An Officer and an Embroiderer: 1883

Berlin Wool-work slippers, c. 1860

Berlin Wool-work slippers, c. 1860


Who Frequents Fancy Stores and Discourses with Authority upon Feminine Handiwork.

“Have you any lighter shades of arrasene?” The deep manly tones of the speaker rose above the hum of female voices that filled a little store in this city devoted exclusively to the sale of materials for fancy work. Fashionably attired in garments of the latest design, but betraying in his appearance none of the follies of the dude, the speaker stood leaning carelessly against the counter, handling the mysteries of flosses and skeins opened out before him with all the familiarity of a lady customer. He had none of the awkwardness of the ordinary husband, brother or lover who finds himself in such a place and was apparently making purchases for himself and not merely acting as an errand boy for his sister or lady friend. The lady who was waiting on him happened to be the proprietor of the store, and in spite of the fact that he was a man apparently treated him as an equal. She had none of that manner of pitying condescension for helpless and dense ignorance with which the average man is greeted when an unkind fate or bad weather compels his unwilling steps into such a store.

“I am sorry that we are out of the lighter shades just at present,” she replied in her most gracious manner. “But don’t you think that this would do,” she continued, taking up a skein and holding it up to show it off to the best advantage. It was an appeal to his judgment and not a dogmatic assertion.

“No, I don’t think that it will,” was the prompt and decided response, and the saleswoman yielding without further parley began to restore the scattered silks to the box.

“How did you succeed with your last piece?” she inquired with a pleasant smile as the young man began to draw on his gloves.

“Splendidly,” was the enthusiastic response. “It was perfectly lovely.”

Other customers demanding her attention put an end to this interesting fancy work gossip, and deprived the world of further information as to the achievements of this remarkable young man. He is, however, well known in society circles in this city, and his lady friends have had frequent occasions to admire specimens of his handiwork. When macramé became the fashionable craze he worked a number of elaborate pieces and contributed them to fairs for charity objects. He is a young naval officer, and employs his spare moments in cultivating his gifts in this direction, but in other respects he is not effeminate and is very popular with his associates in the service.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 29 December 1883: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Obviously the embroidering gentleman was a novelty and the author feels the need to defend his subject against charges of “dude-ism” or effeminacy. Yet during the golden age of embroidery, when Queen Elizabeth was on the throne, there was a class of professional male embroiderers who may have outnumbered the females in that profession.

Many men in high places, such as the Duke of Windsor, who learnt the art from his mother Queen Mary, enjoyed relaxing over their needlepoint. Mrs Daffodil believes that Sir Winston Churchill also stitched, but she has not been able to verify that assertion. Canvas stitchery enjoyed a resurgence during the 1960s when an American football player, Mr Roosevelt Grier helped to popularise it in the States, even writing a book on the subject: Needlepoint for Men. Its appeal lay in offering something to do with the hands that required little thought. One expects that to-day, that function is fulfilled by “smart phones.”

Arrasene was a silk or wool, chenille-like embroidery cord. See this page for details and photo-gravures.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.




2 thoughts on “An Officer and an Embroiderer: 1883

  1. Ann

    Sailors of his generation (and no doubt many earlier generations as well) regarded sewing and mending as craft skills, as they mended any clothing that needed it and, of course, mended the sails and nets.


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Indeed! That is a most valuable observation and one Mrs Daffodil is blushing for having omitted. Sailors were well known for the fancy articles they carved and sewed for their families and sweethearts. Many thanks!
      Mrs Daffodil



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