Category Archives: Sewing

The Wickedest Easter Hat: 1902

1902 Easter Hat

New York, Feb. 23.

Dearest Diana:

I did the wickedest thing to-day—intentionally! Like all other girls I know I did so want a new hat. And like a great many I know, I did not have the money with which to buy it. So what did I do?

I went down into my bandbox.

Later, with my last summer’s hat in my mind, I sallied forth to the nearest maline counter and here I bought four yards of exquisite stuff, all shirred into darling little puffs. With this in one hand I stepped over to the applique counter and bought some silvered dots. I then purchased nine pink roses of natural size and a perfect bush of silvered rose leaves.

Going home I covered my last summer’s hat with the maline, placed the roses on the top of it, at the back, letting the leaves trail down in front over the brim, and, finally, I set a few roses under the side. At the back I arranged some leaves to fall upon the hair.

Then, and here comes the wickedness, I ripped the French label out of my last winter’s opera hat and sewed it into my new Easter hat! And, now, to all intents and purposes, I have an imported creation, rich in everything except the cost.

The Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 2 March 1902: p. 44

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was the holiday dream of every well-dressed lady to have a new Easter hat. Even the dead were insistent about their millinery…. And at this critical time of the fashionable year, ladies were faced with conflicting messages in the papers: “Buy one of our beautiful Paris hats in the latest mode!” Or “Be thrifty! Re-trim last year’s hat so it looks like new!”

It seems a pity that the young lady ripped the label out of her genuine Paris opera hat. There were other options, such as purchasing faux-Parisian labels as mentioned in this advertisement for The Wanamaker Store:

A windowful of children’s hats was shown recently in a New York store with the label of Caroline Reboux on every one. Caroline Reboux, who never made a child’s hat in her life!

In these days, when Paris labels can be purchased so cheaply and affixed to spurious models, there is a comfortable feeling in buying where you are sure that Paris hats are Paris hats. The Morning News [Wilmington DE] 23 September 1904: p. 5

And Mrs Daffodil is shocked to find that American manufacturers were labelling their goods as imported, to increase their desirability.

NO MORE FOREIGN LABELS

LET “MADE IN AMERICA” BE THE WORLD’S STANDARD

A New York society has taken up a new idea which ought to be pressed. Briefly stated it is an attempt to make manufacturers and dealers in this country label their American goods with domestic labels and cease the use of the foreign label on goods made here.

There are plenty good reasons why this campaign should have the indorsement of every sensible business man and every wise consumer. In the first place the question of honesty is involved. The public is swindled by hats bearing a Paris label, when they are made here. In the second place, it is the best policy. We can make most articles in this country as well as they can be made abroad, some of them better. In the third place, it is patriotic. It should be the pride of Americans to use American names and to place upon their products the legend “Made in America,” in competition with the “Made in Germany” label, so familiar in trade. The Allentown [PA] Leader 16 October 1900: p. 1

Easter Hat 1902

 

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.

 

A Wardrobe Peculiarly Suited to the Bereaved One’s Conditions: 1905

Casting Off the Widow’s Weeds, Henry James Richter, 1823 http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_231401/Henry-James-Richter/page-1

Mourning Gowns That Harmonize with the Bereaved One’s Complexion and Spirits

The genius of a Washington dressmaker has conceived the idea of specializing for the bereaved. “Widows’ outfits” are the objects of her particular attention, and upon them are brought to bear all her creative power.

“Widows’ outfits” does not appear upon her sign, which is merely a very high sounding name on a small and thoroughly correct name plate that has adorned her front door for a generation past. It is only to the initiated of a very select clientele that she has imparted the information that wardrobe peculiarly suited to the bereaved conditions may be obtained from madam for a consideration.

According to her theory, not only must a widow’s weeds be an expression of her grief, but they must convey in them the depth of it as well as the previous state of happiness or the reverse. For elderly widows who have jogged happily through forty or fifty years of conjugal congeniality she advises lightweight drap d’ ete with heavy crape bands and folds, lightening into black crepe de Chine as time goes by.

In the case of a young woman sincerely mourning a much loved husband, one to whom she was wedded in every sense of the word, there is the “creped becomingness” of the softer fabrics such as chiffon cloth, &c., and her costume generally looks as if she had been dipped to her ears in the blackest ink obtainable. For grief that is genuine and inconsolable madam advises only the softest, sheerest fabrics, as customers are apt to be unmindful of their appearance, and careless of their attire, and the softer the material the better it will stand hard usage. For mourning meant to be worn all day without change for the evening, the clinging stuffs make the best gowns.

In all cases madam thinks it is impossible to have the collar too high, and sometimes, if madam sees fit and they are becoming, two little points, to go up under the ears, are added to the already chokingly high neckband. These are most frequently an adjunct to the collar when there is a tendency toward extreme thinness, as it not only hides the lines in the neck, but adds a something to the face that heightens the woefulness of the moral atmosphere.

For a young and beautiful widow of an old man, “well, youth is youth, and black is a trying thing at best—trying alike to complexion and spirits, and it would be far better if madam’s customer would leave the matter to her judgment, for you know madam has been long in the business, and well, you know white crepe is just as much mourning as the most unrelieved black, when it comes to that, and besides, the French always give a suggestion of it to their deepest mourning.”

For this gown madam makes a tentative suggestion as to the advisability of a lightening effect produced by a tiny vest of white crape, “which will relieve the severity of the dead black, which is apt to make even the fairest look a wee bit sallow.”

As soon as the bereaved one begins to make a more active interest in her fellow man and commences to realize that “grief is a selfish thing, and that every one owes it to society to take up one’s duties in it again,” madam sets her uncommon wits to work and provides her with gowns that, as an indication of her mental state, are quite as adequate as a sworn statement.

There are street clothes that express to a thought the degree of mourning, walking gowns of varying depths of woe, afternoon toilets of chiffon cloth, crepe de chine, and dull taffetas, each displaying in its cut and trimming a pleasing melancholy, while into matinees is allowed to creep a suspicion, and that the barest, of frivolity, in the shape of ruffles of mousseline plisse.

A dinner gown is, of course, included among these. It is but slightly décolleté, just sufficiently so to give the necessary air of smartness to the gown to make it suitable for the occasion, and “prevent one from being so gloomy looking as to affect the enjoyment of the assemblage.”

“The sleeves? Well that is entirely a question of—are madam’s arms plump? No? Then perhaps it would be better that the sleeves be to the elbow that is always—Oh, madam’s wrists are large? Well, as madam was saying short sleeves are a little uncomfortable at a dinner, and elbow sleeves are sometimes trying even to the prettiest arms, so possibly it would be wisest to make one of those half-concealing, half-revealing sleeves that madam thought so charming on that gown she saw yesterday.”

“Then the skirt! Could anything be straighter than its lines? Not unless carved from ebony, and then only in reality, not in effect. Severe simplicity in its most exaggerated form is the keynote of this frock that breaks the ice after the period of seclusion from the world and its frivolities, and then comes the next step in what madam considers the right direction. This is signaled by a gown all white, like a debutante’s, but what a difference! This gown is equally suitable for dinner or dance.

