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Archive for the ‘Vintage Fabrics’ Category

Please Don’t Ridicule My Reticule! Purses from Clutch to Lug

It is interesting to note that when comparing purses to hats throughout history, the purse never reached the height of ridicule which hats did. Maybe it’s because there were other status symbols mankind had to hold simultaneously in the hand – canes, fans and handkerchiefs which were far more fashionable to display. In fact it was only a little more than a century and a half ago that the purse as a necessity came off the belt, sprouted handles and was hand carried as an important accessory. Handbags were first used by the Babylonians and Assyrians from 1500 BCE to 550 BCE. They were richly embroidered and used for religious ceremonies. Judging from some of the weird rituals history has passed on to us, perhaps it’s best not to know what the contents were. The ancient Persians had a better idea. Attached or pinned to their golden girdles was a small pouch to hold money. A neat custom was for a ruler to turn over the revenues of a captured land to his wife, and she would tuck the money in the pouch–thus the term pin money which is still a key word in our language today. From early times up through the early 16th century, the purse remained on a belt for both men and women. In the Middle Ages it hung from massive chains or jeweled cord belts as a small pouch to hold coins. The convenient location made it easy for the wealthy to dip into it and scatter coins to the street beggars. As the human race became more civilized, the pouches were used for rosaries and hand mirrors. The hanging pouch freed the hand to show off luxurious silk gloves which fluttered incredible hand-made lace hankies. Near the end of the century, men replaced chains with black belts. There was an attempt in the early 1500s to carry a purse known as a satchel usually made of velvet and pearls. It was vogue for awhile, but money bags still continued to be hung from the waist. Making their appearance at this time were pockets. They were placed on men’s trunk hose and waists to hold a new invention, the watch. Evidently they didn’t want time on their hands. In England pockets were attached to the lining of breeches. Another bag that came into being was of leather for hawking. By now pouches and bags were made of velvet with a metal frame and were heavily scented as it was the rage to have…
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Life Was a Breeze with Fans

Forget the cooling action; these ingenious devices signaled other than comfortable climate. With a flick of the wrist, they played havoc with an aspiring suitor’s blood pressure. 18thC literary wit Joseph Addison noted in the Spectator that Woman are armed with fans as men with swords and sometimes do more execution with them.” But alas, it was historical man who first discovered the comforts of fanning. For thousands of years before Addison’s witty remarks, the fan had served both sexes, acting as a barometer of social and artistic trends. They expressed by certain movements love, disdain, modesty, hope and other emotions. Heavy wood and iron fans were used in ancient Egypt and the Orient to protect great leaders when they braved the outdoors as well as warriors trooping off to battle. They came in all shapes and sizes – squares, circles, leaves, feathers, cockades and folding accordions. The Romans used shovel-shaped fans both to winnow grain and cool themselves while they worked.. They have been painted, engraved, etched, lithographed and embroidered or feathered; were made of fabric, feathers, ivory, celluloid, bamboo and other light woods, paper, lace, parchment, vellum, bone, horn, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell. Gouache, varnish and watercolor have been applied to their surfaces, along with sequins, spangles, silk floss and braid.. Not much is known about the exact origins of the fan except that they are mentioned frequently in the earliest of recorded history. Most put the date at round 3000 BCE when fans first appeared. There are references to the frescoes in the temple of Medinet-Hahan at Thebes which picture Rameses III accompanied by princes bearing fans around 1230 BCE. About this time in China, screen fans were used as standards in war. That fans were widely used in Italy and Spain as early as the 14th century appears from the following passage in a letter of Guiez de Balzac: There is in my room an immense fan, hanging from the ceiling, which, during these hot summer days does admirable service. Perhaps this was the forerunner of our present electric fan. An early form of the folding fan appears around the 15th century, found in the hands of a Japanese god of happiness. China adopted this type fan during this time. By the 16th century fans were in general used in Portugal, Spain and Italy, and were introduced into France by Catherine deMedici. Autograph fans, popular some 70 or more years ago, had their origin in China centuries ago when a Chinaman begged his…
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And That’s a Wrap

