by Tegan Kehoe
Apart from the familiar finds that I described in previous blog posts, and the fashions that are now vintage, the trove of old Needlecraft Magazines that Camille picked up contains some interesting parallels to the past. Since most of the issues we have copies of are from the early 1930’s, the concerns of the Great Depression are readily present. Much of it sounds familiar in our economically aware times – not just the concerns, but the way people turn to home crafts and do-it-yourself projects to save money or just to find new and affordable hobbies.
Old advertisements are an especially interesting window into the past, and the advertisements in Needlecraft during the Depression are very clearly targeted at money-conscious homemakers. One advertisement for baking powder starts off, “Getting married on $20 a week takes courage nowadays.” It lists the costs of the materials for a chocolate cake. The message? “It doesn’t pay to use a cheap, unreliable baking powder,” because you can’t risk a cake that doesn’t rise.
A series of advertisements for Lux brand cleaner shows teenage girls distressed over having to wear stockings with mended holes in them. The advertisements claim that their product is gentler than cake soap and saves stocking elasticity, prolonging the life of the stockings. Remember that in 1934, even women and girls who were not well-off wore silk stockings daily, as nylon stockings were not yet available.
In the January 1938 issue of Needlecraft, there’s an article you’d be unlikely to see in a magazine today. “Here Are Scotch Ways to be Thrifty: Economy and Good Looks Combine in Smart Scotch Designs and Fabrics” doesn’t make much sense to a modern ear, in fact, I had to look up the word Scotch to figure out what I was missing. As it turns out, calling someone “Scotch” is a now-obscure and offensive way to say they are thrifty. The article, which describes a number of crafts projects using plaid, thistle motifs, and green and purple scraps in home decorating, is based on punning two meanings of the word Scotch.
The magazine rarely references the economic condition of the times directly, but an exception is in the February 1934 issue. In an editor’s notes column titled “Our Rural Women Carry On,” the magazine quotes Dr. Warburton, director of extension work for the USDA. “Farm women have made a valiant effort to maintain a desirable standard of living for their families, in spite of the conditions during the last ten years.”
Dr. Warburton’s report describes women selling products from their gardens to supplement the main family income and reviving home industries to save money. “They make cheese and soap, can and cure meats, and can and dry vegetables and fruits.” The magazine also has a number of advertisements and some articles about canning and similar projects.
A lot has changed since the 1930’s, but considering that there’s been another resurgence of homemade products and canning in the last few years, not to mention in knitting and other crafts, it seems like people’s instinct to make something creative in the face of difficulty has not changed. While Museum Textile Services specializes in a different type of window into the past, the textiles themselves, these issues of Needlecraft Magazine have given us a lot to think about.
by Tegan Kehoe
In Part I of this series, I shared examples of crewel embroidery conserved at MTS and the early-20th-century Needlecraft Magazine article teaching needleworkers how to practice this craft. In Part II, we explore two more textile genres.
The July, 1934, issue of Needlecraft has an article about the timeless art of quilting. It features a quilt with a similarly geometric, symmetrical floral pattern, called “posies round the square.” The patchwork squares in both quilts are interspersed with sections of white quilted background.
The example above shows a quilt from this time period that was recently conserved by Museum Textile Services.The beautiful and intricate quilting pattern in the white section of this quilt is similar to some of the patterns used in the quilt shown in Needlecraft, and to patterns “J” and “G” at the bottom of the page. This quilt was wetcleaned and repaired by us in 2008 so that the owner could continue to gently use it on special occasions.
An article titled “Darning on a Filet Ground” appears in the February 1935 issue of Needlecraft, displaying work using the same technique as a set of place mats that MTS conserved, also in 2008. This craft is alternately called “filet darning,” “net darning” or “filet lace.” The article says that because the process is simple and quick, a set of curtains or placemats would be “by no means an over-ambitious undertaking even for the woman who has only a little time to give to needlework.”
The pieces that MTS conserved were a little more complex; instead of darning onto an existing net mesh, they were executed in filet crochet, which has a similar visual effect. One of the ways to tell the difference is to look at how the edges are done. Needlecraft Magazine explains how to finish the edges of the square mesh net that forms the base of the work by turning the edges under and hemming them. However, in the piece we treated, the edges have a crochet scalloped finish. Perhaps Needlecraft magazine would not have recommended crochet filet “for the woman who has only a little time,” but the effect is quite delicate.
These place mats were made by the owner’s grandmother. They came to us quite stained, and we washed them in Sodium Borohydride, an effective and gentle method of bleaching. At the completion of the project, the owner kept four of the place mats as they are, and had two of the place mats framed to give to her children.
Looking through Needlecraft Magazine is a blast from the past, and is also a reminder of the timelessness of so many of the textile arts that we are fortunate to conserve at MTS.
by Tegan Kehoe
Museum Textile Services recently acquired a number of issues of “Needlecraft: The Home Arts Magazine.” The magazine was published in the first half of the 20th century and these examples are from the 1920s and 30s. Several articles feature the same needlecraft techniques as those in some of the textiles that we have conserved!
One example, from the February 1934 issue of Needlecraft, shows crewel embroidery, or crewelwork. Crewel, as the article explains, is distinguished from other styles of embroidery because it is done with wool yarn rather than silk or cotton thread. The result is a bold pattern that can be made with a wide variety of stitches. Most articles in Needlecraft do not include the patterns, which were sold separately, but they do include detailed descriptions of the process. This article describes patterns for a set of bookends, a cushion, and a handbag.
One crewel embroidery object that Museum Textile Services has restored is an early 20th century chair. The embroidery was done by the owner's grandmother, who was no doubt exposed to magazine articles such as ours. The family still uses the chair, so the goal of conservation was to repair and stabilize the fabric for continued use.
Both the chair and the patterns from the magazine are reflective of Jacobean style, which hearkens back to 17th-century England but has stayed popular for crewel embroidery over the centuries. This style was especially popular during the early 20th-century revival of interest in colonial-era crafts. Jacobean embroidery features stylized plants and forest animals, such as the flowers, birds, and butterflies shown here.
More recently, the MTS study collection received a donation of crewel-embroidered curtains made by the mother of one of our clients. The client is downsizing her home and can only fit part of her mother's impressive needlework legacy. What makes this donation all the more meaningful is the discovery that the client graduated from Oberlin College in the same class as Camille's mother!
Stay tuned for more examples of textiles conserved at MTS that we learned more about from Needlecraft Magazine.