The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Project for Outline Stitches

Last time we dove into embroidery we worked on various outline stitches. This time I bring you a project for those outline stitches.

1920s quilt, an embroidery project using outline stitches. The center features 15 blocks. Every other block shows the outline of an insect or animal: bird in hat, butterfly, bird with net, ladybug, frog, squirrel, fish, and flying insect.
Make this small quilt embroidered with outline stitches.

While this was designed as a small quilt, you can use these whimsical Twenties patterns for anything. Put them on an apron. Assemble a collection, mount them in embroidery hoops, and hang them on your wall. Embroider in a long strip and fashion into a wall hanging.

The original illustration shows this quilt made from white and pink sateen. Sateen is a cotton fabric with a satin-like weave. You can still buy it from places like One of the benefits of a fabric like sateen: it usually has a tight weave so it makes a nice background for embroidery. However, any medium to heavy weight cotton like a nice quilting cotton, or even a linen, would work for this project. (Keep in mind that if you actually plan to make a crib quilt, linen needs to be ironed after washing. Cotton would work better.)

Use whatever colors you like. You’ll need a light color like white, beige, yellow, light green, etc. for the embroidered blocks and a dark color of your choosing for the others.

You will need

The finished quilt measures 36.5 inches wide by 49.5 inches high. Sew all the pieces together with 1/4 inch seams.

For the entire quilt, you will need:

  • Light embroidered squares: 2.5 yard of 42″ wide fabric, or 2.5 yard of 36″ wide fabric. The blocks actually fit on 1 yard if you are very careful and you use pre-washed fabric, but it only leaves 1 inch of clearance. A few extra inches is safer. This includes making the entire back from one piece of 33 x 46 inches of light fabric.
  • Dark fabric: 1.5 yards of 42″ wide fabric, or 1.75 yards of 36″ wide fabric.
  • Flannel for inner lining: This project uses pre-washed flannel as an option for warmth instead of quilt batting. Optional: The original coverlet had no batting or inner lining.
  • The original was made from white and pink sateen. Sateen is a cotton fabric with a satin-like weave. You can still buy it from places like One of the benefits of a fabric like sateen is that it is tightly woven so it makes a nice background for embroidery. However, any medium to heavy weight cotton like a nice quilting cotton, or even a linen, would work for this project. (Keep in mind that if you actually plan to make a crib quilt, linen needs to be ironed after washing.)
  • Sewing thread to match your fabric
  • Embroidery floss
  • A method of transferring the pattern
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Embroidery needle
  • Sewing needle or sewing machine

Draw your blocks

Once you have your fabric, measure out the the blocks before you cut anything.

From the light fabric:

  • 8 small blocks measure 7 x 7 inches.
  • 2 medium blocks measure 7 x 20 inches.
  • 2 large blocks measure 7 x 33 inches.
  • Back piece measures 33 x 46 inches. You will cut this after everything else is together, but make sure you have enough fabric left in one piece once you trace everything else out.

From the dark fabric:

  • 2 long binding strips measure 5.25 x 52 inches.
  • 2 short binding strips measure 5.25 x 42 inches.
  • 11 blocks measure 7 x 7 inches.

Measure the largest pieces first, and then fit the small 7 x 7 squares around them. Draw the rectangles right onto your fabric with pencil (or a white fabric pencil, if you use really dark fabric).

Embroider all your 7 x 7 squares before cutting them out. This will make your life a lot easier. If you would like to cut the squares and strips before embroidering, you will need a small 5-inch embroidery hoop.

If you need some ideas on how to transfer the designs, you can find it in this article I wrote about how to Transfer Vintage Embroidery Patterns.

The designs

These nature-inspired designs are true Twenties illustrations. Embroider all of them with three strands of embroidery floss in a color that matches the dark color of your quilt.

The original instructions call for the animals to be done in basic outline/stem stitch. However, they would also look nice in snailtrail stitch with portions done in backstitch.

When you print these, try printing them at 70%. Your goal is a square that measures about 6 inches. That will transfer nicely into a 6.5 inch finished square.

1920s outline design of a crow-like bird wearing a fedora.
This sassy bird begs to be embroidered.
Twenties illustration of butterfly for outline embroidery.
This butterfly shows off its delicate lines.
Twenties outline illustration of a bird holding a net. He's looking for a worm.
This bird is determined to catch the worm!
Twenties illustration of squirrel with nut for outline embroidery.
This little squirrel found a nut worth burying.
Twenties illustration of a catfish for outline embroidery.
A Twenties-style catfish. If the whiskers bother you, leave them off.
Twenties illustration of an insect for outline embroidery.
Everyone needs a nicely embroidered winged insect, right?
Twenties illustration of a frog for outline embroidery.
The artist caught this frog mid-jump.
Twenties illustration of a ladybug running on two feet, for outline embroidery.
A sweet ladybug to decorate someone’s room.

The borders

The quilt uses two different borders. These are also embroidered in one color, the same you used for the animal blocks. The instructions call for them to be embroidered in a close (small stitches) running stitch.

Two scroll work outline illustrations for a crib quilt. The top one is about 1/3 longer than the lower one, although they look very similar.
Border designs for the crib quilt.

Each of these borders should measure about 4 inches wide once they are printed. A tiny bit more or less won’t matter.

The long border will measure about 23.5 inches when completely drawn out. I’ve given you half the drawing so that you can print it out landscape and then reverse it.

Border for the sides of the quilt.

The short border will measure about 16.75 inches when completely drawn out. Since 16 inches is longer than the standard US 11.5 inch page, I halved this pattern as well.

This borders the top and bottom of the quilt.

Putting it together

Your blocks are measured, and you embroidered the light ones. Everything is ready for assembly.

