Sewing circle

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Giacomo Ceruti, Women Working on Pillow Lace (1720s)
The Junior Sewing Circle of the North Lima Mennonite Congregation, North Lima, Ohio, 1952
Group working on the Mekong quilts project in Vietnam (2009)

A sewing circle is a group of people who meet regularly for the purpose of sewing, often for charitable causes.

Application to sewing[edit]

Sewing circle participants, usually women, typically meet regularly for the purpose of sewing. They often also support charitable causes while chatting, gossiping, and/or discussing.

For example, in ante-bellum America, local anti-slavery or missionary "sewing circles were complementary, not competing, organisations that allowed [women] to act on their concern for creating a more just and moral society".[1] Other examples of sewing circles include the Fragment Society, the Mennonite Sewing Circle, and those organized by RMS Titanic survivor Emily Goldsmith aboard the rescue ship RMS Carpathia: Goldsmith, "a talented seamstress, organized sewing circles to make garments out of cloth and blankets for those passengers dressed in nightclothes when they entered the lifeboats."[2]

During World War II, sewing circles were formed to help people "make do and mend" in response to rationing in the United Kingdom. The Women's Voluntary Services organized sewing circles and classes during the war.[3] Elizabeth II hosted sewing circles twice a week, with both palace staff and aristocrats attending.[4]

Apart from charitable purposes, contemporary sewing circles may be formed into organisations on a national level, such as the Guilds in Australia and America "for people who regard sewing as a creative and rewarding activity".[5][6]

"Chew the rag"[edit]

It has been speculated that the phrase "chew the rag" could be related to gossiping while working in a sewing circle.[7]

Lesbian groups[edit]

Sewing circle is also the phrase used (by Marlene Dietrich, for instance[8]) to describe the group of lesbian and bisexual woman writers and actresses, such as Mercedes de Acosta and Tallulah Bankhead, and their relationships in celebrity circles and in Hollywood, United States, particularly during Hollywood's golden age from the 1910s to the 1950s.[9] Unlike de Acosta and Bankhead, most members of the sewing circle were closeted. This usage of the term sewing circle was coined by the actress Alla Nazimova.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carolyn J. Lawes, ed. (2000). Women and Reform in a New England Community, 1815-1860. Kentucky, US: The University Press of Kentucky. p. 78. ISBN 0-8131-2131-0.
  2. ^ "The Search for the Dead". TITANIC - A Voyage of Discovery. Archived from the original on October 23, 1999. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  3. ^ Morley, Jacqueline (2021-02-03). Make Do And Mend A Very Peculiar History. The Salariya Book Company. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-910184-45-5.
  4. ^ Gledhill, Christine; Swanson, Gillian (1996). Nationalising Femininity: Culture, Sexuality and Cinema in World War Two Britain. Manchester University Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-7190-4259-1.
  5. ^ "Australian Sewing Guild". Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  6. ^ "The American Sewing Guild". Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  7. ^ Ammer, Christine (1997, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). "chew the fat." The American Heritage dictionary of idioms. Retrieved 2010-08-11
  8. ^ Freeman, David (7 January 2001). "Closet Hollywood: A gossip columnist discloses some secrets about movie idols". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
  9. ^ Madsen, Axel (2002). The Sewing Circle: Sappho's Leading Ladies. New York: Kensington Books. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-7582-0101-0.
  10. ^ Film Actors: Lesbian, Retrieved: 2014-01-12.
  11. ^ Harbin, Billy J.; Marra, Kim; Schanke, Robert A., eds. (2005). The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy. University of Michigan. p. 297. ISBN 0-472-09858-6. Munson was a member of 'the sewing circle,' a term originated by Alla Nazimova for a clique of lesbians and bisexuals who socialized in Hollywood.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kimberly D. Schmidt; Diane Zimmerman Umble; Steven D. Reschly, eds. (2003). Strangers at Home: Amish and Mennonite Women in History. JHU Press. ISBN 9780801876851.
  • Anne Macdonald (2010). No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting. Random House Digital, Inc. ISBN 9780307775443.
  • Nancy A. Hewitt (2001). Women's Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New York, 1822-1872. Lexington Books. ISBN 9780739102978.
  • Nancy Ruth Reagin, ed. (1995). A German Women's Movement: Class and Gender in Hanover, 1880-1933. Univ of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807864012.
  • Erica Simmons (2006). Hadassah And the Zionist Project. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742549388.