Home sewing is a fascinating yet often overlooked topic in history. Despite this, it is very important as it can tell us a lot about women’s lives and the issues they have faced. What would you think of if asked to picture a historical stereotype of femininity? Many would imagine the 1950s housewife in clothes that highlighted the ideal feminine figure, also wearing a smile on her face as she goes about the housework. This ideal image of woman was painted by advertisers and domestic advice writers who profited from women’s domestic focus. Women spent a lot of time in the home and any hobbies they had were expected to link to this directly. Home sewing was one of these, being amongst the most stereotypically feminine activities in history. This dissertation focuses on why women sewed in the 1950s. It begins by discussing the legacy of wartime sewing culture and then the return to domestic life after the war. This is then applied to the culture of sewing in the 1950s, looking at the many reasons women chose to sew. It considers the first stages in home sewing and dressmaking, rather than the making process or finished garments that are more commonly studied. Advice literature and the sewing aids one had to purchase before beginning a project, such as paper patterns, are the key sources discussed.
Cover of How to be Your Own Dressmaker by Pamela Swan, c. 1955.