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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Women's and Children's Underwear

Women's and Children's Underwear.

"The underclothing is the worst paid of all," said one woman bitterly. She had executed an order for nightdresses at 1s. 6d. a dozen. They were cut out for her, and the cuffs and bands were made in the shop, but had to be sewn on. Everything thing else she had to do, including hemming skirts, hemming and felling side seams, making sleeves and putting them in, making three button-holes, and sewing on three buttons. She had also to supply her own thread. She had taken over two days to do one dozen. She refused to take any further orders page 32 at this rate, finding probably (as did another worker in the tailoring trade who had finished trousers at 1½d. each, each pair taking two hours to finish, and the worker having to supply her own thread) that "it was easier to starve without the work." Formerly this worker had been able to earn 1s. 6d. a day at chemise-making, and "thought herself a millionaire when she could make a wage like that." She could not exactly estimate the time she gave to this work, but she "never went to bed the day she rose." Her average weekly wage was 8s.

Take another case, in which an elderly woman and a niece were living together and sharing earnings and expenses. Their work consisted of finishing shirts and making chemises throughout. The former garments were paid at 4½d. and 8d. per dozen, each dozen taking respectively eight and twelve hours. The latter were paid at 2d. and 4d. each, and took six and twelve hours to make. These women complained greatly of the decline in wages. They said they "found it impossible to make a living nowadays, the rates were that low and the work that fine."

The rates quoted in these cases are unusually low considering the amount of work involved, but the following are frequently met with: Chemises, 1s. 1s. 9d. per dozen, taking from fourteen to sixteen hours to do. These are not only made, but in some cases also trimmed, and have buttons and button-holes done by the home worker. Drawers, 7d. and 10d., taking in both cases ten hours of work, and thus illustrating the great diversity of payment in this as in other trades followed by women. Combinations, 7d. and 8d., taking from seven to ten hours' work. Infants' robes, made at 1s. each, and taking from twelve to fourteen horn's. Divided skirts, at 2s., taking two days to do: and children's woollen dresses, at 2s., taking from one and a half to two days to do.

In these cases, the worker's "day" frequently includes several hours midnight. One woman said she "sat as long as she could go at it." Another frequently did not go to bed until 2, while she rose again at 5. Sometimes sat up all night. Another said she was "kept sitting every night until she was dizzy and could hardly see." Her average day was from 6 in the morning until 10 at night. Her husband, who was partially invalided, did the housework.

The wages-book of one woman showed the following earnings for nine consecutive weeks: 8s. 3d., 7s. 10d., 5s. 9d., 5s., 11s. 2½d., 7s. 4d., 4s. l½d., 7s. 0½d. These represented her earnings for a long day and half the night. She said she was employed in making divided skirts, dressing-jackets, and children's woollen dresses. Formerly she made 14s. at this work, "but the rates keep on falling falling every year."

Another worker, who was employed on ladies' combinations, showed her wages-book with the following earnings per fortnight: 6s, 8¾d., 9s. 2¼d., 3s. 7½d., 5s. 2d., 8s. 1d., 3s. ll½d. She was a widow, and had five children, of whom three had started work and two were at school. She said she sat up all night when she could get work to do, but there was a great deal of "idle set." She used to make 17s. to 18s. in the fortnight steadily, and apparently thought she did well with that She now gets 4s. a week from the Parochial Board.

In another case, where the work consisted of drawers and chemises, the wages-book showed the following figures for eight consecutive weeks: 4s. 11d., 5s. 2d., 6s., 6s. 3d., 4s. 11d., 7s. 2d., 5s., 5s. 11d.

Pinafores and aprons are frequently taken up by the underwear-worker, and form a very badly paid branch of this trade. In one case a worker was found employed on aprons at 4d. a dozen for making throughout, and as the sewing was "very particular," her earnings for three days' steady work amounted to 1s. The average wage in the shop which employed her was 5s. a week. From another shop aprons were given out to be made at 5d. a dozen. The making in this case included for each apron a hem at the bottom, three or four tucks, two straps, a bib, and a Swiss band. It took hard work to finish a dozen of these, working from 8 in the morning until 6 at night. 4d. for thread was deducted from 5s. paid in wages.

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Pain slip-bodices may be made throughout at 11d. per dozen. For those which are more elaborate a worker may get 4d. each, but for this she must cord the neck and shoulders, put on trimming, sometimes put tucks down the fronts, work six or eight button-holes, sew on six or eight buttons, and finely overcast all the inside seams. A very quick worker may do three or even four of these in a day, but the average needlewoman can scarcely manage more than two or two and a half.