MAKING IT, OURSELVES: Waves of Work / Waves of Pleasure

Waves of Work / Waves of Pleasure Sewing Machine Art

This installment of Making It, Ourselves feels very different from the last one (about my Bellows cardigan). The Bellows post came at the end of a 2-month-long process. Today’s is the result of just an afternoon of labor. Partly, that’s the difference between knitting and sewing. But also it’s the difference between a garment that I hope to wear for ages and a piece of quiet art that doesn’t need to fit any particular dimensions; it just needs to serve as a little reminder, a little tribute to the 19th-century seamstresses whose bodies were exploited and exhausted—and sometimes excited by the immoral rhythms of their sewing machines. (<– See last month’s History Project for more on that.) So, what I’ve made is not a perfect example of master sewing (not even close!), but it’ll hang on my wall and send out a reminding wave whenever I pass by.

When I thought about what might constitute a fitting homage to the excited seamstresses, I knew that it would have to be created using my sewing machine (obvs) and that its design would be based on rhythm and repetition. A wave motif seemed appropriate, as it satisfied the rhythmic-and-repetitive requirement and also could capture the back-and-forth surges of the act of sewing (especially as it would have been strenuously enacted on those first sewing machines). Additionally, I had the metaphorical meanings of a wave in mind—the experience of “waves” of pain or “waves” of pleasure. With these ideas in mind, I gathered my materials and set to work. Continue reading MAKING IT, OURSELVES: Waves of Work / Waves of Pleasure

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HISTORY PROJECT: The Immoral Rhythms of the Early Sewing Machine

Sewing Factory in Late Victorian England

 

It’s Spring in the northern hemisphere and, for many, that marks the beginning of sewing season (#memademay, for reference). So this week, a salty little sewing tale…

In the 1860s, a small but impassioned debate broke out in both England, France, and the U.S. regarding the potentially “exciting” effects of the sewing machine. That’s right—doctors worried that the rhythmic pumping of the thighs resulted in sexual arousal and that women workers were using the machines to stimulate themselves. Equal parts hilarious and infuriating, it is a story that brings up questions of the industrial use of women’s bodies, their unanswered complaints of fatigue and ailment, masculine control of female sexual processes, and the threat of a working woman enjoying a private pleasure. In short, it’s a juicy one. (Pun most definitely intended.) Continue reading HISTORY PROJECT: The Immoral Rhythms of the Early Sewing Machine

HISTORY PROJECT: A Brief History of Long Underwear

Ladies Sanitary Woolen Drawers in Jaeger Catalog 1887

I admit it: I’ve been wanting an excuse to make Dianna Walla’s Aspen leg warmers since I first saw them on Instagram. I initially schemed about doing a post on the history of long underwear just so I could feel justified in adding the Aspens to my to-knit list. As soon as I started digging, though, the leg warmers became a bonus on top of a fascinating history lesson about a fertile moment in fashion history. Emerging in the early 1880s, the Sanitary Woolen System and the Rational Dress Movement both called for practicality and health in everyday dress. Variously rooted in the vagaries of pseudoscience on the one hand and radical feminism on the other, their joint legacy includes such a seemingly mundane garment as long underwear.

Gustav_Jäger_portraitFirst, the Woolen System. Those of us who are spinners, weavers, knitters, and crocheters are well versed in the wonders of wool. But it was news to me that, more than a century ago, there arose an influential school of thought that wool is not only a practical material but also a supremely healthful one. In 1880, Dr. Gustav Jaeger (sometimes Jäger) published Standardized Apparel For Health Protection on the health benefits of wearing wool, and he followed it up with Health-Culture (<– how great/vague is that title?!) in 1887.

Continue reading HISTORY PROJECT: A Brief History of Long Underwear