Vintage collectors will not mince words – nothing exceeds the quality and diversity of old trims and laces, whether expensive or dime store stock. This was due in part to the use of fine fabrics such as batiste, cambric, lawn, organdy, silk and rayon and the exquisitely fine, clean-cut embroidery on eyelets, cutwork and other designs.
As up through the 1950s trims were an integral part of garment and home décor, the variety of fabric combinations, designs, colors, widths and coordinates available were staggering. Ask those who remember that whether shopping at a department or dime store, Wrights or Benjamin Franklin or any fabric shop, one could find an abundance – almost too much — to choose from to suit their budgets.
Featured this month are two persons who keep the heritage of vintage trim alive, each from a different perspective. Meet Shirley McElderry, preserver of the little-known coronation cord, and Billy Strobel, carrying on the legacy of his family’s antique embroidery and lace-making business.
You’ve seen it but overlooked it, dismissed it or mistaken it for battenberg something or other. There are many like you. It’s unlikely that more than a handful of persons today recognize this trim which hasn’t been made since the mid-1920s. Enter Shirley McElderry, Iowa quiltmaker, restorer and repairer, vintage fabric collector, conservator, historian lecturer and owner of more than 2,000 antique craft and needlework magazines.
In sorting through several boxes of textiles she got at a farmhouse auction in the mid-1970s, her keen eye caught a linen doily embellished with a couching of white cord in a flower design. The cord alternately became larger and smaller in diameter, making it easy to shape into petals and other curved designs.
Puzzled by this unknown trim, she asked her grandmother, mother and aunts who were all expert needle women but they didn’t recognize it. Nor could any of the antique dealers she asked. All had seen the cord, but couldn’t identify it. As the auction boxes dated from the turn of the century, Shirley began researching periodicals of that time and struck gold. She learned that this trimming was called coronation cord or braid. Sold by the yard, this machine-made trim was used in conjunction with embroidery, crochet and tatting, and possibly knitting though Shirley can find no mention of knitting in her books.
Her research has only unearthed two brands: Bear, a registered trademark of Bernhard Ulmann Company of New York [maker of Bucilla], and Columbia, listed in the Columbia Manual of Cotton Crocheting, Second Series. The Bear brand came folded hank style in a paper wrapper on which was printed Improved Coronation, Made in Germany and the size. She could find no other manufacturers such as Belding Bros., Corticelli or Royal Society but found some needlework catalogs offering coronation cord for sale by the yard with no brand name given.
Her earliest reference was a December 1875 Peterson’s which had an article Trimming, Crochet and Cord by Mrs. Jane Weaver and included an illustration of simple edging using crochet and a cord which appears to be coronation. Another source was Ladies World May1908 with transfer patterns for coronation cord to be used with embroidery on a child’s collar and a shield for a dress.
Doily trimmed with tatting and coronation cord and two table runners combining crochet and coronation cord.
Booklet cWWI for application of coronation cord and other modern needlework. Although in English, it was printed in Germany. It was probably imported to America before our involvement in the war prior to 1917.
Small and beautiful: doily with linen center edged crochet and coronation cord; what is thought to be a napkin ring or holder; and an edgingfor many uses of crochet and colored coronation cord.
Turtle braid — at first glance similar to coronation cord but there all resemblance ends. According to Shirley McElderry, trim was used on old linens, including clothing as an insertion to fill space and add interest to needlework. There were several types of this insertion. Trim was sold on a flat card, like bias tape. Coronation cord came in hanks.
Blouses from the booklet showing various ways to trim with coronation cord.
In addition, a 1909 Frederick Herrschner catalog offered coronation cord, cotton, white, small size No. 9, per yard 1¢; per dozen, 10¢; mercerized cotton 3¢ per yard; silk 5¢. White is the only color offered. By 1912 the firm lists six sizes of white coronation cord, silk cord in both black and white along with tiny rice braid cord. Several perforated paper designs and stamped linens for use with cord were also offered. By 1926 cord was available in white, pink, light blue, brown, yellow, tan, ecru, lavender and red at 26¢ per 6 yards for use in crochet work and embroidery designs of wheat, daisy, rose and forget me knots.
Samples of coronation cord: in original package; rare examples of colored cord; and tiny white rice cord.
Daisies of coronation cord make a striking pattern against silk ribbon foliage.