If you haven’t already, cut the blocks apart on your penciled lines. The original instructions suggested that you might want to assemble the quilt with all the fabric lengthwise threads running the same direction. This is a good practice, but not necessary if this is a practice piece. Why do this at all? It’s so that if the piece shrinks, it will all shrink together in the same direction.

Should you want to do this, an easy way to keep track is to take some extra sewing thread and make a few basting stitches lengthwise along each block. This makes it easy to attach them in the same direction.

The center

Sew the center squares together in strips to match the completed illustration. Use a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Then press each seam allowance open.

Being careful to match the corners, sew the strips together to make a section composed of 3 blocks by 5 blocks. Open and press the seams as before.

Now sew on the two long side panels.

Attach the end panels and corners. It may be easiest to do this by assembling a top strip of dark/panel/dark and a bottom strip to match, and then attaching the strips to the top and bottom of the almost completed quilt top. Press all seams open.

The lining and edging

Cut the lining piece the same size as the patchwork. Place the two pieces together, back to back. Lay them out on a table or another flat surface and pin them together very carefully so they are perfectly smooth. Baste into place.

Sew one edge of the shorter bands along each end. Keep the seam on the wrong side of the band (it will be on the inside when you are finished.) Sew together the band, the patchwork, and the lining.

Sew one edge of the long side bands into place. Beginning in the middle of one of the long sides, fold a 1/4 inch hem and then fold the long strip along the middle. The seam that contains all the raw edges and that holds the quilt edging in place should be on the inside.

Pin the fold in place so it doesn’t move, and whip stitch it down. Miter the corners neatly.

To give the blanket a quilted appearance, use sewing thread and make a fine (small) running stitch close to each seam. They should be parallel with the seams. Only go through the top layer of the fabric, catching the seam allowances underneath. Repeat on the other side of each seam. This will keep the seams laying flat.

If you want to make the quilt warm, you can use a layer of pre-washed flannel in between the top and lining. Then when you place the running stitches parallel with the seams, go through all the layers of the fabric. You will quilt it at the same time that you catch the seam allowances.

Enjoy your beautiful embroidered quilt!

The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Transfer Vintage Embroidery Patterns

Portion of a linen doily showing an embroidery transfer of simple flowers and leaves. Dates from 1920-1950.
Item purchased with transfer already applied, ca. 1920-1950.

You found this great pattern you want to make. Perhaps you’re following my vintage embroidery lessons and you want to recreate one or two of the patterns I talk about. How do you transfer the vintage embroidery pattern to your fabric? It’s not as hard as it might seem.

In the past, if you found a design you liked, you could get it in two ways. The magazine or catalog often offered an article on a heavy linen or linen/cotton or linen/rayon fabric that you simply decorated with needle and thread. This was more profitable for the magazine and less work for you. However, it could be expensive. You might find yourself paying $1.25 for a pre-stamped piece of fabric when you only paid $1.00 for a yearly subscription to the magazine!

A more economical option was purchasing a transfer and placing the design onto your own fabric. This worked great for small items, because a worker often had fabric pieces left from larger projects. That pillow may be leftover fabric from the curtains or Mom’s best silk. Send away 15 to 60 cents and the transfer is yours.

Today when we think transfer we immediately think hot iron. While most of us who sew or work with fabric do own a clothing iron, other transfer options existed.

Pricking and pouncing

Sometimes embroidery designs appeared with holes punched along the design line. This was known as a perforated transfer pattern. To transfer the design you placed the perforated design over your fabric, and then you brushed some transfer powder onto the design. The dark (or light) powder falls through the holes and you end up with a beautifully transferred design. The process is known as prick, the holes in your pattern, and pounce. Pounce is the powder you use.

You can do this with any design. Here are the basics:

  • Find a needle. The holes it makes need to be big enough that you can see the pattern when you’re finished. A regular embroidery needle would work well. This doesn’t have to be huge. A pricking needle used for bobbin lace (a needle set into a handle) is ideal.
  • Poke holes along the design lines at even spaces. Make them very close together.
  • Find a transfer powder. You can use cornstarch, talcum powder, or even ground up chalk while you are practicing.
  • With a stiff brush, a small piece of felt, or anything else that will let you lift the powder from a container and release it sparingly onto your pattern, dot the transfer medium along the design lines.
  • You should end up with a perfect design, perfectly applied. This takes a bit of practice before it becomes smooth and flawless. Best of all, you can use it over and over again with no extra work, unlike many other transfer methods.

If this technique interests you, do look at these two articles by professional embroiderer Mary Corbet. She talks about using charcoal and talc –– what grades to use and where to find them inexpensively. Excellent information.

You can find pounce powder at quilting shops like Missouri Quilt Company if you don’t want to go the assemble-your-own-from-chemical-supply-stores route.

Carbon paper transfer

Photo of vintage carbon paper package resting on a piece of linen fabric and a simple flower and leaf pattern. Text: Traum Carbon tracing paper for dressmaker's use. New Formula. Marks clearer. Will not smear. Easier to.... [photo cuts of remaining words]
Special carbon paper makes tracing a design a breeze.

The idea behind carbon paper transfers is simple. You choose a color that is close to your fabric but not invisible. Since my fabric is ivory I would probably choose yellow or blue from the package above. Make sure your fabric is ironed with no creases.

  1. Lay your fabric on a hard surface.
  2. Place the carbon paper on the fabric where the design should be. Make sure the color part of the carbon paper is down, towards the fabric.
  3. Place your design on top of the carbon paper.
  4. Trace the design with a pencil.

Your design is transferred and ready to embroider. This gets a bit tricky when you have a large design to reproduce, but not impossible. However, let’s say you want to take one motif, like the flower and leaf above, and repeat it several times. You might be placing this along the hem or down the sides of curtains, for example. In that case you might want to look into the prick and pounce method above. Once you prepare the pattern for prick and pounce you can use it over and over easily without tracing it each time.

Tracing with graphite

You may remember this method from grade school. It’s the scribble-on-the-back-of-the-paper method.

