craft, Mary Frances sewing, sewing

Chapter XIV & XV: A Loan From The Thimble King & Three Little Kittens.

Chapter XIV & XV: A Loan From The Thimble King

DEAR me,” sighed Mary Frances. “How will I ever get so much done? I didn’t want to interrupt you, dear Fairy Lady, but I’ve gotten, you see, no further than basting the hem of dolly’s apron!”

Big tears trembled in the little girl’s eyes.

I’m not saying that I’ve never broken down in tears faced with the size of task at hand, even one that feeds my heart like dance or sewing. I have. But, Mary, I’m a little worried about. I got help and continue to get help so that small stressors aren’t met with my body serving grand extravagant reactions that are disproportionate.

”Dear child,” smiled Fairy Lady. “We realize how rapidly we’ll have to work in these lessons in order to get through before your mother comes, so we are ready to help.”

But Fairy, we’ve only just begun sewing lessons. We’re borrowing white lawn fabric to make simple aprons. We don’t even have a fabric stash! Won’t Grandma get suspicious? What if she starts asking questions. How much more IS there to sew? Why is Mary so stressed out? I know there’s a whole book of lessons ahead but what do you know, Fairy Lady?

Lady Fairy taps her Bodkin Wand and we meet another anthropomorphic cast member, Needle Book. This is Mary’s own needle book but now it walks and talks.

I didn’t have a needle book when I started blogging this book. My needles usually just lived alongside my pins thrust into various pincushions…and then I started googling and consulting Pinterest.

These are some spiffy vintage needle books.

I made my own, it’s still in progress. I used this tutorial. I couldn’t find my batting so I substituted some polar fleece instead…so it’s a little floppy. I eventually found my battin stash but it was too late.

Then I cleaned my craft room and made a new pocket organizer (which may be slightly crooked. I’ll measure and fix my next day off.

Mary takes her now-living Needle Book in stride:


“There is but one needle in the world, your Seamstress-ship,” he said, “which is called the Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try, and the King of the Thimble People has sent it to you by your humble servant,” glancing proudly about. “—and here, dear Mistress, is the Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try.”

Mary Frances saw a bright shiny light come from between the opening leaves of Needle Book; then slowly, very slowly, with his tiny little hand, he pulled out what seemed a needle of fire, and dropping on his knees, held it out on both arms toward Mary Frances.

The little girl hesitated. Would it burn her?

Mary, consult your R’hllor history books! That is obviously Lightbringer the hero’s needle of Azor Ahai. You need never plunge it into Mr.Emery for, after being tempered by the heart of Nissa Nissa , it never grows dull or rusty. You may need to check Fairy Lady for a magic necklace…just sayin’.

“Do not fear,” smiled Fairy Lady. “It will not harm you. The Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try is loaned to you on only one condition: which is, that you will promise to sew some time every day between lesson days.”


“Mary Frances found her thimble, and threaded the glowing needle, although she feared it would scorch the thread,—but it seemed like any other needle except that she didn’t have to try twice to put in the thread.

”I wonder how it is different?” she thought as she started to sew.

Then the most wonderful thing happened. She found the needle darting ahead of her hand, making the stitches just as fast as she could touch the eye with her silver thimble.

In a minute the apron was hemmed.

In another minute the apron was gathered.

In another minute the strings were hemmed.

Then the Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try stopped dead still and wouldn’t move.

“Oh! ho!” cried Mary Frances. “What have I done? What have I done?”

“Nothing, dear child,” said Fairy Lady. “But the Needle-of-Don’t-Have-to-Try cannot do for you anything you have not yet learned; so use your own needle and set the gathers of the apron into the band.”


Mary gets a magic needle that does for her any sewing technique she has already learned?

As an adult reader I think that this is meant to symbolize the ease of stitching that comes once a technique is fully learned and internalized …but it’s the only artifact of Thimble Land I WANT.

I can make a needle book but I WANT this witched needle.

