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Victorian HandmadesAuthor: Marcia Ray
( Article orginally published December 1962 )
HANDWORK and needlework were agreeable pastimes for Victorian ladies, and Christmases in the lush plush 1880s and 1890s produced all kinds of fanciful and intricately worked gifts-from crocheted smoking caps for dear Papa to imitation coral card trays contrived for Mamma from sealing wax, whipped up with rice and tapioca. Busy fingers fashioned wax fruit and flowers, framed pictures in pine cones and moss, strung seashells on wire for hair ornaments, and painted furiously on silk and velvet.
The usefulness of many such fripperies and fancies--if ever they were used at all-has long passed, but bits of embroidery and painting, often exquisitely executed, may be rescued to appear again on Christmas morningattractively framed for today's walls. Nor have all the Victorian arts sunk to oblivion. Decoupage is still an active interest, and materials for such dainty boxes as pictured here are still available. However, the paper-covered pasteboard boxes shown, trimmed with gold paper lace and embossed scrapbook paste-ons, are not new.
Sister Mary Josephine of the Convent of the Visitation in Frederick, Maryland, made them in 1880, as Christmas remembrances for her nieces and nephews. She had finished them all, wrapped and tagged them, but before they were delivered, Sister Josephine died. Her handwork, as she left it, was stored away in the Convent, along with a letter from the friend who had furnished her with the materials. Recently when the Convent disposed of its attic possessions, Sister Josephine's boxes came to light. Their sale, eighty-two years after their making, was counted a contribution from a long ago Sister to present Convent school needs.
The boxes themselves were made by hand, probably by Sister Josephine herself. The box with the squared-off corners, upper left, is covered in magenta color paper with gold lace paper trim. The little trunks both have trays. One, shown open, is red with black strappings; the other is green and black, studded with gold paper tacks. The book-shaped box is tan with gold trim; the drum box is yellow, with brown lacings and gold braid. The oblong and the octagonal boxes are both covered with a tan imitation wood paper, trimmed with gold paper lace. All are gay with embossed flowers, medallions; some have gold paper keyholes.
Of the small items, the oval pincushion, in white moire with inked feather-stitching border, is alike on both sides; holds pins in the edge, as did a little red satin boot. The shieldshaped needlebook is yellow and green satin. The palette and fan, of thin white wood, (probably a commercial product) are handpainted in florals. On the fan, the date, 1880, and "To Susie" is penned.