Mary Frances needs to learn all kinds of skills. She needs to learn to cook, clean, sew, knit, crochet, garden. Her world is full of learning! Mary Frances stars in an entire series of instruction books, beginning with a cookbook in 1912. In The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book she learns to knit and crochet. She makes clothes for her doll along the way. Her teachers are the Knitting People, a delightful set of tools that come to life and tell Mary Frances exactly how things should be done.
In the pages of The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book we meet Knit and Knack the knitting needles, Crow Shay the crochet hook, and Yarn Baby, a yarn doll. These characters, along with their friends, show Mary Frances the ropes of creating with yarn. She makes doll clothes, a baby doll’s set, and a few things for herself. And you can find patterns for all of these in the book. Because The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book was published in 1918, the last set of patterns is from the Red Cross. A flyer of knitted articles for World War I soldiers gives Mary Frances experience with adult-size clothing.
Note: This is a book of its time. It may contain outdated references or illustrations, like most books from 1900-1930.
One Adventure After Another
By the time Mary Frances graduates to knitting and crocheting, she’s much older than the little girl who started the series with a cookbook. She’s had adventures with the Kitchen People when she learned to cook. The Thimble People taught her to sew. She learned the basics of housekeeping from the Doll People. And in her last adventure before she learns to knit, she meets the Garden People. Her knitting and crocheting book is more advanced than any of the other books. It contains more projects and less chatter. The story line still exists, but it’s not as all-encompassing as the story you find in the Mary Frances Sewing Book.
When the story opens, Mary Frances is accosted by her great aunt Maria, who is, of course, a paragon of the textile arts and cannot believe that Mary Frances doesn’t know how to knit or crochet. She offers to teach her, and Mary Frances says that she’s been wanting to learn for the longest time. Then Mary Frances remembers how Aunt Maria taught her father to knit, and how much he hated it.
She sits down with her knitting bag after her aunt scurries away, and wishes that helpful fairies like the Thimble People could teach her to knit and crochet. Crow Shay the hook begins to talk to her, and she realizes that real help waits for her after all.
Learning from the Pros
She endures one lesson with Aunt Maria before her aunt is whisked away by a family emergency. Mary Frances finds herself alone with her brother, talking knitting needles, and Katie, the household cook.
This gives Mary Frances the freedom she needs to concentrate on the lessons from the knitting needles and crochet hook. With their help she creates a doll’s wardrobe. A little over the first half of the book teaches crochet. Then the chapters switch to knitting instruction. Black and white photographs from 1918 show how to form the stitches.
Illustrations throughout the book show how the finished articles should look. In the original book several color pages show the progress of a sixteen inch doll’s wardrobe. Mary Marie, the doll, received a complete handmade wardrobe in the sewing book, but now she needs coats and hats, shopping bags and mufflers. The book even gives instructions for an aviator doll outfit and a Teddy Bear Suit. The suit looks like a WWI army uniform, but teddy bear suits were actually one-piece sitcot jumpsuits. WWI airplane pilots wore them. So although it’s quite cute with its trousers, jacket, and tam, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be, or why it’s called a Teddy Bear Suit.
Read It For Yourself
Whether you’ve wanted to learn knitting and crochet like Mary Frances, or you’d like a romp through a century-old instruction book for children, you might enjoy this book. Download The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book from the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg. And let the yarn adventures begin.
Redecorating a room is a fun and exciting project. You pick out the paint, the furnishings, the floor cover. Then you set to work. But what if you have no money for a major remodel? In the 1930s and 40s, few had the spare funds for complete overhauls each year or two as the fashion changed. However, fabric gave homeowners one easy way to redecorate. In the kitchen nothing gave as much versatility as the humble potholder. Today we explore one possibility with the patchwork fan potholder.
During the Depression and for years afterward, crafters reveled in using every scrap of material so nothing went to waste. Little scraps of fabric became appliqué decorations on curtains, tablecloths, and dinner or luncheon napkins. Or they might find their way onto the corner of an apron or a handkerchief. Some scraps became part of that larger mosaic we call patchwork.
In the Thirties and Forties, needleworkers loved to make potholders. These were also known as pan holders. Potholders made great pickup work. This means that the worker could grab the project, or pick it up, during spare moments through the day or week. In fact, I finished the trim on this one while I was waiting for the morning coffee to reach a boil in the percolator.
Use the Cotton
When you make potholders, the fabric must be 100% cotton or you risk injuring yourself or someone else. Likewise, the lining needs to be 100% cotton batting, thick fabric layers, or a layer or two of Insul-Bright insulated batting. You can find it on Amazon here, if you don’t have access to it locally. These projects were designed for workers to use what they had on hand, without going to any extra expense. They were truly scrap projects.
It’s also a good idea to prewash your fabrics before you use them. Everything I used was a leftover from some other project, so it was all prewashed. You can see the strings on the dark brown fabric from being tumbled around a hot dryer. Potholders eventually end up in the laundry, and you don’t want yours to shrink.
Pair them up
Usually potholders appeared in pairs. With a pattern like today’s patchwork fan potholder, two fabrics usually switched places in the design. You can see that in the red pattern sketch, which dates from the 1940s. The polka-dotted fan plumes of one potholder become the ribs of the other.
This is a pattern I’ve had for a long time and always wanted to try. It was part of a stash from my husband’s grandmother. The pattern took up a tiny section of a large transfer sheet of embroidery patterns, and it caught my eye the first time I saw it.
I happened to have some tiny scraps of brown and batik that would work great together, so that’s what I used. First, I traced the pattern from the sheet. Usually these large sheets were designed to be cut. Then they were placed design side down onto fabric and ironed.
However, the way this pattern was placed makes it obvious that it was a trace-to-use pattern, even though nothing says that. The pieces overlap enough that cutting each one out to use them would be impossible.
The original instructions for this project included the red and white illustration above, plus these terse commands:
These fan shaped pan holders can be made from any scraps of fabric you have available.
Piece, pad, bind, and quilt.
That was it. Beyond that you’re on your own. So I thought I’d make one and give an idea how it goes together.
You can see from the sketch that the potholder is supposed to use six fan pieces. Well, I can’t count, apparently, because I cut and used seven. First I hand-sewed the two pieces of each fan blade together.
Each blade is sewn together on the diagonal in the middle, like the photo below. Sew right sides together and then press the seam toward the wide end.
Once all the pieces were assembled, I sewed them side by side and found another scrap of fabric to use as a backing.
I cut around the fan and used the backing piece as a pattern to cut the lining.
I sandwiched the three pieces together, and ran a stitch 3/8″ from the edge around all the edges. I used a sewing machine for this part, although you could easily do it by hand.
Then, because terry cloth tends to move while it’s squashed between two pieces of fabric, I had some edges to neaten before attaching the bias binding.
I made the binding myself from another scrap of brown fabric that I cut into 1 1/4″ diagonal strips and then sewed together. First I pinned the bias tape to the front of the fan and then sewed around it using a 1/4″ seam allowance. I started at the fan’s point. That way I could end there with a loop of extra bias tape that I then secured to the back of the fan with a few solid stitches.
Once the bias tape was attached to the front, I turned it over. Folding the tape over the raw edge, I sewed it down by hand all around the edge of the fan. This is what I did while the coffee brewed. When I got back to my starting point I cut off the bias tape, leaving a couple inches on the end. I turned under a little bit at the very end, and then folded it together and whipped the long open edges to make it a tube. Then I bent it into a loop and sewed the end onto the back of the fan at the point.
This makes its own hanging loop so I don’t have to hunt for crochet thread or a wooden ring.
Finally, I hand quilted all three layers together. Of course, you could use a sewing machine for any or all of this.
Now You Make One!
Here’s a copy of the pattern so that you can make yourself a pair of fan potholders (or pan holders, as you prefer.) I traced the pattern onto one 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper, and it took about half of it. This is not a large pattern.
I’ll dig out the fabric scraps I have left from this project and make another potholder to coordinate with the first one. I really enjoyed making this little patchwork fan potholder and I hope you make one or two to add a bit of Forties Flair to your kitchen.