Does madam trim black gowns with violet, and violet gowns with black? Does she make a dark gray silk for church and a light gray for parties? Heaven forbid! Madam is an artiste. The second mourning of her clients is composed of dark violet, untrimmed; light violet, also untrimmed; soft grays without a touch of either black or white, and creamy white gowns galore. With each gown for the street madam insists that a hat of exactly the same color be worn, with absolutely no hint of contrast. When the time comes for the final doffing of all that pertains to woe in the shape of clothes, madam strongly advises that one take the plunge boldly and at once, making the change as decided as is possible.

The Washington [DC] Post 29 October 1905: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is somewhat appalled at the suggestion that a widow coming out of mourning is like a “debutante.” Still, there are reports of ladies who took the piquant idea to heart.  Here is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead to illustrate the concept:

Some widows made their coming out of mourning tantamount to a debut, complete with a new wardrobe.

AN AMERICAN’S FAD

A Fanciful Widow Who Celebrated Her Abandonment of Mourning

English newspapers and magazine paragraphers who delight to select and repeat for their innocent auditors all the curious fads and caprices of fashionable American women will doubtless remark with grave wonder on one of the last and most absurd arrangements in dinners lately given by a New York woman who is a lover of harmonies. Two years ago she suffered the loss of her husband.

After many months of travel abroad she returned home this autumn with boxes of exquisite creations of silver grays, violet, lavender and heliotrope, fresh from the hands of French modistes. After receiving many attentions from home friends, she decided to give what she chose to call “a going out of mourning dinner.” Her idea was carried out to the last detail, and the whole filled her guests with amusement and surprise. Her gown was a superb combination of silk, velvet and chiffon, running through every tint of violet, lavender and heliotrope, and lavishly ornamented with jet and black lace. Her ornaments were black pearls and enamelled violets.

The dining table was laid with a white cloth overspread with a scarf and central square of white silk, and lines embroidered heavily in the delicate gray stems and lavender flowers of wisteria. Violets, heliotrope, and lilies-of-the-valley were the flowers used in decorating the table and for the men’s boutonnieres. The candles, in silver candelabra, were of violet-tinted wax, with violet silk shades. The opalescent glass glowed with tints of violet and lavender, sugared violets were the only bonbons on the table, and great bunches of violets tied with violet satin streamers were attached to the right-hand side of the back of every woman’s chair.

Wheeling [WV] Register 25 December 1891: p. 4

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.

 

Secrets of the Theatrical Costumer: 1903

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Where the Gorgeous Costumes of the Stage Are Made and Rented.

There are lots of people who can manage to push their way behind the scenes at a play, but there are very few who ever get as far behind the scenes as the shop of the theatrical costumer. In these days of elaborate staging, when the frocks make the actress, the costumer is the heart and soul, the alpha and omega of the play. Without him the prima donna and the problem actress alike would be birds of very shabby feathers, while the show girls would not attract a dozen patrons of the bald-headed row.

He is a mysterious person, whom nobody ever sees. Beyond his name, which is sometimes printed on the program, he is less known than the boy who gives out programs or the ticket taker at the gate. Yet, in his way, e is an artist who deserves to rank beside the manager and the playwright. If, at the last moment he should fail to be on hand with his production, the show could not go on; for the leading lady could not play Juliet in a sailor hat and the leading man could not do Romeo in a white flannel shirt.

The shop of the theatrical costumer is a fascinating place, smelling of moth balls and lavender, glittering with spangles and satins, jewels and tin armor, piled high with boxes and shelves, cluttered with costumes, thrown here and there, picture hats, kimonos, slippers, boots and frock coats lying around in what appears to be the wildest confusion, but what is in reality the most perfect order—so perfect in fact that any employe in the shop can lay his finger on any garment or part of a garment at a moment’s notice. Entering the place is like passing into a sort of fairy land where every character out of every play you have ever seen is dressed and ready to greet you. In a corner the short skirts, flowered petticoats, and shepherdess hat of Perdita lie disconsolate, her little slippers peeping from beneath them. Yonder you might almost fancy that Miss Marlowe had just stepped out and left her Beatrice frocks behind her. Over there is a suit of doublet and hose flung aside by some amateur Cyrano de Bergerac; and a ross the way madam Butterfly might just have taken wings, dropping her fluttering kimono as she went.

But all of the paraphernalia is only the theatrical costumer’s “junk,” hired for the most to amateurs for fancy balls. It is the odds and ends leftover from his big orders for regular customers, the driftwood from the great productions which he has staged. He could not make a living out of such stuff.

His real business is filling big orders of the large and elaborate productions which are put on every autumn. Summer is his great season. In the spring he takes his orders and employs his staff of hands and all through the hot days his shop is the busiest one in town. The machines are buzzing in his work rooms, leading ladies pass one another in disdain upon his stair; chorus girls flit in and out for fittings; managers wait upon him in his office. The president of the Untied States is no more important and no more sought after than is he. Sometimes the theatrical costumer is a designer, an artist of no little merit. He knows history from the flood down and can take his pencil and sketch you a picture of Noah correct to the very curl of his hair. But more often he employs his staff of designers as he employs his cutters, fitters, stitchers, basters and pressers. Every workman in his shop is a specialist, even down to the girls how sew on spangles and mend laces.

A Side Line on the Business.

There is a side line to the costumer’s business which is almost as remunerative as his regular business. It is the making of evening dresses for society women who hire them for a ball or for a season, paying an enormous rental, but not half so much as the frock would have cost them if they had had it made outright.

“You might not fancy,” remarked Carl Wustl, one of New York’s leading costumers, “that there would be a great deal of money in hiring gowns to society women, but there is. Even though the frocks we make cost a small fortune apiece and are designed by French artists and lined throughout with the most costly silk and chiffon, the profits are something extraordinary.

“Your society woman is after all very frugal and once a costumer gets a reputation among the upper ten he will supply half the elaborate costumes for great occasion> You see a society woman does not care to wear a dress more than once or twice, yet she wants the most expensive sort of gowns with the finest workmanship upon them. To hire a French designer and makers such as a costumer must have at his command would make each of her gowns cost a small fortune. Now she can come to us, order any sort of gown she wants, pay about one-third of its value and wear it as often as she would wear it were it her own.

“Here, for instance, is a gown with a remarkable history,” continued the costumer, taking down a gorgeous creation in white satin, tulle, and spangles, which looked as though it had been through an army campaign, so frayed were its ruffles and so tarnished its spangles.

“This gown cost $1,000. There are just 75,000 spangles on it and every one was applied by hand. It was designed and made for one of our best patrons. She is a society woman who is famous for her gowns and is known never to wear a frock on more than one occasion. Her husband is wealthy, but her lavishness in dress astounds even her intimate. This frock she wrote to the famous Bradley-Martin ball. With it she wore hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry. And what do you think the gown cost her? Just $300 for the night. In the morning papers her costume was described in elaborate detail.

