What is Fancywork Crochet?

During the Civil War, there were two types of crochet projects. There wast the plain shirts, socks, hats, etc that were utilitarian and made in great abundance to be donated to soldiers and the needy. And then there was fancywork. I think we could all use a little more fancywork in our queue.

Children's Soldier's Fair. Engraving by Davis. Originally published in The Tribute Book by Frank Goodrich, (New York: Derby and Miller, 1865).

Fancywork for Charity

The Charity Fair was perhaps the most important social event in both North and South during the American Civil War (1861-1865). It was an entertainment that people could enjoy with abandon since it was raising money for "the cause." "Ladies' fairs" had been popular since about 1830 as a way to support benevolent and political causes such as abolition (church fairs were not yet common, and the  term "bazaar" would not be used until later in the century). Whatever they were called, it was women who organized and start­ed these fundraisers….

  Although named a "Charity Purse," Bart Elwell's spectacular
crocheted purse will become a favorite treasure bag. It's shown here with the page from the January 1862 issue of Peterson's Magazine showing the instructions and illustration he used to re-create the purse.
Photograph by Joe Coca.

Nearly any woman could contribute to a fair by supplying handwork to sale booths. The objects that were considered appropriate were not the practical "plain work" (shirts, socks, and bedding) that was sent directly to the troops, but "elaborate nothings"-"fancywork" such as whimsical pincushions and other sewing accessories, pen wipers, and lamp mats. Made to "please the eye, gratify the senses and tickle the fancy," fancywork was associated with good feeling and with abundance. Th­e saleswomen at Civil War-era fairs typically were attractive young ladies (their elders ran things behind the scenes), who made the objects look especially appealing. Flirtatious "wheedling" of male shoppers by the young ladies was expected and added to the fun.

–Beverly Gordon, PieceWork September/October 2013

My center motif for the Charity Purse.  

I love the idea of fancywork, and if I had seen this charity purse at a ladies' fair, I would have quickly added it to my collection. And with Bart Elwell's interpretation of the 1874 Peterson's Charity Purse pattern I can create my own. I'm thinking an elegant little classic clutch to go with the modern little black dress.

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Best wishes,

P.S. What is your favorite fancywork project?


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