What holiday suggestions did Victorian ladies get when the Christmas season rolled around? Believe it or not, they received plenty. Almost every magazine had a list of the perfect gifts, whether hand-made or purchased. The following suggestions were published in 1895 to help those who were searching for that “perfect gift.”
By Mrs. M. C. Hungerford, Harper's Bazaar, 1895.
Edited for use on this site
The materials for fancy-work, when of the best, are really very
expensive, and many person with “short purses” find themselves unable to
show forth their excellent taste
because of the cost. It has occurred to me that in preparing for
Christmas giving it might be a fine idea to select for presents to
industrious girls some of the beautiful artistic pieces block out for
working that are offered at the better sort of fancy-work
From five to fifty dollars is the price asked for some of the Berlin squares with a corner or centre worked as a model for continuance, and with carefully selected wools and silks accompanying. I think such a gift would charm an enthusiastic worker, whose own means have made the purchase unattainable, more than a trinket of the same money value. They tell me in the shops that the fancy for Berlin or canvas work rather grows than diminishes, and that chair seats, cushions, and screen panels are the articles which most favorable lend themselves to the use of the new-old hand decorated fabric, although there are other admirable uses for canvas coverings.
Some housekeepers fancy large and handsome pin-cushions, even though
modern fashion condemns their use. It is not too easy for eyes that time
has unfocussed to find the right size of pin among a multitude in a
tray without resorting to a hurried fumbling for glasses, and for such
handicapped women a generous pin-cushion with its easily found pins is a
blessing. But as a concession to fin de siècle
notions the old woman consents to have the broad cushion softly and
flatly filled, instead of stuffed with cannon-ball firmness, as it used
to be in old times.
The Berlin-work just mentioned comes in very satisfactorily as cover for such a pin-cushion for those persons not wedded to the idea that a cover must be white, adjustable, and washable. It was once common, and it might be again, to work in small letters on the canvas a line or couplet in Berlin stitch, enclosed within a wreath or chaplet or flowers or leaves. “To X.Y.Z., from one who loves her,” is the legend on my great-aunt’s big and faded pin-cushion, and the environment is, I blush to confess, an arrangement of blue rose buds. The edge to round or square needle-worked cushions may be a frill of ribbon of suitable color, or three strands of thick silver or silk cord loosely braided; or one row of heavy cord may cover the seam, with a large short tassel to match added to each corner if the cushion is square or oblong. If it is round the best finish is a wide ribbon box-pleated through the center, and set on so that the upper part will stand up around the circle like a fence.
A bag is one of the most acceptable of gifts, and of making bags there is no end, for a use can be found for every size, shape,
and material in which they enter society or hid in closets. Among the
latter the shoe-bag and laundry-bag, the stocking and rag bags, are the
most indispensable, and no housekeeper, unless oversupplied, regrets
finding one of either among her holiday gifts. Brown linen, heavy duck,
and bedticking are the materials preferred for these homely bags, and
such ornament as one feels like giving them is generally suggestive of
A scroll, or even a diagonal band, can be worked across a bag, and used as a ground for some appropriate motto. Students of Shakespeare can usually find a suitable motto for any article, even if its use is very humble. There is a fabric this year which is much liked for making into belt-bags. It is so heavily studded with jet as to look, although woven, almost like the jet crochet work.
An easily made and most useful bag to hang on a desk is made of two flat
sides of pasteboard covered with yellowish hollands. A four inch broad
ribbon is gathered upon three sides of each board, like a puff. The
upper side is the opening, and strings of narrower ribbon are attached
to the corners for hanging the bag. On one board is embroidered, in
letters the color of the ribbon, the words, “For unanswered letters.”
Another home-made desk convenience is a case for newspaper clippings. To
make it, one must procure half a dozen large cloth-lined envelopes, and
have two eyelets punched in the lower edge of each. This can be done at
the saddler’s if the home tool-chest does not contain a punch.
Two covers, like book sides, are cut of stiff pasteboard, and covered with figured silk or any material liked. The envelopes are held together by cord passing through the eyelets, and tied loosely enough to give room for the filling which will gradually accumulate in the envelopes.
On the flap of each one may be written single words indicating their purpose — Politics, Science, etc. — or the indexing may be left to the person who is to use the case. Holes are pierced in the cover, and handsome flat cut-steel buttons put over them, the eye being pushed into the hole, and the covers held in place by sewing each button across to the one on the other side with strong shoe thread. Of course the thread must pass through the holes in the envelope.
