Ypsilanti Citizen Opinions Ypsilanti Cycle

Thank you Ypsilanti
By Dan DuChene & Christine Laughren
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   5:07 p.m.

Christine Laughren and Dan DuChene, co-owners of the Ypsilanti Citizen, pose in front of their company's banner at Frenchie's during the Citizen's one-year anniversary party.

The Ypsilanti Citizen was launched in November 2008 to inform the Ypsilanti community about the news and events that were happening in their area.

Since our launch,...read more

Crossroads Summer Festival; rockin’ ladies night
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   4:37 p.m.

Barbara Payton and the Big Boss Trio rock Washington Street.

A special Ladies Night was held Friday at the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Just...read more

Crossroads to hold Ladies Night for Relay for Life
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 16, 2010   ·   9:13 a.m.

On June 11, the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival featured a rousing opening set from roots and blue grass band Dragon Wagon.

Dragon Wagon was joined on...read more

Electric rail pollution leads to dirty laundry
By Laura Bien
Jun. 15, 2010   ·   11:42 a.m.

From the approximate vantage point of the present-day Materials Unlimited, the interurban car barn and powerhouse on Michigan Avenue loomed large.

Maggie Smith was not looking forward to a forenoon of sewing pleats.

She put down her newest customer’s summer dress. Downstairs, she offered to get potatoes...read more

EMU students in wartime
By Laura Bien
Jun. 1, 2010   ·   10:32 a.m.

The 1942 Aurora yearbook, the 50th
anniversary edition, included images that contrasted modern and
old-time students.

Leroy Grindle was an Ypsilantian soldier who lost his life in WWII. He was a member of the Michigan Normal (EMU) class of ’41, and is memorialized with a black...read more

Showers, socials knit town together

An 1897 ad from Lamb, Davis & Kishlar's dry goods store at 104 & 106 W. Michigan Ave. offered sewing patterns for dresses, sleeves and Photo by Ypsilanti Archives

An 1897 ad from Lamb, Davis & Kishlar's dry goods store at 104 & 106 W. Michigan Ave. offered sewing patterns for dresses, sleeves and "bicycle skirts."
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To the Archives

By Laura Bien
Feb. 9, 2010    ·    5:16 a.m.


The bridal showers and baby showers familiar to all represent only a vestige of a much larger group of onetime themed showers and socials.

Ypsilantians, long before TV, video games or even radio, flocked to these events to socialize, gossip and create their own fun. One such party, modeled on the old “box lunch” social, took place at the Staley home in Ypsilanti Township in 1910.

“It was called a hand social,” said the May 2 Ypsilanti Daily Press, “and the proceeds which amounted to $17.10 [$390 today] are to be turned toward the purchase of a chart for the primary department of the Willow Run school.”

The paper continued, “The plan was a clever one. Each lady brought a box of luncheon and when the time came for supper a curtain was drawn across the room from behind which the ladies extended their hands to be bid on by the gentlemen.

“Each lady’s box of luncheon went with her hand of course but some of the hands came rather high, indicating it seems that there are some valuable hands to be held in Ypsilanti Township. The highest bid was on Miss Hazel Richardson’s hand, $1.85, and Miss Bertha Staley was next at $1.80. A number of others were close to this amount and the lowest was 65 cents.”

One can imagine the sadness of having 65 cent hands.

One popular theme for socials was poverty. Guests would dress to resemble the poor, and play poverty-themed games.

“The people attending the ‘poverty’ social at Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Talladay’s Friday night were not as poor as they looked,” said a front-page article in the Feb. 19, 1910 Press.

“The ladies cleared 8 dollars [$185] for the Presbyterian church of Stony Creek,” continued the paper, “and the resources of the forlornly dressed were such that when for 5 cents [$1.20] they could obtain one of the mysterious packages swinging from a line across the room, they paid the sum, were submissively blindfolded and discovered upon investigation that they were the possessors of some gay paper flowers, or even of a spool of thread, etc. The social was a big success, 65 people coming in big sleigh loads.”

