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.