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Manuscript with Needlework Patterns
Lunardo Fero
1559, Venice
Pen, ink and watercolour on paper


Handiwork played a central role in women's lives at all social levels. Patrician women did fine needlework and embroidery as a display of skill and gentility, while less well-off women spun thread, wove cloth and sewed out of economic necessity.

Although women might do their work anywhere in the house, they often gathered in the camera. They made shirts, household linen and even stockings for the family, and followed changing fashions with the help of printed pattern books.

This handiwork was central to the upbringing of girls. It was seen as a means of keeping them honourably occupied.

"But above all, the virtuous mother should keep her daughters well occupied, and removed from idleness, master of many sins. Noble girls should work and be happy to clothe with their own hands their fathers and brothers."

From a treatise on Christian education
(Silvio Antoniano, Tre libri dell'educazione christiana dei figliuoli, 1584)