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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 16

In Episode 16, Father Mayfield makes an offer Bess may not be able to refuse.

(LOC photo; it doesn’t really have anything to do with this episode, but I like it)

As I’ve said before, what you’re hearing on the podcast is a first draft of Friendship Album, 1933. I’m a few chapters ahead of you, but not many (this week’s episode covers Chapter 27; I’ve just finished writing Chapter 33). So what happens next in the story is almost as much of a surprise to me as it is to anyone else. I have no planned outcomes, no outline. I have an idea or two, don’t get me wrong, but just today I was writing about Dorothy when a thought popped into my head that totally took me by surprise. If I go through with it, it will definitely change things for Dorothy, for better and for worse.

When I finish up with this cycle of chapters, I will be at the end of Part 2. Although I suspect there will be at least fifteen chapters in Part 3 (the novel’s final part), which means a lot more chapters for me to write before I’m done, I’m already thinking about revisions. When I rewrite Friendship Album, 1933, I’d like to get even more in there about the quilting business during the Great Depression–so many interesting things were going on! Right now I’m winging it a bit when it comes to Milton Falls Quilting Company, and I’d like to be more authoritative when it comes to starting up businesses in the 1930s. I’d also like to know more about textile manufacturing.

Just today I started looking at two books to learn more about fabric manufacturing. Barbara Brackman’s Making History: Quilts and Fabric from 1890 to 1970 is a book I have in my collection and read several years ago, and I don’t know why it only occurred to me just this morning that it might have helpful information that would aid me in making Florence’s business seem legit. Sure enough, I was able to find the names of several fabric manufacturers that Florence might have bought fabric wholesale from. Thanks, Barbara!

Another book I’m enjoying is called America’s Fabrics by Bendure Pfeiffer, published in 1946. It has histories of fabrics, from cottons and wools and linens to silks and rayons, how these fabrics are made and in some cases how you can make them yourself. My favorite chapter heading: Minor Vegetable Fibers (these would include hemp, jute, ramie, kapok, sisal and coir, in case you were wondering). Very interesting stuff!


A final, quick note a little (but not entirely) unrelated to the podcast: I was recently interviewed for the Just Wanna Quilt podcast. If you’re interested in hearing my thoughts about writing, quilting and the creative process, give it a listen!


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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 15

In Episode 15, Eula considers how she might earn enough money to get her family back on the farm, and the bee members give updates on their Sears Contest quilts.

Forgive this rushed blog post, but thanks to Hurricane Michael we’re late getting this episode up. Just so you know, this week we have a Eula chapter, and as always Eula is thinking of ways to bring her family back together. She’s hard at work on an article for the second Milton Falls Quilting Company catalog, this one on quilting tips for new quilters, which causes her to reminisce about the quilting circles of her childhood. It’s always odd for me to remember that if Eula is in her early 50s in 1933, she was a child in the 1880s. That seems so long ago!

Thanks as always for listening. I hope to do a mid-week post this coming week, and I’ll be sure to include some interesting quilt pictures and maybe even a recipe!

Have a great week!

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 14

In Episode 14, Emmeline imagines her life as a famous quilt columnist and plays matchmaker for Florence.

I’m aware that people have mixed feelings about her, but I love writing the Emmeline chapters. She’s self-centered, sure, but she’s not cruel, and occasionally she can see beyond her own concerns to try to help others. I find her comical most of the time, and no more so than in this chapter, which begins with Emmeline at the breakfast table with her children. As a mother of teenagers myself, I totally sympathize with Emmeline’s desire to make her daughter see her more as just a boring old mom. Good luck with that, honey.

In Episode 14, Emmeline decides to drive herself over to the mill; she finds she likes the feeling of power that driving a car gives her. While writing this chapter I did research on women and driving during the 1930s. Women did drive, despite the concerns that they weren’t mechanically apt enough to control a vehicle, and once they got behind the wheel they had little interest in relinquishing it. In the early days, you had to hand-crank your engine to start it, but by the twenties most cars utilized an electrical starter, so being strong enough to turn the crank was no longer an issue.

For those of you who have mixed feelings about Arthur Purefoy re-entering Florence’s life, hold onto your hats because in this episode we meet a new potential love interest (not that Florence sees it that way, but Emmeline sure does). I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen. It’s possible that Florence will reject all potential suitors to live the life of a businesswoman. Stay tuned to find out!

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 13

In Episode 13, Dorothy gets some much-needed alone time on her walk to work and comes up with a plan to lure Hannah back to Milton Falls.

Now that my children are older (19 and almost 16), I have plenty of alone time to dream, plan or simply hear myself think. But I remember those days with little ones, where a solo trip to the bathroom felt like a treat. So Dorothy’s decision to walk to work on the one morning a week she doesn’t take the children with her makes total sense to me. That twenty minutes can be quite therapeutic when the rest of your day is spent meeting the needs of others.

