Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Evie Grace back to the blog to talk about the research she undertook for her latest book A Thimbleful of Hope which is published this Thursday.
Violet and her sisters were taught the art of embroidery by their governess, it being considered a suitably feminine craft for young ladies who had the time to sit and sew. It was thought to encourage discipline and silence, but I like to imagine the three girls giggling and gossiping as they stitched.
They might have started out making a sampler of the alphabet or a verse from the Bible to show off a variety of stitches. Some of these samplers which I’ve seen turning up for auction, are very beautiful and tell us about the girls’ lives, depicting their families and homes. Later, they would move on to embellishing household items, including footstools, book bindings and cushions, embroidery providing them with a means to express themselves in the confined sphere of a woman’s life in the home.
The fashion for embroidered clothing such as gowns, capes and waistcoats, as a display of wealth and class, created a demand for professional embroideresses who would have learned their trade through apprenticeships, but there were other women who – like Violet – had a natural aptitude for needlework.
Towns like Dover would have provided plenty of work for embroideresses. The uniforms of the policemen, sailors, soldiers and railway workers required hand-embroidered badges, collars, epaulettes and stripes.
Having read a little about the different kinds of embroidery – goldwork, whitework and Berlin wool work, being just three of them – and the stitches and materials that were used, I’d imagined that being an embroideress would have been a rewarding and comfortable job for a Victorian woman.
As I investigated further though, I found out that these women worked very long hours, six days a week, their fingers becoming sore and calloused. Their eyes ached as they struggled to see their stitches by candlelight or gaslight, much of their work was dull and repetitive, and their income wasn’t guaranteed. For those who were working to avoid destitution, it was hard to find the money for silks and other materials upfront.
By the 1880s, when Violet was entering her twenties, the demand for hand-embroidery began to fall, because of the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of hand-powered embroidery looms with multiple needles, along with cheap imports from abroad. Wages fell too, meaning that some women failed to make ends meet.
I have to admire the embroideresses of the nineteenth century, and the work they have left behind, but I wouldn’t have like to have been one!
I hope you enjoy Violet’s story.
Dover, 1864: Violet Rayfield leads a happy life with her family in a beautiful terrace on Camden Crescent.
But Violet’s seemingly perfect world is shattered when her father makes a decision that costs her family everything. Now Violet must sacrifice all she holds dear, including the man she loves.
As Violet strives to pick up the threads of her existence, a series of shocking revelations leaves her feeling even more alone.
But where one door closes, another opens, and the embroidery skills Violet perfected while a young woman of leisure win her vital work.
If she can find the strength to stitch the remnants of her family back together, there might just be a little hope after all…
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