Old-School Embroidery Take II

When we lived in Paris I picked up a few vintage linen dishcloths at a flea market. What was unusual about them was that they had never been embroidered, so I did some internet research and created my own simple monogram to match the classically simple red-stripe design. Check out that project here.

Embroidered dish cloths are old school, literally. In the time period I study (late nineteenth-century France) girls learned how to embroider, knit, and sew in school. They also learned basic reading, writing, and math skills, but until the twentieth century the curriculum for girls and that for boys were drastically different. Not cool. What would be cool is if everyone learned needlework skills and science. Can’t we all benefit from using both sides of our brains?  This fall I’m giving a paper on one woman’s interesting educational theory for girls during this period. Maybe I’ll try to justify spending more time crafting as part of my “research.”

But back to the dish cloths: When it came time to celebrate my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Kendra, I thought I’d give her a French monogrammed dish cloth as a gift for the occasion of her bridal shower.

Since working on that first project I’ve discovered a fabulous site with vintage embroidery patterns that you can find here. I browsed around and came across a script alphabet that I think I prefer to the one I used on my own dish cloth.

Check it out here. See anything missing above? No W – this is actually quite common in French patterns (words that use W’s are only recent additions to French). I suppose you could just put two V’s together… Taking a look again, there isn’t a separate I or J, either. I guess you would use them interchangeably? Luckily I only needed the letters K and B this time.

After downloading the above file, I used the screen capture function on my computer to “cut” the letters I needed and then lined them up in Preview to create my custom cross-stitch pattern.

I then embroidered the initials onto the dish cloth, not worrying too much about finding exact squares, although it was fairly easy to do so on the thick linen.

Voilà. A little touch of everyday French elegance.

Hand-Made Gifts

We have received some beautiful hand-made gifts from friends and family. I just had to share some of these!

First, this darling little gnome that my sister, Monica made (she also made the “J” memory box):

Monica used these instructions from Craftster user Julieko to make this toy. She used all recycled materials: the towel and felt were scraps she had on-hand.

Our friend Bess made us some cute burp cloths and a bib, both using vintage fabrics. I love, love, love the style!

The terrycloth backing is complete with a personalized label:

Bess’s work always looks so amazinging and professional! The accompanying card was embroidered and says “bébé.” So cute.

One of my mom’s friends made this retro cowboy picture frame. It’s proudly on display next to the cowboy boots my dad got for Baby J:

The “Paris” bear on the left was Seth’s first gift to the baby.

Finally, this diaper bag isn’t hand-made, but I wanted to include a picture of it (and that French “Welcome Baby” bag from Fragonard in Paris). My mom got it for me, along with a matching laptop case. Can’t forget that I’ll need to have baby stuff and dissertation stuff with me!

Marie Claire Idées Spring Issue

We are back from a wonderful trip in Barcelona, and I have a lot of blogging to do about that. But first, look what came in the mail today! Probably one of the best ever issues of my favorite magazine, Marie Claire Idées.

Marie Claire Idées Spring Cover

Why is this one so awesome? For starters, there is a whole section on crafts inspired by cabbage and broccoli. Who would’ve thought of that? A crochet cabbage purse? Awesome.

Marie Claire Idées Spring 1

French samplers always seem to look cooler than the ones I grew up with. While I am not as ready as my friend Julie is to take on one of these, I do think the cross-stitch looks chic, and quite lovely over the beige fabric.

Marie Claire Idées Spring ABC

Maybe I’m getting a little excited for nothing big, but as some of you know, I have been collecting teacups from all over the world for the last 15 years. This issue devotes eight pages to English teacup-inspired crafts, from candelabras to mosaic dressers to a lamp made of stacked teacups and pots. Heaven!

Marie Claire Idées Spring Teacups

As always, the photography is very inspiring and makes me want to paint the walls pink and embroider every cloth in sight. I’m looking forward to reading the article on organic and natural cosmetics, as well as turning your kitchen “green” (literally and figuratively), with lots of crafts using recyclables. But first, I should really get back into organizing my Barcelona photos!

