These comments are from John Laffin's World War I in Postcards, pp. 99-100.

Sewing Silks for Soldiers

Colorful embroidered postcards, known as "silks," were a phenomenon of the First World War. Somewhere in a village just behind the battlefront a Frenchwoman probably embroidered the flags of Britain and France on a scrap of silk and attached it to a postcard. A British soldier saw it, wanted to buy it, and a thriving cottage industry was born. This may have been early in 1915.

Women and girls, having found that their first experimental efforts were popular with the soldiers billeted in the towns, settled down to regular sewing. Some women made a steady income from silks throughout the war. In many cases the standard of embroidery was high, especially on the earlier silks. Later, to satisfy demand, the workmanship on the silks was in many instances not to the earlier fine standard.

When some of the Paris postcard houses learnt of this market they employed women and girls to produce the silks on a rough assembly line basis. Whether finely sewn or roughly made, silks are colorful and sometimes splendidly so.

Several genres established themselves. The main themes were family remembrance; liberty, unity and right; souvenirs of France and of the war; regimental badges and crests. The selections in this book show all of these.

Some cards were given the additional refinement of a flap which formed a pocket in which a greetings card or a small and sometimes exquisite silk handkerchief could be placed. In nearly all cases such cards were embroidered "To my dear Mother," "To my dear Wife" or "To my dear Sister."

Soldiers rarely wrote messages on the cards, nothing more than "To Mary from Jim." I have never come across a silk sent openly in the mail and franked. They were either enclosed in envelopes or taken back home by soldiers returning on leave.

While the women who labored over the silks were doing so as a business, there was nevertheless much emotion and sensitivity in their work. A Frenchwoman from near Arras who embroidered silks between 1916 and 1918 told me that a design could take from four to eight hours to complete. She would sell the card direct to a soldier for as little as a few francs, or the 1980's equivalent of lOp. Women working for a postcard producer received a pittance for their work. Today silks sell to collectors for between 3.50 and 5 each . The Armistice not only brought an end to the war, but also to the production of silks. The French women had made a unique and colorful contribution to the war effort.