The covers may fasten together at the top with ribbons, left long enough to tie. If a plain material is chosen, there is opportunity for painting or embroidery or lettering on the covers.
One of the little things that help to fill up at a fair is a scissors-protector, which is a large cork, covered, except on one end, with red silk crochet-work. The points of the scissors are stuck into the cork when not in use, and some confusion is spared in the work-box.
At the “Ladies’ Repository” is shown a table centre with doilies to
match, which even one inexpert at fine embroidery might readily achieve.
The result is very elegant, too, and the same method might be applied
to other articles. A square of linen is crossbarred with lines of
Honiton braid, which is secured by a far-apart button-holing done with
loosely twisted pink embroidery silk. Under the braid the linen is cut
away, leaving lacelike transparency.
The plain places between the intersections are about an inch of linen each, and are filled with a spidery covering of long stitches taken from edge to centre with pink silk. At the edge of the centre piece the ends of braid projecting from the crossed lines are joined together to form points or scallops. The oval o lozenge forms, if preferred, can be turned and sewing into a trefoil edge.
The doilies are made in the same way, except that about three inches of linen is left plain in the center of each. Centre piece and doilies may be made circular instead of square by regulating the situation of the braid. If would be well before basting on the latter to cut a paper pattern and draw lines upon it. This, if made of tissue-paper, can be tacked upon the linen, and afterward torn away from the stitching.
The latest suggestion for doilies comes from a Mexican lady, although it does not partake of the idea we associate with the delicate fancy-work of her country. The material is primarily a circle of fine linen, on the centre of which is secured a square of bolting-cloth, with the corners reaching to the button-holed edge of the linen. Tied into this same edge is an inch-wide fringe of heavy white silk.
The four plain sections of linen are ornamented by stemless daisies worked with white floss-silk. The bolting-cloth square is fastened to the linen, which is afterward cut away from behind it to leave the thin material transparent.
To illustrate the variety possible, the maker left some of the doilies with untouched centers to allow the decoration of fine china plates to sow. Others, which were intended for use upon glass plates, were beautifully painted with Parma violets. It might be apropos here to mention a process that has been suggested for making painting on fabrics capable of being washed. A German art journal says that thinning oil paints with a certain mixture will render them water-proof. The formula is three ounces of turpentine, twelve drops of pure vinegar, six drops of lemon extract. Before the painted material is washed for the first time, it should be soaked in rain-water and sugar of lead, in the proportion of a teaspoonful of the latter to a gallon and a half of water. In painting upon bolting-cloth, blotting paper-paper should always be laid underneath to prevent the colors spreading on the fabric.
Silk lamp shades are now made with oval panels of painting or embroidered bolting-cloth let in between the ribs, upon which ruffles of the silk or of lace are put on from the lower edge to the top with jabot effect. The introduction of the thin material allows more light to shine out from the lamp, and if that is an objection a backing of sarsenet silk of the thinnest quality can be put back of the panels.
Among the ornamental useful articles that person fond of knitting can
make at moments is a cover for a ball of twine or druggest’s cord,
either of which is indispensable in a household. It is made of knitting
silk in scarlet and gray, or in any two distinct colors. Cast on forty
stitches, and knit seven rows of each color alternately, till the strip
is long enough to fit over the all. Sew the piece together on the wrong
side, gathering one end, and sew on a flat bow of ribbon. Put in the
ball of cord, first drawing the end of the cord from the centre.
Draw the upper part of the knitted piece up, and sew upon it a small ring covered with crochet-work. This is to allow the end of the cord to slip through. Strings of ribbon or cord and tassels can be attached to he ring to hang the article up by. The stitch used is the ordinary garter stitch, and the needles should e No. 14, unless the knitting is extremely tight, when a larger size will be required.
Young ladies who have brothers, or even friends who are not relations,
at college may like to make pin-cushions for them in the shape of a
tennis racket and ball in the college colors. The ball, as large as a
small orange, is made of corded silk cut into melon shape pieces, and
neatly sewed together. Secure to the ball, and partly resting upon it,
is a racket made of two thicknesses of pasteboard, each covered with
silk, and seamed together around the edge like a pocket pin-cushion. The
handle is wound with silk twist. The edge of the racket is studded with
pins, and the ball of course is stuffed with bran, or any filling that
allows pins to be put in easily. Both racket and ball can be fastened
down upon a square of silk-covered pasteboard.
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