craft, Disney, Mary Frances sewing, sewing

Chapter XII & XIII: Mary Frances’ Treasure Box & Making a Doll’s Apron.

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.”


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.


More of this artist’s work can be found at

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.


As you can see in this illustration, the woof threads also go by the name weft threads.

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.

dancer in forrest

Photo by Maaserhit Honda. Dancer and Costume: Me!!!

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.

ruffler attachment

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.

My tiny, not quite even, hand stitches on the back of the apron.

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.


craft, Mary Frances sewing

Mr. Silver Thimble is the worst.

Chapter XI begins with Mary asking grandmother for a piece of white lawn cotton.

“Why, certainly, dear,” said Grandma. ”You are such a good child. I am sure I never saw a little girl who was so able to amuse herself.”

“My, I wish I could explain about my little friends,” thought Mary Frances, but she answered, “I don’t get very lonely when you are away, Nanny dear, because I keep busy; and when you are here, we have such fun together!”

 “Heigho!” exclaimed Grandma, “I feel really young again!”

And then Grandma leaves again. She must. It’s essential for the plot for her to always leave.

Mary then takes her doll, Angie, in her arms and rocks her to sleep. She suspects that Angie is too old a doll to baby but Mary has left her baby-baby doll back home. What Mary told Gran, about not getting lonely, was a lie. Mary needs to feel a connection to something familiar and now that means rocking her doll to sleep and crying.


I’d certainly get very lonesome if I didn’t do it—with Mother and Father so far away—and Billy in camp!”

The big tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Come, Mary Frances,” she said. ”I feel like shaking you. When you promised Father so faithfully to be a woman, and your Grandma is such a darling!”

Mary re-read her mother’s last letter and took comfort in it. Of course the letter also reminded her that her Brother Billy is a very good scout.

“My, I feel better,” said Mary Frances, drying her tears. ”But if it weren’t for my sewing lessons, even with Grandma’s help, I’d not be a Scout. Billy is a good Scout:—but now,—for the lesson,” and she went to the sewing-room very softly, with Angie asleep in her arms.”

I’m not even sure what that means. I think it’s there to remind little girls that being a scout is not the sort of thing a girl aspires to…and to once more justify why Billy’s summer is paid for and involves peers and human teachers and Mary is left to hide her sobs from the servant and interact with Thimble Folks.

Sadistic Thimble Folks.

Hee-ha!” she heard through the door, which was a very tiny way open, “that’s the time!”

She thought it was the voice of Silver Thimble.


“I don’t care,” answered a new voice. “It’s too much, to have to clean them all at once.”

 “Oh, there are only two more. Come, I’m ready— it is really excellent practice for a soldier!”

Mary peered into the sewing room to find Mr.Silver Thimble thrusting needle after needle into the body/face of Mr. Emery Bag.



Emery (corundite) is a dark granular rock used to make an abrasive powder. it might be most recognizable as the coating for emery nail files. An emery bag is a fabric pouch filled with emery powder. Sewists jab pins and needles into emery bags to remove built-up rust from these tools.

One most often sees small strawberry-shaped emery bags paired with tomato-shaped pin-cushions. I do not own either…yet.

Take ‘em out, I say!”

And now the world of Mary Frances forces me to ask once more…is this some racist bullshit? Think I’m overreacting? I’ve read the Mary Frances Housekeeping book, Jane E Fryer was…a white woman of her time.

“Emery Bag, what do you think you were made for? I hope you realize it’s your duty to clean all the rust and roughness off these needles as I run them through you, so that the little Miss may sew more easily,” lectured Thimble. “No in-sub-or-din-a-tion! Stop and think! You know my family’s power,—you know my family’s wealth. You realize, I hope, you live in a land named for my aris-to-crat-ic ancestors— Thimble Land!”


Why do these characters so love ran-dom d-a-shes?

“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!”

“The idea of being such a coward!” retorted Thimble. “Where’s your heart of steel you brag of so often?”

….uh. So. Many. Questions.

Is Mr. Emery Bag supposed to be Chinese? Is that why he (and later Ma Chine) doesn’t have illustrated big, wide eyes? If not, why are his ancestors going to China? Is he wearing one of those tacky “China hat with attached braid” deals?

Is…is the needle thing related to acupuncture? It certainly was practiced at that time, albeit not legalized or seen as acceptable for westerners until the early 1970’s after Nixon’s China visit. It probably would have been known of by 1900’s as something “those inscrutable Asians” did.

Mary stops none of this– she just watches it unfold from the doorway.

It’s scarcely fair, you know,” came a new voice. “You see, twenty needles at once are really more than are needed.”


Pin Cushion, you go ….you amorphous horror!

“Humph, Tommy Pin Cushion,” answered Silver Thimble. “What you sticking your ‘pinion in for? It’s a wonder Sewing Bird hasn’t stuck her bill in! Tommy Pin Cushion, you might just as well keep out of this—everybody knows you’re stuck on yourself— Fatty!”


Oh, Mr. Thimble is a fat shamer too? Quel surprise! I hate Mr. Thimble. You should too.

