How settler women spent their sparse spare time

There’s a fascinating new exhibition at the History House in Glen Innes.

It’s a room full of embroidery, some of it done by women in the middle of the 19th century when this land was a rough frontier society being settled by white people, sometimes brutally.

In the midst of this roughness, women embroidered – and the product is now on display at the History House.

One of the organisers, Jenny Anderson, said: “It brings to mind women’s existence at that time which must have been jolly tough because they were all walking round in long dresses.

“They had to pull water, chop wood and do all those things that would keep a household running but they still had time to sit down and do this wonderful work which was in their female genes at the time.

“Their grandmothers would have taught them. Their mothers would have taught them and they would have taught their own children.”

A strong part of the exhibition are “samplers” – pieces of embroidery where the embroiderer practiced different stitches or created alphabets or words of wisdom.

Jenny Anderson and Trudie Gough who are behind the exhibition.

Jenny Anderson and Trudie Gough who are behind the exhibition.

“They are an example of all these stitches which people learn”, said jenny Anderson. “You’ll notice from some of the samplers that there in some of the corners there’s a little tiny patch (where women practiced darning)”

Why is it such a good exhibition?

“It’s history and it just makes you wonder what else these women did.

“They ran their households and tended to their menfolk and probably animals but there was very little contact between people so they amused themselves.

“The bit that gets me is that some of these women must have been highly intelligent but never had the opportunity to use their intelligence in another field.”

The History House has a track record of putting on fascinating shows which illuminate how our mothers and grandmothers lived. Last year, there was an exhibition of underwear from local properties.

It included corsets, petticoats – and what the ladies behind the show called “crutchless pants” from the Victorian era in New England.

There was a dress which weighed a kilogram, a dress with an eighteen inch waist and a pair of underpants – knickers – which made it easier for ladies to respond when nature called but they were wearing layer upon layer of dress and petticoat.

The whole show showed how the burden on women changed – literally the burden on women because some of the heavy garments were impossible to imagine wearing. 

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This story Embroidering history at the History House | Video first appeared on Glen Innes Examiner.