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‘Home is Where the Art is’:
Women, Handicrafts and Home Improvements 1750–1900
The crafts produced and consumed by women during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the domestic interior are worth investigating to try to unravel why women at various levels of society took up home crafts and what their motives were for doing so. At one level, it may have been artistic self-expression; at another level a product of a commitment to household duty or ﬁnancial necessity, or on a third level it may have been for entertainment or pastime. These motivations seem to reﬂect the more recently labelled DIY home improvements. The fact that particular crafts were associated with women was based partly on the determinist philosophies of the eighteenth century. These were predicated on distinctions that supposed that each gender had inherently different faculties. In the ﬁelds of art and crafts, this led to the distinction between amateur women and professional men, and more especially, the equating of speciﬁc crafts with women’s work and homemaking. This gendering, which was preached both in school and in print, meant that by the mideighteenth century, any visual sensibility women had developed was particularly directed towards their homes. The broad aims of this paper are therefore to investigate the nature of the work undertaken, the role it played in certain women’s lives, how it reﬂected social attitudes of the period, and its relationship with the home during the period 1750–1900. Finally, the article will reﬂect on how and in what different ways women’s domestic arts and crafts could be considered as precursors to the DIY of today.
Keywords: crafts—Do-It-Yourself—domestic arts—leisure—home improvements—women
Downloaded from jdh.oxfordjournals.org at University of Teesside on August 23, 2011
Do It Yourself (DIY) is both a producing and a consuming culture. The ‘raw materials’ that are worked upon by amateurs are transformed and manipulated into an artefact which is then consumed by them and their family.1 It is also more than this. DIY represents the individual through self-expression and a sense of self-worth; it may be a pastime or hobby; and it is good ‘husbandry’ or ‘housewifery’ as it is usually practical, thrifty and often self-sufﬁcient. It is also culturally expressive. Given these factors, investigations into versions of DIY will beneﬁt from the interdisciplinary approach that is taken here to consider them. The issues of production, consumption,
mediation, gender and identity will all be considered as links contributing to the domestic creativity that is an important part of the making and the meaning of homes. Kevin Melchionne suggests that this ‘creativity resided not just in the construction of the meaning of the commodity, but more importantly in the physical fashioning of the ﬁnal product’.2 This domestic work provides added meaning, thus enshrining the personal ‘value added’ to projects and objects, and making DIY a fascinating conjunction of production and consumption. It seems clear that this process is by no means new. On the face of it, DIY, (in the sense that it relates to the improvement and decoration of the home by the occupier), seems to have many similarities with handcrafted artefacts made by women in 11
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which must include the products of women’s domestic handicrafts. gendering as it affected craft was based on the male-expressed precept that ‘Nature appears to have formed the faculties of [the female] sex for the most part with less vigour than those of ours’. the equating of speciﬁc crafts to ‘women’s work’. which supposed that each gender had inherently different faculties. is labour saving but not a convenience.org at University of Teesside on August 23. Women and handicrafts Women’s activity in the home. certain aspects of craftwork do have regularity and a repetitive aspect to them. especially in the form of DIY. 2011 . has often been regarded as essentially selﬂess. This last concern reﬂects the nature of some DIY projects where ready-made plans. Conversely. may bridge the gap between altruism and self-respect. uniqueness and individuality. the fact that particular crafts were associated with women was in part based on the determinist philosophies of the eighteenth century. hence the distinctions are not so clear-cut. accomplishments helped class discrimination where particular craft knowledge could act as an exclusionary device. this was that the eighteenth century saw the beginning of a decline in home-based economic production and much work that was done for the home had little commercial value. The work undertaken to improve the home was unpaid. advice books and designs. This meant that for women. whereas in others this element was far less important. Melchionne’s suggestion that DIY ‘represents a theoretically important hybrid of modern consumerism and traditional handiwork’5 makes a tentative link with historical crafts. been a motivation for much domestic work and it may be argued that crafts. there is a basic premise that must be borne in mind. Wherever one looks. as opposed to regulated work using standardized parts. and more especially. Nevertheless. and handwork can clearly be diverse and unique. as well as pre-prepared materials were the mainstay of the process of assemblage. ‘Keeping up appearances’ has. On another level. On one level. especially that undertaken by women in a domestic situation. however. it may have been artistic self-expression. This prehistory of DIY offers an opportunity to investigate the reasons why people want to ‘do-itthemselves’ and to see if there is some common ground between the historic and the contemporary attitudes. it occupied spare time. this led to the distinction between amateur women and professional men. I will also argue that the early history of modern DIY shows that ‘handwork’ and ‘craftwork’. This gendering. where the role of women as ‘arrangers’ and often producers of comfort helped to reﬂect their household’s social status.3 As Melchionne points out. The same could be said for modern DIY. which was preached both in school and in print. In addition. 4 Melchionne distinguishes between handwork and craft where craft allows diversity. This is not straightforward. The crafts produced and consumed by women during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the domestic interior are therefore worth investigating in an attempt to try to unravel why women at various levels of society took up craftwork and what 12 their motives were for doing so. In addition. The use of art and craft skills was clearly a ﬁnancial necessity in some households.6 For these men. but were unable to exercise judgement. In the ﬁelds of ‘art and crafts’. this was also linked to the issue of encouraging women to use their ‘spare’ time productively. There was also often a sense of satisfaction in being able to personalize and customize the home.Clive Edwards and for the home throughout the period under review. it became a product of a commitment to household duty.oxfordjournals. could be considered as creative or interpretative consumption. On a third level the work may have been for entertainment or pastime. it sometimes used kits of partly ﬁnished materials and was at times a way of being thrifty.7 It has already been pointed out that there is more than a suggestion that a particular notion of femininity Downloaded from jdh. any visual sensibility women had developed was particularly directed towards their homes. The acquisition of craft expertise also gave women a marketable skill. in a non-commercial capacity. meant that by the mid-eighteenth century. These were predicated on gendered distinctions. modern DIY is handwork but not craft. There was also a tendency for women to be regarded as capable only of copying but not of using their own imagination. and is done in leisure time but is often not a hobby. Although it was inherently labour intensive it may also have been undertaken as a leisure pursuit of sorts. however. women were endowed with the senses and had the capacity for simple thought. It was no less than their duty to beautify and ornament them.
