Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Card, Mary (1861–1940)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Mary Card (1861-1940), crochet pattern designer, was born on 24 September 1861 at Castlemaine, Victoria, daughter of David Card, Irish-born watchmaker and jeweller, and his wife Harriet Wooldridge, née Watson, Welsh-born daughter of an actress. Mary was the eldest of a family of ten. About 1873 the family moved to Melbourne where David commenced business in Bourke Street.

In 1880 Mary was a student at the National Gallery School of Design. In the late 1880s she wrote a novel, probably never published. By 1890 she had established a small school in Auburn Road, Hawthorn, and had developed a particular interest in speech training; however by 1903 she had to relinquish it because of increasing deafness. Faced with the need to find an occupation in which her disability was not a handicap, she decided to combine her writing, drawing and needle-work abilities to become a 'professional designer and teacher of needlework through the press'. Choosing Irish crochet as her medium, she joined a Ladies' Work Association which undertook repairs of valuable crochet pieces and taught herself to mend old lace. From these heirlooms she learned the principles of Irish crochet, discovering that she could make new and effective designs to be worked from a chart method of her own invention rather than the usual printed directions.

Her first designs were published in the Ladies' Home Journal in the United States of America. These were very successful but returns from overseas were slow and in 1909 she decided to offer her designs and a monthly article to the New Idea (later Everylady's Journal), Melbourne. Her patterns became so popular that the editor reprinted many: her first book (later Mary Card's Crochet Book No. 1) was published in 1914 and others followed, No. 3 being devoted to Irish crochet. She then developed 'giant charts' for more ambitious designs and to cater for workers with failing eyesight, drawn on the scale of ten squares to the inch with a guiding line at every inch. As her popularity grew she no longer had to test all her own patterns but sent them out to be worked by correspondents 'on stations in Queensland, in Western Australia … in lighthouses, at lonely railway gates on the great trunk lines … wherever a good worker in need of an interest is to be found'.

With five books published, Mary went to the U.S.A. late in 1917 to launch some of her newer designs. In New York, The Mary Card Co. was set up to reprint her crochet books. Later she settled in England in a studio-cottage at Barkham, Berkshire. She continued to produce designs for more than twenty years, some of which she reputedly sold to publishers for several hundred pounds each. She became steeped in English history and was an authority on ecclesiastical architecture, although she once wrote, 'I have had to nail up a placard on my study wall with Advance Australia in big letters just to remind myself that I belong to a pioneer land'.

Mary Card revisited Australia occasionally. Early in 1940, in poor health, she returned to Victoria to live at Olinda, where she share a cottage with her sister Harriet. She died there on 13 October 1940 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Everylady's Journal, 6 July 1917
  • Australian Home Beautiful, Nov 1940
  • Australian Women's Weekly, 18 June, 23 July
  • 1975
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Oct 1940
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 Oct 1940.

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Card, Mary (1861–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/card-mary-5500/text9357, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 16 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014