Blogs

Many new amateur house historians find determining their home's historic period and style to be a challenging task. You can usually find the date your house was built by looking it up in PortlandMaps or contacting your local County Assessor's office, but figuring out what it might have looked like when it was new can be difficult!

Once you've looked through a few guides to historic periods in architecture, try looking at some of these resources to get a more detailed idea of how houses were designed and decorated in the past:

  • Mail order house plans and design catalogs [blog post].  List of websites featuring scans of late 19th and early-mid 20th century house plan catalogs.  People used these catalogs to shop for a new house -- they either bought the plans and had a builder construct them, or bought a house kit, which came with plans and all the materials (neat, right?). 
  • Floor plan books [reading list]. Reprints of house plan catalogs, simliar to the ones featured in the blog post above, which you can check out from the library!
  • Using old magazines to identify house styles [blog post].  Guide to researching house-style and architectural history information in the library's collection of old (and new!) magazines.
  • Color scheme & design books [reading list]. Books focusing on the history of paint colors and color design of the late 19th and early-mid 20th century.

A teacher from a childcare center recently contacted me for some library resources. She was looking for few board books, a picture book or two, a music CD, and a few rhymes with interesting content for infants and toddlers, all related to the same theme. My immediate thought was Multnomah County Library’s collection of Storytime It’s in the Bags. We have 20 themed bags for toddlers (ages 18 mths—3 yrs) and another 21 bags for preschool-aged children (3—6 years). Each bag centers on a theme and contains five books, a small toy, game, puzzle or music CD related to the theme, and an activity sheet. The sheet has a couple of rhymes or games to play with children to extend the theme, as well as some tips for sharing books with children to effectively help them gain the skills they need to become successful readers. These bags are perfect for busy childcare teachers, family childcare providers and parents who want to share thematic materials with the little ones in their care. The Storytime bags are a popular resource and they are available on the shelves in some MCL locations. The easiest way to get your hands on these bags is to look through the toddler and preschool bag lists and place holds on the ones you would like to share with the kids in your life.

MCL also has bags for infants and their caregivers (0-6 months, 6-12 months and 12-18 months). Another new set of resources are the Bolsitas de Cuentos, which are themed bags with books in Spanish and bilingual English/Spanish. The Cuentos bags contain books appropriate for children 0-5 years old, and are fun for Spanish-speaking families and families who are working at being bilingual.

You may have heard a rumor that your house was "bought by mail order."  What does that mean, you might wonder?  Or you might have noticed that there are twins of your house dotted around your neighborhood.  Were all those twins built by the same company? 

It might be that your house was built from a mail-order plan -- or it could be that your house was bought fom a mail-order company that supplied the plans and a complete set of building materials cut to size and ready to assemble.   Mail-order houses like these are the ancestors of modern manufactured homes, but they were built on-site by carpenters using traditional techniques, just like architect-designed houses of the same historical period. 

The websites below showcase archives of house plans from mail-order home companies. They show exterior views of each house (some in color), floor plans, and prices.  Since most mail-order house companies also sold a multitude of cabinetry, fancy trim, plumbing and lighting fixtures, and furniture, you can sometimes get an idea for popular interior design of the period as well.

I should also remind you, the library has books with old mail-order floor plans in them too!  Check out the great list below for some examples. 

Questions? Ask the Librarian!  We'd be glad to offer you some personalized help with your research project.

When I decided I wanted to dust off my childhood knitting skills and learn to knit socks,

my mother gave me one of the greatest presents a knitter can get -- a copy of the all-around practical guide, Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book.  This 1930s-era gem has instructions for all manner of knitting basics (different ways to form knit and purl stitches, pattern-drafting how-to, basic patterns for gloves and mittens and socks, different ways to wind yarn into a ball, and so on) as well as a lively history of knitting down the ages and some sections on sophisticated topics like beaded knitting and Shetland shawls.  If you must limit yourself to just one knitting book, this is the one you should have.

But who can limit themselves to just one book?  Mary Thomas teaches knitters how to design their own projects, and any knitter doing design work needs a guide to stitch patterns.  The most complete, most beautifully presented, most clearly explained series of knitting stitch patterns is definitely Barbara Walker’s four collections of stitch patterns gathered through extensive research and correspondence with knitters.  Just about every stitch you might ever want is contained in these four volumes: from ribbing to edging, from cables to mosaic patterns, from simple knit/purl patterns to elegant lace.  And every one has clear, cogent instructions and a helpful photograph of the finished result.

Should you find that designing your own projects really suits your style, you must run, not walk, to the last of my Three Queens of Knitting, Elizabeth Zimmermann.  Begin your exploration of Zimmermann’s brilliance with the pocket-sized Knitter’s Almanac, a collection of twelve projects for each of the twelve months of the year.  You’ll find detailed instructions for each, but Zimmerman also lays out her pattern design logic and explains the math of sizing patterns up and down to fit different figures or suit alternate yarn.  Even if you merely read the Knitter’s Almanac, but never make any of the projects, you will close the book a better, smarter knitter!  

What’s next after you’ve gotten to know the Three Queens of Knitting?  It’s up to you!  But rest assured, you can always find more books, dvds, and magazines for knitters at the library.

Questions?  Ask the Librarian!  We'd be glad to help you find the right knitting book, or help answer your other craft questions!

Pages