Holly Hobbie, Corny But True

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]

Anybody remember Holly Hobbie? Not the annoying biker-capped cartoon reintroduced a few years ago that your daughters or granddaughters of 2010 might know. I mean the original, blue-bonneted American Greetings version, who was created in the 1970s by an artist actually named Holly Hobbie.

While my friends were grooving to eight-tracks of Andy Gibb, crushing on David Cassidy, and borrowing their big sisters’ Lauren-Hutton-style Qiana shirts, one of my favorite pop-culture icons was a girl in a patchwork apron. Yes, that would place me a few bean rows beyond squareness. Call me a late bloomer. Decoupaged Holly Hobbie pictures (gifts made by my friend Jinny — there’s a HHish name) hung on apple green walls of my bedroom, next to cornflower blue gingham curtains. There may have even been dried flowers in a jelly jar on my nightstand, where Tiger Beat or Seventeen should have been. I may not have been a hipster, but I was a farmgirl before my time!

My mom embroidered a HH likeness onto this pillow for my daughter, Eleanor, seven years ago during her “Little House on the Prairie” phrase. When, lacking the attachment to the character that I had, she outgrew it, I snatched the prairie girl for prime display in my office.

HH had captivated me from the minute she showed on cards, stationery, calendars. I even had the rag doll. (Though unlike my Barbie, Skipper, and Monkie, I lost her on the road to adulthood.)When I was in junior high school — junior high school! — my mom had embroidered the images on this muslin shirt she’d made me, which I wore constantly. Even then I knew the work was special enough to save, and when I unearthed it from my cedar chest a few years ago, I wore it again, equally pleased by the familiar old image, and simply that it fit.

I was even HH for Halloween one year (holding that doll!):

And decades later, here’s my way cuter daughter, in another pioneer-girl costume made by our own personal Edith Head, a.k.a. my mom. (She probably used the same Butterick pattern although Eleanor was aiming for Laura Ingalls, not Holly Hobby. That circa-mid-70s shawl was crocheted by my Gram for my ninth-grade dinner-dance ensemble…still have that!)

I’m not sure what enchanted me so much about Miss HH. She’s an enigma, her face concealed by that bonnet. Could be anybody — even pedal-pusher-wearing, geeky moi — in there. She has that fresh simplicity vibe of the ‘70s, as if she plucked that sprig of cornflowers while thoughtfully traipsing the countryside. A lifelong fan of soothing blues (even though orange is my favorite color), I’ve always loved her color scheme as much as the tiny details in the sketch. The patchwork pinafore reminds me of the handiwork I grew up around. The apron itself signals work and purpose, as do those sturdy boots, a style I’ve always been fond of — fashion be danged. For awhile back in the ’80s, during an early job, I took to wearing similar boots with long denim skirts, black opaque tights, and black sweaters (though skipping the bonnet!) maybe a subconscious reaching out for HH’s calm fortitude, her pluckiness.

Pluck. There’s a great word. Hobs looks a little shy, with her head slightly bowed, as covered-up as if in countrified chador, but you just know she could, with quiet deftness, nurse a lamb or a baby, stitch a wound and a quilt, build good fences and good neighbors, and make one heck of a daisy-chain besides. Looking at her image up on my 1975 wall calendar made me feel like I could do those things, too. Or anything.

Around that same time, in eighth-grade American History, I learned the concept of “manifest destiny” — Americans’  19th-century compulsion to propel ever Westward over the land. It struck a chord of recognition in me, this deep feeling that I, too, had a manifest destiny to keep pushing forward, that some preordained destiny was waiting to unfold for me. (“I can feel it…it’s there, way in back,” I remember thinking with perfect clarity, paraphrasing a commercial for, I dimly recall, Arm ‘n Hammer baking soda used as refrigerator deodorant, of all unlikely images for so grand an idea! Meanwhile I’m sure most of my friends were sitting in the same classroom with Mr. Vandierdonck thinking stuff like, “Is this going to be on the test?” and “Did you see ‘The Partridge Family’ last night?”)

I didn’t come from West-settlin’ pioneer stock. My genes arrived here by way of Ellis Island and Polish fields. But the can-do-ness and forward momentum of that era spoke to me. I think it speaks to a lot of us, growing up. Some of us are inspired by real relatives. For others, it’s via the Little House books. For me (who didn’t read Wilder until my oldest daughter was did), it was Holly Hobby.

Corny. But cornflower true.

(Next time I’ll jump back to the present as I apply my modern-day can-do-ness to my new house…meanwhile, two sides of a vintage pillowcase from my younger days:)

It says, “Do one job at a time and see how smooth your daily chores can be.”

“A flower you plant in pots today can go outdoors at the end of May.”

P.S. Happy June!

  1. Forrest says:

    Well this took me back a few years…just a few. My Aunt made me Holly Hobby style dolls that were hung on my walls. and my Mom made a Holly Hobby quilt for my bed. Yes, I am right there with you.

