Sunday, May 7, 2023

Weekend Review: Framing Our Past


Framing Our Past: Canadian Women's History in the 20th Century /
ed. Sharon Anne Cook, Lorna R. McLean, Kate O'Rourke
Montreal: McGill-Queens UP, c2006.
532 p.

I borrowed this book from my library recently & didn't expect to share it here! I wanted to read it because my undergrad degree was in Canadian history and I enjoy reading women's history, and I recognized some of the contributing authors. But there were some really fascinating pieces in this book that deal with textiles and women's work. 

The book is quite large & heavy - not a bedtime read! But it's really well done. It's a collection of many, many short pieces by academics on a wide variety of topics, broken up into thematic sections. Most are between 3-5 pages; this isn't deep exploration, rather short overviews or essays on many themes. It's easy to skim these a few at a time, and the book goes by quickly despite the number of chapters. And there are a lot of great photos, too!

For sewing readers, there are a good handful of intriguing entries. You can see the entire table of contents at the publisher's book page, but the ones that stood out to me were mainly in the last section, "Earning Their Bread". This had a number of pieces on women using sewing, pattern-making & millinery as a career. These were: 

  • Creative Ability and Business Sense: The Millinery Trade in Ontario by Christina Bates 
  • Our Mothers' Patterns: Sewing and Dressmaking in the Japanese-Canadian Community by Susan Michi Sirovyak 
  • Federica and Angelina: Postwar Italian-Canadian Couturiers in Toronto by Alexandra Palmer
  • Fabrications: Clothing, Generations, and Stitching Together the History We Live by Kathryn Church
These were all fascinating in their own way, but it was the piece on Japanese-Canadian sewing that first brought me to this book. It was mentioned in another book I was reading (can't remember which one) which caused me to search out where I could find this article. That was an illuminating article about the preponderance of sewing and dressmaking in the Japanese-Canadian community, and how it helped many women to survive financially, even during the shameful years of Japanese internment during WWII. I learned very little of this kind of domestic-focused history during my studies; much of the women's studies I took focused on non-domestic topics but I am very glad to see things changing and more of the daily life of women being studied and explored. 

The others ranged from the rise and fall of millinery as a good living, a study of two Italian couturiers who had successful high-end shops in Toronto, and a story of an academic daughter reconnecting with her seamstress mother via curating a museum exhibit.
There were also a couple of articles of interest to fellow sewists in the first section, "Living Women's Lives", which covers a surprising number of artistic topics, from reading clubs in Winnipeg to specialists in Inuit art, to Alice Peck, May Phillips, and the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, by Ellen Easton McLeod. All of these were must-reads for me; I didn't read all of the articles in the other sections, but did skim most of them. What a great find, and I'm so lucky to be able to access academic books via Interlibrary Loan, because otherwise they are way too expensive to explore! 

If you're also a history buff and are intrigued by elements of women's history like these ones, I recommend this book. The pieces are not overly academic - ie, they are mainly quite readable - and cover a huge range of interest. And the sewing related bits are fascinating!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!