The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Tatting with Two Colors

A tatted leaf and flower in tatting. Both are created with vibrant blue and pink threads.
Effective use of color in tatting

Most of the time beginning tatters start with one thread color. For one thing, a single ball of thread is cheaper than two. Especially if someone embarks on a new hobby unsure if they will like it. As you can see above, however, tatting with two colors can be quite effective. Today I will give you patterns for several two-color designs.

Today many tatters incorporate color into their work. During the Twenties, however, almost all tatting was white –– or at least one solid color. That’s why the designs above caught my eye. They appeared in the September 1927 edition of Needlecraft Magazine.

You can see the influence of the 1920s in the leaf and the flower. These would look magnificent fastened onto a Twenties cloche or other style of hat as decoration. The leaves alone would bring a lively look to a Twenties outfit, marching in a vertical row down one side of a dress or jacket. If you pull the spoke stitches very tight, the flower should lie flat. (You may need to subtract a stitch from each spoke, however.) If you leave the spokes the tiniest bit loose, your tatting will cup like a flower. Your choice. Even in the original illustration the spokes did not lie completely straight.

Because a couple of these patterns are rather lengthy, I’ll present two this time and two in a later post.

You will need

For all these tatting with two colors patterns you will need two balls of thread in any colors. High contrast colors like the pink and blue I used work better, but if you want a subtle effect white and lavender, light blue, light green, or light pink would work too.

I tatted all these in size 20 thread. Use whatever size you enjoy working with, or the size that will best fit your final project.

I also used two shuttles, one filled with each color of thread, but you can use a shuttle and ball if you prefer. The most effective (and easiest) way of tatting with two colors is to use one color for chains and the other for rings.

A simple edging

Simple tatted edging of bright pink rings and bright blue chains in a straight line.
The simplest of edgings looks great in two colors

This edging is simple enough for any beginning tatter who knows how to make rings and chains.

  1. Make a ring of (3 ds, picot) three times, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
  2. Chain of 3 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 3 ds. Reverse work.
  3. Ring of 3 ds, join to last picot of previous ring, (3 ds, picot) twice, 3 ds, close ring.
  4. Repeat from Step 2.

This makes a nice edging for handkerchiefs done in a fine thread, or anything else small that needs a trim.

Two rows of bright pizzazz

Deeper tatted edging in two colors. Most of the edging is bright blue. A bottom scalloped edging is formed of bright pink rings.
The original called for all rings to be the second color but it took away from the overall effect.

You never know when you will need a good scallop pattern. This one makes neat, orderly scallops to trim something special. It’s made in two rows. Originally the instructions said to make all rings the second color, but that broke up the color concentration in the scallops. So instead I completed the first row and attached the ball thread to my blue-thread shuttle for the second row. Then I made the rings with the shuttle and the chains with the ball.

Row 1

  1. Make a ring of 4 ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) three times, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
  2. Chain of 6 ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) twice, 6 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 6 ds. Reverse work.
  3. Ring of 3 ds, join to last picot of preceding ring, 2 ds, join to next picot, (3 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot) twice, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
  4. Chain of 3 ds. Reverse work.
  5. Ring like Step 3, joining first two picots to last two picots of preceding ring. Reverse work.
  6. Chain of 3 ds. Reverse work.
  7. Repeat Step 5.
  8. Repeat Step 6.
  9. Repeat Step 5.
  10. Repeat Step 6.
  11. Repeat Step 5. (Six total rings made so far.)
  12. Chain of 6 ds, join to last two picots of preceding long chain, 6 ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) twice, 6 ds. Reverse work.
  13. Ring of 4 ds, join to last picot of preceding ring, 2 ds, join to next picot of preceding ring, (2 ds, picot) twice, 4 ds, close.
  14. Repeat Step 2.
  15. Ring of 3 ds, join the first two picots to last two of preceding ring, 3 ds, join to picots 3 and 4 of last large ring, 3 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
  16. Repeat from Step 4 for the length required.

Row 2

Either use one color for the chains and the other for the rings as before, or tie on your ball thread and use that color for rings and chains for this row.

  1. Make a ring of 5 ds, picot, 5 ds, join to first of 3 picots at top of long chain, (2 ds, join to next picot) twice, 5 ds, picot, 5 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
  2. Chain of 5 ds, picot, 5 ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) twice, 5 ds. Reverse work.
  3. Ring of 5 ds, join to last picot of previous ring, 5 ds, join to chain picot, (2 ds, join to next picot) twice, 5 ds, picot, 5 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
  4. Repeat from Step 2 across.

Use them!

Need a thin narrow band and don’t have ribbon? Use tatting in two colors! Tat the first pattern in two colors for a great replacement. Looking for something a bit thicker? Make the first pattern twice, either connecting ring to ring or chain to chain. This creates two entirely different looks.

I’ll present the patterns for the leaf and flower in a later post. To explore other possible patterns that would look good in two colors, check out this post on Tatting with Rings and Chains.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Projects Using Buttonhole Stitches

Last lesson we looked at buttonhole stitch embroidery. If you missed it, you can locate that lesson here. This time we’re going to look at projects using buttonhole stitches.

People rarely look at the buttonhole stitch and think Wow, I could create an entire project with that! Usually needleworkers use it as an edging. Let’s change that with our dive into Twenties projects using buttonhole stitches.

First, we have The Lonesome Pine pillow that was featured in the last lesson. You’ll find that the Lonesome Pine motif appears quite often in Twenties and Thirties needlework. The term appeared with the publication of a romance called The Trail of the Lonesome Pine in 1908. The book made quite a splash as a romance and it’s still in print.

The Lonesome Pine Pillow

A pillow made from heavy linen. On it is embroidered a pine tree on a hill. The hill and the tree area green. A sun sets in the distance. The sun is orange.

Here, in all its glory, is the Lonesome Pine Pillow. Isn’t it a beauty?

These pillows were often filled with balsam pine needles. It brought the fresh pine air into the room and smelled like the outdoors during months that those who lived among pine trees were stuck indoors.

