Category Archives: North Carolina

Mitchell Company Rayon Piece Goods, 1949

When I was a kid in the 1960s, going to Spindale meant going to the numerous fabric mill outlets to buy bargain fabrics.  It was the heyday of North Carolina textiles, and Spindale was right in the center of the action.

From the name, you could guess that Spindale got its start as a spinning and textile center.  It was not a town at all until the 1920s when the company town around the textile mill incorporated.  By the mid century there were several large textile and sewing factories in and around Spindale.  Stonecutter, which was a vertical operation, which involved both spinning and weaving, Spindale Mills, and the factory that made Bon Worth clothing were all located in Spindale.

I could not find a reference to a Mitchell factory, so I’m guessing that the Mitchell Company was one of the many sellers of textiles in the area.  From what I can tell, it was in business until fairly recently, though I could not find a reference to its closing in the local newspaper.  But it probably happened after 1998, when the bottom fell out of Spindale industry.  That was the year Bon Worth moved their operation to Mexico.  From there it was like dominoes falling.

But in 1949 business was thriving, as textile companies switched from war production to making consumer goods for the new and fast growing families of America.

Click to enlarge

Inside this sales brochure are samples of the various rayons offered by Mitchell. Especially handy are the different samples along with the name of the colors.

I was amazed at how many of them were advertised as being washable, as 1940s rayon is notorious for shrinking and having color bleed.

I found several references to Mitchell Company on the internet, with an address and telephone number.  I called the number and was informed that it was no longer in service.

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Filed under North Carolina, Southern Textiles

Mint Museum Uptown

We can’t all be lucky enough to live in or near a large cultural center like New York City or London, but in most areas there are plenty of smaller museums and historical sites that are well worth seeking out.  The Mint Museum in Charlotte, is a two and a half hours drive for me, but it is well worth the effort and gas money, especially when combined with a bit of shopping.  It’s rarely crowded, never any line, and there are plenty of treasures to discover.

I’m a bit ashamed that I’d never visited the Mint’s uptown Charlotte location, especially since I was so pleasantly surprised by the exhibitions.   The facility houses the Mint’s craft and design collection, but it also has a great exhibition of American art.  As icing on this artistic cake, there are a few items of clothing from the Mint’s costume collection also on view.

The photo above shows a Charles Frederick Worth evening cape, made of silk velvet, point de Venise lace, glass beads, metallic sequins, and silk tulle.  M. Worth did not do “less is more.”  I love how the creator of the exhibit resisted the urge to add any additional items to this display.  I’ve had concerns about over-accessorizating in some of the Mint costume exhibitions.

This early Twentieth century bathing suit is labeled “Water Sprite.”  It’s perfectly accessorized with the black stockings and bathing shoes, which I love.

In the same vein a summer painting by artist William James Glackens is shown.  Good Harbor Beach, 1919.

This 1920s “Orientalist” evening frock is labeled “Pascaud, Paris”

The Mint also has a good collection of the works of Romare Bearden, who was born in Charlotte.  This work is Girl in the Garden, 1979.

The contemporary craft collection is also very interesting.  This bowl is actually made of wood which is painted.  The artist is Binh Pho, the work, Realm of a Dream, 2007.

This work is stitchery on paper.  The artist is Anila Rubiku, the work, Mastering Freedom, 2006

This installation by Hildur Bjarnadittir took up an entire wall.  The squares are crocheted wool which were dyed using plant material.

What makes Urban Color Palatte interesting is that Bjarnadittir gathered the plants from along roadsides and vacant lots in Charlotte.  Even though the dye stuffs were basiclly what we consider to be waste plants, or weeds,  the results produced a wide range of color and character.  The same concept might also be applied to humans.

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Filed under Museums, North Carolina, Road Trip

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

Goodbye to Waechter’s, An Asheville Institution

Remember how just a few days ago I was bragging about the super fabric shopping situation in Asheville?  Just a few days later I got a most distressing email – Waechter’s Fine Fabrics was closing.

The store opened in 1929 as Waechter’s Silk Shop, and the name remained the same until just a few years ago.  It was first located in the Grove Arcade, but by the time I first visited the store, it was located on  Wall Street, Asheville.

