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.

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.


…and the Hankies Have It

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Perhaps yesterday’s post about Dad’s handkerchiefs (which can be found here) was partially inspired by losing this lot of bizarre beauties on eBay this week. These are proclaimed as one-of-a-kind, but I sort of assume they were either from a kit of some kind or at least the design was something one could trace out of a magazine and work from. Still, they hail from Australia and my chances at purchasing another set are rather slim and about this I am a bit sad. Nonetheless, the photos are jolly and despite the fact that I rarely feature items I have not purchased, I was inspired to share them today.

These appear to be rather serious linen hankies, a bit heavier than I would be inclined to carry, although obviously I would have embraced these particular delightful items for their frolicsome Felix-ness. As a small child I was taught how to do simple embroidery – cross stitching on doilies if memory serves. (I feel old thinking about this suddenly – man, I can’t imagine anyone’s grandmother teaching them that today, or even owning doilies or embroidered tablecloths for that matter.)

While gifted in many creative ways I am the first to say that all aspects of sewing escape me. I believe I was able to complete a sort of nominal cross stitch project as outlined above, but I never graduated to anything as complex as these merry Felix renditions. Knitting completely mystifies me, despite adequate and dedicated teachers, and I never met a sewing machine I didn’t jam immediately. My sister Loren didn’t embroider or knit, but she sewed clothing well. I can, for the record, sew buttons on properly however.

Those who know me are aware I got the cooking genes (although again here, Loren was the baker in the family) as well as drawing, painting and, at one time sculpting, so no complaints. Interesting though to have, during my half century lifetime, seen the world abandon embroidered tablecloths and doilies on coffee and end tables. I read an article recently that posed that the utter failure of the antiques market was due to the fact that the kitchen has become the heart of entertaining and family time in the home. The loss of interest in the dining room and the living room as where you entertained eliminated a desire for a certain kind of furniture, silver service and the like. Kim and I live in a single room and the two of us can barely fit in our kitchen with the cats at the same time; therefore, I’m not sure I had fully become aware of this shift in contemporary home life. I can say however, send your antique toys my way if you tire of them, even in one room, I continue to acquire.


Pam’s Pictorama:  Picking back up to the strange land of notions – a word I love and one you don’t hear much any more. In fact, notions, the sewing kind are actually hard to find these days. Even in my adult life we have gone from a sprinkling of such stores, I remember at least one on 86th Street near here, to none. Needles and thread can at best be located in back corners of drugstores and supermarkets in large multipacks of thread and needles. Gone are the days when you might go to a store that sells fabric and thread – and buttons – and match colors and get exactly what you need. This being Manhattan we have the fabric district and I suppose can take ourselves to that part of town and trying to find a place that would sell us our paltry and pedestrian sewing wares. It’s a little like getting into a race car when all you needed was a scooter however. I can’t speak for smaller towns – do you still have your notion and fabric stores? It is one of the few things that seems utterly impossible to purchase online – you can’t match thread that way and who the heck knows what size needles you need? I always just look at them and know.

I bought this needle package – that’s what it is – years ago at a flea market. It came complete with almost all of the needles still in place, in that lovely bright foil lining. It still has a needle threader – I did love figuring out how to use one of those! So simple, yet so useful – and not entirely self-evident I might add. These needles are indeed rust-proof, and what is the difference between hand sewing needles and sewing needles I wonder?

I do love that there was a time when putting space ships on packages of needles seemed appropriate – clearly a more entertaining time. Those two women sewing and smiling while that space ship shoots off of the earth and heavenward. We were all careening toward the future I guess. Who knew though, that it would be hard to buy a needle and thread when we got there?



Pins and Needles

Pam’s Pictorama: A discussion of somewhat disparate topics continues with this absolutely splendid item which was given to me the other day. I know this nice couple via the Met and had not seen them in quite a while. Evidently they remembered my passion for all things cats and put aside this wonderful little item for me, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

As it happens, one of the first black cat items I acquired was a soft tape measure and pin cushion kitty. (For those of you who have been following in recent weeks you will understand that this cat, and most of the others, is packed away for the duration of our building’s HVAC work which required the dusty dirty demise of our ceiling. I am sorry not to be able to share a photo of him.) I was in an antiques market Kim and I frequent in Red Bank, NJ – not far from the Butler family ancestral home – when I happened on it. Like this fellow, he has a tape measure tongue you can pull out and was entirely soft so you could stick pins in him, I suppose.

This guy would have sat proudly on your sewing stand, at attention, waiting for the sewing to commence, never lost or misplaced, as I constantly loose both my stashes of needles and tape measures – not to mention thread. I especially like his red felt tongue which is the pull on the tape measure and matches his red bow and of course the nice velvet pincushion on his back. He is a tad too fragile to resume his responsibilities keeping my needles, but he will have a proud safe shelf to perch on in his retirement as soon as the dust, quite literally, clears here.

While I admit I always wished to be a gifted seamstress, nothing could be further from the truth I am afraid. Thanks to the efforts of a roommate in London during a stint in college, I can sew a button on with great confidence it will stay. However, aside from that there has never been a sewing machine bobbin I didn’t destroy on sight and, beyond buttons, my hand stitching tends toward the lopsided and, shall we say, organic. I appear to come from a long line of barely functional sewers. My maternal grandmother could do a hem under duress, but neither grandmothers or my mother were churning out daily wear. My sister showed promise in this area and made a number of garments before drifting away from it. (She also made bread well which is another skill I can’t master. Of course, she was also a PhD in Math – need I say more? I can barely balance a checkbook.)

I am the first to say, one can’t be good at everything so I long ago ceded to my ineptness in this, and other areas. However, that is not to say I don’t enjoy the related accoutrements for these activities – especially if a cat is involved.