You don’t have to fill your pillow with pine needles, though. You can use a pillow form or stuffing. That’s what I would do.

This pillow is made from a rough, relatively heavy fabric. The original instructions called for homespun, but you could use heavy linen, a drapery fabric in a neutral shade, or a heavy cotton.

Doing the embroidery

The article called for the pillow to be embroidered with yarn. By “yarn” they probably meant crewel wools, or wool yarn specifically spun and plied for hand embroidery. In the US, The Gentle Art’s Simply Wool is available from needlework shops. In the UK, you can’t go wrong with Appleton Wools. They’ve been around since William Morris was designing tapestries in the 1880s.

The entire 14 x 15-inch pillow is worked in simple buttonhole stitches. Although you can alter anything you like, this project means to be an easy introduction to using the buttonhole stitch as an art needlework stitch.

Use leaf-green for the pine tree and the grass, and two shades of tangerine orange for the setting sun: the darker shade for the two inner rows and the lighter shade for the two outer rows.

Work the sun first

The sun must be worked before the grass, because the grass covers the edge of the sun embroidery. For the grass use irregular long and short buttonhole stitches of varying length, from 1/4 to 1/2 inch, making each step 1/8 inch different from the one before or after. All the grass blades point straight up.

On the tree the needles hang down, with the purling of the buttonhole stitches resting on the upper end of the boughs. The bits of trunk which show are made with two or three vertical stitches.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Obtain a piece of fabric that measures 16 x 29 inches.
  2. Fold the fabric in half and transfer the design. It should be centered side to side and about 1 1/2 inches from the fold. The fold will be the bottom of your pillow.
  3. Embroider the design in buttonhole stitch using your green and orange threads.

When you’re finished, fold the fabric so the right side of the embroidery is on the inside and sew around the three sides, leaving a big enough gap that you can turn the pillow inside out. Use a 1/2-inch seam. Stuff with the pillow form or stuffing and sew the opening closed with a slip stitch. A 15 x 15 pillow form can be squeezed to fit into this cover, or you can shorten it an inch with the sewing machine and cut off the extra before stuffing it into the cover you embroidered.

If you don’t have a pillow form the right size, take an extra large 1 inch seam along the wider sides, making your pillow 14 x 14 inches.

The design

Here is the design for the pillow. Print the two single pages to fill an entire 8.5 x 11 inch page, then overlap to trace.

The work bag

A tote bag of heavy linen, embroidered with a multi colored bird with a long tail.

This work bag is a little more complicated than a pillow. It’s designed to carry a 1920s needlework magazine along with the materials you need for a project. Thus arrayed, you appear at the next sewing circle in style!

You can make the bag from the same fabric you used for the pillow. You need a piece of fabric that measures 14 x 34 inches. Cut one long 2 1/2 inch piece off the side, so your pieces now measure 2 1/2 x 34 and 11.5 x 34. The thin strip becomes your handles.

You will also need some kind of firmly woven cotton lining, a sateen or comparable fabric, cut 12 x 30. Choose a color to that harmonizes with your bag. Fold the fabric in half so you have a rectangle that measures 12 x 15, wrong sides together. Sew a 1/4 inch seam up each narrow side so the rectangle measures 11.5 x 15. Turn it right sides together, sew another 1/4 inch seam in the same place you did before (you’ve made French seams so they won’t fray). Leave it this way, with the right sides on the inside, and turn a 1/2 inch hem along the top. Press the hem and leave it until you need to insert it into the finished bag.

Handles first

Turn in 1/4-inch along each long side, and then fold in half lengthwise. You should have a strip 1 inch wide. Cut it in half so that you have two strips 1 inch x 17 inches.

Using a sewing machine, sew the strap together 1/8 inch from the long turned edges.

OR, if you prefer, you can cut them in half to measure 17 inches in length. Then sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance along the long edges of each strap. Turn right side out, and press.

Now the bag

The instructions for this suggest that embroidery decorates both sides of the bag, and they are identical.

Print the design to fill a whole 8.5 x 11 inch page. Transfer the bird and lines twice, extending the lines to 2 inches from the top and bottom edges of the fabric.

The first half circle is included. Duplicate the smaller three rings of the circle in the appropriate places on the fabric.

Colors you will need

The bag calls for the same type of crewel yarn as the pillow above. Pearl cotton might work well in lieu of wool if you can’t find any or don’t have wool. Use size 5 pearl cotton.

  • tan
  • turquoise blue
  • brilliant orange
  • pale yellow
  • deep yellow
  • medium orange
  • brown

How to work the embroidery

Work the long tail feathers of the bird with close (together) buttonhole stitch. Bring the stitches close to the central vein of the feather and place the purls on the edges. With the blue, back stitch over every two threads using the blue. Make the back stitches close to the purling.

Work the front part of the bird with the blue in Brussels net stitch. Catch the stitches into the material at each edge, and let the center stitches float. Make the loops at the back of the neck shorter while you allow those on the breast to be a bit longer. This will help give you the correct curve. Finish the outer edge of the bird’s head and body with close back stitches in blue. Use these to hide the ends of the buttonhole stitches.

For the eye, make one chain stitch in bright orange.

The back of the bird, beyond the spread wings, is made from four rows of buttonhole stitch. The outer row is pale yellow, then deep yellow, followed by medium orange and brilliant orange last, closest to the front part of the bird.

The lower edge of the wings are outlined with a row of chain stitching in tan. The top row of each wing is buttonholed in brilliant orange. The next row down is brown. Then two rows of tan. Work the second row of tan into the chain stitches all across the wings. Just outside the chain stitches, work a row of back stitches in blue.

The borders

Work the outer row of the half circles in tan, with blue back stitches across each two strands, just as you did for the tail feathers. The next row is brown, the next deep yellow. For the larger half circles that contain four rows, make the inner row light yellow. Work all the half circles before working the straight vertical lines.