which has its roots in the Renaissance. Nevertheless. Typical later nineteenth century advice for young women went as follows: ‘girls who are clever with their ﬁngers can do very much towards making the home beautiful. as well as one calculated to call forth the artistic taste and inventive powers of the worker’. many of these crafts represented the female virtues of diligence. not for battle—and her intellect is not for invention or creation. interpretative consumption]. Ladies Companion.12 the sentiments remained the same. Norfolk Museum and Archaeology Service 13 . Whether it was Thomas Milles in 1613 saying. 2]. These notions were reinforced by male commentators. Pattern for orné wool work antimacassar. it was still ‘only domestic craft’. but by the practice of amateur upholstery’. Downloaded from jdh. Rozsika Parker neatly sums this all up by saying that ‘when women embroider. management and decision’ [i. women were increasingly able to express a high degree of inventiveness. especially in the crafts associated with interior decoration. In addition.1856 when shell working was recommended in a woman’s journal as being both ‘an elegant drawing room occupation.13 As has been shown. 2011 Fig 1.oxfordjournals. This occurred at many levels of society whether the craft was that of a working-class woman employed as a seamstress or milliner. a decorative painteress or polisher.10 The connection between women and craft has a very long history. and the various kinds of fancy work. patience and perseverance especially where careful and detailed work was required [1. painting and drawing. and women have been associated particularly with the crafts of the domestic sphere. late nineteenth century. (1865). but for sweet ordering. Crazy patchwork pelmet. but entirely as the expression of femininity’ and crucially it is categorized as craft.8 It is in the latter case that particular craft media were seen as peculiarly appropriate for these women. This had the effect of conﬁrming the dichotomy of art and craft in gender terms so that even when women became increasingly ingenious and imaginative in the choice of materials and techniques with which to express themselves. not only by needlework. 1857 Fig 2. rather contradictorily: ‘Fear God and learn woman’s housewifery/not simple samplers or silken folly’.11 or John Ruskin in his Sesames and Lilies.14 An examination of the motives for undertaking these sorts of project will begin to explore the driving forces behind these early DIY projects.‘Home is Where the Art is’ and certain of the home-making crafts apparently went together. This was recognized in c.org at University of Teesside on August 23.9 This ideology of femininity connects to a historically constructed division of art and craft. or of a middle-upper class ‘lady’. the idea of creativity was antithetical to the determinist’s idea of the soft female character. maintaining that ‘the woman’s power is not for rule. The gendered distinctions of craft production and consumption in the period under review show that generally the idea of the female as the natural homemaker developed throughout.e. as the products functioned both as customizing work and as decoration in a domestic (selfexpressive?) context. it is seen not as art.
