Retrofitting Vintage

1920’s Home Ec Homework: Granba’s Sewing Book

It’s the little bits of everyday history that I like most.

Recently, I received a small treasure: my great-grandmother’s home economics class notebook. IMG_20160630_100351_177 (1)

Dating from the early 1920s (we think somewhere around 1923), it is a showcase of the sewing techniques she mastered in ninth grade.

“Granba,” as the family called her, was known as a talented seamstress, knitter, and general maker, and it was really neat to see early examples of the characteristics that would be her hallmarks: absolute precision, knowledgeability, and talent. Sadly, I know her only by reputation, as she passed away while my mother was still a child.

The book is a combination of demonstration and composition. It’s a fascinating sampler of things a high school freshman was expected to be able to accomplish in the 1920s.

At this point, she was nobodys Granba.
At this point, she was nobody’s Granba.

Each page has an example of her work glued on one page, and a description or definition of the technique on the facing page.
Each page has an example of her work glued on one page, and a description or definition of the technique on the facing page.
French seam!
French seam!
Basting!
Basting!
There is also a short essay on textiles. Check out that handwriting!
There is also a short essay on textiles. Check out that handwriting!

There are a couple of examples in the book that may be machine sewn. I honestly can’t tell–her work is very small, and very even. A brand-new sewing machine in 1923 looked like this, but it’s unlikely that  high school girls were learning to sew on them. Singer began selling electric sewing machines for home use after World War I, but they were expensive. It’s more likely that if Granba used a machine for her class, it was an older, non-electric model. Whether she was using a machine or not, it’s clear that handwork was still a very valuable skill, as demonstrated by her carefully compiled notebook.

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