The gaiety included food, recitations, and a musical solo.

One engaged couple received multiple themed showers from their friends.

“Ypsilanti people were at Portage Lake over the Fourth in great numbers, but one feature of the festivities attending the day which at least Charles Cooper was not prepared for was the ‘sock shower’ given him in the evening,” said the July 5, 1910 Press. “The guests “bombarded him with these useful articles to the number of 26.”

Charles’ fiancée, teacher Kate McFetridge was “so popular among teachers and pupils that she was the recipient of showers and gifts in large quantities. She was given a kitchen shower, a handkerchief shower, and a miscellaneous shower,” said the July 7 1901 Ypsilanti Daily Press.

The April 7, 1895 Ypsilantian notes Lapham’s Sabbath school hosted a maple syrup social that raised $8 [$200 today]. It also said that another group enjoyed an unusual “silent social.”

The article said, “The social at Mr. Armstrong’s was a success, and those wishing less noise during the supper hour had it, as Mum was the word. But for all that, some forfeits were paid, for strange to say, ‘some people will talk.’”

Perhaps the most popular sort of gathering for women was the thimble party.

"Will you kindly tell me what a thimble party is?" asked a “Mrs. H.” in the “Housekeeper’s Inquiries” section of the October 1895 edition of Table Talk magazine. Table Talk called itself “The American Authority upon All Culinary and Household Topics.” Editor Helen Louise Johnson replied, “The fashionable name for a little circle that meets to sew in aid of some specified private charity. Light refreshments are served, and merry-making joins hands with good works. This is a social function that thrives best during Lenten weeks, and, by invitation, is held at the different homes of its members.”

Thimble parties seem to have differed from traditional sewing gatherings and quilting bees by incorporating or even wholly consisting of lighthearted games and contests with prizes, as described in a Sept. 9, 1910 account in the New York Times.

The Times said, “Five-inch patches of sheer linen were passed, each with a jagged tear across the middle. In the corner of the patch was a needle threaded with a thread of bright red cotton. The guests were given ten minutes to darn the hole, a prize being awarded for the neatest darn, the one most quickly done, and the one most bungled.”

Other contests were more creative.

“[T]he guests were told to work, without drawing, a doll representing some special nation. To make this easier a colored card showing dolls in costumes was passed quickly from woman to woman then put out of sight. When the doll patches were finished they were pinned upon a sheet and the children of the household were called in to decide upon the winner and the booby prize.”

A needle-threading challenge followed.

“Again there was a fixed time and awards for the swiftest, most graceful, most awkward, and slowest needle threading.”

“Thimble parties are much in favor for afternoon entertainments,” said the Jan. 21, 1910 Cass City Chronicle. “The hostess sends her card with day and date written thereon, with a needle threaded with some gay-colored silk thrust through one corner.”

The author recommended a word scramble game with such sewing-related prizes as small embroideries, scissors, needle cases and emeries, small cushions filled with sand-like emery (aluminum oxide) used to sharpen needles. Today’s tiny “sand-filled” strawberry linked by a string to the familiar tomato pincushion, available in crafts stores, is an emery.

“Ices and creams frozen in molds to represent thimbles, spools, and emeries are a pretty conceit, but expensive,” concluded the author.

Thimble parties, by that name, began around the early 1890s and peaked in popularity around 1910. From then until 1920 they started falling out of favor, only to resurge during the Depression. By the end of the 1930s, thimble parties were uncommon and seen as old-fashioned. The custom faded before WWII.

Today, needlework and knitting groups are, if not as popular as before, available to all. The Ypsilanti Library holds a knitting clinic on Feb. 20. The Common Thread Knitters Club meets twice a month at the Arborland Borders, and an Ann Arbor chapter of Stitch ’n Bitch meets weekly.

The craft is even spreading beyond its traditional practitioners. On Feb. 21, the Ann Arbor District Library hosts a talk and hands-on tutorial called “The Rugged, Manly Art of Knitting.”

One wonders what pre-war Ypsilanti girls would have thought of a co-ed thimble party all those years ago.



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