The Mary Frances Sewing Book – Adventures Among the Thimble People

mary frances front cover 1913

Last year, I acquired this sweet sewing book that teaches and encourages young girls of 1913 to sew.  The book follows Mary Frances and her adventures among the Thimble People.  My copy, needs quite a bit of work…but given that it’s 100 years old this year, it’s not doing too bad. Most importantly it has all of the original patterns to make the doll garments right alongside Mary Frances as she learns to sew.  I decided that I really needed to make all of these doll garments but I would need a 16 inch doll to put the clothes on. Sooooooo off I went on an internet adventure of my own, looking for the ‘right’ doll.

The Mary Frances Sewing Book - Pattern sheet

At first I thought i should find a vintage bisque doll which was era appropriate…but finding the right size, in a decent condition in a price range that I was willing to pay became problematic.  Then I thought i’d move away from era appropriate and look at dolls created in the 1940s – I saw some that I really liked, but finding them in a nice condition was difficult. So I put the project on hold while I considered more options.

While the project was on hiatus, I discovered Jill Hamor’s website bibido – Jill makes (amongst other toys) 1940s inspired cloth dolls. They are beyond gorgeous.  Even more fabulous, Jill was using the Mary Frances Sewing Book to teach her eldest of three daughters to sew!

Sadie - Storybook Toys by Jill Hamor

When I saw Jill’s cloth dolls, i KNEW I’d found a solution to my problem.  Even more exciting than finding Jill’s website was finding out that Jill had published a book with the patterns of her amazing dolls.

Storybook Toys - Jill Hamor

Off I toddled to The Book Depository (free postage 🙂 ) to order Jill’s book. My copy arrived during the week and since then I’ve been sourcing appropriate supplies.  Jill suggests carded wool stuffing instead of polyester – I finally found a source in Australia! I bought some 100% wool for the hair at Spotlight and then I decided that i’d really like some hand-dyed wool instead and went to my old favourite, Etsy.

My biggest gripe with this book is trying to get hold of Jill’s favourite doll making products – the suppliers are mostly American and trying to find suppliers who ship internationally was frustrating.  It’s not so bad when i can purchase more than one item from each online company, but when you’re buying one thing here and there, international shipping becomes painful to the pocket.  Jill suggested Brown Sheep Company, Lamb’s Pride wool for the hair – trying to get it was painful. I’m not giving up yet, but I’m trying other alternatives too (love you Etsy).

Another issue i have is that the book doesn’t give any indication of how much wool i might need…As a wool virgin, i had no idea what worsted, bulky, single ply, hand-dyed, hand-spun meant or how far a skein would go…As you can imagine i’ve been on a steep learning curve over the past week 😀

Something i LOVE about Jill’s book (and there’s lots to love about this book) is that the pattern sheets are tear-out and full sized…I don’t need a trip to Officeworks to copy and enlarge the size of the patterns before i use them.

Jill Hamor's book - Storybook Toys

I’m really looking forward to learning the hair making and eye embroidery techniques – another learning curve for me. The only cloth dolls i’ve ever made have been more primitive in style and used ric rac for hair.

Readers, if I can encourage you to sew for a special little girl or boy in your life, please consider using Jill’s patterns.  The marionettes are beyond believable and any little girl or boy would be thrilled to play with them.  If like me, you like to encourage imagination play in children, then these types of toys are right up your alley. Additionally, marionettes encourage the development of cooperative play skills amongst children – very important skills for all children. Older children in the early reading and writing stages of their education can be encouraged to write plays, songs etc

This type of play can be filled with learning opportunities for children in different development phases…they’d be perfect birthday and/or Christmas etc gifts.

I SO wish i’d found this book/website 20 years ago when our first daughter, Miss23, was a toddler and Miss20 was a newborn because I would have been whipping up these for my girls and our nieces and nephews as they came along. I know Mr Suziwong’s sister-in-law Mrs S (another Primary/Jnr Primary educator) and mother of Misses T and E (now young women)  would have appreciated not only the hand crafted element but the learning opportunities in these dolls.

Jack & Jill Marionettes - Jill Hamor's Storybook Toys


So readers, have I convinced you to pick up needle and thread yet?

Follow along as I go on yet another sewing journey…this time not only making one (or more) of Jill Hamor’s dolls but making all the garments in the Mary Frances Sewing Book.

2 thoughts on “The Mary Frances Sewing Book – Adventures Among the Thimble People

  1. Cleo, just jump in there and have a go; let your first doll be your learning experience – mistakes are your learning curve 🙂 – i’ve made other cloth dolls but this is the first time that i’ll be tackling an embroidered face and this technique for hair. I’ll be posting about the process of this doll journey soon – The wool that Jill recommends is hard to find in Australia and that’s where eBay helped out.

  2. I’ve had Storybook Toys sitting on my shelf for 6 months and really want to make a doll but am a bit intimidated. I’ve only made simple toys before, and things like wool hair are a bit of a mystery to me! Glad to have found your blog. I look forward to seeing your progress.

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