Your surprise gift is enclosed. Mail order companies of the 1920s, 30s and 40s often enticed their readership with promises of free, surprise gifts should they order. Some companies spelled out what the customer would receive: Order our new fabric, and receive three skeins of our best embroidery floss, free — or whatever they could throw in to sweeten the deal. When the package came, it arrived in an envelope emblazoned with: Your surprise gift is enclosed!
Often a company selected them on receiving the answer to a question. What is your favorite color? What is your birth month? August was the birthday of the person who possessed the gladiolus gift. It was easy enough to create a dozen different flower kits, one for each month of the year. That way, if your neighbor did business with the company as well, the chance was slim that you would end up with the same kit. Plus, it looked as if the organization actually cared, and less like what it was — a marketing tool to snag more orders.
Flowers in the Mail
In my stash of patterns, I have three of these gifts. All from the same company. All from the 1940s. And all of them unmade. Two sets were for lapel pins, which I hope to cover later. The third was for the gladiolus corsage you see at the top of this post. The original contents appear below.
This was all packed very neatly in a glassine envelope. I wondered why it was never completed, and why it was saved. Could this have been from someone who wanted to do it on a rainy day? Or perhaps a person who saved everything? I’ll never know.
The project looked easy enough, so I thought I’d give it a try. You can see my result in the top photo. I used my own felt, not the pieces from the kit.
After about an hour struggling to put this thing together, something became very clear. Neither the person who designed this nor anyone on the company’s staff ever tried to put this together. The instructions simply did not work. It was a tiny sketch of a finished piece, some pattern pieces, and nothing more.
Missing a Few Things
As you can see, I did manage to finish the thing, but not without some frustration. Your Surprise Gift may have contained a cute pattern and some felt, but it was missing some very key ingredients to be called a project. To finish this, you need:
three small pieces of felt
So far, so good. I had those. But reading the instructions, I also need:
thin wire or floral wire
green embroidery thread
green sewing thread for tying (which I did not have handy. You can see the light blue thread in the photo.)
pin back for making it into a corsage, or magnet for sticking it onto the fridge.
I’m still not sure any of the felt pieces were large enough for the project except the yellow piece. I had a larger piece of pink felt, almost twice the size of the piece in the photo, and I used over half of it. You can see my traced pattern pieces on the original kit pieces below.
I don’t know that any amount of geometry would have gotten six leaves of various sizes plus the bud piece you see on the green felt from that little piece of pink. Four? Sure. I could get four. But not six. And the flower needs six pieces to make a gladiolus.
Creating the Spray
I was beginning to see why these kits were never completed. Then I started to put it together. That’s where the real fun begins. The instructions read: This is your surprise gift. Make a gladiolus spray – August. So far, so good. I’m going to create a gladiolus spray. That will be pretty as a corsage on my jacket. I’ve included the original instructions in bold, and my comments follow as I attempt to assemble the flower.
Cut six petals of varying sizes as given here, a bud and another bud piece of green. Nowhere does the instruction sheet say what sizes to cut the petals, only that I need six. After peering at Internet images of gladioli, I decided that I needed one large, two medium, and three small petals to make a gladiolus.
Make long yellow stamens by slashing the yellow felt. That was simple enough. I cut my small yellow square into a fringe and rolled it up.
Arrange petals around these and tie tightly with green thread. This proved to be more difficult than it seemed. First, the instructions do not tell you how to arrange the petals. I guessed from looking at photos of flowers. Second, the petals do not simply arrange. I had to construct the flower one layer at a time, tying each layer as I went. Here is a photo of the first layer. I put two medium and one small petal around the yellow center and tied it around the bottom of the petals.
For the second layer, I placed the large petal between the two medium ones, and finished the row with two small petals in between the petals in the previous layer. You can see how it turned out in the top photo.
And It All Goes Downhill From Here…
The green bud portion is folded over the pink bud, which has been rolled tightly. And this is where everything started to fall apart. The pink bud did not roll tightly, in any fashion. The only way it would have rolled is if I sewed it in place, and I was attempting to follow the directions as they were written. I finally got some semblance of the two layers together, which you can see in the top photo. They’re held together with some kind of Viking stronghold lacing and now they are afraid to move.
