Friday, February 3, 2012

Pretty Patterns for Pennies

I wrote this for Prairie Times several years ago. I hope some of my readers remember the days when you could get paper patterns of all sorts for mere pennies - days long gone but fondly remembered.

Nowadays no one would dream of taping coins to a piece of cardboard and sending them through the mail as payment for, well—anything. This thought occurred to me as I carefully unfolded the old yellowed news clipping, a treasure among many that I’d stored away. There, right next to a recipe for creamed turkey and ham tidbits, was a Marian Martin pattern for doll clothes. It would cost the home sewer thirty cents, to be sent in coin, and contained pattern pieces for a complete set of clothes for a 14”– 24” doll.  The set included a pinny (pinafore), coat, hat, party dress, sailor dress, blouse and underwear.

From the 1940’s through the 1960’s patterns like these were available in hundreds of rural and small town newspapers across the country. As I looked at the charming ad with its black and white sketches of the doll and her wardrobe, I remembered many other kinds of patterns offered for just pennies in these papers. It was, for instance, a popular pastime to make covers for small appliances like the toaster. Sometimes, as an added incentive, the pattern company included an iron on transfer outlined in bright red or navy ink. After the item was sewn, the transfer was embroidered in colored threads. This was especially appealing at holiday time. A jolly Santa, fat jingle bells or holly sprigs are some of the transfer patterns I remember.

Apron patterns were extremely popular. It’s truly amazing the number of designs there were for aprons. The pockets alone had shapes like tulips, hearts, daisies or ovals. It seemed every Sunday for months the papers would feature some pattern variation on this indispensable item of kitchen wear. Apron patterns also frequently came with iron on transfers and were put to use on the gift aprons women gave to each other.

When a friend of mine inherited an old home chock full of furniture, pots and pans and other household items, she gave to me an old apron. It was in excellent conditon, made of polished cotton in a bright floral print with an organdy ruffle trimming the skirt. A delightful piece of the past I will stow away to show off or look at whenever the nostalgia bug bites.

I don’t know if I would have the patience now to make doll clothes for my granddaughters or if I’d want to. Children are so instantly gratified these days that I wonder if the delight of anticipating a gift in progress is lost to them. I hope not. For now the little news clipping will stay tucked in among my memorabilia.  It will remind me of a time when a pattern could be bought from a newspaper with coins taped to cardboard and sent through the U.S. mail. 

Image: digitalart   


  1. I actually remember this story! =)

  2. You found the cutest graphics for it, too. Thanks for remembering!

  3. Your blog brought a smile to my face today. My daughter is quite into 18" dolls but alas her mother is not competent at sewing them cute clothes. We try and try and sometimes with the help of Momo (grandma) we get something made that they can actually wear. Doll clothes patterns are no longer 30 cents but closer to $10. The good news is that some kids in this generations still have the patience to wait for a darling outfit while their mom's give it their best shot.


  4. Thanks for the "good news" about some kids patience, Laura. I love to hear things like that!