The straight lines which run from bottom to top of the bag are worked in tan. You will continue these tan lines on the handles. Work both sets of lines in fish hook stitch with the hooks facing the insides, towards each other.

Finishing the bag

Before making up the bag you need to turn a 1/4 inch hem all the way around. For the first two inches from the corners and across both ends, turn the fabric to the RIGHT side. This portion will fold to the outside to make the decorative flaps. For the rest of the bag turn the hem to the WRONG side. You will cut a small slit, just shy of 1/4 inch, into the edge of the fabric where you want to turn from back to front and back again.

If you are using a heavy fabric, you don’t have to sew a hem. Simply turn the 1/4 inch, press it, and pin it. Finish the entire edge with a blanket stitch, making the stitches a bit short on the sides. In other words, they need to be closer together than they normally would in a true blanket stitch. Use the photo as a guide.

When you get to the corners, space the stitches around the curve enough that you can fit a back stitch of blue between the stitches later. Finish off the top two inches of each bag with the blue back stitches before continuing.

Fold the bag together, embroidery facing out, and fagot the sides of the bag with blue. At the top of the bag, fold the flap down, and make a small buttonhole loop joining the front and back flaps together at the fold. Repeat for the other side.

Now tack the flap down with a few blind stitches.

The handles

Remember the handles that you finished first and set aside? If you haven’t already, embroider two strips of fish hook buttonhole stitch on each handle, 1/2 inch apart, in tan.

Attach the handles to the bag so that the embroidery lines are continuous up one side of the bird, across the handle, and down the other side of the bird. You will want them sewn more than 1/2 inch below the fold on the inside so that the lining covers the join.

The lining

You probably finished the lining at the very beginning while you were gathering supplies. If you have it ready, sew it in now. It should fit just inside the bag and sit about 1/2 inch below the top fold line.

You did it!

Whew! That was a lot of work. Do you like it? It’s a bit amazing, isn’t it, that projects using buttonhole stitches can turn out this varied.

Vintage Needlework

Buttonhole Stitch Embroidery

1920s photo of an embroidered pillow. A pine tree stands on a hill while the sun sets. Text: The Lonesome Pine Pillow.
This vintage pillow is embroidered completely with buttonhole stitch variations.

If you’ve never explored buttonhole stitch embroidery, you are in for a treat. Use this one stitch movement in many different ways for various effects. This is Lesson Four in the Beginning Embroidery Lessons series from 1927-28. If this is your introduction to the series, after reading this you may want to start at the beginning with Lesson One.

Buttonhole stitch

Although we know this stitch as the Buttonhole Stitch, it isn’t the stitch we use to actually work buttonholes. Very close, but not the same. This stitch — which you are probably familiar with if you’ve done any embroidery at all — is worked left to right, with the finished edge closest to you. You hold the loop still with your left thumb while passing the needle over it, and pulling it tight you get a nice little purl along the edge.

Illustration of buttonhole stitch in embroidery

Made very close together and firm, this stitch serves well as a finished edge, with the rest of the fabric cut away (Hardanger embroidery and linen embroidery both use this technique). This way the finished edge doesn’t fray.

When you work the regular buttonhole over a turned hem, the stitches can be further apart. They still need to be even and regular.

Long and short buttonhole

Illustration of long and short buttonhole stitch in embroidery

Make this variation by alternating long stitches with short ones. If you like, you can change it further by taking two or three stepped stitches up to a long stitch and then two or three steps down. This creates more of a pyramid shape, and it goes in and out of popularity.

Blanket stitch

Illustration of blanket stitch in embroidery

This version of the buttonhole stitch got its name from its use for thick fabrics like blankets. Too thick to hem normally, the blanket stitch held everything in place.

For this stitch, make regularly spaced buttonholes whose length is about the same as the space between them. One variation of this stitch is shown below. Complete the blanket stitch first, and then insert back stitches between the stitches. You can use the same color for both passes, or different ones.

Illustration of buttonhole stitch with back stitches in between each stitch.

Grouped buttonhole stitches

This variation actually begins with a chain stitch. Work the chain stitch line first, on one side of the space to be embroidered. Then work the buttonhole stitches into the lower loop of the chain stitch and into the fabric below. Leaving a little space between every two or three stitches makes a lacy effect.

If you like, you can work back stitch over each group of stitches close to the purl. Done in one color, this emphasizes the texture of the stitch. Done in two colors, it emphasizes the color changes. Making the chains and back stitches in one color and the buttonhole stitches in another can be very effective.

Circular buttonhole stitch

When filling in a circle or working a flower, the buttonhole stitch is worked around a center point. Take almost all the stitches in the same place, letting the buttonholes surround the edge of the circle. When doing circular buttonhole stitch, occasionally take a short stitch as you move around the circle so the stitches don’t crowd one another and pile up in the center.

Cretan Stitch

Image of New England stitch, a modified buttonhole stitch that makes leaves.

This filling stitch is based on the buttonhole stitch, but the purl comes in the center rather than at the edge. It’s also sometimes called the New England Stitch. These leaves appear often in the blue and white Deerfield embroidery as well as folk embroidery from central Europe.

To make this stitch, the needle goes in at the line, first on one side and then the other, and it comes out beyond the center line on a slant. Taking a stitch to the right and then to the left makes both the leaf shape and the center purl.

Buttonhole loops

Image of buttonhole stitches worked over a loop.

While you may be familiar with these to hold buttons in place on the back of a dress, they also function to heighten interest within an art needlework piece.

Little buttonholed loops are a happy addition to a flower. They provide good filler for narrow spaces, one loop after the other.

To make it, carry two or three threads across the fabric and then covered closely with buttonhole stitches.

Fish hook stitch

Image of buttonhole stitches worked vertically to resemble fish hooks.

This stitch gets its name from its appearance. A vertical buttonhole stitch works well for thin lines and flower stems.

To make this stitch, put the needle into the fabric and bring it out on the line, keeping the thread always on one side. For a different effect, throw it first to the right and then to the left like the illustration below.

