This coming weekend I will be at GCVM for their Preparing for the Holidays program. You can find me in Foster making gifts for family and friends. Shhhhhh! The gifts are secrets.
Have you wondered what gifts people made for each other during the nineteenth century? Here is a list from Treasures in Needlework; Comprising Instructions in Knitting, Netting, Crochet, Point Lace, Tatting, Braiding, and Embroidery, by Mrs. Warren and Mrs. Pullan. (London, 1855)
“There are many occasions in life when ladies desire to mark their esteem for a friend by some gift or token; and they are often in the choice of what to give or to work. Hence it is that no question is more frequently asked than, “What will be a suitable present for so-and-so?” or, “What will be the most valuable things I can make for a Fancy Fair?”
In making gifts to individuals, the leading idea is, to assure them of our regard. That the gift is out own production, greatly adds to its value in the estimation of the recipient; and, indeed, there are many circumstances in which, when desiring to show gratitude for kindness, a lady may very properly offer a specimen of her own work, when a purchased gift would either be unsuitable or out of her power. For the same reason, – that it proves the receiver to have been an object of our thought and care, – any article evidently intended for that person only, is more welcome than such as might have been worked for anybody. The following list of articles, suitable for the respective purposes, will be found suggestive:
PRESENTS FOR GENTLEMEN.
Braces. – Embroidered on velvet, or worked on canvas, from a Berlin pattern.
Cigar Cases. – Crochet. Velvet, and cloth applique, velvet, or cloth braided. Embroidered or worked in beads.
Slippers. – Braided on cloth, morocco, or velvet; applique cloth and velvet; Berlin work.
Shaving Books, especially useful. – Braided. Worked in beads on canvas. Crochet, colored beads, and white cotton. (washable.)
Smoking Caps. – Velvet braided richly; cloth, velvet and cloth applique. Netted darned, on crochet.
Fronts for Bridles. – Crest embroidered with seed beeds.
Waistcoats. – Braided on cloth or velvet. Embroidered.
Penwipers. – Worked in beads, and fringed. Applique velvet and cloth. Gold thread.
Comforters. Driving Mittens. Scarfs.
Chairs. – Embroidered in applique. Berlin work ditto. Braided ditto.
Sofa Cushions. – Braided or embroidered.
Screens. – Raised cut Berlin work. Berlin work with beads.
Hand Screens. – Netted and darned. Applique. Crochet.
Table Covers. – Cloth, with bead or Berlin borders. Cloth braided.
Set of Dish Mats. – Worked in beads, with initials in the centre; border round; and grounded in clear white beads.
Fancy Mats. – For urns, lamps, &c.
Ottomans. – Braided. Applique, or embroidered.
Footstools. – Berlin or bead work. Braided.
Whatnots. – Braided. Berlin work.
Doyleys., – The set – bread, cheese, and table doyleys – worked in broderie and chain stitch.
FOR THE BRIDE
Point-Lace Collars, Chemisettes, Handkerchiefs, &c.
Handkerchief Case or Box. – On satin, embroidered or braided in delicate colours.
Glove Box. – Worked In beads. Initials in centre; grounded with white beads.
Slippers. – Braided or embroidered.
Workbaskets. – Netted and darned, or darned on filet, or crochet.
Carriage bags. – Braided. Worked in Berlin work or beads.
Purses. – Netted or darned, or crochet; delicate colours, as pink and silver.
Porte-Monnair, or Note Case. – Crest or monogram in centre, grounded in beads.
Embroidered Aprons. – Worked in Brodierie-en-lacet. Braided, or embroidered.
Toilet Cushions. – Crochet or netting.
Reticules. – Darned netting; or embroidery.
Infants’ Caps. – Point lace, crochet, or embroidery.
Frocks. – Ditto.
Quilts. – Crochet. Bead borders with motto, and drop fringe. Crest in the centre.
Pincushions. – Crochet, or embroidered satin.
Blankets. – Knitted with white wool, in double kitting, – a real “blessing to mothers.”
These are a few of the leading and most useful presents. They are equally appropriate as offerings to a Fancy Fair.”
Jennie June takes a look at the gifting season in her Jennie Juneiana: Talks on Women’s Topics (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1864):
The Season of Gifts
“Who to give to?” is sometimes a puzzling question; for each one cannot give to all, or all who have claims upon them, and it is sometimes hard to decide between sisters, and aunts, and cousins, and still nearer and dearer relations. Some philanthropic people, who, however, rarely follow their own advice , advocate the ignoring of family ties altogether on these festal occasions, and urge the giving only to those who absolutely need something. But this is too hard and rigid a policy; it may be, and probably is the extreme of unselfishness, but we frankly own that it is beyond us. Give all that is possible to those whose friends are few and wants many, but yield something also to inclination and affection, and the kindly feelings which prompt and demand a fitting expression.
But who to give to is not yet received a definite answer. First, as a loyal woman (we are talking to women), to those you love best; second, to those to whom perhaps you have done an injustice, if only in thought, and to whom you feel is due some slight reparation; and third, to those who need it. But it must be remembered that the sentiment of the gift is more than the gift itself. A very costly gift is sometimes not half so much valued as a flower, a book, or a kind word; but this is only true of very unsophisticated people. We have seen vulgar women, in garb of silk or satin, who would coarsely express undisguised contempt for a gift which did not come up to their ideas of cost. Such persons are incapable of appreciating a sentiment, and therefore give them nothing, or if that is impossible, let it be a check for so much money, which is the only point for which they care.
What is proper to purchase for gifts, is a very embarrassing question to sensitive individuals, who desire to do the thing just right, and are afraid of making some mistake or committing some gauche-rie. Between husbands and wives, or in a family circle, such a difficulty can hardly exist, a wide range of the useful, as well as the sentimental and beautiful, being proper to choose from. For mere friends, however, the choice is sometimes very perplexing, notwithstanding that the variety of goods in every department is almost infinite, and books always exist as a dernier resort, although, in fact, they are the most suitable and valuable of gifts. To pretend to indicate those things which are most adapted as gifts to varied circumstances, would be to give a catalogue of every jewelry establishment, dry goods store, and fancy goods house, not to speak of toys, furs, groceries, bonnets, greenhouses, picture galleries, and furniture shops, all of which supply their quota to the generous influences of the season. A safe way is to ascertain a want or a taste on the part of the recipient, and then supply the one or gratify the other, according to means or convenience. Young ladies, or others who have time, and know how to execute the different kinds of fancy work, cannot pay a more delicate compliment to their friends than by presenting them with some pretty trifle of their own making.