Of course a responsible costumer would never by any chance rent a gown to two women in the same set or even in the same class of society. After the Bradley-Martin ball that dress saw no more of the four hundred. It was then let for the season to a certain smart looking woman in quite a different set, who wore it on five occasions only, but paid $500 for having it reserved for her exclusive use for three months. The next season a stock company star saw it. It was renovated and remodeled to her taste and she hired it off and on by the week during the season, paying $50 a week for the use of it. By that time it had pretty well paid for itself. But it was so substantial that it bore renovating once more. A little Jewish bride, who wanted to make a stunning effect and could afford only $10 for her wedding dress, saw it and hired it. After that I seemed that every Jewish bride on the East Side knew of it and it did service at ten or twelve weddings during the winter. With such hard service it got pretty soiled and shabby and I was going to hang it up as a souvenir, when a little Irish girl came in to hire a dress for a fireman’s ball. She saw the $1,000 frock, got stuck on it and it saw one more night of service. Now I am going to keep it as a relic and for good luck. It shan’t go out again,” and the costumer lovingly tucked the soiled satin folds once more into the box.

Sometimes a set of costumes made for a production will have almost as varied a history as the society woman’s frock. Their first appearance in all their pristine freshness is of course in the big metropolitan production for which they are designed. If the play is a success, they are worn by the company or an entire season and carried all over the country. In the spring, when the play closes, they are brought back by the management and bought in once more by the costumer, who gets them for a song. They are then renovated and kept for local stock companies, wo hire them again and again as long as they are presentable. After that they do service in amateur productions and for fancy dress balls.

“The making of theatrical costumes,” said a famous costumer, “is more of a fine art than ever before. The costumes are much more expensive than they used to be in days gone by when the leading lady wore white muslin or black poplin and the kings wore cotton-backed ermine. Costumes now have to be the real thing, inside and out. The satins must be silk backed and heavy enough to stand alone, the laces must be fie and delicate, even the roses on the hats must be silk or velvet, and the gowns must fit without a winkle and be as artistic in cut as the frocks of the wealthiest society women. Managers are as particular as old women and electric lights show up every detail, even to a spangle. The costumer who deals in cheap stuffs and cheap labor will soon lose his custom.”

theatrical-chorus-girls-with-parasols

“Yes, odd things do happen sometimes,” went on the maker of theatrical togs, meditatively smoking his cigar. “Our costumes have some remarkable experiences, and if they could talk might tell some funny stories. I remember once that I was called into court on a curious mission. It was to vie evidence against a chorus girl. I had just the week before made up and sent out a full set of costumes for a comic opera. Six of the costumes were conventional evening frocks of a very elaborate order. They were very expensive and the show girls wore them for only a few moments during the play. After that they were carefully put away in cotton-lined boxes by the maid. With them were large picture hats, silk stockings, gloves and satin slippers.

Her Costume Familiar.

“The first week of the production I dined one night at an up-town restaurant. I had just finished my coffee and was lighting my cigar, when a beautiful young woman entered, followed by a gilded Johnny in full dress. Something about the woman struck me as very familiar, but I could not place her among my acquaintances. As she took her seat she lifted her skirts and, as I caught a glimpse of her satin slipper, it flashed upon me where I had seen it before. She was wearing one of the six costumes I had made for the comic opera production. She was without exception the most stunning woman in the room, and the way she kept the other people turning their necks and trying to guess what famous member of the four hundred she might be would have made any chorus girl want to borrow the company’s costumes for a night.

“But it seems that her glory was only for a night. Somebody must have peached; for next day I was called into court to identify the costume, and a more irate stage manager or a more humiliated chorus girl, I never saw. She confessed, of course, that she had bribed the maid and borrowed the gown for the evening, and protested with many tears that she had not hurt the gown a bit. But she was fined just the same. It was only one of the sad little scenes that pass with the rest of the tragedies and comedies under the nose of the theatrical costumer.”

Denver [CO] Post 25 October 1903: p. 36

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on moving-picture actresses who are martyrs to their public’s demand for the latest in fashionable frocks.  This peep at the behind-the-scenes workings of the theatrical costumer sheds a fascinating light on where the “Four Hundred” get their gowns.

Mrs Daffodil once knew of a lady whose beauty and title could not obscure her lack of breeding. She had contracted with a costumer (as did the lady of the one-thousand-dollar dress above) for a unique and exquisite ball gown in which she hoped to burst upon Society as the wife of an elderly Duke. (They had been hastily married abroad and His Grace wished to show off his new acquisition to his friends and disapproving children of his first marriage.) For a young person who had just risen from a theatrical background (second chorus, mind…) she had been most exacting and disagreeable with the costumer and particularly with those ladies who were in charge of sewing on the spangles. The costumer, who knew a parvenu (and a potential annulment) when he saw one, supplied his spanglers and dressmakers with some aged thread which he had been meaning to discard.

Her Grace was the cynosure of all eyes in the breathtaking gown, particularly when she began to shed her spangles. A little drift of the glittering objects swirled about her hem in the receiving line and several guests were seen discreetly removing sequins from their soup at dinner. His Grace got several spangles down his throat during the first waltz with his new bride and had to be assisted back to his quarters, red-faced and choking. Her Grace had no shortage of partners, and so carried on, until, about the third Waltz-Gallop, the well-fitted seams of her gown began to show the strain. First she shed a sleeve, then the bodice fastening parted, and when her train gave way abruptly, Her Grace found herself in the embarrassing position of a Nymph Surprised While Bathing, with rather more Valenciennes insertion.  The Duke’s children instituted legal proceedings for a swift annulment; and, although she received ample heart-balm through the courts, the young person is now back in the chorus.

Surely a lesson for us all to be kind to those who have been placed in humbler circumstances than ourselves.

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. 

 

The Crazy-Quilt Mania: 1883-1891

crazy-quilt-1884-pa

A crazy quilt made c. 1884 in Pennsylvania by Lucy Richards Brock http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/50455.html?mulR=478039240|1

CRAZY QUILTS

A Feminine Mania Which Has Many Sides.

“What’s all this talk about crazy quilts?” asked a Chronicle reporter of a young lady acquaintance.

“Is it possible that you have never seen one?” exclaimed the young lady, “when dozens of them have been exhibited and raffled right here in San Francisco. Why, I’ll show you mine. There,” said she triumphantly, after spreading before the attentive gaze of the reporter a dazzling army of bright-colored blocks, “that is a ‘crazy quilt,’ or will be when these blocks are all stitched together on the machine. You can judge of the effect by placing them together.”

“It’s a great deal of work, isn’t it?” asked the reporter.

“Well, that depends,” was the reply. “Mine is made on these squares with a piece of cloth for the foundation of every block; on each of which the silks and velvets and brocades are placed in erratic fashion, the more zigzag the pattern and the greater the contrast of colors the better. Some, though, put all their patches on one large foundation, which is a very bulky, clumsy way, for, as you see, each scrap must be worked all around its edges with a fancy stitch in bright silk or floss. The ordinary stitch is the featherstitch or else the old-fashioned ‘herring-bone.” But, of course, if one choses, the needlework may be very elaborate, illustrating all the stitches known to decorative art.”

“I should think that the silk for the ornamentation of the patches would an item of expense?”