First Time Here?

If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

In this episode, we learn that Dorothy has given up her Cornucopia quilt for the time being and turned her attention to making a Crown of Thorns quilt to enter into the Sears contest. Are you familiar with the Crown of Thorns block? It’s simple, but striking. Here’s a sample block I made earlier in the summer:

What I’ve discovered in my perusal of Crown of Thorns quilts is that there are many variations on the theme. For instance, I found this antique (circa 1890) Crown of Thorns quilt on an auction website:

Here’s another one, circa 1875:

It’s not unusual to find a Crown of Thorns quilts cross-referenced as a New York Beauty. Other names include Rocky Mountain Road, Rail through the Mountains, Rising Sun and The Great Divide (this according to quilt historian Barbara Brackman). There are variations in the designs you’ll find under each of these names, but you can see the genetic similarities.

(I’m working on a Crown of Thorns quilt as we speak, which I’ll be sharing with you soon.)

Dorothy has something to confess about her quilt when she gets to the bee: she’s been using a sewing machine — a Singer 128 — to piece it. Scandalous!

We learn in Episode 13 that Dorothy’s son-in-law Jasper is working in a Chicago meatpacking factory. I went looking for pictures to post here that would give you an idea of life as a meatpacker, but most of them would spoil your breakfast. This is a picture of the cattle pens at the Union Stockyard, circa 1920, taken by William T. Barnum. If you want to read more, go here.


Personal Notes

I just finished a big project (a creative writing book for kids), which will free me up to do more work on this blog, maybe even allow me to go back to posting twice a week. I’ve got lots of recipes to share!

As you may or may not know, I make my living as a children’s book author, and I recently started an Instragram account called francesdowellbooks. Feel free to follow me! And if you have a young reader in your life, I just published a chapter book called Sam the Man and the Secret Detective Club Plan, perfect for readers ages 7-10. Learn about all my books at

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 12

Florence gets some help in the kitchen from Arthur, and the members of the bee grow closer as they reveal more about their lives to one another.

What are we to make of Arthur Purefoy’s renewed attentions to our dear Florence? I, for one, am not sure yet. I’ve heard from some of you who have been very clear on the matter: Arthur must not be allowed back in Florence’s heart. So far, she seems resistant to the idea herself, but will she be able to stay strong? Stay tuned, my dears …

I’m not sure where I first read about Washington Pie, but there’s a wonderful post about it here: Washington Pie isn’t pie; it’s a cream-filled cake, much like a Boston Cream Pie. Early recipes for it appeared in the mid-19th century, some calling for cream and others calling for a jam filling.

Here’s a recipe calling for jam, from an old Sunday School class cookbook:

The Colonial Revival that began in the late 19th Century carried over into the 20th century, and I imagine Washington Pie remained a popular dessert for many years. I haven’t made it yet, but I found what looks to be a reputable (cream-filled) recipe on the King Arthur Flour website:

Here’s a 1908 newspaper article from the Washington Times on the Washington Pie cream v. jelly debate:

Writing Chapter 23 gave me an opportunity to do a little sewing machine research as well. I’m making up Florence’s business plan as I go along (your feedback would be very welcome!), and this week I went out and bought her six industrial sewing machines from a closed shop in Cincinnati. They’re treadle machines–I’m still trying to find out when a shop like Florence’s would have gone electric. I suspect this part of the novel will see some serious revising as I figure all of this out.

As we get further into Part Two of our story, I’m enjoying how the women of the bee are getting closer. I have to be careful here–although women have always talked to each other about their lives, I’m not sure people were as apt to share intimate details of their lives as we are today. But I share Florence’s relief when people are honest about mistakes they’ve made and their worries about their children. I know too many women who seem to feel like they have to present a perfect front for the world. It’s stressful for them and keeps us from truly being friends.

See you next week! Your comments and feedback are always appreciated!

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 11

In Episode 11, Bess eagerly awaits news of the birth of her first grandchild and worries about Helen, who brings home an unexpected guest in the middle of the day.

I had the oddest realization as I prepared to write this blog post — I’m older than Bess, who’s 49 (I’m 54). How can that be? I have the ages of all the characters written down somewhere … let’s see, Florence is 27 and Emmeline is in her mid-thirties. 36, maybe? Dorothy and Ella are in their early 50s. Wait a minute — that means that I’m older than all of my characters! So why do the elders of this tale seem so much wiser and mature than I am?

Well, times have changed, haven’t they? With the exception of Florence, all of the women had babies in their early 20s, which was typical for the 1930s. I was 34 when I had my first child, in 1999. So there’s that. Moreover, I didn’t get married until I was 30, so I had the sort of long adolescence that’s become fairly typical in our times. There’s no doubt that in my case, getting married and having children matured me (though that’s not the case with all of the parents I know!), a process that’s ongoing.