Mid-Project Madness

What’s this mess all about?

Embroidered Leaves Etc

These days, every surface seems to be covered in some sort of project. Cookie tins and edible makings are in a pile near the kitchen table, balls of yarn and needles on my nightstand, beaded snowflakes hanging in the kitchen, design magazines spread all over the dresser… So when I decided to start yet another DIY holiday project, this little basket bench was my last resort.

I went to a charity sale with a friend and they had some craft supplies: namely, the white felt leaves above. They are thicker than regular felt (I’d say about 3 times as thick), and more stiff. You could probably find this sturdy felt in a craft store and then cut out your own shapes (using a cookie cutter or other design). My first thought was to turn them into ornaments. But then I realized these are just the right size to make very festive coasters for my aunt. Red and white is my preferred, cheery color combination of the moment, so I’ve just taken some red embroidery floss (from my monogrammed dishcloths), and have made a simple stitched border around each one. It’s pretty plain but I kind of think it’s cute. Perhaps they could use a tad more embellishment, like little snowflake shapes or something to make each one different (there are 10 in all).

I’ve got plenty of polka-dot ribbon (from a bootee project gone awry) that could be incorporated in some way (or not), and those little cards are French vintage holiday greetings. More of those to come. It’s all a work in progress, as you can see, and I hope to have some finished product pictures up in the next couple of days, when really, most of them should be done.

Vintage Crafts: Winter Edition

 Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p1
As you may remember, I have a stack of old craft magazines that date from the 19th century to the 1950s, thanks to a friend of mine saving them from a garbage pile. Last May this post featured the June 1949 issue of Mon Ouvrage. Now that there’s a chill in the air, I thought I’d share with you one of the winter editions. Today, excerpts from the January 1950 issue.

While some of the crafts and decorating projects are so dated they’re kitschy, I find that others are still useful and could be updated in today’s materials and colors. The caplet, especially, is tempting me at the moment.

Each issue of Mon Ouvrage usually has 24 pages, but unfortunately the middle section of this particular issue is missing. Judging by the page just before the missing ones, my guess is that it was about lingerie. Not the most charming of styles anyway, so no matter!

If you’d like me to send you the full-size scan of any of these pages, just let me know by e-mail or in the comments section.

Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p2
Going on a ski trip? Don’t forget to make your own sleeping bag first.

Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p3
Decorating project: a modern living room!

Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p4
This is the caplet pattern I’m talking about. Without that ribbon and a little less baggy, and this could be the perfect cover-up for a holiday party. Here’s a close-up:

Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p4 Detail

Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p7

Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p16
An embroidered collar.

Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p18
Ski Sweaters (from the cover)

Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p22
Knit dresses for girls

Mon Ouvrage Jan 1950 p24
Detail from the back cover: embroidered coasters

Better Than Bunnies: Handmade Gifts

Christmas Story Bunny

Remember the bunny costume Ralphie’s aunt so lovingly imposed on him? This is the image many people picture when thinking about handmade gifts. So now that I’ve pledged to have a 100% handmade holiday season, how can I avoid being that relative?

I’ve spent a bit of this chilly Sunday gleaning my favorite crafty sites for some tutorials and simple gift ideas for everyone on my list. Here goes…

For Crafty Hipsters
Star-Shaped Books Tutorial on Craftster ~a little paper book you make yourself that folds out into a star; a great stocking stuffer for anyone, really, just pick graphics and papers that correspond to the receiver. I will be making dozens of these with my leftover papers.
Coffee and Hand Warmer ~think tea cozy for your coffee mug. Keeps coffee hot and hands from being scalded.
Funky Travel Bag ~tutorial for a travel bag that could also be used for groceries or as a gym bag.
Thin Credit Card Wallets ~who uses checkbooks anymore? cut out the bulk and try out this little sewing project.
Crafty Tool Belt ~for fixing, gardening, and general DIY

Heather Bailey’s Headbands ~a sweet and stylish accessory for girls aged 4-104
Felted Gifts out of Old Sweaters ~make stuffed things or wearables out of sweaters you no longer wear by felting them in the washing machine
Mittens ~these are still one of my quickest “wow” projects, but still require a few hours to make one pair.