“You conceited old Silver Thimble,” came the voice of Pin Cushion. “You will please address me by my full name—’Tomato-Pin-Cushion, Custodian-of-the-Sword-Needles’;—and what’s more, if you don’t quickly remove all those needles from poor Emery, you won’t get any more sword-needles to wield. So there! You know Sewing Bird’s taking forty winks; that’s why you don’t act in your best military manner.”

Sewing Bird began to wake. Mr. Thimble ran to put the needles into Tommy, hiding the evidence of his brutal treatment of Emery Bag. With no more conflict to avoid, Mary sighed to herself, “Good. Now I’ll go in.”

Yeah, Mary’s not winning any prizes today.

craft, Mary Frances sewing

Chapter IX: A Doll’s Laundry Bag

I debated skipping this chapter.

I didn’t make Mary Frances’s Laundry Bag because I am awash in handmade things to put things in. It’s where I started my self-taught machine sewing journey while in Japan…even before I owned a machine! I used a high school’s home economics machines in my down time between teaching.

You want to go wade through my Pinterest page of things to put things in, go ahead.

The chapter involves sewing that bag. Period.

And then I skimmed it again:

Well, self-taught sewist, it’s time to teach yourself about needle sizes and types.

If you’re here for Thimble People entertainment, you can skip ahead to the sewing tools at the end of this post. They are puuurdy. If you stay, prepare for needle talk.

What do the numbers mean? Generally the number of hand-sewing needles (not machine needles) refers to the gauge. The higher the number, the finer (and usually shorter) the needle.

There are also different types of needles:

  • Sharp Needles: Aren’t most needles sharp? Not helpful. These are the average/medium lengths needles with sharp points and the eye of the needle is round (almost a circle but on the oval-ish side).This is probably your general idea of a hand-Sewing needle
  • Between/Quilting needles: shaped like sharps but shorter and thinner (higher gauge) for making fine stitches on heavy fabrics.
  • Milliner’s needles: shaped like sharps but longer.

Photo stolen from

  • Embroidery/Crewel needles: like sharps they have a sharp tip and are of medium length but the eye is a longer oval eye so that they can more easily be threaded with multiple embroidery threads, thicker thread, or yarn.
  • Tapestry needles: blunted tip (sometimes bent at a slight angle) and a large oval eye.
  • Ground Down Needles: I have no idea what this means, maybe the tapestry needles? …no, those were Zephyr needles. I got a little tired of Googling and then going “Ohh, add hand sewing to search” when I got pages and pages about proper disposal of needles and what to do if you find a needle. If you know, drop me a comment.
  • Bodkin needle: blunt, huge eye, used for drawing tape, ribbon or elastic through a loop or hem.

It was with Bodkin searches that I started to drift into “Oooooooh, PURDY!” Remember, really nice ornate sewing tools were sometimes the only property a mother could get away with handing down to her daughter. They were seen as too much “Women’s Tools” for anyone to make sure they remained the legal property of the husband and thus part of what would be passed town to sons. Before sewing became highly automated the ornate tools of sewing and the craft/artistry of needlework, was seen as an aristocratic skill and past time.

All that to say: Check out this bodkin and needle case. Vintage/Antique bodkins get pretty fancy..


Damn…look at that sewing basket. WHAAAAAT?


Sewing Egg: containing needles and a thimble! Makes me almost like thimbles (Seriously, next chapter is all about how Mr. Silver Thimble is the WORST)


Here’s a smoother sewing egg! The Smooth Sewing Eggs could be used to stretch items for darning. I’m not sure what it has inside but I want it.



People say I’m hard to shop for but just get me a flapper vomiting a measuring tape. I will LOVE you.


Sweet dreams

craft, Mary Frances sewing

Chapter VIII & IX: Sewing Bird Fairy Lady & Magic and Mystery

After instructing Mary on hand stitching techniques, the Sewing Bird starts her on a grand sampler on canvas. I don’t intend to make one. Cross stitch doesn’t interest me much. I have no need to depict a small house terrorized by a giant black rabbit.

Then the Sewing Bird reveals more about herself.

”Dear little Miss, I’ll give you A secret to keep. Put your hand over your eyes, And don’t dare to peep! Now, you may take away your hand— Behold, a Lady from Thimble Land!”

When Mary Frances opened her eyes, there sat the loveliest, sweetest little fairy lady on the edge of the table in the place of Sewing Bird; — only Mary Frances noticed her lips looked very much like the bill of a bird.”

First, what’s with all the secrets? If Mary is not to talk of the Thimble Folks that will already include the fact that the Sewing Bird is able to shape-shift into a magic fairy.

Worst warg ever. The Sewing Bird can be a talking utilitarian object for sewists or a fairy with wings. Why hang out at Grandma’s when you’ve got actual wings?

And what was all that bullshit last time when the Sewing Bird was lamenting not having handy hands? She had the ability for hands ALL ALONG. Liar.

The illustrator, Jane A Boyer, seems to have NO desire to depict her fairy with a beak-like pair of lips. None of the illustrations of the Fairy Lady show such a thing. She’s got antenna to go with her butterfly wings (not bird wings) but nary a beak to be seen.