This is fastened to a short wire stem and wrapped with green floss. How short? What kind of wire? This is the first time wire appears in the instructions. I have some floral wire, and some a bit thinner than that, so I grab a length and snip off about four inches. I stick the end into the bottom of the finished bud and wrap about two and a half inches of it with green embroidery floss. A knot around the wire finishes off the wrapping near the bottom of the wire.
Attaching the Flower to a Wire
A flower is to be fastened on stem next — wrapping with floss as you go. This is all well and good. Do I fasten it to the wire I already started? Um… nope. No way to affix it to the wire at all. So I need a new wire. Got it. I cut a wire about eight inches and stuck it in the bottom of the flower. Then I started to wrap the wire with the green floss. And… it didn’t work. It bunched. It jumped. The bottom of the flower had no sloped edges to help it hold onto the wire. The green floss refused to wrap smoothly onto the wire. Along the way the outer layer of the petals started to fall off.
Along the way, the flower fell off the wire. Nowhere in the instructions did it tell me to attach it to the wire in any concrete way. I put the flower back onto the wire, and pushed it all the way through until it came through the yellow center. Then I bent the top of the wire into a small hook, and pulled it back down. Voilá! The wire stayed where it needed to stay.
Actually, only working with the inner layer of petals proved much easier. I attached the outer layer one petal at a time as I wound the green floss around the wire. A bit below the main flower, I added in the bud and continued to wrap with the floss.
Finishing the Stem
I wound the floss until about an inch and a half from the bottom of the wire. Then I bent the wire in a U, held the top against the stem, and wound the stem again. This time I caught the bare wire against the stem, finishing it off and making a finished end of stem at the same time.
Last, a long, slender leaf may be cut, pointing the tip. Fasten over stem and wind in to hold. There is no pattern for this leaf. In addition, the original green felt was far too small for a long, slender leaf. Putting reality aside, I cut a leaf from my own felt. Holding it against the stem I continued to wind upward until it was securely attached to the stem. Then I tied a nice solid knot to finish it off. I’ll work in the end of the thread later.
Your Surprise Gift
All in all, Your Surprise Gift wasn’t all it was promised to be. If the instructions were more clear, the project would be simpler to do. If all the pattern pieces had been included (I’m looking at you, Long Slender Leaf), that would be good, too. And if anyone at the company had bothered to try to make this before sending it out, that would have been excellent.
Another option would be to take the pattern as written and make the flower in crepe paper. It would be easy to do and probably turn out splendid. In fact, this whole project may have started as a crepe paper idea that was (sadly) transferred to felt.
I’m glad that I gave the project a try, but I certainly understand why so many Your Surprise Gift packages remain unmade. It would only take one for me to swear off them forever.
If you would like to try to make your own gladiolus, let me know how you get along. Below is a copy of the instructions and pattern along with a measurement. The page is 8.5 inches wide and about 2.75 inches high. Instructions were probably printed four to a page and cut apart for mailing.
Once you create a Twenties wardrobe, capsule or not, what are the 1920s wardrobe accessories that pull it together? Last time I talked about creating a Twenties capsule wardrobe. In this post I’ll suggest some add-ons that will make a Twenties outfit stand out. Incorporate a few of these ideas, or use them all to really expand your wardrobe and its capabilities.
Keep in mind that the traditional Twenties wardrobe contained few pieces. Most people didn’t have a closet filled with clothing. Clothes were expensive. The Twenties saw a time of inflation before the Great Depression that had everyone complaining about prices of everything from meat to the clothing budget. Generally, your typical Twenties woman had two to three dresses she wore at home, a visiting dress, perhaps a travel outfit, an evening gown if she moved in those circles, and a few other pieces. Separates such as those found in a capsule wardrobe would be a godsend to someone like this.
So if you begin with six pieces consisting of a travel or business suit, one extra skirt, and three blouses or tops, what will finish your wardrobe? Add one piece at a time, with thought, and you will soon have a beautiful selection of period reproduction garments from which to choose. One of the great benefits is that you can choose what you like from the decade, without the pressure to update your dresses each time the calendar turns.
