Making Clothing for Infants

As part of their domestic responsibilities, women often made clothing for the entire household. As a working-class mother, Eliza Clarke Cory Clench of Cobourg, Ontario made many items of clothing for her children. Her daughter, Fanny Jane Clench Lowe, continued this practice, sewing complete outfits for her sons. Women like Eliza and Fanny dressed their children in simple attire that was lightly embellished with delicate lace, whitework or embroidery, giving them an opportunity to demonstrate their needlework skills.

Photograph of Marjorie Edith Holcroft

Photograph of Marjorie Edith Holcroft ca. 1898, Photo © CMC

Babies grew quickly, so their mothers had to employ great ingenuity in the design and cut of garments to avoid wasting precious fabric. Loose dresses or jackets were constructed to allow for growth, with extra fabric in the seams or slits at the sides. Knickerbockers, which were knee-length pants, were worn until boys were about six to eight years of age, as it did not matter if the knickerbockers got slightly shorter as the child’s legs grew.

Canadian mothers regularly used local materials that were affordable and easy to obtain. In New Brunswick, this was particularly true, given the province’s growing textile industry. Prominent entrepreneur Alexander Gibson knew all too well the value of buying locally, as he owned a cotton mill in Marysville, New Brunswick, which was the largest cotton mill in Canada at the time. The mill may also have produced fabric from flax, which was used to make the linen dresses worn by his children (ca. 1875–1880).