“What Can I Do With Birch Bark?” Nature Crafts: 1890

 

A birch bark notebook painted with strawberries, given to HRH Prince Albert Edward, later King Edward VII, on his 1860 trip to Canada. http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/84321/notebook

FOR MOUNTAIN LAKE AND SEASHORE

Novel and Artistic Uses for Summer Spoils

What May Be Done with Birch Bark and Corn Stalks

Shell Portiere

Mermaid Scarf

“What can I do with birch bark?” writes a correspondent. “I spent last summer in the lake regions of Maine, and gathered quantities of beautiful pieces, some of them very large.”

There are so many beautiful uses to which birch bark can be put that I scarcely know where to begin. A piece 7 by 9 or of any desired size makes a nice cover for a blotter. Paint or draw with India ink some little sketch, and fasten to the blotters like a book by punching holes in the corners and running a ribbon through, with a bow at either end. Dark red makes a pretty contrast with the gray brown of the bark.

It will cover an old frame most artistically. Use pieces of any size, fastening them on with very small tacks and letting edges and corners curl up here and there. A bit of gnarled twig, a pine cone or a pretty piece of lichen can be placed at each corner. This would frame a woodland etching delightfully. Brackets and wall pockets may be covered with the bark alone, or with bark and lichens. Mounted on wide, handsome ribbon it makes the daintiest sort of souvenir menu cads. Write the menu on the bark with India or brown ink in quaint, irregular letters and tack the pieces on ribbon a very little wider, and two inches longer on each end than the bark. Fringe out one inch of this. They may be mounted on white, pale green, pale or dull gold, light blue, dark red or golden brown.

AN ARTIST’S FANCY.

In the country home of an artist on the borders of Lake George is a room in which birch bark has perhaps found its artistic limit. As in most country houses the room is a low one. About two and a half feet from the baseboard a narrow moulding of plain wood runs around the room, and the ceiling is of beams stained to represent old oak. A dado is formed of golden corn stalks cut into regular lengths and nailed to the baseboard at the bottom and the moulding two and a half feet above. The top is finished by running lengths of stalks horizontally, thus hiding completely the strip of moulding. A sharp, small saw must be used to cut the stalks into equal lengths, and as straight, firm and even stalks selected as possible. The side walls are covered with a greenish gray or grayish green cartridge paper. The frieze, ether or ten inches wide, is formed of irregular pieces of birch bark nailed to the wall with small brads. The joinings are hidden or emphasized by trailing bits of Florida moss or pieces of beautifully colored lichens form tree trunk and fence rail. It is finished top and bottom with a moulding of corn stalks. Long, slender brads are used to nail the stalks that form the dado.

You may make a pretty card receiver for the hall or for a corner of the parlor. Take three long, strong cat tails and cross them as in the illustration, fastening in your last season’s seaside hat, of which you have covered the brim and crown with birch bark, with a rim of lichens or Florida moss. Tie a huge bow of golden brown ribbons were the stalks meet. Laundry lists, card cases, and many such articles can be covered with birch bark, as well as glove and handkerchief boxes.

FOUR SEASONS’S TABLE COVER

Ladies who are making read for a summer in the mountains or by the seashore may be glad of the following idea for fancy work from “M.U.S.:”

“This table cover is made of one yard each of olive and light blue felt. Taking the latter for the centre, I cut the former into four equilateral triangles, couching the same onto the blue centre with a thick strand of pale yellow filoselle.

“After painting in oil with a good deal of spirits of turpentine the appropriate designs on the corners—viz., dogwood bloom for spring, wild rose for summer, oak and maples leaves in red, bronze and yellow for autumn, and holly and mistletoe for winter, I drew with a white chalk pencil a line two inches from the edge of the tablecloth as the depth of the fringe, into which the felt was to be cut after everything as finished. Above this was embroidered a heading for the fringe using two shades of gold colored silk, the darkest a burnet sienna, and the lightest of the same shade as that used for uniting the two tints of felt as already described. Do not attempt to cut the felt for the fringe until the painting and embroidery are done, as it gets unnecessarily beaten about in pinning the felt to the stretcher and would make the embroiderer frantic by catching into her silks.

