Thursday, March 29, 2012


I was teaching in Madison, Wisconsin a few weeks ago when a thoroughly charming gentleman walked into my classroom and presented me with this,


once again confirming that in many ways I am a lucky sonofabitch.

Now, I do have new piece finished. It looks something like this,


but as it's still drying the official photographs will have to wait.

Instead, do you fancy a riffle through the delicious pages of The Ladies' Manual of Fancy-Work, published in 1883 by A. L.  Burt of New York, and edited by Miss Jenny June?

Jenny June sounds suspiciously like a pseudonym, doesn't it? Possibly a pseudonym for a thick-necked and paunchy cigar-smoking drapery salesman whose real name was Irv Magee?

One's suspicion only grows upon learning that Mr. Stephen Foster–who dreamt, famously, of Jeannie and her light-brown hair–also wrote a popular minstrel ballad with the refrain:

Did you see dear Jenny June
When the meadows were in tune
With the birds among the bowers
In the sweet summer time.

We're on to you, Irv Magee. We see you there, behind the pen, with your cigar.

Irv's taste in fancy-work, not unusually for the time, inclined steeply to the florid.


Among the curiosities are instructions for artificial macramé (which Irv calls macreme).


It's crochet.

Also, there are pages of line-drawings of whimsical Regency moppets suitable for transferring to embroidery fabric, drawn by a D-list Kate Greenaway impersonator who remains anonymous (and no wonder).


One of the vignettes has dialogue (click for a larger version), like a primordial New Yorker cartoon.


The Ladies' Manual of Fancy-Work was published in 1884. James Thurber was born in 1894. Just want to point that out.

There are advertisements, too, including several for yarn.


Nobody boasts anymore that their silk yarn has "dead lustre." Why not?

And since this manual of fancy-work is for ladies, there are also ads for ladies' things, like corsets.


My favorite, please don't miss it, is the "nursing" corset with the flip-top tit.

(Say that out loud a few times.

Flip-top tit.
Flip-top tit.
Flip-top tit.

You said it, didn't you? Out loud?

Are you at work?

I hope nobody heard you.)

Finally, the articles. Good stuff. Chinese embroidery, the history of the cashmere shawl, etcetera.

Here's one of them, in full.

Boys who Learned Needle-work

When the late Admiral –– was a young midshipman, he was sent on a voyage round the world in one of King George the Third’s ships. He was three years away, and, as he grew very fast, he found himself sailing in the Pacific Ocean with hardly a stitch of clothes to his back. His mother, sister of Admiral Lord ––, had taught her little boy to sew, so he got some canvas out of the ship’s stores, and cut out and made himself a new suit of clothes. His mother was very proud of these, and, when her son was an admiral, she used to show them to her grandchildren, and tell them the story.

Rather more than thirty years ago, a lady went to call on another one rainy afternoon; the house was built on a an island in a lake in Ireland. In the drawing-room were two little boys sitting on footstools, one on each side of the fireplace. Probably, the visitor looked astonished, for the mother of the little boys said in a low tone, “Please don’t laugh at them; what should I do with them on this island on a rainy day if they were too proud to sew?” One of these boys was a lieutenant in the Crimean War; he fought none the worse because he knew how to use the needle as well as the sword, when he with his men was for eighteen hours in the Redan on the memorable 18th of June.

The chaplain of an Irish institution had seen when he was young the straits to which the French artistocratic refugees were reduced, from having to learn how to do things for themselves; and he got a tailor to come to his house and teach his boys how to cut out and make and mend their own clothes. One of the boys is now an old general, but he sews on his own buttons to this very day; and when he was on service in one of the small British stations in Asia, he not only mended and patched his own clothes, but those of his brother officers; all the men of his regiment knitted their own socks.

Thanks for sticking up for the boys, Irv! Have another cigar!


Mel said...

You will, perhaps, be unsurprised that I noticed the nursing corset almost immediately. Fortunately, I'm at home with nobody but the cats to hear me say "flip-top tit".

amy said...

"Primordial New Yorker cartoon." Oh, love that. So much.

Ola said...

My great-grandfather used to spin linen or hemp when he needed decent thread for shoe-mending.One of my dad's early memories is walking through the woods with his gramps and collecting boar's bristles stuck in tree bark to reinforce it. He also made himself a sewing machine and sewed his own vests. And noone dared to ridicule him, as he was one of the baddest pieces in the village - WWI and bolshevik war survivor. No general, though.
Oh, and he crocheted, too ;)

Pretty Knitty said...

This was a great bit of fancy to share with us! Thank you. BTW, Do you think Irv had to approve the ad for the corsets? That flip-to-tit was pretty prominent...

friendandfaux said...

My Grandfather taught my Mother how to knit, Grandmother didn't have a clue what to do with knitting needles

Bgstoner said...

I can't wait to see your finished project.

Also I found the nursing corset amusing as I am 5 months pregnant at the moment.

Tola said...

i said "flip-flop top" because that's what i saw the first time!

i love the stories about boys sewing. all boys should know at least how to sew on buttons, hem a trouser leg, and mend a seam.

Gamba Girl said...

You are a lucky SOB. Thanks for sharing it with us!

