Discussing machine embroidery · Inspirational

Discovering a treasure hidden for years

A while back my daughter bought an antique cabinet from an auction room in Devon, England for her home. When it was being cleaned she discovered something tucked behind one of the interior drawers wrapped in tissue paper.

She knew I would be interested as within this little package was a tiny linen shirt and a this piece of paper which read:

” Hand made man’s shirt (one fourth size) Won second prize in class of eight 1884

Mrs J Edwards.

I knew immediately what it was for when I visited the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace in London, I learned how needle women created samples of their work in miniature, a visible CV. These were done not to scale but reduced in size, looking like dolls clothes. When I heard about these I never imagined I would have the pleasure of holding one and photographing it for all you to see. There is a specific name for these items but I cannot find it despite doing a lot of research online. Let me know if you have any ideas. In Victorian England at that time when Mrs Edwards won second prize, things were changing dramatically for those who loved sewing and for those only income came from what they produced by hand.

The first sewing machine had been invented in 1846 and very soon Singer Sewing machines were creating their iconic machines, winning first prize at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1855. Things were on the change and the sewing machine changed everything, just as it has for me and probably for you too!

I doubt that Mrs Edwards ever used a sewing machine and I would love to know what her second prize was! It is humbling to see the time and effort that had gone into this sample of her work. The details are incredible both on the outside and inside. I could not help but admire the delicate tiny hand stitches.

Although this garment is stained by the passage of time it is a gem and the stains add to its beauty. It is in incredible condition for a project that is over 140 years old, and a credit to Mrs Edwards ability as a seamstress.

I love the way the sides have been reinforced so lovingly.

The seams are perfect throughout and the stitches almost the size of the fibres of the garment.

The sleeves are fascinating, especially the cuffs and the delightful little buttons.

Look at these exquisite hand sewn buttonholes. I wonder what Mrs Edwards would think of the buttonholes we produce on our sewing machines now!

Here you see the neckline and upper section of the shirt.

This is the front section I believe, although it was difficult to tell.

How wonderful to see how things were done in the past. I do wonder how many hours it took to complete this sample and what sort of light she had to work by in the evenings. I also would love to know how much she would be paid for a full size shirt like this and suspect it would be a pittance.

My daughter did wonder what to do with this treasure and in the end it was decided to put it back in the place where it has been hidden for decades, so that somebody else one day will experience the joy of discovering it as did!

So the moral of this story, is keep your treasures and heirloom projects safe so that future generations can take delight in them. If you haven’t got any heirloom embroidery projects maybe it is time to consider creating one. There are lots of embroidery designs at Graceful Embroidery to inspire you. When finished hang them out of the reach of the sunlight which does so much damage or wrap them carefully in acid free tissue paper.

Happy embroidering from Hazel

15 thoughts on “Discovering a treasure hidden for years

  1. What a treasure! Those tiny little stitches on that shirt! I enjoyed looking at every little detail. I know you appreciated them because you, yourself, pay so much attention to detail! That is what I love about your designs! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you for sharing your personal story. I found it quite interesting. I however, would have that lovely shirt cleaned professionally and framed along with the note of award. It is far too fine of a work to keep hidden away!

  3. Wow! That is amazing, the detail is perfect along with the stitches. Truly a beautiful piece to be treasured.

  4. Thank you so much for writing about this unexpected discovery. Sharing the history that you had learned at the museum was so interesting. I will probably not have an opportunity to visit such a museum, but feel as though I traveled through time and place from your description. Many thanks

  5. What an exquisite piece of work and a treasured find. It reminds me of the special pieces Martha Pullen always shared in ‘Sew Beautiful’ magazine. Thank you for BBC sharing it with us.

  6. It is wonderful historic karma that the treasure was found by someone who would appreciate it as much as you (and we!) do. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  7. That is so amazing. I cannot image the hours that was put into the making of the shirt. It would be wonderful to talk with the Lady. Thank you for sharing!

      1. Wouldn’t the Royal School of Needlework museum want it? We have Kent State University in Ohio that has a huge collection of clothing and needlework conserved.

  8. Thank you for taking the time to share this delightful find with all of us. I so enjoyed seeing and reading about the exquisite workmanship involved with this little shirt. What skills the seamstresses had in those days doing their stitching by hand! I love the chest too, it reminds me of the lower portion of a “Secretary” which is one my favorites in furniture.

  9. What an amazing find! Martha Pullen (the diva of heirloom sewing here in the US) would love this wonderful story. She has an amazing collection of heirloom clothing treasures.

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