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Archive for the ‘Vintage Fabrics’ Category

A Stroll Through Fabric Stores 1920-1959

Part II – A stroll through fabric stores 1920-1959 World War 1 changed the nation’s attitude toward lifestyles. The rich and fashionable, like our Madame the Society Matron in Part I, no longer needed personal seamstresses. Those whose fortunes survived the Depression intact turned exclusively to Poiret, Vionnet, Chanel and the following generations of designers for their clothing. The department store now became the domain of the blue collar and middle to upper middle classes. Persons like Madame’s maid or seamstress who a decade earlier would not have been able to afford to shop at fabric emporiums now enjoyed the luxury of purchasing inexpensive yard goods at the best of stores. Here’s the new popular fabrics they and their families would encounter over a 40-year period: Any large department or fabric store 1920-29 The decade was the beginning of the unencumbered woman whose unshackled body could at last romp freely in loose and skimpy styles. Hemlines started just above the ankles, shortened to the knee by mid-decade and returned to about lower mid-calf by the decade’s end. But woman was forever unrestricted in movement and fashion fabrics reflected this emancipation. Dress yard goods, except for wool, were mostly 24″-32″ widths with 36″ and 39″ beginning to make an appearance. Rayon wasn’t commercially available until about mid-decade. It was of poor quality, unreliable, mostly shunned and called silk fiber or artificial silk until legislation permanently labeled it rayon. There was renewed interest in ratines, particularly New Cloth’s blend of silk with cotton or wool ratine crepe to produce a lustrous linen effect in 42 shades. Galatea, a sturdy twill for sports and children’s wear, was much desired, boldly striking in prints, stripes, solids and fancy patterns in white combined with red, navy, green or brown. By mid-decade with its short shimmy dress and indoor/outdoor loungewear and underwear, clingy fabrics were the new fashion statement — striped batiste, extra-wide colorful sateen and satin-finish charmeuse for lingerie and a special charmeuse for bloomers. Cotton Lingette which looked and felt like silk was touted not only for lingerie but nightwear, linings, children’s wear, shirtings and frocks. A white check nainsnook resembling windowpane dimity was much desired for breathable sleepwear for all ages. A multi-use high-quality muslin called indigo print was favored for aprons, housedresses, shirting and children’s wear. Heavy gingham and muslin called romper cloth and kindergarten cloth were also popular for young children. [These three fabrics were probably similar to or an imitation of Indian Head]. Another heavy-duty favorite was 24″…
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Those Wonderful Gizmos Which Hold Us Together

I steal the title from my uncle who watched my aunt fiddle and fuss for 15 minutes deciding whether to use button loops, snaps or hooks and eyes on her dress. In exasperation he finally exclaimed “Why do women need so d— many gizmos to hold them together!” To a five year old the sound of gizmo was a magical utterance, a password to anywhere the imagination would go or want to be. It has been my favorite catch-all word ever since. So where and when did all those gizmos originate? Snaps, hooks and eyes, zippers, straight pins, safety pins, utility pins, fancy pins and, of course, needles which are essential for fastening the fasteners — they were around when we were born, commonplace like white bread and vanilla ice cream. We don’t give much thought to the fact that at one time they didn’t exist so hoorays must be given to the genial gents and ladies of perception who invented some very important and essential items which certainly give new meaning to closure. You won’t learn a lot of history here; the facts are skimpy. This is merely an attempt to arouse your curiosity to do some deep fact hunting…and then share your knowledge with us. An assortment of sewing supplies dating between early 1900s-1930s. Crocheted covers like pink one shown here were stuffed with powder puffs to use as pincushions and popular in the 1920s-30s. Cushion contiains a 1940s toilet pin and 1/2″ brass safety pin cWWI. Blue wool felt girl when opened up reveals cloth needleholder. Art noveau steel measuring gauge, celluloid point turner/ruler and gold-plated stork embroidery scissors are turn of the century. The Gizmos Needles In warm climates a lightly woven covering sufficed for cave dwellers. But those who lived in colder regions needed some form of sewing to make their coverings protective. First came thorns and bone awls to hold clothes together. Once holes were placed in these devices, twisted yarn could be held, thus making a needle. These were probably the earliest of primitive fasteners. Early stone age people were found to be intrepid weavers and with the development of the needle, clothes decoration became another practiced skill. By 3000 BC Sumerians used pierced fish spines to receive thread. Bone awl       – Textiles, 1926 As with any developing technology, needles were made of various improved substances with English steel proving to be superior. But even those early needles were prone to breaking, bending and rusting. Brass tin plated became the popular choice…
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Cambric – Gone with the Wind

