I've been doing a bit of genealogy (well quite a lot, really as every discovery throws up more questions) and it was with some delight I discovered a very distant ancestor was a seamstress.
Margaret Montgomery is mentioned in Lady Anne Clifford's diary as the seamstress from Penrith. Lady Anne wrote: '...this afternoon did Margaret Montgomery, from Penrith, the sempstress, come hither, so I had her into my chamber and kiss'd her and talked with her, and she came to make up the twenty pair of sheets and pillow-veres.' (Pillow veres was the seventeenth century term for pillow cases.) This meeting is one of the last entries in Lady Anne's diary - she travelled to Brougham Castle in October 1675 and died in March 1676.
I'd never been entirely sure of the difference between a tailor and a seamstress. One school of thought was that a tailor made clothes for men while a seamstress made clothes for women. Another thought was that a seamstress concentrated on sewing the seams while all the embroidery and embellisments the Tudors and Stuarts loved were done by someone else.
In practice, I wonder if the above differential might mean that the seamstress did make clothes for the middle classes who could afford new clothes but not high levels of embellishment. I'm sure someone can correct me if I'm wrong.
In the summer it was probably not a bad job - long days give plenty of light but in the winter months trying to sew by candlelight certainly isn't something I'd want to attempt. However, as Margaret's husband was still alive it is possible that she only took in sewing to supplement the family's income and therefore only worked at it when the light was good (I suspect Lady Anne Clifford would always have been a special case!). More than 300 years on, I suspect I'll never know.
But I do wonder if needlework is something that can be passed down through the genes or ancestral memory or something like that...
I have turned into quite an admirer of Lady Anne - this is the woman who defied two husbands and a king (who was pretty hot on the divine right of kings) to insist that she should be allowed to inherit her lands. To paraphrase one of her diary entries, 'if Queen Elizabeth can inherit a throne why can't I inherit my lands?' By outliving her uncle and her nephew she eventually inherited her lands - during the English Civil War. She then persuaded Cromwell to allow her to restore Skipton, Appleby and Brougham castles.
In her later years (at the time of her meeting with Margaret) she cropped her hair and smoked a pipe.
Obviously, there is no portrait of Margaret but there are plenty of Lady Anne. The image on the left shows two of the scenes from Anne Clifford's Great Picture, Abbott Hall Gallery, Kendal. On the far left she is 15, the age she was when she was disinherited. On the left she is painted as she was at 46 when she eventually gained her inheritance.
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