Believe it or not, this was a popular way to transfer patterns during the first half of the last century. It was inexpensive, always at hand, and something anyone could do.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Find a design you like, and make sure it’s on a sturdy paper.
  • Turn the design over and cover the back of the design with graphite from a pencil. This will take a lot of scribbling.
  • Once the back is solidly covered, turn the sheet back over.
  • Place the design over your fabric and trace the design lines onto your fabric. The graphite from the pencil should transfer from the pressure of your pencil.

And there you are! One transferred design and perhaps one very dirty palm. (I could never do this without resting my wrist on the paper somewhere. I’m a mess by the time the design transfers.)

Using a transfer pencil

Photo of simple flower with leaf drawing. A red Aunt Martha's transfer pencil lays across the page.
With a transfer pencil you trace and iron.

With a transfer pencil you trace whatever you want to embroider, turn it over, and iron the page. The pencil markings then reproduce on your fabric. Generally the instructions suggest that you use some type of tracing paper to reproduce your design with the pencil.

While I show an Aunt Martha’s transfer pencil in the photo, I do it because that’s what I have. Many other companies produce these, and you can find them online or at your local fabric store. Clover, Dritz, Ibotta, General Pencil, and Sulky all make hot iron transfer pencils as well.

This is a nice option when you are copying words from another transfer. For instance, the old Days of the Week transfers all have words on them: Monday, Tuesday, etc. If I simply trace it with carbon paper the words will still turn out backwards. Tracing it with a sheet of tracing paper and a hot iron transfer pencil, the letters face the correct way when I turn the page over and iron the design. Magic!

Use your new knowledge

Pick your favorite method and play around with transfers. Any one of these works if you want to transfer vintage embroidery patterns. For practice, you may want to check out my Embroidery Lessons series on Outline stitches.

Happy creating!

Magazine articles · The Magazine Rack · Vintage Needlework

Owning a Twenties Needlecraft Business

A 1920s sketch of a woman sitting on her front porch in a large wicker chair. A low table sits next to her. She is sewing by hand. Next to her a friend sits on the porch railing. They are visiting.
Many women found that time with their needle could turn a profit.

Many of the magazines of the Twenties and Thirties offered ideas for women to make extra money from home. For many families, the Twenties life wasn’t attending party after party in dance shoes and short dresses. It was about making ends meet and finding the best prices at the grocer. And sometimes it was about making a bit of money on the side. Owning a Twenties needlecraft business was highly encouraged by some of the needlework magazines of the time..

Here is one story, direct from the pages of Needlecraft Magazine. These little stories appeared on the editorial page, and I’m sure subscribers read them with interest, just as I did when I found it 100 years later.

A Twenties mail-order needlecraft business

Attributed to a Bess V. from Tennessee, this tells a tale of ingenuity and business savvy. Bess didn’t just open a store front and wait for people to appear. Instead, she looked at her situation realistically and networked with people in her community to get the word out. Here is her story:

“My own Needlecraft Shop is on a mail-order basis. I live in a small town where it would scarcely pay to open such a shop in the regular way. Yet I trust the hints I am glad to offer, and which are drawn from personal experience will help others in adding to their income as I have done.

Then those who bought the camisoles showed them to friends. In a short time I was in receipt of mail orders from the city.

“My first orders were for a tatted camisole yoke, made up on white wash-silk. This I took with me on a shopping trip to a nearby city. I used it in soliciting orders from the clerks of the department store. The work spoke for itself, and I made my price as reasonable as possible. Because of this, I brought home enough orders to keep me busy for several weeks.

“Then those who bought the camisole yokes showed them to friends. In a short time I was in receipt of mail orders from the city. These were not only for yokes, but also for lace to trim underwear, pillowcases, and other articles. One woman sent an order for fourteen yards!

Tatted lace and embroidered hankies

“In another town near my home a woman I know set up a dressmaking establishment. She gave me permission to put some of my work on display in her windows. It sold rapidly, especially tatted collars and lace for trimming dresses. My friend said it really helped her business. Passers-by would stop to admire the work, and many of them came in and placed an order for a dress with one of the collars or some of the lace to match.

“Among my best sellers are handmade handkerchiefs. Material for half a dozen costs comparatively little. For some of them I use an edge of tiny tatted rings, or a simple dainty pattern in crochet. Others with plain edges show a design embroidered in colors.

“An assortment of these handkerchiefs, neatly arranged, was placed in a ready-to-wear waist [blouse] shop. Others were displayed in a millinery store where they sold readily.

“I have found that bits of thread left from embroidering larger pieces are often sufficient for working several handkerchief corners. The proprietors of shops such as I have named rarely object to having work placed on sale as long as it does not enter into competition with their own goods. On the contrary, they seem glad to have it.

“So here’s to the success of other workers! Where there’s a will the way is not hard to find. It requires only the determination to carry on, and the ability to see and grasp every opportunity presented. Perhaps we need to create them when we do not at once discern an opportunity. Let me say that Needlecraft has been and is a veritable goldmine to me. I have no difficulty whatever in selling the neatly finished designs with which it is always teeming.”

Things change yet they stay the same

It’s interesting that Bess needed to augment her income in the 1920s much like many of us do today. As I read through her story, I wondered… how did she get all this done while running a household in 1920-1928? She lists a massive amount of needlework production. Even though she outlines no time period for her side business, she still produces an amazing number of finished goods.

She makes:

  • Tatted lace collars
  • Lace yardage in tatting –– including a 14-yard order!
  • Tatted lace chemise yokes.
  • Embroidered handkerchiefs
  • Handkerchiefs with crochet edgings
  • Handkerchiefs with tatted edgings

Bess not only decorates the handkerchiefs, she makes them from fabric yardage. It was almost easier to hem a handkerchief while attaching the finished lace than it was to attach the lace to a finished purchased handkerchief.

