Studying Ma Ingalls’ Shawl

The Laura Ingall Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, South Dakota preserves and displays thousands of artifacts for visitors on our Historic Homes tours to see and learn from. Some of our artifacts are “time period” items that are simply of the time period when Laura and her family were living. However, other items belonged to the Ingalls family. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at one of our unique Ingalls family items, Ma Ingalls’ shawl.


Using textile and fashion history to study clothing items can often reveal many things about the owner, such as:

  • personal taste and style
  • personal stature (height, weight, build)
  • item use and function
  • social standing
  • geographic location (parka verses light jacket)

Looking closely at clothing items can be a great way to learn about history. We recently asked Dr. Laurel Wilson of Missouri to provide some insight and commentary on some of the necklaces that Rose Wilder Lane wore, which we now have in our collection. You can read that blog post here.

Dr. Wilson also generously agreed to help us study and learn from Ma’s shawl. She is a Professor Emerita of the University of Missouri where she taught courses about the history of costume and textiles and curated the Missouri Historic Costume and Textile Collection. She is currently a volunteer at the Boone County Historical Society and on the Collections Committee. We are very thankful to Dr. Wilson for her insight on these items. Whenever possible, she has provided us with references.

Today’s photographs show Ma’s shawl in a peachy beige color. However, our original records describe it as a “brown crocheted shawl”. The most likely explanation for this is that the color has changed and faded over time. After all, the item is more than 100 years old!IMG_4673

Dr. Wilson divided her comments on this piece into two categories: what we know and what we have to guess. Dr. Wilson also explained that shawls as a clothing group are particularly difficult to study, because as a general rule they are generic and hard to place in a specific time period.

What we know about Ma’s shawl:

Dr. Wilson said, “Knitting and crochet were skills that were considered necessary, especially for women who needed to create stockings, hats, mittens and sweaters for family use. Many women knew basic patterns, and more complex patterns were available in a variety of publications including Godey’s Lady’s Book and Harpers Bazaar. The shawl displays a fairly simple repetitive pattern that would be easy for an experienced needlewoman to do, even while being interrupted by children and other household distractions. If the color I am seeing on screen (peachy beige) is correct, the shawl was probably made with a dyed yarn, rather than a natural wool color. The pattern is attractive and even, indicating that the maker was experienced in her craft.”

What we need to guess or infer about Ma’s shawl:

Dr. Wilson said, “The shawl likely was made ca. 1900-1915. There are quite a few publications that included knit and crochet shawls during this 15-year period. The size is smaller than the normal shawl size worn in the 19th century so it probably is post-1900. There was a “colonial” revival during the 1920s but Caroline Ingalls died in 1924 at age 84, so she may not have done much needlework during the 1920s. However, the shawl does not show much wear so could have been made late in her life.”

Laura’s Legacy

We are dedicated to “bringing the Laura Ingalls Wilder legacy to life today while preserving it for the future.” Rest assured that the shawl is being carefully stored and preserved when it is not on display at our historic homes tour. Thank you for reading our blog today. We hope that you found this interesting and educational.


6 comments on “Studying Ma Ingalls’ Shawl

  1. Ann Weller Dahl says:

    How interesting! Thanks for sending it.

    Ann Dahl

  2. Julie F. Miller says:

    Wow! This is awesome!

  3. lwadley47 says:

    I am a huge knitter/crocheter and this article really caught my attention. I am knitting shawls like this still, so the style has not “gone out of style”….. I live in a very warm part of the country, so I make shawls out of sock yarn, so they are lighter and you can wear them in the Winter. My Father was born and raised in De Smet, so I feel a real “kin” to Laura and her family…..

  4. This a beautiful shawl. I also wonder if it had originally been dyed with coffee or tea? Thanks for sharing

  5. Reblogged this on Missy's Crafty Mess and commented:
    I thought that I’d share this post for my readers who love shawls and of coarse the lovers of history. I hope that you enjoy this post as much as I did.

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