Right now, I’m reading a book from 1910, thanks to Project Gutenberg. It is called, “Handicraft for Girls; A Tentative Course in Needlework, Basketry, Designing Paper and Cardboard Construction, Textile Fibers, and Fabrics and Home Decoration and Care” by Idabelle McGlauflin. This book was a standard teaching manual for all girls in the USA at the turn of the last century. It sure is fun to see photos of aprons, underwear, potholders, and baskets that every little girl needed to make at home.
What stands out the most to me about books of this era is how the instructions are written. They rely heavily on visualization of the reader, since it was so expensive to illustrate books back then. Even so, the publisher invested in several good photos of the finished products. What is missing is the step-by-step photos and illustrations that we have all started to rely upon with modern how-to books. Recently, I started deciphering another book on fancy braid work using a similar tool as a Kumihimo wheel. At first, the instructions appeared to be straightforward and easy to read, but after doing approximately 150 steps, I discovered that my piece didn’t resemble the finished photo in the least. Was it because I was working on the project while having my car serviced at the dealership? Was it the large quantities of coffee and pastries that left my mind moving faster than my hands? I’ll never know, but I’m blaming the modern mind and its limited ability to visualize.
I would hate to think that our ancestor’s skills that were passed through generations can be lost because our modern minds are now hard wired for visual stimulation, thanks to television, movies, internet, and video games, so dear reader, I’m going to continue to decipher the old books and find ways for us to understand the instructions with our modern minds.
With one limitation….. I’m not going to teach you how to make obsolete items such as the bedwarmer cover that is pictured above. We don’t place coals in a tin box anymore, thanks to electric blankets and centralized heating in our homes. Then again, if I can muddle through the instructions for basket weaving and preparing your reeds for making the baskets, I will do so in the future. Sure, we can go to the store and purchase a myriad of baskets, but there is something beautiful and transcendental about creating a basket from items that you have in the woods and fields.