The Beaders

(see  for details of the conference at which this talk was presented)

An updating of a short paper read at the first Costume Society Symposium, London, April 19th.

Notes from a talk by Joan Edwards.

Two ways of Beading:

  1. Sewn on with needle (bead embroidery)
    1. Worked before making up
  2. Formed into ornaments and then sewn on.
    1. Added after making up.

Bead embroidery (1) is very skilled.  Bead work (2) is unskilled.

1904 Berlin exhibition to show exploitation of home workers.  Taken up by London clergyman who made up his own exhibition in Church Hall.

1906 another German exhibition featuring evidence gathered.  Many workers hesitant to send examples for exhibition for fear of losing jobs.

Women’s Industrial Council received report on embroidery as a home work (Included beaders and artificial flowers).  Some cases of middlewomen, who finds workers and then pays them.  Worker reluctant to give evidence.  14-15 hours a day needed for a living wage – i.e. 1shilling 1 ½ average.  The posture needed for work caused bad eyesight and nerves.

2 May 1906  Daily news Sweated Industry exhibition.  Showing workers in action.  30,000 visitors by 29th May at 1 shilling entry each.

Fashion fluctuation makes trade varying.  Low wages or no wages.  Beading trying on eyes.

Women’s Industrial Council 1907 published a hardback on ‘Sweating.’

1907 Sweated Industries exhibition in Oxford opened by Viscount Milner.

1913 Glasgow.  Scottish Council for Women’s Trade – exhibition on ‘Sweating’ entitled ‘The Song of the Shirt.’

Beaders persuaded to take part, nameless, on stand 10.  Number 19 worked beading on shoes – was paid 6 shillings a week, worked 12 hours per day, had to provide her own needles.  Number 20 earned 5 shillings per week making beaded ornaments, had to fetch work (3 hours walking) – cut out buckram, bind it, sew on beads.  Work bad for eyes.

Exploitation still exists.  Bengali workers in London, Brick Lane.

Joan Edwards had just published the sixth of her small books on the history of Embroidery (The Bead Embroidered Dress) and was writing a biography of Dorothy Benson who worked for forty years in the Embroidery Department of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.

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