Even considering the time span may equal three years or more, this is still quite a bit of handwork for someone to produce for sale. Not only that, but if someone asked me to tat 14 yards of edging I may just pass out! Bess must have really enjoyed working with her tatting shuttle.

In addition, owning a needlecraft business in the Twenties required bookkeeping, packaging, mailing, and keeping address and contact records. Basically, everything we do now to run a business, Bess needed to keep on paper.

I hope you enjoyed this look into the life of a needlecraft entrepreneur and this look at owning a Twenties needlecraft business. If you were going to open a mail-order shop like this today (a relatively easy project given the Internet), what would you want to sell? What projects do you love enough to create them over and over again?

The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Embroidery Lesson: Outline Stitches

Welcome to the second lesson in our series. This time we concentrate on an embroidery lesson for outline stitches. In this first installment I’ll introduce the outline stitches. A second post will give you some simple patterns you can use for practice. If you missed the first lesson you can find Part 1 here.

This was the article that changed my attitude towards outlining in embroidery. For years I’d used the simple stem stitch. It worked for stems, curves, straight lines, basically anything I needed to outline. However, it does get boring after awhile. You look at this thing you want to outline, and think… Again? Four colors, all lines. It goes fast, but it’s kind of boring. No? It was just me? Maybe I need to get out more.

During the Twenties through the Forties, many designs were embroidered by covering the outline only. In fact, unless you followed a pattern with cross stitches, the term embroidery often meant outline stitch. This meant that lots of beautiful line patterns were produced during this time period that still look very effective today.

Perhaps because of this, Needlecraft Magazine produced an embroidery lesson specifically for outline stitches. This introduces the general outline stitch but takes you beyond that so you can be as creative as you like.

The Outline Stitch

When we think of following a line in embroidery, we usually think of the stem stitch, also called the outline stitch. An illustration of the outline stitch appears below.

You always work this stitch from left to right, and you keep the needle pointed to the left. Start the embroidery without making a knot in your thread. Hold the end of the thread behind the fabric and take three or four short running stitches along the design line. Make the stitches in the direction of your beginning embroidery point. These stitches will be covered by the embroidery, and you can clip any hanging end later.

Looking at the illustration, place your needle along the dotted line a short way and take a stitch. Usually an outline stitch measures between 1/4 and 1/2 inch long. Bring your needle up close to the end of the first stitch, staying on the line. Now the outline stitch really begins.

The needle goes down on the dotted line, your design line. It comes back up, still on the line, at the end of the last stitch. Keep your thread always to the left of your work so that it will make a nice, even outline. If your thread falls to the right for a stitch you will instantly know; something looks off as you look at your finished work.

Changing the effect and turning corners

If you want the effect of your thread always on the right side rather than the left, you can do that. It will look a bit more twisted if you embroider that way, and it’s a perfectly acceptable effect. Whichever way you use, stay consistent within one piece or it will “look” wrong.

When you turn a corner or a sharp curve, you shorten your stitches accordingly. Sometimes they will need to be very short in order to follow a line. Otherwise, the outline stitch uses the same length of stitch all the way through a project.

The length of your stitches ultimately depends on your working materials. Embroidery with wool on burlap requires much larger stitches than using one strand of embroidery floss on fine linen. If you make the stitches too small, the delightful detail of the embroidery gets lost.

The Snailtrail

This outline stitch can be called the snailtrail, the beading stitch, or the knotted outline. It looks a bit like a couching stitch and is very effective in a thread like perle cotton. It gives you little beads along the thread. Very nice.

While the outline stitch is worked from left to right, this stitch is the opposite. Always work the snailtrail stitch from right to left.

Hold the thread on the line with your left thumb and take a short slanted stitch underneath it. The illustration above shows how. Make the slanted stitch from top to bottom. This makes the thread coil around in a loop –– perfect. Gently pull the thread up and you should get a knot around your working thread. Leave it somewhat loose. That’s part of its beauty.

You notice that the needle goes in further above the thread (which we assume is held along the embroidery design line) than it comes out below it. This helps to get the nice round beads but at the same time you don’t stray too far from the outline’s path.

A few practice stitches will show you where to place the needle. Draw a line on some spare fabric and make a few snailtrail beads. You’ll quickly see the best way for you to make the stitch.

The Running Stitch

This stitch is used in plain hand sewing, in crafting with felt, and in quilting. The running stitch is a good general stitch to master. This might be the easiest stitch in this embroidery lesson for outline stitches.

This stitch looks very nice as a companion to heavier stitches. It also provides an ethereal look to clouds and a nice broken look to grass. It’s nice to use when you want a light effect.

The running stitch is worked from right to left, and its beauty depends on the evenness of the stitches. They should all be the same size with the same distance between. The stitches are a little longer than the space between them. If you want to be creative, placing the stitches in a long – short – long – short pattern could be beautiful. Keep the same distance between all the stitches, though, to accent your creativity.

As you can see in the illustration, you can make several running stitches at a time. In fact, this helps to keep the stitches and spaces even.

The Back Stitch

The back stitch appears similar to the running stitch, but with no fabric showing between the stitches.

This uses more thread than the running stitch because it covers each stitch length twice. This is important if you have limited access to threads. Working with vintage threads that you can’t replace once you run out, or an out-of-production thread that you love, may dictate embroidering with a stitch that uses less thread.

The back stitch produces a nice straight outline, whether you’re following a curve or a line. It’s also a sturdy stitch. Unlike stem stitch or the chain stitch mentioned later, this stitch does not move once you place it unless your stitches are very long.

To make this stitch, bring your needle up on the dotted line (the design line on your fabric). Return the needle to the fabric 1/8 – 1/4 inch to the right, as shown above. Bring the needle back out 1/8 – 1/4 inch to the left of where your thread comes out. Then place your needle back into the fabric to the right, almost touching the first stitch. (In counted cross stitch, your back stitches do touch one another when done on a fabric like Aida. In Twenties-style fabric embroidery, the stitches almost touch, with a strand or two of the fabric between stitches.)