My first experience there was with a friend whose mother was taking a tailoring class and was shopping for wool for a coat.  I was already sewing at that point, and was shocked by how much more expensive their fabrics were than the ones I was buying at Belk’s Department Store.  But the store was so enchanting, just like stepping back into the past with the old fashioned fabric meter, and the fabrics purchased being wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

My first purchase there was navy Pendleton wool that I used to make a blazer.  I also bought my first Liberty Tana lawn at Waechter’s, used for a dress that I wore to my sister’s wedding rehearsal.

I started filling out an online order as soon as the email arrived, but I knew that I really needed to just drive over and have one last shopping experience at Waechter’s, to feel the fabrics and remember all the lovely things I’ve made from their fine fabrics.

And I did buy a few pieces of fabrics for spring – a Liberty Tana lawn print, some striped Italian cotton shirting, and some blue and white Italian linen gingham.

 

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Wellco Shoes, Boots and Slippers

Photo copyright and courtesy of Small Earth Vintage

I’ve known about Wellco for a long time.  The factory used to be located just up the road a bit in Waynesville, North Carolina.  I guess I’d never considered doing a post about the company because in my mind they are makers of combat boots for the US military.  But there is a very interesting story behind Wellco, and some very pretty slippers.

The story revolves around Heinz Rollman who was a third generation shoemaker in Cologne, Germany.  In the 1930s he and his brother Ernst and two cousins,  Walter and Curt Kaufman, were working on ways to mold and attach rubber soles to leather uppers.   Because they were Jewish, in 1935 the family shoe factory was confiscated by the Nazi regime and was “aryanized.”  They then left the increasingly hostile atmosphere in Germany and settled in Brussels, Belgium where they formed a corporation to protect their patents and try and grow their business.

But by 1939, Germany was at war, and Belgium was being threatened.  The partners chose Heinz to go to the US to see if it was reasonable for them to relocate there.

In the US Heinz Rollman got in touch with rubber manufacturers, and found an ally in A.F. Friedlander, the owner of Dayton Tire and Rubber.   Together they scouted out for a location for a new rubber processing factory, and found the idea spot in Western North Carolina.  Friedlander built a factory, which became Dayco, and Rollman’s shoe operation was located in a wing of the factory.  Ernst Rollman was able to get to the US in 1943, and after the war they were joined by the Kaufmans who spent much of the war in Switzerland.

Over the years the company was involved not only in making shoes and slippers, but also in research.  They held many patents on the vulcanization of rubber and  its application in shoe manufacturing.  In the 1960s they developed a combat boot for the US military that was suitable for the wet conditions of Vietnam, and ironically, many years later they developed a boot for the desert conditions of Iraq.

The most interesting part of this story is the man, Heinz Rollman.  He was known for his generosity and helpfulness, and many credit him with the original idea for the Peace Corps.  He wrote two books, My Plan for World Construction in 1952, and The Observer Corps, a Practical Basis for Peaceful Coexistence in 1957 that outlined how people from various countries interacting and helping one another might be beneficial for world peace.

I was pretty amazed at all the information there is on the internet concerning Heinz Rollman.  I found stories about his generosity on various local chat boards.  One told how he would visit a local store and spend $5000 a time on gifts for employees.   When the factory burned in the 1960s, Rollman paid the workers for the days they missed, and very quickly found a new building and machinery to get people back to work.  When people today lament the loss of American jobs, they are remembering businesses like Wellco and men like Heinz Rollman.

Wellco passed out of family hands several years ago, and the community was upset when the new owners abruptly moved the operation to Tennessee.  The slipper division was sold in the 1980s, but Wellco continues to make boots in Tennessee and elsewhere.

I want to thank Jan Schochet for alerting me to the Wellco story.  Jan co-wrote The Family Store, a book based on her research of Jewish businesses in Asheville.  Her family owned a store called The Bootery.  They sold Wellco shoes, mainly because Jan’s father was so impressed and moved by Heinz Rollman who personally traveled around the area with his suitcase of samples.

Correction:  I have corrected the name of Jan Schochet’s family store where Wellco shoes were sold.  It was the Bootery.  They also owned A Dancer’s Place.

