Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Romper Sewing Bags

 Happy Wednesday!

In January of 1938, an 8th grade girl named Betty Jean sent a letter to her local newspaper in California about the Christmas she had while visiting her father.  Her Dad's home was not decorated for Christmas.  Betty Jean and her sister found a tree limb to substitute for a Christmas tree.  "Just to be silly," she wrote.  "My sister and I hung our socks by the fireplace."  Happily, her socks were filled with small presents on Christmas morn:  "a scarf, a box of candy, a wrist band, a box of hankies, and a sewing affair made like a pair of pajamas.  On this was pinned a verse that read:

Put your thimble in my pocket, 

your needles in my knees,

Drop your buttons down my collar,

And hang me where you please."

What Betty Jean described is a romper (not pajama) sewing bag.  I've seen a few of these and I know that Jayne and Sue P. have at least one of these.  I have a few I've collected through the years.

The verse used on the romper sewing bags vary and often missing from the piece when I find them later.  This one just happened to have the verse sewn in:

Ardella from Augusta, Maine, also wrote to her local newspaper about one she had received for Christmas 1936:

Also in 1936, "The Homemaker's Club", a regular column in the The Calgary Albertan (Canada), reported that the club had patterns readers had shared that were available to women in the region--including a romper sewing bag pattern.

There are a variety of these out on the market, especially Etsy.  The trick to finding these kinds of textiles is looking not for a "romper sewing bag" but instead searching for "small romper clothespin bag."  It doesn't surprise me that vendors don't know what they are selling, but there are a few tell-tale signs.  The legs have batting at the bottom for needles and pins and usually (but there are a few exceptions) a pocket for thimbles.  One of the ones I have was made without the loop at the top:

As charming as these are and as wide spread as they are found, it is surprising that I haven't found the source of the pattern.  I've looked through newspapers, magazines, even searched through things like 4-H patterns (although most members were taught to make a sewing bag, it isn't described in detail) and haven't found a single pattern published.  It's a mystery.

All of the articles in the newspapers are at the end of the 1930s which matches the fabric used in the sewing bags (there's only one other mention in 1939 and that is that a woman in Vermont who submitted one to the local fair for judging).

Still, for those of us who might want to make one for a friend or family member, there is hope.  This book has a true pattern for what the author refers to as a "sewing buddy."

I just happen to find this at a used book store and saw the pattern.  Copies of the book are still available online at a reasonable price.

If you happen to know the origin of this quaint little bag, please let me know.  Do you like it and find it charming too?

Have a safe and happy day!

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Tuesday's This and That: August 30, 2022

 Happy Tuesday!

Today the Great Allentown Fair begins!  It's one of the hallmarks of the end of the summer.  It used to be that schools opened after the fair--- but life changes.  I used to like to go to look at the agricultural and domestic arts exhibits.  Unfortunately, our schedule won't allow that this week.

Domestic exhibits and judging have been going on for over a century.  Barbara Brackman even wrote about our Allentown fair.  She was focused on the unusual names of quilt patterns at the fair.  You can read it here.  I don't know why the Pennsylvania German women named their quilts what they did, but I'm not surprised.  The older women in my family had all kinds of odd names for things.  Like this succulent commonly known as Chicks and Hens.  Nana Betty always referred to it as "Clucks and Peeps."  πŸ˜„ 

For years, my mother couldn't successfully make a recipe that my great-grandmother shared.  Turned out what Grandma referred to as "molasses" was actually Karo corn syrup. 
We all just enjoyed the fanciful language of our elders and laughed with them at the mix-ups.  As simple as our confusion could be at language between generations, it was nothing in comparison to families who were Pennsylvania Dutch.  I have often wondered how my Mother-In-Law, a well cultured woman from Delaware, navigated the early years of marriage with her very Pennsylvania Dutch in-laws.

One of the things I used to enjoy at the fair were the 4-H exhibits.  I love 4-H and although I wasn't ever a member, I have a deep appreciation for the work that organization does with children.  How many of you were members of the 4-H?

A really wonderful article is here and features 4-H quilts--including one that the writer's mother made when she was in 4-H!  Beth gave sewing lessons to her local 4-H children for years.  Just a week ago, she was out and saw someone who looked familiar--turns out it was one of her old sewing students who is now in college for nursing---and the student still sews!

