Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A while back I spoke of my interest in Mary Brooks Picken, my current study in obscure historical figures. When I heard that Mrs. Picken had written the Singer Sewing Book, 1949, I had to have a copy. And not one of those subsequent revisions either. It had to be 1949 because that's the year it was first published and the year I was born. I wanted the book to have the look and feel of 1949. I found a copy available and affordable through Amazon sellers and the book was in my hands last Friday. It did not disappoint. [The photograph is a scan from the book.]

"Why did you order that Singer sewing book?" asked Mike. I knew what he was thinking – that I had purchased a Singer manual when I sew with a Bernina. I explained that it is not a machine manual but a manual of sewing techniques – and written by Mary Brooks Picken.

On the dedication page, Mrs. Picken writes: "This book is dedicated to women and girls – and especially to teachers of sewing everywhere – who enjoy the feel of fabric, the beauty of textures, the precision of stitches, the smoothness of seams, and who delight always in appropriate fabrics carefully cut and made up for a happy purpose."

Yes, it is about the fabric and what we create from it. And to that end, many of us frequent fabric shops and purchase samplings of what we like, which we subsequently hoard in what is called a stash. We hoard toward the day when we have the time or the right blending of colors or the right pattern. Personal stashes have been known to grow beyond management.

I didn't much understand the present-day stashing of fabric until recently. Heretofore, stashing to me meant leftover remnants from finished projects. The concept of buying fabric with no particular project in mind or saving fabric toward the day when you would use it was outside the parameters of my training. The "aha moment" came when I discovered the wonderful, magical, online world of quilt fabric manufacturers. Heretofore, I actually believed fabric was about individual bolts, mostly at Jo-Ann's. I knew that stores would seasonally clear the fabrics, but I didn't realize that the system involved the discontinuance of whole lines of fabric. Since this enlightenment, I've been obsessively searching textile manufacturers' sites, seeking the latest word on fabric lines. Why, the thought that the beautiful fabric showing snow-laden trees might possibly disappear this spring just makes me run to the nearest online retailer to get my yard before its gone forever!

And free patterns! I have downloaded free patterns from the fabric manufacturing sites. Personally, I think it behooves textile manufacturers to provide free patterns as a marketing ploy. Yes, I truly believe they should woo me by showing me what I can do with a certain line of fabrics, how the finished product might look when these fabrics are blended, and then offer me the free pattern to further feed my obsession and encourage me to buy the fabric. Once understood, the system glides along pretty well.

But – there's something else. In the process of this discovery, I lost my fear. I discovered that I have definite likes and dislikes both in fabrics and quilt patterns. In fact, most of what's out there doesn't appeal to me at all. I find that so freeing! I learned that I can appreciate beauty without owning (sometimes), and that I don't have to undertake a project that's beyond me in order to create a product that delights and satisfies. And -- I don't have to be an expert to pursue my interest.

Wouldn't it be fun to see something Mrs. Picken actually made? I know she was initially a sewist, and undoubtedly she had a firm grasp on sewing techniques, but I wonder if her career to promote sewing and fashion allowed her the time to create in her own sewing room – or if she even had a personal sewing room.

Two borders are now attached to my "vintage holiday" quilt. The appearance will change again with the next border addition, which will be more challenging to construct. The blocks were cut from a handkerchief panel and the little green "ornament" blocks were from the same fabric line. The sashing and the border prints are of fabric from my personal stash. KW


drMolly, the BeanQueen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
drMolly, the BeanQueen said...

You quilt is coming along very nicely.
And yes we do - love fabric, that is .

Leah said...

Isn't it fun to find an old book? Decorating tastes change over time, but sewing for the home is still the same. A good machine, thread, pattern, fabric and a time table. The path may be cluttered with more fabric choices, but as you said, Kathy, when you know what you want, life is simplier.

I love Pickens line, "fabrics carefully cut and made up for a happy purpose." It's a warm fuzzy statement and you know exactly what sewing meant to her.

Your quilt is progressing nicely and I'll do my part to encourage you. It is truly lovely.

Chris said...

Hmmm, I think I like today's decorating styles better. The pictures reminded me of some old TV shows--Burns and Allen and I Love Lucy, when they moved to the 'burbs. What a neat book to find, though! I'd better dig into my semi-purloined little black books and see what Mary has to tell me.

You're absolutely right--we don't have to like everything or make everything. It took me a while to figure that out, too. :-) I'm a traditionalist, and much of today's fabrics and patterns don't appeal to me, either. But I do know they're trying to appeal to younger women and draw them in. Guess that means we're not the younger women any more!?!

Your quilt is looking terrific!

Kathy said...

Thanks for the encouragement everyone. The next step is a pieced border, and I'll be amazed if that comes out right.

Chris, you are lucky Dan recognized the value of those booklets, and I feel I played some small role in his awareness. It will remain one of my favorite stories as long as I remember this lifetime.

The pictures in the book are meant to encourage the do-it-yourselfer, so there is a certain look -- draperies, upholstery, etc.

And I'm all for encouraging young women to take up the household arts just so long as nothing happens to Aunt Grace and lovely winter prints of trees and pine cones.