Mary, when you’re back to life with your mom it is this loss you will cry over…and it won’t be an over reaction.

Chapter XV Three Little Kittens

Nothing much happens. Mary learns to embroider three kittens on her apron. I didn’t use white lawn cotton. I already know how to embroider. Skipped!

Abruptly, Grandma is home!

“Why, my dear,” puffed the old lady, climbing the last of the stairs, “I am home very early, you see. There was no regular meeting to-day because almost all the members of the Ladies’ Guild went to Daisy’s wedding. I’m home for some games with my little girl.”

“Oh, Nanny-dear, will you play ‘Piddy-Pinny-Plump?'” asked Mary Frances.”

“Yes, indeed, girlie,” laughed Grandma.

Discussion points:

  • What has Grandma done to the other members of the Ladies’s Guild that she is not invited to Daisy’s wedding?
  • What is Piddy-Pinny-Plump?


Google is of no help and just serves me P’diddy info.

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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.

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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.

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Sewing Basket

Where did we last leave Mary and her Thimble people?

Background: Mary’s mother has never been very strong so Father has taken her to California for the summer while he’s there on business. Mary’s brother Billy, who is a first-class scout, is at scout camp where he is presumably learning about scouting with his peers from human scout leaders. Mary is spending her summer at her Grandmother’s house.

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Making the Morning Dress

I brought Snow home and I set to making a dress to check to make sure the patterns worked for the doll I’d bought. Unfortunately this meant skipping ahead in the pattern order.

The Mary Frances sewing book comes with a series of inserted patterns and mine magically had all…except the first insert for Night-Gown, Bath-Robe, Kimono (not an actual kimono), and Dressing Sack (an item of clothing that is much nicer than it’s name).

There were ways around a missing pattern insert. The whole book can be viewed or downloaded in a variety of formats from here from The book is past its copyright issues.Thanks to the PDF version of the book I have the first insert (after some fiddling around in photoshop to check the size) but I have no printer..and no patience..and didn’t wish to make a trip to my nearest convini store to print it out.

Note: The 100th Anniversary editions of the Mary Frances books still feel to me like a cash grab. The sewing re-release makes some sense, as the patterns were re-sized to fit those American Girl dolls, but the other books are so repugnant or out of date it seems pig-headed to me that they were re-released…which I will address in the future because I read the house keeping book and it is SO FUCKING RACIST I’m going to need time to process it and figure out how to address it in a way that isn’t possibly upsetting to POC who don’t need reminders of how racist AF things have been and continue to be.

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Buying my first Disney Animators Doll.

Other than the Archie and Reggie dolls of doom, I didn’t own any dolls when I embarked on this project

Our Riverdale boys are not the right size and shape for Mary Frances patterns…but you know I’ll probably kit them out by the end of this.

I know NOTHING of doll people, although some of my friends are doll enthusiasts. I’ve been told that Ball-Joint-Doll forums can be a source of intense online drama. I know that by living in Japan I am in the heart of obsessive  doll collectors and modifiers who can be…intense. I’ve seen a grown man on a date with a small doll at a maid cafe.

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The Sewing Bird

The first Thimble Person Mary meets is the Sewing Bird. Frankly, the sewing bird is the only character I’d want to encounter and even then the stilted rhymes would grind me down. You can see the Sewing Bird on the table in this illustration…it’s the only thimble person on whom eyes make sense. The rest are pure abominations.

Dick, a real bird, is in the background. Sewing Bird sometimes taunts Dick but who doesn’t?

sewing bird 2

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Baste it!

Part of why I started making the projects in the Mary Frances sewing book was to up my hand sewing game.

I actually hand sew a whooooole lot of dance-related costumes, they’ll make some cameos here as will my homemade clothing because many of the leftover fabrics that are going into the projects are from much larger projects.

Like how the leftover satin I used to make a snake and armbands for this original costume is now the bias-tape for the Mary Frances Kimono Robe.

The first take-away from starting on these projects is: BASTE EVERYTHING.

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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.”


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