Queen Elizabeth and cohorts nearly choked in it; Errol Flynn and his real-live counterparts brandished their swords in it; Scarlett and her friends often swooned in it as their corsets were being tightened; untold babes took their first step in it; teary-eyed damsels wiped their eyes with it; countless women sported flowers of it on their suits, dresses and hats; book collectors loved its satiny feel; many of us probably have it in our fabric stash without realizing it. It is of course cambric, once the all-purpose textile. One could go on endlessly about this remarkable fabric and its seemingly infinite variations.Tres Fine et Tres Blanche Cambric has been with us at least since the early 16th century when it was first made of linen in the northern French town of Cambrai. Savary des Bruslons described it as a sort toile de lin, tres fine and tres blanche. It was used for fichus, head trimming, shirts, cravettes, ties, nightwear and ecclesiastical garments.One day , Samuel Rowland Fisher visiting Ireland in 1768 stopped at John Christy’s store and was shown great quantities of “wondorus cambricks” made by him but not equal to those of France. He was told, alas, that several persons from “Cambray have the management of linen and cambray weaving.” At least the bearded men had some chin protection from scratchy ruffs. One wonders how easy it was to turn the neck. These cambric ruffs date from Henry IV, 1590-early 1600s. – The Mode in Costume Rare English fashion plates of the 1780s show the new light textiles muslin, cambric and lawn, calling them diaphanous compared to brocades, the other fashion favorite. By 1812 the artful Irish, by virtue of a Petitioneers Machine, were able to create their own version of cambrick, producing cotton yarns of treble fineness and of a much more soft and pleasant texture than any which had ever before been spun in Great Britain. It should be noted that some references credit Scotland with producing the first cotton cambric and not Ireland. In 1810, the Boston Palladium advertised a “Fashionable Suit of Curtains, 168 years of cambrick chintz, ditto 168 yards of light blue lining cambrick.” Ackermanns advertised from 1809 to 1812 cambricks in morine* corded, imperial stripes, seaweed printed, jubilee twill shawl and permanent morone [we know it as maroon] printed. *Morine is a variation of moreen, a British heavy fabric with horizontal filling and a moire finish, woven either in worsted or cotton. It was used for upholstery and skirts. By…
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Feedbags – From Rags to Riches