“It was to me until I stopped buying it by the spool. I get waste silk now, all sorts of colors, for 25 cents an ounce.”

“Where did this idea of a ‘crazy quilt’ originate?” was the next question.

“Well, I’ve been told all sorts of versions, but I believe that the truth is this: The officers’ wives in a military post somewhere on the frontiers invented it. Of course it’s only a new variation of an old idea. Patchwork is as old as the hills. Silk patches are an innovation on the calico quilts of our grandmothers, who early in their tender years were initiated into the mysteries of ‘star quilt,’—that of the ‘rising sun,’ ‘fox and geese,’ ‘flowers’ and the ‘log cabin’—all the rage during the Presidential campaign of ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too,’ as the old Whig war-cry had it.”

COLLECTING THE PATCHES

“Tell me why this particular style is called a ‘crazy quilt?’” persisted the reporter.

“Oh, for any number of reasons. Because the pattern is crooked, confused, confounded; because there’s an infatuation in the work itself; because to see one is to want to make one; because in our search for pieces we drive dressmakers, milliners and dry goods clerks crazy.”

“Why, is it so hard to make a collection of patches?”

“Awful!” exclaimed the young lady in a tone of desperation. Everybody wants them. Whenever two ladies meet greetings are hurriedly exchanged, and if they do not both speak at once, the one who can talk the fastest says: ‘Oh, my dear, I’ve been wanting to see you this long time to ask you for some silk scraps.’ ‘You’re not making a crazy quilt are you?’ the other one interrupts. ‘I was going to ask you for some scraps myself!’”

“”Why, do you know,” continued the young lady, “I’ve had people I was visiting want to cut off a piece of my bonnet string.”

“Indeed.”

“Yes. I’ve asked all my gentlemen friends for their cravats and hat linings; there’s always a clean piece, you know, underneath. Last week I went to my milliner for some pieces and she told me all their customers were coming for the same thing. I didn’t get any there. Then I went to my dressmaker, who does a rushing business. ‘Mrs. F.,’ said I, ‘have you any—‘ ‘Stop,’ said she, waving me off with her hand; ‘don’t say “crazy quilt” to me. I’m wild. I’ve just taken away my own shears from a lady who intended to snip off some pieces of the goods on my cutting table.’ Nothing there. It’s no use going for samples—they won’t cut them for us at the stores. But you’ll save me your cravats, won’t you?”

DEVICES OF THE MANIACS.

The reporter, after giving the required promise, took his leave. On his way he stopped at a dry goods store, and as a query said “Samples” to the clerk at the silk counter.

“Don’t give any after 10 A.M. Are you making a crazy quilt, too?” “No. But tell me, do you have many such requests?” “Guess we do! The ladies have no conscience at all; expect us to cut and hack away at our richest goods. We’ve had to shut down on the sample business. Why it took time and cost us something. But we’ve had our fun out of it, too. One day a little girl came in and asked for samples of light silks. I noticed that she looked queer when I gave them to her. Before she got out of the store she began to cry. Mr. S., the proprietor saw her and asked her if she’d lost anything. What do you suppose she said? ‘No, sir; but that man over there cut the samples in such long, thin strips, that they’re no good for the built.”

“What was too bad,” said the reporter.

“I can tell you a better one than that of Mrs. __,” mentioning a well-known name that the reporter was surprised to hear. “She came in to look at some brocades. I showed her our handsomest. She couldn’t make up her mind. Then she said: ‘I really don’t know which of these blues will match my silk, but if you will cut me a piece of each I can tell when I get home and send for the one I like best.’

‘Why, mamma, that’s what you said at all the stores,’ said her small boy.”

“Dead give-away, wasn’t it?” said the reporter.

“Guess so, for the youngster, for she took him out quick.”

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 28 September 1883: p. 3

Tamar Horton Harris North (1833–1905) Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern, ca. 1877 American, Silk, silk velvet, cotton, and cotton lace; 54 1/2 x 55 in. (138.4 x 139.7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cooper, 1983 (1983.349) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/13907

Tamar Horton Harris North (1833–1905)
Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern, ca. 1877
American,
Silk, silk velvet, cotton, and cotton lace; 54 1/2 x 55 in. (138.4 x 139.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cooper, 1983 (1983.349)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/13907

Tamar Horton Harris North (1833–1905) Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern, ca. 1877 American, Silk, silk velvet, cotton, and cotton lace; 54 1/2 x 55 in. (138.4 x 139.7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cooper, 1983 (1983.349) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/13907

Tamar Horton Harris North (1833–1905)
Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern, ca. 1877
American,
Silk, silk velvet, cotton, and cotton lace; 54 1/2 x 55 in. (138.4 x 139.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cooper, 1983 (1983.349)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/13907

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that none of her readers are sample fiends. Dry-goods stores resented the “sample nuisance” as a form of shop-lifting:

A manager of a dry goods firm, when asked about this petty form of shoplifting [candy], said that what the manager of the candy department said was as true in his case as in others. He further made the statement that this form of theft [for crazy quilts] was actually conducted by mail…

“Well, that is where we lose, principally. Persons in town and out of it—women mainly—write to us for a bunch of sample of some particular color. That is the last we hear of the samples or the supposedly prospective customer. And if we had any means of checking it we would probably find that the same women were procuring samples of other colors from other stores. These silk and satin samples cost money, and the loss occasioned by this deliberate theft amounts to something considerable in the year.

“Another form of petty larceny is of the same class, practically, but really more expensive to us when you know that the samples that go in this case are fine cloths, such as are used for trouserings and coats. These samples are those used in the making of fireside rugs.” Watertown [NY] Daily Times 23 February 1905: p. 6

A scheme to stop the sample fiends was invented by a Boston retailer:

Fair dames who have been wont, when paternal and fraternal neckties ran short, to replenish their crazy quilt materials by writing to large dry goods houses for samples of this or that silk or velvet, will be obliged to exert their ingenuity in some new direction, if a scheme to be put into operation by a big Sixth avenue concern is generally adopted. This firm is now having printed on large cards a figure something in the shape of a numerously spoked wheel. The figure is in black lines, and the triangular spaces between the lines are filled on each side with a different shade of color. Above is a space on which is to be pasted a small piece of silk or velvet goods. This will show the quality of the material. The triangular spots, each of which has a number printed on it, stand for the colors. The fair applicant for samples “from which to order a new dress” will hereafter instead of a package of 15 or 20 scraps from as many different pieces of goods, receive a few of these cards and will read beneath

The Gay Wheel

A printed request that she will order her dress fomo the one the quality of the sample which suits her best, and according as to colors, to the numbers. The firm that is about to try this plan claims that is loss from its “sample” nuisance amounts to thousands of dollars annually, and that any attempt to refuse outright the demands of the ladies results in a severe loss of trade. Boston [MA] Herald 20 June 1886: p. 8

“Crazy-quilt fiends” would stop at nothing to get fabric, even importuning celebrities:

The “crazy quilt people,” we are assured, are worse than all. They apply by the hundreds to Mrs Harrison for scraps of her dress. Scores of them send her bits of silk, on which she is requested to write her name, the autograph being intended to form the centre-piece of a crazy quilt. If she does not immediately comply with their demands, they write and beg of her to hurry up. Wanganui Chronicle 12 September 1890: p. 3