The late and much loved Nancy Zieman learned to sew at 4-H and I wonder just how many sewing and quilting students continued to sew through their lifetimes--I bet a lot!

Wishing you all a fun and festive day!

Monday, August 29, 2022

Back to School!

It's back to school time!

Last week my great-nephew started pre-school.  He was a bit of a handful at daycare last year (not wanting to take naps, etc.).  My niece told me he has a very structured and firm teacher.   She thinks this experience will be good for him. 
πŸ˜‚ Of course, Owen's antics just make my mom and I laugh!  

Across the street, 4 year-old Gavin is about to experience his first day of pre-school as well.  He was so excited after the orientation and couldn't wait to come over and tell me he had already made two friends!

The first day of school can be very emotional for young parents and first time students...unless you are Sunbonnet Sue:
1980s "September" Sunbonnet
Not everyone is happy to start school like this young British boy in 1952.

In countries like Germany, Austria, and Belgium, the first day of school is marked with presenting a 


The Schultute is that large cone that the little girl is holding.  It is filled with candy, small toys, and stationary and presented as the child leaves for their first day of school.  It's a big deal in these countries and interesting rite of passage that makes the first day of school exciting and fun for the child.  Here are some interesting articles you may want to read about this fascinating tradition:

Quilters have been celebrating school for decades!  Although the little red school house has many variations, the one below is my favorite because of the bell tower:

Turn of the century school house block (red has faded to pink).

An Apple A day Quilt, circa 1940s.

Despite our tradition of taking an apple to the teacher, I like the schultute tradition so much more!  What do you think?

Have a safe and happy day!

Friday, August 26, 2022

Flower Friday: August 26, 2022

 Happy Flower Friday!

It's the end of August and I'm already working on the changes I'll make to the garden this fall.  My neighbor is a bee keeper and she's trying to grow more flowers so I'll be passing along a lot of plants to her.  Other plants will be moved around as I rearrange and clear out the garden.  To me, this is the fun part of gardening!

The cosmos are finally blooming.  It's been a weird year for the cosmos.  The plants have grown REALLY tall (one is over 5 feet!) with sturdy stalks--but no flowers.  Then we got rain and now they are finally blooming.  It's a reminder that no matter how much we water, there is no substitute for real rain.  The upside of all this is that none of my plants have powdery mildew which usually is plaguing plants like zinnias and cosmos this time of year.


The balsams are still a riot of color and I'm so glad I reintroduced these to the garden!

Even the geraniums look better since the rain!

Wishing you a safe and happy weekend!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Sewing Screen

 Happy Thursday!

A week ago, I wrote about cotton and the price of fabric.  One of the things I mused about was making my fabric go farther.   

The funny thing about this is that I actually did a net search.  I googled "Making fabric stash go further" and then laughed at the results.  Only one book was advertised:  Two From One Jelly Roll Quilts, 18 Designs to Make your Fabric Go Further.  

Every other article focused on building, organizing, enhancing, and arranging one's fabric stash.  We are a consumer generation and of course, the fabric manufacturers support buying more fabric. 

But quilters are more.  We have trained our eyes to see the possibilities of fabrics we see in shops and often these very fabrics inspire us--at least when we buy them.

There are pages and pages of products we can buy to help us organize our fabric and tools.  "Our foremothers never had this problem," I thought to myself as I looked around our small cottage.  "They didn't have the room for storage or the disposable income to purchase so much."

But then--as I was researching darning bags, I found an article on something I had forgotten about--sewing screens.  And I began researching those once I had finished the darning research.

Of course I have one. 😁  

I bought this little gadget years ago when the kids still lived at home and I didn't have a sewing room.  At the time I purchased it, it had worn cretonne fabric pockets hanging on the lower half (by cup hooks) which made it convenient to hold my small sewing.  I could close it up and store it behind my sewing chair when it wasn't in use.  It's made from recycled wood pieces.  

I have seen a few of these at flea markets and most are much bigger than mine.  My smaller version was possibly made for a child.  Only 14 inches long, each half of the screen is  only about 7 inches wide. Eventually the frayed pockets became too weak and I disposed of them.  This aspect became a moot point when the kids moved out and I took over the attic.

The original concept was first publicized in the late 19th century.
The latest in "portable furniture", articles suggested it was convenient, kept the woman's sewing organized, and hidden from view when not in use.   


