There are some really bizarre vintage sewing ads out there, particularly Victorian trade cards for thread companies. Trade cards were precursors to business cards, and they became popular and collectible among Victorians.
As described by The Spruce, “Many of these feature vivid coloring, interesting typography, and popular themes of the day, not necessarily representative of the product they were selling in some cases.” The last part is what interests me the most–some of these advertisements feature odd subjects that seem to have little to do with thread and/or sewing. Let’s take a look at some of my favorites.
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The Thought Process Behind Vintage Sewing Ads
Can you imagine some of the the pitch sessions for these ads? I picture two drunk guys in a pub, trying to figure out what women like, so they can sell them thread, but they’re both bachelors and they have no idea how to market to women. Harold works for the thread company and Edgar is the artist.
Harold: Okay, what do women like? What’s going to sell this thread?
Edgar: And baked beans! Women love baked beans and rats. Albino rats, specifically.
Harold: You’re a genius, Edgar! Wait, where does the thread come into this?
Edgar: Hovering off to the side.
Harold: Of course! Make it so.
Harold: Edgar, turns out the rat ad isn’t doing so well.
Harold: I know. I thought it was going to be a hit. Our focus group tells us that it’s not relatable. We need something else, something that showcases the versatility of the thread and appeals to women.
Edgar: What about a spider?
Harold: Women love spiders!
Edgar: And the spider has caught a tiger in his web, which is made of thread.
Harold: Let’s make the spider giant, even bigger than the tiger. That will allow us to really showcase the web made of thread.
Harold: Edgar, I have some bad news.
Harold: Turns out that women do not like spiders.
Edgar: Well, I’m out of ideas. I feel like we’ve tried everything.
Harold: We have to come up with something!
Edgar: …a giant frog?
Harold: No, let’s make it a normal sized frog with miniature thread.
Harold: What about babies? Women like babies, right?
Edgar: But I only know how to draw creepy sort-of-adult-looking babies.
Harold: That’s the spirit! But make sure the baby look psychotically excited for the thread, so all the moms out there know that it’s high quality. We don’t want a repeat of the rats eating baked beans–nobody understood how that ad was related to thread.
Edgar: Here is your mentally unstable baby, boss. He’s playing with scissors and needles, as babies are wont to do.
Harold: The frog didn’t work, but our research shows that women do like babies. Just not our babies.
Edgar: What if a mother was using thread to make her child into a marionette?
Harold: Sounds great! Just don’t make it creepy like the last one.
Harold: Women seem to like the ads with children. Let’s do more of them!
Edgar: What about distraught children ripping their clothes and then secretly mending them with our thread?
Harold: Yeah, I feel like we don’t have enough crying children and butt rips in these ads.
Harold: We’re on a roll! Let’s try something a little different, a little daring. Think outside the box.
Edgar: Sure thing! How’s this?
This post was inspired by the Two Monks Inventing Things series by Mallory Ortberg.
More Vintage Sewing Ads
Want to collect some of your own trade cards? Check out these Victorian trade cards for thread on eBay. Local antique shops and flea markets are also a good place to look for trade cards. You can often find them for less than $5, so they’re easy and fun to collect!
Interested in seeing more vintage sewing ads? Check out my Pinterest board on this topic: