Lily Mills of Shelby, North Carolina

We tend to think of the textile industry as makers of fabrics, but there really is a huge range of products that can be classified as textiles.  My state, North Carolina, has long been a grower of cotton, and much of the industry here involved the production of cotton products.  Much fabric was made, especially in the big denim mills like Cone, and also jersey knits were an important product.  Equally important were products like towels, socks, stockings, and bedding.  But one of the largest components of the industry was the spinning of yarns.

Lily Mills was located in Shelby, on the edge of cotton country in the piedmont of North Carolina.  It was founded in 1903 as the Lily Mill and Power Company by John Schenck.  It was one mill of a growing industry in the area, and by the 1940s, there were twenty spinning mills in the Shelby area, some of which were also making products that were then marketed by Lily Mills.

The range of products made by Lily is pretty amazing, everything from regular sewing thread to yarns for handweaving to heavy rug yarns.  To help promote their yarns they also published instruction booklets and marketed small looms for the home weaver.

Probably one of the most interesting things about Lily Mills was their relationship with the Penland School Of Crafts.  Penland, located near Spruce Pine, North Carolina, continues to be a highly regarded school for craftspersons.  In the late 1940s Lily Mills helped finance the Lily Loom House at Penland.  Weavers who attend classes today still work in the Lily Loom House.  In return, weaving instructors at Penland wrote booklets for Lily Mills, such as Practical Weaving Suggestions.

By the looks of the variety of booklets on eBay and Etsy, Lily Mills must have published booklets for every yarn they made.  There is an astounding amount of material.  And though I’ve never seen an example, I’ve read that during the 1940s they also marketed sewing patterns.

I found these sample cards a few weeks ago while traveling through the area.  I was struck at how fresh the colors remain.

There was no date on either card, but I’m guessing that the code at the bottom of them dates them to 1961 and 1962.

And while it has nothing to do with textiles, the Lily Mills has an important connection to the development of bluegrass music.  In the early 1940s banjo player Earl Scruggs worked at Lilly Mills and stayed with a fellow musician.  The area around Shelby was evidently a hive of three-fingered banjo pickers.  The style Scruggs developed became the standard for the bluegrass banjo.

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Filed under North Carolina, Southern Textiles

Vintage Miscellany – April 13, 2014

I hope that all of you are experiencing the wonderful weather of sprint, of fall if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.  It’s time to get out of the house and enjoy the flowers and sunshine, and when you return, fix a cold drink and enjoy my meager links.

*   I posted about the “trend” of Normcore a few weeks back, and now it looks like it was just a media invention.

*   A new study proves that stuff does not make us happier.  Who knew?

*   In 1971 Cecil Beaton curated a fashion exhibition that was controversial.  Today, the same type of show is commonplace.

*   A glimpse inside the Clothworkers’ Center for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion, the new textile conservation workshop of the V&A in London.

*   How Sonnet Stanfill from Alaska ended up as a clothing curator at the V&A.

*   The FIT blog has a short post about a wonderful little 1920s catalog of embroidered dress lengths.

*   It looks as if the John  Galliano for de la Renta thing is not going to happen.

Edited:  1920s fabrics were embroidered, not printed as I originally posted.

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Jantzen Swimsuit, Mid 1960s

I really love and appreciate all the great friends I’ve made through writing this blog.  So many of you have shared your stories about clothing and sewing, and all these stories make for a rich and varied shared history.

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Janey at The Atomic Redhead.  Janey is lucky because she lives in the land of White Stag and Pendleton and Jantzen, otherwise known as Portland, Oregon.  From time to time I’ll get an email from her saying that she has a little something I might be interested in.  I must be greedy, because I’m always interested in Janey’s gifts.

The latest package from Janey contained the two piece swimsuit shown here.  It is, of course, from Jantzen, as the diving girl logo proudly announces.  It is made from a creamy white textured polyester knit, and the bra is very structured.  Many swimsuit bras from this era were made with a thin padded layer that over time degrades into a gritty powder.  But in this bra the padding is intact and shows no sign of powdering.

Thanks to movies like Bikini Beach and Beach Party, some people tend to think that bikinis were pretty skimpy in the mid 1960s, but in my little conservative town, this two piece was about as risqué as it got.  As the decade worn on, the bottoms got smaller, and the bras less structured, but in 1965 girls’ swimsuits were like armor!