Image of buttonhole stitches worked vertically, alternating from left to right, to look like fish hooks.

Fagoting buttonhole stitches

Image of two rows of buttonhole stitches worked parallel. In between them a thread laces from bar to bar to create a looped stitch between the two rows.

For wide stems or lines, work two rows of blanket stitches close together. Then join them with a fagoting stitch, work from side to side, passing the needle under the loop between the blanket stitches to unite them. This is also good for filling long, narrow leaves. Edge the leaves with chain stitch first to give them a finished look.

Brussels net stitch

Buttonhole stitches worked in a pyramid to look like a net. This is loose from the fabric in the middle and called the Brussels net stitch.

Brussels net is also a variation of the buttonhole stitch. Made almost entirely on the surface of the fabric, work a row of stitches into those of the previous row. Work back and forth across the space, catching only the end stitches into the fabric.

This is actually a needle lace stitch rather than embroidery, but it’s useful for filling open spaces in embroidery.

Flower buttonholes

Buttonhole stitches worked in groups of three, with the long ends together to look like bells or flowers.

Here little groups of buttonholes gather like flowers. They sit completely detached from one another, sprinkled on the fabric.

Buttonhole stitches worked in groups of three along an edge. It looks like a row of flowers.

Or you can set them in a row for a dainty edging. This works well to cover a narrow hem with embroidery. Possible uses include handkerchiefs, dinner napkins, or underlinen like slips.

Next up

The next time I’ll give you a couple options for using these new stitches, drawn from the original article.

Parties and Visits · Vintage Entertainment

Vintage Halloween Party Games

Twenties illustration of two jack o'lanterns looking down at the head of a small child who is pretending to look scared.

You’re planning a great vintage Halloween bash. You gathered and made the decorations (in Halloween Party Part 1). You mastered the menu (in Halloween Party Part 2). But what are you going to do? That’s where the vintage Halloween party games list comes to your rescue.

Fortune telling

Fortune telling is, hands down, the favorite activity at 1910s – 1930s Halloween parties. Some partygoers read tea leaves, while others burned chestnuts in the fire in pairs to determine the “fate” of two partygoers. Others used special or not-so-special decks of cards.

An easy way to “tell fortunes” is to come up with a list of silly or serious fortunes. Print them one per line and cut them into strips, then fold them and put them into a bowl or Halloween container. Let everyone pull one and read their fortune to the group.

Another option is to designate one of the participants the Fortune Teller. This person should come dressed appropriately for the role, or assume it right before fortune telling time. A long cape is nice; a dark shawl would work too. This doesn’t have to be fancy to be vintage authentic. If your fortune teller is known among friends as a master of improvisation, then they can wing it with each seeker. Otherwise, providing a bowl of pre-made fortune slips like those mentioned above would help.


Costumes can be fancy, not fancy, or not at all. If the idea of authentic crepe paper costumes interests you, this How to Make Crepe Paper Costumes from 1925 is a treasure of information. This, and several others like it, live at the Internet Archive.

The general idea behind costumes in the 1920s was thrift. Costumes could be made from almost anything as long as the materials didn’t cost too much. Since this usually proved a one-time wearing, the Twenties denizen wasn’t about to spend a lot of hard-earned cash on something that would end up in the fire or in the back of a very narrow closet. Manuals on masquerade from the period begin with a statement on purchasing the cheapest stuff available to make a costume that will only last one night. Whether a Santa costume or a Halloween harlequin, the feeling remained the same.

If everyone wears costumes of some kind, it’s traditional to send them home with some kind of prize. Possible categories include: Best Vintage Costume; Scariest Costume; Funniest Costume; Least Expensive Costume; Most Traditional Costume, etc. A great prize would be a taffy apple on a stick. They’re already taking home candy from the dinner table place settings, if you made the favors from a previous post. Door prizes during the Twenties were useful, ornamental, or edible. Think handkerchiefs, small potted plants, and seasonal food.

Candy pulling

Many autumn and winter parties included candy pulling during the Teens and Twenties, and Halloween parties were no exception. Candy pulling gave partygoers something to do and they took home some of the spoils. Odd as it seems, this is one of the vintage Halloween party games that people looked forward to. Taffy is easy to make and fun to pull with a group. Make sure you have a lot of cold butter on hand, or a nondairy equivalent, to keep the candy from burning your hands if you grab it when it’s too hot.

Here’s a recipe for pulled taffy:

Molasses Taffy

1 1/2 cups Molasses
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter

Combine molasses, sugar, vinegar, water, and salt into a large heavy saucepan. Place over low heat and stir constantly until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, and keep at a light boil until the mixture reaches 240º F (soft ball stage).

Add the butter. Boil slowly until mixture reaches 265º (hard ball stage). Stir frequently while it reaches the target temperature.

Remove from the stove. Wipe any crystals from the top of the pan and pour the taffy quickly onto an oiled or buttered surface. You can use a shallow pan with sides, a platter, or a marble candy making slab.

Pull that taffy

Let set until cool enough to handle. Everyone pulls off a handful and works it between their hands, pulling it into a strand, folding back upon itself, and pulling again. You will pull and fold, pull and fold, pull and fold until the taffy becomes lighter in color and with a glossy, satin sheen. This will take a while… you and your party guests will pull for about 20 minutes.

If you find the taffy sticky, butter on your hands should help. Laughter and chatter add spice to the candy making time.

Once the taffy is soft, light-colored, and shiny, you can stretch it out into a long rope. Make it the diameter of the candy you want to eat. Use kitchen shears to cut the candy into bite-size strips, and roll in waxed paper squares.

Here’s a great little video that shows the process of making taffy.

Ghost stories

Telling ghost stories at Halloween parties is as old as Halloween parties themselves. Just like ghost stories were a tradition at Christmas time, they also became a tradition for Halloween.

