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.

Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack

Poem: July

A girl waters flowers in a 1920s illustration. A house sits in the background. Picture accompanies a poem, July, by Susan Swett.
Warm weather, beautiful flowers… it must be July!

This month’s poem, July by Susan Swett, is an old one. The poet died in Boston in 1907.

Susan lived with her younger sister Sophie, and both made their living as writers. Susan wrote poems and short stories. Her sister wrote stories and for a while was an editor of Youth’s Companion magazine. Susan’s poems appeared in children’s magazines like St. Nicholas as well as periodicals aimed at adult readership.

Of all her work, July is probably Susan Swett’s most famous poem. It appeared in children’s readers, women’s magazines, and you can find it online today.

Life of the poet

Born in Maine in 1843, Susan wrote one book of short stories, Field Clover and Beach Grass. It was published in 1898. A regional writer, her stories focus on the New England area that she knew. Much of Field Clover and Beach Grass is written in a New England dialect. However, she wrote her poems in standard English.

Published the day after her death, her obituary says, “her poems… reflected in a peculiarly happy manner the writer’s intimate knowledge of nature and her fondness for birds and flowers and all the various phases of the outdoor world. She was a ‘nature lover’ in the broadest and best sense, and though her fine talent for writing was for many years hindered by impaired health she has left many word-pictures of field and forest and garden that are deemed among the best of their kind.” (The Boston Globe, Jan 1, 1908.)


I hope you enjoy this month’s magazine poem, July, by Susan Swett. It appeared in a copy of Needlecraft magazine in the early 1920s.

by Susan Hartley Swett 

When the scarlet cardinal tells
  Her dream to the dragon-fly,
And the lazy breeze makes a nest in the trees,
  And murmurs a lullaby––
    It is July.

When the tangled cobweb pulls
  The cornflower's cap awry,
And the lilies tall lean over the wall
  To bow to the butterfly
    It is July.

When the heat like a mist-veil floats,
  And poppies flame in the rye,
And the silver note in the streamlet's throat
  Has softened almost to a sigh––
    It is July.

When the hours are so still that time
  Forgets them and lets them lie
Neath petals pink till the night stars wink
  At the sunset in the sky––
    It is July.

If you would like to read other poems that magazines of the day thought their readers might enjoy, see A Song of June and Hurdy Gurdy Days.

Decorations and Decor · Parties and Visits · The Creative Corner

Make Your Porch a Summer Room

Illustration of a summer room front porch with a porch swing, rug, two chairs, and a small side table with a table lamp, reading books, and a plant.
Inviting furniture, outdoor lamps, and a few good books make a popular warm weather spot.

Doesn’t this scene make you want to curl up with a good book or that project you’ve been hoping to start? This is a perfect illustration of a porch used as a summer room. Before air conditioned houses and apartments people moved outdoors in warm weather. Houses were hot, and people needed alternatives.

Not only were houses hot, but they could also seem claustrophobic in warm weather. The very house that seemed so cozy during the wintertime might feel oppressive during the hot summer months. Changing curtains and pillows from winter to summer fabrics helped. The best result, however, came from moving meals and entertainment to a whole new area.

Living and dining outdoors

The porch became the summer living room, and sometimes the warm weather dining room as well. Breakfasting on the porch could be delightful in the right weather, not to mention weekend luncheons and weekday dinners.

Black and white photo of a wooden table and chairs on a tile outdoor patio floor. A light hangs from the ceiling and an open arch leads outdoors.
A small but effective outdoor eating area.

A visitor who stopped on a nice day rarely made it into the house during the summer months. The hostess didn’t lack in hospitality or manners. She entertained in the most inviting area possible. Drinks and snacks made their way from the household kitchen to the front porch for relaxed, breezy socializing.

A porch with screens fitted to porch openings was ideal, but not everyone had those. Usually the porch had some kind of roof or covering. You see that in all the examples shown here. To be cool, an outdoor oasis needed to be out of the sun. Even a good awning could provide that at the right time of day.

Inside of an enclosed front porch of a 1920s home. Two large windows to the left sit above two chairs and a small table. In the middle of the room a table for four sits. The table is decorated with a flower arrangement.
An enclosed porch offers space to get away and relax.

