During the trying economic times of a decade now identified as The Great Depression, mostly all of the 1930s, more fortunate families had a variety of toys to gift to their children. Printed paper dolls to be cut from magazines and catalogs, handmade wooden pull toys or wooden wheeled carts filled with alphabet blocks, vinyl dolls in baby buggies, jointed teddy bears, kid-size kitchen appliances, tea sets, enameled metal toy trucks and cars, painted wooden rocking horses, tricycles, foot powered pedal cars also bright red fire engines and much more. Of course, Shirley Temple dolls, Disney characters, and Western cowboy themed items were immensely popular.
Toys from the era remain for some simply elusive memories, for others curious photos or digitized images from an uncertain historical past. Many parents of the time, ever frugal and creative, devised ways to make toys for their children from wood or cloth when there was little money at hand. Sewing children’s play toys such as rag dolls, stuffed bears, sock monkeys, bean bag toss games and even stick horses delighted those fortunate children that found them under a Christmas tree during holiday times.
These few simple yet enduring toys still delight children today. Many are easy to sew by machine or hand from scraps of fabric.
Rag doll – A no-sew one can be made from a 16 inch square of muslin or a man’s white handkerchief. Place a round wad of fiberfill stuffing in the center, gather around to form a head shape, tie with a piece of strong embroidery floss to secure, fashion arms by gathering lengths of cloth at each side and tying a knot that forms hands. Tie a lady’s vintage hankie around the cloth to form a dress, add a small triangle of fabric as a head covering for a rustic pioneer look. A doll can be made from a vintage pillowcase in a similar way so the doll would have a long flowy dress at the bottom.
Stuffed bear – There are many free teddy bear patterns online. A basic teddy can be either two fabric pieces cut out as a whole bear shape with a front and back the same, sewn and stuffed then adorned simply with a satin bow or more involved with jointed arms and legs and button or safety eyes sewn onto a sculpted face.
Sock monkey – Printable templates for a sock monkey to make from a pair of men’s socks are readily available online. Socks with contrasting heels and toes are best. The most familiar sock monkeys would be made from Original Rockford Red Heel Socks. These work socks come with the sock monkey pattern included in every pair of their traditional brown/white speckled socks with red heels.
Stick horse – These whimsical hobby horses can be made from work socks, denim, felt or faux suede fabric, a fluffy mane fashioned from a dollar store cotton mop, torn lengths of muslin, strips of felt or lengths of yarn. A dowel rod or cut off wooden broom handle serves well to hold the horse’s head. Sturdy ribbon, braided yarn or lengths of leather pieces work for a bridle. Be sure and stuff the horse’s head very firmly with polyfill so the toy can endure much child playtime.
Bean bag toss – Little ones delight in colorful fabric squares, triangles or fishy shapes sewn and lightly filled with rice for simple bean bag tosses into colorful plastic pails.
Nostalgia for what may be remembered as simpler times past give some a walk down memory lane or for those much younger today, a curious look into a bygone era. Handmade children’s toys though will always bring to all a smile.
Original Sock Monkey from Fox River®, a U.S. manufacturer of outdoor, sport and lifestyle performance socks since 1900
Stick Horses as seen on the social media pin board Pinterest.com
Sew happy, sew inspired.