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Song of the shirt

Female Occupations
 C19th Victorian Social History & Later
The Song of the Shirt

Intro Comments to Page Edited by Pauline Weston Thomas for Fashion-Era.com

 

Female Occupation Sewing Poems

Right - Edwardian Sewing Factory Life

The Song of the Shirt

By Thomas Hood.
First Published - Punch, 16 December 1843.

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread ó
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

"Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!
And work - work - work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It's Oh! to be a slave
Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
If this is Christian work!

Work - work - work,
Till the brain begins to swim;
Work - work - work,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
And sew them on in a dream!

Oh, Men, with Sisters dear!
Oh, men, with Mothers and Wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out,
But human creatures' lives!
Stitch - stitch - stitch,
In poverty, hunger and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

But why do I talk of Death?
That Phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear its terrible shape,
It seems so like my own ó
It seems so like my own,
Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear
And flesh and blood so cheap! 

Work - work - work!
My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
A crust of bread ó and rags.
That shattered roof - this naked floor -
A table - a broken chair -
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
For sometimes falling there!

Work - work - work!
From weary chime to chime,
Work - work - work,
As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
As well as the weary hand.

Work - work - work,
In the dull December light,
And work - work - work,
When the weather is warm and bright
While underneath the eaves
The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
And twit me with the spring.

Oh! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet ó
With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
To feel as I used to feel,
Before I knew the woes of want
And the walk that costs a meal!

Oh! but for one short hour!
A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or Hope,
But only time for Grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
Hinders needle and thread!"

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread

Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!
She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"

Hear this poem performed on youtube.

Fanny Brice sings her 1927 The Song of the Sewing Machine on youtube.

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Song of a Sewing Machine by Constance Woodrow (1899-1937)

Oh, the happiest worker of all am I,
As my wheel and my needle so merrily fly;
With a spool full of thread and a heart full of song,
I am ready and willing to work the day long.

Oh, faster and faster my glad wheel flies
When it catches the light in a young maid's eyes;
The dearest and tenderest girlhood dreams
I stitch into gossamer hems and seams.

But slower my wheel and softer my song
When fairy-like fragments are guided along
I am stitching the dreams most sacred of all
Into dear little gowns and a wee silken shawl.

The Song of the Sewing Machine Cartoon

The Song of the Sewing Machine Cartoon

The Lady With The Sewing-Machine by Dame Edith Sitwell

Across the fields as green as spinach,
Cropped as close as Time to Greenwich,

Stands a high house; if at all,
Spring comes like a Paisley shawl -

Patternings meticulous
And youthfully ridiculous.

In each room the yellow sun
Shakes like a canary, run

On run, roulade, and watery trill -
Yellow, meaningless, and shrill.

Face as white as any clock's,
Cased in parsley-dark curled locks -

All day long you sit and sew,
Stitch life down for fear it grow,

Stitch life down for fear we guess
At the hidden ugliness.

Dusty voice that throbs with heat,
Hoping with your steel-thin beat

To put stitches in my mind,
Make it tidy, make it kind,

You shall not: I'll keep it free
Though you turn earth, sky and sea

To a patchwork quilt to keep
Your mind snug and warm in sleep!

Girl at Sewing Machine (c.1921) Edward Hopper Painting

Perils of PaulineGirl at Sewing Machine (c.1921) Edward Hopper Painting

A link to the youtube sewing machine song from the 1940s' film Perils of Pauline (no connection!).
The old film stars Betty Hutton and was made by Paramount studios in 1947.

The sewing machine song from the film:-

Ohhh the sewing machine, the sewing machine
A girlís best friend
If I didnít have my sewing machine
Iíd a come to no good end
But a bobbin a bobbin and peddle a peddle
And wheel the wheel by day
So by night I feel so weary that I never get out to play

Ohhh the sewing machine, the sewing machine
A friend in need
If I didnít having my sewing machine
A wicked life Iíd lead
But a bobbin a bobbin and peddle a peddle
And dream about romance
So by night I feel so weary that I never get out to dance

Ohhh the sewing machine, the sewing machine
Me pride and joy
If I didnít having me sewing machine
Iíd a married James McCoy
But a bobbin a bobbin and peddle a peddle
And thatís the end of Jim
ĎCause by night I get so weary I donít even look good to him.

Fashion History Sewing Poems - Date Added July 2010. Page.780.

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