Thursday, 17 February 2011

Scrapbooking, old style

I’m still always kind of amazed at how easy it is to research things and store information now, with internet and flash drives and what have you. I suspect there are people out there now who have never had to use a card catalog.
            Despite the ease of digital pictures, and other new media, storing memories in the form of scrapbooking is still popular. Now it does seem to be almost an art form, with books on the subject and an array of papers and ornamentation to choose from. I have a couple scrapbooks of my own, but they are in no way ornamental – dog-eared old sketch books which serve mostly as collecting points for things like sheet music, stories, and jokes, collected from various sources over time.
            A few generations back, scrapbooks also served as places to store clippings from magazines and newspapers. Family births and deaths. Hometown news and events. Serial stories. Recipes, household hints, and patterns. The books themselves might be school exercise books, or recycled from another use. And they are fascinating to look at. I have a few treasured ones from different sources. One is an unlined copybook, dated 1934, with newspaper clippings from the Toronto Daily Star of a series on Charles Dickens’ love letters. How could I resist buying it, having read all of Dickens over at least twice?
A second copybook is rather special, coming from my hometown, and it is filled with clipping of quilt patterns from what was apparently a regular column, most glued but a few pinned into the book. The quilt blocks sketched in each column, and the language of the writing, suggest the 20’s or 30’s to me. The sketches are good enough that I could draft my own patterns from them, and readers could also write in to get full-sized patterns. I do wonder occasionally what the editors would say if I tried to do that this much later – a temptation I also have when looking at old magazine ads sometimes.

The third scrapbook I have is, I think, my favorite. It was given to me by a friend who quilts, who knew I would appreciate it, and I am still in awe that she was able to give it away. This one is not a copybook, but a recycled milk record book. In between the clippings, and on a page which was accidentally skipped, you can read the dates and quantities of milk from someone’s farm - written in the 1880’s. When the record was no longer needed, I suppose the thrifty housewife appropriated it for her own use. The clippings in this book are knit and crochet patterns, mostly, and show a variety of fonts and layouts. The shape of a pattern for a knit jacket suggests something around the turn of the century, with that very noticeable droop to the waist, very Edwardian. There are edgings and doilies (or D’Oyleys, it seems), baby bonnets, stockings, household items…you name it. Absolutely a fascinating read. I haven’t tried any of the patterns yet, but I am looking forward to it. And sometime I would love to see if it would be legal for me to make a scanned version of these available to the general public – I suspect it might be a little tangled, due to the fact that few of the patterns have any indication of their source.        

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