Furnishing the outdoor space

All rooms need furnishings and the outdoor summer room was no exception. Furniture included comfortable chairs, couches, and a small but sturdy occasional table. Sometimes the table was made of wicker, while other times one of painted wood took its place as book and lamp-holder. Even if the porch included a ceiling light in the center, a table lamp or two gave a nice touch of comfort to the outdoor room. (Be sure to keep it unplugged when not in use if it’s outdoors. Summer storms can be quick and violent, as we all know.)

An indoor/outdoor mat or rug often found its way to the porch for the summertime as well. It helped to contain dirt tracked from the street and made the area look a bit more homey.

Fabrics used for porch cushions and pillows needed to withstand the season’s changing weather then as they do now. Today you can purchase beautiful pads for outdoor furniture, or make your own from a fabric like Sunbrella. Fabrics of the Twenties included stripes in greens and browns, heavy denim weave fabrics in colors other than denim blue, and bright plastic-like oilcloth.

Porch decorated with wicker couch, two chairs, and two small tables. Trees and foliage appear in the background.
Festive stripes and wicker furniture decorate this porch room.

Most of all, the colors of a porch decorating scheme were bright and inviting. Small spots of red, yellow, and black might offer a welcome contrast to more cooling colors like greens, blues, lavenders, or grays. A red and gray pillow on a gray chair, for instance, is very vintage. And quite welcoming.

Take a look at your own outdoor space and see how it can become a vintage-style living room. If you want something to serve your first porch guests, you’ll find these Sweet and Savory Sandwiches quick to fix and easy to serve.

Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack

Poem: A Song of June

Image is a close shot of marigolds and coleus with a background of fir tree.
A profusion of summer marigolds and coleus brighten the day.

Every month’s magazine delivery brought a new poem to read, ponder, and savor. Some, like A Song in June, were pretty enough to memorize. Others made the reader think. A few caused the reader to cringe. At least, I hope they did. Every now and then one of these poems makes me cringe.

While the month’s poem or poems may sit on any random page, waiting to be discovered much like today’s weekly poetry in the New Yorker, they ususally appeared on the first printed page. Somewhere below the masthead, among the editorials and shameless plugs to buy from the advertisers, you find the poem. Often it spoke of the seasons or an upcoming holiday. Once in a while it extolled the wonders of needlework or baking. Regardless where you found it, it was always there, waiting for you.

Today’s poem, A Song of June, was penned by poet Helen Coale Crew. Helen wrote poetry, short stories, essays, and children’s books. School readers, poetry anthologies, Harper’s Magazine, and Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine published her work. However, today she is an almost unknown author. Wikipedia contains no entry on her. You can find only one or two of her poems online. A dedicated search turns up a short story or two.

If you opened your much-anticipated June 1920 magazine issue, you found this poem. Not very long, it brought the joy of June right to your front porch as you sat reading with a fresh cup of coffee or tea. Here it is.

A Song of June

by Helen Coale Crew (1920)

Oh hear!   Oh hear!
June draweth near;
    I know it by the trilling clear
From bluebird's breast
When from his nest
    He rises in the golden air.

Oh, see!   Oh, see!
How yonder tree
    Is clothed in white, all maidenly;
While every bloom
Sweet with perfume,
    Is plundered by a dusty bee.

Oh, smell and taste!
For now in haste
    The sun is opening every flower.
See yonder rose
Its heart disclose,
    June ripens in one perfect hour!

One of the reasons for blogging about vintage poetry is to introduce poets both remembered and forgotten. So many good writers faded into obscurity when their particular style fell from fashion. I want to bring some of them back. They need to be known, read, and remembered. Sometimes I may even reproduce one of those cringey poems for your enjoyment.

In case you wonder about this poet, Helen was born Helen Cecelia Coale in Baltimore City, Maryland in December of 1866. She died in Evanston Illinois in 1941 and is buried in Ohio. Her husband Dr. Henry Crew taught physics at Northwestern University in Illinois, and was known for authoring General Physics, a college textbook of the Teens and Twenties. They had three children.

If you loved this poem, A Song in June, you might also like Aegean Echoes, a book of poetry that Helen wrote in 1911. You can find it here to read or download at the Internet Archive. A quick search of the Archive, while you’re there, will show you several books you can check out to read, but that are still under copyright.

If you enjoyed this selection, you may also want to read my post about Hurdy-Gurdy Days, a poem about spring.