Let me start with corrections and omissions regarding this passage from the last post:
“Oh, ancestors go-to-China!” exclaimed Emery Bag. “We live in the present, and I demand—I demand justice. I leave it to anybody if it’s fair to have twenty needles stuck into your heart at once!”
A friend of mine contacted me to say she feels that Mr. Thimble and Mr. Emery bag’s conflict may be purely class-based and with no racial undertones. Her take is that “Go to China” may have been a polite (but racist/xenophobic) way to say ‘go to hell’. Mr. Thimble had evoked his ancestor’s history of power and Emery was simply saying “fuck your ancestors, this is now and stabbing people of less status is bullshit.
Even with this more clarified reading, Mr. Thimble is still the worst.
Chapter XII: Mary Frances’ Treasure Box
Let’s return to the sewing room.
The Sewing Bird, now awake, informs Mary of their future sewing plans.
“For your dear dolly we will make, And every pains will try to take, An apron, and a pinafore; And later, other things galore;“Her wardrobe we so full will fill, No one would care to pay her bill.”
I’m not sure what to make of that last line. The doll’s wardrobe will be so luxurious..and she will have no obvious means of employment or benefactor…that folks will suspect much money is owed to a seamstress and think “well, I’m not paying for THAT”?
Mary gets all excited about this news, covers her eyes, and orders the Bird to transform into her Fairy Form,
“Oh,” said Mary Frances somewhat breathlessly, “excuse me for calling you so suddenly, but I so wanted to talk with another woman—” and then she blushed, fearing she had offended the little bird.
“And not a bird,” smiled Fairy Lady. “I understand,” she nodded, “a bird, be she ever so wise, doesn’t understand the needs of a doll-child or the heart of her mother.”
“Thank you, dear Fairy Lady,” replied Mary Frances.
It might have been that Mary was close to tears once more and wanted a motherly figure. There had been talk that Mary’s mother was to teach Mary how to sew over summer but her ill-health prevented her from doing so and Mary had been told not to pester her Grandma about it, for Granny’s eyesight can no longer handle the delicate work of stitching. Or perhaps Mary had grown up being taught that sewing and clothing is a women’s domain that to even discuss it requires a human-like woman’s presence to be near.
“And I know how brave you are while your mother is away, Mary Frances, child,” continued Fairy Lady, “but I’ve had orders from our King not to speak of that—so we’ll get the material ready for dolly’s apron.”
Awww, hell. The Fairy Lady can control Thimble Folks with her bodkin-wand but she ultimately reports back to a King? Smash the patriarchy.
“By the way,” said Fairy Lady. “Where will you put these things as you make them? You must keep them a secret, you know, until we finish the lessons, or we’ll become Never-Nevers.”
NEVER FORGET THAT LOOSE LIPS DOOM FAIRY SHIPS, MARY!
I hate the idea of a fantasy existence that must be kept secret from adults. I really do. Nothing good comes from swearing children to secrecy under the threat that they will lose something they care about if they speak. Nothing. I’m far more in favor of fantasy realms that children can speak of but that adults do not have the imagination and power of youth to experience/believe in.
“I shall keep them in my treasure box. Mother gave it to me a year ago. It has a little key and it locks. Mother said all girls love to have a kind of a secret place to keep treasures in.”
Yes, Mary, in times when women’s belongings…and women themselves..are believed to be the property of men, even something so simple as a small tin box with a fragile lock feels thrilling. It was not yet time for a room of one’s own…but a secret box of one’s own? Yes.
Smash the patriarchy.
Mary brings in her tin box and asks the Fairy Lady if she might tell someone someday of these lessons.
“Yes,” smiled Fairy Lady. “You may,—some day. We do not want our help to be given to one little girl only—so when we are all through, you can form a Sewing Circle to which your girl friends may belong, and you can teach them all you have learned.”
Nobody likes a selfish girl, Mary, share what you’ve learned with other girl. GIRLS. Not boys, they are too busy being good scouts and important people.
The Fairy Lady goes on to tell Mary that after this summer she’ll have her mother to help and won’t need the Thimble People.
Then, because our author can’t always find a good segue for introducing information, the Fairy Lady announces that the lesson is about to begin but not without a few words…and then performs an info-dump…which I will add to.
