Thimbles and Love Stitches

Four farthings and a thimble,
Make a tailor’s pocket jingle.
—Old English Proverb

During Isabella’s lifetime, sewing and needlework were part of a woman’s daily life.

In her novel Workers Together; An Endless Chain Joy Saunders’ workbasket includes a “small gold thimble and her own blue needle-case.”

A 14k rose gold thimble dated 1903.

Some of Isabella’s female characters, like Mrs. Bryant, sewed every day because that’s how they earned their living.

A sterling silver thimble decorated with Lily of the Valley.

Other characters, like wealthy Miss Sutherland, plied their needles to create fancy table linens and delicate trims, like ruffles and laces.

A sterling silver thimble and case from the 1890s.

In Isabella’s stories, thimbles were sometimes utilitarian—little more than tools to accomplish a task.

An example is in Ester Ried’s Namesake (Book 7 of the Ester Ried Series), when the president of the Ladies’ Aid Society called the meeting to order by “tapping with her silver thimble on the table.”

Other times, Isabella used thimbles help us understand how a character was feeling, as in this description of Helen Randolph in Household Puzzles:

Helen was in absolute ill humor. Some heavy trial had evidently crossed her path. She sewed industriously, but with that ominous click of the needle against her thimble, and an angry snipping of her thread by the pert little scissors, that plainly indicated a disturbed state of mind.

An antique thimble holder by Tiffany.

More often than not, though, thimbles appear in Isabella’s stories in very sweet ways. One example is in Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant, when little Daisy Bryant’s mother surprises her with the gift of a sewing box on Christmas morning:

There had been intense excitement over that box; for, in addition to the spools, and the needle-book, gifts from mother, there had gleamed before Daisy’s astonished eyes a real truly silver thimble, of just the right size for her small finger.

A child-size thimble. The case is shaped like an iron; at its base is a tape measure (circa 1890).

Another example appears in the novel, Pauline, when Mr. Curtis shows his love for his fiancé Constance by preparing a sitting-room in his house just for her:

It all looked charming to him that evening, with the departing rays of the sun glinting the needle, Constance’s needle, and touching also his mother’s small gold thimble that lay waiting. He had taken steps toward the assurance that the thimble would fit. On the day after tomorrow, when they stood here beside his mother’s chair, he would tell Constance how he had brought the gold thimble to his mother one day, and she had said, with one of her tender smiles, “I will wear it, my son, whenever I am taking stitches for you; and someday you will give it to your wife, and tell her from me that it has taken love stitches for you all its life and must always be kept for such service.”

Filigree thimble over pink frosted glass.

Sometimes thimbles play a role in building bridges between Isabella’s characters, as in A New Graft on the Family Tree.

When Louise Morgan and her new husband move in with his family, she has difficulty winning over her resentful new mother-in-law, until she realizes they have a common interest: Needlework.

Presently she came, thimble and needle-case in hand, and established herself on one of the yellow wooden chairs to make button-holes in the dingy calico; and, with the delicate stitches in those button-holes, she worked an entrance-way into her mother-in- law’s heart.

18k gold thimble, from about 1860.

Rebecca Harlow Edwards finds herself in the same situation (in Links in Rebecca’s Life). She and her new husband live in the same house with her mother-in-law, and in the early days of marriage, Rebecca struggles to find a way to fit in. So, one afternoon . . .

. . . about the usual hour for calls, she went daintily dressed in a home dress for afternoon, and with a bit of sewing-work in hand, and tapped softly at the door of her mother’s room.

“Are you awake?” she asked, “and are you ready to receive calls, because I have come to call on you?”

“Really,” Mrs. Edwards said, half rising from her rocker, and looking bewildered, “this is an unexpected pleasure! Am I to take you to the parlor, where I usually receive my calls?”

“No,” Rebecca said, laughing, and trying to ignore the quick rush of color to her face. “I am to be a more privileged caller than that. I have brought my work, and intend to make a visit. I used to go to mother’s room and make a call very often.”

The elder Mrs. Edwards was almost embarrassed. It was very unusual for her to have any such feeling, and she did not know how to treat it.

Rebecca, however, had determined to pretend, at least, that she felt very much at home. She helped herself to a low chair and brought out her thimble, and challenged her mother-in-law at once to know whether her work was not pretty. As she did so, it gave her a strange sense of her unfilial life, as she remembered that that same bit of work had been the resort of her half-idle moments for some weeks, and that yet she had never shown it to Mrs. Edwards before.

It proved to be a lucky piece of work. It gave Mrs. Edwards an idea, and suggested a line of thought that was so natural to her that she forgot the embarrassment of the situation at once.