Look no further than Project Gutenberg for more ghost stories than you could use in a lifetime of Halloween parties. Whether you want modern stories from the Twenties by Dorothy Scarborough or traditional stories by Charles Dickens, you have your pick at this Project Gutenberg page. Select a few of your favorites and be prepared to share them with your guests. Or enlist another partygoer who tells tales really well to locate a few stellar stories and share them with the crowd.

A few of these stories, told while everyone waits for the taffy to cool before pulling, will help while away the waiting minutes.

Or gather round the fire, turn the lights low, pass around the Witches’ Brew cider, and tell tales that will make your guests shudder in the half-light.

Best wishes

I hope you have a tremendous time with your vintage Halloween party games as you recreate a truly vintage Halloween party.

Parties and Visits · Vintage Entertainment

Vintage Halloween Party Menu

Halloween menu list bordered by a jack o'lantern, a bet in a spider web, and a cake with a witch on it.

Bring vintage entertainment right into your living room when you host a vintage Halloween party. This is the second installment of a series on throwing a Halloween party, Twenties style. If you missed the first part, you can find it here. This time we’re going to focus on food: adding a vintage Halloween party menu to your plans.

When you plan a vintage party menu, the first thing you have to remember is to keep it simple. Gathering people together for an evening of fun trumped ornate, formal entertaining. Most party hosts bought some crepe paper in the appropriate holiday colors (in this case, black and orange). They then spent a few evenings crafting party decorations at home.

Although paper companies released catalogs and idea books filled with ways to decorate with pre-packaged paper items, most party hosts preferred a handmade touch. While a vintage homemaker might buy a printed crepe paper with pumpkins on it, she would be likely to cut out those pumpkins and use them as part of a larger decorating scheme. It created a handmade I cared enough for you that I made it myself touch. Plus, those preprinted sheets of crepe were eye-crossingly busy. A partygoer could only take so much.

Your vintage Halloween party menu

1924 brings you not one vintage Halloween party menu, but two. The first one is very informal and would welcome breaking into the popcorn table centerpiece mentioned in the first Halloween party section.

Menu One

  • Jack O’Lantern Salad
  • Brown Bread Sandwiches
  • Cake of Fate
  • Orange Ice
  • Witches’ Brew

Jack O’Lantern Salad

For Jack O’Lantern salad, select as many large, red apples as there are people to be served. Cut off the top of each one and scoop out the inside. Carve eyes, nose, and mouth on one side like a Jack O’Lantern.

Chop the apple you removed and mix it with an equal amount of diced celery and chopped ripe (black) olives. Put the mixture back into the shells and serve with a dollop of mayonnaise dressing piled on top.

Note: If you want to keep your apple from turning brown, dip it in a little lemon juice. Mix a small amount, a teaspoon at a time, into the cut apple before you combine it with the other ingredients.

Brown Bread Sandwiches

You can use whole wheat, rye, or any other bread that you think would go well with the filling. A bakery loaf is best for this recipe, because you want it whole when you begin.

Slice the bread very thin (in about 1/4-inch slices) and cut the slices into circles with a round biscuit or cookie cutter. For the filling, use 8 oz cream cheese mixed with 2-3 Tbsp drained, shredded pineapple and 1-2 Tbsp chopped pecans.

The Cake of Fate

1920s illustration of a Halloween cake. Layer cake covered in white icing, with a bat, cat, and owl drawn onto the side with chocolate. On the top a witch cut from black paper flies vertically over the top of the cake which is designed like a sundial.
The Cake of Fate……

To make the Cake of Fate, make a two layer cake from any recipe and cover it with firm, white icing. After the icing sets, pipe or draw the clock face, cats, bats, and owls with either a fine clean paint brush dipped in melted chocolate (semi sweet chocolate chips would work well), or chocolate icing in a decorating bag with a fine round tip. The paint brush and melted chocolate is traditional; the cake decorating bag with tip is a modern application.

The witch decoration for the cake is made from black card stock. Print the illustration below and use it to trace onto the sheet of card stock. Cut two witches, and glue them back to back with a wooden chopstick or skewer between. Stick that in the top of the cake.

Traditionally, three items were placed inside the cake: a ring, a thimble, and a silver coin. They were placed inside after baking, as the cake was assembled. Often they rested in the icing between the two layers.

If you want to continue this tradition, you can cut small pictures of a ring, thimble, and silver coin into about 1″ x 1″ squares. Wrap them in Saran wrap or a comparable cling wrap, and slide them between the two layers in three different places before icing the final covering layer over the cake. If you do this, you must tell your guests to look for a piece of paper in their cake. I don’t recommend using the real items because they are all serious choking hazards for a population not accustomed to looking for metal or plastic items in their desserts.

Another option is to get an assortment of cake decorations in the shape of rings, thimbles, and coins and use those to decorate the top of the cake outside the clock. That way everyone gets a “fortune” and they can see it as soon as they look at their piece of cake.

Witch illustration for the Cake of Fate.

Orange Ice

Mold the orange ice in cone shapes. You can get paper ice cones at Amazon. If you look during the summer you can probably find them locally and stash them away for Halloween ice treats. If you want to use a silicone mold that’s cone shaped, Wilton has one but it forms a cone only 2.5 inches high.

To mold an ice, you will make the mixture by the directions and then pack it solidly into whatever mold you are using. In a pinch, a muffin tin would work. Cover the top of the mold with wax paper and then put it into the freezer to freeze for at least two hours. Unmold by turning the container upside down on a platter and wrapping each section with a towel dipped in hot water and wrung out.

In the top of each cone put a crepe paper (or card stock) cutout of a bat, a witch, or an owl.

Since you probably don’t have a recipe for Orange Ice sitting around in your household cookbook, here’s one:

Orange Ice Recipe

2 cups sugar 2 1/2 cups orange juice
4 cups water Grated rind of one orange
3 Tbsp lemon juice

  1. Boil the sugar and water together for five minutes.
  2. Cool the syrup mixture, and then add the fruit juices and orange rind. Let stand an hour.
  3. Strain, and then freeze in an ice cream maker.
  4. Pack into molds as described above or place in a freezer-safe container with a lid. Cure in the freezer at least 2 hours before serving.

