Friday, December 21, 2012

I Remember Trauma

In my childhood, we got four magazines at our house. Two were amateur radio enthusiast publications beloved of my father. The other two were Family Circle and Woman's Day.

My mother was (and is) a prudent housekeeper and not given to spending money on herself, but pretty much any time a new issue of her magazines appeared in the rack at the supermarket she'd add it to our haul of groceries.

I read every one of them from cover to cover, usually before she did. I probably knew more about menopause, infant formula, and time-saving dinner casseroles than any other kid on the block.

I'm cleaning out my workroom and have run across a couple of 1970s-era specimens, bought for a previous apartment that came with an absolutely stunning and untouched 1973 bathroom. It would have been impossible to remove or disguise the mushroom-colored plastic seashell sink, so I decided to make it a feature. Adopting the persona of Cindy, an adventurous but wholesome United Airlines stewardess originally from Grand Forks, I hit eBay and picked up a vintage shower curtain covered in orange daisies, a copy of Valley of the Dolls for the back of the commode, and a pair of "Home Interiors" molded plastic wall hangings so ugly they actually devoured sunlight and happiness.

"Can you believe that somebody bought these unironically?" I said to my mother.

"Yeah," she said. "I had those in the master bath."

And then there were the magazines. I filled the little white rack with one Family Circle, one Woman's Day, and the 1976 JC Penney catalogue. Visitors to my apartment would step inside for a quick pee, and come out weeping from nostalgia.

When I left that bathroom behind I kept the magazines, but hadn't looked at them in quite some time.  Today I shifted the box they were in and realized one was from November–a month I used to eagerly anticipate as being the first to offer instructions for Christmas gifts. November wasn't as breathtaking as December, which was usually a double number with an incredible gingerbread house on the cover, but it was an excellent amuse-bouche prior to the full-blown orgy.

This November issue (from 1975) would have come out before I started reading in earnest–I was four, and still primarily interested in Little Golden Books and Interview–but the projects are exactly what I remember.


A few standouts include the classic, unsinkable granny square poncho.


Every girl in my first grade class* looked exactly like that.

And this, also crocheted. It's both a scarf and a litter of tragically conjoined asbestos hot pads.


Hey, you youngsters who always want to know how it was possible that knitting and crochet almost died out–here's a big part of the answer.

But this post is not just another excuse to laugh and/or scream at old yarn tricks. No, it's an excuse to laugh and/or at this.


It's made from fringed bath towels. It hangs just below the crotch. It's for your dad.

I bet he was the king of the neighborhood swingers' club holiday party.

* Kate B. Reynolds Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona; and a fine little school it was, too.


jeaniebabb said...

Oh My Dog! I could be your mother! My older son was born in 1972. I still have lots of issues of those magazines! Plus I have their special sweater issues! :)

Allison Mosley said...

Ah, memories of my own home. Thank you for the flashback, Franklin!

Lori said...

I remember those robes . My aunt Dort made one of them for all 13 of her nieces and nephews. It seems to me the ones at our house were purple.

Jessica said...

I was four and a half in 1975 and my mother had those magazines also. What a great trip back in time. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

You don't have photos of that bathroom?!?!?
My son was also born in 1972, so when I read that you were 4 in '75, I had one of those moments. o.O

Why knitting and crocheting nearly died out. Hilarious.

Marianne Robinson Pool

evalyn said...

I made one of those robes - from bath towels (hence the fringe). It weighed 14 pounds. Worn appros once.

Blonde said...

My mother also bought every issue of Family Circle and Woman's day! I remember issues going back to the 60's with a lot of golden harvest and avocado green! :-)

Ted said...

I'd one of those robes, please. Maybe a little longer. And no fringe. Otherwise, I bet they're great.

Anonymous said...

Franklin, you are a joy to read.

Pam Sykes (aka Pretty Knitty) said...

I may or may not have tried to make my dad that exact robe once upon a time. Tragically, though he was short enough that the towels might have covered what they should have, he was pretty stout at 5'7" and 260 lbs. Therefore, I am eternally grateful that that I never saw him try in on "for real" (like, without clothes on underneath)! Of course, it does beg the question of why Mom let me make it...she knew what he looked like...

Jamie Wang said...

What wonderful (and ghastly) memories this brought back! My mother also bought many issues of Family Circle and Woman's Day. I taught myself to go beyond garter stitch potholders by knitting Barbie doll clothes from McCall's Needlework and Crafts magazine.

I graduated from high school in 1975, and I still own every issue of Seventeen's Make It! (anyone else remember that?). I leaf through them once every five years or so; a few designs hold up, but many are as enduring as the towel robe.

Love his pose -- glad MY dad never posed like that in my presence!

Barb B. said...

I want to know why the little girl's poncho is sticking up in that strange fashion in the back.
My Ma bought those magazines too... I think one of the reasons is they were inexpensive, and thus a treat they could afford.

patricia said...

My mom bought those magazines- I loved looking through them! She always got them at the commisary checkout. None survive.

