How to Turn Needlework into an Adventure

I think most people associate needlework with a woman sitting quietly, concentrating on her task.  But to think of it as an adventure?  This little book from 1958 sets us all straight.  It was written by Dorothy Dunbar Graef, and illustrated by Betsey Bates.  It appears that this is the only book penned by Graef.  Bates was a painter of quaint scenes that ended up on collectors plates.

The book is a combination of needlework history and crafts projects.  I imagine that most of the readers skipped right past the “in the old days” talk and went right to the fun stuff.  Or maybe I was the only kid that did that sort of thing.

The illustrations are cute in that mid-century sort of way that is so popular right now.  Looking back at it I can see that we Baby Boomers were lucky to have grown up with a design aesthetic that over time, has held up well.  These drawings still have a crisp, modern look.

But probably the most interesting thing about this book is that it is, for the large part, not gender specific.  You expect a book about sewing and embroidery and quilting to be aimed directly at girls, but here a large attempt was made to include boys in the adventure.  And this was during a time when boys would never have considered signing up for home ec in school.

But can you imagine all the clothes that were cut up in 1958 to make rugs?  My mother took a rug braiding class in the late 1960s, and one of their sources of wool was old clothes.  She ran an on-going rummage sale for our church, and all the 1940s and 50s wool skirts that were donated went straight to the rug class.  There was a stiff competition for the skirts with the rug hooking class.  It’s a miracle any wool survived this crafting craze.

At first I thought this was a knitting machine, but it actually a little loom. (Note that cool doggie)

What every guy wanted – a vest with appliqued and embroidered Christmas trees to match his best girl’s skirt.

My gosh, this could be a page straight out of an etsy crafter’s lookbook.

Creativity was encouraged.

And finally, I’m sorry about the fuzzy photo, but I just had to show this drawing with the girl in the poodle skirt.  Yep, that was the Fifties!



Filed under Sewing

13 responses to “How to Turn Needlework into an Adventure

  1. I love this sort of book. The illustrations are adorable. 🙂


  2. Oh! I NEED this book! Such great illustrations and amusing text – thanks so much for sharing! =)


  3. Teresa

    Wonderful! Such a gorgeous research.

    I have a bit of a thing for collecting old needlework books and the illustrations in this one are superb! Love it!


  4. lovely book. But my mother says they didn’t really wear poodle skirts and didn’t much wear flared skirts in the 50s. Anymore than we wore hammer pants in the 80s. It’s a huge pet peeve for her..


  5. Lizzie…In 1950 we (in Milwaukee) did wear flared skirts. I did not put a poodle on mine…but others did. Maybe this was a local thing.

    THe pictures in this article were delightful. I made many a rag rug from scraps. You could make a rug a day if your scraps did not run out.


    • I think that a lot of the fashion before the onslaught of TV were localized. What caught on in one region would be unknown in another. I can remember that even in the late 60s, there would be fashion fads at my cousin’s school in Atlanta that never reached us in Asheville.


  6. Love the graphics, I have bought treasures just for the graphics.
    Honey Stop The Car Vintage


  7. What a treasure! The graphics reminded by of my childhood (born 1950). And don’t you have a sharp eye for the gender dynamics in this little book. Perhaps the author had boys with whom she wanted to share her love of handwork.


  8. Fantastic illustrations! And you just gave me a flashback to my own childhood (1970s-early 1980s) when I had a loom of some kind that I remember using. It must have been for children…unless it was something my mom had. (She wasn’t uber-crafty, but she did a lot of sewing, especially when I was really young.) I’m going to have to ask her. I have a definitely memory of weaving something!


  9. I am sure I remember this book from my childhood, but it would have been lost from my memory without your post on it! Thanks so much! Those illustrations are simply amazing.


  10. What fun! And I agree that the illustrations have stood the test of time. I also love vintage crafting books and the ‘make do and mend’ attitudes (before there was ‘upcycling’).


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