Stitch by Stitch: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly Sews Her Way to Freedom

By Connie Schofield-Morrison
Picture Book

This picture book biography is a heroine’s journey from slavery to freedom. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Hobbs Keckly was born into slavery (1818-1907) in Virginia. She learned to read, write, and sew from her mother, amidst the brutality and sorrow of slavery. Lizzy became an accomplished seamstress and her skills enabled her to support herself and even buy her own freedom after thirty-seven years of slavery. She established her own dress shop as a free slave and acquired high profile clients, such as Mary Todd Lincoln, becoming the First Lady’s dressmaker. Quotes from Lizzy’s own autobiography are littered throughout the biographical narrative, and are given a powerful presence on the page through the skillful use of text and font styles. Repetitive phrasing highlights the connection of her livelihood to her freedom. The reader can find out more about Lizzy’s accomplishments, such as creating opportunities and associations for other African American women and children, in the author’s notes, timeline, and bibliography at the back of the book. The illustrations are a remarkable collage of painted scenes that are combined with decorative paper, fabric, lace, ribbon, braid trim, and intricate embroidery. This creates a three-dimensional presentation that brings to life the creativity and craftsmanship of Lizzy’s dresses.

VERDICT: A title that stitches together the journey of a determined and resilient heroine from the past. This is a book that will strengthen all biography collections.

Book Review by Rita Christensen, Librarian