A very successful ad campaign The Other White Meat certainly improved pork’s image and sales. In a way that slogan parallels the remarkable renaissance of feedsacks. When one spoke of vintage fabrics, the prima donnas hog the spotlight — exquisite lawns, batistes and voiles, lush silks and velvets, fine wool – and would leave one to believe these were the only fabrics worth having.; everything else sits on the wrong side of the tracks. That one would even consider feedbag a fabric was tantamount to treason and expulsion. Just as the nouveau riche overcame high society’s snubs, so did the feedsack people unite to prove that they were not an updated version of the carpetbaggers. With their endless variety of sacks creating a booming marketplace and top prices, collectors have shown feedsacks are now indeed The Other Legitimate Fabric.Feedbags deserve their own niche; this column can’t do the topic justice but it can inform the uninitiated, such as myself, about giving due respect to all fabrics, regardless of their origins. EXTRA! Feedsack goes respectible; Nefertiti to trade Sphinx for bags to make coronation robe. – Ms Nefertiti’s wardrobe courtesy of Betty Wilson. If you are a beginner thinking about starting a collection or would like to know more about feedbags, here is some advice from a roundtable of five feedsack experts/collectors who share their thoughts and open up their collections to make this column possible. They are members of the Quiltropolis vintage fabric list and the Yahoo feedsack fanatics list discussion groups — Paula Hammer, Lilburn, GA, collector, quilter, has three feedsacks featured in Fabulous Feedsack Quilts, will soon retire from Verizon and have more time for hobby; Jane Clark Stapel, Pittsburgh, collector, lecturer, conductor of feedsack conferences and seminars and founder of Feedsack Club; Sharon Stark, Pennsylvania, quilt collector, dealer in the old and curious – Sharon’s Antiques, and writer and teacher of fiction; Judy White, New England quiltmaker, teacher and lecturer, collector of old newspaper quilt patterns, vintage quilt books and feedsacks; Betty Wilson, Wisconsin, lecturer, exhibitor, collector and dealer in vintage hankies, linens, fabrics and notions and author of a book on cat humor. Origins What is the fascination with feedbags, this once lowly regarded coarse, homespun textile called chicken linen — nostalgia for times gone by? a relic of America’s agriculture progress? a piece of American folk history? a part of childhood? something for a colorful display or quilting? The feedsack or feedbag was at the peak of popularity during the 1930s-50s. Just as…
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Profiles in Collecting: Starwars in Fiber Space

March/April, 2001: Profiles in Collecting: Starwars in Fiber Space A chance remark by a quilter resulted in this column. She had been talking about a lovely vintage cotton to be used in her quilt. When asked what type of cotton, she replied it was just plain old cotton, did it make a difference? Being what is called a fabric prune (textilist), that got me to thinking about the differences between my kind and quilters; prunes have to know everything from variable finishes to who planted the cotton in the first place. And that thought led me to wonder about all the other types between these two extreme poles who collect old fabric — costumers, clothiers [garments], dealers and savers. I omit the feedsack people who had their day in the sun in last month’s column. We are all lovers of fabric but obviously we have different approaches, needs and, most importantly, opinions about collecting. In surveying collectors from each of the above categories, those differences proved to be at times at the opposite end of the pole and at other times in complete agreement. Whatever the viewpoint, here are seven persons, including myself, who share their thoughts on collecting vintage fabric. After reading this, try to decide where you fit. The Players Clothier/Garments — Julienne Stewart*, Point Pleasant Beach [mid-state on Atlantic Ocean] NJ; sewer since 9, seamstress, custom dressmaking and alterations business, sewing teacher, costumer in period clothing, miniature porcelain doll costumer. Costumer — Linda Learn*, Tunhannock (Scranton) PA; inveterate teacher of everything from art to nuclear, biological and chemical warfare for ages 5 to 80, fabriholic, re-enactor consultant, costumer and fabric store owner. Dealer – Nan Jaeger*, Gladstone (Portland) OR; sewer, fiber artist designer and sewer of purses, wine totes, pillow and bridal accessories, vintage fabric collector and researcher, owner of vintage fabric business. Quilter – Laurette Carroll, Pico Rivera (Los Angeles) CA; quilter; quilt collector, historian, appraiser, designer and teacher; fabric collector. Quilter – Pat Gallaway, Seattle area WA; fiber artist, quilter, seamstress, spinner, dyer of fabric and fiber, weaver, beader, knitter, crocheter, bobbin lacer, soapmaker, tatterer and collector of sewing machines, feedsacks and vintage fabrics, sewing tools and beads. Saver – Dorothy Glantz, Sollentua (Stockholm), Sweden for the past 30 years (formerly of NJ); genealogist, saver and accumulator of old photographs, clothes, fabrics and household linens, in fact anything old that comes her way. Textilist – myself, Mentor (Cleveland) OH; sewer since 12, seamstress and crocheter, collector of old fabric and mystery, history and…
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Building A Textile Reference Library