The 1927 catalog as well as other needlework catalogs and publications dated after 1926 do not advertise coronation cord. Shirley believes a declining interest was the reason for the cord’s demise.
Some highlights in Shirley’s publications collection listing cord and patterns are Steiner Brothers Art Embroidery Catalogue , 1910; Home Needlework Magazine. March 1914 featuring an opera bag pattern; Comfort magazine March 1914 showing a new way to use cord by combining it with crochet for insertions, belts edges and collars; Modern Priscilla November 1914 with guest towel patterns; Needlecraft August 1915 with pattern for wrist-bags to hold balls of knitting and crocheting thread [Shirley actually found one of these with its original ribbon at a flea market!]; Comfort May 1916 with a pattern for a Marguerite waist using cord as a medallion center; and Corticelli Lessons in Tatting, 1916 contains three patterns combining tatting and cord. A tally shows 21 patterns featured in Needlecraft 1912-1922 with a peak of 10 in 1915.
Coronation braid trims this lovely turn-of-the-century fine silk crepe camisole.
An early 20th century shoulder-strap purse trimmed in coronation cord and balls.
The fascination with coronation cord keeps Shirley continually hunting anywhere there’s a possibility of locating textiles – antique shops, flea markets and auctions. Her unusual perseverance received national recognition when Piecework magazine featured her collection in its July/August 1996 issue. Some of her great finds pictured in this column are classic reminders of a period in history when the ultimate in a woman’s fashionable skills were determined by the agility of her hands and the dexterity of her fingers.
Shirley is still looking for any piece which combines cord and tatting or is made with colored cord. If you have an article made with colored cord, additional information about manufacturers of cord or would like to know more about cord, contact Shirley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 641 684-7483.
Note: Credit is given to Piecework magazine, July/August 1996, for some of the information contained in this column.
William Strobel Embroidery Company
It is comforting to know that not all high-class textile operations are overseas. For three generations the Strobel family has been making domestic swiss embroidery products in the old-world style. Moreover, to complement its new products, the company also sells vintage and heirloom laces from its extensive personal inventory. Because the basic method of manufacturing and design has changed very little in the past 100 years, it’s sometime difficult to determine old from new.
It began in 1901 when Grandpa Ludwig Strobel emigrated from Hard by Bregenz by Bodensee, Austria to New York City. He was 18, fresh off the family farm and found a job as a stitcher where he learned to create embroidery designs on a hand loom. It was a lengthy, complicated procedure in which the quality of the lace was totally dependent on the eyes and hands of the stitcher. He had, as the saying goes, the gift.
After nine years, Grandpa moved to New Jersey where he formed his own business manufacturing Schiffli embroidery, a relatively new process at that time.. His company, High Point Embroidery, was one of the first to use Saurer totally automatic looms which were shipped directly from the Saurer Corp. in Arbon, Switzerland. These looms were essential in the production Schiffli, a word which draws its name from an item smaller than a woman’s thumb – a boat-shaped bobbin. Schiffli in German means small boat.
Early Strobel workroom. Grandpa Ludwig (right arrow) leans affectionately against his first Sauer machine. One of his employees, Genevieve (left arrow) would later become his daughter in law.
Prior to the Sauer automatic looms, embroidery was created on hand looms. A stitcher such as Grandpa Ludwig would attached a design — called a cartoon — six times its original size on a cork board in front of him. This made it easier for the stitcher to read as he moved a pointer mounted on rollers and bearings from one stitch to another.
Between each movemt stitcher would stop to hand turn the loom allowing for the design to take shape. This was an ardous, drawn-out process. Loom was capable of making 20 to 30 yards of embroidery from start to finish of punching. A coordinated eye and hand movement was required to turn out quality work. It is said that nothing has equaled the exquisite work produced on hand looms.
Hand looms were in use from 1860 to1880s and were gradually replaced by the automats. These looms were similar to the player piano. Loom automattically read the first punching, now called a patten, and converted the movements to create and repeat a design. The totally automatic Sauer Schliffi machine was introduced in the early 1900s.
The enterprise flourished and became a family business. Grandpa and his son William worked side by side as puncher and designer. Another company, Artiste Laces, was purchased and given to William to operate. in 1935. Also that year, 16-year Genevieve started to work in Grandpa’s shop. Later she would meet and marry William. In 1948 William added another company, Precise Corp., for the manufacture of novelty lace and military emblems and U.S. flag stars which required precise stitching.