Oh to be in my ki-moni-yo back in Kokomo or O-hi-ee-yo They were made famous by vamps and gun molls named Flossie or Goldie with bleached marcelled or tousled-permed tresses, a cigarette dangling from their mouth, who silently and mysteriously beckoned with smouldering kohl-outlined eyes as they paraded and flaunted their sumptuous, slinky satiny dressing wraps across the silver screen during the 1920s- early 30s. Such national exposure firmly entrenched l’Affaire Kimono in this country. American woman of all walks of life wanted one, and it was okay; the stars wore them and that was all the endorsement which was needed! That the honorable and revered kimono found its way into American culture and lifestyle was a matter of course [see history of kimono at end of column]. The western world has always had a fascination with the East. For Americans, the doors were opened in 1853 when U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into Japan’s Edo Bay with four ironclad ships and opened new trade relations between the two nations, resulting in a signed treaty with Japan in 1854. It was a remarkable achievement since up to then Japan had been closed off from the outside world for almost 200 years. It was a boon to the American whaling industry which needed ports for coaling and refueling stations, and for world travelers as Japan became a must stop. The Victorian period was a time of leisurely travel, and many of those journeyers were artists, writers and musicians who recorded their observations of trips abroad.Many of their novels, plays, ballets and operettas reflected their visits in foreign locations, especially Japan with its exotic landscape. Japonisme became the trend in late 19th and early 20th century; gardens and interior design were especially favored and copied. Theater-goers fell in love with Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado when it debuted in 1885; 170 performances were simultaneously given across America; the town of Mikado, Michigan was so named in 1886. In 1900 the play Madame Butterfly so moved Giacomo Puccini that he was compelled to set it to music; the opera’s world premiere was held in Paris in 1906 and has enthralled audiences since. In America, the late 1890s-early 1900s was a hotbed of reform activity. It was a time of workers’ rights, improved education and living conditions, health advocacy and athleticism; and a greater role for women in society including the suffrage movement. And most important, a time when women’s fashion was in revolt as conversion from the S shape to…
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Some Costumes for Elderly Ladies

Where was Maxine when she was really, really needed?  The following was too good to pass up. It is an article, word for word, from the Ladies Home Journal, December 1896, about the proper dress for old ladies. Old ladies, not being defined by age but from facial features in the drawings which accompany this featurette, would appear to be anyone remotely approaching 50. Enjoy author Isabel A. Mallon’s dictates for wearing the proper house gowns and visiting costumes, and correct posing of autocratic ladies by artist Elizabeth Shippen Green. Probably most of us would have such a sour look if we had to wear such a silly-looking thing perched on our heads in public. Ironically this very style was popular in the 1930s, worn tilted and usually of seal or beaver to match its fur coat. The middle aged and elderly ladies were even relegated to a special corner in Sears 1902 catalog with hats designed for their age group. Horrors that anything more youthful or less dignified should be chosen! The elderly lady should dress with dignity. Frivolous loops and ends of ribbon are out of place upon her costume. If she retains the coiffure that was fashionable when her years were not many she gains a certain individuality that is decidedly distinguished. She should, above all things, choose her bonnet with care. It must not be so small as to make her look ridiculous, nor so large as to weigh her down. It should be the modified expression of the shape in vogue rather simply trimmed, preferably with ostrich tips and ribbon rather than flowers. In choosing her chapeau, however, the elderly lady must beware of weighting it with plumes, else her bonnet will look like a miniature hearse. The elderly lady need not wear all black, although if she has assumed mourning for the husband of her youth there is a certain dignity in never laying it aside. When she wears colors I recommend the soft grays, pale heliotropes, the dark browns, and the dark, but rich-looking, greens that seem only possible in velvet or silk. In developing these materials into handsome gowns soft rather than severe effects should be aimed at. Trimmings that look frivolous are to be avoided, but there are always decorations that have an air of dignity. Then, too, the elderly lady if she is wise- and, surely, years have brought her wisdom-chooses for general wear quiet fabrics like cashmere, serge or henrietta cloth, while for very fine toilettes she…
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The Legacy of Warren Featherbone

My thanks to Sally Helvenston, Michigan State University Department of Human Environment and Design, author of From Feathers to Fashion; Val Berryman, curator, Michigan State University Museum; and Carolyn Damstra, assistant editor of Michigan History Magazine, for their permission to use photos and information from this magazine article which appeared in the 1996 Sept/Oct issue. Our great grandmothers would immediately recognize the name of Warren Featherbone as boning for their garments and corsets; our grandmothers, as fine bias tape and other sewing notions, and the modern vintage fabric collector, a desirable brand of fine bias tape for quilting and heirloom sewing projects. The Warren name is an old and respected one. Its metamorphous from turkey quills to sewing notions to children’s clothing is an example of how many textile companies survived and adapted to the changes in fashion and lifestyles. Before 1883 women had to endure the heaviness and discomfort of whalebone as a stiffening in their foundations to keep them in trim shape. Due to the high cost of whalebone, flat steel, horn, rattan and a patented fiber from the ixtle plant called Coraline were suitable substitutes. It was then that Edward Warren, who ran a dry goods store in Three Oaks, Michigan, began a quest for a better stay after hearing his customers gripe about the price and short durability of whalebone. According to author Sally Helvenston in her From Feathers to Fashion, Warren in his buying trips to feather duster factories in Chicago learned that large quantities of pointer feathers, those with plumage on one side only, were discarded by manufacturers as unsuitable for feather dusters. He decided that this cheap raw material was a perfect substitute for whalebone. His product was patented in 1883, quickly followed by building machinery and the opening of his small factory. Once it was proven to dressmakers and dry goods dealers that featherbone was superior to whalebone, his business flourished. There were many imitators once competitors got wind of Warren’s success, forcing the company to take many would-be rivals to court. With changing fashion styles, Warren kept adding new products and promotional campaigns. Featherbone bustles, bust extenders, featherbone-stiffened fabric, different weights and widths of feather bones, collar and belt foundations were among the new features offered. Featherbone Parlors were established in major cities and fashion shows were held to demonstrate the latest uses of featherbone to customers. Promotions included instruction booklets and in 1893 Warren began publishing the Featherbone Magazinette for distribution to dressmakers and retailers plus advertisements in…
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Colorful Vintage Tablecloths and Towels ~ A Glorious Obsession!