It’s a sure bet that Isabella Alden was herself a sewer. She may have plied her needle to hem an everyday handkerchief, or she may have used her talents to create fancywork items for her home. But it’s a testament to Isabella’s skill as a story-teller that she could make a simple, everyday item like a thimble figure so prominently in some of the most important scenes in her novels.

How about you? Do you enjoy sewing? Do you use a thimble when you sew? Is it plain and utilitarian, or decorative? Old or new?

Hello, Spring!

In 1868 printmakers Currier and Ives published a set of illustrations titled, “The Four Seasons of Life.” And since today marks the first day of Spring, sharing the old-time prints seem like a fitting way to mark the change of season.

Spring: Childhood

Known as the “Printmakers to the American People,” Currier and Ives produced prints on a wide range of subjects: comics and reproductions of great paintings, illustrations of disasters and wrecks, scenes of farm and city life, and political lampoons.

Summer: Youth

When “The Four Seasons of Life” series was published, Isabella Alden was a married twenty-seven-year-old woman and a popular best-selling author of Christian fiction.

Autumn: Middle Age

It may have happened that Isabella had Currier and Ives’ prints in mind when she wrote Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant, a story that featured little Daisy Bryant who longed for colorful illustrations to adorn the bare walls of her “study.”

Winter: Old Age

For over fifty years Currier and Ives produced prints that documented almost every phase of life in America—a country that was rapidly growing from adolescence to maturity.

And for over sixty years Isabella Alden wrote inspiring stories about American men, women and children who chose Jesus as their savior, friend, and guide.

Daisy Bryant’s Wall of Pictures

In Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant, little Daisy Bryant loved beauty. Even at the tender age of eight she recognized that the home she lived in with her mother, brother and sister was far from beautiful.

The walls of the little cottage were not lathed and plastered; were not even painted; their weather-stained unsightliness had been among Daisy’s trials.

Little Daisy dreamed of covering those unattractive walls with pictures.

From Godey's Lady's Book, April 1895
From Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1895

Mrs. Bryant laughed. “You dear little dreamer,” she said, “where do you suppose the pictures are to come from, and how much paste and time do you suppose it would take?”

“Oh, but I don’t mean all at once. Be a long, long time, you know; and take just a tiny teaspoonful of flour at a time; we could afford that, couldn’t we? When we found a real pretty picture anywhere, paste it up in a nice place, and in a g-r-e-a-t many months the walls would be covered.”

It was impossible not to laugh at the bright face and dancing eyes, and there was something so funny about it to Line and Ben, that they laughed loud and long.

Mrs. Bryant was the first to recover voice. “It is a pretty thought,” she said, “and I will certainly try to furnish the spoonful of flour for my share; but we have almost no chances for pictures, darling, and I’m afraid you will be old and gray before the walls are covered.”

“Well,” said Daisy cheerily, “then I will put on my spectacles and sit down and enjoy them.”

Godeys Ladys Book 1895 April Vol 130 pg 97
From Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1895

The first picture to be pasted to the wall was one Daisy’s brother found in a magazine a friend had given him. Magazines in 1890—the year Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant was published—often printed pictures and photographs that were suitable for framing.

From Munsey's Magazine, 1905
From Munsey’s Magazine, 1905

In fact, many magazines encouraged readers to clip out pictures and frame them even though the images were in black and white.

From Ladies Home Journal, April 1916
From Ladies Home Journal, April 1916

Sometimes the images were simply of the latest fashions.

From Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1896
From Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1896

Sometimes the images were of famous people or events.

From Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1896
From Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1896

And other illustrations gave readers a window onto faraway places and the works of popular artists.

From Woman's Home Companion, September 1922
From Woman’s Home Companion, September 1922


From Woman's Home Companion, 1922
From Woman’s Home Companion, 1922

By 1910 some magazines began printing two-color pictures. And by 1920 many magazines featured pictures and advertisements in full color. Copies of the Old Masters or religious paintings were very collectable.

From Ladies Home Journal, February 1916
From Ladies Home Journal, February 1916


From Ladies Home Journal, December 1916
From Ladies Home Journal, December 1916

While other pictures illustrated places and lifestyles most people could only dream about.

From Woman's Home Companion, October 1922
From Woman’s Home Companion, October 1922

Since magazine issues ranged in price from five to fifteen cents, they were an affordable source for pictures. Unfortunately for Daisy, even five cents was an unattainable sum. So she sacrificed her dream of having a beautiful wall of pictures; but by the end of the book, Daisy and the Bryants would find themselves surrounded by beauty and blessings of a very different kind.

Cover of Miss Dee Dunmore BryantYou can read more about Daisy and her dreams in Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant. Click on the book cover to find out more.