‘I have often pitied men—in the ﬁrst place because they can’t know motherhood. which ladies do themselves.19 Downloaded from jdh.21 The last phrase of this quotation is resonant of the physically small space many women’s domestic crafts took up.18 In order to support the growing interest in a wide range of crafts. these were more often encouraged as ‘something to do’ with . [and] qualify you for the solid duties of your station’. which is triﬂing. in the second. and the carving is either gilt or painted the colour of the stucco or wainscot. He went on to say that the role of education was to develop character and roles. and other small things. because they are bereft of our greatest comfort . Gilding. it is intended to present the sex with most elegant patterns for the tambour. but the situation was sometimes more relaxed. and the advantages of dress though they cannot communicate beauty. recommended his audience to acquire knowledge to ‘ﬁll up your leisure hours. Our needlework is so much better than smoking. knots etc. table and chairs and stool about the house’. which included illustrations for tracings to create embroidery. Lady Luxborough explained a new fad: Miss Meredith writes that the present fashion is all lead carving. the range was plentiful. By the nineteenth century. Another principle end is to enable you to ﬁll up. when she tells how ‘within doors we amuse ourselves (at the times we are together) in gilding picture frames. knitting and such like is not on account of the intrinsic value of all you can do with your hands. and ﬁxing it to wire which is afterward nailed on in the form designed. in his Letters to a Young Lady.needlework. Japanning. But as external appearance is the ﬁrst inlet to the treasures of the heart. that I believe if our patience and pockets hold out.20 In an attempt to justify the craft of needlework. It could be argued that during the eighteenth century some ‘crafts’ were used as an alternative art practice for women denied access to the traditional pathways. especially as a gender comparison. embroidery or every kind of needlework. some of the many solitary hours that you must necessarily pass at home. Filigree. according as suits the place. all encouraging consumption of domestic crafts. tutors and teachers were employed in the tuition of young ladies. it is so unobtrusive’.16 The role of companionship in craftwork is also obliquely referred to by Lady Hertford (1741). they assist the fair manufacturer with their advice and aid … although we doubt their ability in the niceties of cutting out… ’. raise your taste above fantastic levities.oxfordjournals.15 The Needle’s Excellency of 1631. The need for something to do also encouraged the need for something new to do. and to direct the execution of it in others. and included books. and shaping it into ﬂowers.Clive Edwards Leisure The nature of women’s upbringing had an important bearing on the deﬁning of their relationships with art and craft and much else besides. Robert Sayers’ The Ladies Amusement or the Whole Art of Japanning Made Easy. ‘gentlemen always enliven the circle. In 1856. but to enable you to judge more perfectly of that kind of work. In 1748. it is evident that the motives of craftwork were often explicit.17 These examples demonstrate the issue of inclusion by class and gender well. Early examples include James Boles’ 14 In the domestic sphere. which had designs ready prepared to cut out and be glued on a surface. Dr John Gregory identified these interactions in 1774. this is so much in fashion with us at present. In 1795. where the craft of embroidery was employed for embellishing the furnishings and apparel of the upper classes. but as has already been shown. in a tolerable agreeable way. published in 1762. render you an agreeable friend and acquaintance. when he explained that female education was calculated to draw out their ‘natural softness and sensibility’.org at University of Teesside on August 23. Carmen Silva said. in Gum-Flowers. although there seems to be more truth in his last sentence regarding sewing accomplishments: The intention of your being taught needle-work. may at least make it more conspicuous. journals and magazines. by cutting India or other thin lead themselves with scissors. Shell-Work. we shall gild all the cornices. many textbooks were published with instructions in a wide range of crafts. The Lady’s Magazine made clear its raison d’être: The subjects that we may treat of are those that may tend to render your minds less amiable than your person. In addition. … &c. In 1770. John Bennett. Hannah Robertson’s The Young Ladies’ School of Arts Containing a Great Variety of Practical Receipts. Elegant Arts for Ladies in discussing the craft of potichomanie (decorating pots with pasted images) noted that when preparing the work. 2011 A later (male) author states the case more strongly with three good reasons why a woman should acquire skills. and in 1777.
explained that ‘all accomplishments have the one great merit of giving a lady something to do: something to preserve her from ennui: to console her seclusion: to arouse her in grief: to compose her to occupation in joy’.‘Home is Where the Art is’ one’s leisure time. Macramé lace mantelpiece trimming. Dictionary of Needlework. ready to use. with variations on existing themes such as Berlin woolwork and the addition of speciﬁc Victorian crafts such as featherwork and fernwork. It was clean and could be completed by beginners or experienced Downloaded from jdh. boredom and depression rather than a satisfying and healthy engagement with art’. If anything. was apparently ideal. Cassell’s Household Guide suggested that it was useful as ‘an employment that ﬁlls up a good deal of spare time.24 To convey the idea that products made at home are ‘useless’ misses the point. 2011 Fig 3. Caulfeild and Saward Dictionary of Needlework. Berlin woolwork counted canvas pattern. For example.22 Discussing the production of screens using scraps of paper. The Habits of Good Society. middleclass women were even more involved in the consumption of goods for the home and the maintenance and arrangement of their interiors. and the use of materials that were clean. easy to prepare and commercially available. Caulfeild and Saward. but they also carried meanings for the makers who often became the users. By the nineteenth century. which employed paper and small decorative beads.25 Self-expression Although the range of craft (or DIY) techniques was varied.23 The development of home crafts could indicate the application of female talents and industry or alternatively it could represent the borders of angst and misery. 1887 Fig 4. Even though the range of crafts undertaken by women widened.oxfordjournals. there were increasing pressures on women to apply their artistic endeavours to decorate and enhance the home for the family. Logan proposes that ‘the sheer number of useless decorative objects produced by women might be better viewed as a manifestation of anxiety. etc. Not only were the objects useful as decoration. the reasons for their adoption remained the same [3. seeds. 4]. such techniques often had common ground in their need for manipulative skills.org at University of Teesside on August 23. 1859. scrollwork or quilling. 1887 15 . beyond that for the mere frame of the screen with a simple covering of black paper’. and may be done at small expense.