Yvonne Barineau, a vintage textile author and collector, is our guest columnist. Massive pink roses anchor the corners of this vintage tablecloth by Royal Art. Roses are an eternally popular theme in vintage textiles and this one is exceptionally beautiful. Wilendur is a collector’s favorite, and with good reason ~ their slogan says it all:”Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, intelligent direction, and skillful execution.” A chartreuse background makes an eye-popping statement on this fruity tablecloth. Amusing graphics on a towel signed by artist C.P.Meir. The opposite end of the towel features comical dogs. A collector’s favorite ~ the pattern name is “What’s Cooking” and it was produced by Leacock. Close-up of “What’s Cooking” graphics. The verse anchoring the corners of the tablecloth reads: “When you’re busy as a bee, stop and have some toast and tea; Coffee and cake or beer and cheese, eat in the kitchen to relish these; The kitchen’s best for all of these, where folks relax and eat in ease”! A friend of mine recently lamented that her collection of vintage print tablecloths and tea towels is becoming a full blown obsession ~ boy, can I relate! As I write, I am surrounded by a profusion of glorious colors, patterns, and textures, all painstaking hand printed on a variety of fabrics. It began innocently enough with a few faded garage sale purchases to toss across the breakfast table…but soon a full-fledged addiction was born. Baskets overflow, armoires are stuffed full, and I’ve even gone as far as making a whole-cloth quilt from my favorite tablecloth pattern! It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my mania ~ the number of people collecting vintage tablecloths and towels is a growing rapidly. From whimsical, floral, fruity, risqué, or utterly elegant, the styles are wildly varied…it’s no wonder collectors can’t seem to get enough of them. No doubt our grandmothers would have laughed at our helpless textile addiction. They bought these bright cloths to be put to work in the kitchen…the heart of the home. Countless family dinners were shared over wonder tablecloth designs. Stories were told, laughter shared, victories celebrated, and losses were mourned while gathered around well dressed tables. I imagine Grandmother would be shocked to learn of their rise in value over the years. In an increasingly complex world, we long for a simpler time when happy family meals were shared together. Vintage print tablecloths and towels bring back these memories with a flood of…
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Up Close and Personal with Vintage Aprons

A Nostalgic Journey With Fabric Friends By Carolyn Ellertson This month – Guest columnist and long-time apron collector Carolyn Ellertson shares her memories, love and collection of aprons spanning four decades. What weighs almost nothing; comes in every conceivable size, shape and color; is easily recognized all over the world, and sends waves of nostalgia over those it comes in contact with? The answer to that question is a no-brainer for apron lovers. They may differ in their reason for loving them, but the result is the same – they are eagerly snatching them up anyhow and anywhere they can find them, and they guard what they have like junkyard dogs, particularly if they came by them through family. As shown in this 1932 store circular, aprons were a necessary fashion statement. It is not unusual to hear people say they have a love affair with aprons. I can attest to that. Why else would I have kept buying them for 40 years, only to admire them, store them in a box,and keep looking for more? Like scrooge counting his money, I go through the box(es) from time to time (usually at moving time or when rearranging storage), admiring each one, analyzing the fabric, checking out the clever and creative ways women put them together, and reflecting on the times each seems to represent. Those times are times I love to remember, even though I know there’s no bringing them back. That’s what history is all about. Preserve what you can, when you can. I guess I am trying to do a small part of preserving history in one of the few ways I am able – one apron at a time. I grew up in the country, where everyone wore aprons, especially the two generations before me – my mother and grandmother. So did my friends’ mothers and grandmothers. It was simply part of the culture. Aprons bring back memories of Christmas parties or potlucks at the Community Hall, net stockings filled with candy and an orange in the toe, fabulous food served by apron-swaddled women, happy to show off their cooking skills and exchange gossip, and hungry family and friends dying to dig in. They remind me of my mother canning anything she could get her hands on over a hot stove in a kitchen that was probably 120 degrees without air conditioning or even a fan. They remind me of taking a salt shaker to Grandma Dell’s garden so I could eat vine-ripened tomatoes almost…
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