In the first stanza, the speaker introduces the subject of the poem: a seamstress who is evidently very poor and distressed. The speaker will relay the seamstress's song throughout the rest of the poem, so this opening stanza provides the first (and really the only) chance to see her from an observer's perspective. The specific imagery in this stanza sets the scene, allowing the reader to envision the woman as she sings her "Song of the Shirt."
Clearly, the woman is exhausted and unhappy. The speaker describes how her fingers are "weary and worn," her "eyelids heavy and red," and she wears "unwomanly rags"—tattered, unattractive clothes. And not only does her body show signs of physical distress, but the speaker notes that she works "In poverty, hunger, and dirt" and that her voice is "dolorous," or deeply sad.
The repetitive sounds of the stanza emphasize the woman's dismal state. Note, for example, the alliteration of "weary and worn" and the assonance of "heavy and red," sonic devices that draw readers' attention to the seamstress's exhaustion. The polyptoton of "woman" and "unwomanly," meanwhile, illustrates how the woman's labor has robbed her of gentleness and beauty. And the quick epizeuxis of "Stitch! stitch! stitch!" evokes the endless, monotonous nature of the seamstress's labor.
The poem's rhyme scheme also reflects the fact that this is a "song." This opening stanza of eight lines can be broken down into two quatrains, or four-line stanzas, that follow the rhyme schemes ABCB DEDE.
While the poem's meter varies quite a bit, most of the feet here are iambs (da-DUMs) or anapests (da-da-DUMs) (with occasional trochees, DUM-das, thrown in). Notice the repetitive, bouncy rhythm of lines 1-4, for example:
With fin- | gers wea- | ry and worn,
With eye- | lids hea- | vy and red,
A wo- | man sat, | in unwo- | manly rags,
Plying | her need- | le and thread—
The poem's meter works with the alternating rhyme pattern to lend music and rhythm to the speaker's tale.