Witches’ Brew

For the Witches’ Brew, use any cider punch recipe that you have and love. If you need a recipe, you can use this one:

Cider Punch

2 oranges, juice 1 quart grape juice
2 lemons, juice 1 cup sugar
1 quart cider 2 quarts water

  1. Grate some of the lemon and orange peel, and set aside.
  2. Juice the lemons and oranges. Add the grape juice.
  3. Add the peels to the juices.
  4. Stir in the cider, sugar and water.
  5. Pour in a punch bowl in which you have floating a block of ice.
  6. Serve in small punch glasses.

Menu Two

The second menu is a bit more formal than the first.

  • Creamed Chicken in Cream Puffs
  • Apricot Ice
  • Gold Cake with Chocolate Icing
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn Balls
  • Coffee
  • Cider Punch

Creamed Chicken in Cream Puffs

Creamed Chicken in Cream Puffs is the autumn version of chicken salad in cream puffs. If you don’t know where to find cream puffs locally, and you are up for some invigorating stirring, A Pretty Life in the Suburbs posted a good, doable recipe. I have made cream puffs before from scratch, and this looks similar to the recipe I used.

Creamed Chicken Recipe

3 cups cold cooked chicken, diced
2 1/2 cups milk
5 Tbsp flour
1 pimiento cut into tiny pieces (optional. This is a roasted red bell pepper.)
1/8 tsp pepper (feel free to use more if you like)
5 Tbsp fat (oil, butter, ghee, etc)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon celery salt

  1. Scald the milk.
  2. In another saucepan or skillet, melt the fat/heat oil over medium heat and add the flour, salt, and pepper. Use a whisk to get the lumps out.
  3. Add the milk slowly to the flour mixture. Stir constantly until the mixture bubbles and thickens.
  4. When thick, add chicken and cook long enough to heat the chicken. Add the pimiento last if you are using it.
  5. To fill cream puffs with the creamed chicken, cut the top off the puff, hollow out the puff leaving 1/4 inch or so around all the edges, and fill with a spoon of warm chicken mixture. You can replace the top of the puff or leave it off, as you please.

Apricot Ice

A fruit flavored ice provided a unique, light dessert for the vintage host.

You will need:

1 1/2 cups apricot pulp, 1 20 – 28 oz can or 2 15 oz cans
2 cups sugar
3 cups water
1/2 cup lemon juice

Use canned apricots and put through a coarse sieve. If you have neither the patience nor the equipment for that, give them a whir in the blender or food processor.

Boil the water and sugar together for ten minutes in a large saucepan. This makes a syrup.

Cool the syrup and add with the lemon juice to the apricot puree.

Freeze in an ice cream freezer to a mush. Transfer to a freezer-safe container let stand one hour or more in the freezer to ripen. Or freeze in individual molds as detailed in the Orange Ice instructions above.

Gold cake with chocolate icing

This is simply a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Use whatever recipe you have. Even a boxed cake with canned icing will work. Keep it simple.

Nuts and coffee

Meals like this typically ended with nuts or mints, little nibbles to clear the palate. Serve whatever nuts you like as long as your guests aren’t allergic to them. They can go in a small bowl in the center of the table or into individual nut cups at each place setting.

Coffee is self explanatory. Serve whatever you like, however you like it.

Popcorn balls

The original article offered no recipe for popcorn balls. This recipe from Taste of Home is pretty standard. Popcorn balls last for several days wrapped in cling wrap film, so you can make them in advance.

Cider punch

See the recipe above under Witches’ Brew.

Next time

Now that you have the decorations and your vintage Halloween party menu under control, the next thing we need to discuss is games for the evening. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Parties and Visits · Vintage Entertainment

Host a Twenties Halloween Party

Photo of 1920s dining room. A long table is set for six places at dinner. In the middle of the table sits a large ball of popcorn wearing a large party hat. Windows behind the table provide light into the room.
Host your own vintage Halloween party

Want to get into the true vintage spirit? Host a Twenties Halloween party! Whether you plan a large gathering or merely entertain your own household, you can throw a Twenties Halloween party to delight your vintage-loving heart.

Halloween gatherings were hugely popular from 1910 through the 1950s. Some were simple, others more involved, but all provided a delightful evening of fun. Informal food, games, and decorations ruled the night.

When you recreate the Halloween parties of yesteryear, you bring vintage quirky, light-hearted entertainment into today’s drawing room. Or dining room. How do you host a Twenties Halloween party? First, the decorations.

Decorating for your vintage party

An illustrated row of halloween decorations. An owl, a witch, a girl doll wearing an apron with a cat's face on it, and a boy doll dressed like a clown stand in a line. Most of these are made from crepe paper.
Vintage Halloween decorations

Some parties took place over an entire house, but more often the living room and dining room were set apart for the festivities. Then as now, the Halloween party colors were black and orange. You can also throw in some ghostly white, but here are some additional suggestions for Twenties decorating flair:

  • Red or brown autumn leaves
  • Pumpkins
  • Corn stalks
  • Crepe paper decorations

Crepe paper was everywhere. Revelers used it for decorations, costumes, and party favors. Crepe paper used to be available at every five and dime store for party creations. Not so much anymore, but you can still find an assortment of colors at Amazon. Or, if you like, you can also substitute decorations made from card stock in the relevant holiday colors. Card stock is available from every craft store and online.

The table

The table can be as elaborate as you like. In the photo above, the centerpiece is made from popcorn. First you pop a large quantity of popcorn, using salt or flavored salt and seasonings to flavor it (garlic, dill weed, etc — not all at the same time!). If you include butter flavored oil or butter with the popcorn it will become greasy as it sits. Best to make this one simple.

Once you have 1 – 2 gallons measure in popped seasoned corn, wrap it in clear cellophane. Again, Amazon to the rescue. You should be able to find this locally in a party store or craft store as well. Your goal is a ball about a foot in diameter.