is particularly related to homemaking itself. these techniques had been mediated by other agents. and aesthetic sensibility or ‘taste’. however. ottomans. it may be readily acquired and pursued at a very triﬂing expense’. for painting the inlaid ebony and ivory.29 .27 A little later. it also offered the possibility of decorating and personalizing domestic objects.’ It was added that ‘the art [of ﬁligree] affords an amusement to the female mind capable of the most pleasing and extensive variety. it had its own patterns and specialist suppliers. such as pianos and chairs. gender. Nathaniel Whittock’s The Painters’ and Glaziers’ Guide included instructions to workmen for preparing pieces in readiness for ladies to decorate: As the work in imitation of inlaid ebony and ivory is now so fashionable. race … and also their achievements. chimney-pieces. natural and otherwise. daughters might have been taught the skills by artists. Ackermann’s Repository featured a shop called ‘The Temple of Fancy’. as well as limitations of time and money. screens. The distinction between production and consumption in the Victorian interior was eroded as objects acquired in the marketplace. picture ornaments etc. pole-screens and borders for table cloths’. In some cases. frames. both made and acquired by the housewife. Home produced crafts and DIY projects remain important markers of self: Where the maker of the object is also its consumer.Clive Edwards workers alike. in 1827. and with ‘artistic’ arrangements also created by her. It was the role of advice books and other literature. banner screens.30 The second motive that Miller identiﬁes: creating objects with individual meanings.31 Downloaded from jdh. As with many other crafts. usually black and white. operating as it does between the realms of production and consumption’. 1856) which suggested that ready-made stencilled designs on velvet would ‘look very handsome [on] a music stool. suitable for teacaddies. the ways in which the sewing demonstrated learning.32 Mediation Although self-expression was one aspect of DIY practice. One such idea was published in a work entitled The Elegant Arts for Ladies (c. prepared schemes that only required ‘assembly’ of some sort or another were increasingly available from the eighteenth century.28 The importance of these ideas and practice in relation to the concepts of DIY may be seen by considering Daniel Miller’s ideas about the re-working of purchased goods: ‘[The re-working] may be deﬁned as that which translates the object from an alienable to an inalienable condition: that is. were transformed in the domestic setting by their aesthetic integration with pieces of needlework and other objects. time spent. the display of the object becomes highly signiﬁcant in demonstrating the identity of the maker and the ideology of the household … then display of home crafts as the expression of symbolic creativity can be seen as demonstrative of the makers’ personal identity and relationships with others [and] their class. As Grace Lees-Maffei points out in a discussion on domestic design: ‘Advice is situated ﬁrmly within the category of mediation.33 16 This example demonstrates the limitations of those home crafts (DIY) where a professional has to prepare the groundwork. which held ‘an extensive collection of handsome screens.26 Not only was it amusing. in most cases. as great inconvenience is felt by many painters from their not having the knowledge of the proper method of preparing the ground for ladies to paint upon. from being a symbol of estrangement and price value to being an artefact invested with particular inseparable connotations’. with every requisite useful for painting and ornamenting the same’. Penny Sparke has emphasized the role women played in this re-creation. in other cases.oxfordjournals. For many consumers. In 1822. and the process is in every respect similar to any other kind of japanning. elegant stands for table-tops and chess boards. especially in the nineteenth century. cabinets. or of varnishing and polishing it after the painting is ﬁnished. and white-wood boxes. 2011 This process has continued into the twenty-ﬁrst century. on small domestic items. meant that the adopting of pre-prepared ideas and materials to create individualized products was very satisfactory. that became increasingly important. card-racks. in a variety of shapes. toilets. the demands of skilled craftwork. In 1786 The New Lady’s Magazine. it is mentioned in this place. Pen work was a similar case. ﬂower ornaments. being something that women were also encouraged to take up. which was also recreation. screen-poles.org at University of Teesside on August 23. both plain and ornamented. Pen work was essentially ﬁne painting and japanning. supplied ‘a profusion of neat elegant patterns and models of ingenuity and delicacy. the front of pianos.
