Saturday, February 09, 2008


Back in the early eighties, the technological revolution in homemaking was well underway, with Microwaves, automatic washing machines, and convenience foods from well-stocked Supermarkets. Readymade clothes were now available at reasonable prices in the chain stores. For the first time, women - particularly the stay-at-home Mums -were looking round for things to do with their hands that would satisfy their creativity and provide a diversion in their spare time. They began turning to crafts. Not so much the embroidered and crocheted articles such as doileys and tablecloths that their mothers had created almost of necessity to furnish their homes. They were looking for a variety of quicker, colourful and useful little projects that did not necessarily need a lot of money, but which could be given as gifts or to help stock the stalls at school and church fetes. Their sewing machines, no longer needed to churn out garments for the family, were now starting to be used to sew decorative items, and the quilting revival was just getting underway.

Nowadays, the newsagents shelves are so well-stocked with craft magazines of all types, that they seem almost ho-hum to the experienced craftsperson. However, back in those days there was very little, except for ideas published from time to time in weekly Women's magazines.

An enterprising Australian lady, Beverley Peters, began publishing a small quarterly publication called the Craft Basket. She worked from home. It was available by subscription, and consisted of just two folded A3 pages brimful of little projects, hints and patterns. People would send ideas to Beverley, and she would test them out.

In April 1984, I was intrigued to see a little article she had with a pattern for a Needlecase in the shape of a girl with a bonnet. The elderly lady from Sydney who had submitted the pattern had said she had one in her very first workbasket nearly 60 years previously, and had never seen another until recently, when "she found one among the treasures of one of the old families on Norfolk Island." This particular lady had since made many for fetes and stalls, and they were a best seller.

The reason for my particular interest was that we ourselves had one, actually belonging to Bernie's great-aunt Charlotte, who at age 100 was permanently in the Geriatric ward of our local hospital. We also had a little felt hat, also a needlecase. Neither are particularly attractive, being made of dark brown felt, and they had obviously been around for a long time. However, I could not help but imagine the ladies of the island, all those years ago learning to make these and sharing the pattern around.
Then, almost a year ago, I found another old one, in our local second-hand store "Collectors' Corner". This one, too, had come from the workbasket of an elderly Norfolk lady who was now permanently hospitalised. It is a little more sophisticated than Auntie Charlotte's, but the "pages" are of the same old woollen flannel they used to use.
You and I have all seen many versions of this little Sunbonnet Sue needlecase in recent decades, on stalls and in Craft shops. I always imagined it was an American idea. And it may well have been. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when American Whalers frequented the Pacific, they would often leave their wives on Norfolk Island for "the season", and it is a well-known fact that these ladies shared many patterns, recipes and hints in the domestic domain with the Norfolk Island ladies.

I like to think that this idea may well have come "downunder" via Norfolk Island!


Anonymous said...

Mary, how delightful to see Sunbonnet Sue! My sister and I are lucky enough to each have a twin size quilt of Sunbonnet Sue that my mother made for us when we were young children. (were Not young anymore) I know that "somewhere" in my stash of things I also have the original pattern that mom used which was from a newspaper clipping.. How interesting! Debbie

Ozjane said...

I made one of these in a Church craft group a couple of years ago. It is red also and is rather cute.

I am tagging you. You need to go to my blog
to see the rules.

Karen said...

I love reading your blog Mary, you are so talented, hope you pass some of your talant onto our grandson.
See you in March
Karen Mason

Maureen said...

I was given my first Sunbonnet Sue needlecase about 1949;Since then I've made many as gifts and for fete stalls......and I still use one today.

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