Victorian Christmas Gifts For The Home

Traditional Victorian Christmas Tree Decorations
Christmas tree, 1907

‘The shops are showing a marvelous array of gifts that cost small fortune and there are many of us who have to pass them by, regarding them as the fleshpots of Egypt. That is no reason, though, why we should deprive ourselves of the pleasure of giving, nor deprive our friends of the pleasure of being remembered by us. There are a thousand simple and not simple articles that can be made at home for a small cost of material. If they cost much labor, all the better. Then our friends know that we have really wanted to make a sacrifice for their pleasure. The people who pass out fat checks as if they were waste paper do far less in buying a diamond or an automobile than the rest of us do when we put days and days of work on a centerpiece or a drawnwork scarf.’ (San Francisco Call, 1902)

‘Women, who have a taste for embroidery can make many acceptable little gifts at a small cost. […] Women who are handy with knitting needles and crochet hooks can make many useful presents. Friction mittens, hand bags, table mats, yokes for corset covers, ties, belts and many other useful articles are quickly made and are always acceptable.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1904)



‘It is not a difficult matter to make many useful objects that will be very acceptable as presents […] A substantial umbrella stand is shown in one of the illustrations, and in construction it is very simple, being made from white wood or pine boards three-quarters of an inch in thickness. Two boards are cut thirty inches long and ten inches wide for the front and back, and for the sides two more boards are cut thirty inches long and eight inches wide. The front and back board are nailed to the edges of the side boards with long slim steel wire nails, and a bottom board is cut and fitted to the lower end of the box, where it is securely held with more of the long slim nails. […]

Old-Fashioned Homemade Christmas Gifts
Window box, window seat, umbrella holder & china rack

For the dining-room a china rack would be an acceptable present to mother, and the one shown in the illustration is quite an easy one to make. It consists of three shelves, two side, plates and two thin rails. The side plates are thirty inches high, with three notches cut in them, as shown In figure 1A, and the shelves can measure thirty-six inches long, of three different widths and rounded at the ends, four inches in from which notches are cut, as shown in figure 1B.

A window seat and shoe box, a very useful piece of furniture for a bed or dressing-room, is in the shape of a box with side arms and back as shown in the illustration. It is a very simple affair to construct, and is made from a box, two sides and a back board, then upholstered with denim and cretonne. […]

There are many ways to make window boxes, but for a simple and inexpensive one the illustration affords a good suggestion. Obtain some boards six inches wide and three-quarters or seven-eighths of an inch in thickness, planed on both side. Of them construct a box from six to eight inches wide, six inches high, and long enough to fill the window sill it may rest on. The corners and bottom must be securely fastened with screws, and the inside of the box can be lined with zinc to protect the wood from moisture in the earth it contains, as otherwise the dampnes would cause the board to swell and warp so as to spring the box loose at the joints.

The outside and top edges of the box can be painted a light, pleasing shade, and two or three coats will be sufficient to give it a good appearance. The inside should be coated with black asphaltum varnish, that forms a waterproof coating, and if moisture should come in contact with the wood it will not be as liable to warp as if ordinary thin paint was applied. The design on the front of the box is to be outlined with oval-headed brass upholsterers’ tacks one-quarter or three-eighths of an inch in diameter. When the last coat of paint is thoroughly dry the tacks can be driven on the surface, and to arrange them in an even and uniform manner a line describing the design should be followed. On a piece of thin brown paper the size of the box front draw with a soft lead pencil the illustrated design and pin the paper to the front of the box.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1904)



‘Birch-bark is easily obtained; and numberless pretty things may be made out of this soft and flexible material. A few are suggested here, and your invention will help you to more. Think of some other useful and pretty gifts besides the letter-cases, wall-baskets, glove-boxes, napkin-rings, handkerchief-cases, portfolios, and table-mats, that may be constructed of birch-bark.