Follow the design line from right to left. A full 2/3 of your thread will lie under the fabric surface. A back stitch is often used in place of an outline/stem stitch. It gives nice variety to your embroidery.

The Chain Stitch

When you want the effect of a heavy line, the chain stitch can work very well.

The endless loops of the chain stitch make an interesting outline. As you can see in the illustration, the needle always points towards you. The chain appears link by link, drawing closer to you as it covers the design line.

To make the chain stitch, bring your needle up on the dotted line. Hold the thread down with your thumb, and insert the needle again where it came out of the fabric. Pass the needle under the fabric for a short space and bring the needle point back up. At this point your needle should pass over the thread your thumb holds down. You can see what that looks like in the illustration.

Draw the thread through the hole. Be careful to leave it a bit loose so that it forms a nice chain link. You are now in the position to hold the thread down again while you put the needle back into the fabric where it came out. Continue creating your chain.

I hope you found this embroidery lesson on outline stitches useful. Next time I’ll give you the project that came with this article: adorable animals and a border for outline stitches.

Vintage Entertainment

Stereoscopes and Stereograph Cards

Stereoscope with stereograph card. The double image card depicts a soldier during World War I. A partially visible card lies under the stereoscope.
Taking a break from life with some well-loved stereograph cards. This one is from a series on WWI.

So what do you do when the weather is questionable, the day is quiet and lonely, or you have guests over with nothing planned? Simple! You bring out the stereoscope and your stereograph cards. Guaranteed to bring a smile, this is good entertainment alone or with a small group.

Sounds almost like an advertisement, doesn’t it? Stereoscopes were inexpensive enough that almost every family had one –– I’ve seen advertised prices for the viewers as low as 24 cents. At that price, a family could afford to splurge on a set or two of cards once in a while.

Closeup image of a stereoscope, looking through the eye pieces at a blurry card beyond.
A closeup look through the stereoscope.

Far away places right into your living room

The stereoscope brought far away places into your sitting room or parlor. You could see photos of India, Japan, or Ireland. You also could look at mountains, rivers, or famous architecture. In fact, regardless where you lived, the stereograph card could introduce you to new places and new technologies.

Downtown market day in St. Petersburg, Russia. Circa 1898-1910.
St. Petersburg, Russia.

Perhaps you didn’t attend the latest World’s Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri. Maybe you weren’t even born yet. (It did, after all, occur in 1904.) However, your parents or grandparents might have, and their stack of stereograph cards commemorating the occasion helps you feel like you were almost there yourself.

Stereoscope card image of four women in Japanese kimono standing next to beds filled with chrysanthemums. Probably dates 1904-1910.
Women at a chrysanthemum show in Japan.

In case you missed the experience, here are 161 cards from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 that you can view thanks to the Library of Congress. See Theodore Roosevelt’s log cabin. View the Manufacturers Building lit at night with electric lights. Gaze at a gaggle of gondolas as they paddle across the Grand Basin.

Stereoscope card image of a deer standing in the middle of tall grasses. A mountain towers in the background.
Animals figured prominently in the cards as well.

The most popular viewer

While many different versions of the stereoscope viewer exist, one stands out above the rest. You can see a version of it in the photos above. Several inventors tried their hands at the stereoscope viewer, but the one that endures was invented by Oliver Wendell Holmes. You may have heard of him. He was a physician, novelist, poet, essayist, and improver of the stereoscope viewer. He called his version the American Stereoscope, and refused to patent it so that it could be copied freely. And copied freely it was!

If your family attic fails to hold one of these visual wonders, they are plentiful in local antique stores and on eBay. A stereoscope and stereograph cards really are fun as you while away an hour or two looking at the past.

Operating it is simple. You drop the 2-image card into the wire card holder and then look through the viewer. If the image is fuzzy, move the bar towards or away from you a little at a time until it clears. Voilá! A mountainscape. Or a city street. Or maybe even two children feeding their horse.

Two children stand outside a barn and feed a horse through a window opening. A small boy holds a basket filled with hay up to the horse so he can eat. A larger girl stands next to a bale of hay and watches as she holds strands of dried grasses for the next course. Both children are dressed circa 1900.
Some cards were endearing, while others hoped to bring a smile.

Another option is to unearth your childhood possession of the updated stereoscope. They called it the Viewmaster, and you can read my article about it here.

But what about capturing today’s views in the same way? You can definitely make your own stereograph cards with modern photography. If you would like to try your hand at making your own stereoscope or stereograph photos, try this tutorial from Instructables.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Two Ring Tatting Part 2

Square of large and small tatted rings in a variegated soft pink and purple thread.
Everyone needs a nice square pattern

Welcome to Part 2 of the short series on two ring tatting design. If you missed it, you can find it here.

Last time we talked about how to make the two individual sized rings. I also gave you patterns for a small edging, a corner, and a scalloped edging. In this post I’ll give you the rest of the patterns. (Unless I decide to design some more. I really like the way these two rings fit together.

This time you get the pattern for the insertion that started this whole two-ring mania. I also give you an octagon that was designed with the set. Unfortunately, handy as they are, the group included no square like you see in the top photo. So I designed one. Look for it at the end of this article.

If you tried any of the patterns in Part 1, you already know the ins and outs of this pattern. That’s useful information before you make these slightly more advanced options. Let’s go directly to the instructions!

Insertion or Very Fluffy Edging

A simple tatted edging with large and small rings alternating, in watermelon green and red thread.
The edging that started this whole adventure.

You can use this as an insertion. It goes between two pieces of fabric to form a lace part of your item. Or you can use this as a very fluffy edging, which is what I plan to do with it.

Like the rest of the patterns in this very short series on two ring tatting, this is made of large and small rings. They are attached the same way that they were before. You start by making a large ring to begin. After that the rhythm is small, small, large, large, small, small, large, large. With each ring you reverse your work. Be sure to leave 1/8 – 1/4 inch thread between each two rings, depending on your thread size.

Here are the instructions written out:

  1. Make a large ring of 2 ds, picot, (1 1/2 ds, picot) 11 times, ending with 2 ds. Close ring.
  2. Reverse work. Leave a small length of thread.
  3. Make a small ring of (3 ds, picot) 3x, 3 ds, close ring.
  4. Reverse work. Leave a small length of thread.
  5. Make a small ring of 3 ds, join to 11th picot of the large ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring.
  6. Large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to the last picot of the first small ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) ten times, 2 ds, close ring.
  7. Reverse work. Leave a small length of thread.
  8. Large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to the last picot of the small ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) ten times, 2 ds, close ring.
  9. Reverse work, leave a small length of thread.
  10. Make a small ring of 3 ds, join to 11th picot of the large ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring.
  11. Repeat from Step 4.

This uses a lot of thread, but it’s awfully cute when it’s done.

The Versatile Octagon

Small tatted octagon to show two ring tatting patterns. Text: two rings + one shuttle = one octagon
Gather this like a flower or join several of them together to make a placemat, table mat, whatever you want.

This is the most intricate of all the patterns in this collection. I actually altered the pattern a little to make it more balanced. At he same time, however, it made it a bit more complicated.

You can see that four large rings circle around a small center ring. The original instructions said to join “the middle picot” of the large ring to the center ring. Well, as I count it, a 12-picot ring doesn’t have a middle picot. So I gave those middle large rings 13 picots. Now the count it 6 picots or joins, join at the center, 6 picots, close. If you don’t like my addition, omit it and use a 12-picot large ring. In the original 1919 illustration two of the center rings had 12 picots and two of them had 13. Even the author altered the pattern a bit to make it more understandable.

Here’s how to tat it:

  1. Begin by making a modified center small ring of 2 ds, picot, (3 ds, picot) three times, 1 ds, close ring. You now have a ring of 4 picots completely separated by 3 ds. Close ring and pull tight. Cut the thread and tie. You’ll work the ends in with a needle later.
  2. Make a large ring of 2 ds, picot, (1 1/2 ds, picot) five times, 1 1/2 ds, join to one picot of the small ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) six times, 2 ds, close ring. You have a large ring with 13 picots, joined at the center.
  3. Reverse work, leave a space of thread, make a large ring of 12 picots.
  4. Reverse work, leave a space of thread. Make a small ring of 3 ds, join to 11th picot of first large ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring.
  5. Reverse work, make a small ring of 3 ds, join to 11th picot of 2nd large ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring.
  6. Leave a small space of thread but do not reverse your work. Make a large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to last picot of preceding small ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) ten times, close ring.
  7. Reverse work, make a small ring of 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, join to middle picot of second small ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring.
  8. Reverse work, make a small ring of 3 ds, join to 11th picot of preceding large ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring.
  9. Reverse work, make a large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to last picot of third small ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) four times, 1 1/2 ds, join to the next picot of the center 4-picot ring.
  10. Repeat from Step 3 around, joining a large 13-picot ring to each picot of the center ring, and the last two small rings also to the first two large rings when you get there. Once you reach the beginning again, tie your threads, cut, and weave in with the needle.

You can make something that uses several of these. You will join two of the large rings on one flat side to picots 6 and 7 on the previous octagon. That will make a nice, stable 4-picot join per side.

The Elusive Square

 Tatted square made completely of large and small rings. Text: Two rings + one shuttle = one square
A square motif you can use for all your square needs.

Every set of patterns like this needs a square. Why one wasn’t originally included, I have no idea.

So I designed one.

This follows the same format as all the preceding patterns. The corner joins are a little more involved –– actually, they are the same joins as the corner pattern in the earlier post. All the rings follow the same small ring, large ring stitch count that you’ve seen before. This square contains no surprises.

I eliminated the central circle that the octagon used because it seemed like an extra step. Not to mention that it gives you two more threads to work in later, which you don’t really need.

Here’s how to tat it:

  1. Make a large ring of 2 ds, picot, (1 1/2 ds, picot) 11 times, 2 ds, close ring.
  2. Reverse work, leaving about 1/8 inch thread between rings.
  3. Make a small ring of (3 ds, picot) three times, 3 ds, close ring.
  4. Reverse work, leave a space of thread, and make a small ring of 3 ds, join to 11th picot of large ring, (3 ds, picot) twice, 3 ds, close ring.
  5. Reverse work, leave a space, and make a large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to last picot of first small ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) 10 times, 2 ds, close ring.
  6. Reverse work, leave space, and make a small ring of 3 ds, join to last small ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring.
  7. Reverse work, leave space, and make a small ring of 3 ds, join to 11th picot of last large ring, (3 ds, picot) twice, 3 ds, close ring.
  8. Reverse work, leave space, and make a large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to last picot of last small ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) 10 times, 2 ds, close ring.
  9. Do not reverse work. Do not leave much space between the rings. Make a large ring of 2 ds, join to 12th picot of last ring, 1 1/2 ds, join to 11th picot of last ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) ten times, 2 ds, close ring.
  10. Reverse work, leave space, and make a small ring of 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, join to middle picot of last small ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring.
  11. Reverse work, leave space, and make a small ring of 3 ds, join to 11th picot of last large ring, (3 ds, picot) twice, 3 ds, close ring.
  12. Reverse work, leave space, and make a large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to last picot of small ring, 1 1/2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to 9th picot of last center large ring, 1 1/2 ds, join to 8th picot of last center large ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) seven times, 2 ds, close ring.
  13. You are now nearly halfway around the square. Pick up at Step 6 and continue working around. When you reach the beginning of the square, the last small ring should join its first picot to the 11th picot of the last large ring, and its second picot to the middle picot of the small ring opposite it. Then the last large ring, which completes the fourth corner, should join its second picot to the last picot of the small ring next to it, and its 11th and 12th picots to picots 1 and 2 of the very first large ring.

You did it! Congratulations.

To join these squares together you will attach picots 6 and 7 of the outside large rings on one side of the square to the large rings on one side of the new square.

Did you try them?

If you make any of these designs, drop me a note in the comments. I’d love to see your tatting. And let me know… were these too easy? Too difficult? Tell me what you think.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Tatting: Design with Two Rings

Two large tatted rings lying next to each other on a knitted doily.
Take one shuttle and two different size rings. Look what you can make!

Over the next two posts I’m going to talk about tatting design with two rings. Earlier this year I was browsing through some old magazines and my eyes fell on an intriguing set of one-shuttle patterns. I really liked one of them and I was heading out for the evening, so I snapped a photo of the instructions and the illustration and grabbed a shuttle I’d just filled with a watermelon variegated thread. You can see it in the next post. The color combination might be enough to awaken you without the benefit of coffee.

With everything I needed, I left for the evening. When I got to my destination (I was the designated kid driver for the night) I pulled out my shuttle, glanced at my phone, and started scrolling. The instructions in front of me said something like “Start with a small ring and then a large ring.” What small ring? What large ring? Aargh. There I was, stuck at a meeting with nothing to do because my instructions were insufficient.

Small ring + large ring = pattern

In the photo at the top you can see the small ring and the large ring. Although I realized all the patterns on this page looked similar, I neglected to notice that they were identical in construction. Every single pattern uses a combination of the small ring and the large ring. And one shuttle thread.

I love one-shuttle patterns because of their portability. It’s amazing how creative you can be with one string and very little else. (In the case of these patterns, if your shuttle doesn’t have a nice hook or sharp pick on the end you may need a crochet hook to pull the thread through the picots.)

The more I looked at these patterns the more entranced I was that the designer, in 1919 (whose name was Orene Clarkson), made all this with two rings. This set consists of a straight edging, a scalloped edging, an insertion or a double edging, and an octagon.

However, I noticed that a couple pieces were missing. There was no corner pattern, so I designed one. The set also contained no square, so I designed one of those, too.

You will need

In order to complete these edgings you will need a knowledge of how to make rings. You will also need

  • One tatting shuttle with a hook or pick on the end
  • One small crochet hook (size 8 or smaller) if your shuttle has no hook
  • Thread. I used size 20 Lizbeth thread for all these samples.
  • A needle for working in thread ends, with an eye large enough for your thread.

Making the Large Ring

To make the large ring, you will tat a ring that includes 1 1/2 stitches between picots. The easiest way to do it is to make one ds (double stitch), make the first half of a double stitch, leave the space for your picot, and follow it with a full ds. Then make another first half ds before making your next picot. Without those extra half stitches the ring is too small and too tight.

Large ring:

  • Make a ring of 2 ds, picot, (1 1/2 ds, picot) 11 times, ending with 2 ds. Close ring. You should have 12 picots. Between each picot is 1 1/2 double stitches, with 2 ds at the beginning and the end of the ring.

Making the Small Ring

This one is easy. If you tat you’ve done it hundreds of times already.

Small ring:

  • Make a ring of 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring. You should have 3 picots, each separated by three double stitches.

The Small Edging

A simple tatted edging made of alternating large and small rings. Text: A simple one-shuttle edging in tatting. Vintage Living, Modern Life.
A large ring and a small one alternate in this simple edging.

This is easy, portable, and versatile. You can use it for almost anything.

  1. Make a ring of 2 ds, picot, (1 1/2 ds, picot) 11 times, and then 2 ds. Close ring.
  2. Leave a space of 3/8 inch between rings.
  3. Make a small ring of 3 ds, join to 11th picot of large ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds. Close ring.
  4. Leave a space as before.
  5. A large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to the last picot of the small ring, (1 1/2 ds, picot) ten times, 2 ds, close ring.
  6. Repeat from Step 2 for the length of the edging, alternating large and small rings.

But wait… what about the corner?

Sometimes when you make a tatted edging you need a corner. This article didn’t include any. So I designed a simple corner for this first edging.

Simple large ring, small ring alternating edging with a corner. Two large rings come together to form the corner.
Sometimes an edging needs a corner of its own.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Make the edging as usual, ending with a large ring.
  2. When you get to the point that you want a corner, do not make the next small ring.
  3. Instead, make another large ring. Join the picots 1 and 2 of the new ring to picots 11 and 12 of the old ring. So in tatting notation, the new ring instructions would look like this: 2 ds + 1 1/2 ds + (1 1/2 ds – ) 10x, 2 ds, Cl R. [+ means join and – means picot here.)

The Scalloped Edging

Simple tatted edging where rings are arranged into a small scallop pattern. Made with one shuttle.
This scalloped edging is easy and good practice.

Once I started to make a length of this edging, it really grew on me. When I have some free time I’d like to design a corner for this pattern next.

To make this edging you are using the exact same rings you used before. You are even joining them in the same way. The only difference is that after almost every ring you are turning your work upside down so half the rings look right side up and the other half look upside down. It’s called reversing your work.