Thanks for the blast from the past!

LindaV said...

Yeah, my mom always grabbed the same two magazines at the grocery - and I recognize that cover! When I bought Stitchy McYarnpant's Museum of Kitchy Stitches, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at just how many of those patterns we had owned (and - gulp - made) in the '70s.

Adrienne said...

The dog on the cover has a better sweater!

My Mom was a fan of Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens. It seems to me that Mom's fell into one of two camps, the Good Housekeeping camp or the Women's Day camp.

Seanna Lea said...

Wow. I never ever wanted to see my dad in any clothes that might have allowed an accidental peep show. Gah!

Emptyknitster said...

Hilarious! I remember how excited I was for the "50 Things Under $5" issue each year! I still have a knit tie pattern that I cut out from the magazine and saved. Also, one year I knit my Dad golf club covers - if four are what you need then wouldn't a loving daughter knit her Dad six?? (He laughed so hard but used them all with much teasing from his golfing buddies)

Colleen said...

* in 5th grade I had a granny square shrink! And a plaid poncho my mom made, out of a woven plaid, line with fuzzy blanketing, it's black fringe all around it. It was totally fashionable.

[. Shudder ]

LochKnitsMonster said...

I can't believe you grew up in Tucson! I was born in Tucson and I've never left. I do think about moving sometimes.

HoleyFiber said...

This is so weird - I was born in November 1975! Not that I share any memories - this happy event happened in another continent. But your post made me search on-line for some examples of Russian knitting/crochet patterns (for example, here) Even though there is an unavoidable poncho, and some models do look funny, some are quite nice!

Kathy W. said...

My mother didn't sew much, but she & I had these muu-muu kind of things she & our neighbor Millie made from bath towels...I had repressed the memory for years, but it just came bubbling back...

Dragonstar said...

My mum died when I was 15. I remember buying these mags to try and train myself into being a better housewife. They were a nightmare!

Liz said...

Having been born in 1957, I remember the early 70s well--I was in high school--and being Canadian, we had stacks of little Patons booklets featuring carefully coiffed and lipsticked women in hats covered in popcorn stitch (knitted or crocheted) and (yes!) fringed ponchos. Good thing Elizabeth Zimmermann came to our rescue soon after.

Laura said...

Images like these remind me of why I HATED shopping for clothes as an adolescent in the late '60s - early '70s, to the despair of my mother (whose knitting experiments at the time included a bright lavender acrylic vest with an intarsia yellow elephant, which she never wore, and which I have remembered as a lesson in the importance of distinguishing between what might be fun to make vs what you will actually be willing to be seen with in public).

Anonymous said...

You must give us an ongoing tour of these magazines. Please!
-- stashdragon

ps: I still have some craft mags and patterns from this period, saved by my mother. Some I keep for laughs, some are actually good enough to make my Ravelry queue.

Beth V. said...

OMG!! In 1975, I would have been 9 and I have vivid memories of these magazines. Luckily, the projects in them did not quash my desire to learn how to knit or do other crafts. However, I was never as interested in learning crochet; I wonder if the cover photo had anything to do with it... :)

Marnie said...

My biological dad (now estranged, for other reasons) used to crochet his own banana hammocks and wear them to the local country club. He wore a lot less in our own pool. A robe like the one pictured is downright demure by comparison.

Emm said...

I Remember Trauma! Hilarious. I can remember watching the tv series you're punning on, AND I may once actually have worn a crocheted poncho. Geez. I'm old.

Happy holidays to you and your loved ones.

Carolyn said...

I MADE THAT PONCHO! FROM THAT MAGAZINE!!! I made it for my cousin's daughter, as part of a family gift exchange. Come to think of it, that was the last year that we did the big family gift exchange - you don't think the poncho had anything to do with that, do you? I, too, couldn't wait for the new issues of Family Circle and Woman's Day. I would have been 24 in 1975. Thanks for the memories!

S.Kate said...

Memories... that patchwork crochet handbag I had wanted to make for myself back in 1974 - the wooden button chosen for the flap lives in my button box still.

Anonymous said...

I knit 3 !!! of those little dog sweaters!

Anonymous said...

I was 15 in 1975, so may well have seen this one, though I don't remember it. Oh, and I read all the magazines that came to our house, too. Sports Illustrated for my brother, Reader's Digest from my grandma, my sister's Seventeen magazines. My own mother was partial to the Ladies' Home Journal (among others), though she was not much of a one for the home arts!

I also love that you embraced that time warp bathroom: "Visitors to my apartment would step inside for a quick pee, and come out weeping from nostalgia." :)


Anonymous said...

The weird part for me is that I still make the Christmas cookies and candies from the November 1972 Family Circle. The recipes are more than delicious, although somewhat labor intensive. If you have that issue, try the Holly Sprigs. Guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes!

I won't admit to the knitting and crocheting patterns I made in that era - I was to get EZ's first, "Knitting Without Tears" shortly thereafter, and my knitting life was changed forever!

