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Reading a Photograph: Dress Making

OVERVIEW:
The photograph of a dressmaker will allow students to gain information about women's jobs. In studying and responding to the photograph, students can explore women's jobs of the past. Used in conjunction with other objects in this kit, students can place this information and the history of women in a broader context.

OBJECTIVES:

Photograph of a Dressmaker
Larger view of dressmaker photo
(pop-up window)

Students will be able to:

  • read a photograph for clues and information
  • gain understanding that the image and information inherent in the photograph is subject to the photographer's point of view
  • gain understanding of photographs as a valuable resource for information about a subject

WARM-UP ACTIVITY
Students discuss photography as a means of recording or freezing an instant in time.

Guiding questions:

  • Have you ever taken a photograph before?
  • What did you take photographs of? (special event, trip, pet, person)
  • Why did you take those photographs? (to remember a moment in time or a special person)

ACTIVITY #1 READING A PHOTOGRAPH
Curriculum standards

  • WP3 - Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • WP4 - Demonstrate self-management skills
  • LA3.1 - Speak in a variety of contexts
  • LA3.2 - Active listening, interpreting, responding
  • LA3.3 - Compose texts for a variety of purposes
  • LA3.5 - Use non-textual information and representation
  • SS6.2- Democratic citizenship through the humanities
  • SS6.3 - Historical understanding of political ideas and forces
  • SS6.4 - Historical understanding of societal ideas and forces
  • SS6.5- Historical understanding of cultures
  • SS6.6 - Historical understanding of economic ideas and forces

Photographs are valuable primary sources which can reveal information about people, places, and events of the past. Have students work in small groups to "read" the photograph. The questions below can be written on the board as a guide or printed out as a worksheet.

What do you see in the photograph?

  • What do you notice about the person working in the photograph? (it's a woman, she's wearing a dress and high heels, she's working alone)
  • What is she doing? How can you tell? (making a dress - there is another one that is half finished on the other mannequin)
  • What tools is she using to do her job? (pins, scissors, measuring tape, mannequins, hem marking tool on table)
  • Why do you think she is using a mannequin/dress form to make the dress? (will fit a certain size person exactly - hence the idea of "form-fitting")
  • Where do you think this scene takes place? (tailor or dressmaking shop, not at home)
  • How can you tell? (mirror to see dress from all angles, scissors, pins, mannequins, pipes on wall, thermostat, no decorations on walls, coat hanging on coat rack, only the tools needed for the job are in the room)
  • How many dresses do you think this woman could make in a day? What makes you say so? (not many because each one is individually made)
  • Are your clothes made individually like this dress? How can you tell? How are your clothes made today?
  • List some positive and negative points of making clothes individually versus by machine. (positive = fit you very well, made stronger and last longer, can get the style/color you want; negative = takes longer so would have fewer new clothes, possible more expensive because takes longer to make)

Students may share their answers with the other groups.

Wrap Up
Ask students to think about the topics of discussion and the answers they have given above. What does the photograph suggest about occupations and the manufacturing of clothing over time? What value is placed on handmade clothes today? How are jobs such as seamstress viewed by people today? Why do you think this is so?

ACTIVITY #2 - HOME VS. WORK PLACE

  • WP3 - Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • WP4 - Demonstrate self-management skills
  • LA3.1 - Speak in a variety of contexts
  • LA3.2 - Active listening, interpreting, responding
  • LA3.3 - Compose texts for a variety of purposes
  • LA3.5 - Use non-textual information and representation
  • SS6.2- Democratic citizenship through the humanities
  • SS6.3 - Historical understanding of political ideas and forces
  • SS6.4 - Historical understanding of societal ideas and forces
  • SS6.5- Historical understanding of cultures
  • SS6.6 - Historical understanding of economic ideas and forces

Ask students to identify other objects in the loan kit that relate to sewing. This could include the wool carders, the quilt, ???Anything else???? Typically whose job was it to sew/make clothes? (A women's)

Compare the use of another sewing-related object to the work that the woman in the photograph is doing. Have students create a chart or a Venn diagram showing similarities and differences in the sewing work. (i.e. work done at home vs. work done at a factory; work done for your family vs. work done for strangers; sewing clothing vs. quilting; working with raw materials - wool to be spun into yarn - vs. working with thread and fabric already woven)

Ask students to identify other things that they currently buy that could once have been made at home. Keep a list on the blackboard. (i.e. lunch/food; shoes; games/toys; books; jewelry; bowls/pots for eating/cooking; sheets and blankets)

Look over the list and discuss with the class which of these are now exclusively bought as opposed to made. Why the change? How does this influence buying and spending habits?

Women have traditionally held other occupations in the past. Women were typesetters for printers, quilters, and cooks (many chefs now are men). Why did some of these jobs change for women?

Wrap-up
Although there is a great deal that the students can learn from the photograph, it explores only a small part of women's work through history. Ask students what information they have gained from the photograph. What further information would they like to have? How could they go about obtaining it?

Activity Extension
Have students in your class role play being fitted for a dress. What skills and language are needed to insure successful completion of the job? How will the scene play out differently if a man is being fitted for a suit?

ACTIVITY #3 FREEZE FRAME
Curriculum standards

  • WP3 - Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • WP4 - Demonstrate self-management skills
  • VPA1.2- Create dance, music, theater, or visual arts
  • VPA1.3 - Use arts elements and media to produce artistic performances
  • VPA1.5 - Historical, cultural, and social influences on arts
  • LA3.1 - Speak in a variety of contexts
  • LA3.2 - Active listening, interpreting, responding
  • LA3.5 - Use non-textual information and representation
  • SS6.3 - Historical understanding of political ideas and forces
  • SS6.4 - Historical understanding of societal ideas and forces
  • SS6.5- Historical understanding of cultures
  • SS6.6 - Historical understanding of economic ideas and forces

Now that students have analyzed the photograph, remind them that photographs freeze a moment in time. We don't know what went on before or after the photograph was taken, nor do we know what the rest of the factory looks like or who works there, because the photographer only chose to show us this one piece at this particular time. There may have been men and people of color working just a few feet away, but because the artist (photographer) chose this angle to photograph, this is the information we can get from the photograph.

Divide students into groups. Groups will be acting out what happened before or after the photograph was taken. Each group must decide collectively whether they will be representing before or after, what roles they will be playing, and what event/action occurred for a few minutes before or after the scene in the photograph. Groups should begin or end their skit "frozen" in the position of the photograph. Groups can take turns presenting their skits to the rest of the class.

 

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