Gowns and Omens–Dressmakers’ Superstitions: 1911

hemming a skirt 1895 seamstress

GOWNS AND OMENS.

Odd Superstitions That Darken Dressmaker’s Shop.

“Women who wear fine dresses are as superstitious as the girls who make them,” said a dressmaker. “If the little accidents that happen in the workroom were not mercifully concealed from the owners of rich gowns they would be sick with apprehension half the time. I had one customer who refused to accept a very expensive dress because a girl who assisted with the fitting dropped a pair of scissors, which fell point down and stuck in the floor. That meant an order for mourning within six months. [It might also mean dismissal or death for the person who dropped the scissors.] The customer hoped that by refusing the hoodoo dress she could avert the calamity, but the precaution was useless. In less than three months her father was dead.

“Girls are especially particular in their work on wedding dresses, for if a tiny drop of blood from a pricked finger should fall on the gown the bride would surely die before the end of the year. Then there is green thread. Whether the customer is there to see it or not, no dressmaker will keep green thread near spools of another color. Green thread used for basting means the return of a dress for alterations, and there is enough trouble of that kind in a dressmaking establishment without deliberately bidding for it.

“Women who are themselves superstitious are never surprised or offended at a sewing girl’s untidy coiffure. The girls tumble their hair about on purpose when working on a large order, for it is a sacred belief among dressmakers that a hair inadvertently worked into the garment shows that more work is coming soon from the same customer.”

Stafford [KS] County Republican 10 August 1911: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has written before about the idea that sewing a hair into a wedding gown will bring the seamstress a husband.

Green was widely thought to be an unlucky colour.  Today one would think that was because the dye was often the deadly Scheele’s Green. The superstition might more plausibly be blamed on the fairies:

Green an Unlucky Color.

The Scotch Highlanders considered it unfortunate to wear the fairies’ fatal green in a fight, especially on a Friday, and in many places in rural England, this same belief that the fairies looked upon green as their peculiar hue and resented the wearing of this color by mortals was generally held. Wisconsin State Journal [Madison WI] 23 October 1899: p. 3

Seamstresses had a whole wardrobe of superstitions regarding the dressmaking business as well as matters of life and death.

Dressmakers’ Superstitions.

Theatrical folk are generally supposed to take the palm for superstition, but dressmakers are not far behind. No matter how gilt edged and “madamed” and given to big bills and scornful of anybody who comes to heir afoot she may be, and especially of the somebody who can’t afford silk lining, she wouldn’t dream of sewing the gown while upon you. “Take a stitch while you’re trying the dress on!” she cries. “Mercy, no! I wouldn’t dream of such a dreadful thing. Don’t you know what it means? Every one of those stitches would stand for a lie that somebody was telling about you, and the longer the stitch the bigger the lie.” That is what she will tell you if you ask her or any of her aides to take the least little “tack” in the garment. “Well, I will if you’re willing to run the risk,” said one of the profession resignedly. “Yes, I know I can’t do it so well off you, but it’ll take at least six stitches, and that means just six lies—big lies, too, for the stitches are awful long.” She regarded the customer who was willing to fly thus in the face of fate as nothing short of a marvel.

Mower County Transcript [Lansing MI] 5 January 1898: p. 2

Black Pins and Dressmaking.—A dressmaker, about 30 years old, born and resident at Torquay, when “trying on” or fitting on a new dress to a customer, declined to use a black pin, remarking that were she to use it the dress would certainly not fit.  Report and Transactions: The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, Vol. 12, Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, 1880: p. 112

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If a garment is cut out on Friday, the person for whom it is made will not live unless it is finished on the same day. Southern Indiana.

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Beginning on Saturday a garment that cannot be finished means death. Ohio.

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Whoever works on a sick person’s dress, he or she will die within the year. Massachusetts.

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When a woman who has been sewing puts her thimble on the table as she sits down to eat, it is a sign that she will be left a widow, if she marries. Central Maine.

This latter superstition provides an admirable excuse to procure a pretty thimble case and consistently place the article within.

 

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.

5 thoughts on “Gowns and Omens–Dressmakers’ Superstitions: 1911

  1. Rachel Rohner-Bartlett

    Here in New England we were told when we were young children that we must never sew on Sunday because we’d have to pull out every stitch with our noses on Judjment Day! Sunday was the Lord’s day, a day to meditate on HIM, not a day off to catch up on your chores!(My grandmother was a strict Northern Baptist!)

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Good gracious! It sounds very like the Puritans’ views on the Sabbath. Thank you so much for sharing. To her pleasure, Mrs Daffodil is finding all sorts of sewing beliefs of which she was previously unaware.
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil

      Like

      Reply

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