Victorian & Edwardian Christmas Gifts – Part 2

Victorian And Edwardian Christmas Gifts
New York, winter scene in Broadway, 1857

‘In many cases no gift could be so useful as an apron, or nightgown, or petticoat neatly made, with loving thoughts stitched into the long seams and difficult gathers.’ (The American Girl’s Home Book of Work And Play, 1890)

This is part 2 of the Homemade Victorian & Edwardian Christmas Gifts (here you’ll find part 1). In part 2, Victorian and Edwardian women teach you to make sewing accessories – sewing aprons, pincushions and sewing baskets – travel accessories – toiletry bags, razor cases and shoe bags – and how to make Christmas cards with a camera.

Victorian & Edwardian Sewing Gift Ideas


‘For the girl that does a good deal of needlework there is the handy apron. Not the regulation white affair that is used to protect the gown from threads and the like, but a useful little thing that is intended to look dashing and yet be useful at the same time. It is made of any material that is soft and pretty, but those made of a flowered dimity are more attractive than a white wash silk one […]

1900s Sewing Aprons
Edwardian sewing aprons (School Sewing Based On Home Problems, 1916) & nursery apron (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

One yard and a quarter is plenty, for if they extend below the knees the chic look that half makes them is quite gone. One width straight goods is cut, and then about a third of the length is sewed on, not doubled up for that would bring the right and wrong side of the goods in sharp contrast. Really that is all there is to it. In about two minutes the sides may be basted up ready to be feather-stitched at some future time, and the distance measured off in the bag that has been formed, so that there will be various compartments. The strings are much prettier if they are of ribbon, and to carry out the entire idea should be feather-stitched with the same color as the ribbon. It is but a trifle, that costs exactly what you want it to for the actual expense depends entirely upon the quality of the material used. There are some delicate ginghams that may be bought anywhere from 20 to 63 cents a yard, but they are not as flimsy looking and consequently , never look quite as much a dress-up affair as the organdy or the lawn ones.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)

‘To make a sewing apron first make a small circular apron of pretty lawn. Then cut another of the same shape, binding together with narrow ribbon and leaving the top open. Fasten the belt to the under side and bind the top of the outside piece making a deep pocket for holding the sewing articles, such as thread, needles, etc.

Tea aprons can be made with a yard of dotted Swiss. Cut a front piece with a narrow hem rounding the corners, and join all together with Valenciennes lace insertion. Then edge all around with the edges to match. A narrow band with ribbon ties and a small pocket can be trimmed the same way. To make the apron still more attractive add a lace handkerchief to match and place it in a little pocket.’ (Sacramento Union, 1909)


Victorian Sewing Bag
Parsee sewing bag (San Francisco Call, 1903) & work bag (San Francisco Call, 1902)

A Parsee bag ‘should be eight inches across and twelve inches long. The Parsee bag is to hold fancy work, and must be large enough for a big piece of embroidery. This bag is unlined and its foundation is a piece of satin. You can use cloth if you prefer […] Good oriental tones are dull brown, about the shade of strong coffee, deep red; the color called watermelon pink, a ripe green and a purple that is rather too vivid for western ideas of beauty. Your background does not matter so much, for you are going to work your bag almost entirely over with fancy stitches and the background will disappear […]

If you want to be decidedly oriental in your work you can get some tiny pieces of isinglass and cut them about the size of dimes. Apply them to the goods and work a buttonhole stitch around them to hold them in place. […] You can use glass spangles if you prefer […] And little crocheted wheels, made by crocheting a fancy stitch over little curtain pole rings, are applied to the bag so as to form a pattern. […] Run a stout cord – not a ribbon – through the top and you have a handsome Christmas present.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)

Victorian Sewing Basket
Edwardian sewing basket (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

‘An original and dainty work-basket can be made of some pretty cretonne stiffened at the bottom and sides with millboard. Cut two pieces of millboard, 4 1/4 inches wide, and 6 1/2 inches at the lower and 8 inches at the top edge, for the sides. Two more pieces the same width, and 6 inches at the top and 4 1/2 inches at the lower edge, are wanted for the ends, and a piece 6 1/2 inches by 4 1/2 inches for the bottom.

