Felix Sewn Up?

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This odd item came to me via a collector and reader who sold me a cache of items recently. Neither of us knows exactly what this is or how it worked, but the piece on the end appears to be a pin cushion. Therefore I think it was some sort of sewing implement which probably held a spool of thread on the other side.

Felix himself has leather ears. There are small holes on each side which I assume held spindly arms. In addition there are tiny metal loops below those holes which held something too. I have guessed this and that, but really don’t know what those may have been for. The other logical piece I can think of would be something to help you thread a needle (I use those gizmos on the rare occasions I sew a button, and did even before my eyes became middle aged), but no idea how that would have worked. As I contemplate it, I cannot vouch for the practicality of using it, but as a non-sewer it is hard for me to say.

This item is made of wood and has no makers mark, but to me it looks commercially made. It is without question old. I can cheerfully attest to never having seen anything like it despite looking at (literally) thousands of Felix items over time. A dedicated search did not turn up anything. Now that I own it perhaps they will start to show up – that happens sometimes.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

As a companion piece I offer an items one sees often, a Felix yarn winder that wandered into the house about a year ago. I see these frequently and although the Felix head seems a bit off model it does bear an official Pathe emblem in the middle. (I believe this came to me via my friends in Texas @curiositiesantique and a shout out to them!) I assume that wool winding on such an item is somehow better than just using it as it comes in those long lumpy skeins. Felix Keeps on Knitting we are informed.

Although I have written about sewing (I have a small collection of old needle packages and I wrote about them here and here) once or twice before I don’t seem to have documented my generally ham handedness for sewing. My mother had a sewing machine, a very substantial and insanely heavy, 1960’s table model, which I swear I never saw her use. (It seems that my sewing disability was passed to me via my mother who, to my knowledge, has sewn nary a button that I can remember.) My sister Loren took it over and produced some very credible items, although in somewhat typical fashion she wandered away from it once conquered.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

I personally never met a bobbin that I didn’t snarl and often destroy which was hard on me in the Home Ec of my junior high days. (I’m assuming Home Economics is one of those things that disappeared or at least has been renamed over time. It sounded dated even to my young 1970’s ears. Still, as I consider this I would encourage everyone to be taught the basics of cooking, rudimentary nutrition and maybe how to sew on a button. Useful life skills.) I mean, me and ten minutes trying to fill one of those things and it was a solid web of disaster. Whole machines were out of commission after me; amazing how fast it could all go wrong. I was also known to freakishly break a needle for landing directly on a pin.

I can only volunteer that I was only marginally better in Shop class which I migrated to once I had the opportunity, hoping to get away from the world of sewing machines. It’s amazing that I paint, draw, cook and lead a generally useful life despite all this. The attempts to teach me these allied skills having failed miserably.

I did do a bit of hand sewing while still very young. I achieved adequately well on cross stitch samplers, but tended toward large looping and uneven stitches for actual sewing. Despite multiple efforts and instructors knitting utterly confuses me and my brain refuses to accept whatever pattern is required to turn yarn into sweaters and scarves. I have never sewn a hem.

In college a roommate taught me how to sew a button on properly and I remain in her debt as it is a skill called for on a regular basis really. I don’t know what bit of hand-eye coordination so eludes me, but I have learned to accept it much as I accept my brown eyes and prematurely gray hair, and over time I have made the acquaintance of a good tailor.

Sewn Up

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I type I pause to consider if today’s post was a Pictorama Toy post or not, because while I think of this little fellow as a toy, he isn’t. He is a sweet little practical item from a time more or less gone by days – a sewing pin cushion and tape measure. Now, I admit it is hard to imagine sticking pins in this fella (making him perhaps more hedgehog than kitty), but he would be very cheerful and perky to perch on your sewing table or to find in your sewing basket. When grasped you can hear the crunch of his kapok or sawdust filling (aren’t pin cushions filled with something to sharpen the pins though?), his eyes are glass and his cheerful red tongue can be pulled out for a tape measure. (I cannot not display this as it no longer can be made to retract.) He has a tag on his tummy, but any manufacture information printed on it has long faded away. I like his red plastic collar which has remained firmly in place.

cat pin cushion

I have already opined previously on my inability to sew. (That post which features another pin cushion cat can be found here.) My maternal grandmother didn’t sew a lot, however she did have a sewing basket which I now only remember as round and I believe covered in fabric, although most I see from the same period are wicker so perhaps my memory is flawed. As a child the magic of the sewing box was all about the rare occasion of when it was opened and I could peer into the interesting bits and pieces inside. Sewing baskets make tremendous sense, housing all those sewing necessities in one place so that one can quickly get down to the task at hand. However, as I do it so seldom I seem to be loathe to spare the shelf or table space and instead have to scramble each and every time I sew a button on.

