort by Mr. Sanguine to use the "newly invented" sewing machine.


"The Sewing Machine as Mr. Sanguine Imagined It"
"The Sewing Machine as Mr. Sanguine finds it."
"Mr. Sanguine as he appeared just after he head stepped on "another of those ___ needles."
"The Imprudent agent of the Sewing Machine Company, having called upon Mr. Sanguine for a "Certificate," gets more than he came for, and goes off in flying colors about the eyes and face. The man who has bought the machine for old iron rather enjoys the fun."

"Little Lessons for Little Ladies." Harper's Weekly Magazine. August 1851.

This cartoon attempts to dissuade women from spending too many hours at leisure. "Fanny Fallal, although she was not rich, nor person of rank, was a very fine lady. She would pass all her time reading novels and working crochet, but would neglect her household duties; so her husband who was a very nice man, and fond of a very nice dinner, became a member of a Club, and used to stop out very late at night, which led to many quarrels. How foolish it was of Fanny to neglect her household duties and not make her Albert happy at home."



Thomas Hood. "Song of the Shirt." New York: J. Andrews, printer. [Ca. 1850].

In the 1840s government reports on the plight of seamstresses in London, resulted in an outpouring of literature demanding reform, including Thomas Hood's famous "Song of the Shirt." Parallel problems in the American needle trades made the song popular here as well.


"Mr. Pogers." Harper's Weekly Magazine. July 1857.

This humorous cartoon depicts a reversal of nineteenth-century stereotypes: "Augustus, darling. I wish you would put up that silly Tambour Work, and help me mend your mother's and sister's dresses. You know they will want them this evening."


"The Sewing Bird." Written by Fitz James O'Brien. Illustrations by J. McLenan. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, September 1860.

Timothy Shay Arthur. Lizzy Glenn, or The Trials of A Seamstress. Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson and Brothers, 1859.

To broaden awareness of the problems surrounding the needlework trade, a proliferation of compelling tales portraying the hardships of needlewomen emerged in the nineteenth century.

"The Sewing Bird."



McGuffey's Pictorial Eclectic Primer. New York: American Book Company, 1867.

This book provided everyday words and phrases to help young readers expand their vocabularies. The inclusion of an illustration and description of a workbasket clearly shows the importance of needlework in Victorian life.


Jesse Clement. Noble Deeds of American Women: With Biographical Sketches of Some of the More Prominent. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1869.

The sketches, which portray the noble deeds of many otherwise obscure American women, repeatedly characterize knitting as a virtuous and industrious occupation: "One of the models in activity and virtue, and one who doubtless secured thereby the prize of healthy and extreme old age, was Mrs. Lydia Gustin, a native of Lyme, Connecticut. A part of the labor performed during her hundredth year, was the knitting of twenty-four pairs of stockings."


Mary L. (Day) Arms. Incidents in the Life of a Blind Girl: Mary L. Day, a Graduate of the Maryland Institution for the Blind. Baltimore: J. Young, 1859.

Despite her blindness, Mary Arms learned to knit with enough skill to support herself financially. She offered her knitting services to family, friends, and neighbors who often found their abundance of "winter knitting" an overwhelming task: "To employ my time, it was proposed I should learn to knit; at first I thought this impossible as I could not see, but they persuaded me to try…In about a year I learned to knit a pair of stockings."


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Other Poems. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1858.

In this work, Longfellow pursued the idea of needlework as an alluring activity. The winding of yarn offered men an opportunity to participate in this sensual act of femininity: "Sometimes touching his hands, as she disentangled expertly. Twist or knot in the yarn, unawares--for how could she help it? Sending electrical thrills through every nerve in his body."




Dinah Maria Mulock Craik. A Woman's Thoughts About Women. New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1858.

Craik poignantly expresses her belief that books fail to convey the realities of the lives of professional needleworkers: "Of the individuals, of their modes of existence, feeling and thought -- of their sorrows and pleasures, accomplishments and defects -- we 'ladies' of the middle and upper ranks, especially those who reside in great towns, know essentially nothing."




The Ladies' Repository: A Monthly Periodical, Devoted to Literature, Arts, and Religion. 1861.

Nineteenth-century devotional periodicals frequently described needlework in both literal and metaphorical terms. The children's story "Little Twinette," published by The Ladies' Repository in September 1868, portrays the life of young spider who by the end of the tale learns that making frequent social calls prevented useful industry. The young spider visited her mother's cousin "Old Grim" who remarked, "Young folks were better off home, attending to their housework, than to be spinning so much useless street yarn." Ignoring him, she picked up her crochet and left to find a more sociable neighbor.


The Ladies' Repository: A Monthly Periodical, Devoted to Literature, Arts, and Religion.

Peterson's Magazine. Philadelphia: November 1862.

In the mid-nineteenth century subscriptions to Peterson's Magazine, an informative and entertaining resource for women, outnumbered all other monthlies published in the United States. In 1866 Peterson's Magazine began to feature double-sized color fashion plates engraved on steel, woodcuts of the newest clothing, and colored patterns for all varieties of needlework.


Peterson's Magazine.