The crazy quilt fiend has again tackled the Governor. This time the request is not for a piece of one his discarded neckties, but for a block of silk bearing his autograph and the date. Verily, some of the prevailing fads are peculiar. Idaho Statesman [Boise ID] 17 May 1891: p. 1

This narrator suggested that the styles of gents’ neckwear had been altered by the craze:

The crazy quilt rage goes on in as intense a fashion as that of roller skating, and Lent has not subdued but rather emphasized the rush for “pieces” of the most gaudy hues. Men growl that their neckties are not safe, the dry goods houses are getting niggardly about samples, and gradually masculinity is arraying itself against another woman’s right. Have you noticed the tendency toward sobriety in color in men’s neckties? It is a growing one and only the result of a plot between men and brothers against women and sisters. And I don’t wonder at it. Neither will you, when you lose a brilliant-hued scarf for days and have almost forgotten it, when it suddenly appears to you in the form of a center piece in a crazy quilt. I have gone necktieless, suffered and cursed, and am therefore a rabid adherent of the new movement in neckties, even if it, in the end, leads us to black and sober solid colors. There are more ways of crossing a river beside jumping it. Therefore a change of style in mankind’s wear that will cripple the crazy quilt mania will be in the nature of an elevation of the dynamiter with his own mechanical can. Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH] 25 March 1885: p. 4

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.

 

How She Found the Time: 1856

(c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

HOW SHE FOUND THE TIME.

“Ah,” said Mr. Nelson, as drawing his chair to the centre table his eye rested on one of the popular novels of the day, “so you have a new book to read, Sarah. Where did you get it?”

“I borrowed it of Mrs. Merton, or rather she lent it to me — insisted upon my taking it, because, she said, she knew it would interest me, fascinate me; indeed, I told her it wasn’t much use to take it, for I should never find time to read it.”

“But she had found time — hadn’t she?” asked her husband, a little roguishly.

“Of course she had. She always finds time to do any thing she wants to; I never saw such a woman in my life.”

“And yet she has four children, and keeps but one girl?”

“And I have only two children, and as many girls, I suppose you would like to add — would you not?” responded the wife, just a very little bit out of humor.

“I must confess you have guessed aright, my dear. But I would not have said it in a fault-finding way, but simply from a desire to find out, if we can, why you have so little time to devote to reading — why you always have so much to do. Does Mrs. Merton do up every thing as neatly as yourself? Her parlors, I know, always seem the perfection of order and comfort, her husband’s and children’s clothes are always tidy, and she herself, in appearance, the personification of neatness and taste. But after all, perhaps there may be some oversight that is kept out of view.”

“You are mistaken,” said Mrs. Nelson, emphatically. “She is one of the most thorough housekeepers I ever knew. I have been sent there when she had been taken suddenly ill, and so violently, too, as to be unable to give a single direction; and yet every thing needed was always found without the least trouble; every drawer and closet was in order, and the whole house would have borne the rigid scrutiny of the most prim member of the Quaker sisterhood. And yet she never is in a hurry, and though always doing something, never complains of being wearied. She does all her own and children’s sewing, even to cutting dresses, and coats and pants; embroiders all her collars, and sleeves, and little girls’ ruffles; writes more letters every year than I have done since my marriage, and reads more than any other woman not purely literary that I ever knew. But how she does it is a mystery.”

“Why don’t you ask her to solve it?”

“I have thought of doing so ; but — but — well, to own the truth, I am ashamed to. It would be a tacit confession that I am in the wrong somehow.”

“But do you think you are?”

“Sometimes I do; and then again I think my failures to do what I would so dearly love to, are the result of the circumstances which I cannot control. For instance, yesterday afternoon I meant to have emptied my mending basket entirely, — I could have done so easily, and then one worry of the week would have been over, — but Mrs. Lawrence and her friend from Boston came in quite early, and, as you know, passed the afternoon. I could not blame them for coming when they did, for I had told them to come any afternoon this week; and I was glad to see them, and enjoyed the visit. Yet it upset my plans about mending entirely, for of course it would never have done to have littered the parlor with that. The afternoon was lost as far as work was concerned.”

“But was there nothing you could do?”

“Yes, if I had only had it. There were the handkerchiefs and cravats you want to take with you next week, which I might have hemmed if I had only had them. But you see, I had designed them for this afternoon, and so did not go out to buy them till to-day. And now I suppose the mending must lie over till next week, and then there- will be two baskets full. And so it goes. I wish sometimes the days were forty-eight, instead of twenty-four hours long.”

“Well, I don’t, I’m sure,” said her husband, good humoredly; “for I get tired enough now, and I doubt, Sarah, if either you or I would find any more time than we do now.”

“Well, one thing is certain — I shall never find time, as the days are now, to do what I want to do.”

“But you say Mrs. Merton does.”

“Yes, but she is an exception to all the rest of my acquaintances.”

“An honorable one.”

“Yes, an honorable one. I wish there were more with her faculty.”

“Perhaps there would be, were her example followed.”

“I understand you, and perhaps some day will heed the hint.” But here her further reply was prevented by a request from his head clerk to see her husband alone on urgent business.

All this time, while Mrs. Nelson had been bewailing the want of time, she had sat with her hands lying idly in her lap. To be sure, she was waiting for Bridget to bring the baby to be undressed; but she might easily have finished hemming the last cravat in those precious moments, and there it lay on her workstand, and her thimble and thread both with it. But she never thought of taking it — not she. She never thought it worth while to attempt doing any thing while waiting to do some other duty that must soon have to be performed. And thus, in losing those moments, she lost the evening chance to finish the hem; for when the baby did come, he was cross and squally, and would not let her lay him in the crib until nine o’clock, and then she was so tired and nervous, she couldn’t, she said, set a stitch to save her life.

It happened one day in the following week, after a morning of rather more flurry and worry than usual, that she went to the centre table to hunt for a misplaced memorandum. In her search for it her glance casually fell upon the borrowed novel, and with that glance the foregoing conversation rushed forcibly over her memory.

“I declare,” said she, “I have half a mind to run over to Mrs. Merton’s this afternoon, and cross-question her, till I learn her secret. Such a life as I am living is unbearable. I can’t stand it any longer. If she can find time, I know I can, if I only knew how.”

And true to her resolution, for though seemingly hasty, it had been for some time maturing in her mind, almost unwittingly she found herself at an early hour at her friend’s parlor, her bonnet and shawl thrown aside, and herself, work-bag in hand, snugly ensconced in a low rocker beside her little work-stand.

“You have not finished your collar, then?” she observed to Mrs. Merton, after a while, by way of leading the conversation in the desired channel.

“O, yes, indeed,” answered the hostess, tossing her head to one side, gayly, with a pretty affectation of pride. “Didn’t you notice how becoming it was?”

“And commencing another so soon?”

“Only basting on the pattern, so as to have it ready for some odd moment.”

“But how do you bear to spend so much time in embroidery? Why not purchase it at once; it is so much cheaper in the end?”