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The pleasant jumble inside this sewing box reminds me at least a little of my grandmother’s.

 

Crammed inside there were scraps of fabric, thread of course and fascinating tools whose use I had no idea of – nor have I necessarily learned about them since. The exception was the shiny coin-like needle threaders which always interested me – so bright and tempting! They are an exception because I eventually learned to use one and ultimately became utterly dependent on them for threading needles, especially as I get older and my eyes get more frustrated with the difficulty of this task. Wikipedia tells me that these have been around since the late 18th or early 19th century and that a head of a woman is generally stamped on them, which is how I think of them. I show the classic version as I know it below. Genius!

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Additionally, I am familiar with this model below of porcelain doll as sewing kit although I cannot remember who used one. Perhaps my father’s mother who sewed less than my other grandmother, but I have a very specific tactile memory of these. I think I was very small and slightly afraid of it.

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If I had discovered this little kitty along the way I don’t think anyone could have stopped me from nabbing him for my own. As it was, he was one of my very first black cat purchases from a now defunct antiques annex in Red Bank, New Jersey. He sits proudly among the other black cats where to my knowledge no one remarks on his utilitarian beginnings.

Needling Again

space ship needle book

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Not sure what made me pick this up today and decide to share it with you, but here it is. I wrote about my Space Ship needle book in an earlier post (Needled which can be found here) but not Our Pals. Both were purchased many years ago, during a brief time when street fairs abounded on the weekends in New York and included flea market type vendors selling interesting junk. I loved it. A bonus was that chasing them all over town meant poking into areas I didn’t normally spend a lot of time in otherwise, admiring the architecture of old buildings, painted signs or just even shops I didn’t know. There were book sellers, people selling vinyl records, DVD’s and video tapes. I have a great love of pawing through the detritus of earlier times and for some reason I find it very soothing, even reassuring. Sadly while these still exist those more mercurial vendors have been pushed out in favor of a repetitious and limited diet of funnel cakes and cheap kitchen wares.

These two needle books were purchased separately, although around the same time. A quick internet search shows that I scored pretty high – while not rare these are probably among the nicest graphics I see for needle books. Having said that, an eBay shows a few obscure but interesting ones I may need to take another look at – numerous with a variation on Sewing Susan which do not interest, but some with motorcycles tearing across them that are more appealing. There are also numerous variations on space ships and atomic this and that. Surprisingly few seem to have been advertising give aways and I would have thought that a natural. A few seem to have been travel souvenirs – another category I expected to be more robust.

Our Pals seems to be everything I would expect from a book of needles from the 1950’s. The happy anthropomorphic trouser sporting Scotty and dress wearing, oversized kitten, grasping even larger needles and thread, would appear to be logical needle book fare – if such a thing exists. Our Pals notes it was produced in West Germany which helps to date it. I haven’t dug too deep but on the face of it there doesn’t seem to be a lot written about needle books, although I may find that information if I look a bit harder.

The prevalence of space ships, air planes and references to atomic are a bit mystifying. Is the implication that wherever we go in the universe mom will still be mending our clothes with these needles? The marriage of hearth and home and outer space – or the wonders wrought by atomic energy? Perhaps for faster sewing? While there is nothing intuitive about it I can assure you that a large percentage of needle books devote themselves to variations on this theme. While the vast majority of vintage needle books do fulfill stereotypes by depicting mom and the girls at work, the motorcycles and some that refer to the Army may have been a nod at those gents who were also responsible for mending their own togs.

The brightly colored foil insides of these books where the needles lay out has always been a treat for me when revealed. For some reason it is always a bit of a thrill. As you can see, both of these were used although they retain many of their needles – and the Space Ship version even retains its needle threading device. Both seem to want to impress you with being rust-proof and made of steel. The larger one fine tunes its needles by dividing them into the hand sewing versus darning categories.

our pals needle book inside

Pams-Pictorama.com collection; inside of the Our Pals needle book

 

space ship needlebook inside

Pams-Pictorama.com collection; inside of the Space Ship needle book

 

Speaking practically, if these were not somewhat fragile I would press them into service. For those of you who, like me, have at a minimum the need to secure the occasional button, keeping track of those infrequently used needles can be problematic. (I should probably go on record stating that I am, at best, a bit ham-handed when it comes to sewing. A roommate who was working for a dress designer schooled me in button sewing years ago however.)

I do keep a small plastic travel sewing kit – unromantic but it more or less does the job. However, the charm of this version of needle storage is obviously greater and the reason for the traditional sewing box hits home. As I have opined previously, the world of sewing notions seems to be a shrinking one and sometimes even purchasing a needle and thread is a challenge, let alone keeping track of them in our cluttered apartment. Perhaps a small sewing box does hover in my future.