This does the rounds every four months or so on Facebook, mostly reposted by people who have a limited perspective on history and don’t know how to unpack ideas beyond their limited lens of lived life experience – thereby exemplifying CS Lewis’ observation of ‘the snobbery of chronology’.
In other words, pick your best valley girl voice: “OMG, like that is just sooo backwards, ungh.”, “WTF, that’s like sooo oppressive.”
But ‘chronology snobbery’ is not all that’s wrong with this.
As a historical romance author, I do my utmost to accurately reflect life in eras gone by, so it is offensive, disrespectful and disheartening to see history deliberately distorted and our parents, grandparents and great grandparents maligned.
First of all, the graphic below is misleading because it leaves out some context – and context is everything (and Snopes can be your friend.)
The devil in in the details and this misleading graph leaves them out…
And once you unpack the ideas, you see it makes perfect sense and creates some valuable life advice which is valid even today.
Secondly, keeping in mind that in 1949, the world was still recovering from war. Especially in Britain, where the economy was devastated, people were still using ration books and would continue to do so until 1954. World War Two ended in 1945 and Britain wouldn’t come close to recovering until the early 1960s.
Thirdly, there was no ‘fast fashion’ where you spend less on a T-shirt than a Pumpkin Spiced Latte from Starbucks. If you wanted a new outfit in the latest fashion, then you would have to make your own.
Fourthly, not every woman born before 1970 was a gifted seamstress – that’s another myth – some were great, some were good, some were average, some were dreadful.
Falling into the latter category was my grandmother, who was born in 1925 and therefore was aged 24 when the Singer book came out. She was not a very good cook either. My grandfather was better in both of those tasks than my grandmother. I remember her telling me that the only thing she really excelled at was cleaning, but she would never do it for other people because she wasn’t a maid. She also said she attended sewing classes with her sister-in-law and it was a complete disaster because they had clubbed together to buy fabric, so it was exactly the same pattern, but then they lost track of which piece belonged with each dress!
From Snopes, I’ve reproduced the full paragraph from Singer Sewing Book by Mary Brooks Pickens interspersed with my 2017 translation. I can’t believe it needs said, but there you go, I’m not sure the past 70 years have made us much brighter:
Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisical attitude. Good results are difficult when indifference predominates.
2017 Translation: “Pay attention at work and in your job. Give it the full seriousness it deserves. If your attitude is right, you’ll get better results.”
Never try to sew with the sink full of dishes or bed unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so that your mind is free to enjoy your sewing.
2017 Translation: “If your head is full of things distracting you from your work, then you’re not going to give it your best. Don’t let little things fester. Get them out of the way, you can start your work day with a clear head and concentrate on the task at hand.”
When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Go through a beauty ritual of orderliness. Have on a clean dress. Be sure your hands are clean, finger nails smooth — a nail file and pumice will help. Always avoid hangnails.
2017 Translation: “Dress for success. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If you feel confident – both inside and out – you will feel prepared for whatever the day brings. Being well groomed is not just vanity, it prevents you from being distracted from your job.”
Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine where you can pick it up and dust your fingers at intervals. This not only absorbs the moisture on your fingers, but helps to keep your work clean.
2017 Translation: “Make sure your workplace is set up conducive to doing good work. Keep your desk /work space tidy.”
Have your hair in order, power and lipstick put on with care. Looking attractive is a very important part of sewing, because if you are making something for yourself, you will try it on at intervals in front of your mirror, and you can hope for better results when you look your best.
2017 Translation: “Prior preparation prevents piss-poor performance. Are you testing and measuring, so you have sufficient data to do the best job possible. Are you regularly reviewing your performance to make sure you’re meeting your KPIs? Do you feel dissatisfied with the job you’re doing? Are you physically and mentally prepared?”
P.S. And for today’s non-sewers, does anyone go clothes shopping for themselves looking like a slob? Does no one make at least a token effort before they go out any more?
P.P.S. The sentence above beginning with ‘Looking attractive’ is deliberately omitted in the graphic. See how those restored sentence changes the context?
If you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband will come home and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing as you should.
2017 Translation: “By being organised and prepared, you can better cope with unexpected demands that come your way in life without falling into tears, yelling, panicking or having a tantrum.”
Now, tell me that those few paragraphs of nearly 70 year old wisdom, aren’t important to your life today.
Perhaps the lesson for us all is to not mock sage advice of years gone by, but understand the context the advice is given and look at the timeless wisdom beneath.
I wish that didn’t need to be said, but apparently it does.