Good times!

Gail said...

ah, yes, the 70s and the 80s were ugly. Ugly. But I am starting to add some pieces from there to the historical society collection -- we we can remember? and learn from our past?

Fujiyamamama said...

Thanks for the reminder that I should be thankful that neither my mother nor grandmother ever crocheted.

Anonymous said...

True confessions time! In 1975 I had already been maried for four years. I too grew up with WD and FC as the household reading and continued to get it when I got married. I still have some old knitting patterns clipped from the 70's issues, including a gorgeous Norwegian style baby sweater I made for a grandchild! What's most striking to me is the changes in the recipes. Years ago it was twelve thigs you can do with a can of mushroom soup. Last time I saw an issue it assumed you had Thai fish sauce on your pantry shelf and cilantro (fresh) in your grocery. That, at least, is a good sign!

Leigh said...

Why knitting and crocheting nearly died out. Word.

Anonymous said...

I found a similarly vintaged landies magazines special craft issue. OMG! What I want to know is, what about making crochet brings out latent hostility towards one's nearest and dearest? Is it the hook?

Lynne in Florida said...

Irish crochet in what appears to be bulky chenille? zOMG! What WERE we thinking, back then?

That robe is a major hoot ...

CeltChick said...

There's a community center in town that has a big sale twice yearly, of donated craft supplies & publications. I go for the books & magazines from the 60's- 80's; the outfits are always such a hoot!
I have to enjoy these now, out of my "discretionary" cash, 'coz my mother wasn't interested in any magazine but TIME. I was so deprived...

Anneh said...

We had those magazines too! And the ones from the 80s weren't much better. Hello, oversized boxy pullovers in crayon flattering, especially with stirrup pants and pointy-toed flats. The photos you posted also remind me of that multi-volume set, Golden Hands. My mom finally got rid of them 6 years ago (!) when they downsized. How could anyone have taught themselves to tat from photos? I tried and failed. Perhaps you could have...a subject for another blog post?

Julie Delves said...

You're adorable.

Silvina said...

Total flashback: being 13, browsing through my grandma crochet magazines from the early 80's and discovering there were actually EROTIC short stories in them!!! They were magazines from Spain, and in between pineapple dollies and ugly ponchos there they were: spicy stories... weird...

Unknown said...

I learned to crochet from a Family Circle magazine after my mother refused to teach me to knit. I later learned to knit from a similar magazine. I knit my first pair of socks based on a two page instruction in Family Circle. I crocheted that poncho (earlier incarnation) and wore it as a skirt to elementary school. I owe a lot to those magazines and thank you for your appreciation. I can't wait to hear you speak at DFW Fest in April!

Anonymous said...

OMG Franklin, I had that issue. I bought it for the dog sweater on the cover, having a Yorkie puppy at that time, and knitted her the sweater. It came out adorable and fit her, but she hated it and would wiggle out of it whenever I tried to get her to wear it. Gosh, I loved those magazines. Thanks for the memories. Shirley

Marin (AntiM) said...

Wow. My mom made that robe for my dad. It was made from white towels with a fetching rust and navy Native American-esque print on it. He called it his Aztec Hippie robe. He also wore it an a pair of tightie whities (*just* it and the tightie whities) into the kitchen one night when a friend joined me for coffee one night during a break in college. Oh, how we laughed. Later.

7-letter Deborah, never a Deb said...

My mother must have read that magazine because my father, all 6'6" of him, had that bathrobe.

Anonymous said...

Were those magazines for your Dad QST and 73? My dad had stacks of them!

Restlessmoon said...

no father around in "75, but mom and I read both mags cover to cover along with Southern Living!!We must have missed this one 'cause all the dogs would have wound up with a sweater!!

Metaphor Yarns said...

I loved those "100 gifts to make" issues, and as a teen would always buy them and clip out the instructions. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Beth said...

Did you grow up in my house? HAM radio (ARRL), WD and FC were the choice reading material in my house growing up. If you ever find the pattern for the hideous yellow, orange, and brown legwarmers, I actually tried to knit those.

Patti said...

I wonder if what we knit/crochet today will the things our kids/grandkids will gouge their eyes out over 20 years from now....

Karen said...

As usual, I have laughed all the way through this post and the accompanying comments. Thank you, Franklin and commenters! I really needed a good laugh today. Sadly for me, my Mom was partial to National Geographic (yawn....) back in '75 when I would have been 13. Maybe that's why I've moved so many times over the years?? Surprising that I never saw that issue of WD because she loved to crochet - maybe I've just blocked it from memory. I wanted to learn to knit, which she wouldn't teach me. That's ok, I taught myself from a library book when I was in my early 20's. Thanks again, all.

Marla said...

I had a granny square poncho! I am learning crochet, as that is the only vintage item I can't knit!
My grandmother made those jackets from towels! Hers were short, but I think all the adult women got one. I don't know if you remember the textured towels with all the fringe at the bottom? That was them.
Thanks for sharing!

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