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:
- the pattern
- 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.
And here’s a copy you can print.
If you enjoy working with felt, you might also like these Spring Bookmarks.