Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fabric Yo-Yos

Fabric   Yo-Yos

Necessity is the mother of invention.

    “You’ve given me ideas on frugal living,” several mothers have written to the Lady-of-the-house. She found it interesting. Apparently, the way her characters lived during the Great Depression in Lessons of Blackberry Inn made an impression. Frugality wasn’t intended to be one of the “lessons” in the story yet after reading the letters the Lady-of-the-house sat down and scribbled a list (from memory) of the frugal activities of her characters. Surprisingly her list ran to the bottom of the page. Not only did the characters save their pennies, they were resourceful at growing things and making things. They had to be. In the 1930s nothing was wasted. Even little scraps of cloth were saved. And if an old curtain, apron, or other piece of clothing was too worn or stained for use, a small corner of it, an unworn or unstained piece of it, might be salvaged. The scrapes could be turned into yo-yos. 

    The pastel yo-yos shown are hand sewn from circles cut 4 ½ inches in diameter. When gathered, the circles make a 2-inch puffed piece of quilt. A green yo-yo is placed over a cut circle to show the size difference. 

    Fabric is a thing of beauty in the discretionary life of the homemaker. It was while visiting a special fabric shop that the Lady-of-the-house first beheld a yo-yo. On the second floor of the shop is a quilt museum. Inside one the museum’s glass showcases is a faded calico (doll size) bed coverlet made of tiny yo-yos. Antique toys help create an old-fashioned ambiance. Lacey yo-yo coverlets were popular bedspreads in the summertime in the 1930s. 

    Anyway, the Lady-of-the-house was charmed by the showcase  – so much so that she soon began cutting out circles to make her first yo-yos. And when writing her fictional tale about a family living in the 1930s her characters make yo-yos, too. In the story Dora invites friends to a luncheon tea to show them how.

    Would you like to make a yo-yo? Cut a circle out of washed cotton. With the wrong side facing you fold a hem over a starting knot. The hem’s running stitch can be as casual and imperfect as a basting stitch and loose enough to gather. Red thread is used here for visibility in the photo. (Click to enlarge.) A thread of matching color is used to secure the yo-yo in its center with a few inconspicuous stitches. To attach your yo-yos whip stitch a few close stitches where they touch. 

    The Lady-of-the-house amuses herself in imagining Penelope of Lessons of Blackberry Inn arranging her red and green yo-yos for a small Christmas pillow. What fabric will she use for the rest of the pillow? Will she place yo-yos on the opposite side of the pillow as well?

    At the tea party Carol and her daughter Emily, also learn to make yo-yos. Over time their home sewing gives them a pile like this one. This is a craft that amiably accommodates the needle skills of young girls.

    A fun part is fiddling with fabric colors. You can be as fussy as you wish. You can add new colors and subtract others until you settle on a combination that pleases you. The Lady-of-the-house, arranging the yo-yos from her pile, has left out the black. On second thought she will keep the black. It ties in the other colors. It is possible, however, that she may change her mind again.

    Seeing a picture of a bright row of yo-yos along the edge of a window curtain in a young child’s room, made her consider sewing the same. Such ponderings are a relaxing exercise in creative daydreaming. For some mothers this daydreaming was (and still is) born of necessity. 

    The grandparents of the Man-of-the-house stand to the right of their friends in the photograph. It was taken in 1934 during the Great Depression in New York City. Shy Josephine was excellent with a needle. The Man-of-the-house has the inherited personality traits of Salvatore in the (probably) navy jacket.  

Thank you for visiting.
Karen Andreola


  1. Are there special instructions for washing?

    Karen, I just found this blog recently and am enjoying going through your past entries so much. Your novels and _Companion_ are among my favorite books about home education.

    God bless you!

  2. Dear Karen,

    Thank you for this post! It gave me inspiration for Sarah, who loves to create. I do think she could make a yo-yo quilt for Rachel's dolls for a Christmas gift. I certainly have a nice stash of fabric as I keep any pieces big enough to do "something" with!

    Love to you and the Man of the House!

  3. Karen,
    Oh, I am so thrilled to have downloaded The Old Schoolhouse Holiday Supplement today. My nine year old loves to have her hands busy but I have had so difficulty finding something to really keep her busy. I think yo-yos will be the thing. So thank you for writing that article.
    Another reason I am thrilled was to find your blog url listed at the end of the article. I do not have time tonight to read much but what I have read so far has been so lovely.
    I have read Charlotte Mason Companion, Pocketfull of Pinecones and Lessons at Blackberry Inn. I thank you for wrting those enjoyable works.

  4. Kristyn,
    I haven't had need to wash my yo-yos yet, but when I do I am going place them in a mesh bag and use the gentle cycle (warm) of my washer.Then I'll air dry them flat. This is what I do with washable wool except with wool I use cold water. For more delicate wool I have in the past, hand washed sweaters with very light agitation in a bath tub of cold water. This would work for yo-yos in warm water as cotton and take warm.) You can hand wash with a mesh bag, too. Press excess water out the fabric onto a bath towel instead of ringing. If any of the yo-yo sewing becomes loose these could be mended following the 1930's "make-do and mend" philosophy.
    I am happy to hear that you like my books. Thank you. Your line art profile is sweet.

  5. Deanna,
    A doll size yo-yo quilt would be a lovely gift for a sister at Christmastime. And Sarah will enjoy delving into your stash.

  6. The pink tones of the quilt are lovely. This seems like an ideal frugal sewing project. Even if you don't have scraps on hand, bits and pieces are often on sale at the fabric store.

    My daughters have done some cross stitch (I prefer blunt needle projects for novice needlework), but yo-yos would be a nice transition into "real sewing".

  7. I've always wanted to try these.

  8. Dear Karen,
    Once again I have come away from your site inspired. At this season of my life I am finding myself learning to be increasingly frugal and your books and site encourage me in the simple yet beautiful things in life. I also believe that one can be frugal in their homeschooling by following Charlotte Mason's methods. I am still in my first year with Charlotte but am finding the library a great resource along with our personal books. Thank you again for helping me love to teach my children to learn. Julia

  9. This post reminds of one of my posts. Look at the antique from a quilt show my youngest and I attended.

  10. I've just finished reading Lessons at Blackberry Inn so it has been good to see what the yo-yos actually look like.
    Fascinated to read in the Companion that you used to like in Bromley-not so far from us!

  11. Thank you for your comments ladies. Perhaps you will try your hand a making some yo-yos.

    Hi SarahElisabeth,
    Yes, in 1986 - '87 we lived in Bromley. It is there, in your beautiful country of England, that I first read Miss Charlotte Mason's "Home Education."
    Happy to have you visit.
    I thought some of my readers would wonder what a yo-yo was. Aren't they cute?
    Karen A.

  12. I have been thinking about these lovely yo yos since you first posted this last year. I am ready to dig out the fabric now and start a garland for the upcoming holiday season. :)

  13. working on my yo-yo's with my 9 yo by my side and having such fun! Thank you for the inspiration again and again and again.

  14. I loved making yoyos years ago. I think I may like to make some again. I think I might make them a little larger next time. They are delightfully old-fashioned. I dreamed of making a coverlet for my bed, but never did. I ended up using mine to make coasters. Recently, my daughter gave me some yoyos that I made years ago. How she ended up with them I do not know. They inspired me to begin again. Who knows? Maybe I'll work on some while I recuperate after surgery. Be blessed, Laura