Filling The Hope Chest in the 1920s

Hello, again History Lovers,

The month of June takes its name from the Roman goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter and goddess of femininity and fertility. Ancient tradition says that to marry in June is for the couple to be blessed with happiness throughout life.

One hundred years ago, in preparation for a life of wedded bliss, it was necessary for the bride-to-be, beginning in her early teen years, to prepare a hope chest filled with items necessary to establish a home–everything from aprons to lingerie. These items were usually home-sewn and embellished with intricate needlework.

Today’s post gives us a detailed description of what the ideal hope chest of the 1920s would contain.


Grandmother’s Dowry Box

Hope Chest Illustration The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women April 1922

In the days of our great-great-great grandparents, the daughters of a household began early in their teens to prepare their dowry boxes.

In those days it was considered most regrettable if any girl reached an eligible age for marriage without a dowry box well filled, if not overflowing, with all sorts of bedding and table linen as well as a more-than-generous supply of undergarments; and with the scarcity of sewing machines, it was necessary to begin work long before the immediate need.

This old custom reappears now in the “Hope Chest,” or as one young woman rather discouragingly confided to me, “The Lord Only Knows When Chest.”

Home Furnishings

First, let us consider just what is expected of the bride in the way of house furnishings. Circumstances will always alter cases and the mode of life to be followed and the probable income of the newly formed household should guide the bride-elect in her selection of materials, styles, and amounts.

The following list is suggestive of the supplies usually provided by the bride and furnishes an adequate quantity of the essentials for the new home though more may be desirable in many instances.

  • 6 sheets if only one bed. This allows for a makeshift bed in cases of emergency.
  • 4 sheets for each bed if more than one bed of different sizes.
  • 3 sheets for each bed if more than one bed but all of the same size.
  • 2 pillows for each bed.
  • 3 pillowcases for each pillow.
  • 1 mattress pad for each bed.
  • 1 pair of blankets for each bed. If only one bed, an extra pair should be provided for emergencies.
  • 1 spread for each bed.
  • 1 comforter for each bed.
  • 6 face towels per person.
  • 6 bath towels per person.
  • 2 washable bathroom rugs.
  • 3 washcloths per person.
  • 2 scarfs for each dresser or chiffonier.
  • Curtains and rugs for bedrooms.
  • 3 changes for the dining room table.
  • 3 changes of napkins per week per person.
  • 2 runners for the buffet.
  • 6 glass and silver towels, linen crash preferred.
  • 6 tea towels. Hemmed flour sacks are excellent.
  • 6 kitchen hand towels.
  • 6 dishcloths and mop rags.
  • 3 kettle holders, large and soft.
  • 1 laundry bag.
  • 1 ironing board pad and two cover sheets.

Additional items which are not absolutely essential but are very nice to have and make nice gifts for the chest are:

Hot pads, tray cloths, luncheon cloths, luncheon sets, tea napkins, centerpieces, guest towels, silverware cases, toast, muffin and hot roll covers, dust protection cases for napkins, doilies, centerpieces and tablecloths, dust protectors for suits and dresses, cushions of various shapes and sizes and table runners for living room or library.

Referring first to the house furnishing list. There is no material equal to linen for gloss, freshness, and smoothness of appearance after laundering and no material wears so well for table coverings as a good quality firmly woven double damask. A good quality damask, however, is preferable to the poor quality of the double. The price of a patterned cloth exceeds that of the same quality bought by the yard.

Vintage Embroidered Bridge Set

One should have at least one good linen cloth with napkins to match if it is possible, but there are so very many attractive methods of covering the table now that if one’s purse is limited one should make a few observations in an art needlecraft shop, use a bit of ingenuity and work out something quite original and individualistic in inexpensive luncheon cloths, center runners or doily sets.

Vintage Linens

The oblong plate doilies with a square centerpiece or central runners have superseded the round doily sets in popularity for the time being. These, made in natural colored linen with a buffet scarf to match, are very effective and can be developed in either the Italian drawnwork, cross-stitch design, and rolled hems or in the appliqued motifs. Unbleached muslin is often used for these but for table purposes, it is an unwise selection of material, for its close weave makes it extremely difficult to remove the stains so apt to appear at meals. A more loosely woven cotton material such as shrunk cotton or Indian Head should be used if linen is impossible.