although interestingly the work was often referred to as art rather than craft. beds. also painted chimney boards.40 In the eighteenth century. ‘Drain Ventilation’ and ‘Pumps and Pipes’. for a man can no more make a home than a drone can make a hive… . shells and coins. pillow lace. These women were able to justify this role by using their time creatively in domestic pursuits or crafts. often in relation to speciﬁc home crafts. but on the other wrote her own treatise on what was and was not tasteful. that certain harmonies of form and colour are admirable and desirable? In the hope to assist to a more self-helpful Art-knowledge. This creativity was extended to the fashioning of the domestic interior. in their Suggestions for House Decoration. She explained in her introduction: ‘Should we continue to be contented to be told. if not actually involved in.org at University of Teesside on August 23. The distinction could often be blurred. however triﬂing in itself.39 A correspondent in The Spectator noted that his wife.38 Although many women undertook various crafts as paid labour.oxfordjournals. expressed her notion of the powerful role of home making for women far more forcefully: The making of a true home is really our peculiar and inalienable right. many creative domestic handicrafts were the prerogative of the upperclass women who were not employed and whose role was to organize the running of the family home. which no man can take from us. in the main. toilets. She also painted on silk and paper.37 Nearly one hundred years later. that ‘every sedentary occupation must be valuable to those who are to lead sedentary lives. 17 Downloaded from jdh. The fact that particular women enjoyed ‘leisure time’ reﬂected their position in society. This is an important distinction in DIY as well. It is a woman. paper mosaic. others were able to develop skills in crafts that were associated with ‘work’ but not with employment. if she likes. made shellwork garlands. demonstrating a need to be conversant with. On the one hand. included chapters on ‘Anti-Smuts’.—and a woman all by herself. 2011 . hangings for doors. Mrs Lybbe Powis collected china. and dried ﬂowers. the comments of Frances Power Cobbe. and every art. window curtains. depend upon the trouble which she [the housewife] is willing to bestow upon small and comparatively insigniﬁcant details’. but it was often the case that advice was offered under the broader umbrella of homemaking in general. Advice books often went further than the house furnishings. In 1798 Maria Edgeworth wrote in her Essays of Practical Education. for example. feather work. easy chair and tabourets all of which she obstinately persists on thinking … a notable piece of good housewifery because they are made at home and she has some share in the performance’. not only to the female sex but society in general’.—who can turn a house into a home. Mrs Haweis. writing in 1881. the installation of home technologies. the Garrett sisters emphasized that the ‘reﬁnement and beauty of a house will. These accomplishments also gave social approval and self-respect.‘Home is Where the Art is’ Examples of mediation have been noted above.36 women themselves also supported the value of teaching the arts and crafts.. The apparent expression of ‘proper’ female domesticity. she decried decorators and retailers for giving advice. but who required something to do to ﬁll their leisure hours.35 It was these details that they went to great length to explain. skilled and well bred: ‘keeps four French protestants continually employed in making divers [sic] pieces of superﬂuous furniture. and only a woman. This was based on a leisured class who were distinguished from others by their lack of need to ‘work’ in the traditional sense. as quilts. although well educated.34 In the chapter on draperies. well beyond the fancy work and accessories made by the women.– a right. and made embroidery. the following chapters have been written’. famous for collaged ﬂowers. and without any man to help her. fossils. which tends to enliven and embellish domestic life. etc. so the undertaking of certain craft skills in a private way was used to control the status quo of class position and exert control over entry to particular levels of society. The wellknown Mrs Delaney. Mothers passed these ideas to daughters via a very particular education to create a continuum that lasted well into the twentieth century. In many cases they assisted women in the marriage market where there was a need to be regarded as a ‘proper’ complement to the male. must be advantageous. Household creation Although men were promoting the conﬂation of women and the handicrafts. selﬂessness and love was developed through education in home crafts. plaited straw. Mrs Orrinsmith in her 1877 work entitled The Drawing Room was clearly ambivalent about advice for homemaking. in part as tools to help decorate the home. etc. not caring to learn to feel.
