Cone work was popular during the Victorian era. It made use of the
plentiful cones that could be found free around the yard and in parks
and forests. As per usual, Victorian ladies figured out how to make bowls, baskets, and shelves out of these. Here are some examples with directions for you to try.
This craft work is a prime example of the Victorian’s way of taking a mundane item and making it into something spectacular. Not only are the finished items very pretty but most of the materials needed (pine cones) were literally free.
Below are directions on how to make your own cone work items. These directions were published in Cassell's household guide. Cassell's household guide , c. 1865. The article has been edited for use on this site.
We now propose to offer a few suggestions for adding to the decoration
and attraction of home — the result chiefly arising from the experience
of a rather lengthy residence in the "Far West."
The young ladies of America understand well the art of turning everything to account, as well for ornament as for use. And what has hitherto by ourselves in England been considered as of no value, has by American taste been converted into pretty and useful articles, which make not only pleasing additions to one's own home, but provide an acceptable gift to a friend.
The collecting the necessary materials for the execution of cone work will be found an interesting pursuit, and will add much to the pleasure of a ramble in the woods. The best season of the year for procuring the requisites is in the autumn. Make up a party to go off on an exploring expedition, and do not forget the children, for they as much as any will enjoy a day in the woods, coupled with the important commission of filling their little baskets.
Make as varied a collection as possible of cones, or, as some say, "fir-apples," the husks of the beech-nut, acorns, with and without the saucer part, oak-apples, the cone of the cedar — and, indeed, of all coniferous trees ; nuts of different kinds, including the pea or ground-nut; but this particular kind can, we believe, be only obtained in this country by purchasing of a fruiterer. Even the knotted ends of small twigs mix in very nicely — the greater the variety the more pleasing the result.
You will be surprised to learn how much lies at your feet of interest, beauty, and use, which hitherto you have trodden upon as worthless, and which is available for domestic ornamentation.
Having collected a goodly stock of what the woods and lanes can give you, the next step is to prepare your supply for working. It is a good plan to sort the different things, putting each kind in a little box or basket: this method will be found to expedite matters considerably.
The large cones must be pulled to pieces — that is, strip off singly each scale, as they are needed for the foundation of the work. Take care of the extreme end or point of the cone, as you will find it come in nicely to add to the variety.
Click on image to see more detail.
We will commence our lessons in cone work by giving instructions for making a card-basket. Procure some strong cardboard, which cover with brown paper by means of glue or paste — the former is to be preferred; then, having chosen a shape, say Fig. 1 (above), cut out of the cardboard — shape A, Fig. 2 (below), about nine inches by seven; by carefully cutting with a knife you will save the centre piece, B, which forms the bottom; a straight strip about an inch and a half wide, and the length of the circumference of B, the centre piece being cut out, will give C.
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The handle can be straight, or shaped according to taste, as also the
height. These several pieces must be strongly stitched together, the
straight strip round B on its edge thus forming a sort of tray. Now take
C and sew its inner edge to the upper edge of the tray; in all cases
sew over and over, and as strongly as possible. After this is complete,
with the fingers gently bend margin C, so as to make it curve downwards,
which adds much to the gracefulness of the shape.
You now proceed to ornament your pasteboard basket. Begin by stitching, with strong black thread, all round the edge of C, the scales which you stripped off the large cones; they must be put on singly, and should overlap each other slightly. A second row must be added; then two rows the reverse way. You will now have a space uncovered with these scales, on this you must stitch all the various kinds you have in a rich wreath or border — the greater the variety the better. It will, of course, entirely depend upon the taste and ingenuity of the worker whether a well-arranged border round the basket be the result or not.
Care must be taken to entirely cover the cardboard, as spaces showing the framework would look bad. Many small things can be put in by means of glue; as, for instance, an acorn here and there, a tiny oak-apple, the extreme point of a cone, besides other things which will doubtless easily occur to the fair operator. A little ingenuity will suggest many ideas, which will all tend to the perfection and beauty of the work.
The handle requires to be done in the same way as the other part of the basket; but one row of the scales stitched at each edge will be found to be sufficient; and in making the wreath the smallest of the cones, &c., should be used, taking care to select the variety which has already been brought into use in the basket.
It is a good plan to stitch a round bonnet wire along the under side of the handle, which will strengthen it considerably, as well as allow of its being bent to a prettier, or the desired form.
Having proceeded thus far, the next thing to be done is to varnish your work, for which the best copal varnish must be used, applied with a camel-hair pencil of a moderate size, the utmost attention being paid to insert the brush into every little crevice; do not omit any part.
Having thoroughly varnished your basket, put it away in some place entirely free from dust, and let it remain a night, so that it may be perfectly dry before lining it. You may now make the lining, which should be of silk or satin, the colour, of course, as taste dictates; some bright colour looks best, such as amber, brilliant green, rose, or blue.
If intended for a gift, it is wise to choose a colour which will harmonise either by contrasting or matching the furniture of the room it is going to be placed in.
Amber does well for almost any other colour, and contrasts admirably with the brown tints of the cones.
Having made your choice, cut a piece of wadding the shape and size of the bottom of the basket, and also of the strip going round. Cover these on one side with the silk, and then stitch neatly together in the form of the basket. Put round the top a quilling of narrow satin ribbon, the same shade as the silk, and after having done the handle in the same way, and stitched it very strongly to the basket, put in this lining, which will fit without any further sewing.
The underneath part of the basket must have paper pasted over it to hide the stitches, and render your work perfectly neat and tidy. The basket will now be complete.
Click on image to see more detail.
A variety of both useful and ornamental articles can be
produced in this interesting and elegant work, possessing, as it does,
the charm of novelty, in being composed of the productions of Nature.
One of the nicest things to be made in it, is a cone work bracket for the wall, which will, have the appearance of carved oak. We will give instructions for making one, which will serve as well for other articles where the groundwork requires to be wood.
When you have collected a suitable and tasteful design, get the foundation made in common deal, unplaned will answer quite well, but have it stained a dark brown. Then, with some very strong glue, stick on the different kinds of cones, acorns, nuts, &c., in a tasteful manner.
Fig. 3 will give you an idea as to how a cone work bracket looks when finished;
but the arrangement must rest with yourself — a cluster of acorns
designed to represent a bunch of grapes looks well — care must be taken
to entirely cover the wood or foundation of the bracket. Of course, as
in the case of the basket, varnish must be applied at the completion of
Very nice Cone Work spill cups can be made, in precisely the same way, using empty wooden boxes. Very handsome boxes for envelopes, stereoscopic slides, &c., can be made by tastefully covering old cigar-boxes. Stands for hyacinth glasses, or vases of flowers can be produced by covering empty boxes in which gentlemen's collars have been kept. In this case the cones must be stitched on, as was done in the basket, using the "scales'' as the foundation.
In fact, the cones may be applied to the decoration of a great variety of articles which would be otherwise useless, and perhaps meet the fate of household rubbish generally.