Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Story Time Stitches: A Forward



Like some of you, I spent most of my childhood reading.  I rarely went anywhere without a book.  I was particularly drawn to older books and found a wonderful supply in our elementary school library and at my grandmother's house.  But I really didn't care what I was reading:  picture books, books written for boys, whatever I could get my hands on, I read.  As an adult, I collected vintage/antique children's picture books and illustrated ephemera long before I collected quilts.  

In part, I was always in search of my favorite childhood picture book, My Dolly and Me, written by Patricia Scarry and illustrated by Eloise Wilkin.  My mother had discarded it because as she explained, "you wore that book out!"  As a chld, the book was my Velveteen Rabbit; as an adult it became my Holy Grail.


One of the reasons I loved this book was the setting.  I grew-up in a post-war house.  Every residence in the neighborhood was a different color but essentially the same rectangular box.  The little girl in my book (whose name we never learn) lived in a charming older home with an actual front porch, complete with rocking chairs.  Pretty wallpaper decorated the walls of the rooms in the background.  I wanted to live there and was convinced her home had wonderful nooks and crannies like some of the older houses of my family members.  

As I write this, I am in my home of a nearly twenty-five years.  The house is a century old cape-cod cottage with a few nooks and crannies.  Pretty wallpaper decorates the eaves of the attic sewing room.  I realize now that it isn't ironic I live in this house; it's kismet.

Many of Patricia Scarry's books continue to be printed, including books she wrote with her husband, Richard.  When my granddaughter was little, a special collection of books and stories that featured Eloise Wilkin's illustration was published.  My Dolly and Me was not included in the volume.  My Dolly and Me must have been coveted and rare.  It took me years to not only find a copy but one I could afford.  Used copies of the picture book are lower in today's deflated market and now range from $30-$140.  

All this is a nice story but I know you are wondering: what does this have to do with quilts?

When I began to study antique and vintage quilts--particularly the juvenile themed ones--I often forgot to look at the quality of the stitches or the construction of the textile.  I'd focus on a particular image and think:  I've seen this before.  The reason the embroidery or appliqued block resonated with me was because I had seen the image before:  in picture books or the illustrations I had amassed.

In "Story Time Stitches", I hope to demonstrate that illustration became a unique component in quilts from the late 19th century to the present.  

"If you want to understand art, look at the history during the time it was made," an artist friend once told me.

History is not merely memorizing dates and facts.  It's about finding connections.  As I tell my audiences in every lecture about quilt history:  quilts are artifacts, impacted by economics, technology, sociology, historical events and a variety of other factors.  Story Time Stitches is a great example of it.  The quilt blocks and illustrations we will look at reflect a variety of facets that intersect like the spiderwebs we so often find in our beloved crazy quilts.

Children internalize the messages in books they hear and read. There are many academic papers that support the thesis that what a child sees at a young age is also imprinted in the child's view of the world.  So too do our quilts.  A woman I know who had never sewnd once told me about a handmade quilt at her grandmother's:  "I studied every picture on the fabric.  I can still see the animals and little people that were there."


My hope is that many of you will share with us your favorite childhood books and/or illustrations and perhaps even images you found on vintage or antique quilts.  I hope you have as much fun through this series as  I had during my exploration of this topic.
Have a safe and happy day!

1. Illustration from unknown source.

2.  My Dolly and Me by Patricia Scarry and illustrated by Eloise Wilkin.  I have found many sources that indicate it was originally published in 1960.

3. Illustration by Chloe Preston from Nursery Rhymes for Children, 1942.

4.  Brigg's iron-on embroidery transfer from the later part of the 19th century.  Various sources indicate that spiders and spiderwebs were symbolic of (depending on the source) hardwork, creativity, wisdom or good luck.

5.  Illustration by Emma Clark from the Metropolitan Mother Goose, No copyright.  This was a booklet published by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in the first half of the 20th century and distributed to clients (or potential clients) with children.

Story Time Stitches © 2021: Michele McLaughlin


  1. Eloise Wilken's illustrations are my favorite. She was able to tell the stories without any words. My favorite is 'Baby Dear'. I had a baby brother and was about 10 yrs. old when this book came out. There were no siblings between us so he was very precious to me. The illustrations made me feel so safe. My favorite was the illustration showing the mother holding the baby in front of a picture window with a sunset in the background. I have a badly worn copy of that book. I also have 'Baby's 1st Christmas. Other book illustrations I loved were Snow White and Rose Red in the Book House Books and the Musicians of Bremen in The Tall Book of Fairy Tales, Harper Collins Publishers.

  2. Oh certainly stirred some memories...I'm 62 years old and the only book I've kept from my childhood is My Dolly and Me...and I have no idea why...I've got to dig it out and take a look!

  3. Lovely post. I have long searched for a ‘50s book I read in the doctor’s office when I was young. It was about a little blond boy’s first days at school. The illustrations were not nearly as delicate as Wilkins. But I was fascinated by the book. I can’t wait to read your up coming posts.

  4. As the youngest of four kids I recall Mother reading the Little House series to us kids, and as an adult I bought the series to read, and read to my hubby so he would understand influences from my childhood. I remember Laura mentioning that Mary was piecing a Dove In The Window block and as an adult I have looked up that block, and there are many. I wonder which one she was making.

  5. Perhaps my reading those Little House books over again and again has influenced my interest in 1800's-1920's fabrics?