Then cut the cretonne double, and measuring 15 1/2 inches by 13 1/2 inches, without turnings, pin the pieces of card between the cretonne in position to form bottom, ends, and sides respectively of basket, putting fine running stitches to keep them there. Cut the corners of the cretonne in a rounded shape, and turn in the edges over the cards at the top of the basket, stitching them firmly with cotton. Close to the edge on the outside of the basket sew a very narrow gold and silk gimp to harmonise with the cretonne. For the pockets at each end, cut two pieces of cretonne 6 inches deep by 9 inches wide. Make an inch-wide hem at the sides, and another an inch wide at the top with a narrow slot at the base; through this run a piece of elastic.

The bottom of the pocket has a half-inch turning, which is gathered top and bottom to a width of 2 inches. The pockets are then sewn on to the ends of the basket, the top edge with the elastic being drawn up to 3 inches in width.

To Make the Handle. Cut a piece of millboard, 2 1/4 inches wide and 13 1/4 inches long. Cover it with cretonne, and edge it along the top with silk gimp, securing to sides of basket. At each corner of the basket sew two pieces of narrow ribbon, a quarter of a yard long; when these are tied together they serve to hold the sides of the basket up in position, which, when not in use, should lie perfectly flat. […]

Victorian Crochet Bag
Work-bag for crochet (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

A novel and pretty little work-bag for holding crochet can be made from a 6-inch-wide chine ribbon, of which one yard will be wanted. One edge must be gathered up and sewn on to a round of card, 4 1/2 inches in diameter, covered with silk to go with the ribbon. The other edge forms the top of the bag, and has a row of Valenciennes lace beading, about 2 inches wide, sewn on to it. Through the slots in this two pieces of narrow bebe ribbon are drawn, and the bag is complete.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

Workcases or housewifes: ‘Almost any firm material can be used for making them. But here is a very pretty pattern. Take gray or yellow Java canvas, twelve inches long and seven wide, with a bright-colored silk for lining. Feather-stitch the canvas down both sides, and across one end, leaving space to turn in the edges. Baste on the lining, and finish the edges neatly by turning in and blind-stitching ; or bind them with ribbon to match the silk lining. The feather-stitched end is then pointed by turning down the corners, and sewing them together. Turn the lower end up about four inches to form a bag, and sew the sides together firmly. Make a loop at the point, and sew a button on the outside; so that the case may be rolled up and fastened.’ (The American Girl’s Home Book of Work And Play, 1890)


‘The woman who depends upon her own skillful fingers to meet the Christmas demands that may be made upon her will do well to copy some of the very attractive cushions here described. First there is the porcupine pincushion, which is easily made and generally admired. The vandyked pattern is worked in two pretty colors of single Berlin wool or filoselle on a piece of rather fine canvas five inches long by seven inches wide. A little bag is made of ordinary cotton material like a bolster and stuffed with bran. This is covered with the worked canvas, the “join” being bidden by sewing over it a piece of narrow ribbon one and a half yards long. Ends are tied together to form a hanging loop, as shown in illustration. Little bows of ribbon are sewed at each end of the bolster to make a neat finish. Pins are stack in at every point of the Vandykes, the heads protruding about half an inch. […]

Pincushions - Homemade Christmas Presents
Edwardian pincushions: Dutch pincushion, hanging pincushion & porcupine pincushion (Marin Journal, 1906)

A clever woman has contrived a pincushion from the effective brass ornaments that often adorn cart horses’ martingales and are polished and kept bright with so much pride by the teamster. This ornament fastens to a nail in the wall, and from it depends a trio of small sack shaped cushions, each of a contrasting color, with ribbons to match. These sacks are studded respectively with black, white and colored pins.’ (Marin Journal, 1906)

