The Anti-Fancy-work Fairy: 1893

A gentleman's smoking cap.

A gentleman’s smoking cap. There may be shaded roses on one of the panels.


A Voice of Disapproval Raised Against useless Fancy Work.

“One reads about women that do fancy work, but one rarely meets them,” said the disagreeable Christmas fairy to the New York Recorder, “but there are such woman. I was going to say that there are such things, not that I scorn them, but one cannot help regarding as a curio a fin de siècle woman, to whom voice culture, the Delsarte system, stenography and skirt dancing are every-day studies, and French cookery and elocution only trifles that are expected of her, having time for fancy work.

“One cannot help wondering at what hour a woman gets up who performs her morning ablutions properly—I won’t go so far as to include manicuring, because, they say, it’s going out—who reads the daily paper enough to be able to talk to uninteresting people, who eats her meals without courting indigestion, who dresses as all women dress now, not wisely, but too well, and still has time to make things that hang on and tumble off chandeliers and chairs.

“There are such things as knitting machines; you can buy embroidery and insertion at less than 10 cents a yard; every one, in his or her heart, has an instinctive dislike to an antimacassar; no one loves a lamp mat; there never was a man yet who used a canvas pipe rack worked with forget-me-nots, and even embroidered braces are a species of pearl cast before swine; few men have the amount of moral courage required to wear a smoking cap with shaded roses worked on it, and a yellow tassel; all humanity hates, loathes and despises the kind of person who wears woolen cuffs, and yet—I speak with knowledge—there are still women in the heart of this great city who sit in a little woolly world of their own and count stitches and work flowers that nature wouldn’t recognize even as third cousins.

There are even women who work ‘Scratch My Back’ on a piece of perforated cardboard, and think that people of average intelligence are going to walk across the room, full of chairs, to a corner, full of knick-knacks, and take very remote chances of getting a light from the back of a bobbing concern with three tassels and four yards of ribbon on it.

“Life is too short for that kind of thing!

“I once knew a man who used an embroidered cigarette case, kept his newspapers in a satin wall-pocket, his handkerchiefs in a gorgeous affair inscribed ‘Mouchoirs,’ hung his watch in a perforated cardboard slipper, and folded his nightshirt into a scented case embroidered with his monogram, and a quotation from Shakespeare. He was, fortunately, a government clerk, and so had plenty of time. I should not call such a man a fool, so much as an old lady, and pity, rather than condemn him, because he was so obviously the victim of women who had too little to do.”

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 17 December 1893: p. 24

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: If that impassioned plea were not enough, here is a cautionary tale depicting a home that became a perfect hell of fancy-work.


The women of Brooklyn have taken a craze for embroidery on linen, and for the time being this fad has eclipsed china decorating, cushion collecting and souvenir spoon hunting. Every dish upon the dinner table reposes on a fringed or hemstitched doyley embroidered in delicate silks in all shades of the rainbow. A South Brooklyn man whose wife is an especially ardent embroiderer, told some of his friends the other day that his home was becoming a sort of nightmare to him. There were hard, knotty monograms on all the sheets, the bath towels were inscribed with sentences advocating cleanliness, and maxims were freely sprinkled about the house in all conceivable shapes, But the climax, he says, came the other evening, when he took off his coat to enjoy a game of billiards. He wore a white waistcoat, and across the back of it was embroidered in yellow letters:

I don’t care what the daisies say,

I know I’ll be married some fine day!

He was so mad when he discovered it that he went home and tore up a cheese doyley that had yellow mice embroidered all round the edges, and refused to sleep upon a pillow which read: “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care.”

Star 12 August 1893: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil implores her readers who contemplate making holiday presents for their loved ones to shun the needle and floss as they would an opium pipe and purchase him that chain-saw for which he longs.

There was actually an organisation devoted to the abolishment of useless Christmas presents, which may be found in this post, which includes a delightful story on the subject by Saki, “Reginald on Christmas Presents.”

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.



6 thoughts on “The Anti-Fancy-work Fairy: 1893

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      That humourist spent much time in New York so it is not impossible that this is his work. However, in 1893 he was living in Europe with his family, rather than in the metropolis. He was so famous that it is unlikely that he would not have been named as the author/interviewee. Mrs Daffodil has also failed to find this essay in any of his collected works. Let us give the Scottish legal verdict, “Not proven.”
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil



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