Last week I pointed out a few good resources for finding vintage patterns online, but there is something exciting about holding a vintage iron on transfer in your hands, or reading a book that says that embroidery is not only one of the most important skills a woman can know, it goes a long way towards getting her married. Awesome.
I have gotten pretty lucky finding older materials in good shape, so I thought I would share a few hints with you. Book wise, www.abebooks.com is the best place to find used books. You can look up books, then sort it by which vendors are closest to you, in order to get the best shipping costs. I have bought a few books off of abe, and most of the time I will pay less for the book than for the shipping!
Encyclopedia of Needlework by Th. de Dillmont is a thick, tiny book that is a fabulous look into the past. The copy I got is in reasonable shape, with the spine having been taped up at some point. There is no obvious date on this book. The pages are all still there and legible, and it goes through an extraordinary amount of crafts, from embroidery to tatting to knitting and more. The instructions are mostly written with a few illustrations sprinkled in. I love thinking that a woman, by herself with this tiny book, would have learned all these techniques through trial and error (and hopefully help from a friendly neighbour) without having the step by step tutorials and videos we take for granted nowadays.
The back of the book also has an old ordering catalogue for DMC, so that if you were a farm wife living far from the city, you could ask your local grocer to order you a particular few shades so you could finish the embroidered tablecloth you’d been working on.
I’ve also had good luck ordering used (and new) craft books on Etsy. I ordered a 1964 version of Jacqueline Enthoven’s The Stitches of Creative Embroidery last year and I’ve read it cover to cover. She concentrates on the importance of samplers and doodling with a needle, has lots of pictures of both her work and her students’, and is super inspiring. The book is missing it’s dust jacket, but who cares when the content is so awesome?
My mother, sister, and I try to reupholster a few chairs every summer; it’s a fun hobby we can do on the weekends together. My sister is excellent at demolishing the old chairs, my mom sews beautifully, and I can hammer tacks like nobody’s business. What this all means is that we tend to hang out at estate sales, thrift shops, and auction houses more than average girls.
Charity shops are hit and miss for vintage finds; sometimes you can pick up a book or a slightly older pattern, but most of the time you’ll just find super cheap embroidery hoops and maybe some random colours of thread. Still excellent, but not quite vintage.
Estate sales are also tricky, since you never know if the person who recently died was interested in embroidery or not. Every once in a while though, even if you can’t find embroidery materials, you can find embroidered pieces. I pulled these three little birds off a wall, fell in love with the dorky stitching on black velvet, and paid a dollar for it.
Auction houses can be interesting. They tend to buy up estate sales, so you can end up with everything and anything there. One of the auction houses near my sister’s place is open on weekends, and some of the stuff (mostly furniture on consignment) can be browsed and purchased without having to actually attend an auction (which is not as exciting as it sounds, we found out).
I found two old Coats and Clark’s craft booklets that look like they are from the 60s or 70s. The prices on the covers are 49 and 35 cents. I paid a dollar for both.
Both had complete patterns in them, with only one of them being cut out. They have a mix of embroidery, cross stitch and blackwork in them. Some patterns have definitely aged better than others, and some of them are so adorably classic that they wouldn’t look out of place in a home today. Most of the patterns also come with projects; skirts, napkins, glasses cases, wall hangings, whatever.
Here are two of the patterns from the small Coats booklets, three pretty little birds which are suggested for a cute little girl’s dress. They come out of Book No. 180, and are designs E-182 and E-183. There is no date anywhere in the booklet. The patterns are a bit busy; as with a lot of old transfers, folding, time and pressure has caused patterns to imprit on each other. I would definitely never use them with an iron for fear that I could get two patterns at the same time! Still, they are super adorable and would look cute pretty much anywhere.
Please do not use these for commercial purposes. Enjoy!