“For the wealthy it is, I grant, and for those not very wealthy, if their eyesight is poor, or if lacking in taste and needle skill. But I find it cheaper to do it myself. My husband’s salary does not allow us many luxuries, and the small sum we can spend for them I prefer should go towards purchasing what my own fingers cannot make. I can embroider collars and sleeves not as perfectly, it is true, as they do in foreign climes, but handsomely enough to suit my own and husband’s eyes; but I cannot write books, magazines, reviews, and newspapers, and they are luxuries more essential to my happiness than these articles of dress; so I do my own needlework, and with the money thus saved we purchase something that will never go out of fashion — an intellectual heritage for our little ones as well as a perpetual feast for us.”

“But how do you find time to do so much work? I cannot conceive how or where.”

“Well I hardly know myself,” said Mrs. Merton laughingly. “My husband sometimes tells me he believes the fairies help me. I seldom sit down to it in earnest, but I catch it up at odd moments, and before I am aware of it myself, it is done.”

“O, dear,” and Mrs. Nelson sighed. “I wish I had your faculty. Do, pray, Mrs. Merton, tell us the secret of your success in every thing. How do you always find time for every thing?”

“Do you question me seriously, or only mockingly, to remind me how much I leave undone?”

“Seriously? Yes, very seriously. To own the truth, it was to learn this I came over here to-day. There are a thousand things I long to do, because they would not only increase my own joys, but those of my husband and household ; but I cannot find the time. Yet you do them, and you have more cares and duties than I. If you tell me your secret, believe me, I shall feel under the deepest obligations to you.”

Her friend hesitated a moment. She was not wont to speak very much of herself, believing that character should reveal itself by actions mostly, and conscious that it will, too, whether it be a perfect or faulty one. Yet there was such an urgency, at length it conquered the scruples of modesty.

“I am afraid I shall remind you of ‘great I,’ if I undertake it,” she said, with a blush; “yet I can hardly give you my experience without subjecting myself to the charge of egotism. Yet, as we are alone, and as you seem to think I have avoided some of the besetting evils of this life, why, I will reveal to you what you call my secret.

“My mother early instilled into my mind and heart, by precept and example, a few rules of action, that I have sedulously endeavored to follow, and which, I believe, almost more than any thing else have contributed to my domestic peace and happiness.

“One of them is, always to have a time for every ordinary duty; to have that time at such a day or hour of the day as is best adapted to its perfect fulfilment, and always, extraordinary cases excepted, to perform the duty at that time.

“For instance, my general sweeping day is on Friday, because to my mind it is the most suitable one of the week. And the best portion of the day to do it in is very early in the morning, for then I can throw open my doors and windows to the freshest, purest breezes we get at all; and I am not disturbed by the din of travel, nor annoyed by the dust; and then, by postponing my bath and breakfast toilet, merely throwing on a wrapper and cap to sweep in till the house is clean, why I am tidy for the rest of the day.

“Whereas, if I wait till after breakfast, I must spend time to take another bath, and make another change of dress. Now, I confess, it is hard sometimes to keep this rule. When my sleep has been broken by the restlessness of baby, or when something has kept me up later than usual the previous evening, I feel strongly inclined to lie in bed and let the sweeping hour go by. But the dreadful consequences always stare me in the face so ruefully, that sleepy and weary though I may be, I struggle out of bed, — for it is verily a struggle, — and tying down my hair, and buttoning on my wrapper, and drawing on my gloves, as my old aunt used to say, I ‘make business fly.’ And I assure you I always find myself enough happier to compensate me for my efforts, hard though they seemed.

“And then, for a second rule, I always have a place for every thing, and always put it in its place, and thus waste no time in looking after things. For example, perhaps you will laugh at it, but I always make it a rule to put my thimble in my sewing-box, when I leave my work, no matter how great the hurry; and you can have no idea, until you have tried it, how much time is thus saved. Why, I have one friend who says she lost so much time by looking up her thimble, that she has bought herself three, so that when one is mislaid, she needn’t wait to hunt it up. Yet this rule, which soon would become a habit, would have saved her time and money.

“The third and last rule necessary to specify is this: to be always busy, or perhaps I ought to say employed, for with housekeepers, generally, to be busy is to be in a worry over too much work.”

“But you don’t mean to say you never rest — that you never get tired?”

“By no means; I both rest and get tired, and many times each day. But rest does not always imply cessation from labor. Sometimes it does, I grant; and when, after any unusual fatigue, I find myself inclined to lie down and sleep, I always indulge the feeling. It is one of Nature’s promptings, which, to insure health and joy, should be heeded. And I do not feel that I ever lose any time that way, for the half or even hour’s sleep so invigorates me, that I can work with twice the ability, afterwards, that I could if I had striven on with weary limbs and fretted nerves. But many times a change of employment or occupation will rest one as much, nay, more, than idleness. You know yourself, after a busy forenoon on your feet, that it rests you to sit down in your rocker, and busy yourself with your sewing. And sometimes, when I have been handling heavy clothes, such as coats and pantaloons for my boys, till my arms and fingers ache, I rest them by taking up some light garment for my little girl. Or when my limbs ache severely, from some arduous duty, and yet I have no inclination to sleep, as is frequently the case after rocking a worrisome child to sleep, I lie down on my old-fashioned lounge, and rest myself in body by that course; while I soothe, and gladden, and improve my mind by reading, always being careful, though, to put by the book just as soon as I feel that I am enough recruited.”

“But suppose you get behindhand with your work from sickness or company, or some other cause; what do you do then?”

“I never allow myself to get behindhand from the latter cause — visitors. I never allow them to interrupt my domestic affairs. I never invite company except on those days of the week that have the lighter duties. And if casual visitors come along, they will not disturb or hinder you, if the rules I have given you are implicitly followed. You are always ready for chance company. And with these rules, even sickness, unless long continued, will not vary the domestic economy. But if I do get behindhand, I make it up as quick as possible. I rise an hour earlier every morning, and deny myself the luxury of visiting till the accumulated work is performed.”

“Excuse me, but I most ask you one more question. What do you mean by odd times? You said you should work your collar at odd moments.”

“I can answer you but by some examples. Yesterday afternoon I was going to cut and baste a dress for myself. But unexpectedly a friend from the country came in to take tea with me. Now, I did not want to litter the parlor with my pieces; so I went to my basket and took out a pretty little sack for Harry, and spent my time on sewing that. I always keep something in my basket suitable for such odd times; and when I have nothing really necessary, I take up my embroidery. And then, you know, we wives are frequently obliged to wait till a considerable time has elapsed for the appearance of our husbands at the table, and these odd moments, usually so irksome to women, are precious to me. I always mean to have the meals ready at the hour: if Mr. Merton is not here then, — and, being head clerk, scarcely a day passes but some meal must wait, — instead of watching the clock or thrumming on the windows, I read the newspapers and magazines. I assure you I never take any other time to read them, and yet I am never behindhand with them.