  2. Nancy says:

    Your post took me back to my childhood. Thanks. I was a Holly Hobby girl too and made the same embroidery design that was on your pillow.
    Have a wonderful country day.

  3. Carol says:

    I love Holly Hobbie! I think she may be making a comeback since I saw some really pretty blue HH fabric in a fabric store, just love it! Brought back memories!

  4. Carol says:

    I love Holly Hobbie! I think she may be making a comeback since I saw some really pretty blue HH fabric in a fabric store, just love it! Brought back memories!

  5. greta says:

    I loved Holly Hobby…. I had a purse that had a pocket on the outside and a little Holly doll fit in the pocket. It was that same color blue, with the pretty little flowers. I wish my little girl had toys that were that cute and not the truly ugly dolls and toys she has…. wish Holly would make a comeback!

  6. Debbie says:

    I remember when my daughter, Jenny, was about 4 or 5 and had a 4′ tall Holly Hobby doll. The doll was as tall has her. She had alway wanted a sister so HH was it. Jenny would take the doll out to play on the swingset. Thanks for bring back great memories. By the way, my daughter is now 38 years old and still has that doll.

  7. Shery Jespersen says:

    Paula, How fun! Yeppers, I’m STILL a Hollie Hobbie girl…at age 54. Do you have her ‘life story’ book? It is excellent, it tells of Holly’s life as a young artistic mother trying to make ends meet. Lots of illustrations, naturally. Her later watercolor art is more ‘sophisticated’ and just beautiful. There is also a self portrait in the book. If you don’t have it, treat yourself. I bet you could find it with a little online sluething.

    I was in high school listening to John Denver and loving anything Holly Hobbie. I always loved being a nature girl and HH’s artwork spoke to my inner child that never outgrew ‘wonderment’. I made a series of decopage HH images from Hallmark cards for my mother…glued them onto barnwood. She still has them I’m sure. Thank you for the warm memory reminder. P.S. You look great in a bonnet, by the way :o)

    Shery J

  8. bobbie calgaro says:

    Even though I am older than you, I too had a Holly Hobby fixation while I was in college. I sent cards to everyone with Holly Hobby on them, had the calenders, made myself a blouse out of Holly Hobby fabric, etc. The best was a small statue that my mom sent me that was Holly Hobby getting the mail. Below was printed Good morning. Have a nice day. Looking at that each day and knowing she was thinking of me was special. It sits on my dresser today and knowing she’s thinking of me is still special (we live 400 miles apart). It seems funny that I was so entanced but as an elementary education major, people knew that I was a little out there anyway. I never was very sophisticated and always loved simple things. Even today I find her sweet and innocent but very capable and with the can do spirit of which you spoke.

  9. Jean says:

    Oh this just brought back so many memories for me and I still Love HH. I made all manner of things HH for my daughter and my little sister. I found a few things I had put away for my daughter not to long ago and she took them for her daughters room. Think I’m going to go look for all those fun patterns and revive some fun stuff. Thanks for your memories!

  10. Tammy says:

    OH yes! I was a holly hobby girl. I even had an easy bake oven that was Holly hobby. Such wonderful memories. Nice to meet other holly hobby gals. Have a beautiful day.

  11. Molly says:

    Holly Hobbie is so iconic of my childhood as well, my best girlfriend in 1st grade (we are still best friends 30+ years later!) and I both had HH lunchpails..the old metal kind with the raised "impressions". Some years ago I became nostalgic for HH and on ebay I found a dinner bell which to this day remains proudly displayed in my china hutch 🙂

  12. Jennifer says:

    My sister had the Holly Hobby sheets and bed spread and I still remember being jealous!! A time of innocence and happiness. : ) Thanks for the flashback.

  13. Jo Gill says:

    I have a Holly Hobbie rag doll. Do you remember her friend Heather? I have her too. Glad I’m not the only one. I also have all the Little House Books, including the cookbook. My daughters and I made many of their recipes. Now, I’m hoping to do the same with my granddaughter. Love your column!

  14. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Jo G — Heather! I was trying to think of the HH friend name when I wrote this. She was more pastel I think??

  15. Jo says:

    Wonderful memories. My sister (6 years younger) and I both loved Holly Hobbie. After I was married, my husband found a Holly Hobbie thermos, which I proudly carried to work with me (containing the previous evenings dinner leftovers). I still have it.
    Thanks for sharing.

  16. Jennifer J says:

    I love Holly Hobby. I still have mine and the mini’s. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  17. I just love HH too. I collected plates, eggs (remeber those) and stitchery. I said the first grandchild to be a girl could have them in her room. My Daughter has three boys and no girls. My Son a Daughter. To no avail did they want these in her room. BOO HOO. But I still love HH, she always brings a smile to my face! Lori

  18. Joy Howard says:

    This is so great. I have a resin figurine of Holly Hobbie in my office at work. In the 70’s, I was sewing my clothes and embroidering kittens and flowers on my jeans. I’m going to try and find the Holly Hobbie embroidery pattern for my granddaughter.