‘A Bachelor’s Pincushion. Fill a brier or cherry wood pipe with cotton wool or bran and over this gum a little piece of velvet. Next take three yards of baby ribbon and wind it carefully round the pipestem, tying a small bow at each end. Stick some pins in the cushion part and the result is a dainty trifle, very novel and easy to make for the bachelor’s Christmas.’ (Marin Journal, 1906)

‘The geranium sachet to place among Christmas gifts is made with crushed geranium leaves, orris root, lemon peel and ground vanilla bean. One can proportion it to suit the fancy, making one odor predominate. A good sachet to put into heavy pin cushions is made with dried coffee grounds, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, orris root, ground vanilla bean and musk. The scent is strong, lasting and pleasant. The coffee grounds make an excellent heavy filling. Dry them thoroughly in the oven.’ (Mill Valley Independent, 1909)

‘For those whose favorite art is sewing there are dainty and useful gifts to be made with ribbon. Of these the holly pincushion is especially pretty. About a yard and a half of satin ribbon between four and five inches wide, is necessary for its making. A soft green shade is perhaps the prettiest color to choose, unless the gift is designated for some one whose room is known to be of a particular coloring. The ribbon then is cut and overhauled at the sides with sewing silk of the same shade, so that four bags of equal size are formed. These are stuffed with cotton wool sprinkled with sachet powder, and later united at the top with four fringed ends of the ribbon that is left. Through these ends also a sprig of artificial holly is passed. […]

Smaller, yet attractive gifts are needle books made at home, which may be either crocheted or decorated with ribbon work. For the former simple, heavy hat wire is taken and crocheted over with silk thread. This is then coiled closely and sewed together like a mat, two of which form the covers of the needlebook. About their edges a narrow, shell like border is also crocheted with the silk. Within are three little rounds of flannel, pinked about the edges, and these and the book are fastened together with a flat bow of baby ribbon.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1904)

Victorian Pincushion And Needle Book
Pansy pincushion (The American Girl’s Home Book of Work And Play, 1890) & needle book (School Sewing Based On Home Problems, 1916)

‘Pansy pincushion. The best way to make one is to take a real pansy, and copy it as nearly as possible. Suppose you choose the old-fashioned kind, with two purple upper petals, and three yellow lower petals. Cut out two pasteboard shapes as nearly like the flower as you can make them, but at least twice the size (or follow diagram given), and cover the upper half of each with purple velvet, and the lower half, which must contain the three yellow petals, with yellow silk to match.

Lay the two shapes together, and overseam the edges, leaving a small open space through which to stuff the pincushion. For this, use snips of worsted, crowding it tightly into every corner to make all hard and firm. Your next task is to draw the pansy’s features in stitches of black and yellow silk, copying nature as best you can.’ (The American Girl’s Home Book of Work And Play, 1890)

Victorian & Edwardian Travel Accessories


Hatpin Case - Victorian Homemade Christmas Presents
Hatpin case (Marin Journal, 1906)

‘A hatpin case is a useful present for the woman who travels, as it keeps the pins together and prevents their loss – a great consideration in these days of elaborate and expensive hatpins. The case may be carried out in any material you like. Its measurement is that of the ordinary hatpin, allowing an inch for the reception of any extra long ones. The design in the cut shows the case open and closed, and as it may contain as many pins as you like your own discretion must be the guide as to its width. A ribbon strip inserted down the middle and divided into sections serves as a receptacle for the pins, which are prevented from slipping out by the flaps on the ends. The top comes down over the case when folded and is fastened with a small button and loop. The edges are bound with ribbon, silk cord or braid, according to the material used for the case. The initials of the owner and the word “Hatpins” embroidered on the front give a pretty finishing touch to a charming little gift.’ (Marin Journal, 1906)