and minerals. wrote of decorating the house: ‘Its personality should express your personality. and the closet belonging to it to be given up to prints. and chair and sofa covers. The testimony of Catherine Hutton.43 Even if women were encouraged to express themselves. petriﬁcations.47 Downloaded from jdh. Her account of her needlework labours noted that: [she has] made furniture for beds. all of satten stitch done in worsteads. your perplexing mystery. and all manner of working tools. Celia Fiennes in 1712. to discriminate and examine a subject to the bottom.44 Despite these seemingly negative aspects. you are to give it all its brilliancy and all its charm. The examples of samplers. stumpwork.org at University of Teesside on August 23. I have quilted counterpanes and chest covers in ﬁne white linen. your oldfashioned conventions. only books and work [needlework]. in 1930. drawing rooms and informal workspaces were made to suit the needs of the occupants and their interests. Rooms. I have worked on embroidery on muslin. 2011 It seems clear that one of the main uses of the products of craftwork in the eighteenth century was to decorate and adorn the person and the home: in other words. at least. beast. during the intervals between the Seasons to give the Beds a gaudy Look’. They provide the furniture. In this way. They also indicate that these were nearly all consumed in the home as either dress or practical decoration. radiate an individuality absolutely impossible to counterfeit with factory productions. although it was still closely tied to the home. birds. and screen the same.49 Emily Post. demonstrates not only the volume of work but also the commitment required over a lifetime. In 1768.42 quilting and patchwork. but the pillow. images.ﬁve [years old]… . In 1893.oxfordjournals. not only are the long satin curtains by her own hand. Writing to her sister. &c: for my own room is now so clean and pretty that I cannot suffer it to be strewed with litter. It is useful to see that Mrs Delaney. and canvas and netted upwards of one hundred wallet purses. and in patterns of my own invention. embroidery was one craft in which women could excel. stooles. it was often limited to superﬁcial matters. ‘busy with a new work. the conﬂation of self-expression and homemaking grew in the twentieth century. Lady Louisa Connolly explained in a letter how she was. along with framing and the connoisseurship of art works. Two will sufﬁce to demonstrate the practical nature of much of the work. just as every gesture you make—or fail to make—expresses your gay animation or your restraint. Despite the idea of self-expression that might be aspired to. chaires. John Bennett explained: Whilst men with solid judgement and superior vigour are to combine ideas. with window curtains. domestic crafts were frequently required for repairs. In 1795. Indeed.Clive Edwards Whereas craft work generally. cushions and dainty lampshade’. and modern DIY particularly. she said: I am going to make a very comfortable closet: … to have a dresser. gilding. you are to fancy and to ornament the ceiling. enabling women to exchange ideas as part of a ritual. satin. they had a degree of control over their immediate environment. I have made patchwork beyond calculation from seven years old to eighty. such as boudoirs. who was born in 1756. They build the house. in various patterns of my own invention. table covers and portières when worked out by … [the housewife] for her own particular rooms. drawings. this was often in practice limited. and my collection of fossils. these included a complete drawing set. Examples are myriad. and fruites [were] all wrought very ﬁnely by Queen Mary and her maids of honour’. carving. considered her craft as a somewhat private affair on occasion. [which] is painting ﬂowers with the stamps I got from Paris on a white satten with which I intend to hang a little closet’. renewals and additions. to keep all my stores for painting. to be consumed. 18 By the end of the nineteenth century women were still deﬁned by their ability to create crafts for the home.48 Interestingly. to name a few. Mary Barkdull commented in Good Housekeeping (US) in September 1910 that ‘curtains. The example of ‘quilting bees’ reﬂects this. can all bear witness to the quantity and quality of women’s crafts. is often a solitary occupation. recorded that in the Queen’s Closet at Hampton Court ‘the hangings. you dispose it with propriety. in combine colours. or .41 The idea of communal bonding to develop and retain the social codes already mentioned was clearly part of the process.45 In Bath ‘the Matrons of the City. beadwork. the print room may well have been such a space where some women could exploit the crafts of collage and découpage. their daughters and their maids [were] ﬂowering the [coarse fustian] with Worsted. the work undertaken by certain groups of women was part of a wider range of opportunities for social intercourse. but there are many others. crewel. Helen Mather was portrayed as ‘a great needlewoman.46 Like modern DIY skills.
was altruistic in its development.‘Home is Where the Art is’ your emancipated modernism—whichever characteristics are typically yours’. Beecher and Stowe suggested: ‘if you have in the house any broken down arm chair. From then onward.org at University of Teesside on August 23. unplanned boards. there still exist elements of personal ‘handicraft’ that linger alongside the home improvement or DIY projects undertaken by people. in an early DIY text from the 1950s this ideal of crafts being part of DIY was expressly stated: ‘Do-It-Yourself is an expression of the ingenuity. out of rough. women’s domestic arts and crafts reﬂected a process of design democratization through self-expression. In addition.58 The change in the roles and status of. or making them into patchwork for screens. Eighteenth century creative work was about self-expression. the American authors. or turning them to cover easy chairs. Hudson Holly. although gendered. and in its continued use of ‘crafts’ Downloaded from jdh. and in an age of automation it is good that fundamental arts and crafts are not being lost’. ﬁrst the execrable custom got among ladies of trucking their old clothes for china. a wooden scroll was designed. published