The Ladies' Dressmaker
The business of a manuta-maker, which now includes almost every article of dress made use of by ladies, except, perhaps, those which belong to the head and feet, it too well known to stand in need of description.
This plate is a representation of a mantua-maker taking the pattern off from a lady by means of a piece of paper, or of cloth. The pattern, if taken in cloth, becomes afterwards the lining of the dress. This business requires, in those who would excel in it, a considerable share of taste but no great capital to carry it on, unless to the act of making is suited the business of furnishing materials. The mantua-maker's customers are not always easily pleased: they frequently expect more from their dress than it is capable of giving.
The mantua-maker must be an expert anatomist; an must, if judiciously chosen, have a name of French termination: she must know how to hide all the defects in the proportions of the body and must be able to mould or shape by the stays, that while she corrects the body she may not interfere with the pleasures of the palate. It will therefore by readily admitted that the perfection of dress and the art of pleasing the fair sex in this particular cannot be obtained without genius. The business of a mantua-maker, when conducted upon a large scale and in a fashionable situation, is very profitable; but the mere work-women do not make gains at all adequate to their labor; they are frequently obliged to sit up very late hours, and the recompense for extra work is in general a poor remuneration for the time spent. The price charged for making dresses cannot be estimated: it varies with the article to be made; with the reputation of the maker; with her situation in life; and even with the season of the year.
From "The Ladies' Dressmaker", The Book of Trades (London, 1804)
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