Exquisite embroidered lace insets designed by Grandpa Ludwig c1920-30.Antique medallions c1900 [r] were inspiration for Strobel designs.
In the meantime, grandson Billy was born in 1947 in the small apartment above the factory. The plant premises was his playground and by the time he was 10, he was running the looms! In his teens he oversaw production. When Billy was 20, the Swiss mechanic who repaired the Saurer machines was so impressed with Billy’s expertise that he was able to arrange for Billy to study and train at the main Saurer plant in Arbon.
How embroidery is made on the famous Schiffli machine. The basic method of Schiffli embroidery is more than 100 years old, but experimentation and improvements continue for it is an international craft and efforts to advance it occur in many countries.
Today, huge machines aided by computers can produce thousands of identical patterns with tremendous speed and efficiency. Yet the strongest forces in the industry remain the creative minds of the designers and the practiced hands of craftsmen. In this key matter, embroidery has never changed.
The Schiffli machine is 65 feet long, 16 feet high and weighs 10 tons. But it draws its name from an item smaller than a woman’s thumb –its boat-shaped bobbin. Schiffli in German means small boat.
This is the little boat — Schiffli. This is the boat-shaped shuttle shown with bobbin yarn.
Not only did Billy enhance his natural skills for embroidery designing and making, he fell in love with Switzerland and Austria. He was loathe to leave when his father asked him to come home to take over the two businesses. Upon returning he worked nonstop and then took time out to set up a state-of-the-art New Jersey advertising firm, J.J. Michael, for his brother in law and to serve for two years in Vietnam.
Thirty years ago Billy opened his own company, Strobel Embroidery Co., in Guttenberg, New Jersey, servicing the garment trade – children, infant and women’s wear; the home furnishings industry; fabric retail and craft stores plus custom and high-end women’s garments with swiss-styled embroideries from his collection. Sadly it was during this period that Grandpa died in 1973 at the age of 90.
Schiffli is outstanding on a sleek high-end evening dress at Jessica McClintock boutiques.
Ten years later Billy purchased an embroidery company which manufactured embroideries specifically for the country’s fourth largest baby hat company. He also designed commercial emblems and was awarded a contract for the 1986 winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
Many of today’s patterns are the same vintage designs created by and made in the same manner by Grandpa Strobel and William Sr. There are also many designs replicated from patterns purchased on business trips to Austria and Switzerland.
The output is staggering – product lines include heirloom one of a kind, Schiffli trimmings, swiss eyelets, swiss-styled embroidery hankies, collars and yokes, antique venice laces and all-overs, eyelet ribbon applique, 1700s-style candlewicking embroidery on fine muslin for bedding and novelties. In just one category alone, there are more than 300 styles of embroidered scallloped flouncings; 500 styles in allover designs.
Some examples of one-of-a-kind heirloom and antique embroideries from the Strobel inventory. These have served as patterns for today’s laces. New products (r) featuring eyelets and fancies on venetian lace.
A sampling of the Strobel line of thousands of products. A collar set reminiscent of the 1930s, Schiffli trims and all-over embroidered flouncings on sheer fabrics.
At one time only silk and cotton yarns and natural fiber fabrics were used. However with today’s home, garment and consumer demands in the past 15 years, texturized 65/35 poly cotton fabrics and threads yarns are used in most cases plus rayon, nylon and silk. Most of the eyelets are also flame retardant. For the high-end customers, Billy provides quality cotton fabrics and thread. All of his candlewicking is fine cotton thread on fine cotton muslin.
The designing operation is handled solely by Billy who has no staff but farms out some of his ideas to other designers for sketching. There is a room full of sketches dating back to his grandfather’s time from which to draw upon to show clients or take to trade and antique shows. Sometimes he will make a rubbing on cloth of the sketch or run to the loom to make samples to help clients visualize the end result. Other times, it is a delicate, frenzied process with Billy carefully listening to capture clients’ ideas and then to make their visions materialize.
Capturing a customer’s vision: one of many embroidered bedroom ensembles for Jessica McClintock’s Young at Heart line.
As you can see by the photos, the art of antique lacemaking marches into the 21st century to be worn, admired and cherished. And possibly Billy’s two sons, both in college, hold hope for the fourth generation.
Joan Kiplinger was an antique doll costumer and vintage fabric addict who learned to sew on her grandmother’s treadle and had peddled fabrications ever since.