Tuesday 10 June 2014

Fancy Work, April 1914

The Lady's World Fancy Work Book, April 1914.

The Lady's World was a monthly magazine that first appeared in 1898.  From 1906, there was a quarterly spin-off called the Fancy Work Book.  At that time, there were several magazines on 'fancy work' around - Mrs Leach's Practical Fancy Work Basket,  Ladies' Fancy-Work Magazine, Fancy Needlework Illustrated, and probably several more that I haven't found yet.   I think 'fancy work' was supposed to be inessential and decorative - something that ladies of leisure could do to amuse themselves - but it sometimes did include clothing and other practical items.

The April 1914 issue included a lot of crochet designs, especially Irish crochet, which was at the height of its popularity - a collar, a doiley, an edging for a table cloth.  The cover illustration is of a jabot with an edging of 'Irish fairy lace' around a net centre.   The preamble to the instructions says: 'The vogue of the moment for very fine lace articles for neckwear has brought the dainty "Irish fairy crochet" lace into such prominence that the supply does not nearly equal the demand, hence it is confined to those who already possess it or are fortunate enough to be able to pay the high price demanded for it. It is the finest of all Irish crochet....often a small motif is sewn on the fine "filling" and stands out from it, just as if it had fallen there or been thrown there by fairy fingers.'  Hmmm.   Quite apart from the 'fairy fingers', it sounds a very ambitious project, but possibly some of the magazine's readers devoted a lot of time and effort to fancy work, and reached a high standard.  


Another Irish crochet design in the magazine is for The Fashionable Gaiter.

 'For afternoon wear and dressy occasions the lace spat or gaiter is assured a vogue in the coming season on account of the mode of the moment in skirts.  Owing to the manner in which the ankle is  exposed it is imperative to pay a great deal of attention to the chaussure accompanying the toilette ..  The lace spat is the very latest innovation and no doubt it gives a pretty and graceful finish to smart footwear.'  That is a completely daft idea, and adding a few French words doesn't make it any more sensible.  You would hope that skirts becoming shorter than floor length would be a step towards more practical clothing, and instead, women were encouraged to fill the gap with something completely impractical.  There is a gesture towards practicality  - Irish crochet is claimed to be 'the most suitable of all lace for the purpose as it is so durable and stands laundering well.'  But as the reader is told to mount the lace on something like velvet or satin, the combination would not be washable I'm sure, so the lace would have to be unpicked from the backing to wash it, and it would need washing very frequently.   Altogether a crazy idea.

There are a couple of knitting patterns in the magazine, and a little bit of embroidery.  (The cover of the magazine promises all three.)   One of the knitting patterns is for a 'Lady's Sports Coat' - essentially a cardigan, and I suspect that they weren't just for sports, because there were a lot of similar patterns at the time and surely even leisured ladies didn't have that much time for sport, what with all the fancy work to be done.    The cardigan is knitted in stocking stitch, in Paton's 4-ply super fingering on size 10 needles.  There are a couple of interesting technical features: there's a neat hem to finish off the bottom , and the tops of the sleeves are shaped with short rows, rather than decreases.  

Also knitted is a 'Cosy Sports or Motor Scarf Hood'  with a silk lining,  and a baby's cloak and hood - worn by a rather alarmed-looking baby.

There's a knitted vest and a pair of bootees too, but on the whole, the emphasis is on decorative crochet.  The Lady's World Fancy Work Book survived into the 1920s, but by then, most of the magazine was concerned with knitting, with many patterns for ladies' fashionable jumpers.  Crochet was no longer so important.


  1. My dad still calls his casual jackets "sports jackets", doesn't do any sport in them though! It's interesting the divide between fancy work and plain work, the social class system transferred into the world of needlework. I would love to know how contemporary women felt about their needlework, did they all love it? Or did some of them feel its futility? An Irish crochet gaiter does speak rather of trying to fill time.

  2. Maybe fancy work seemed more practical then than it does now - Irish crochet was in vogue, but very expensive to buy, so by making your own you could feel that you were saving money. I don't know.


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