I can remember my very first “grown-up” swimsuit.  It was a hand-me-down from my cousin Arlene, who was two years older than me and who lived near Atlanta and who was my idol.  The style was just like the Jantzen here, but was in shades of greens and brown.  I’d have never picked that color combination out, but I’ll have to admit, that at eleven years old, I felt very grown up wearing that suit.

This Coppertone ad from 1964 shows the style quite well.  No bellybuttons here!

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Flock-o-Fun Birds Apron Kit, 1969

I’ve been aware of this funny little bird print for some time now.   When I first saw it, I thought it was so adorable, and so I put it on my list of things to search for.  I kept running across the print  (at a price I wasn’t willing to pay) and I began to see that it was always made into an apron and it always had the same green ties.  This was in spite of the fact that most of the examples I saw were definitely home sewn.

After years of having this in the back of my mind, I ran across the apron last weekend.  It was simply too cute to pass up, so it came home with me.  An examination of the piece led me to believe that this one was also home sewn.  So why was it that this print was always in the form of an apron, always had green ties, and was always home sewn?

I went searching for more examples, and quickly found some on eBay and Etsy.  I also found something else: several kits that included the fabrics and the instructions to make an apron.  That explained a lot.  The kit was produced by the National Handicraft Institute of Des Moines and was marketed under the name Flock-o-Fun.

Included in the kit was this letter, which explains that there are matching placemats and napkins, and that there is a pot holder kit.  It is signed by the “Club Secretary”, as this is part of the Fad of the Month Club.  A search of Fad of the Month Club and for National Handicraft Institute  found quite a few handicraft kits, and some magazine ads dating back to the 1950s.  According to one eBay ad, the company existed from 1947 until 1981.

It’s my guess that the fabric was printed specifically for the National Handicraft Institute.  That would explain why it’s not seen elsewhere.

This card came with the kit, and shows the placemats and napkins.   The photos of the kit came from eBay seller GypsyGirl6923, who currently has one of the kits for sale.  Since I first started looking for this print, the price for it has come down, and most examples that I found are very reasonably priced.

This would be a great first project for someone who is wanting to take up sewing, but is afraid to tackle a more involved garment.  And I can think of lots of different uses for the fabric.  Two or three of the panels would make an adorable full skirt, and it would make a sweet dress for a little girl.  Someone has an handbag she made from the fabric on Etsy.  Search for “bird apron” in the vintage category.

Many thanks to GypsyGirl6923 for the use of her photos.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Vintage Sewing

Ad Campaign – Kedettes, 1950

This Kedettes ad from 1950s is interesting because of what it does not say.  There is virtually no ad copy, only the styles, the prices, and a note that the shoes are washable.  But read the illustration, which says that Kedettes are just right for a casual date at the soda shop.

You might have noticed that colored rubber soles are pretty hot right now.  You see them quite a bit on athletic shoes, of course, but makers of street shoes, like Cole Haan have added them to oxfords  and loafers.  It rather nice seeing the same trend from 64 years ago.  There really isn’t much new under the fashion sun.

 

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Metrolina Antiques Flea Market, Spring 2014

Last weekend was the first big seasonal market of the season, the Metrolina in Charlotte.  I’ve been attending this show since 2003, and it is a good case in how the selling of collectibles and antiques has changed over the years.   This show has gone from being one that took all day to see everything to one that can be adequately covered in four or five hours.  On the other hand, the items are, for the most part, of a higher quality, with less junk and more real vintage and antiques.

I’ll admit that I miss the old days of prowling through boxes of ratty this-n-that only to pull out a wonderful vintage novelty print textile.  I miss the rows of part-timers selling out of the backs of their trucks.   And I really miss some of the long-time vintage clothing sellers from the Mid-Atlantic who don’t bother to make the trip south any more.

The key to success in this era of reduced opportunities is to get to know the great vendors who are left.  That’s Nanette of Wintergreen Farm hiding behind her display.  She has become a valuable source for me.  She knows what I like and in her own buying trips is always looking for sportswear for me.

This time she had some of the niftiest 1940s hats, which of course you can’t really see in my photo.

Another advantage of a smaller show is that you have more time to really stop and examine the merchandise and talk with the sellers.   It seems like I always spot things I’ve never before seen, like these cute Little Dressmaker kits from the late 1950s.  The seller had a whole stack of them.