More Clothes For Less Money

You can save half the cost of your own and your children’s clothes by making them of Indian Head (a superior muslin fabric with a linen texture). This attractive white material is ideal for summer dresses because of its unusual qualities. It cost one-third as much as linen, doesn’t wrinkle easily, and keeps clean for an unusually long time.

Dainty touches on your gowns are easily made, as this fabric is just right for smocking, drawn work, or any other embroidery.

The splendid quality of Indian Head has been proved through eighty years of use by its many happy purchasers. Include yourself in their number when you do your summer shopping. Have your dealer show you the trademark Indian Head stamped upon the selvage of the cloth so that you may know that you are getting the genuine Indian Head.

Linen is also best for towels if one can afford it, as it is soft and very absorbent in the looser weaves. Cheap linen is preferable to finer cotton for towels if one is looking for service rather than appearance.

The marking of the household linens is usually done by the bride before marriage and with her own initials. If she should desire to have the initials of her future husband used, the linen is left unmarked until after the wedding ceremony has been performed.

If the new home has already been selected, so that the size of the rooms and the number of windows and their sizes can be determined, it is usually considered customary for the bride to furnish the curtains for the bedrooms, bathroom, and kitchen. These usually follow the color scheme of the bedding and towels if one has put a note of color in them. The unbleached muslin with applique motifs in sateen works up nicely here and is more practical than in the dining room as the laundering is less frequent. The tiny figured percales that have just come into the market are a little newer and are very pretty for valances, side drapes, and spreads. Touches of black help wonderfully to set them off. Dotted Swiss with pique borders is extremely dainty if one wishes to emphasize daintiness. Basket cloth combines very well with the colored ginghams and percales for a spread, having a nice weight and attractive weave.

Clothing and Lingerie

The bride should be provided with a good street costume and outfit suitable for travel, church, shopping, and calling; one outfit appropriate for informal home entertaining; three house dresses; plenty of aprons; such amount of lingerie and hosiery as she is accustomed to using during a season.

Satin Teddie 1920s

For the bride’s lingerie, it is nice to have sets as well as individual pieces. Farmer’s Wife Patterns Nos. 9552 and 9588 combine prettily and would be lovely made up in a flesh color, bound with a tiny narrow binding of the soft French blue. Nainsook can be procured in delicate shades as well as silk, so any sized purse can be easily accommodated. Orchid and maize make another soft, delicate combination. Farmer’s Wife Pattern No. 8660 is a very practical one and can be modified and varied in many attractive ways. The illustration shows a teddy with a rounded dip in the front prettily worked out in pongee with drawn threads and rambler rose embroidery.

 Do not slight the house dresses and work aprons for the trousseau. These are indeed the most important feature of the chest for it is in these that probably two-thirds of your future time will be spent.

Select the lines of the dresses, and the colors and textures of the materials with the greatest care. Use all the ingenuity you are able to muster to make these as original and individualistic as you possibly can. The illustrations will perhaps give you some suggestions as to how to apply your needle to the very best advantage. The use of wool for embroidering is most effective as an artist’s finish. –Georgia Belle Elwell


The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, April 1922, Page 818; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Stocking the Linen Closet 1922

Hello History Lovers!

The tradition of January White Sales was the inspiration of a Philadelphia department store mogul John Wanamaker in 1878. As a way of stimulating sales during a slow time of year, the White Sale offered customers excess bedding at discounted prices. Of course sheets at that time came in only one color–white–hence the name. Eventually, other household linens were offered at sale prices as well. The White Sale ads included in this post also show reduced prices for fabrics necessary for sewing household linens. The frugal homemaker would buy yardages of fabric in order to sew her own items including underwear for her family thus gaining further savings.

An article in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, January 1922, offers advice on how to recognize a bargain, as well as, tips on how to sew and care for linens as economically as possible.