"Perfect for My Lady's bedroom," one article cited in the 1890s.  By the early 20th century,  uses for the screen expanded. From 1907: 

It was suggested that women should have one in their country home (if they were wealthy enough to have such a residence) and my favorite, for sewing on the summer porch.

Most of these had a handle at the top that made it easy to carry around.  Mine doesn't have handles per se but recycled drawer pulls to use for portability.

These are likely early 20th century versions (images from pinterest).

A variety of sewing screen ideas were published in books, magazines, and newspapers throughout the 20th century, until the 1980s.  

Women were often encouraged to make their screens as is evidenced by this photograph from 1915 in one book
When the Depression hit, Farm Bureaus, women's groups, and 4-H ran classes on building the screens as well. These classes ran for decades.

Some screens were quite elaborate and large.  Often they had enough space to keep jars that were screwed in at the lids for things like buttons and gadgets like these mid-century ones:


Below:  A large trifold screen design from 1937:

The screen were popular in various parts of the world.  I found directions or examples in Canada, the U.K., and Australia!  Some were even sold pre-made or in kits.

A later version, painted in green (pinterest).


Nearly every article I read underlined the need that women had to keep their sewing organized and easily accessible.  Grandma might not have had the large fabric stash we do but she certainly longed for ease when she sewed.  It's comforting to know that our foremothers shared some of the same challenges we do.  


By the 1980s, the phrase "sewing screen" no longer connotated a fold-up sewing corner.  It referred instead to a computerized screen on one's sewing machine:

Still there may be a need to bring this old-time gadget back.  For sewing folks living in apartments, small (or even tiny!) houses, and as many of us a certain age are down-sizing, having a sewing screen to organize tools and projects may just be an idea who's time has returned.

Now if we could only find a portable way to store our fabric...😁


Tomorrow is Flower Friday and if you have anything to share, please email me at!

Have a safe and happy day!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022



"Darning Socks" painting by Charles Spencelayh

Darning was one of those bygone tasks that I didn't think was done much anymore.  Au contraire mon ami!  There are lots of tutorials on darning and it seems the younger generation has found an interest in what women often considered a tiresome but necessary task of managing a household.

Patterns for various darning bags were always published in newspapers and women's magazines.  This one is particularly elaborate and dates from 1894:

In the early 1910, one women reporter who wrote that in her neighborhood, there were the Darning Bag Friends.  When the women came together to complete the somewhat tiresome--but portable--task of darning and exchanged views and tips to each other.

1910 Darning Bag

Actually, darning isn't that difficult of a task to do.  Mothers during the first half of the 20th century were encouraged to teach their daughters to darn at a very early age.  From 1915:

"Even the little girl of 6 can be taught to darn the tiny holes in her stockings.  For this purpose she should be supplied with a darning bag all her own...A darning bag, the right kind of darning bag, always contains a pocket on the outside.  The large bag is intended to hold the stockings, while the outside pocket, possibly 8 inches square, hold the spools of darning thread, darning egg, needles, etc.  Encourage the little one to make this bag herself, with assistance..."

Not all bags were made this way.  The bag was an important tool but so was the egg or mushroom that was used to hold the weaving.  Here are some examples being marketed at etsy here.

By the 1920s, another way to catch up on darning was done by women who listened to the radio.  This 1924 article summarizes the importance of doing something than the mundane task of darning:

"If my radio has done nothing more than empty my darning for me every week, it would have been worth the price."

It seems like most women didn't like darning and sometimes sock manufacturers capitalized on that:

Darning bags also began to express a sense of humor about the task through the 1920s to the 1950s:

1938 pattern

This one, also available at Etsy does include a large pocket on the outside with this quote:  "I darned and darned until my fingers are sore.  I'll be darned if I darn anymore."

I only have one darning bag in my collection but I love it!

Darning samplers were also completed to teach girls how to darn, mend, and patch in earlier centuries.  A great article on this with wonderful photos is here.

And lest you think that only women did the darning--men, particularly soldiers learned to darn socks pretty darn quickly when they were out in the field.

Even during the Civil War, soldiers carried a portable sewing kit called a "housewife" which included darning supplies.  Fresh socks were the number one request of soldiers.  Below is a well known photo from the Civil War.

I personally only know one person who has this skill.  Beth knows how to darn and even has an extension collection of darning eggs.  It was a skill that came in handy when she worked professionally as a quilt restoration/preservation expert.

Have you ever done darning?

Have a safe and happy day!