his work Modern Dwellings in Town and Country. the ‘desire for artistic surroundings will lead them to master the arts for themselves and produce with their own hands objects that rival in attraction any for which the rich man ignorantly and carelessly exchanges his money’. owing to a lack of income. and cover it with chints like your other furniture. Catherine Beecher wrote in 1869 in her American Woman’s Home that prudence with fabric would allow the covering of ottoman frames which ‘your men folk knock up for you. for example. The chapter on Home Art is revealing of early forms of DIY. which. women from the early to the mid-twentieth century has allowed many of the gendered points discussed above to be consigned to the dustbin of history. This prehistory has also provided an opportunity to investigate the reasons why people want to ‘do-it-themselves’ and there is some common ground between past and contemporary attitudes. however. were originally established back in the eighteenth century by female homemakers using their own craft and design skills. and attitudes towards. ingenuity.50 The role of homemaker meant that women became more involved not only in the management of the home but also in the practicalities of domestic crafts that were often intended for utilization within the home. the running up of curtains.oxfordjournals. and to cover any broken down armchairs reposing in the oblivion of the garret’. of leisure pursuits and the desire to be creative. and the need for economy. Presto— you create an easy chair’.51 On the contrary.59 These aspects of DIY. Swift. the production of imitation stained glass using ready-made kits and. Indeed. the comments that recommended shell working as ‘an elegant drawing room occupation. said: ‘Two accidents happened to lessen the comforts and proﬁt of your employment. stools. … draw it out—drive a nail here and there to hold it ﬁrm—stuff and pad. there are many who still distinguish between soft (decorative) DIY and hard (structural) DIY with its gendered stereotypes. in his Directions to the Waiting Maid. and in rather different circumstances. enterprise and self reliance of the individual. for people (male and female) who could not afford beautiful surroundings. which she herself cut out with a bracket-saw’. as well as one calculated to call forth the artistic taste and inventive powers of the worker’.55 He went on to observe how ‘a gentleman’ made his own furniture as ‘a work of recreation’ and then talked 19 about the work his wife undertook. the American author. He discussed how. Modern DIY appears to reﬂect aspects of self-expression together with the turning of alienated products into artefacts with personal associations.53 This reﬂects much more of a democratic approach to homemaking than. This ‘woman’s work’ involved the decoration of the walls by using painting effects. and stitch the padding through with a long upholsterer’s needle.56 The latter were particularly commended by Holly with a note that pointed out that: ‘As metal brackets for the support of the curtain rods were also impractical on account of the expense.52 This application of handwork to home furnishings could also refer to practical matters as well as saving money and being careful with budgets. enterprise and self-reliance. cushions and the like’. A different issue was the matter of adapting and recycling. inevitably. For example. 2011 .54 In 1878.57 Conclusion This article began by suggesting that there were continuities between modern DIY and the crafts pursued by women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Keeping the Victorian House. Yale. cit. Tristram. 237–52. Objects of Desire. 271–72. in F. Melchionne. 34 Mrs Orrinsmith. Goldstein.). op.. Lee. pp. New York. Disraeli. Coningsby. pp. Nunn. p. Pandora. 1856. Miller. Cornforth. Dickerson (ed. Routledge. p. 3. Dittmar. 5. p. 41 Sewing circles. 4 Melchionne.). p. 17 J. 1. 1974. or it might be an insurance against the vicissitudes of life for others. 35 R. p. Mrs Delaney. The Duties of a Woman. 1981. 18 Elegant Arts for Ladies. Book III. 1987. The Repository of Arts. 1989. p. 128–9. Material Culture and Mass Consumption. 17 (3). B. 183. in V. p. 1974. 16. ‘Making and Living with Home Craft in Contemporary Britain’. 59. In the later twentieth century. Ward Lock. 213. ‘For Softness She: Gender Ideology and Aesthetics in Eighteenth Century England’. Disraeli declared that ‘Woman alone can organize a drawing room. Do-It Yourself Home Improvement in 20th-century America. 162–169. ‘From Parlour to Living Room. 219. p. 1993. M. British Museum Press. companionship was often between man and women in the DIY work associated with their own home. Parker. Thames and Hudson. 42 D. R.’ B. p. 1879. Consumer Culture Reborn: The Cultural Politics of Consumption. Burman. Downloaded from jdh. 289–305. Logan. p. Allen and Unwin. The Tyranny of Taste. op. von Falke. Lubbock. New York. 47. man succeeds sometimes in a library. Consumption and Identity. Victorian Women Artists. 249. 252. p. 1999. pp. Journal of Design History. ‘Women and Decoration’ in Eighteenth Century Decoration. in S. particularly sewing patterns. The Painters’ and Glaziers’ Guide. J. Harwood. 1778. 1984. January 1822. Madigan. p. J.’ Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 318. Princeton Architectural Press. 5 Ibid. 1980. and M. 252. Hodges. London. Lorch (eds. Saumarez-Smith. Nashville. ‘Making and Living with Home Craft in Contemporary Britain’. 276. cit. 1989. 95. ‘Of Bookworms and Busy Bees: Cultural Theory in the Age of Do-it-Yourselﬁng. 