Via Twitter yesterday I came upon a blog post by a Lucinda Matthews-Jones in the Journal of Victorian Culture Online. The author appears to be an academic in fields relating to women and business and how that worked in the mid-to-late 19th century, although it is possible she is passing along the work of an academic named Maria Quick.
The article is titled Maria Quick, 'Convent Embroidery Workrooms'. Although I'm not a huge fan of the concept of "intersectionality" this is a case where it is applicable. The British and American middle-class was growing and wanted pretty things but didn't have a background that enabled them to feel confident choosing those things. This led them to turn to professional designers who then in turn needed their designs executed by skilled artisans. At the same time, nuns needed a way to support themselves and were also looking for ways to help lay women who wanted a way to make an honest and honorable living. This converged in the embroidery schools and workrooms in convents in both England and the US. According to the article, there hasn't been much study regarding these workrooms or the specific people involved but it appears that they were successful in their goal for at least a time.
In one way it is reassuring to know that my belief in the power of needlework to help people reach self-sufficiency has historical backing, but at the same time I hope that it isn't a matter of the time having passed completely.