There are two ways of using the bark; but in all cases a pasteboard shape, like the article to be made, must be first cut out. This shape may be covered with a thin, smooth piece of bark lined with silk, and the edges bound with bright ribbon. Or the bark, of the exact shape to be covered, is cut in strips, united at one end, and ribbon is woven across the strips, and fastened neatly at either end. The pasteboard is then covered with the braided bark, lined with silk to match the ribbon, and the edges bound as before. Bows of ribbon finish the dainty present.’ (The American Girl’s Home Book of Work And Play, 1890)



‘There are many Christmas gifts that can be made at home and naturally are not as costly as those purchased in the shops. The woman who is an adept in the art of sewing needs only the suggestion as to kind of a present, and the remainder of the work is easy. One useful Christmas gift can he made from white cheese cloth; curtains, dresser scarf and bedspread with ruffles. The flower border design can be outlined with a pencil. Then take tube paints and mix them with banana oil, so they will not run, and paint in the design. Very pretty bedroom sets can be made in this manner.’ (Sacramento Union, 1909)

‘Doylies are always pretty and acceptable and the girl who takes pride in a dainty room never can get enough to entirely fill her wants. She places them under a wee vase that contains a single flower, under a silver tray or a bit of brass, but always to the best advantage and where they make the best showing. […] a piece of stray huck that has been left over from roller towels […] is laid on a flat surface and a round ring placed about it and marked off, so that when the fancy stitches are finished all that remains to be done is to ravel out the huck and cut the fringe the proper shape.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)

‘Plain butcher’s linen or the richer damask makes the prettiest plate doilies if a pretty scallop is worked around with mercerized or the dull finish embroidery cotton. Get the plain damask, as good a quality as you can and have several stamped, or make circles by drawing a pencil around a plate and apply or adjust a single scallop to it, repeating until you come out even all the way around. Padded scallops are prettiest if you pad with the same sort of cotton that yon use for the embroidery your scallops will show off better after laundering, even if the threads separate a little in the rough handling they must necessarily receive.’ (Marin Journal, 1906)

‘Bureau-covers, as well as table-covers, tea-cloths, chair-backs, towels, and tidies, are often made of linen, and decorated with what is known as drawn-work. For a bureau-cover buy a yard and a half of fine linen crash, either white or gray. […] Ribbon of a color to match the furniture, a little narrower than the drawn space, is woven through the sheaves, over two and under two, and hemmed at the two ends. […]

Chair-backs or tidies are made in the same way. Sometimes three spaces of different widths are drawn, with ribbons of different color run through; and the chair-backs are more ornamental when a stamped pattern is embroidered in outline-stitch in the centre. Outline-stitch or stem-stitch is extremely simple, being almost the same as the backstitch taught in the chapter on plain sewing; and an artistic design worked in silk or etching-crewels makes the simple linen tidy an object of beauty.

Edwardian Lace Doily
Drawn-work table-cover (The American Girl’s Home Book of Work And Play, 1890)

Linen table-covers are made either in the shape of a long scarf, to fit a narrow table, or square, like the ordinary cover. The former are made precisely like the bureau-cover: for the latter, wide butcher’s linen is used, the length being equal to the width. Fringe and draw the four sides, and ornament each corner with long graceful bows of the ribbon that is run through the drawn-work.

Tea-cloths should be made of somewhat finer linen, which now comes expressly for such purposes. They are of the size of a large dinner-napkin, and are meant to be laid at the head of the tea-table, or to cover a tea-tray. The fringe is shorter and finer than that of the covers before described ; and it should not be knotted, but plain. The drawn-work should be fine and narrow ; and, instead of running ribbon through the sheaves, fine tidy-cotton is braided through in the stitch called fagotting, in which the needle lifts every other sheaf back over the one preceding, and draws the cotton through in such a manner as to keep the sheaves twisted. The prettiest tea-cloths have a delicate design traced in outline-stitch, either in each of the four corners, or in a running pattern around the sides.

Crocheted Mats For Washstand And Table. Any girl who knows how to crochet may make these very useful gifts. For the washstand five mats complete the set, – a large round mat, for the wash-bowl; two smaller, for the little pitcher and the mug; and two, which may be oval, for the soap-dish and brush-tray. Two balls of white tidy-cotton No. 8 make a set.

Start with a chain of five stitches, loop it, and crochet around, widening often enough to keep it flat. When the mat has reached the proper size, finish it off with a border of loops in three rows of long crochet arranged in groups with a dividing loop. The first row should have three stitches in a group; the second, four; and the third, five. The mats must be washed, starched very stiff, and ironed.

