Mormon Handicraft

Mormon Handicraft


The world had a false picture of Mormon women at the turn of the century.  They presumed these pioneers were slave women, oppressed by their husbands, dirty, overworked, over burdened and unhappy.  Little did they know that these women were among the happiest, most vocal and “free” women in the world.  As I have shown you in my various posts, Mormon women had countless ideas that were supported by the brethren, and one another.  Many of these ideas were proven very successful and life building.  These women were far from oppressed.  In fact, they were encouraged by their leader Brigham Young, and all other brethren in the Church, to act on their inspirations.

It is true that men weren’t always available, having spread themselves thin amongst their duties, missionary work and their families.  It was left to the women to manage large households, farms, and often enough, provide a necessary income, to maintain their families, when their husbands were away.  Many of you are familiar with Winder Dairy.  It was started by a woman who sold her butter to support her children.  If you look in the histories of local Utah businesses, many of them were started by these pioneering women, and maintained by their children over the years, and are still going strong.

Co-op stores were set up in Relief Society halls, where women could make various items and sell them.  These were run by individual Relief Societies until, in 1876, President Brigham Young recommended a centrally located store.  The Women’s Commission House sold everything from shawls to butter, all handmade by women who were trying to earn an income.

Another store, the women’s Co-operative Mercantile and Manufacturing Institution, operated from 1890 to 1912.  This business was to promote home industry and help “forward the cause of equal rights” (most likely for the women to maintain their independence and self-sufficiency).  This store sold dress goods, family articles and burial suits among other handwork items. 

The idea of home industry dwindled over time, but was started again in 1937 under Pres. Louise Y. Robison, General RS President.  During the Depression, many women suffered from want of basic needs.  The idea of a consignment shop was developed where women could make and sell handwork.  Mormon Handicraft began as a nonprofit organization under the direction of the Relief Society.  The store encouraged home industry and allowed women to earn money while still tending to the home and family. 

The first shop was inside the old Bureau of Information and Museum building, inside Temple Square.  Over the years, the shop has moved several times needing more room to expand.  At one time it was on 21 West South Temple.  It moved to Eagle Gate corner for a while, then again to 105 North Main Street.  This last place was a building built especially for Mormon Handicraft and they thought they would be there forever.  During this time the store sold quilts, dolls, baby clothes, rugs, many handmade items.  At this time it was a combination retail store and consignment shop.  It also became the resource center for the homemaking department Work Day.  Women could attend classes on quilting and embroidery.  Items needed for various ward projects could be easily found at the store.

In January 1986, the Relief Society announced that Mormon Handicraft would be closing its doors permanently.  The Relief Society felt the store was no longer meeting the needs of the worldwide Church.  As the awful rumor spread among the women, they charged into action and demanded the store stay open.  Deseret Book, at the last minute, stepped in and took over Mormon Handicraft.  Today, we can see a corner, at some Deseret Book stores, set up to display some items being sold under the name Mormon Handicraft.  As well, a large store is at This Is The Place State Park.  You can still sign up for quilt classes there.

As I learned about this interesting history of Mormon Handicraft, it was clear where our urge for craft mania came from.  Sadly, within the store I walk through, I see nothing of what it was originally purposed for.  Now, it is full of overpriced, kitchy, “Mormonisms”.

I’ve said this before.  We are in need of home industry again.  There are micro businesses being formed daily, all over the world, to help women feed their families.  Mostly in America, we need home industry to help us earn enough money to get out of debt, and give us more security in our country’s economic upheaval.

  1. Michaela Stephens
    Michaela Stephens09-04-2008

    I agree, Mormon Handicraft can be pretty kitchy these days. I think that what we most need to see there are modest formal dresses, modest and attractive (not frumpy) Sunday dresses and modest and attractive swimsuits.

  2. jtolman

    I think that’s a great idea. Now, who wants to approach the Brethren with that idea?

  3. chinook

    I was wondering if embroidery patterns are still being sold, Mormon Handicraft used to be the only place where I could find the vintage iron-on embroidery transfers. From your review, it sounds as though this store bears little resemblance to the one I patronized in the 80’s. I have lived outside of Utah until recently. Any info would be appreciated.

  4. jtolman

    I’m sorry to have to tell you that Mormon Handicraft is nothing like it used to be. I doubt you will find any patterns of any kind at the Deseret Book/Mormon Handicraft stores. The one that is at the This is the Place State Park is really a quilt shop, and may have the patterns you are looking for, but don’t hold your breath. This legacy, created by industrious Relief Society sisters, is long gone.

