Here's a tailor at Colonial Williamsburg, hard at work on a lady’s habit made of white jean. I’m not going to talk about the habit but about work habits. We learned that our 18th C tailors and dressmakers in America, on account of not belonging to guilds, had more liberty in setting working hours than did their London counterparts. In Williamsburg our 18th C tailor would work six days a week from sunup to sundown--during daylight hours, in other words. But we need to remember that daylight isn’t always bright. My photo shows the contrast between outside and inside--and he’s working at the window on a sunny day. On a rainy day, Susan informed me, it’s very dark in there. And those are very, very tiny stitches he’s making. By hand.
The London tailor, according to the rules of the Merchant Taylors Guild, would be making the same tiny stitches from 6AM to 9PM, with an hour break for a midday meal--which meant he’d be working by candlelight for a chunk of that time, at least during winter. When we compare and contrast working conditions then and now, it's good to remember that long hours are only one working condition. The workplace is another. How well lit is it? How hot or cold does it get? Then I look at the work and have to marvel. Under what many of us would consider spirit-killing conditions, these skilled and patient craftsmen created such beautiful things. I have to believe that they didn't find it spirit-killing necessarily--after all, everyone was in the same boat--and that many must have taken not only pride but joy in what they did. It made me realize that, had I lived in the time period, maybe I'd like to be making clothes. What about you?
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.