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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Laura Wheeler, Genius of Needlecraft

I was wandering around in searching out pattern notations, when I came across this interesting article from June 8, 1945.   The  article, titled 'Laura Wheeler, Genius of Needlecraft' was written by Helen Dudnick.    I'm reprinting the article as it was written.

Knits and purls. chains and slip stitches, lazy dasies and french knots. They're all easy
when you know how.  An average of ten million women each year write to Laura Wheeler for 
instructions for knitting that baby bonnet they saw in yesterday's newspaper. She receives
more mail than some of our top-ranking Betty Grables or Lana Turners.

Recently Laura Wheeler received a letter from a grandmother who wanted her to know that 
within a comparatively short period of time she had ordered seventy-two patchwork quilt 
patterns—all created by Miss Wheeler. Grandma, as she signed herself, went on to say 
that she was making twelve quilts for each of her twelve granddaughters and that soon she 
could present the gifts to 'her girls' whom she knew would be delighted with them.
Laura Wheeler's name is known to millions of newspaper readers. She is discussed by 
countless women everyday—over back fences, notions counters and scores of other places 
where women and girls congregate. 

In 1933, Laura Wheeler decided to close her own art atudio and become the pioneer 
needlecraft designer in the field.  When she started with George Goldsmith, his Reader Mail organization was fast becoming 
America's leading newspaper dress pattern manufacturers.  One day she asked of Goldsmith, 
"Why should we produce only dress patterns? There are millions of women who like to knit, 
crochet and embroider. Why can't we manufacture needlecraft patterns for them?"
And so it was that Laura Wheeler gave birth to an idea which was to revolutionize the art
of needlework. She gathered a staff of skilled artists and designers who set to work under
her direction, creating original designs for transfer patterns to be embroidered on guest
towels, pillow cases and doilies—patterns for many kinds of knitted garments—crochet 
patterns for centerpieces, fascinators, slippers or bootees. She hired top-notch writers 
to describe step by step, clear and precise directions for each kind of stitch in a 
particular design. As many as ten artists work on a single pattern.
Says Laura Wheeler, "When a reader sees my release in her newspaper and sends 15 cents 
for my needlecraft pattern, it is my job to see that not only will she get it promptly, 
but when the pattern does reach her, she can be assured that there will be no need to stop 
and question the next step." Added Miss Wheeler, "Every one of my needlecraft patterns 
is foolproof so that even a novice will have no difficulty finishing the sweater, purse 
or rag dolls she started."  She stresses the practicability of  her feature. "I try to 
put myself in the position of a reader. She wants eye-appealing needlecraft, patterns 
which can be made as inexpensively as possible and that is what, I strive to give her."

Laura Wheeler is a typical American woman. She is of medium height with black hair 
streaked with gray, sparkling dark eyes and an effervescent personality. Laura feels 
she is amply repaid for her life's work of creating needlecraft patterns when those 
millions of letters come pouring into her once—letters from women all over the country 
asking for more patterns, letters from grateful readers telling of the joys her designs 
have brought them.

When the war is over, Laura Wheeler plans to make her needlecraft pattern feature available
not only in the United States, Canada and Australia but in other European countries as well.

Anyone who has followed the Mail Order Pattern Syndicate will have heard that Laura Wheeler was a fictitious person created for marketing purposes. i.e., we'd be more prone to trust a 'real person' than  a 'mail-away' company.   But, does the article create any doubt? 

The picture shown is part of the article and leads us to believe this is a real person.   The article tells us that Laura was previously an artist, turned business woman, hiring designers and being involved in the 'pattern business.  It ends telling us that 'after the war (August, 1945) she plans on expanding the patterns to Australia and Europe.  (These patterns were available in Australia in 1938).

So, in answer to the question -- No, this wouldn't lead me towards thinking Laura Wheeler was a 'real person.   But one interesting point remains and that is the writer of the article -- Helen Dudnick.

Typically, anything written (patterns and promotions) were syndicated across the country, with the same article appearing in dozens of newspapers.   But this article ... No.   the article was printed in one newspaper only - The News Leader, Staunton, VA.   And, the writer, Helen Dudnick, was not only NOT a feature columnist, but appears to have no other writing history.  A freelancer, perhaps?

And, now that I've shared this, I can get back to the investigation I was on before getting sidetracked with us.    And, as always, if you know anything further about Laura Wheeler or any of the pattern syndicates, I'd appreciate your sharing.

Thanks for dropping by,


  1. I've just discovered this newspaper article too. I'm a collector of quilt patterns rather than knitting but Laura Wheeler is still an icon.
    The article certainly suggests that Laura Wheeler was real - but if this is the only proof...? I need to know more!

    1. I've spent many hours studying these mail order designs in the newspapers .... researching the names of Laura Wheeler and Alice Brooks well before patterns were published in those names and have found no direct evidence they existed. Sure, I've found a few references to the name Laura Wheeler, but, more along the lines of social engagements from the late 1800, early 1900's. Same with Anne Cabot (who also marketed under numerous names).