And it’s not like Jane A Boyer was opposed to making freakish creatures… it’s just that a beak on a woman seems to have been a step too far.

The fairy goes on to give Mary the freakish power to control which visage of the Bird/Fairy is present, she simply must shield her eyes and say “Magic and Mystery, Give my wish to me.” and the change is made.

I teach small children. I would never give them this power over me.

The shapeshifting is not yet over.

As Fairy Lady starts to teach Mary how to mark and fold a hem we meet more of the Thimble Folk.

Pen Cil is just a lead pencil. It does not transform. It just writes on fabric. I don’t know why Mary uses a lead pencil instead of tailor’s chalk. Needles aren’t generally given personas here. I don’t know why Pen Cil is a thing.

Hell, I don’t understand why a talking Sewing Bird needs to become a Fairy. I guess it was assumed that a Fairy and Magic would keep a child’s attention more than just freakish talking scissors and thimbles.

When I was a child, Dorothy and the other children who found their way to Oz had to endure natural disasters and traumas! Physical transformations required the active use of magic spells, consultations with witches, and long journeys. You didn’t just switch back and forth willy-nilly. It wasn’t just a silly chant and BOOM and the same chant and back.

Disclaimer: I use Ozma as a stage name and I have a tattoo of a poppy on my back. I have formed a long friendship with a woman I met on LJ simply because we both had Oz-related icons. I have standards for children’s fantasy from this era that the Thimble People cannot ever meet.

After Pen Cil marks muslin for Mary, she starts learning how to make a tiny drawstring laundry bag for her doll’s future clothing. I have so many bags that I have made over the years that I did not make one. This blogger’s daughter did.

As Mary begins this project she meets Mr. Silver Thimble. He’s a tiny blowhard.

I’m Thimble!” exclaimed a wee little voice, “and the reason I always wear my helmet, is that I want to wield my sword,” as Mary Frances lifted him out.

“I beg your Majesty’s pardon,” said the little fellow turning to Sewing Bird Fairy Lady—”but perhaps Miss Mary Frances doesn’t understand that all needles are my swords!”

Mr. Silver Thimble also transforms from a soldier to a normal thimble with the words: Nimble, nimble, Turn my thimble.

This makes some sense as you’d have to thrust your finger through the body of the soldier to use the thimble without the incantation.

None of this prepared me for Scissor Shears.

Scissors Shears was strutting on tip-toe up and down the sewing table, closing up each time to take a step.

”Why,” said Mary Frances, slipping in, ”can you talk, too?”

“Can I talk?” exclaimed Scissors Shears in a growling voice. “Can I talk? Yes, and walk, too! As if I weren’t years older than that Sewing Bird—Rip ‘er up the back! Rip ‘er up the back! That conceited thing thinks she knows everything,—why I could tell you all about how to cut out anything. Why, I know all about cutting things out! I can even cut myself!”

Yeah. That’s alarming. I guess scissors exist to cut but…yeah.

Of course, Scissor Shears can also transform.

Scissors-and-Shears, Scissors-and-Shears, Now change your ears. Now change your ears”

At which point the scissors become a scissors-rabbit hybrid. This doesn’t change the scissors’ usefulness. Either way, you have to plunge your finger through the creature’s eyes to use him. It makes no sense.

Scissors Shears soon goes on another odd rant. FairyLady touches him with her wand, he collapses on the table, and she reassures Mary.

“I can control him when I have my wand. If he’s ever rude, and you want me, say the magic verse I taught you.”

“Oh, thank you,” said Mary Frances, smiling to herself.

“I guess if I pulled his ears real hard, he’d be good anyhow,” she thought, “but I’ll not let Sewing Bird know. All rabbits are controlled by their ears, and I’m sure he looks more like a rabbit than any other animal I can think of.”

I dearly hope Mary doesn’t attend a school with school pets. Rabbits are not controlled by their ears nor is there ever cause to pull on a rabbit’s ears.

I am also disturbed that Mary thinks controlling Scissor Shears with physical pain is fine just so long as Sewing Bird remains unaware of it.

And thus two more chapters end…and yet haunt me.

craft, Mary Frances sewing

Before Mother’s Grand Gift.

Let’s see where our characters are before the Thimble people.


Where we find Mary, in her own words:

“’Mother is never very strong, and Father had to go to California on business; and he thought wouldn’t it be nice to take Mother with him. So I’m here at my dear Grandma’s for the long summer vacation; and brother Billy is camping with the Boy Scouts; Billy is a first-class scout, you know.”


Continue reading

craft, Mary Frances sewing

Mary Frances; preface

Easy Steps In Sewing for Big and Little Girls or Mary Frances Among the Thimble People.

Jane Eayre Fryer wrote a series of Mary Frances books in the early 1900’s, seven to be exact, as a way to teach young girls a complete course in home economics. The Adventures Among the Thimble People is her second book, following the Mary Frances Cook Book or Adventures Among The Kitchen people.

It’s always an adventure with Mary, a strangely plotted adventure with a group of anthropomorphic characters or dolls…and probably some racist and problematic extras.

Continue reading