I’m not sure what one would do with these spools of Lurex, the metallic yarn that never tarnishes.

I had seen this print before, but I always enjoy it.  Dated 1898.

I loved these women skiers postcards, but they were priced a little out of my range.

I’d love to say that there was several yards of this wonderful nautical print, but it was merely a square on a quilt.

I love old pennants.  This one was $300.  I didn’t buy it.

Another plus to attending a smaller show is that there is time to stop at antique malls on the way home.  One of the newer malls in the area is the Catawba River Antiques Mall, which was recommended by Marge Crunkleton.  As you can see, the place is huge,  It is housed in an old textile mill, the Majestic Mill in Belmont, North Carolina.  Opened in 1910, the Majestic Mill was a cotton spinning facility which made fine yarns for stockings and other fine uses.  Imagine, if you can, the 10,944 spindles that operated in this mill.

Though not fully occupied, this mall shows real promise.  I found lots of things there that were interesting.

One dealer had quite a few of these WPA costume prints.  They were part of the Museum Extension Project, in which workers assisted museums with various tasks.  These were educational prints intended for museum programs.

Marge has a wall of her lovely heads, as well as her small sculptures and dolls.

This was a funny little find.  It is a comic book that demonstrates basic sewing techniques. Note the name of the author.

I suppose this is a clothespin bag, as the seller had on the tag, but it’s a funny print for a homemaker to have chosen.

There was a nice selection of feedsack fabrics.

This hangtag was on a pair of mid 1960s Quarter Deck Pants from White Stag.

This fabric was actually part of an apron.  I’m not a cat fan, but boy, did I ever love the print!

 

 

 

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Vera Neumann for Brighton

Saturday I was in a strange environment – a modern shopping mall.  It’s not that I never go to the mall, I do, but it’s usually when I need something specific that I know can be found there.  In this instance, I was in need of a skinny latte from Starbucks, and the only one to be found for miles was in this mall.

So I was making my way to Starbucks when I stopped dead in my tracks. There, on a shop window, was a ladybug and the Vera signature.  I was intrigued to see that the store was Brighton.  I had to go in and check it out.

Brighton is primarily a maker of leather goods, and they also make other accessories like jewelry and sunglasses.  The business dates back to the late 1960s when Jerry and Terri Kohl bought a business that made men’s belts.  In 1985 they formed Brighton as part of the company, and in 1990 started making items for women.

As I was looking at the Vera items, the sales associate came over and asked if I knew about Vera Neumann.  I resisted the urge to be Ms. Know-it-all-smarty-pants and said that I remembered her from the 1970s.  That gave her the chance to practice what she’d learned about Vera.  I was impressed.  Tonya knew all about Vera, and how important she was as an artist and as a producer of scarves and household textiles.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I fell victim to the sales pitch.  Actually, I was already in love with the nautical themed line before the pitch even started.  I was a goner at “red, white, and blue fish print.”

Like the original, vintage Vera products, all the Brighton accessories are based on a Vera scarf.  I was given their spring brochure that showed the original scarf along with the products that are based on it.  And all through the brochure are photos and information about Vera herself.

I didn’t get a photo, but there is a tote bag based on this scarf, which is in my own collection.   You can see it on the Brighton website, which is well worth a look because they have a great little video about Vera, that includes some terrific archival footage of her.

Not all the Vera items are nautical, as you can tell from the photo of the Brighton window.  There are, of course, butterflies and ladybugs as well.  One of the best adaptations was the black and white butterfly pouch bag that you can see in the window.  The motif was actually embroidered onto the canvas.

Here’s the set that I bought.  I’d been looking for some good zippered bags to organize my larger travel handbag, and these were perfect.

They are even lined in a Vera design.

I liked everything about this collaboration except for one thing – the items are made in China.  I decided to overlook this because Brighton continues to manufacture their leather goods in the USA.  Hopefully they will bring back more of their production to the States in the future.

I know that there are many vintage fans who do not like modern use of vintage designs.  I’m of the opinion that good design is good design, period.  There is some concern that these modern uses tend to muddy the waters and that in years down the road the newer designs will be confused with the originals.  It may be true, but that is a small price to pay for having access to great design.

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Filed under Designers, Viewpoint