AB: A Lady – Workwoman’s Guide

(This is an entry in the Annotated Bibliography.)

*Lady, A (Anonymous). The Workwoman’s Guide: A Guide to 19th Century Decorative Arts, Fashion and Practical Crafts (A Facsimile Reproduction of the Original 1838 Edition). Guilford, Connecticut: Opus Publications with Old Sturbridge Village, 1986.

Originally published in England in 1838, this is a thorough practical guide to sewing and various handicrafts, intended particularly for middle and upper class women who wished to maintain their own households and also assist the poor and needy. Because of the charity aspect of the book’s aims, many projects and patterns offered are extremely practical, functional, and simple, in addition to a variety of more elaborate, decorative, delicate, or frivolous projects. There is a wealth of information here, but it can be difficult to understand, since the author assumes that the reader is an early 19th century woman who already knows how to sew, knit, etc., and understands the fashions and habits of the period. This leaves many questions unanswered for modern sewists. An annotated version of this book would be extremely useful, but as yet does not exist. However, used in conjunction with other books, and with online resources including images of extant garments or items similar to those depicted in the book, it can be an invaluable resource, for the 1820s through at least the 1850s, and an even broader span of time in some aspects. It is instructional. It contains plates of line drawn monochrome images with garment and item drawings as well as pattern schematics, which are often not to perfect scale but include measurement information. There is no bibliography. This book is also readily available digitally via Google Books. I personally own this book in a public domain print-on-demand edition, and would highly recommend it, although accessing it digitally is another viable option.

A variety of my projects use this book as a reference, and several are made to its specifications. Projects that draw heavily from this source are tagged “Workwoman’s Guide,” and can be found here. The 1830s shift, for example, is drafted almost verbatim from the instructions in this book.

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