Still from the 1933 movie, “Stage Mother”

Like Bess, I have a child who’s a sophomore in high school; unlike Bess, I’m not on the verge of becoming a grandmother (in fact, I imagine it will be many years before I even get close), and I’m very happy to report my beloved husband is still very much with us. In many ways Bess’s circumstances are very different than mine — and yet in many ways she’s the character I feel is most like myself. Go figure!

As Chapter Twenty-two opens, Bess is considering her quilt design. There are a number of quilts entered into the Sears Quilt contest that inspired Bess’s design. Take a look at three of them:


Transportation Quilt by Elizabeth Skelly Fitzgerald


Clipper Ship, Maker Unknown


Century of Progress, Maker Unknown


See you next week!


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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 10

First Time Here?

If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

In Episode 10, Eula dreams of going back to the farm, Dorothy worries about about her family, and a reformed Emmeline auditions her latest quilting column with the Bee.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

This episode begins in mid-March, just two weeks after Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as the 32nd president of the United States. FDR had campaigned on the promise of what he called “a new deal for the American people,” and he began implementing plans for the New Deal almost immediately upon assuming office.

One of the programs that would prove most helpful to working women was the Emergency Nursery Schools (ENS) program, which opened preschool centers for children of all classes and in particular children of the unemployed and those who worked for the WPA (which began in 1935). The ENS schools weren’t meant to be childcare centers; they were meant to be real schools. One of the reasons the program was so successful was a new interest in early childhood education by teachers and parents.

A nursery school in Riverside, California, operated by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in 1934. (The National Archives)

As we move onto part two of Friendship Album, 1933, work and money are becoming a central preoccupation for all the women. Emmeline and Florence are both wealthy; for them, work is about putting their energy into projects that make use of their talents and, quite frankly, give them something to do. As Eula watches young Maisie blossom, she grows even more eager to save enough money to move back to the country–a farm is a perfect place for a child to grow up, in Eula’s opinion.

Women working, 1930s

Dorothy has always worked; her main concern right now is her daughter, Hannah, who’s considering a move to Chicago. In Episode 10, we learn more about the Hannah-Jasper situation (just what was in Jasper’s letter? You’re about to find out!). One of the issues that Hannah must contend with is childcare, something that’s much more accessible to today’s working mom than women who went to work in 1933.

As for quilts, we learn about braided borders in this episode, and get what I believe is our first mention of feedsack quilts. I love a good feedsack quilt myself, but wonder how many of the quilts entered into the Sears Contest were made from them. Not many, I’d wager, but I’ll have to go look it up!

See you next week!

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 9

First Time Here?

If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

Last week I traveled to Atlanta to give a presentation to the East Cobb Quilters’ Guild. It was a great trip, though I I saw my life flash before my eyes several times while driving through Dunwoody and Marietta during rush hour. In this week’s episode, Dorothy remembers the first time she put Hannah on a train to Atlanta and Spelman College, knowing her daughter would have to move to a segregated carriage when the train reached Washington, D.C. Ohio wasn’t a paradise for African Americans in the 1930s, but at least Dorothy’s children had been spared the humiliations of Jim Crow segregation.

I found the above picture on Pinterest. No information was given about who this young woman was, and from her clothes I suspect this picture was taken in the 1940s or ’50s, not the 1930s. Yet there’s something about the photograph that made me think of Hannah, young, beautiful, wondering about the choices she’s made so far in her life …

I drove to Atlanta on I-85 South. Whenever I take I-85, I think about how once upon time it was a Native American trading path and then became a road that white settlers traveled and traded on as well. But before humans walked down the Great Trading Path, it was a buffalo trail. There are so many layers of history to think about when you’re stuck in yet another traffic jam in South Carolina!

In this week’s episode, we go back in time to Emporia, Kansas, where Emmeline spent her childhood. Emporia was the home of some of 20th century’s most famous quilters. I found this wonderful photograph of a Kansas quilting bee and thought I’d include it here, with a promise of a deeper exploration of the Emporia quilters in a future post.

Today’s episode ends Part One of our story and is where we’ll close the curtain until September. I’ve had such a great time recording this podcast, and my production team has done an amazing job making it sound great, but it’s been a lot of work! We’ll be back Friday, September 7th. Can’t wait to see you then!

Special Offer: Buy One Get One Free!

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 8

First Time Here?

If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

As I write this post, I’m getting ready to drive down to Atlanta from North Carolina to talk to the East Cobb Quilters’ Guild about quilt stories–my own and the ones I make up, and the stories I wish all quilters would take time to record. If you’re not familiar with the Quilt Alliance, I hope you’ll take a moment to check it out. It has as its mission to document, preserve and share the stories of quilts and quiltmakers, and I’ve been a member for several years now. Every quilt has a story, and if you don’t tell your quilts’ stories, who will?

