Saturday, 11 July 2015

Vintage Book Review 1 - News Chronicle Needlework and Crafts

Here is my slightly battered copy of the News Chronicle Needlework and Crafts by Irene Davison, Agnes M. Niall and R. K. and M. I. R. Polkinghorne.  The smudges on the cover are where I scraped off some ancient candle wax.

The sub-title hints at the scope of the book, which is just over 330 pages long.

There is no date of publication given, but the delightful frontispiece has a late 1920s look to it.

The chapters on sewing and needlework take up approximately one third of the book, the remaining two thirds covering a wide variety of crafts, including raffia work, simple ways of weaving, an introduction to basketry, poker work and artistic leather work - but not, as I might have expected, candle making.

Inevitably I have been drawn to the chapters about sewing.  The opening chapter deals with plain sewing - the art of making finely sewn garments by hand.  In real life this is the type of work I would run a mile from, but I am quite happy to read about it, because in doing so I am transported back to a vanished world.  Comparisons are made between the different methods and styles used by seamstresses in Britain as opposed to those in France. Curiously enough, we are told that what we know as a French seam is known by the French as an English seam.  The samples for the photographs of various stitches and seams were all specially worked in France, yet unfortunately the sepia-toned photographs are tiny and far from clear, with about eight crammed onto one page.

These line drawn illustrations in the dressmaking section are far better.  

I always find it easier to understand how to make something if I can stare long and hard at a picture, but essentially this isn't how this book works.  This is a reading book.  Not only are you taken back to the domestic scene of the years following the First World War, you are also expected to pay attention to every word and pick up a needle.  So rather than look at paragraphs describing in minute detail how to do embroidery stitches and dismiss them as incomprehensible, I decided to read them properly.  As a result of visualising the process, I could now try out bullion stitch (described as a prolonged French knot, which makes a firm little caterpillar) and any number of equally ingenious little tricks.

The section about care and use of sewing machines contained a strange mixture of common sense and absurdity.  The sentence If anything goes wrong with your machine, don't tinker with it! manages to combine both - common sense when the book was written, but absurd now, when anyone with a vintage machine has to be prepared to do their own maintenance and perhaps the occasional repair.

The most ludicrous advice concerning machine sewing reads as follows:-

...But here is a valuable tip for keeping your machined lines straight, as, for instance, when stitching just within a fold-edge.  Kneel down so that your eye is on a level with your work, or sit on a low stool, and you will find that you can work much faster and more accurately.

Impossible with a treadle, darned uncomfortable with a hand machine, and hadn't they ever heard of the seam guide?  Obviously written by a plain sewer.

The rest of the book takes a tour of crafts I am never likely to try.  Nevertheless, it is a good read, and I doubt I would otherwise have heard of barbola or thought through the practicalities of gesso work.  Some of the illustrations are gems too, like these disembodied hands showing how to do poker work...

... this ivy design, which I am tempted to adapt for free motion quilting...

... and this rather worrying mythical beast eating a giant salad, which would look better carved in oak rather than on a leather bag.

In summary, the News Chronicle Needlework and Crafts gives a fascinating insight into domestic history, and is the sort of book to enjoy in winter when sitting by a roaring coal fire, but I am not sure that it is a book that is going to inspire me to any great degree with future projects.

Linking up to Connie's blog Freemotion by the River for Linky Tuesday


  1. Oh Muv! I just love stopping by your blog for a visit! It is always educational and witty and I wish you lived next door!

    1. Thanks Donna! If we were neighbours would we ever get anything done? We'd be nattering all day.

  2. Oh, I'm really going to enjoy this series! And you're off to a great start with this book: interesting view into the past and to quality work, but not inspiring to the imagination, yet! I wonder what the next book will bring!

  3. That was interesting. I like to read vintage books also. The British Library catalogue gives a 1935 printind date for this book. I really like that lilac cover.

    1. Thanks Angie! Now I know where to check dates.

  4. My grandmother from Ireland gave me this book. She wrote 1940 in it. This is so nice to have!

    1. How nice to have this book from your grandmother! I pick up all my books second hand.

  5. I run a quilting comoany at and I have a large selection of books in the shop
    I have this same book in my hand right now!!! Because I have a lot of fabric I won't buy pre made stuff. My wife asked me to make some pillow cases and I gave her this book and said have a go yourself. It shows how to make pillow case and when you think of it, in today's world, who would bother to "make" a pillow case when Asda sells them for 19 pence.

    ...and they say we have advanced as a society. 30.01.2022.



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