For our viewing pleasure, this Friday I’d like to show you this fantastic Kaumagraph from McCall. There’s no date, but also little doubt that it’s somewhere in the 20s or early 30s. Interestingly, it is stated to be monograms, and if you look at the illustration, each part of the transfer is for a different letter. Is it Chinese, or another Asian language? Is it artistic license? I don’t know, but I love it.
I’ve thought about getting the classic “tattoo of an Asian character,” but decided against it after a friend of mine said her friend got one. She chose the character for “friend,” and then when she met someone Chinese, she was asked why she had a tattoo that said “cow” on her neck. So I guess unless I go to a Chinese tattoo artist, I will hold off. And even if I did, I’d better make sure they like me, lest I end up with “vaccuum cleaner” on my ankle.
I’ve come across a lot of McCall Kaumagraph Transfers in my time. They can be anything from actual embroidery transfers, to wall decor that you cut out and past to a wall. They’re interesting in the vast difference of what they involved: delicate florals, to quilting transfers to Peter Rabbit to Chinese art. They covered the gamut of pop culture of the time.
When I went looking into Kauamagraphs, I found a single ad listing in a newspaper in 1912. It only mentioned they were quick to use — no history or technique, just a quick ad. Searching another archive found that McCall sent out representatives to teach how to use the new transfers. There was nothing in 1913, though they must’ve continued to make them, because ads showed up again in 1914 for an embroidery supply store in Corvallis, Oregon, stating that there were over 500 different Kaumagraph transfgers in stock. Apparently they were popular, which isn’t surprising given the delicate embroidery done on clothing of the time period.
McCall put out an Embroidery Book catalog that listed the transfers available. This was separate from their pattern catalog, although pattern catalogs of the time referenced the associated embroidery patterns, as did pattern envelopes. McCall had figured out that there was money to be made by selling transfers separately. Ads did not begin to be seen frequently until the 1920s, and it was at this time that the transfers began to be seen for home furnishings. Again, this is from advertising — the home decor transfers may have been seen in the Embroidery Books, but I haven’t researched that genre.
A December, 1921 ad mentions that “the newest thing is applique work which can be done quickly and requires an experienced hand,” suggesting Kaumagraph transfers can help with that process. Art medallions such as this and this were seen in 1927, to be cut out and applied to furniture, then varnished over for a decorative look — probably similar to the decoupage commonly seen in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1928, ads for Kaumagraphs had disappeared from newspapers, suggesting that they either fell out of favor or, more likely, were renamed to simply embroidery transfer, as McCalls continued to market transfers in one shape or form for years. It could be that the renaming is because other companies used the term Kaumagraph for their transfers, as it is a generic term for a hot iron transfer, and is not exclusively used by McCall at the time. It is technically still used today, though most people wouldn’t recognize the term kaumographer as someone who does heat transfers.
In either event, McCall seemed to be a forerunner in embroidery transfers, especially with their foray into the decorative medallions. Have you seen any Kaumagraphs? I know there are some collectors out there. Share your favorites. I’d love to see them.