Last Tuesday we had an up close and personal look at paper samples published in Ackermann's Repository. That page of samples was accompanied by the following article, which I thought NineteenTeen readers might find interesting. It’s a little long, but bear with me:
OBSERVATIONS ON FANCY-WORK, AS AFFORDING AN AGREEABLE OCCUPATION FOR LADIES
It is not long since needle-work was considered, in our schools for young ladies, as one of the greatest accomplishments; and if a girl had gone home for the half-year holidays without either an alphabet, a map, a name, a flower, or perhaps some wretched figure, the parents would have looked upon the system of the school as extremely deficient, and miss would certainly not have been sent back to so imperfect a seminary. Exclusive of the injurious effects of this branch of education on the health of children, when kept for hours together stooping over one object during the whole six, and, in a larger piece, perhaps twelve months, how was it possible that, with the vivacity natural at that tender age, they could be otherwise than disgusted with continually looking at the same thing over and over again! Consequently, nothing but force and threats on the one had, and promises of going home for the holidays on the other, could prevail on them to apply to such tedious occupations.
It is impossible to congratulate our fair countrywomen too warmly on the revolution which has of late years taken place, when drawing and fancy-work of endless variety have been raised on the ruins of that heavy, unhealthy, and stupefying occupation, needlework.
Drawing, the ground-work of refined taste in the arts, is now considered, and very justly, as an indispensable requisite in the education of both sexes. In that of females in particular, it has opened a prodigious field for the excursions of imagination, invention, and ingenuity. Here the young mind is not easily tired, because fancy-works are frequently begun one day and finished the next; and perhaps the completion of the most considerable job will not take a fortnight. What pleasure it must afford to a young lady to see her work advance so rapidly! Sometimes she sits to it, and at others stands; and by way of ascertaining its effect, she steps to the distance of some yards, returns with a new idea; and frequently before one object is half finished, her fertile imagination has suggested an additional ornament for the parlour or drawing-room of her beloved parents, or for distant friends or relatives.
Let us also for a moment reflect on the good consequence which a fondness for fancy-works is calculated to produce in future. Ladies who have once engaged in this innocent and amusing occupation, which daily affords such abundant scope for new inventions, will never relinquish it. From ornamental subjects they are led imperceptibly to the making of useful articles; so that it is no uncommon thing to enter a drawing, breakfast, or dining-room, where the fire-screens, card-racks, chimney-ornaments, boxes, picture-frames, and a variety of other objects of utility or embellishment, are made, painted, and decorated by the ingenious mistress of the house or her daughters.
To enumerate all these different productions of female industry and invention would be an endless task; but we shall occasionally recur to some of them in our future numbers. The annexed wood-cut, with patterns of various fancy-papers and borders, is here introduced for the convenience of those ladies, who either cannot go out shopping themselves, or reside in a part of the country where they cannot meet with such articles as they want. The insertion of such patterns from time to time, will, it is presumed, facilitate the procuring of the materials for fancy-works*, and also make their various uses and the method of applying them more generally known.
*It is requested, when orders are given, to specify the number or description of the pattern, as well as the number of the Magazine.
Okay, that article was a tad self-serving...after all, Mr. Ackermann was selling these fancy papers, right? Furthermore, needlework certainly hadn’t gone out of fashion—Ackermann’s as well as most of the other popular magazines were regularly publishing needlework patterns.
But it’s also a pretty cool link between the present and the past: girls and women were being “crafty” even then, and I’m sure would have been all over DeviantArt and Etsy with their paper crafts if they’d had the internet. Now we know where all the “fancy-work” that was sold in the endless church and Ladies’ Aid Society bazaars and jumble-sales to support missionaries came from...something I’d always assumed was more a Victorian phenomenon, but evidently not! And it illuminates that after-dinner conversation from Pride and Prejudice when Jane is taken ill at Netherfield and Lizzie comes to stay to nurse her at the invitation of the good-hearted Mr. Bingley and his less-than-goodhearted sister Caroline:
"It is amazing to me," said Bingley, "how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are."
"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?"
"Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished."
I wonder if those very accomplished young ladies of Mr. Bingley’s acquaintance purchased their screen-covering papers at Ackermann’s? ☺