This section is from the "The Ladies' Work-Table Book: Domestic Needlework in Nineteenth-Century America" book, by Margaret Vincent. Also available from Amazon: The Ladies' Work Table: Domestic Needlework in Nineteenth-Century America.
If it be true that "home scenes are rendered happy or miserable in proportion to the good or evil influence exercised over them by woman - as sister, wife, or mother" - it will be admitted as a fact of the utmost importance, that every thing should be done to improve the taste, cultivate the understanding, and elevate the character of those "high priestesses" of our domestic sanctuaries. The page of history informs us, that the progress of any nation in morals, civilization, and refinement, is in proportion to the elevated or degraded position in which woman is placed in society; and the same instructive volume will enable us to perceive, that the fanciful creations of the needle, have exerted a marked influence over the pursuits and destinies of man.
To blend the useful, with the ornamental and to exhibit the gushing forth of mind, vitalised by the warm and glowing affections of the heart, is the peculiar honor and sacred destiny of woman. Without her influence, life would be arrayed in sables, and the proud lords of creation would be infinitely more miserable and helpless than the beasts that perish. To render then those " terrestrial angels" all that our fondest wishes could desire, or our most vivid imaginations picture, must be, under any circumstances, a pleasing and delightful employment; while for a father or a brother to behold her returning all the care bestowed upon her, by the thousand offices of love, to the performance to which she alone is equal, is doubtless one of the most exalted sources of human felicity
Providence has, in a remarkable manner, adapted woman's tastes and propensities to the station she was designed to occupy in the scale of being. Tender and affectionate, it is her highest bliss to minister to the wants, the convenience, or the pleasure of those she loves; and hence, her inventive powers have been, in all ages, called into early and active exercise, in the fabrication of those articles calculated to accomplish those desirable ends. Amongst these, Useful and Ornamental Needlework, Knitting, and Netting, occupy a distinguished place, and are capable of being made, not only sources of personal gratification, but of high moral benefit, and the means of developing in surpassing loveliness and grace, some of the highest and noblest feelings of the soul.
To become an expert needle-woman should be an object of ambition to every fair one Never is beauty and feminine grace so attractive, as when engaged in the honorable discharge of household duties, and domestic cares. The subjects treated of in this little manual are of vast importance, and to them we are indebted for a large amount of the comforts we enjoy; as, without their aid, we should be reduced to a state of misery and destitution of which it is hardly possible to form an adequate conception. To learn, then, how, to fabricate articles of dress and utility for family use, or, in the case of ladies blessed with the means of affluence, for the aid and comfort of the deserving poor, should form one of the most prominent branches of female education. And yet experience must have convinced those who are at all conversant with the general state of society, that this is a branch of study to which nothing like due attention is paid in the usual routine of school instruction. The effects of this neglect are often painfully apparent in after life, when, from a variety of circumstances, such knowledge would be of the highest advantage, and subservient to the noblest ends, either of domestic comfort, or of active and generous benevolence.
The records of history inform us of the high antiquity of the art of needlework; and its beautiful mysteries were amongst the earliest developments of female taste and ingenuity. As civilization increased, new wants called forth new exertions; the loom poured forth its multifarious materials, and the needle, with its accompanying implements, gave form and utilty to the fabrics submitted to its operations. No one can look upon the needle, without emotion; it is a constant companion throughout the pilgrimage of life. We find it the first instrument of use placed in the hand of budding childhood, and it is found to retain its usefulness and charm, even when trembling in the grasp of fast declining age. The little girl first employs it in the dressing of her doll: then she is taught its still higher use, in making up some necessary articles for a beloved brother, or a revered parent. Approaching to womanhood, additional preparations of articles of use, as ornaments of herself and others, call for its daily employment; and with what tender emotions does the glittering steel inspire the bosom, as beneath its magic touch, that which is to deck a lover or adorn a bride, becomes visible in the charming productions of female skill and fond regard. To the adornments of the bridal bed, the numerous preparations for an anxiously-expected little stranger, and the various comforts and conveniences of life, the service of this little instrument is indispensible. Often too is it found aiding in the preparation of gifts of friendship, the effects of benevolence, and the works of charity. Many of those articles, which minister so essentially to the solace of the afflicted, would be unknown without it; and its friendly aid does not desert us, even in the dark hour of sorrow and affliction. By its aid, we form the last covering which is to enwrap the body of a departed loved one, and prepare those sable habiliments, which custom has adopted as the external signs of mourning.