20 . Living Space in Fact and Fiction. Berg. 1881–2. Burman makes a similar point regarding home dressmaking. Lorch (eds. cit. 151. Brunna. 24 T. Macmillan. 1992. J. Suggestions for House Decoration. 29 Elegant Arts for Ladies. 1877. p. p. Messer-Davidow.. Lees-Maffei. p. English Decoration in the Eighteenth Century. 7 B. her Life and Flowers. 12 Cited in A.’ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. etc. Parker. p. Art in the House. 2004. 1995. cit. Friedman. 3 See J. Turney. Bloch. op. 27 R. 105. p. ‘Decorating Domestic Space. 190. for a range of essays dealing with the same issues but applied to home dressmaking. 1827. 22 Cited in P. 26 R. pp. Ch. Learning craft skills might be imposed on girls by elite families. 249. 1986. cit. cit. p. Keener and S. Eighteenth Century women and the Arts. Consuming Visions. 90. Barrie and Jenkins. cited in P. 9. Greenwood Press. Sermons to Young Women. Keener and S. Adburgham. 38 F.org at University of Teesside on August 23. H. ‘Untangling the Roots of Modern Sex Roles: A Survey of Four Centuries of Change. 98. Eighteenth Century Women and the Arts. 16 (1). p. 16 E. Journal of Design History. 31 P. e. The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self. 28 N. ‘House beautiful: Style and Consumption in the Home’ Sociology 30: 1: 1996. p.g. Burman. p. Dublin. 81. 248. 20 A. 19. p. p. 19 Fowler and Cornforth. 1856. London. p. 25 The literature on objects in the home and their meanings is large. Material Culture Studies. 1992. 1972. 17 (3). Domestic Space. Journal of Design History.) The Culture of Sewing. Ward Lock. Garland Press. 32 J. RochbergHalton. The sexual politics of taste. 267–81 for a contemporary analysis of cross-stitch kits. p. Fordyce. 10 R. 1989. Sparke. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 15 Dr Gregory. 1881. and A. A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters. 3. 1984.. 57:2. 39 See for example C. op. p. op. 1989. 1964. 1989. See also B. 2 K. 6 J. p.Clive Edwards acted as a foil to ‘the age of automation’ through its expression in DIY. 2003. 84. The Shorter Dictionary of English Furniture from the Middle Ages to the Late Georgian Period. Power Cobbe. Hayden. 50. J.2. 50. p. 40 Cited in J. Forty. p. 43 Fowler and Cornforth. US edition. 2004. The Drawing Room. 37 Parker 1984. ‘For Softness She: Gender Ideology and Aesthetics in Eighteenth Century England’. Many advertisements show ‘husband and wife’ teams working on a project together. p. Schlereth. H.).oxfordjournals. p. 8. Routledge. Women’s Press. Harvester. Greenwood Press. knotting groups. 1999. Country Life. Cambridge University Press. 1877. 1998. 14 Elegant Arts for Ladies. 161. Introduction to ‘Special Issue: Domestic Design Advice’. Messer-Davidow. 142. Garrett. 1844. 2011 Notes 1 B. p. Clive Edwards Loughborough University 21 Cited in Parker. p. Chapter X. Interior Decoration and the Cult of Personality’. K. Csikzentmihali and E. 30. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. As long as it is Pink. Macmillan. in F. Fowler and J. 36 See notes 6 and 15 above. 150. cit. Spring. in T. Halttunen. 41. op. 30 D. Ackermann. See also Lisa Cohen. 139. p. 1987. Edwards. 44 E. 1994. Turney. See for example. 4:2. The Social Psychology of Material Possessions: To Have is to Be. Middle-class Women and Victorian Interiors’. Women’s Press. M. Munro. (ed. Winter. London. 9 R. ‘Embellishing a life of labour: An interpretation of the material culture of American working-class homes. p. 8 One of the main issues was that of choice. 11 R. p. Women in Print. 1978. 23 Cited in P. op. 1885–1915’. see illustrations in C. 13 Young Ladies Treasure Book.. Whittock. Period Pastimes.. 1774. The Subversive Stitch. For a male interpretation of the same issue see ‘Woman’s Aesthetic Mission’ in J. p. Norton. 1995. 33 G.
1878. p. 58 For contemporary attitudes see J. H.’ Dictionary of Interior Design. 496. p. p. 49 M. 45. ed. ‘Popular Culture.org at University of Teesside on August 23. 50 E. 241. Webb and Bower. cit. Post. Helvenston and Bubolz.oxfordjournals. 7. Brown. 1982. The advice literature published from c. op. Stowe (1870) The American Woman’s Home. Gloag (1990). 1997. Downloaded from jdh. 2011 21 . 51 J. Reminiscences of a Gentlewoman of the Last Century: Letters of Catherine Hutton. p. Cited in Gordon and McArthur. 52 C. p.. 324–7. p. 46 J. Harper & Bros. 1987. “Here’s One I Made Earlier”: Making and Living with Home Crafts in Contemporary Britain’. 47 C. 22:4. Oram. 2. Good Housekeeping. 59 F. Beale (ed. Barkdull. New York.‘Home is Where the Art is’ 45 C. 1959. The Personality of a House. A Description of Bath. 57 Holly. Holly. 1850 is myriad. September 1910. 16. H. B. 210. See for example essays by Putnam. October 1956: Cited in S. 1930. H. 1742. p. 1898–1940’. Wood. Turney. 87. ‘Trucking’ refers to the bartering or exchanging of goods. 56 The impact of the domestic sewing machine made this process easier. Portières and Cushions’. J.). Birmingham. Magazines and American Domestic Interiors. 55 H. in Burman op. Unwin Hyman. Journal of Design History. Dictionary of Furniture. p. cit. The Illustrated Journeys. op. p. Modern Dwellings in Town or Country Adapted to American Wants and Climate. pp. 2004. 367–81. 1891. 3–4. and many examples have instructions for DIY projects. ‘Curtains. My thanks to Penny Alfrey for this reference. Vol. 48 Nunn. p. cit. rev. 381. Journal of Popular Culture. ‘Do-It-Yourself. Practical Householder. 3. p. (1999). 17 (3). 89. Beecher and H. 53 Ibid. 213. pp. Fiennes. 1856. Ward Lock. pp.P.. Cornish Bros. 51. Camm. New York. 54 Elegant Arts for Ladies.
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