Rock Candy ~make the candy to give away, or create a do-it-yourself kit for a kid to make it on their own.
Candied Citrus Peels ~winter is actually citrus season, so enjoy your Florida oranges and save the peels!
Peppermint Marshmallows ~Heather Bailey tried it using this recipe.
Recipes in a Jar ~They look cool if you layer the ingredients and make a cute little label to go along. If you live abroad, give a recipe for a cultural favorite, like pancake mix, chocolate chip cookies, or muffins.

For the Wee Ones
Homemade Playdough ~the smell that I will forever associate with my childhood. It’s simple and children will have fun helping. The cooked version will last the longest.
Basic Bib ~get festive with fabrics to make it fun.
“Taggie” Blanket ~little ribbons for little fingers to play with.

And Others
Felt Bird Ornament ~birds are popping up allover in fabric and graphic arts. This pattern has the look of a Scandinavian Christmas. Leave out the embroidery and opt for a simple embellishment (one bead eye?) and they should be quick.
Beaded Snowflake Ornaments ~see my (as mlle_rachelmarie) 2003 version on page 3 of this link.
Circuit Board Art ~for the geeks on your list (or if you are the geek in the family), make shapes or get creative to make lampshades and coasters.
Knit Dishclothes ~this reminds one of housework (such a downer), but you can make them fun by knitting a shape into the cloth. Just chart it out on graph paper and switch from knit to purl (or purl to knit) to create a bump for every square. Your pattern can range from the sweet to the obscene, but it’s always subtle.
Washclothes ~Similar to the dishclothes, but for exfoliating properties, my favorite pattern is just using a simple basket weave stitch and two strands of cotton yarn.
Snowman Pencils ~they look cooler than they sound, I promise.
DIY Digital Photo Frame ~a project only the ultimate crafter should take on. Have an extra old laptop laying around?

Monogrammed Dish Cloth

I am back in New York City for a little over a week, for an academic conference. But I have managed to find a little bit of free time to finally share with you the monogrammed dish cloth I finished last week.

Monogrammed Dish Cloth

I used cross stitch designs from a vintage craft book available online at the Antique Pattern Library. What a wonderful resource! and I love old books…

Cross Stitch R     Cross Stitch W

The most challenging part was finding the “squares” on the cloth I was going to use for the cross stitch. Because the dish cloth is made out of linen, the threads are a bit raw in places and vary in thickness.  It’s just a dish cloth, though, so why worry? Winging it paid off.

Can you believe this is what young girls used to learn how to do in school? I assure you, they also learned reading, writing, and arithmetic. But I find it interesting the way these monogrammed linens carry the memory of women through the generations. They may have changed their names when they married, but their maiden initials remain and are passed down on these everyday objects.

You could probably also argue that they were unglamorous objects, worn away by household chores and later forgotten – much like the (imagined) housewives of yesteryear, but I would have to disagree: you have not felt the durability and quality of these dish cloths! Some women still use their great-grandmother’s linens.  I find the tradition neat, even though 1. I did not change my name when I married Seth, 2. if I had, my initials would not have changed, and 3. I let my dishes air dry. Sometimes it’s fun to create “vintage” family heirlooms, though, and add a little je ne sais quoi to the daily chores.

Marie Claire Idées Craft Fair

This past weekend was the craft fair hosted by my favorite quarterly magazine, Marie Claire Idées, and held at the Louvre. I went on Sunday with my friend Julie (of Knit-in-Public Day fame).

Marie Claire Idées Sign

We didn’t attend any of the instructional sessions, but that was okay, since you could pick up directions for the “before and after” projects.