Hats, Hats, Hats
The most obvious 1920s wardrobe accessories are the small items that finish an outfit. The hat at the top of this post, for instance, would make anyone look twice. Or choose a hat like this one, that gives you more flexibility. This one could top a suit just as easily as an afternoon outfit.
Twenties millinery can be as challenging as learning to work with blocks and wires, or it can be as simple as using a Twenties crochet hat pattern and decorating it to match various outfits. Some fabric hats, such as turbans, used no infrastructure at all.
Bags and Bling
Once you have something to top off the outfit, so to speak, you need a portable container for your things. Here are some options.
One of my favorites, I have this bag almost completed. When made with the size thread suggested, it comes out quite small, about eight inches in length. It would be enough to hold necessities for a day out, but little more. This is a general everyday bag or small workbag if you tat. Nothing much larger than a tatting shuttle, ball of thread, and current project will fit.
This type of handbag was knitted with seed beads. It sparkled every time its owner moved, and these were very popular. Interesting to note, these were not touted as evening bags. This was another type of everyday handbag.
Here’s another example of a beaded handbag. This time, the beads are embroidered onto a satin foundation, and then beads are attached in a netted fringe pattern along the bottom.
…And the bling
Hairstyle accents like this one added pizzazz to an outfit without requiring much storage space. 1920s wardrobe accessories like this dress up the outfits you have.
Belts, sashes, and corsages made from ribbon helped to heighten the dressiness and flash of an ensemble without replacing the dress underneath it. The belt above is made completely from pieces of ribbon, and hand sewn. The dress ornament below is also made from pieces of ribbon.
Ribbon corsages of all shapes and sizes attached to dresses, coats, capes, and hats to change the appearance to suit the wearer and the occasion. Often they were attached to long streamers or strips of lace and suspended from the low waistline of the dress, like this one. These additions pinned to the dress so they could be removed after the event, and they drew the eye away from a plain neckline.
Coats and Wraps
If you plan to go outdoors at all, and you live in an area that produces cold air and snow, you are going to need a cover. This might be something like the spectacular cape coat illustrated above. Or you may prefer an article like a full cape. Long capes were often utilized for evening wear. They gave warmth without crushing delicate lace or ruffles.
If classic is your goal, you might like this 1925 raincoat. With few alterations, these coats still appear in shops and online every year.
Sweaters and Overblouses
An easy way to add mileage to your wardrobe is to add sweaters and other knitted or crocheted items. Sweaters, tops, knitted dresses, shawls, and so on add versatility with just a few items. This knit dress with its matching hat is an example. You can find the entire book, with many sweater and knitted blouse options, from the Antique Pattern Library. View the images and download it here.
A simple cardigan can alter your look at the same time that it provides warmth. You only need one, if you want any at all. A sweater like this makes a great 1920s wardrobe accessory.
Another option is a filet crochet blouse that can go over a Twenties chemise or underskirt you already have. Relatively simple to make and memorable, these little overblouses were quite fashionable in the Twenties.
Shawls and Wraps
Add a shawl to your 1920s wardrobe accessories kit. A nice shawl dresses up an outfit and provides an extra layer if necessary. A shawl can be made from wool and fringed, like the one above, or it can be crocheted, like the one below.
This shawl can be used for dressy or not-so-dressy occasions. In fact, a large square shawl like this could see a lot of use in a Twenties wardrobe.
Making It Your Own
The best way to accessorize a wardrobe is to have a plan. My everyday modern wardrobe looks like it was assembled by a gerbil with ADHD. Don’t do that. Don’t be like me. Spend some time and determine what you want for the basics, and then build from there once you have it.
Looking at the cape coat above, for instance, makes me want to grab my pattern drafting paper and create one as the basis of my wardrobe. Perhaps that’s because I live in the Frozen North, and am looking out at a 12-degree Fahrenheit (-11 Celsius) morning as I write.
Weather aside, perhaps you have a dream and desire of holding historical tea parties. Then build your wardrobe around nice separates. Throw in a one piece dress if you like. Make sure you spend some time researching and making the most darling little tea apron you ever saw. It can be made from sheer organdy, or handkerchief linen, or a fabric you fall in love with. If that apron makes your heart sing every time you see it, you will enjoy every tea party you throw.