Murphy’s Law sez “The very moment you realize you have become a collector, an overwhelming number of gadgets and accessories are required which will become larger and more costly than the collection.” Depending on what you collect, those can be sometimes useless, frivolous and downright expensive. Luckily for the fabric collector, about the only need is good reference books — well, you might have to throw in several bookcases. Where to begin and what to buy might seem insurmountable decisions. Taken one step at time, you can have the luxury of a textile reference library without taking out a second home mortgage to finance it. Regardless of your reason for collecting vintage fabrics, the overriding factor is vintage fabric itself and what you need to know so that this knowledge will enhance your specific textile interest[s]. A good building-block approach to planning your library can be achieved in three steps and over a period of time. The first step begins with books and periodicals which provide basic but critical textile information; this is followed by adding books which expand upon those various basic elements and finally books which speak directly to your special textile interest. And don’t overlook the option of acquiring a few books in each level for starters and then going back to fill in. Once you begin, don’t fall prey to the notion that because different books will contain the same information that you should bypass any duplication. Authors express themselves as individuals so that on any given topic there will be diverse interpretations which help to broaden and give a complete picture of the subject. Level I Basic Books Basic books are those which contain vintage and current glossaries of textile terminology and fabric descriptions, overview of textile production from field to loom, fiber definitions and a good selection of photos showing various fabric weaves. Complementing books are vintage supplemental references which include, for example, fabric pages from catalogs such as Sears or Wards, magazine advertisements and salesmen’s swatch booklets. These are most helpful in making your learning three dimensional but as they are not as readily available as books are, they can be added at any time. Grab them when you see them. Because vintage fabric is the focal subject, most basic references should have been published prior to 1960. It is important that you understand each fabric’s name, usage, importance and place in fashion history as written during its marketing lifetime. And it is equally important that you know the changing production…
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What Do You See?

Introducing Linda Learn, guest columnist this month, while Joan is working on a project. If the name rings a bell, Linda was a contributor to the Profiles in Collecting column. To repeat her bio in her own inimitable style — she a fabriholic, re-enactor consultant, costumer, fabric store owner and an inveterate teacher of everything from art to nuclear, biological and chemical warfare for all ages. If you are in the Tunhannock PA [Scranton] area, look her up. Now on to a costumer’s plight. Fudging It…It’s All in How You Look at It. What the observer sees: a splendiferous, flowing gown with bands of sparkling jewels. What the costumer sees: 7 yds. (minimum) of velvet (preferably cotton, patterned if lucky or rich) with wide metallic gold (imported or dime store) braid with pearls (faux or fresh water) and gemstones (glass or semiprecious cut stones or beads) attached (set or sewn by hand, or glued). What the observer sees: an impressive and dignified hourglass shape with arms gracefully curved away from the body and hands resting lightly on the flowing skirt. What the costumer sees: a hoop skirt (with 16 yds of spring steel to maintain the cone shape), a full petticoat to keep the hooplines from showing, a corset (with 3 ½ lbs of steel corset stays) so tight that you can’t bend anywhere but the hips and can’t put your arms to your sides if you want to breathe. What the observer (read quilter or home sewer) sees: a gigantic ocean of color and design….all the colors of the rainbow flowing, contrasting, swirling with possibilities of patterns and quilt tops… each new idea more wonderful than the last until the senses are nearly overwhelmed. What the costumer (read “I/Linda”) sees: a large conference room full of tables-full of colorful cottons… and one tiny card table in the back, for the Exotic Silks representative, that stands out like a glowing, shimmering beacon of luscious, seductive decadence. It’s all in how you look at it. Recreating the costumes and clothing of the past can cost more than it did in the past. Just try buying enough handwoven linen for a simple shirt or chemise!   Luckily, we have “historical precedence” of “fudging it” so we can, with a clear conscience, say that we are following historical role models when we “fake it”, cut corners and substitute. Some examples of garb “faking it” in history: Around 1500, Hispanic costume (jerkins) had loose roll-like pleats that we call cartridge pleating. These…
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