Mats for the table are made in the same way; but an improvement is to crochet them over lamp-wicking, which increases the stiffness. Two large oval mats for the soup-tureen, and fish or meat platters, and four round ones for vegetable-dishes, usually make up the set; but small mats for gravy-dish, pitchers, etc., may be added if desired. […]

A set of tea-napkins with an initial letter finely worked makes a beautiful gift. The letter should be stamped in one corner of the doyly; and, before embroidering, the pattern is run and “stuffed” with heavy working-cotton, which makes the work far richer. Handsome towels are embellished with the initials of the person to whom they are to be given worked at one end in the space made by folding the towel twice. The letters should be very large. Towels are now sold with a canvas strip woven across each end, on which any pretty pattern may be embroidered ; the Holbein-stitch, which is alike on both sides, being the best to use.’ (The American Girl’s Home Book of Work And Play, 1890)



‘In almost any list of Christmas gifts, made by the woman who is fond of needlework, at least one sofa cushion is pretty sure to be included. They are favorite subjets with embroiderers because they offer particularly attractive surfaces for decoration, and also because no home can have too many of them. They can be given to bachelors or young woman friends, to old or young alike, and will be equally acceptable in almost any case.

Sofa Cushions - Homemade Christmas Presents

The sofa pillows made now are intended for use. They are not perishable combinations of lace and silk or satin which will crush and lose their freshness if any one should happen to lean against them. On the contrary, they are always made of some firm material which is washable or easily cleaned, and they are embroidered in wash silks or cottons so that they may really serve the purpose for which they are intended.’ (San Francisco Call, 1909)

‘Sofa pillows are always splendid Christmas gifts, and the burlap covers that have come out this year are inexpensive and effective without a great deal of a friend’s work to them.’ (Marin Journal, 1905)



‘Little boudoir photograph frames are wreathed in pink ribbon roses most fascinatingly. Get a glass of the shape desired and bind narrowly with pink silk glued on. As many little wild roses as are needed can be made of half inch ribbon and yellow centers worked or artificial stamens fastened in. Glue these alternately with little bows of olive green ribbon  to the binding on the front of the glass until the whole glass has been thickly framed in. Next four pink ribbons must be glued to the binding on the back of the glass at even distances apart. Then, cutting a back of pasteboard to fit the glass, cover it with silk. This is fastened to the glass Iying on with the four ribbons. A loop for hanging is sewed to the back.’ (Marin Journal, 1905)

Edwardian Victorian Roses Picture Frame
Picture frame with pink ribbon roses (Marin Journal, 1905) & Edwardian woman making Christmas gifts (Sacramento Union, 1909)

‘Frames made of two thicknesses of stiff cardboard each covered with silk, satin or some other textile fabric, and then sewn or pasted neatly together, leaving an aperture at the bottom to slip in the photograph, are inexpensive and pretty foundations to work upon ; they should, of course, be decorated with a spray of flowers, birds, butterflies, or anything else that individual fancy may suggest. If to be used for a single frame, a support made from a narrow slip of cardboard fastened on three parts of the way up the back and likewise covered to match the body of the frame is necessary.’ (Hints for Painting Christmas Gifts, 1888)



‘Old bits of brocade satin which have done duty in an evening gown and are about to be relegated to the rag bag may also be utilised in making various articles for Christmas presents.

Brocade Bookstand, DIY Victorian Christmas Gift
Brocade bookstand

For small pieces of tapestry and brocade damask there are other uses and among them nothing more attractive than the book rack, now so popular an addition to library or bedroom furnishings. This consists of a fairly high back piece and two side pieces cut from stout cardboard, the length depending on the number of books the stand may be usually required for, while the bottom piece is composed of a piece of thin wood, which material could also be used for the back and sides.

Choose a piece of brocade with a pattern that repeats itself in “groups,” so to speak. You will then be able to have one whole design in the middle of the back. Cover the three cardboard pieces on both aides and finish off at the edges with a fairly thick gold or silk roll braid. The side pieces are sewed firmly to the back and the joins hidden by the braid. The wooden bottom must be also covered with brocade and glued strongly into the cardboard. four little gilt knobs stuck underneath serve to raise the stand from the table on which it rests. […]

Book blocks are most useful. These consist of heavy shaped pieces of wood covered with brocade, and they are quite indispensable in keeping any number of books together on the table. They cost very little to make, and if the brocade is well stretched over the wood and nailed down with tiny upholsterer’s tacks there is no danger of the material wrinkling and spoiling the effect. Tapestry is just as pretty a covering as is brocade for these book racks.’ (Marin Journal, 1905)