About Cloth, Weaving, and Spinning
Cotton cloth is made from the cotton plant; wool cloth from sheep’s fleece; silk cloth from silk worm’s cocoon; linen cloth from the flax plant.
The soft cotton is the warm coat for the cotton plant seed-baby. The fleecy wool is the warm coat of the sheep, or the little lambs. The web from the silk worm’s cocoon is the cradle in which it sleeps. Linen is made from the stalks of the flax plant.
This is all before most man-made synthetic fibers, of course.
Rayon (discovered in 1850’s and in commercial productions by 1890’s) actually predates the book but it isn’t considered 100% synthetic. because rayon is made from the cellulose of wood pulp and cotton. Prior to the 1920’s the manufacture of it was quite hazardous to the workers expensive and the resulting fabric was highly flammable, so by the time Mary Frances’ book was published rayon wasn’t yet popular enough to be covered in a home-sewing book.
Nylon, the start of man-made fibers synthesized solely from chemical compounds, was invented in the early 1930’s by a chemist in America and the resulting fabric was in production by the end of that decade. Polyester cloth was invented by British scientists in 1941 and in 1945 the DuPont company in America had bought the rights to produce it. DuPont expanded its synthetic reign by inventing the chemicals needed to create Spandex (invented 1958 and in production by 1962). By 1980’s DuPont had created the world’s first synthetic automaton: (Diamond) David Lee Roth.
Back to the info dump:
When these materials are spun, or twisted, into long threads, we have spool cotton and silk, wool yarns, and linen thread, for sewing. When the threads are woven or laced together into cloth, the stronger threads run the length of the goods—they are the warp threads. The weaker, or woof threads, run crosswise of the good.
The relatively weaker thread is why it’s possible to cleanly tear fabric in a line perpendicular to the selvage but not parallel to it.
Chapter XIII: Making a Doll’s Apron
A constant I’ve discovered so far in the book (because I’ve made more of the projects than I have yet written about) is how much I don’t look forward to making clothing items of a domestic nature like aprons or pinafores.
It’s not like I don’t cook. I cook frequently and have a variety of homemade aprons.
Yet I have no memories of my dolls cooking and cleaning. It may have been that as a small child I was a notoriously picky eater and took little joy in preparing food other than ice-cream sundaes.
I do remember that Megan A. and I would play Barbies together. Our Barbies had scandalous dating lives, imitating what we thought was going on on Dallas and daytime soap-operas. Our Barbies also dated the aforementioned David Lee Roth.
But, once I decided to sew the outfits of this book I knew I’d have to stitch an apron.
I didn’t have quite enough of either of these prints to make a whole apron, so I mixed prints.
The primary skill learned in this lessons was how to hand gather fabric, stroke the gathers to distribute them evenly, and stitch them into a band.
I’d previously avoided ever hand gathering fabric because my first adventure in making a gathered skirt was HUGE.
Albums of these sorts of skirts I’ve made with in-progress photos.
For industrial level ruffling I’ve invested in a ruffler foot for my sewing machine, seen here next to its simple sibling the gathering foot.
On the apron the gathering was done by a single thread (starting with a large knot) sewing a running stitch and then pulling that thread so the fabric gathers along the thread.
I wasn’t satisfied with how the single thread hand-stitched gather worked on the apron but I didn’t want to make a second one.
I find that gathering works much better when I use a machine, set to a long stitch, and stitch two parallel seams (no back stitching). Then I pull on the bobbin threads (the thread on the underside of the stitch) to gather the fabric, like so:
As you can see above, the gathers are not evenly distributed…because it’s time to STROKE. THAT. FABRIC.
(When Googling, include ‘fabric’ or ‘sewing’ in your search terms…don’t rely just on stroking gather/ gathering)
Stroking the fabric involves running a bodkin or blunt needle back and forth across the gathers to more evenly distribute them.
If historic sewing is your thing, here’s also an amazing blog entry on stroking the gathers on a mid-nineteenth century petticoat
And with a mostly finished apron we end yet another two chapters.
Coming up soon: Mary is given a sewing gift I’d sell the children I teach for…and maybe I’ll be ready to talk about the racism in the Mary Frances Housekeeping book.