CeltChick said...

Young man, you oughta have your mouth washed out with soap...or I oughta have my mind washed out, can't figure which it is. Now to go get some paper towels & clean my keyboard AGAIN. Thanks!

Kathom said...

Not Irv, but . . . Jane Cunningham Croly (1829-1901), a professional New York journalist who wrote under the pen name of Jennie June, attempted to attend a dinner at an all-male press club honoring British novelist Charles Dickens. Croly was denied admittance based upon her gender, and, in response, she, in 1868, formed a club for women. This club was the beginning of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, an international women's organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service.

Roxie said...

The turning of a sock heel is something that was not possible to do by machine until the 1930s or so. Before that, socks were hand-knit. The Red Cross had great knitting drives for stockings for soldiers and sailors, providing needles, yarn, and instructions. But the man who could knit his own socks could be assured that he would be provided for even when the girls at home couldn't manage it. I met a dear fellow who had been a sailor in a British ship, and he still knitted his own socks decades later. He became a college professor, and used to knit during faculty meetings.

karen alho said...

How wonderful! You are a lucky so-and-so! so are we. Thank you for sharing!

tara said...

this was hilarious and informative- i stared at that nursing corset for a long time in shock at the coincidence that I am nursing my son as I read this. I can't say that the 'technology' has improved that much beyond the flip-top-tit.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, loved every second of it!

Anonymous said...

I had no idea they made corsets for nursing. Who would want a corset after having a baby and then to wear it while nursing? And the one for Health is certainly misnamed...
As ever your blog is very educational.

juniperloops said...

Yep, I said it! You never fail to make me smile!

Michelle said...

Did you perchance notice the misspelling in the Brainerd and Armstrong ad? The second one - the one with 'dead lustre' - is put as Brainerd and Armstong. I laughed at that (my middle name is Armstrong).

Andrea said...

Everything you post makes me happy. Thank you!

Anonymous, too said...

The "Scandal" was that the girl on the right had her arm amputated at the elbow, and everybody was too afraid of offending her to console her about it.

And it is not politically correct to refer to them as "flip-top tit"s. Instead, you should call them "titwrens with behavioral health issues."

Elizabeth said...

Actually, my husband and I do some re-enacting (18th century, so the corsets are a bit late for us), and I have been looking for several years for SOME example of a set of nursing stays. I know they must exist, and feel slightly vindicated by the appearance of a nursing corset! But the picture isn't clear enough for me to copy the idea... Can you post another? Please??

Katie said...

This is awesome! Last year I did a project on late 18th-century knitting, and although this would have been too late, it's still awesome to see. :) I particularly like the corset advertisement. haha
Katie =^..^=

Sara said...

Thank you for another interesting post. You are brilliant, you know... I wish that you were coming to Camp 3 again this year. We'll miss you!

Diana L. Sullivan, CPA said...

I differ on that bit of sock knitting history in the comments - I have an antique circular sock knitting machine, almost 100 years old and absolutely fascinating to watch, and it turns heels beautifully.

I crank a sock in about 20 minutes.

Diana L. Sullivan, CPA said...

I differ on that bit of sock knitting history in the comments - I have an antique circular sock knitting machine, almost 100 years old and absolutely fascinating to watch, and it turns heels beautifully.

I crank a sock in about 20 minutes.

Anonymous said...

In that caption, looks a little like "OH NO!" "OH HO!" ;-)

kathy b said...

Flop top tits are still fashionable amongst nursing mothers...

LOVE this trip down knitting history lane

Anne (adminannie) said...

I'm a bit disconcerted by the cherub nestling in he middle general purpose corset

Deb F. said...

Anne, I was wondering whether that came as part of the ensemble. Imagine: tiny waist, enhanced bust, and enhanced bust adorned by a cherub. And all the angels of heaven sing. Who wouldn't want that?

Liz said...

A corset called Coraline! Not sure whether Neil Gaiman or the new Mrs Gaiman would be happier about that idea, but very pleasing!!

Karen said...

Damnit, Franklin! You caused me to choke on my tea, which in turn made this mother of 4, perimenopausal chick go into a coughing fit resulting in pee soaked clothing. Thank Jay-Z I'm at home! Can you give a girl a warning next time? Flip-top tit, indeed.

Gail said...

Year, please of publication!

Aren't the ads fun?

Rosi G. said...

Thank the gods I wasn't born in the era of corsets or I would've been known as a loose woman for lack of wearing them (pun intended).

Bonnie H. said...

I like that Blackwork embroidery pattern (#13 in the first photo).

Thanks for sharing - I love looking at old books.

RockSci said...

If the idea of nursing corset wasn't uncomfortable enough, I believe the 'abdominal' corset underneath it is in fact intended for use during pregnancy, hence the side lacing to allow it to expand. Because growing a person was no excuse to go uncorseted!

Seanna Lea said...

I am going to have to show this to my friends tomorrow, because I want to see my collection of geeky friends all saying flip-top tit at the same time. Hilarity will be had by all (or at least me).

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Agen Ibcbet said...

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Eren Mckay said...

My Grandpa trained my Mom how to knit, Granny didn't have an idea what to do with stamp collecting needles


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