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Filed under Made in the USA, North Carolina, Shoes

Shaping Craft + Design at Black Mountain College

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, as in the case of Black Mountain College.  One of the last places one might expect to find a progressive thinking school, and in many ways the heir of the Bauhaus, would be a small Appalachian town.  But in 1933, the college was formed using the principles of progressive education as envisioned by educator John Dewey.

It was to be a school where students were not to be saddled with the worry of grades, but instead were encouraged to find their own way through a study of the liberal arts.  Central to this study was the incorporation of art and craft, so much so that Black Mountain  is often mistakenly thought to have been an art school.

Also in 1933, Hitler and the Nazis closed down the Bauhaus, and so artist and teacher Josef Albers and his wife, weaver Anni Albers, were invited to join the faculty at Black Mountain.   Until the school closed in 1957 it was a hotbed of creativity, with the faculty and workshop teachers a who’s who of modern art and craft..

Today the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center works to preserve the legacy of the college.  Located in downtown Asheville, it is a little gem of a museum which features changing exhibitions dedicated to the work that came out of the college.  Just ended was a showing of some of the crafts produced by the college’s teachers and students.

The cover of the exhibition catalog, shown above, is a weaving by Don Page, Orange Fabric with Changing Threads.  It, and the piece below, Delicate Fabric with Stretched Threads, were made while Page was a student under Anni Albers at Black Mountain in the late 1930s.

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This weaving was made by student Lore Kadden Lindenfeld as a student at the college in the late 1940s.  Both student’s work follow Anni Alber’s insistence that form must follow function.

Above you can see a notebook of the designs from the weaving class, 1935, and a woven linen sample by Andy Oates.

This shuttle loom was an original from the black Mountain College Weaving Workshop, and has recently been restored.

Of course I was most interested in the textiles, but there were many fascinating objects from other crafts.  This hanging wire sculpture was made by artist Ruth Asawa.

Okay, I’m sorry, but I forgot to note the name and artist of this print, and I can’t figure it out from the catalog.  But I had to show it because it is so reminiscent of one of my all time favorite textile prints, A Fish Is a Fish by Ken Scott.

And finally, my new favorite chair, Lady Murasaki’s Fan Chair, by Robert Bliss.

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Filed under Museums, North Carolina

Vintage Shopping in Asheville, NC

Over the past two weeks I’ve visited all my favorite vintage shopping places in Asheville.  To be such a small city, there are lots of interesting places to look for vintage treasures.  I actually took these photos over three days.  There is no way you can do justice to the old stuff stores of Asheville in just one day.

This record tree and the Santa ladder above can be found at The Screen Door.  This place is a little off the beaten path, but it is well worth finding.  It seems like no matter how often I go there, I find new things of interest.

I really liked this pretty equestrienne.

I actually found this Scottie print at a thrift store.  The thrifts in Asheville sometimes seem to be really picked over, but it is possible to still get lucky.

Click to enlarge.

There are several antique stores and malls downtown.  I’ve shown this fantastic store, Magnolia Beauregard’s, before but it is worth another look.  The collection of mannequins and hat heads is really impressive, plus he sells some great hats and vintage clothing.

Here’s an interesting twist on an old favorite: Pin the Shoe on Cinderella.

This is the cover of a 1920s tourist brochure for Glacier National Park.

Lexington Park Antiques is also a favorite of mine.  I found these cute 1950s clam diggers.  They were made by White Stag.  Note the striped lining where the leg is rolled.

This forearm looks a bit gruesome at first, but note that it is a display piece for Van Raalte gloves.  It actually stands on the base.

My photo comes nowhere near to showing off this lovely quilt, made of velvet pieces.

Time for a break.  This is the Mellow Mushroom, which is housed in an old service station.

These two coats were made by Davidow.  I was happy to be able to examine them so soon after writing about the company.

If I don’t stop with the vintage patterns, I’m going to have to get one of these vintage storage pieces.

The day after I took these photos of this Red Cross vest, one of my Instagram friends posted an old article on knitting a Red Cross Sweater.

Someone bought this Sally Victor flower explosion and didn’t have the nerve to wear it.  Or at least that’s my guess.  Anyway, it was fun seeing the hangtag.

And here I am, unable to pass a mirror without taking a look at my own image.  I’m wearing my favorite vintage coat, a Pendleton!

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Filed under North Carolina, Shopping