  5. Angela Jessop
    Angela Jessop01-28-2010

    My curiosity has been piqued by the reference in the Feb. VT message about Brigham Young encouraging the sisters to establish home industries. I am a convert to the church (well over 15 years now – but still learning so much). Can anyone offer any suggested reference materials (online or other) where someone like me could learn more about this aspect of our history?

  6. jtolman

    To answer your question, search this site for other posts that mention a self-sustaining attitude. Brigham Young encouraged the women to pursue self-sufficiency in the rough, austere climate of the Rocky Mountains. And Mormon women were never the dainty, unassuming types. These women had chutzpah, which makes me proud to be amongst them.

    Every one of their “Accomplishments” were for the purpose of creating home industry, to make life easier, to be independent of the East and it’s “evil lifestyle”, to stretch the mind and spirit, and to allow God’s handiwork and inspirations amongst all the Saints.

  7. karen meyer
    karen meyer08-18-2010

    I remember this store, it was a delight and I looked forward to those times that I might be in Utah to stop in. Now more than ever, women need a creative outlet as well as the ability to earn additional money to bring into the household. I think Brigham Young recognized that idol hands are the devils work. Having the opportunity to sit with your children and quilt, or knit, or crochet, make soap or what ever it is that you enjoy, accomplishes more than just bringing money into the household, it teaches your children the value of work and teaches them creativity and resourcefulness, it teaches them to be self sustaining which principals are necessary for survival during difficult times. I like your website. Thank you for your efforts.

  8. Deborah

    I like the idea of provident living because it teaches us to be more self-sustaining even in hard economic times. My parents lived during the depression years and World War II and knew what hard times are, so has taught me to be frugal too. We spent all summer canning, lived out of the garden, raised our own chickens, and traded eggs for milk from the only other Mormon family in town. Mom made most of my dresses for school. Dad wouldn’t go into debt for anything except when he did buy a new car and that one lasted about 10 years I believe. I believe if most American’s would have stayed out of debt like our prophets warned and have food storage, we probably wouldn’t be in the shape we are in now in America and in almost a depression. Too many living lifestyles they couldn’t afford.

  9. Dorinda

    Going along with this theme, does anyone know if it is still possible to sell home-crafted items through Mormon Handicraft? I have been unable to find contact info. Being on the East coast, I can’t go to the stores to check. I think we need to revive the original Mormon Handicraft. LDS women are returning to their roots in many cases and still in great need to help bring income to support their families. Stay at home moms can still contribute financially and this would be a great way. I agree with Deborah, we need to be more diligent in our obedience to the Prophet’s warnings. We all would be much bnetter of if we did.

  10. Jackie

    City Creek would be the perfect location across from temple square to have a Mormon Handicraft store. I have so many nonmember friends that love it when they receive a quilt I have made. I think tourists would love to see the handiwork the ladies of the church so happily make. Blankets, quilts, aprons, dish towels, decorations, quiet books, knitting, crocheting, baby clothes, embroidery…..etc. People LOVED that store and would love it again.

    PS…..the old fashioned dish towel patterns can be found online and also at JoAnn’s Fabric stores in the Salt Lake City.

  11. aires leming
    aires leming08-07-2014

    I remember going to the Handicraft shop south of temple square with my mother in law. There were so many creative items and old fashioned patterns to quilt which is what she did and to embroidery which we both did. There were many other items you could learn and get patterns for. At first they were reasonable in price and then they got more expensive to purchase. I too agree that it would be great to have a place to sell our creative wares that would not only have room to display them (which became the other problem), but that could be affordable to purchase. Now days its being done as vendors at boutiques or Fairs. As with all things overhead and labor to sell have to be factored in. There is no easy answer. The other comment I have heard is that I can make something like that for less. Me I love to see the artistry and creative mind at work when going there. People are so talented and everyone benefits from I made it myself industry. For me also I have only so much time in the day, so when I see something I like and I could probably do it if wanted to spend the time. I purchase it to enjoy it now from someone else’ s creative hands.

  12. Jan

    I agree completely with you, except I’m not sure it’s cheaper to make it at home anymore. I love that you buy from artists though. It’s a difficult industry and we should appreciate that creative beauty more than we do. Thanks for your thoughts.

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