The Vintage Bookshelf · Vintage Entertainment

Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting

Partial cover to The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book. A young girl sits on a sofa surrounded by a yarn doll, balls of yarn. She knits with two very large knitting needles.
The cover of the Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book

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. 

Two baby dolls dressed in hand made outfits. One wears a blue cape, mittens, and matching knitted booties, while the other wears a pink sweater, bonnet, and matching booties.
Dress your baby dolls in the finest handmade outfits.

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 It may contain outdated references or illustrations, like most books from 1900-1930.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. 

A blonde doll ready for the outdoors. She wears a dark blue velvet coat and matching hat, a knitted shawl or scarf over the coat, and a fringed muff hangs from her neck.
Mary Marie ready for a day on the town

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. 

A young teen girl in 1916-1917 wears a long hip length knitted jacket with a wide belt.
Mary Frances can even knit herself a fashionable sweater.

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.

If you enjoy vintage knit and crochet projects, you might like this Twenties Crochet Wrist Bag or this 1950s Knit Potholder.

History · The Magazine Rack

Ivy for Gold Star Mothers: a WWI Memorial

WWI photo of five service men clustered around an upright piano. The pianist plays a popular war tune while the there sing. One stands back, leaning on the piano, smiling.
Armistice Day: Remembering the boys who didn’t come home.

In the July 1920 issue of Woman’s Home Companion, a curious editorial snippet offered ivy to Gold Star mothers. The little article was so unusual that it caught my eye. Gold Star mothers lost their sons during World War I. The gold star established that this mother’s son enlisted, and this mother’s son died. The editorial said:

“Shortly after the declaration of the Armistice, in November, 1918, an American woman went over the Argonne battlefield with her husband. The sky was serene and the cannon had ceased to roar; but over and under and through everything was the ruin of war––the shattered, blasted trees, shallow ditches where men had taken hasty refuge, pits made by bursting shells, and mounds that still sheltered the dead where they had fallen.

The ivy

“But along with the gray desolation there was the hushed beauty and serenity of the ‘big timber’ forest itself. On the very top of one of the great hills the woman found some ivy growing. The broken branches of the trees around it were shriveled with the gases from the shells and blackened with fire; but the ivy was growing out again, a sign and symbol of life pushing forth anew in the midst of death.

He seemed so young to me, not yet nineteen, killed in action October, 1918.

a bereaved mother

“The woman dug up the ivy and carried it in a paper package on the five days’ motor trip back. In Paris, the French gardener at her friend’s house revived it. When it was time to sail for America, the ivy was at least alive. In her stateroom, homeward bound, she placed it near the air, and it suddenly began to grow. It has continued to grow ever since.

“Now there are hundreds of little ivy plants from that one shoot, and more are coming all the time.

The offer

“Any American mother whose son was lost in the war, and who would like to have one of these plants as a sign of green remembrance––and as a token from another American mother whose own sons are far too young to have been in the great war––is asked to write to Mrs. Frank Vanderlip, Scarborough-on-Hudson, New York. In writing, please give the boy’s name, regiment and number, and the mothers’ full name and address.”

The response

As I read the short editorial I felt my eyes burn with tears. And I wondered… what was the response? Did anyone take this lady’s offer and send for a plant?

Well, reading on, it seems that they did. The October 1920 editorial page contained an update on the ivy and the mothers who requested it. I’ll reproduce this part in full as well, because I think it brings us back to the real meaning of Armistice Day, and what it cost. It reads:

“Up to August 1st more than 400 mothers had asked fo these little plants, and been supplied. There were letters from every state in the Union.

With the hope that it will climb up to the window of the little room where my baby slept so few years ago. He was seventeen when he enlisted.

A bereaved mother

“A reading of these letters has been a most touching experience, and has brought a realization of the consequences of war which the dispatches from the front never did. Just what to call the little ivies seemed often puzzling, and the request might be for a spring, plant, cutting, slip, bud, seed, sprout, start, root, or shoot. But what matter? It was to ‘Plant on my dear boy’s grave’ or ‘With the hope that it will climb up to the window of the little room where my baby slept so few years ago. He was seventeen when he enlisted.’

They were so young

“Perhaps there is no thing in the letters more noticeable than the youth of those who have gone. ‘My boy was eighteen,’ the mother writes, or ‘twenty,’ or ‘twenty-two.’ There can be no quarrel with the use of the word boy. There is another term often used which tells this even more simply: my child. ‘He was our only child.’ ‘He seemed so young to me, not yet nineteen, killed in action October, 1918.’ And the brave attempt, old as sorrow itself –– which is the oldest thing in the world –– somehow to connect everything with the one one who is gone. ‘I think this piece, perhaps, may have come from the vine my boy may have seen there in the Argonne the morning he was killed.’

“The young ivy plants seemed to be good travelers. ‘It was hardly wilted’ came from as far away as Mississippi. ‘The sprout seems to be doing fine,’ writes another. And this, breathing enthusiasm and true optimism: ‘It is growing nicely. Had another leaf before a week.’ ‘I’m sure it will respond to affection. Flowers and plants know the touch of love quite as well as humans.’

“A pleasant thought cropping out in many letters is expressed by one mother when she says, ‘And when the ivy grows I will give slips to other Gold Star mothers, the same as you have done.’ In the meantime, Mrs. Vanderlip, whose ‘thoughtfulness, sweetness, and kindness’ is mentioned in almost every letter, has more baby ivy plants and she will gladly send them to those mothers who ask.”

Passing it on

Hopefully, those plants did thrive. And maybe some of the ivy for Gold Star mothers survived well enough to send cuttings to other Gold Star mothers, who treasured their little memory of green from France. Today many wear red poppies on Armistice Day to never forget. Hopefully the healthy green ivy helped these families to remember those lives cut so short by war.

Something a bit different

If the 1916-1920 time period intrigues you, you might enjoy Cinderella’s Confession. This dates from the same time period, and is an advertisement from 1919 changed the course of advertising history.