Making a Living Making Quilts: A Historical Perspective

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

New York City's Crawford Shops

Women working in the Crawford Shops sewing workroom in the early 20th century,
stitching dolls for the toy store, located at 28 West 51st Street.

Plain sewing on clothing. 
Jessie Tarbox Beals took many of these photographs
for the Association's newspaper Baghdad on the Subway

Offering sewing rooms where women could find work, comfortable conditions and companionship was a common mission of charitable organizations. The New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, founded in 1843, opened the Crawford Work Shops in 1915. 
"For several years the work of the Association's Sewing Bureau was limited to the giving out of sewing to be done by women in their own homes, this for the purpose of giving to such women an opportunity of adding a dollar or two each week to the family income....
Working at home had advantages but a 
central workshop offered a refuge from small city apartments.
"It was decided to change the method of work by having rooms to which the women could come to do the sewing under instruction....through the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Emerson who gave us the use of two rooms in the Emerson Apartment House at 555 West 53rd Street, near Eleventh Avenue. The classes, beginning with five women in attendance, had increased to 30 in July, making it necessary to transfer them to larger quarters at 408 West 20th Street. Here again they have steadily increased to an average attendance of between 40 and 50 women at both morning and afternoon classes."

The clients are often described as old and infirm, but obviously
there is a range of ages. 

Why so many references to the elderly? Perhaps the article of faith that younger women should be at home taking care of children might prejudice the public against the enterprise.

In 1917:  Ninety women were employed "paid at the minimum rate of 15 cents an hour and are allowed to work any or all of the day...women who must prepare children for school [may] come late and go home as early as they wish." This change in descriptions may reflect changes brought by World War I when working women gained some temporary patriotic approval.

One ambitious project was the Crawford Rug Shop begun in the 1930s in which professional artists designed rugs to be hooked by shop workers. In 1937 eleven of the rugs were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, which owns one of them, Marguerite Zorach's Jungle. Artist Florence Decker managed the Rug Shop in those years.

I haven't found any references to patchwork or quilts in the Crawford Shop records, but this is the kind of charitable sewing organization that was a common source of needlework plain and fancy.

See a post about charity sewing rooms and women's exchanges here:

The tradition continues:
The Waverly Tennessee United Methodist Church has scheduled its Annual White Oak Women's Exchange Quilt Show & Boutique for November 2 & 3rd this year.

Read more about the Crawford Shops at Columbia University Libraries archive here:

1 comment:

  1. This is truly fascinating! I LOVE this new blog! I have been a friend of the Zorach family (mostly, Marguerite's daughter in law, Peggy) for years and I had never heard of the Crawford Shops. Bowdoin College had a great exhibition of Marguerite's needlework several years ago. I remember Peggy saying she had no idea how her mother in law could have made so many rugs when she had only seen her working on one once. But then, I'm sure the Crawford Rugs were labeled somehow, so they would not be mistaken for the original. Peggy and Tessum moved into the family farm (which I could see from my office at the marina if it were not for the trees) after Tessum retired. Peggy now lives in a nursing home in Bath, but she is still a hot ticket! Thanks for another great post!