“Of the embroidery, by the way, although it looks like a bona fide netted heading to a fringe, it is only one of the simple ‘crazy’ stitches—just a line of ‘cat stitch,’ then in the subsequent line each stitch is taken loosely linked to the bottom of the upper stitch—not through the felt, save at the bottom of the stitch.

“This table cover looks exceedingly artistic and expensive, which latter it is not—that is, if you can do the painting yourself.”

If you cannot do the painting you can at least embroider the designs in outline or long and short Kensington stitch with very good effect, almost equal to painting, in fact, if the Kensington embroider is used.

SEASIDE OCCUPATION

“An ingenious girl of my acquaintance,” writes “Bo-Peep,” “has added to her cosey parlor at a trifling expense two artistic and novel specimens of her handiwork. When I describe them to you and tell you the actual cost I am sure all of you who go to the seashore this summer will have next winger a ‘shell portiere’ and a ‘mermaid scarf.’ Do you remember the thin, yellow, almost flat shells which are so abundant on all beaches? Of course you do, but when you saw them by hundreds in the white sand I am sure you never imagined what a beautiful portiere could be made from them. Yet to this use have they been put by my young friend. She pierced each shell with a hot wire, and then with a delicate wire fastened the narrow end of one to the wide end of the next until a string sufficiently long to reach form the curtain pole to the floor was made. Enough of these were fashioned for the entire portiere. At the top they are held in place by a narrow strip of cloth of the same color as the shells. The effect is something like the Japanese portieres, but the coloring being Nature’s own is prettier, and then the cost—twenty cents, the price of the wire, and twelve cents for the strip of cloth.

“For a scarf dainty enough to grace the home of a sea nymph, buy a yard of Nile green India silk. Sew the shells on either end in artistic confusion, putting here and there a pretty bit of dried, golden brown seaweed. Make a fringe of the shells in the same manner as you made the portiere, only join them with Nile green embroidery silk instead of the wire. The scarf shows to particular advantage thrown over a highly polished antique oak frame enclosing a delightful water color of Maine’s wild coast.”

New York [NY] Herald 18 May 1890: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil feels that the correct answer to the question “What can I do with birch bark?” is “It makes excellent tinder for lighting the fire or stove.”

Behind stories like this is the notion that the “ingenious girl” must do something with every scrap of birch-bark and sea-weed  picked up in an idle moment. Ladies’ magazines are chock-a-block with ideas for making sea-weed pictures, shell ornaments, and all manner of natural fancy-work. Even on holiday, ladies were not permitted to be idle:

If women staying at seashore resorts will spend part of their idle time in collecting a variety of shells, they may utilize them in the fall for a unique door drapery. Fasten the shells thickly on fish netting, then drape of the netting over a door casing and let it hang down at the sides. The shell trimmed netting also makes an attractive portiere by lining it with a light shade of sea green silk finished material. The Ypsilanti [MI] Commercial 12 August 1897: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil has nothing against shells, but suggests that there is no such thing as “a pretty bit of dried, golden brown seaweed” in a domestic interior.  And the very idea of birch-bark friezes, lichen trimmings, and corn-stalk dadoes would make any self-respecting parlour-maid shudder at their potential for collecting dust and harbouring insect life.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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2 thoughts on ““What Can I Do With Birch Bark?” Nature Crafts: 1890

  1. Susan Abernethy

    This brings back such memories. I used to collect pieces of birch bark in the north woods of Michigan at my grandfather’s vacation log cabin. However, I lacked the imagination to make these artistic items!

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    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Birch bark seems to have been a staple at summer camps and Girl Guide gatherings. Mrs Daffodil considers that you had a lucky escape from the artistic impulse needed to create such ephemeral dust-catchers!
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil

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