Monday 8 March 2010

Oooh! Mr Hudson! What Will Mrs Bridges Say?

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Do you remember this wonderful programme? How I loved the antics above and below stairs at Eaton Place!


My grandparents/great-grandparents had all been 'in service' so I know my place in the order of things!


Reading my lovely 'Erica Wilson' embroidery book, and recent conversations with friends, and time spent reading blogs has led me to develop an 'Upstairs/Downstairs' theory about craftwork.It goes along these lines...

[note- I am aware that men sew as well, but most of this work is traditionally a woman's craft!]

If you look at the needlework surviving in our Museums/Stately Homes, the majority of it appears to have been created by ladies - the wealthier women who had time on their hands to sit about embroidering/weaving/ making tapestries etc. They were the ones who could afford to purchase fine silks to stitch, and linen to work on.

historic1 historic 2



The 'ordinary' folk did sew, but it tended to be functional things - clothing, bedspreads etc made of rougher cloth and cheaper threads. Furthermore, the development of the 'pieced' patchwork quilt really came about when these women wanted to make warm coverings, but had no access to new fabrics, and thriftily sewed together all the spare/used/leftover scraps. oregontrailquilt


This is particularly evident among the needlework of the pioneer/frontier women of the USA.

So, historically speaking, it seems to me that there was always an upstairs/downstairs attitude to sewing.


But I am conscious of the fact that these two strands still prevail in Britain, even in the 21st century.

I have very dear friends who would not dream of embarking on a new craft project without first going out to buy the necessary fat quarters/spools of thread/hanks of yarn. shop

After a trip to the shop, they then sit down and produce a beautiful, high quality item - almost museum-worthy in its loveliness. The colours blend perfectly, it looks 'classy'.


And there are others who see the need for some item or other and so go and dig around in their loft/spare room/wherever till they find the necessary components.


And they create something with what they have on hand - almost regarding it as a sin if they do have to spend money on something new [a zip/magnetic clasp/bag-handles] to finish the project.


But Group A - the 'Upstairs' needlewomen do run the risk of developing addictions. Purchasing fat quarters 'in case' and hiding them [in cases?] ...or being irresistibly drawn to Hobbycraft and Haberdashers on Saturday afternoons, like moths to a flame...going out to buy food for their children and coming back with metres of satin ribbon instead. OK, I am exaggerating there. [I hope]

quilt cartoon

Whereas group 'B', the 'Downstairs' crowd [I hesitate to call them 'sewers' - that implies so many negative concepts if misread!] run the risk of hanging on to every scrap of fabric that passes through their hands, just 'in case'. Their lofts are full of shoe boxes of odd lengths of ribbon from chocolate boxes, striped laundry bags stuffed with old and ugly curtains and outgrown skirts, and they do not just have one button box - they have a coffee jar, a tupperware tub and three old biscuits tins, all rattling away with buttons [and other fastenings - and one day they will get round to sorting them all out properly]

I know where I belong in this hierarchy. But wherever you consider yourself to be, this probably holds true


What would be really useful would be for somebody to pay me a lot of money to do a PhD, developing this thesis. I am sure De Montfort University would be interested, they are always publishing bits of esoteric research!


  1. sewers! Ha Ha. My great grandfather built the sewers of Victorian Lincoln so I know my place!
    But I like your theory and I'm with you in group B with boxes and bags of scraps and an aversion to buying ANYTHING!

  2. Hi Ang,
    Examples of my stitching can be seen on my blog. As a pastor, I find stitching relaxing, plus I can put it down quickly if I have to.

  3. Well, as you can imagine, I am firmly in group 2.......except just occasioanlly when I simply cant resist a lovely NEW bit of fabric!

  4. I'm a group B sewer ;) without an attic - imagine my problems!


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