There’s a part in Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley where Shirley is called into a room by her lover. The scene follows thus:
The door unclosed; Miss Keeldar came in. The message, it appeared, had found her at her needle: she brought her work in her hand. […]
She made a full stop between the door and his desk.
‘Did you want me, sir?’ she asked.
‘I ventured, Miss Keeldar, to send for you – that is, to ask an interview of a few minutes.’
She waited: she plied her needle.
I love this imagery. And the fact that Shirley can just stand there sewing whilst she waits for Slowpokes to spit out a sentence. I mean, why can’t I do that? Why can’t I walk around with my embroidery hoop attached to my chatelaine and naturally pick it up at will when I’m in the office waiting for some cretin to give me faxing instructions or whilst some jerk is yelling at me on the phone? Why would that be frowned upon? I JUST WANT TO PLY MY NEEDLE.
I guess I can just add that to the long list of modern injustices, right below the sobering fact that I will never have the opportunity to catch consumption (thanks, vaccines!).
I’m a self-taught knitter and embroiderer but definitely don’t apply my rudimentary skills often enough (and therefore they remain rudimentary unlike, say, the super talented Helen of CrawCrafts Beasties–seriously, check out her unique creations and Beastie adventures; I am borderline obsessed). But last year, I would occasionally work on some crewel pieces during my lovely commute. My pastime would often (unfortunately) spark a dialogue with fellow commuters who wanted to know what the hell I was doing and why (‘Well what’s it supposed to be? A cushion? Do you put it in a frame? Why are you doing that?’ ‘No. I mean, I don’t know. It’s just a thing, it’s just…. LEAVE ME ALONE!’).
Many of the questions centred around the design of this piece:
So, I’d explain, ‘Oh, it’s actually a William Morris.’ 100% of the time, this explanation was met with a blank stare. So I’d be like, ‘You know, like the Arts & Crafts Movement from the 19th century?’ STARE. ‘Like the Pre-Raphaelites,’ I’d pursue, the hole I was digging growing deeper.
Due to this alarming lack of awareness shared by the general public, I decided I’d better write a Pre-Raphaelite PSA (because my blog is such a wildly read and influential publication).
HOWEVER I’ve already spent half this post complaining about not getting to dress and act like a lunatic in 2017, and this gripe happened to send me down a different research path that I thought might be of interest to you. (We’ll save the Pre-Raffies for another day).
(There has already been a pretty comprehensive Collectors Weekly post written about chatelaines here that is worth a read, but I’ll just give you some highlights.)
For those of you who don’t know, chatelaines were a type of super useful jewelry worn by Victorian (and pre-Victorian) women. Basically, they were a series of chains bearing various attachments, usually fastened to a belt/something at the woman’s waist. And you could pick and choose which attachments would suit you best! Big on sewing? You’d probably have a pincushion, tiny scissors, a pin case, and a thimble! Maybe you’re an avid note taker? Why not have a little sterling notebook and pen attachment! And naturally, they were good for carrying keys (as was their original purpose).
Of course, some chatelaines were more decorative than practical, the especially ornate and beautiful ones made to be worn outside the confines of the home. They also managed to traverse social classes, worn by homemakers both large and small. And like most things, they were even the butt of some Punch cartoons! I actually lol’ed at the second illustration/caption–those hilarious Victorians.
So, who thinks we should bring back chatelaines?! I really think there must be a market for them and that they would be hot sellers at Urban Outfitters.
I guess until that day, I will continue to lose my little scissors on trains and Sellotape my needles to cardboard and have pens bleeding into the bottom of every bag and litter the ground with a thousand tissues every time I get something out of my purse.
What would you keep on your chatelaine?
xWG // #dazeandweekes
Weekes Word time!
Obstreperous: surfacing in the late 16th century from Latin obstreperus and meaning noisy and difficult to control. EX: Despite the jingling cacophony and occasional (accidental?) stabbing of coworkers by swinging scissors, Weekes insisted on wearing her obstreperous chatelaine in the office.
*© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
**Images from Internet Archive and University of Toronto library. John Leech’s Pictures of Life and Character from the Collection of Mr Punch. London: Bradbury, Agnew, & Co., 1886.