The Crystal Palace
Anne Catherine Boykin Jones, member of America's Southern elite, took a voyage to Europe to view the 1851 Great Exposition at the Crystal Palace in London.Her diary in the form of letters to sister Clara back in Columbus, Georgia describes a trip to Paris next where---being rich and fashionable--- she and her 14-year-old daughter were fitted for gowns by French dressmakers.
La Mode 1851
Los Angeles Public Library
French fashion, silly as it may have been, was the Western world's standard. But 34-year-old Mrs. Jones was not pleased:
"Prices are exorbitant and we are not half as well fitted as Mary can fit me at home...."if my seamstress at home could only see what miserable fitting dresses her young mistress and I wore, she would be extremely mortified."
Measuring for a dress, 1890
California State Library
Anne (1817-1886) was the daughter of Camden, South Carolina native James William Boykin (probably a relative of Mary Boykin Chesnut whose Cassandra's Circle we are visiting in an applique quilt this year.) Her father moved to Georgia where Anne was born in Baldwin County. She married James Randall Jones (1808-1871) and they became one of the oldest and most prominent families in Columbus, Georgia, according to a daughter's obituary.
Columbus on the Chattahoochee River bordering Alabama was a planned mill town, the Lowell of the South. Western entrepreneurs brought slavery with them to the new western industrial areas.
This 1853 ad in the Richmond, Virginia Daily Dispatch describes:
"The Most Valuable Ladies' Maid ever offered for sale in the United States, a finished seamstress, tailoress, mantaumaker; cuts and fits with unequaled elegance and precision every garment of ladies' or gentlemen's attire."Southern newspapers are full of ads for seamstresses.
And a young women who practiced self-emancipation in 1848.
Let's hope no one in Charlottesville ever saw Ellen again and she made it
to Philadelphia where she opened a high-class dressmaking shop
and made a fortune. (I made that last part up.)
Sewing was one skilled area where an enslaved woman had an advantage (high-end cooking was another) in that she might be hired out as Elizabeth Keckley was and permitted to keep a portion of the wages. With her sewing earnings Lizzie Keckley bought her own freedom and that of her son.
Elizabeth Keckley's biggest sewing challenge may have
been making someone with Mary Lincoln's taste
and figure look fashionable.
That's a skilled seamstress.