When you have the popcorn properly contained in the sealed cellophane (I have no idea how they did this before the advent of clear tape!) you can decorate it. A simple set of round eyes, triangle nose, and smiling mouth are cut from black paper or crepe paper and taped or glued onto the ball.

For the hat, use a large sheet of paper to cut a half circle and roll a cone hat. A sheet of white poster board would work well. If you like you can cover it with crepe paper and use crepe paper for the brim. Since you form the hat from a half circle of paper, you will probably want to make the brim separately and staple it on. Here’s a simple YouTube video that shows you how to make the cone if you’ve never done it before.

Attach the hat at a rakish angle for the full effect of your popcorn head centerpiece.

You can break open the cellophane and share the popcorn at the end of the party.

The favors

The dolls that appear in the second photo are all made from crepe paper and a little card stock. And candy. Did I mention the candy? The doll in the apron and the one in the clown suit both have limbs filled with stick candy. You can use any long thin candy that you like: Tootsie rolls would work well, using two stacked for the leg and one for the arm. Or you can use the stick candy if you can find it.

Snap headed dolls

Originally these dolls would be made with a paper snap, like a Christmas cracker. The snap would be attached between the head and the body. You’d glue the head to one end of the paper snap and a body piece to the other end. Then after the meal all the guests would hold onto one part of the doll, their neighbor the other, and give a pull. Snap! The head comes off with a pop and everyone giggles.

If this idea appeals to you, you can still get cracker snaps from Amazon.

Heavy paper or card stock makes the owl and the heads of the dolls. Draw a circle or oval and sketch the facial features. Then small pieces of crepe paper make up the rest of the dolls. Roll the candy in the crepe paper and tie the ends for arms and legs. The witch is made from a long thin piece of crepe paper that’s gathered at the neck, with a smaller piece gathered for her cape. Hats are cut from paper or crepe paper.

Easy pumpkins

The candy stick pumpkin favor

If you want a simpler favor, cut a circle of orange crepe paper 6-7 inches in diameter. You can use a 6-inch plate as a pattern if you have one. That’s what a vintage host would do.

Cut the circles from the crepe paper. Place something to weight the favor, such as beans, nuts or rice (M$Ms are good!). Gather up the edges of the pumpkin like you see in the illustration, and tie the top with string, ribbon, or another strip of crepe paper. Place a stick of candy in it as a table favor. These can go at each place or around the popcorn head centerpiece. Little pieces of colored paper make the eyes, nose, and mouth.

If you want your pumpkin to be nice and fluffy, a bit of crumpled tissue (facial or gift wrapping) will fluff the top out. You will still need something to weight the ball, though, or the candy stick will make it fall over.

The glimmer

Keep the lights low and set candles around. These add an atmospheric flicker to your room and enhance the vintage spookiness of it all. Your party will be just as nice if you opt for battery-operated candles instead of the real thing. It will also be a lot safer. Although real fire would be truly vintage, the truth is that the Twenties partygoer routinely interacted with flames more often than most of us do. Flameless candles will work just fine, and you can use them again next year. Double win.

Next time: food

Decorating for a vintage party is relatively simple, but it does require some hands-on crafting since none of the original store-bought decorations are still available. In the next installment I’ll give you menu options. Stay tuned, and have fun with that crepe paper! When you host this Twenties Halloween party, people will remember it.

The Vintage Bookshelf · Vintage Entertainment

Frankenstein: A Vintage Horror Book

Image from 1840 edition of Frankenstein, a vintage horror book.
Original engraving from Frankenstein. Wikimedia Commons.

This is October, the month of darkening days, rainy skies, and spooky shadows. In honor of that, this month I’m reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a vintage horror book. If the concept of horror concerns you, be assured that this is not Stephen King. It’s not even equivalent to Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote in the 1830s and 40s.

A brooding scientist. The girl he left behind. The mother he adored. Pelting rain and icy winters. His best friend. These all come together in Frankenstein, weaving a tale of creation and a tale of regret.

Connecting with the past

Reading an antique book like this connects you with the past in a unique way. You aren’t only reading about the past, you are joining others in reading it. In the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s people picked up Frankenstein and enjoyed it for the first time. Or maybe for the second time. Or the third. You can share in their enjoyment of the book, in much the same way they enjoyed it. For they too were reading of a time long past, in a book they considered a classic.

So what would it have been like to sit in a poodle skirt at the local soda fountain, dreaming over Frankenstein –– but quickly, because the book was due by the end of the week! Thankfully, it’s not too long, and you could probably finish this next chapter in the time it takes you to slowly drain your carbonated drink. Or going back further, how thankful would you be that the local Carnegie library had a copy of Frankenstein on the shelves this very month, when you needed to read it in the 1930s, in the middle of the Depression? If the weather’s nice, you could sit on the front porch and read a chapter or two while you wait for the ice man in his wagon. He’s due on Thursday afternoons, you know.

Back to the present

If you’ve never read Frankenstein, I encourage you to give it a try. This book isn’t Victorian. It predates Victorian life by 20 years. Even though it was written in 1817, getting caught up in the action and flow of the story proves easy.

None of the chapters take too long to read, and it’s relatively short. The book opens with a series of letters from a ship, and the story unfolds from there. Mary Shelley revised the book several times between 1817 and its 1840 printing. You can see some of her revisions in the Chapter 7 manuscript page below. The version we read is usually the 1840 revision.

Image from Mary Shelley's handwritten manuscript for Frankenstein. Wikimedia commons image.
A handwritten manuscript page from Frankenstein. Wikimedia Commons.

Novel vs. reputation

Before this month I’d never read Frankenstein. I assumed that what everyone said about the novel was true. “Frankenstein was a terrible monster, named for his creator, did horrible things, yada yada yada.” Except, that’s not correct. None of it is actually true.