Old-Fashioned Homemade Christmas Gifts
Table book rack, wooden scrap basket, book stand, dog or cat bassinet & coal or wooden box

‘The table book rack […] we will make of three pieces of wood each three-quarters of an inch thick. The bottom board is two feet long by seven inches wide and the two end boards are each seven inches wide by five inches high. The dot 3 on the sketch represent pebbles, which should not be more than three-eights of an inch long or one-quarter inch wide. These pebbles, my dear children, we can obtain when we again visit the seashore, or we may purchase them at the bird store, where they are used in the fine aquariums they have there; or still better, we may walk around the corner where the street is being repaved with asphalt, and if we ask the foreman in charge of the work, I am sure that he will allow us to select all we may need of the proper size.

We will dig out a space for each pebble on the edges of the bottom and end pieces so that they – the pebbles – will be about half embedded in the wood. Now we must remove all fatty substance from each pebble by rubbing it with a piece of garlic. Apply fish glue to the provided concave in the wood and to the pebble, place the pebble in its place and then strike it gently with a hammer until it becomes securely fastened in its place. […] With the aid of an engraving tool one-eighth of an inch wide the design of the carving is easily cut into the wood and an ordinary chisel is all we shall need to fashion the surface, which we may do as our fancy directs. Finally, we will screw the end pieces to the ends of the bottom board and flnsh the whole by painting with burnt umber water color.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1904)



‘It is not too late to make attractive Christmas presents at home, even if the selection has been delayed until the last few days, for the woman who is ingenious can fashion decidedly effective gifts out of cardboard and bright colored paper, and by choosing practical and artistic models can turn out just as acceptable articles as those made by experts. […]

Victorian Christmas Presents
Edwardian Christmas presents: envelope holder & blotter for table (Marin Journal, 1908)

If an envelope holder should be chosen as a gift, the work on it would require but a short space of time and really no skill, for it can be made of three or four pieces of cardboard cut square, round or with the upper edge in scallops. One of these pieces – the one that is to form the back – should be at least one-third wider than the other two, while the second piece need not be more than two inches deeper than the last or third one. The width of all three must of course be the same.

When cut to please the fancy, paste on decorative crape paper in a light shade of tan, blue or pink on which there are bright colored flowers, such as red roses and yellow chrysanthemums, tied prettily with long ribbon. When the paste is thoroughly dry, an edging of heavy paper or tape to finish the pieces at the top should be added. At the bottom or about an inch from the edge of each two holes should be made, one on either side, for through these openings ribbons that tie the pieces together are run. The ribbons are made into pretty knots and help decorate the holder. Through two holes at the top of the large piece of cardboard a ribbon is fastened with bowknots, so that the bolder may be attached to the wall or a desk – wherever it will hang conveniently.

Victorian Mouse Penwiper
Mouse penwiper (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1862, p.599)

Quite as serviceable as the holder and equally appropriate for man and woman is a blotter for a desk. It is made of a square piece of cardboard, over which a light blue or delicate pink blotting pad is placed. This is held down by four decorative corners made of cardboard covered with crepe paper in pretty floral designs. These corners are made like right angled triangles to fit the square edges of the bottom and are attached to the latter by fine wires.’ (Marin Journal, 1908)

‘Leaf penwiper. Choose a pretty maple or oak leaf for the pattern of your penwiper, and select cloth of a color that will suggest the leaf, – reddish-brown for an oak, or yellow for maple. Take a paper pattern of the leaf by laying it on stiff paper, tracing the outline with a pencil, and then cutting it out with a pair of scissors. Cut out two leaves of your brown or yellow cloth, and three inside leaves of chamois-skin or broadcloth. If you like, you can imitate the veins of a leaf by embroidering them with silk in stem-stitch on the upper leaf of the penwiper.’ (The American Girl’s Home Book of Work And Play, 1890)


20 thoughts on “Victorian Christmas Gifts For The Home

  1. Fascinating reading Lina. I love the different ideas that were shared and it seems not much has changed over the years. It’s still better to give a hand made gift that was made with love and time that just write out a check.

  2. I just love reading this sort of thing – giving a background to so many current traditions. I think i found you on #MLSTL!! But I have shared this post on my regular PainPalsBlog feature “Monday Magic – Inspiring Blogs for You!” this week, Claire x

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