“Before starting to work have all materials and tools handy -scissors, hammer, pins, tacks, paste, and wire. Work for effect. Do not putter over details. Get the general decoration finished, then if time permits, give fine touches.” How would you approach your first crepe paper project? Dennison Manufacturing Company from Maine made these suggestions for the novice in its Gala Book (1922). In the early twentieth century Dennison became a leader in crepe paper manufacture and sales. It supplied the crepe paper materials for galas and balls, domestic parties and home crafts, inspiring party givers’ creativity throughout the early twentieth century.
Crepe paper is a thin, textured paper that is available in an assortment of colors. To make it, tissue paper is treated with chemicals and dyes. It is then pressed against a raised metal plate to create its wrinkled, textured surface. It is that feature that makes it an excellent material for domestic crafts. The wrinkles of crepe allow stretch-ability, foldability, and strength that makes it suitable for paper crafts such as flower sculpture, gift wrapping, and more. When it debuted in the 1890s, crepe was not colorfast, the dyes ran when wet, and then as now, when a crafter stretched the material, it lost its original texture.
This essay describes the ways in which crepe paper crafts helped to create highly decorated, yet entirely disposable, sensory rich environments. Crepe paper was an inexpensive decorative material, at once novel and old fashioned. It was essential to white women’s construction of visually rich settings contained in parties and domestic social environments during the early twentieth century, and especially during Prohibition (1920-1933). Historian Beverly Gordon termed these spaces “saturated worlds.”
To move forward or backward in this digital essay, click the links below. Clicking an image will open it full-size in a new page. As you move through this essay, the three main sections describe the introduction of crepe paper at the end of the 1800s through the 1910s, explore its peak popularity during the 1920s, and explain its decline in the first years of the 1930s.
Dennison’s Gala Book, (Framingham, MA: Dennison1922), 29.
Throughout this paper, I use “crepe” rather than “crêpe” to describe the textured paper; this is for the sake of consistency, and because writers from the turn of the century were themselves inconsistent with the spelling.
The universal “women” in this essay refers to white women because the materials such as magazines, advice books, and physical social spaces were not explicitly accessible to women of color. More work is to be done on the subject to examine the presence of crepe paper in the lives of women of all backgrounds.
Beverly Gordon, The Saturated World: Aesthetic Meaning, Intimate Objects, Women’s Lives, 1890-1940(Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006).