  1. Start with a small ring of (3 ds, picot) 3 times, then 3ds, close ring.
  2. Leave about 1/8 inch of thread and reverse your work (so the ring you just made is facing down in your hand instead of facing up.)
  3. Make another small ring same as before. Reverse work again and leave another short length of thread.
  4. Make a large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to the last picot of the first small ring you made, (1 1/2 ds, picot) ten times, 2 ds, close ring.
  5. Reverse work and leave another space of thread. You’ll leave a short space of thread between each ring you make.
  6. Make another large ring of 2 ds, picot, 1 1/2 ds, join to the last picot of the second small ring you made, (1 1/2 ds, picot) ten times, 2 ds, close ring.
  7. Reverse work, make another small ring, joining the first picot to the 11th picot of the first large ring.
  8. Reverse work, make another small ring, joining the first picot to the 11th picot of the first large ring.
  9. Do not reverse your work this time. Make a large ring, joining the second picot of the large ring to the third picot of the last small ring you made.
  10. Leave a space of thread, reverse work, and make another small ring. Do not join it to anything.
  11. Repeat from Step 3.

Although this looks complicated, it has its own rhythm: small, small, large, large, small, small, large. Then you start over. If you take your finger you can trace the progression over the photo so you can see the rhythm of this pattern in action.

Next up

In the next post I’ll give you the patterns for an insertion, an octagon, and a square to match the pieces above.

Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack

Tatting Poem: A Summer Idyl

Vintage illustration of an outdoor window with a large pot of clover on the sill. Four swallows circle around the side of the window and swoop below on the right side. Scrollwork and blue flowers frame the left side of the window.
Flowers blooming, birds singing – a sure sign of summer.

Not many poems exist that extol the glories of tatted lace. Well, actually, there might be more than you think. This tatting poem, A Summer Idyl, is one of… well… a few.

Usually I open these poetry selections with an outline of the author’s life and a link to other works if I can find them. This time, though, a lengthy search turned up nothing on the poet who wrote this tatting poem, A Summer Idyl. His name was Allan C. Stewart. And while his name may be lost to time, this poem can live on.

This is a nice poem to enjoy with your own shuttle, or crochet hook, or knitting needles in your lap. Or fix yourself a nice cool beverage, sit outdoors, and enjoy.

A Summer Idyl
by Allan C. Stewart

Swinging in a shaded hammock,
   Watching Phyllis at her lace,
Life seems dowered with richest promise,
   Filled with tenderness and grace.
Flowers are blooming, birds are singing,
   Bowered in leafy tents of green,
I have eyes for naught but Phyllis,
   Busy little household queen.

In and out her shuttle flashes,
   While the dainty fabric grows
Like a dream of fairy weaving,
   Smooth and lustrous, row on rows.
Chains and picots, rings and roses
   One by one I see arrayed,
Fashioned by the slender fingers
   Of this winsome, 'witching maid.

All intent upon her tatting, 
   Still she sits, demure and cool,
Never once her eyes are lifted––
   Deep-fringed, like a woodland pool,
How I wish I knew her fancies...
   Phyllis tilts her saucy face,
Saying sweetly, "I was thinking
   My new thread makes lovely lace!"

As you can see, there’s a bit more going on here than a young lady at her tatting shuttle. We have to wonder if Phyllis is as enamored with her companion as her companion is with her? Don’t you wish you could continue to chapter two, and find out what happens when the autumn leaves fall?

I think many of us have been like Phyllis at one time or another, so wrapped in our current task that we focus on nothing else. I know I have! In fact, tatting thread in a new color takes me there almost every time.

If you enjoyed this poem, you may also like A Song of June. Do you know of any poems from the Teens through the Twenties that you’d like me to share? Drop me a comment and let me know.

The Vintage Bookshelf · Vintage Entertainment

Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch

Illustration from 1901 book Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. A woman and teenage boy stand by a window. She has her arm around him. They look out the window together.
Original illustration from Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, 1901.

Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch is a cheerful body who gives her daughters geography names like Asia, Australia, and Europena. She lives in the Cabbage Patch, a run-down neighborhood near a railroad track in Louisville. Mrs. Wiggs lives with her five children in a house that’s the pride of the neighborhood because it has a real tin roof. Of course, one of the boys made it from flat tin cans, but it sure sounds nice when it rains!

The story of Mrs. Wiggs is a story of hope in the face of abject poverty. She is ever hopeful and most things turn out all right. She tends to see the world a bit through rose-colored glasses, however. Her memories of her deceased husband, for example, differ quite sharply from both her children’s memories and from reality.

It’s also a story of the progressive social movement of the late Nineteenth century. Mrs. Wiggs is befriended by a wealthy young woman who spends much of her time in the Cabbage Patch. Besides delivering food baskets, this young reformer gives encouragement and comfort at the same time that she learns a few things about herself.

Mrs. Wiggs is a story of class distinction –– if you read this book, expect to see outdated and offensive terminology more than twice. I think the story could stand as well without it, but I wasn’t writing the book through the lens of 1901. I’m looking at it more than 100 years later. And time changes things.

Upon its publication Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch was very popular. In fact, even though it was published in 1901, new copies were still being sold in 1926. The book was later republished in 1961 and sold as a children’s book by Whitman. What made Whitman think this was a children’s book, I have no idea. I first read Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch as a ten year old when someone gave me a used copy of that Whitman printing.

Read it for yourself

This book is more a novella than a novel. It takes only a couple hours to read. In fact, it was such a quick read that I sought out two separate copies to make sure they were complete. They are. You can read or download it at Project Gutenberg or you can download the book in PDF, text, or epub formats from the Library of Congress. Or, if you like, you can purchase a reprint from your favorite bookseller.

Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch was written by a regional author, Alice Caldwell Hegen Rice. Born in Kentucky, she visited an area in Louisville that revealed to her the life of the underprivileged. That trip became the basis for her book.

Rice went on to publish several books. You can find ten of her works on Project Gutenberg if they interest you.

Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch was made into four different movies as well as a stage play. Here’s a link to the 1919 silent version on Youtube. Normally a movie like this would have music with it. Perhaps a solo piano player or even a small group of musicians. However, this one is truly silent.

If Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch isn’t your thing, you might like The Harvester or Motor Maids School Days. All three take place in the same ten-year span or so, and they are all very different reads.