Friday, 15 February 2013

Lenten Sewing

On February 25, 1917 an article appeared in The New York Times about Lenten Sewing. Yeah, "Lenten Sewing." This is a term I've never heard before. Now, I'm not what they call a CEO (Christmas and Easter Only Catholic). I do make it to service on other occasions too. But I have never heard of such a phrase. Apparently, it has been around for awhile.

Illustration by C. Jay Taylor {Source}

"Lenten Sewing" was a term used in the early 20th century late 19th century to describe sewing that was done during the forty days prior to Easter. The type of sewing was directed to those in need. And women of social prominence would gather to do charitable sewing and knitting work during Lent.

According to The New York Times article, women would gather for "sewing classes" held at various participants' homes. It appears to be a social event as much as it was about charitable work.

And what about "thimble party?" Have you ever heard of a thimble party? A thimble party refers to this sort of gathering to do charitable sewing and it continues today! Who knew this tradition still continues? Not I.

I found a literary reference to "Lenten Sewing." It is from Tailor Made Girl, Her Friends, Her Fashions and Her Follies by Philip Henry Welch.


Edith.—Why, this is a surprise! You haven't been for three meetings!
Arabella.—I know, and I quite thought I couldn't come to-day.
Edith.—What was the matter?
Arabella.—I mislaid my thimble, and we had such a time finding it.
Edith.—How provoking!
Arabella.—Yes, for there wasn't another gold thimble in the house except a couple of mama's, and they are inches too large.
Edith.—Oh, you could never have come!
Arabella.—It would have been too aggravating, for I particularly wanted to come this meeting.
Edith.—Why? It's an off-day, you know.
Arabella.—I know, and that's the reason; for I heard Nell Knickerbocker said I only come on the days the men are asked to drop in.
Edith.—How spiteful! She needn't think they "drop in" to see her.
Arabella.—No, indeed! Why, at the Elliott german, just before Lent, she was only taken out twice.
Arabella.—I should die of mortification!
Edith.—And I. Do you know I am quite too provoked this afternoon?
Arabella.—Do tell me about it.
Edith.—Why, Mrs. Talcott has given me this horrid canton flannel to sew on again; the white fuzz just covers my dress.
Arabella.—Why didn't you object?
Edith.—I did, and she said there was only that work left, and suggested a larger apron. Arabella.—As if we were waitresses!
Edith.—Yes, just fancy! I am not at all fond of Madam T., by the way.
Arabella.—Nor I. She says such pointed, disagreeable things.
Edith.—I only joined her class because mama worked so hard to get me in.
Arabella.—It's really awfully swell, you know.
Edith.—Yes; but they have plenty more fun at Mrs. Highchurch's.
Arabella.—Yes; and you might say they are just a lot of nobodies.
Edith.—They are embroidering vestments, too; much nicer work than this nasty fuzzy canton flannel.
Arabella.—We are going to begin altar-cloths next meeting.
Edith.—The men go there every time.
Arabella.—Of course, that's a great deal; still, Mrs. Talcott says it's vulgar not to be able to do anything without the men.
Edith.—She didn't think so last Lent, before her daughter caught Ered Noodle.
Arabella.—No, indeed; they were asked every evening.
Edith.—Well, Friday is a gala day. I've got an awfully fetching little chatelaine, with hanging ribbons that hold thimble, scissors, and emery cases, and a tiny needle-book.
Arabella.—How lovely! You should see my new apron; it is trimmed with Valenciennes and heliotrope feather-edge rosettes—awfully Frenchy!
Edith.—I want to see it. Oh, horrors! Mrs. Talcott is going to read; we'll have a dose of Shelley. She always reads Shelley.
Arabella.—How tiresome! I really thought she would be read out by this.
* * *
Edith.—What an exquisite thing!
Arabella.—It is such a treat to hear you read, dear Mrs. Talcott!
* * *
Edith.—What a hideous gown the Forsythe has on!
Arabella.—That is one of her "effects." I've heard her say one is nothing nowadays if not bizarre.
Edith.—She gives herself such airs.
Arabella.—Yes; and they are awfully new people, too. Quite the only detrimental in the class.
Edith.—Yes; mama says at the first luncheon she encountered Mrs. Forsvthe she called for sugar and cream for her bouillon, mistaking it for tea!
Arabella.—Oh, fancy, how dreadful!
* * *
Arabella.—Will this interminable seam never be done? How I hate to sew!
Edith.—I never do—except here.
Arabella.—Have you the faintest idea for what or whom these garments are put together?
Edith.—Oh, not the slightest.
Arabella.—Nor I. Isn't it dull? Can't we go?
Edith.—Yes; I want to go down to Marshmallows and get some Jordan almonds to munch in church. Come with me.
Arabella.—I don't know about the almonds. I'm trying to get on with very, very few bonbons this Lent.
Edith.—Oh, I'll only get a few.
Arabella.—I've done ever so well. I had a five-pound box at Ash Wednesday, and one at Mi-Caréme, and none between.
Edith.—You deserve an indulgence to-day, then.
Arabella.—But this wretched seam isn't finished.
Edith.—That doesn't matter. Take it home and let the seamstress do it.
Arabella.—What a lovely suggestion!
* * *
Edith.—So sorry, dear Mrs. Talcott, to leave so early, but I have an errand to do before five o'clock service.
Arabella.—And I must go, too, Mrs. Talcott. But I do so want to finish this piece of work. Do allow me to take it home and complete it!

Just when I thought the idea of Lenten Sewing was starting to have some appeal, I had to read about the adventures of Edith and Arabella. Sounds like a horrid gossip fest--but also an entertaining read. I do like the thought of doing some charitable sewing. This has me thinking about another stash busting project...


  1. Very entertaining! I'm a cradle Catholic, and I've never heard of Lenten sewing until now. Service using our talents is a great idea.

    1. Lol, I had to look up the phrase cradle Catholic. I'm one of those too. I'm very much enjoying the sewing part of this project. Not so much the cutting. And not at all lovin' the ironing/pressing part even though it is an important step. Me and ironing is like Edith in the above story and flannel. I'm just going to chalk up the ironing/pressing part of the project to my lent penance. Now, I think I'm going to need lots of chocolate and coffee breaks to help me through this ironing step. ;)

  2. Love it! I'm having Nell Knickerbocker over this tuesday!

    1. And the men too? I'll be right over, as long as Madam Talcott stays home with the horrid flannel!


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