Make It Yourself

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Overview

Through home sewing, Sarah A. Gordon examines domestic labor, marketing practices, changing standards of femininity, and understandings of class, gender, and race from 1890 to 1930. As ready-made garments became increasingly available due to industrialization, many women, out of necessity or choice, continued to make their own clothing. In doing so, women used a customary female skill both as a means of supporting traditional ideas and as a tool of personal agency.

The shifting meanings of sewing formed a contested space in which businesses promoted sewing machines as tools for maintaining domestic harmony, women interpreted patterns to suit-or flout-definitions of appropriate appearances, and girls were taught to sew in ways that reflected beliefs about class, race, and region. Unlike studies of clothing that focus on changes in fashion, "Make it Yourself" looks at the social and cultural processes surrounding home production. Gordon examines sewing clothing as work, whether resented or enjoyed, and the function of that work for families and individuals from a range of backgrounds.

Another unique element is Gordon's use of an unusually wide variety of source materials, from diaries, photographs, and government pamphlets to tissue paper patterns, dresses, sewing workbooks, and paper dolls. This "hands on" approach, combined with an accessible writing style, connects the reader to the women and girls who are at the heart of her study. Altogether, "Make it Yourself" provides a new perspective on a widespread yet often neglected form of women's work.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review
A well-researched and insightful addition to the cultural history of the time period.

— Rob Schorman

Journal of American History
A welcome addition to the literature on women's domestic production.

— Gayle R. Davis

American Historical Review - Rob Schorman

A well-researched and insightful addition to the cultural history of the time period.

Journal of American History - Gayle R. Davis

A welcome addition to the literature on women's domestic production.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231142441
  • Publisher: Columbia University
  • Publication date: 12/5/2008
  • Series: Columbia/Hurst Series
  • Pages: 188
  • Product dimensions: 0.56 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah A. Gordon received a Ph.D. in U.S. and women's history from Rutgers University in 2004. Gordon has taught at Rutgers and at SUNY Purchase College, teaching courses in U.S, public, and women's history, and has worked in a variety of public history contexts. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

1 "Sewed Considerable" 1

2 "Boundless Possibilities" 28

3 "When Mother Lets Us Sew" 47

4 Commodifying "Domestic Virtues" 79

5 Clothing for Sport 108

Interviews 131

Susan Sews a Skirt 145

Glossary 147

Bibliography 151

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