Women have made clothes at home for themselves and their families for generations, out of necessity or for personal satisfaction, sometimes both. But like other domestic activities, home dressmaking has few chroniclers and much of the labour and skill of home dressmakers past and present is ‘hidden from history’.
The Home Dressmaking Reassessed recordings were made in 1995 as a way to retrieve and celebrate some of this unwritten history and document it for future generations. Fifteen women then resident in Hampshire participated, the oldest born in 1905.
Each story is individual but all follow an autobiographical account of home dressmaking and the extent of the practice over a lifetime, with additional reflections on clothing and fashion in general. Some recurrent themes include learning to sew (not always a happy experience), the pleasures of acquiring a sewing machine, handling and hoarding good fabrics and patterns and completing projects successfully, recycling garments in thrifty ways, including during wartime and vivid memories of the 1947 Dior ‘New Look’ taking post-war Britain by storm.
The recordings consist of informal conversations in the participants’ own homes with Barbara Burman, a dress historian then teaching at Winchester School of Art. The recordings inspired her to edit a collection of essays that formed the first extended history of home dressmaking, The culture of sewing: gender, consumption and home dressmaking (Berg, Oxford, 1999). Listening copies of these recordings are available in the Wessex Film and Sound Archive.