And when I have none of them on hand, I catch up some story that I want to read, and yet don’t want to give that time which I usually devote to solid reading. The volume I lent you ” — Mrs. Nelson blushed; she had had it a week, and read only the first chapter — “I read in four days in this way. And when I have no reading that I am anxious to do, I spend the moments in writing. Most of my letters are penned while waiting for the tea bell to ring. And hark, there it is now; a pleasant sound for your ears, too, I guess, after the homily I have just given you. Please,” and she rose gracefully, “let ‘great I’ usher ‘dear you’ to the dining room.”

“With pleasure; yet I wish the bell had not rung so early. I have not heard half enough.”

“Have you never observed, my dear friend, that many sermons lose half their effectiveness by undue length? The benediction at such a time is noted as a relief, not a blessing. Some other time I will preach the rest.”

“I pray Heaven I may have resolution enough to practice what you have already taught. Sure I am, if I so do, my life, what is left of it, will be like yours — a perpetual sermon; and my daily benediction like yours also — the blessings of my children and the praise of my husband.”

Sweet Home: Or, Friendship’s Golden Altar, Frances E. Percival, 1856

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Admirable though the lady’s principles of organization may be, Mrs Daffodil, whose chosen profession is bringing order out of chaos, cannot but feel that Mrs Merton is sister to those organised, yet odious persons who follow lofty doctrines  of folding socks, colour-coding tinned goods, and keeping nothing in the house that does not “bring joy.”  We respect, but do not necessarily emulate them. Besides, Mrs Daffodil can think of a great many things that do not bring joy, such as HM Revenue & Customs forms, cod-liver oil, and certain footmen, but she is not at liberty to chuck them out.

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.

 

A Sewing Machine for Christmas: 1898

 1877-sewing-machine

I very well remember the day before Christmas in Boston some years ago, when the mail carrier brought the morning letters, and one of them had in it a check for $50 from a well-to-do friend, inclosed in a letter which said: “I have more money than time. I would like to do something to make Christmas a little more cheerful and happy to somebody, but I have no time to look up a case. You must, in your work, know of some family where this money will make the Christmas time seem a time of good will. Use it in your own way to bring the most happiness.”

While I held the letter in my hand, grateful in my heart to my friend for choosing me as the messenger of his good cheer, and wondering where I could best use it, to make it meet his requirement, I was called from my study to see a little girl from one of the worst alleys of the South Boston slums of that day. She was about eleven years of age, but though she was not large for her years, there was in her face an acquaintance with care, and a knowledge of suffering, that made her look like a little old woman.

It was a sad little tale of woe she had to tell me. Her father had been killed a few months before by falling from a building. The mother and the four children, of whom this was the eldest, were left without anything but their own resources to get a living. The mother was not strong enough to go out to wash or scrub, and so she had tried to keep the wolf from the door by sewing while the little elven-year-old was housekeeper and caretaker of the other children.

The mother had bought a sewing machine some months before, and had been trying to pay for it by installments, but had had a hard time to meet the weekly payments. She did it for a while, but when the cold weather came on in November, and they had to have coal and a little extra clothing she had fallen behind, and now, on this day before Christmas, the agent had been around, and threatened to take away the sewing machine, and then what was to become of them they could not tell.

If you could have looked in that little girl’s eyes, and heard her tale, you would have had a new conception of what a great thing a sewing machine may be, under certain circumstances. If it had been a title to heaven she was talking about, the little thing could not have been more tearfully in earnest.

I clutched my friend’s check in my hand with a sudden consciousness of what I was going to do and told the little girl to tell her mother not to worry, and that I would look the matter up and see what I could do for her.

I went at once to the sewing machine company and found that there was still owing $28 on the machine. I paid off the contract and put the receipted paper in my pocket. Then along toward evening I had a grocer load up his wagon with a barrel of flour, a barrel of potatoes, some sugar, and tea, and a whole host of goodies, including a good fat chicken for the Christmas dinner, and with some soft blankets and some warm clothing and toys for the children. I paid a Christmas eve visit to that little tenement house suite in the slum alley.

I called just ahead of the wagon, and told her I hoped she would be willing to accept a little Christmas remembrance, which a good hearted friend of mine had asked me to bring for him; and then before the astonished eyes of the mother and children the flour and potatoes, and all the good things came in, borne on the shoulders or rolled in by the big bluff grocer boys.

The woman was overcome with gratitude and the tears ran down her cheeks, while the little children danced for joy. The woman tried to thank me, and then she said what seemed to me at the time, the most pathetic thing I had ever heard.

“Do you think this good friend of yours, who has been so kind, would be willing to take back part of these things and pay the amount on my sewing machine lease?”

Poor soul, how could she be happy so long as the mortgage on her sewing machine was unappeased, and her one permanent stay in self-support threatened to be taken from her?

You can imagine the joy with which I thrust my hand into my pocket and took out the canceled lease and handed it to her, saying: “My friend wanted me to hand you this paper, too, and tell you that nobody would ever trouble your sewing machine again.”

Then there seemed nothing left to wish for. The mother grabbed both my hands, and in spite of all I could do, wet them with her kisses and tears. The children were finally speechless at such munificence, and I went out from them with my heart singing, if it were in my throat, and the tears blinding my eyes.

My only regret was that my generous friend could not see with his own eyes the joy his gift had brought, and thus be able to realize more clearly than would otherwise be possible the truth of Christ’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

LOUIS ALBERT BANKS

Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH] 11 December 1898: p. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Banks was the author of White Slaves: or, The Oppression of the Worthy Poor, The Saloon-keeper’s Ledger, and many works on temperance and religion. He was well-positioned to seek out those in need of assistance, although Mrs Daffodil has always found the sorting of the poor into “deserving” and “undeserving” to be a trifle unjust.  Surely the Unworthy Poor are similarly oppressed and may starve just as efficiently. And, speaking frankly, where should we be if we were all given exactly what we deserved? Mrs Daffodil does not normally make a habit of it, but who can quarrel with the notion of being kind?

Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers the joys of the season and all good things in the New Year. She will return on 4 January, 2017, with more jottings on fads, fashions, and follies.

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.

 

The Automobile Doll: 1914

The Automobile Doll.

There was once a little girl who had no home. Her father owned houses and lands and was worth thousands and thousands of dollars; her mother had beautiful gowns and everything she wished, and in the beginning there was a home.

One day, the little girl’s father took her on his knee and told her he had sold their home and for three years the family would do nothing but travel. At first the little girl was delighted, but one morning in London she was suddenly homesick. She wished to go back to America and sit in her own rocking-chair. But that, of course, was impossible.

“Let’s go and buy a doll,” suggested mother.

“All right,” agreed the little girl, “and let’s buy one that likes to travel!”

To Peter Robinson’s famous shop went the whole family—father, mother, and little girl; there for a gold sovereign they bought a beautiful doll from Germany.

“She hasn’t any clothes,” suggested the little girl.

“She must be dressed like a princess,” her father said, laughing.

“If that is so,” said mother, “we must take her to a court dressmaker.”

“What’s a court dressmaker?” asked the little girl. “Does it mean that all the dressmakers who have ‘Court Dressmaker’ on their signs make dresses for princesses?”