Marie Claire Idées Avant/Apres

The exhibition halls were divided according to type of craft: yarn&fabric, home decorating, paper… My favorite section was the yarn& fabric one, with all of the soft yarns, pattern ideas, and quilting fabrics. The prices were a little shocking, however. Four euros for a piece of fabric measuring only 50x50cm (that’s only 1/4 of a square meter!). Luckily, I found a 2? bin and found some prints I liked for my next quilting project; what that project will be is still a mystery to me. What is sure is that I will be finding the rest of the necessary material in the States or in second-hand shops!

In French, quilts are called “patchworks,” and why not? They’ve chosen the name for the piecing instead of the quilting, which is usually what we picture when we think of quilts anyway. The patchwork/quilting stands at the fair were beautiful. I particularly appreciated the “Frenchness” of the majority of the quilt designs. One vendor was selling directions for making a quilt out of your own family heirlooms: Grandma’s monogrammed napkins, your aunt’s antique curtains, redwork embroidery, Mom’s red-striped tea towels (and you know how much I love those!) Mostly in red and ivory patterns, it was definitely a French-country look. Sophisticated but slightly rustic. Definitely timeless. Check out this article about French quilting traditions. I’m only sorry I didn’t take pictures of what I’m talking about.

The popular yarn company Phildar was well-represented with their own knitting bar (which reminded me of so many knitting cafés in New York City) and a whole wall of gimmicky yarns with hot-pink fur-like fringe, curly queues, etc. Not my usual cup of tea, but it had a lot of people excited about crafting, so what’s the harm?

Marie Claire Idées Knit Bar

I was determined to find some yarn for my own mittens and purchase it from one of the other vendors, but in the end, Phildar had a color that matched my coat the best. So in spite of quite a rude sales associate and my best intentions, I came home with two skeins of almost 100% acrylic Phildar yarn called “Wilky.” Boo.

Wilky Yarn
Wilky Yarn, in “Naturel” (photo from Phildar’s website)

The mittens are knitting up nicely, however, thanks to a combo of “Wilky” and some left over camel hair yarn from my stash. The wool mittens I made for Seth last year were a tad itchy, so this time I am not such a purist. More to come about that project!

Embroidered Monograms

Embroidered W

Back in the day, young girls learned in school how to embroider their sheets, dish cloths, table cloths, and napkins, all of which would make up their trousseau to begin keeping house once they married. The original purpose of a sampler was to practice the skills needed to complete this rite of passage into womanhood. Of course, women also didn’t have the right to vote or even open a bank account, but outside of my dissertation work, I prefer to idealize “the day” by focusing on the beautiful handiwork that made everyday objects so cheerful and personal.

Embroidery Straight StitchI have a wonderful collection of vintage craft magazines, but never underestimating the possibilities of scholarly websites, I’ve found some fun old books without digging through flea market boxes. The Project Gutenberg, for example, which provides online texts of works whose copyright has expired, has on its site this beautiful and extremely detailed Alsacian Encyclopedia of Needlework, translated into English and complete with diagrams (above and at right).

The quintessential object for monogramming, at least in France, is the dish cloth. Oh how cheerful are those ivory linen rectangles with variations on red stripes! I just so happen to have picked up a few of them at a flea market (which had never been monogrammed) and now have a little side project in embroidery.

The question is: which embroidered initial to choose? Which font? Some initials are simply too formal and fancy for a dish cloth. A script “W” or more traditionally, “RW” is perfect for a napkin, but just sad and diminished on a measly dish cloth. I need something cheerful and more 1930 or 1940-esque than Victorian. In my search so far, I am tending towards the “W” above, with it’s reverse embroidery (you embroider the surrounding square and leave space for the “W”). It’s just like carving a statue out of marble, except for the purpose of drying off dishes and glasses. Hmm….sort of…

Torshons Anciens Bottom

Of course, I may just end up with a cross-stitch pattern, which is much less formal and probably just the touch of country charm I’m going for. A simple “RW” in teeny squares… I’ve washed and ironed them, and even found some matching embroidery floss (for over $2 – best to stock up in the States for large projects!) – so I’m off!

*Edit* Do check out the link Olga posted in the comments. It’s a wonderful collection of antique patterns! I’m browsing around now in search of the perfect “W.”