Ars Lenci Cloche, Circa 1928

Have you ever looked at an object, admiring it, so long that you convinced yourself you had to have it? That’s what happened to me with this hat. I was having a hard time justifying the purchase, but after months of longing to add this to my collection, I bit the bullet, so to speak. My general rule about buying things that are in the upper end of my budget is that I ask myself, “How sad will I be if someone else buys this?” In this case I decided I would be very, very sad.

You may of heard of Lenci as a maker of felt dolls. The company was formed in Turin, Italy in 1918 or 1919. The first product was the dolls, but in 1927 they decided to branch out into fashion items for women and girls made from the same felt as the dolls. The line got a lot of good fashion press in both Europe and the United States.

The entire hat is constructed of felt, with colorful felt appliques of stylized flowers. It’s in very good condition, with a few tiny moth nibbles. This is, after all, made of wool felt.

This illustration is from a March 1928 issue of Women’s Wear Daily. And how about that umbrella?

This illustration is in the collection of the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas in Madrid. My hat also has a contrasting brim like the model in the foreground.

Here’s the label. There must have been Lenci stores in New York, Paris, London , and Manchester. I did read a reference to a store in Paris.

Lenci garments and accessories are quite rare. There is currently a darling girl’s bonnet listed on etsy, and a really sweet little sewing kit attributed to Lenci. This hat came from the collection of long-time Canadian collector Alan Suddon, who died in 2001. My thanks to Cora Ginsburg LLC for the information, the ads, and most of all the hat.

6 Comments

Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Summer Sports

Ball-Band Canvas Sport Shoes, 1936

Ball-Band was a trademark of the Mishawaka Woolen Manufacturers of Mishawaka, Indiana.  As the name implies, the company started out as a woolen mill, making blankets and wool felt boots.  In 1886 the company conceived of a boot with knitted wool uppers in which the wool was first knit, then felted through shrinkage.  The owner’s mother, Mrs. Jacob Beiger, knit the prototype for the product.

Rubber shoes and over-shoes were added as products in 1898 with many of the shoes having a rubber sole and upper, and wool legs.  In 1922, they added sneakers, or sports shoes.  Two years later the company changed their name to the Mishawaka Rubber and Woolen Company to better represent the products made.

My 1936 wholesale catalog does not show the boot with the wool uppers, but they were still making wool products in the form of heavy woolen socks. Leather boots were also being made, but their main product appears to be canvas and rubber sports shoes, or sneakers.

They had also gotten into the casual canvas shoe for women market with their line of Summerettes. First made in 1934, Summerettes were popular through the 1950s.

Ball-Band also made basketball shoes for both men and women, or what today would be known as high-tops.

They also made shoes to wear in the water, made of all rubber. I have a pair that is very similar to the Newport Locker Sandal, seen above. I have always thought these to be from the late 1940s, but now I need to reexamine that thought.

One great feature in this catalog is this photo of the soles of the shoes. The style of tread can be used somewhat to help date shoes.

I find it amazing how similar these are to modern sneakers. Sports shoes do reflect fashion though, mainly in the shape of the toe.

And finally, here’s a view of the Ball-Band factory complex in Mishawaka, Indiana. There were over forty acres of floor space and around 5000 employees. In 1967 Ball-Band was bought by Uniroyal, and in 1969, the last pair of shoes was made at Mishawaka.  Today the factory site is a public park.

4 Comments

Filed under Catalogs, Shoes

South Union Shaker Village, Kentucky

As part of the recent Costume Society of America Southeast Region Symposium, we were treated to a visit to the South Union Shaker Village. The Shakers are not to be confused with the Quakers, nor with the Amish, which we were told was a common misconception. I’m not going to go into a long explanation of who the Shakers were, but simply put, they were a Christian group that believed in celibacy and communal living. Like the Quakers, their religious practice involved physical movements. Unlike the Quakers, they lived in communal housing and were not married. They are confused with the Amish due to an emphasis on handcrafted items and “old-fashioned” clothing. In the case of the Amish, they are associated with a way of life that does not include modern technology.

The Shakers embraced technology. Their craftsmanship came about through need of furnishings. Once they could buy things more cheaply, they made fewer of their belongings. As for the clothing, the Shakers adhered to a dress code of sorts, but they were aware of changing fashions and made modifications to their dress. They look old-fashioned to us because by the turn of the twentieth century, the Shakers were dying out. Most of our images of them show them in their nineteenth century clothing.

This large building is the Center House where the Shakers all lived, women on one side and men on the other. There was a kitchen, dining room, infirmary, and laundry in this building as well. Construction began in 1822, and this was always the main building in the village. Unfortunately when the village closed in the early 1920s, the land and buildings were sold and many were torn down.

