Bookmarks are something that I have taken for granted. Most of my bookmarks are just paper with a cute verse, but others are stitched, and there are even a couple special ones from places and people. As I sort through my books for a garage sale, I have found some unusual bookmarks between the pages: ticket stubs (took the book while waiting for the show to begin), chocolate candy wrappers (snacking while reading?), bits of thread and ribbon (always have those scattered through the house) and even one with an unused sheet of toilet paper. You would think with my small collection of real bookmarks, I would be able to find (and use) them!

That got me to thinking about how bookmarks came to be. Turns out they pre-date printed books and were used on the ancient papyrus. Sorry, I got sidetracked for a minute to look into papyrus. Papyrus paper is actually made from a papyrus plant. The papyrus is created with strips of the sticky inside of the plant’s stem. The resulting page was approximately 16" wide, but the pages were bound together in a book or scroll form. By the way, the word "paper" is derived from "papyrus".

Okay, back on track. There are indications that the readers of the papyrus scrolls had bookmarks. One source said some scrolls were up to 15 yards in length. That would be like having 135 pages (paperback size) laid out side by side! You really didn’t want to forget where you stopped reading. These early bookmarks were probably made from vellum and clipped on a page.

The use of vellum continued into the 14th and 15th centuries. These bookmarks graced the pages of printed books in the monasteries. Bookmarks were also made from the leftover leather used to bind a book. These bookmarks could have been clip on or strips.

Growing up I remember books, especially Bibles, that had the bookmarks stitched into the book binding. There was at least one thin silk ribbon coming from the top of the binding. The ribbon was just a little longer than the height of the pages so you could easily locate the ribbon and your Scripture. These types of bookmarks were common in the 18th century and are sometimes still used today for special books.

The unattached bookmark made its appearance in the mid 1800’s. Collecting bookmark soon became a hobby. Especially since some of these early bookmarks contained advertising! The stitched bookmarks developed as a result of young girls learning to stitch. Bookmarks were a way to show off their stitching skills and became a great gift idea. Commercially produced bookmarks on silk soon followed. One of the predominant bookmark companies produced Stevengraphs. They made incredible bookmarks for every occasion. Check out some of these bookmarks. Bookmarks continued to change and evolve through the 1900’s. Today bookmarks are made from a wide variety of materials with an even wider array of subject matter.

What is the future of the bookmark as more virtual books are read? Turns out there are virtual bookmarks that help you mark your spot. You can only imagine that as these electronic services grow, you will have the ability to create your own personalized electronic bookmarks. It won’t be quite the same as being able to turn down a corner of the book…..whoops, I mean insert your favorite bookmark to mark your spot. Perhaps your virtual cat will curl up to take a nap on the virtual page where you stopped reading. So, until some time in the future when there are no more paper books, we can continue to create beautiful stitched bookmarks.

2012 Bookmark Challenge

One way you can help to improve reading literacy is to donate a bookmark(s) for the 2012 Bookmark Challenge. We will be collecting bookmarks now through the middle of May. The bookmarks will be given to schools, libraries and other organizations to help them further their reading programs. When you send in your bookmark(s) be sure to include your name and address (at least the city, state, and/or country). The Fargo grade school children write thank you notes for the bookmarks they receive. One suggestion is to put a pre-printed return address label on the back of your bookmark.

We believe this is such an important program that we will be giving away a $50 Nordic Needle Gift Certificate to one lucky stitcher. For every bookmark you send in before May 19th, your name will go in a drawing for that Gift Certificate.

The bookmarks can be created in any media. In the past, we have had bookmarks that have been tatted, crocheted, knitted, macramé, bobbin lace, perforated paper, beads, scrapbooked, in addition to all the stitching techniques.

Nikolina had been visiting Nancy at the Book Nook in Wheatland, Wyoming, and has just arrived back at Nordic Needle with quite a selection of bookmarks. Nikolina said one of the highlights of her visit was helping to inventory over 5000 books!! However, the Book Nook is closing, but Nancy said that means more time for stitching! Here is a picture of Nikolina helping with a drawing at the Book Nook.

I asked Nikolina what she learned about reading when she was there. The first thing she told me was that reading increases your vocabulary. Coming from rural Norway, her English vocabulary is somewhat limited. She said that she learned a lot more words reading than she would have in general conversation. She particularly liked the children’s books with a lot of illustrations. I agreed and told her about the dictionary I was creating. I bought a wonderful English children’s illustrated dictionary for $1 at a garage sale. Now I am going through it writing in the Norwegian and Swedish words. It has really helped me associate pictures with words.

Reading also helped Nikolina with her journaling. Norwegian sentences have somewhat of a different sentence structure than English. Nikolina said that as she read she began to understand how to form sentences that made more sense to us.

One thing she told me was that reading saved energy. At first I thought she meant the energy it took to walk the dog or take an exercise class. She called me silly and said she meant electrical energy. Nikolina said it takes less electricity to run a lamp than it does all the electronic game stuff. Ryan added that she read somewhere that brain activity actually decreases while watching TV (brainwaves mimicking those during sleep), so that is another reason to pick up a good book. Interesting!

Lastly Nikolina said it is a great way to dream and travel without leaving home. She had always wanted to come to the United States, but she never figured she would get that chance. So she read a lot of books about the United States, our cities, and our traditions. She said that helped her feel more comfortable when she came to Nordic Needle. She was glad she knew about our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, which made them more enjoyable during her visits.

Nikolina has had some great adventures so far with her host families. I have asked her to share some of them in the next newsletter. We have to sit down and figure out her next stops. Unfortunately, she likes to linger at her host locations and she hasn’t been to as many places as I had hoped by now! Stay tuned!

Now here are some bookmark ideas and patterns by technique….

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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