Anyway, I know I should be writing interesting things about this week’s episode, but whenever I get ready to hit the road, it’s hard to concentrate on anything, including plot synopses! I get anxious about traveling and being away from home, although I almost always end up having a great time. This trip should be especially fun, since I’ll be hanging out with some wonderful quilting friends as well as spending time with my brother and his family. Still, it will be a relief when I pull up back into my driveway Saturday afternoon, pat my dog on the head and give all my peeps a big hug.

When I speak to the guild on Thursday and Friday, I’ll certainly talk about Friendship Album, 1933, my craziest writing project ever. With every chapter I finish, I wonder where in the world is this going. And then I remember: The World’s Fair! Our girls have a May 15th deadline to get their quilts finished and turned in. This week I finished writing Chapter 26 and realized we only have a month until the deadline. There’s a lot that needs to happen between now and then.

In this week’s episode, there’s not a whole lot of quilting going on. Bess heads over to St. Luke’s to help prepare a luncheon for the new rector. Father Mayfield is a widow, and Bess expects to meet an older man in the last years of his career. When Joe Mayfield turns out to be not much older than Bess and what Anne of Green Gables would call a kindred spirit, Bess is thrown. She has no interest in romance … and still. Between you and me, I have no idea what’s going to happen with these two, but I’m interested in watching the situation develop.

Florence is knee-deep in business plans and having the time of her life. She’s long longed for a meaningful life, and she feels like she’s on the verge of finally doing something worthwhile. Her problem is that she’s a single woman and has two older brothers who feel it’s their duty to oversee her financial decisions. I think sometimes we forget how little financial independence women had throughout much of our history. Single women couldn’t get a credit line or a credit card until 1974 in the U.S. 1974.

So we’ll see how independent Florence is allowed to be — and we’ll feel her frustration if her brothers decide to tighten the reins!

I didn’t do a Tuesday post this week, but plan to next week. Maybe I’ll write about travel in the 1930s. The highway I’ll be driving down tomorrow (I-85) wasn’t built until 1958. So in 1933 it would have taken me a whole lot longer to get to Atlanta, but that the road would have been so much more interesting. Ah, the price we pay for speed!

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Friendship Album, 1933: Episode 7

First Time Here?

If you haven't listened to the earlier episodes of Friendship Album, 1933, you should start from the beginning of the story!

Now a thing of the past, women’s pages appeared in newspapers across the country for much of the 20th century. These early Style sections featured articles about society happenings, food, fashion, weddings and women’s clubs, and as quilting grew into an increasingly popular pastime in the 1920s and ’30s, quilting patterns also became a women’s page fixture.

One of the most popular quilting columns was the Nancy Page Tuesday Quilt Club by Florence LaGanke, a home economist and nutritionist who had been publishing the Nancy Page Daily Household column for five years.  In the Nancy Page original column, a fictional “attractive young married woman” (Nancy Page) solved “the pressing problems of the home.” The Quilt Club appeared five years later to much author-invented fanfare. “Nancy Page Starts a Mid-Week Pieced Quilt Club” the column headline announced on May 17, 1932, and the story that followed was nothing less than a celebration:

Nancy Page’s quilt club members were jubilant.  She had promised to give them patterns for pieced quilts as well as appliqued ones. And better still, she said she would open her house one day a week, Tuesday, for the club meeting.  Imagine the excitement when the club met for the first time. . . .

And thus a fictional quilting bee was born. Sound familiar?

As Friendship Album, 1933 continues, we’ll be hearing more of Florence’s columns. They’re not exactly the same as Florence LaGanke’s Nancy Page columns, which are written in the third person, but I’ve taken a few stylistic tips from LaGanke. Too tempting not to!

In this episode, we meet Eula’s niece, Maisie. One thing you may wonder as you listen to me read Eula’s section is why she and her family members sound vaguely southern. During the 1920s and ’30s, Ohio’s factories drew people from the southern Appalachians in desperate need of work. What we learn in this episode is that both Eula and Dan’s family roots are in West Virginia. The fact is, I can do a southern accent, but not a Ohio one, so this is a matter of convenience as much as anything!

Writer’s Notes

For the last eighteen years, I’ve made my living as a children’s book author (my first book, Dovey Coe, was published in May of 2000). I’m used to writing about adults from a child’s point of view. In Chapter Sixteen, it was fun to write about a child from an adult’s point of view for a change!

Quilter’s Notes

I just finished a quilt and wanted to share it with you. It’s a Melon Patch quilt, and though the quilt that inspired me was made in 1912, this was still a popular pattern twenty years later–and today as well!

See you next week!