If I told you why the general knowledge and consensus about the novel is false, it would give away too much of the story. So I won’t. You’ll have to find out by reading the book or by Googling the answers. They’re out there in abundance.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for in Frankenstein was Shelley’s glorious descriptions of nature and the characters’ response to it. She describes mountains and lakes, snow and ice, autumn and spring in terms that drew me far into the novel. Very much a Romantic description, nature itself functions as a character in the novel. It evokes responses in the people who interact with it.

Read it yourself

Get your hands on a copy of Frankenstein and enjoy it this autumn as readers have for nearly 200 years. Although Frankenstein is a vintage horror book, its lost none of its appeal. True, the horror genre reads much differently today than it did in the nineteenth century. However, that’s one of the reasons we seek out these books, right?

You can read Frankenstein at Project Gutenberg. Or get a paperback or Kindle copy from Amazon. Really, if you want a copy with pages to turn, you should be able to find it at your favorite bookseller. It’s a classic.

Watch the movie

Versions of Frankenstein appeared in the movies several times. In 1931, Boris Karloff starred in Frankenstein. A version was released in 2011. Even Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein in 1948.

If you want to see the very first Frankenstein movie, it’s this 1910 silent by Thomas Edison Productions. The film only lasts a little over twelve minutes, so the suspense will be over quickly.

However you partake of it, enjoy your time with Frankenstein, vintage horror at its earliest.

This one not your thing?

If the idea of Frankenstein really doesn’t thrill you, perhaps you’ll enjoy this writeup on Steps in Time, an autobiography by dancer Fred Astaire.

Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack

Poem: October by Belle Bush

Magazine image of Belvidere Seminary in New Jersey, where poet Belle Bush lived and worked.

This month’s poem, October, was written by poet Belle Bush. The poem itself is nice, but nothing compared to the story of the woman herself.

One of the things I find most intriguing about these poetry posts is delving into the lives of the poets themselves. Sometimes, I find nothing. Other searches send me down rabbit trails, piecing together a jigsaw of facts that almost creates a complete picture. This is one of those situations. Once in a while I find a poem by someone like Wordsworth, who we’ve all heard of and most of us studied.

Belle Bush, however, started as an enigma. Her actual name was Annabelle, and I believe she never married. She was born somewhere in New York State in February, 1828. She had at least two sisters: Eliza, born in 1818, and Harriet, born in 1837.

A look at the Belvidere Seminary

We first meet the sisters as they head a school they call the Belvidere Seminary. Located in Belvidere, New Jersey, the school accepted both male and female students. Eliza and Belle appear listed as Principals of the school, while Harriet teaches music. In an imposing building not too far from the Delaware River, other instructors teach classes in mathematics, gymnastics, English, German, and French.

A visitor writes of the place:

There is no fuss, no noise, no birch, no rod… The studies were regular, and recreations various and often. The school has beautiful surroundings, good gardens and grounds… It is a charming sight. Birds abound, of wild and melodious song; flowers, fruits, and vegetables are all grown on the place.

The Medium and Daybreak, June 18, 1886

Each day for an hour the students break into work tasks. The girls learn cooking and housekeeping, since they will probably have to manage a household at some point in their lives. The boys engage in some type of outdoor or mechanical work.

This school is unsectarian, to use the word of one of its reviewers. In other words, Belvidere Seminary teaches no classes in Christianity, Judaism, the Bible, or Christian denominational doctrine –– somewhat unusual for the time.

A school with a twist

Why this freedom and departure from the customary school discipline and religious instruction of the day? Because this was a Spiritualist school. Belle Bush was a Spiritualist. She and her sisters believed they could communicate with the dead.

Here’s a recommendation from a parent:

I have four children in this Institute who have been there for one year, and if these children were in my own home they could not be better cared for spiritually, morally, and intellectually. I placed my children in that Institution because I feel that as Spiritualists they must receive a spiritual education.

Mrs. Prior, at the National spiritualists Assn. fifth annual convention, 1897

In addition to running a school, Belle wrote poetry for Spiritualist publications and songs for the Spiritualist songbooks. She was truly a leader in the movement: discussed at the National conventions, quoted in books. She published a book of poetry. For many years the Spiritualists bantered the idea of endowing her school, turning it into a Spiritualist university. Unfortunately, that dream never became a reality and the school seemed to close sometime around 1905.

After the school closing, Belle, her sister Harriet, and Harriet’s husband traveled to New York. There they lived with the Shaker community in Mount Lebanon. Once there, even in her seventies, Belle continued to contribute. She wrote poetry for the Shaker periodicals and assisted with celebrations. The Shakers welcomed her as a poetess and fellow traveler, and she stayed with them until her death on May 5, 1914.

And now… the poem October by Belle Bush

I located a publication of this poem in 1874, and again in 1921. However, as I researched Belle’s life I saw that she sold this poem over and over to various periodicals through the years. The 1921 version is abridged; the original poem as published contains a full dozen stanzas.

by Belle Bush

Now comes autumn's fairest moon,
And the royal purple noon
   Of all the earthly glory;
Now let cares drift far away,
While each wonder-working day
   Tells to us its story.

Scarfs of gold and crimson rest
On each mountain's plumed crest
   In a dewy splendor;
While o'er all earth's dainty things
Nature spreads her gentle wings,
   As of each most tender.

And there is a glory born,
With our life's empurpled morn,
   Stronger than all grieving;
Aye, and brighter than the days
Scarfed in gold and crimson haze --
   All of faith's fair weaving.

Leaves may fall and quick winds sigh,
Summer's beauties fade and die;
   Still faith, to us replying,
Mounts upward singing to2wards love's gate,
And bids us calmly work and wait,
   All cause fo grief denying.

Ah, if the autumn of our days
Finds but the soft and mellow haze,
   Our fading joys concealing,
Then will our hearts be full of peace,
And every hour bring rich increase,
   A life of use revealing.

If you’d like to read Belle’s book of poems, it’s called Voices of the Morning. Published in 1865, you can find it on Google Books.

Belle’s sister Harriet was also a poet, though not as prolific as Belle. I hope to cover a bit of her story, along with one of her poems, a bit later.

For a very different poem about nature, take a look at A Song in June.