Harmony News, Cresco, Iowa–January White Sales Ad–January 11, 1923

January White Sales

Practically every store in the country has one week in January devoted to the sale of all types of white goods from yardage materials to table linen, bedding, towels, and so forth. It may be stock that has been on hand and has been reduced for the occasion but more frequently it is apt to be merchandise especially purchased for the sale and both at a price that enables the merchant to sell at a lower than usual figure.

To get the most and best out of these January white goods sales we should know the normal prices of standard goods and have a list of articles needed carefully thought out. The buyer is then prepared to recognize bargains when they occur and may take advantage of them.

Summer Underwear

It is common practice with many householders to buy nainsook, cambric, or long cloth at the January sales by the ten or twelve-yard bolt and commence work upon the summer underwear for the family. If there is a considerable amount of underwear to be made, much may be saved by cutting from the large piece. If all the patterns are gathered together at the beginning of the cutting and various pieces of each pattern are marked with some distinguishing color or emblem so that they can be easily sorted after the cutting, it will be found that pieces of different patterns will often fit in so that only a fraction of an inch is wasted. If only one garment is cut, the larger pieces are of such curves and angles as to prevent such close-fitting or dovetailing.

It is a great back-saver to raise the table about eight inches for the cutting-out operation. Lay all the patterns in place and pin before starting to cut. When certain that they are placed to the best advantage, cut and sort before removing the pattern.

The Sauk Centre Herald, Minnesota–January White Sales Ad–January 11, 1923

Sheets and Pillowcases

Now is the time to replenish sheets and pillowcases, but whether it is better economy to make them or purchase them ready-made must be determined by each housewife for herself. If the time spent in the making is considered, there is little advantage from a money standpoint in making them, as the cost of ready-mades compares very favorably with that of the homemade; but there is an advantage in making them if one does not desire the standard sizes in which the ready-mades can only be procured.

Some states have laws regulating the size of sheets for beds in hotels and rooming houses so that the lodger may be protected against contact with the blankets which are less frequently laundered. In the home, we should be equally careful that the sheet is long enough to protect the sleeper. The feet are entitled to the same protection from cold as the rest of the body and so the sheet must be long enough to ensure secureness at the foot of the bed, and there should be from twelve to eighteen inches at the side according to whether one or two occupy the bed. Therefore, the sheet should be from twenty-four to thirty-six inches longer and wider than the mattress. Too large a sheet is hard to handle and launder and is therefore as much to be shunned as the too-small sheet. They should always be torn to be straight or they will never be satisfactory. Ready-made ones that have been torn will be so stamped.

Making the hems of sheets of the same width ensures more even wear as either end will be used at head or foot, and should be made long enough to properly tuck in at the foot.

If beds are of several sizes, the size of the sheets should be plainly marked so that they may be easily sorted in putting away the linen and also that they may be readily found if needed in the absence or illness of the housewife.

Pillow tubing is more desirable than seamed muslin as the ironing usually causes the greatest wear at the seam. Rip the bottom seam of the tube’s case after it begins to show signs of wear and turn the tube so that the former edges are in the center and sew a new seam at the bottom. This gives the case more even usage.


January is a good time to stock up on towels for both the kitchen and personal use. Linen is preferable to cotton. Crash and huckaback, are more serviceable than damask although the latter is more beautiful. Here again, the question arises as to the advisability of making or buying ready-made. Usually, a savings is made in making the crash towels but with the others, it is merely a preference of handwork to machine work for if one counts the value of time no money can be saved by making.

Linen Closet Design

In planning a new linen closet, it will be found a great convenience to make the shelves slide, with a slight ledge on the front and sides and a higher back. These can be drawn out similar to drawers but are less expensive to build and are less cumbersome to handle. They work similarly to the wire racks supplied in the cupboard sections of some of the kitchen cabinets.

A Hope Chest

A good New Year’s gift that Brother can make for Sister, is a Hope Chest and there she can accumulate linens and loveliness’s “against” the happy day!

–Georgia Belle Elwell

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, January 1922, Page 677; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.