“We will see,” replied mother. Whereupon the whole family called upon a French dressmaker on Bond Street, who told the little girl that she designed gowns for the royal family and for all the titled ladies of England.

Madame agreed to provide the proper wardrobe for the doll if the little girl’s father cared to pay what it was worth. Father consented. He felt so sure little girls belonged in homes that he was willing to do anything to make his little girl forget that she had no home.

From London the family went to Paris, and from Paris they travelled all over Europe. Wherever they visited, the little girl bought treasures for the doll; in Paris, hats and gowns; in Switzerland, a tiny watch; in Holland, Dutch costumes; in Germany and Austria, beautiful little dishes; and in Italy, necklaces and jewels. Perhaps there was never a doll so bountifully supplied with personal belongings as Henrietta Maria Florabel Jane. That was the name father gave the doll one day when he wished to make the little girl laugh.

Owning things never made any one happy. The doll cared nothing for her wee fans and tiny parasols. She was soon tired of travel, and if she ever wished for anything it was for a home. She was particularly tired of the automobiles in which the little girl’s father took them flying through the country.

At the end of two years the family returned to America and, without asking the doll if she preferred staying in Boston, they took her to California for the winter.

To be sure, the doll didn’t know that the little girl’s father talked of buying a home in the West; all she knew was that from one week’s end to another she passed most of her time in an automobile.

The little girl enjoyed the rides, but the doll slid back among the cushions and fell asleep every time she had a chance. If the little girl tried to make the doll sit straight, she was sure to pitch forward.

“Her sawdust is getting all wibblywobbly,” the little girl said to her mother one day.

“Well,” laughed mother, “it is no wonder. Think how many miles the poor thing has travelled. She doesn’t seem to enjoy automobiles.”

“I never thought of it before,” remarked the little girl, “but I suppose she is like me, and would rather have a home than anything else, especially when to-morrow is Christmas. Always hanging up your stockings in a hotel fireplace! Dear me!”

It was perhaps five minutes later that the automobile broke down beside an orange grove a few miles outside of Redlands.

The doll fell asleep the minute the little girl and her mother climbed out of the back seat. The accident happened about three o’clock in the afternoon. Father walked to a ranch house and telephoned for help. Hours passed, while the family ate oranges and watched the men work at repairing the machine.

“Let’s take a walk,” suggested the little girl; “let’s go straight back through the orange grove.”

Hidden among the trees, the two came upon a tiny cottage covered with climbing roses.

“Oh, it’s a real home!” whispered the little girl.

“Children live here,” added mother.

“Yes,” the little girl went on, “and look at the tracks of bare baby feet going along by the irrigating ditch. Let’s play it’s an adventure and follow the footsteps.”

“Oh, they’re having a good time!” whispered the little girl. “Hear them laugh! Let’s hurry! Oh, it’s a Christmas-tree!”

A group of children were so busy decorating a little cypress-tree that they didn’t notice the strangers until the child and her mother saw what they were doing. They were tying paper dolls to the tree, and the dolls were cut from a merchant’s catalogue.

“To-morrow’s Christmas,” explained the oldest child, twisting her apron and digging her toes in the sand when she saw the little girl and her mother. The other children, mere babies, ran away.

“It’s a ‘streemly pretty tree,” ventured the little girl.

“It’s for the children,” went on the sister, “our children and two little boys that never even went to Redlands. Mother said we could have a tree.”

“It’s—it’s ‘streemly pretty,” repeated the little girl.

“There’s a present for everybody.” The sister’s face brightened as she spoke. “Not presents that cost money, but mother and all of us have made things and it’s going to be lovely. We’re to have it in the morning.”

“Are you going to have any presents your own self?” demanded the little girl.

“Why, yes,” was the reply. “Of course I won’t get anything big, like dolls, because our orange grove isn’t paid for yet, and you always pay for your orange grove and water tax before your mother can buy big things, but everybody’!! get something. Our mother is—is pretty, too!”

This the small sister added as she realized for the first time that the little girl’s mother was beautiful.

“I just wish,” she continued, “that we could give her something lovely. I’m afraid she’ll be disappointed.”

“Would she like a new hat?” asked the little girl’s mother.

“Would she?” echoed the small sister. “But, you see, a hat’s a big thing!”

“Can you keep a secret until to-morrow morning?” inquired the little girl’s mother as she untied a pink silk scarf and took off her hat. “Because if you can, here is a Christmas surprise for your mother.”

“That lovely hat?” gasped the small sister.

“That lovely hat!” echoed mother, laughing, while the little girl clapped her hands. “I’ll wear my scarf home.”

The sun went down and the moon rose before the automobile was in order. The cottage children were asleep when the little girl remembered Henrietta Maria Florabel Jane.

“Oh, wake up, wake up,” said she, giving the doll a shake. “You’ll never have to take another journey. Mother, mother, may I put her on that Christmas-tree? Those children will love her, and she acts as if she doesn’t like automobiles. I am sure it will make her happy to be a Christmas doll in California, and have a home!”

Through the orange grove went the whole family until they reached the Christmas tree in the shining moonlight. Father tied the doll where the little sister could reach it in the morning, and then, fearing to be seen, the three ran back to the automobile and were soon speeding away toward their hotel.

Father had planned a Christmas surprise, and, if the automobile had not broken down where it did, Henrietta Maria Florabel Jane might have ended her days in the attic of the new home instead of in the little cottage among the orange trees, where she helped the small sister take care of the babies.

“If you’re good,” the small sister used to say to the little ones, “you may hold the automobile Christmas doll.”

If smiles mean anything, the doll was happy ever after.—Frances Margaret Fox, in Little Folks.

The Unitarian Register, Volume 93, 1914

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The ever-curious Mrs Daffodil cannot help but speculate on why the gentleman sold his home and decided to travel. Was he, as the Americans say, “on the run”?

The story suggests that the automobile doll needed to be fitted for a proper travelling wardrobe at that Court Dressmaker’s establishment.

WARDROBE OF THE MOTOR CAR DOLL

The automobile doll is nothing short of entrancing. She is pretty enough to excite envy in the breast of any woman, for no matter how long the drive and how strong the wind, she arrives at the end of her journey looking as fresh as when she started out.

Over her frock she wears a light weight automobile coat made in the latest fashion. On her hands are strong automobile gloves, while her eyes are protected by miniature automobile goggles which cannot spoil her beauty, ugly as they are. For old days the automobile doll has a heavy ulster, sometimes fur lined, and a fur lined hood to keep her ears protected from biting winds. One of the newest doll importations is an automobile doll wearing a stunning automobile veil to match her coat. Kansas City [MO] Star 17 December 1907: p. 12

Perhaps then the automobile doll would have been happier, although that might have led to an altogether less uplifting ending to the story.

It is singular how dolls and Christmas are inseparably linked, particularly in Holiday numbers of illustrated papers for the Young. There is also the popular tradition of the Fairy or Angel Doll for the top of the Christmas tree.

Should her readers be interested, Mrs Daffodil has written about Cora’s Christmas Doll, The Christmas Doll House, and “Mademoiselle Frou-Frou,” a highly fashionable Christmas bazaar doll.

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.