#RevolutionaryWomen: Crewelwork Pocketbook

A new display of 18th century artifacts has been installed in the Revolutionary Characters exhibit. The new case on #RevolutionaryWomen, focuses on women's education and contributions to the independence effort.

Work pocket book, 1966.0010.001

This pocketbook is included in the case as an example of the needlework skills that were taught to 18th and 19th century girls and young women in schools like Mrs. Susanna Rowson’s. It is a particularly vibrant example of crewelwork embroidery. Because of the technique used, in which the stitches cross over more than one thread, this piece has been dated to around 1745, and no later than 1760. It is made of linen canvas lined with English silk, indicating that the materials were part of the pre-revolutionary trade and importation that occurred between Britain and Boston.

As Boston crept closer to the Revolution, these types of imported goods were rejected in favor of American-made items. Textile production had long been a part of women’s lives, but this change in economic focus turned spinning, weaving, and sewing into revolutionary acts. Producing both everyday and luxury goods in Boston decreased dependency on British and European imports. The skills that girls had previously learned as a matter of course took on a new importance in the fledgling United States.

This piece was donated to the museum in 1966 by Winifred Franklin Jones of Bangor, Maine. The story passed down through her family was that it had been made by Sarah Franklin (1762-1839), for her father Samuel (1721-1775), a cousin of Benjamin Franklin. Sarah Franklin married Jerome Ripley in 1784 and was the mother of one of the most influential members of the Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century, George Ripley (1802-1880), founder of Brook Farm.

We are not able to corroborate that it was in fact Sarah Franklin Ripley who made this item – her date of birth implies she would not have been producing work at this level before 1770, at which point this style of embroidery was no longer used. But what if an older relative taught her, using outdated techniques? As with so many of the objects in our collection, we enjoy the story while at the same time thinking about it critically.