Tag Archives: 4-H


I started sewing when I was nine. Every Saturday afternoon our 4-H club – the Wallingford 4-H Harmonizers – met at Mrs. Porter’s house to practice our skills. We started by sewing straight lines on paper, learned to make tailor tacks, pleats, and button holes. Finally, when we were in high school, we made full outfits that we wore on the runway at the statewide “Dress Review.”

Until around 1988, I kept my 1954 portable Singer sewing machine busy. In 1968 I made three bridesmaid dresses and one flower girl dress for my wedding.

Cousin Skip, and cousin Sue (wearing the "Maid of Honor" dress I made) at my wedding in 1968

Cousin Skip, and Cousin Sue (wearing the “Maid of Honor” dress I made) at my wedding in 1968

For the next twenty years I made maternity clothes, curtains, pillows, placemats, dresses, and Halloween costumes.

Paul in the clown costume, 1975

Paul in the clown costume, 1975

I even made snow pants and down jackets.

My children in well-used snow clothes, 1978

My children in well-used snow clothes, 1978

And then I lost interest. I got tired of sewing. After all, it was almost cheaper to buy what I needed and wanted in the store. But for my great-grandmother Lydia, that wasn’t an option.

There’s a dress shop near us in Portland that displays different dresses in its window every day, and I try to walk by to see what they’ve come up with to match their moods, the season, or the holiday.

Three dresses in a shop window, Portland, Oregon

Three dresses in a shop window, Portland, Oregon, November, 2014

I wonder what Lydia would have thought of these festive offerings? I think she would have loved them, because even though her wardrobe consisted of only a few dresses each year, they were carefully and beautifully made, partly done by her, but most often done by Miss Norton.

Monday, June 1, 1914 – “Pa went in town to get Miss Norton to dressmake for us. Hattie came out with them, made one dress, a dimity for Agnes.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Thursday, December 1, 1921 – “Miss Norton here today cutting & making pants for Francis out of old coats, which are very nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

I inherited one of the dresses from the farm. It may have belonged to my great-grandmother, but I suspect it was made for her mother, my great-great-grandmother Lydia Reed Hart.

Dress from the farm

Dress from the farm

There are twelve yards of fabric in the skirt. Two different colors of cotton line the bodice and sleeves. Although the seams are machine-stitched, almost everything else was sewn by hand.

Lining and seams of dress

Lining and seams of dress

On the right side of the skirt, hidden in the seam, is a large pocket, capacious enough for handkerchiefs, spectacles, a small journal, and maybe a pencil. What a chore it must have been to do up all those buttons, and I can’t help but wonder how handy these big dresses were during trips to the “privy.”

Inside of dress showing linings and pocket

Inside of dress showing linings and pocket

In a three-generation photo from the early 1900’s, my great-grandmother Lydia Jane Hall, and her own mother, Lydia Reed Hart, are seated in front of my great aunt Hattie. The elder Lydia’s dress looks very much like the dress that hangs today in my bedroom closet. She wears it, as was the custom then, with an apron tied around her waist and a white lace bow at her neck, dressed up for the photo session which, the elder woman claimed, (as reported in her daughter’s journal), was “nothing but an aggravation.”

Seated:  Lydia Jane Hall, Lydia Reed Hart,  Standing:  Hattie Cannon Hall

Seated: Lydia Jane Hall, Lydia Reed Hart, Standing: Hattie Cannon Hall

On Wednesday:  Candlelight

The Parlor

Gone are the days when guests were greeted at the front door and led into the parlor. “ ‘Will you walk into my parlor?’ said the spider to the fly.” The old poem illustrates the formality of a place where visitors were, in a way, held captive. Because the parlor was where first impressions were made, furniture had to be of good quality. Family portraits and sconces of light adorned the papered walls. Company sat in upright chairs and paid visits. The parlor was a buffer between the outside and inside life of the house.

My ancestors had their picture taken in a parlor that is probably not the parlor at the farm. They appear to be at a wedding. You can see the bride reflected in the mirror. It may have been my grandmother Agnes and grandfather Ellsworth’s wedding or maybe the wedding of Alice Hall to Harry Dickerman. The seated family members wear their best clothes. They look uncomfortable. But I’ve always loved the ghostly look of this parlor photo.

From left: Unidentified relative, William E. Hall, Lydia Jane Hall, Lydia Reed Davidson Hart, Edgar Hall

From left: Unidentified relative, William E. Hall, Lydia Jane Hall, Lydia Reed Davidson Hart, Edgar Hall

The farm parlor I remember was a nearly square room with three windows and three doors. It faced south, and provided warmth, light, and sunshine. Cherished paintings and portraits hung on the wallpaper. It was sparsely furnished. A piano took up most of the west wall, and my grandmother’s planters most of the south wall. In one corner an antique marble-topped table held a basket of old photographs. My grandmother often sent me home from my visits with a photo or two from that basket. I’ve used many of them here in my blog posts.

In my mother’s day the parlor had taken on the role of a multi-purpose room. The family gathered around the piano after Thanksgiving dinner to sing songs accompanied on piano by my Aunt Hattie. Toys sometimes littered the floor. Because it was the warmest room in the house, (shutting all three doors kept in the heat from the cast iron radiator and the warmth of the sun shining through the windows) my great-grandmother sat in the parlor and watched her grandchildren play as chilling drafts of air cooled other rooms.

In 1930, when my mother was twelve, her three-year-old brother Luther died of pneumonia, and his little body lay in a coffin in the parlor during the days of mourning. Friends and family and neighbors came in and out through the front door to say goodbye to the child.

But as life went on and the days grew brighter for my grandparents and mother and aunts and uncles, the room again became a warm and cheerful place. The parlor hosted card games and club meetings. In 1932 the local newspaper ran this photograph of my mother and other members of the “Capable Cooks 4-H Club” doing a demonstration called “Many Ways with Carrots.” I wish I’d been there in the parlor to see that lesson. I would like to have known exactly how many ways there are with carrots.

"Many Ways with Carrots," cooking demonstration, Janet Hall standing on right, 1932

“Many Ways with Carrots,” cooking demonstration, Janet Hall standing on right, 1932

My mother, standing on the right, looks tidy and professional. Because I was a 4-H member myself, I know that 4-H cooking demonstrations have to be detailed and exact. My mother cooked that way for the rest of her life. She measured her ingredients closely, cut her cucumber slices to a paper thinness, soaked cut onions in ice water, and greased and flowered her baking pans so thoroughly that not a single crumb would be left behind after the cake was turned out onto the plate. She learned her lessons well, and was always a “capable cook.”

In my dining room in Alaska, I have a Christmas cactus grown from a cutting of my grandmother’s original plant. In this photo my mother stands in front of one of the parlor windows. Through the window you can see the plants my grandmother Agnes grew – geraniums, Christmas cactus, amaryllis, and begonias – and also, reflected in the glass, the silhouette of the barn across the street with its rooftop cupola.

Janet and the parlor window, 1942

Janet and the parlor window, 1942

On Wednesday:  The Tree