  19. Marsha says:

    I rememer HH. I think my mom loved her more than I did. My mother passed away 8/09 and reading the blog today allows me to enjoy the wonderful memories of my special mom.

  20. April says:

    I too loved Holly Hobbie and had the rag doll, the smaller plastic doll you could dress and even had Holly Hobbie wallpaper in my room! I still have all these things! I have always enjoyed everything HH. Thanks for a trip down memory lane!

  21. Lisa says:

    I still have all the dolls, HH, Heather, Amy and even Grandma! I also had the old fashioned sewing machine. I also hang a Christmas ornament every year that is HH and it brings back a lot of memories!

  22. CJ Armstrong says:

    I loved Holly Hobbis . . still do . . .always will!! I think she embodies the farmgirl spirit and carries on the same theme as the Sunbonnet Sue design.
    Thanks for sharing HH with us!!

  23. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered HH. She came into the picture while I was raising two boys. I grew up in the country and she reminds me of all the good times. I sewed a pinafore in junior high made of eyelet–everyone else was wearing polyester! I’ve started collecting HH-
    I have a plate and a candy dish so far.

  24. DeeDee says:

    I too loved Miss HH, my Aunt made me a bedset out of the sheets that my Mom still uses.

    She was like me, a quiet dreamer not afraid of trying. Thanks for the memories

  25. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Isn’t this fun that she resonated with so many of us! Someone asked via whisper comment if I still have patterns — alas, the embroidery designs and the clothes were made by my mom and I never had patterns (not that I could make them like her!) …knowing her she probably just copied the embroidery.

  26. Ardell Hofer says:

    I never had Holly Hobby sheets but I did and still do have all of my Holly Hobby dolls. There were 4 of them if I remember right. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one. They are still my favorites along with my rag Ann and Andy.

  27. Marilyn Collins says:

    Hi Paula, My twin sister, Marion and I are still big Holly Hobbie fans. We have several of the dolls and other items that were available at the height of Holly’s popularity.
    Holly Hobbie is still a winner with us!

  28. Bonnie says:

    What fun memories you’ve brought back for so many! My daughters both liked Holly Hobby, but I was the one who loved her. She was a much better role model (I thought) than Barbie! We also read all the "Little House" books together – a chapter a night before bed. I had read them as a child and loved them too. I still have the large Amy friend of Holly’s that my younger daughter had. She is somehow missing her braids, but not in bad shape otherwise. I remember having drinking glasses with Holly and friends on them also, but don’t remember whether they were given out by McDonalds or some other entity. Thanks for the neat post.

  29. Becky says:

    What great memories. I still have my Holly Hobbie doll and also my Betsy Clark..remember her? Both of them sat on my bed every morning after it was made.

  30. kathy says:

    I didn’t have time to read all of your article right now but I loved HH also…Have you ever seen the book, The Art of Holly Hobbie…got it at the library twice and it is so inspiring to me for art, had to get one online for myself…it is darling with the most precious Christmas art of hers…please check it out.

  31. Amy says:

    I’m 37 and I love Holly Hobbie, too. I have that same embroidered HH on your pillow, a pair of them actually, framed from my childhood and hanging on the wall of my guest room. Still love looking at them. It would be fun to have the pattern, I suppose I can find it online. Thanks for sharing! Have the Best Day Ever!

  32. Janis says:

    I never had HH when I was young but found her on my American Greetings card shop program and just fell in love with her. I ran across some dolls at a local shop at the Mall and collected what they had. Love them all, I would enclose a photo if I could. My daughter, who lives in England now, loves HH also and she will get my collection. She embroidered a picture for me for my birthday one year. Nice to know that many others enjoyed this doll too.

  33. Sherri says:

    WOW this has certainly brought back all the feelings of childhood, and memories of my mom making me Holly Hobbie embroidered , framed pictures, and the HH lunch box, the old tin ne I had, and the watch I had. I no longer have my mom with me, she passed a couple of years back, but everytime I think of my childhood it is of living in our farmhouse, canning, sewing, and on cold winters nights with no TV in the house, watching or helping my mom "make" special memories for her family….Thanks for sharing your special memories.

  34. Tess says:

    This was a great read! I too loved HH growing up in the 70’s and still do now – but until today didn’t think there was anyone else who remembered her. I also had a HH easybake oven, nobody else I know did.

  35. I am also in love with this little girl and always have been. I just turned 60 this month and even just yesterday I bought a patchwork scarf with the likes of a Hollie Hobbie theme on it and I shall wear it proudly with everything as it cools off. I can’t wait for fall!

    I do also have several Hollie Hobbie plates and the pillowcase you have shown I got at a thrift store. I can’t give them up! She makes me feel good!

    Thanks for the reminders!

    Smiles, Cyndi

  36. Katie says:

    HH is comforting and reassuring! She is the epitome of values and morals, yet, still cool. She really rocked that patchwork dress and big bonnet! She had a huge following, so, she was the cool kid in school (the kind who was still nice to everybody.) All these years later, we still love her!

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