Homespun Handcraft by Ella Shannon Bowles (Part One.)

posted in: Art, Chicago, Word Nerd 6
The book! Scanned by me.
The book! Scanned by me.

 

I found a gem today.

There’s a neat bookstore called Selected Works in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, halfway between home and school. (I’ll talk more about the Fine Arts Building another time; that gorgeous building needs its own post!) My friend Justin said that all the books at Selected Works are half off right now, so after we were done at the newspaper office, Justin, Sophie, and I made our way over to check the stacks.

In the craft and home decor section, I found a copy of Shared Threads: Quilting Together — Past and Present by Jacqueline Marx Atkins, a title I definitely needed for my quilt book library. It seemed Atkins’s book was the only quilt-related selection on the shelves but then I spied a sweet-looking, tattered little volume called Homespun Handicrafts. As I lifted the other books out of the way to get at it, I thought, “I’ll bet that book is pretty old. And I’ll bet there’s a chapter on quilts.” I was right on both counts: The book, written by Ms. Ella Shannon Bowles, was published in 1930 — and there is a terrific chapter on quilts.

I was right on both counts: The book, written by Ms. Ella Shannon Bowles, was published in 1930 — and there is a terrific chapter on quilts. Here are the chapters, which I will list because they are great:

I. BASKETS, AND BROOMS [sic] II. HER HANDS HOLD THE DISTAFF
III. THE WHIRR OF THE WOOL-WHEEL
IV. THE THUMP OF THE BATTEN
V. THE CLICK OF THE KNITTING NEEDLES
VI. HONEST STITCHES
VII. MY SAMPLER SPEAKS
VIII. AMERICAN EMBROIDERY
IX. THE ROMANCE OF OLD-TIME QUILTS
X. FINE WORKS
XI. FOLKLORE IN HOME RUG MAKING
XII. THE ANCIENT ART OF NETTING
XIII. LACE LORE
XIV. CANDLE-DIPPING DAY

Great, right?

“Her Hands Hold the Distaff” is almost the best chapter title ever written, but since the quilt chapter gets the word “romance,” I’m gonna say it’s ours by a nose. The book is not a how-to; it’s an account of “pioneer handcraft…which lent so much grace and homely joy to the struggles of the colonists.” (I think/hope “homely” meant something less negative in 1930?)

Isn’t it great to find new old books? Isn’t it cool to go to a used bookstore and find something that you never, ever would’ve known to look for in a library but is exactly what you needed to find?

Tomorrow, I’ll excerpt some wonderful stuff from the quilt chapter; for now, here is an excerpt from the forward:

The study of old-time American handicrafts is a trail winding on and on into delightful bypaths and unexpected turnings. It is difficult for an enthusiast to cease telling the stories connected with these homely arts of our ancestors, so I have limited myself to describing those crafts in the development of which women have played an important part.

It is my earnest wish that this book may serve not only as a guide to the old-time arts, but that it may stimulate the reader to understake the serious study of the development of the crafts of our foremothers as have such workers as Mrs. Atwater, Mrs. Sawyer, and Mrs. Taylor.

I sincerely believe that knowledge in craftsmanship will add beauty to everyday living. Laurence Sterne once made a statement as true in the twentieth century as it was in the eighteenth. He said, ‘What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life, by him who interests himself in everything, and who, having eyes to see what time and chance are perpetually holding out to him, as he journeyeth on his way, misses nothing he can fairly lay his hands on.’

May I leave this message with you?”

 

 

 

6 Responses

  1. Jennifer
    | Reply

    I believe that even in modern British English, “homely” is more akin to the American “homey” (the adjective, since the noun is entirely different). A homely person is therefore not ugly, but someone whose face you’d like to have around your home. Not quite the same as ravishing or beautiful, but not holding the “you should lock up that face at home and never let it out” connotation that comes with an American’s use of homely. British readers? Any comments or corrections?

  2. Donna
    | Reply

    Hiya, I grew up in the US, but I’ve been living in England for the last 14 years, and I even have a British passport now. It has always amused me when my British friends use the word “homely” in such a positive way! They tend to use it more to describe a home as a warm, inviting place (like we Americans do with “homey” (the adjective)). I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone refer to a person as “homely” here.

    Thanks again, Mary, for yet another delightful post. It is such a joy to read your posts, and I really look forward to it each morning.

    • Gail Bannister McCarthy
      | Reply

      I grew up in western KY. When we said homely, it was usually followed by ‘bless her heart’. My understanding of homely was that it meant ‘plain’, ‘sad’ or ‘tired’ not ugly but close to it. Applied to people, things alike.

  3. Marianne ten Kate
    | Reply

    Think gemütlich in German or hygge in Danish or make-a-house-a-home homely in British English. Cosy! P.S. Please scan every page of Ms Bowles’s book into a PDF (if it doesn’t break any copyright laws…..) and pop it into your newly created ‘Resources’ section on your blog!!

  4. Yvonne McGowen
    | Reply

    First this comment is about luggage, not the wonderful treasure you found at the bookstore. I just couldn’t figure out how to get this information to you other than a blog comment. I heard an ad for the company Away Travel (awaytravel.com) that has a carry-on bag with a built in battery to charge USB devices. If you’re still on your quest for luggage you might find something that suits you. No, I’m not affiliated with the company. Just someone who loves your quilting and your writing.

    Thanks

  5. […] I introduced the great book I found in a used bookshop. I promised to include an excerpt from the chapter on quilting and I kind of didn’t know what I was getting myself […]

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