There were several huge auctions of the contents of the buildings, and so the Shakers’ things were dispersed throughout the region. When interest in restoring the remaining buildings happened in the 1960s, the non-profit in charge began collecting back things that were made or used in the Shaker Village. This task was helped by the organizational habits of the Shakers. They believed that everything had a proper place, and things were labeled to show where things belonged.

A great example was in their textiles. Over the early years of the village the Shaker women produced wool, cotton, linen, and even silk textiles. Each was identified as to where it was used and stored.

We were quite privileged to see these textiles as they are not normally on display. The director got them out of storage just for our group.

Of particular interest were the silk kerchiefs. The Shakers began working with silk worms starting in the 1820s, and the project was mildly successful at South Union. In 1832 they had produced enough silk fabric to make each female member a silk kerchief, and each male member a silk tie.

As you can see, the Shakers were not opposed to using color in their clothing. They used both natural, and when they became available, aniline dyes.

After manufactured textiles became available, the Shakers started buying them instead of continuing with the labor-intensive process of making their own. Some of the equipment they used has been located and is on display in the Center House.

In the early years of South Union, the rooms and furnishings must have looked similar to this room. Most of the furnishings seem to be made by the Shakers.

As time went on and the Shakers were able to purchase goods, their rooms looked more like fashionable Victorian bedrooms. In the process of buying back the items that were used at South Union, items that were not made by the Shakers were also acquired. The re-acquisition started about only forty years after the village broke up, so they were able to buy back many items from the people who had bought them from the auctions in the early 1920s.

When not in use, chairs were hung on pegs to get them out of the way.

Before visiting South Union, I reread the wonderful Shaker Textile Arts by Beverly Gordon. It really helped me understand what I was seeing during the visit. There are Shaker villages scattered throughout the Northeast and eastern Midwest. Another one in Kentucky is Pleasant Hill. It even allows for overnight stays. I highly recommend it.

5 Comments

Filed under Museums, Textiles, Travel, Uncategorized

Shopping with the Vintage Traveler

This fall I was finally able to attend my beloved Liberty Antiques Festival. It felt so normal being out in the field with other collectors enjoying seeing so much great old stuff. I stood by this tray of compacts, but eventually talked myself out of buying another Scottie.

I love old buttons, especially when they are still on the original card. The rule is to always look through a basket of sewing stuff. You never know what is lurking behind the rickrack and seam tape.

I’ll admit that I almost bought this Victorian Christmas picture, The dog was cute and the price was right. But I already have plenty of Christmas stuff.

I liked the cute graphics, but I have a similar pair of skates, so I left them as well.

I have already shown this dress, so you may remember that I did end up buying it. At first I thought I’d be happy leaving it and its issues for some other lover of old clothes, but the dealer saw my interest and made me an offer I could not refuse.

This is a rubber floormat, and it is not terribly old, but only the price kept me from buying it.

I wanted this, but the condition was poor, with ink scribbles and cracking vinyl. Still, I did love that Snoopy.

I hope some real football fan bought this fabulous poster.

I’d never before seen this Enid Collins design. There must have been 1000s of different designs.

If anyone can tell me what this is, I’d be most appreciative.

I loved these bowling shoes, but couldn’t justify their purchase.

I love old sewing stands. This one was a real temptation, but where would I put it?

And finally, for the biker who has everything.

Here’s to more shopping in 2022!

27 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

1910s Red Tam

I am always looking for accessories to complete my sporting ensembles. One thing I never pass up in an antique store is a rack of hats. Ninety-nine percent of the time the rack will be full of hats from the 1960s. I have a theory, that when hats began to lose favor in the late 60s women stored their old hats instead of investing in new ones. What else could account for the abundance of 60s hats at estate sales and antique stores?

But this post is about that rarest of hat finds – the pre-1960s sports hat. I gave a little happy dance when I spotted this little red tam among all the faux turbans and pillbox hats.

Items like this hat that were worn for decades with little change in the style, so they can be hard to date from that alone. Fortunately there were a couple of things that let me know this tam dated from around 1910 to the 1920s. First, the seams were finished using a Merrow overlock machine. The stitch is similar to a modern serger, but it is easy to see the difference. I see it a lot in pre-1930 knit bathing suits.

Second, the band of the tam is in a type of machine knit that is commonly seen on knit items from this era. I have a pair of navy blue mittens in the same type knit.

In looking at catalogs and other illustrated sources from the 1910s and 20s, the tam is the hat worn by most women for winter sports. The illustration above is from a 1921 Bradley catalog.

This illustration is on a late Edwardian postcard.