‘Every one has among the unmade odds and ends in the attic or store room for which a use is expected to be found some day a number of pieces of cotton goods which have been left over from summer dresses or the curtaining and upholstering of summer parlors or bedrooms. They are not so valuable as the pieces of silk and velvet from which sofa pillows, hand bags and numerous dainty costume accessories may be made, nor is it of much use to keep them to mend the gown or curtain of which they have been a part, because cotton things are not expected to last many seasons in the first place, and in the second because making them over with new goods to help out is usually impossible as the difference caused by fading is too apparent. Still, the pieces accumulate, and the patterns are so pretty and the coloring so fetching that one treasures them long after the costumes which they match have gone into the rag bag.

Travelling Case - Victorian Homemade Christmas Presents
Edwardian toiletry bags & traveling cases (Los Angeles Herald, 1905)

It is possible, if one has time to sew, to make the most attractive toilet bags and cases of these pieces. One can create one’s entire outlay of Christmas gifts from them with a very small expenditure of money. For many purposes they are far more appropriate than silk. In this season of flowered organdies and embroidered batistes for gowns and flowered chintzes and cretonnes for bedroom furnishings the pieces of cotton goods available in most houses are particularly suited. […]

‘One of the most useful articles of this nature, which will be greatly appreciated as a gift or will be of much use in your own boudoir or trunk, is a case which may be used either at home or in traveling for holding sponges, wet brushes, cloths, etc. It is made of striped Dresden chintz of quite a heavy quality and is lined throughout with rubber, so that the toilet articles may be put in directly after using while one is traveling.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1905)

‘In making razor cases use soft leather, which may be purchased in skins of any color. Use a strip about 10 by 14 inches. Make a lining of double-faced outing flannel a trifle longer to allow for the turning in of the raw edges. Featherstitch to this in pocket form, pockets to be an inch wide, a strip 7 by 14 inches. Then stitch the lining to the leather along all the edges. An initial can be embroidered on the case, the color to match the feather stitching. The sides double over as in a spoon case, to protect the razors.’ (Sacramento Union, 1909)


‘Shoe cases. These are meant to hold shoes in travelling, and to take the place of wrapping-paper. As each case holds but one pair of shoes, it is well to make two of them, or more, as a present. Cut out of brown linen a case or bag which will easily hold a pair of shoes. Bind the edges with braid, and fasten strings about the mouth to tie it with; or make the end long enough to fold over, shaping it like an envelope, and fastening it with a button and buttonhole. […]

Shawl bags. Probably most of the girls who read this book know what shawl-bags are like, and also know their usefulness. They are not only capital things to protect shawls from dust and cinders in travelling, but may be used as another hand-bag, to carry small articles in case of need. Stout brown Holland is the best material. Cut two round end-pieces eight inches across, and a piece half a yard wide by twenty-four inches long. Sew the sides of the piece around the two end-pieces, making a cylinder with a long slit, which is to be the mouth of the bag. Face the edges of the slit, and bind them and the seams at the ends with worsted braid. Close the opening with five buttons and buttonholes, and sew on a stout strip of doubled linen by way of handle, like that of a shawl-strap. The bag may be ornamented on one side with the initials of its owner.’ (The American Girl’s Home Book of Work And Play, 1890)

Victorian & Edwardian Christmas Cards

Victorian Christmas Card With Holly
Christmas card, 1908

‘The woman with a camera also has an opportunity to make her own Christmas cards. She will first photograph a wreath of holly or evergreen which she has fastened into an oval shape. When she has made a clear print of this she will cut it out carefully around its inner edges, and into the oval frame thus formed she will fit any pictures she may have on hand which she thinks will be attractive for the purpose; she will also add her lettering or writing, “Merry Christmas” or other appropriate wording. Then she will copy this card with her camera, reducing in to fit comfortably on the postcard size, 5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches. When she has printed this on the sensitized postals sold for photographic purposes she can tint her cards in colors.’ (San Francisco Call, 1909)

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