And this one is from the mid to late 1920s. It fits a bit closer to the head, and might even be called a toboggan.

Another factor that contributes to the scarcity of early knits is that so many of them were consumed by moth larvae. Thankfully, this one somehow escaped the hungry little buggers.

2 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Shopping, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports

Winter Sports Catalog, 1935 Lillywhites, London

When searching for items to add to my collection, I focus primarily on things made and worn in the USA. But by the time this Lillywhites catalog was published in London in 1935, Western fashion was becoming less regional. Anyway, that’s how I justified adding this catalog to my print resources.

In 1935 skiing was a relatively new sport, in the States at least. This catalog from the UK references skiing in Norway, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, so it must have really caught on as a sport on the Continent. And I can see a bit of Tyrolian influence in the clothes, especially in the accessories. Could there be a connection to the fashion for Germanic styles that started to appear in Western dress around this time?

Note the strong asymmetrical jacket closures. This was a big feature of mid-1930s fashion and it extended to sportswear. Also, the knickers of 1920s women skiers are gone, replaced by warmer long trousers.

Ski trips to the Alps or to Scandinavia were so new that Lillywhites felt it necessary to give some instructions to the novice. There are also lists of clothing and gear needed for a holiday in the snow.

This novel skiing motif was available in both wool and cashmere, and in white with blue, navy with white, and white with red.

There were lots of options available for layering beneath the ski jacket.

This is probably my favorite.

Skating costumes (along with skates of all types) were included. The style on the right is actually “skorts”, and was recommended for practice wear.

5 Comments

Filed under Catalogs, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

Whitework at the Kentucky Museum

Another exhibition I saw on my recent visit to the Kentucky Museum in Bowling Green was a presentation of the museum’s collection of 19th century whitework. I learned that whitework encompasses quite a few techniques – weaving, quilting, tufting, and embroidery. The common factor is that the work is white on white.

Many of the pieces have been recently conserved by Margaret Ordonez, who taught conservation for many years at the University of Rhode Island. She has retired, and is back in her native Tennessee where she has set up her own textile conservation service. Margaret presented her work at the Costume Society Symposium, giving us a good look at the work involved in conserving the pieces.

The building housing the Kentucky Museum was built in the 1940s, and this room was once an old-school type display area with shelves to hold artifacts. Some time ago it was renovated to make a gallery specifically for the display of textiles. Today it has areas that are enclosed in glass, slanted boards to more safely exhibit textiles, and raised platforms. I especially loved that many of the quilts and coverlets on display were shown as they were meant to be seen, dressing beds.

To visitors passing through an exhibition like this one, it must seem that people of the past sure did take great care of their stuff. What’s not seen are the many hours of cleaning and stabilization it takes in order to be able to display a two hundred year old textile. Part of this exhibition actually addressed the process of conservation, and there were several unconserved bed coverings on display.

This embroidered counterpane was made by Sallie Darrough and is in the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society. As you can see, it had not been cleaned. This is closer to the condition textiles of this age are most likely to be found.

So how does one clean a fragile old textile? Because these are cotton and cotton/linen blends, wet cleaning is appropriate. That does not mean Margaret threw them into the washing machine. Conservators use large tables with an edge (like a very shallow tub) for wet cleaning. The textile is spread out on the table and water and cleaning agents are introduced. This is a job for a chemist, as it’s important to use things that will not do any further damage.

Not every conserved textile ends up looking brand new. Stains can be stubborn, and lightening and neutralizing it is sometimes the best that can be done. There are also rips and holes to deal with. Often the best solution is to back the textile with a similar fabric and use stitches to stabilize the rip.
This is a closeup of a whole cloth quilt made circa 1805 by Rebecca Smith Washington. She used a technique that mimicked British woven quilts. This quilt looks to be made of cotton, but Margaret’s microscopic analysis shows this to be a cotton/linen blend.
Some of the bed coverings were simply one layer of fabric that were embroidered.

Others were tufted, similar to the 20th century colonial revival bedspreads made in north Georgia.
This coverlet is woven, and it’s the only piece in the exhibition known to have been made by enslaved workers. According to family history, this was woven by enslaved workers for the wedding of Mary Strange in 1823.
It was fun to see a few items of white clothing in the display cases. According to the family story, these linen trousers were worn by Abraham Miller in 1800 for his wedding.

Often, artifacts are donated to museums along with long-told family stories. This early 19th century Empire style dress was said to have been worn by Catharine Whitesides on her wedding day. But Margaret was not born until 1824, and by the time she married the dress would have been twenty-five or so years out of fashion. Perhaps it was worn by her mother.

4 Comments

Filed under Museums, Textiles