Bradley High Quality Knit Garments – 1908

Bradley Knitting Company is one of those companies that no longer exists, but still its wares are well-known to vintage sellers and collectors due to the consistent release of consumer catalogs and their large volume of production. The company was renamed as Bradley in 1905, and so this 1908 is from the very early years of the company. At that date they were already producing the garments which made Bradley famous – sweaters and bathing suits.

You might have noticed the use of the word “coat” to describe what we today in the United States would call a sweater or cardigan. Bradley continued to use “knit coats” until the late 1920s when the catalogs switched to the more modern “sweater”.

I’m not familiar with the term, “pony jacket.” Could it have been appropriate for riding?

Even though sweaters were considered to be sportswear, the catalog stylist could not resist adding a bit of fashion with the huge hats.

I’ve seen this style of knit vest advertised as a golf vest. It would have been an excellent choice to wear for the sport because of the increased mobility of the arms which it would allow.

Bradley also made knits for men and for children. The cardigan above is very similar to what sweater companies made all through the 1920s, but it is a bit shorter in the body.

Heavy wool knits were very casual attire, and the association with sports was strong. I really love this baseball coat. I do wonder if the monogram was machine embroidered or if it was made separately and then attached.

In spite of the large, impractical hat (or is it a bow?), this little girl is dressed to play with her knit coat, short skirt, and softball.

Thanks to this catalog I now know that Bradley first made bathing suits in 1907.  Be sure to read the copy, as it is so unintentionally hilarious!

A note about men’s bathing suit styles: in 1908 men’s suits were still very modest, with the long top having a high neck and small armholes. The trunks are to the knees. By the 1920s the armholes and neck in men’s bathing suits were scooped, and the trunks were mid thigh.

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Asheville Art Museum – Newly Reopened and Better than Ever.

For years I’d not thought about the Asheville Art Museum.  Years ago when the museum had a great program that paired works from their collection with our US history curriculum, I took my fifth graders. The last time I visited was in 2007 when they had an exhibition of the paper dresses made by Mars of Asheville.

But for the most part, a visit to the Asheville Art Museum was just not that exciting. They were limited to a very small space in what was originally the Pack Library (where I spent many hours during my college years in the Sondley Research Library). But several years ago the museum closed for expansion and renovation. They reopened in November and the difference is amazing.

For such an arts-aware city, the old museum felt like an afterthought, especially after visiting the museums in other comparatively-sized cities. The excellent collections at the Greenville County Museum of Art (SC) and that of the Gibbes in Charleston, SC are just two examples.

Not every museum can be the Met or the Louvre, and so it helps when a small city discovers it has a niche to fill. For instance, the Gibbes has a wonderful collection of art from the Charleston Renaissance of the early twentieth century. The Greenville County Museum of Art focuses on South Carolina artists, as well as the Wyeth family.

So what is Asheville’s niche? When a city is located in the middle of “Appalachia” it might be easy to go full on mountain culture, whatever that is. I’m happy to say that what I saw reflects what Asheville and the surrounding area are today.

One of the most beautiful works is not actually in the museum, but is outside in Pack Plaza. This is Reflections on Unity by Henry Richardson. I have to say it is a great addition to the plaza, and seems to be a counterpoint to the obelisk, the Vance Monument. Zeb Vance was North Carolina’s Civil War era governor. (And don’t get me started on that glass and concrete monstrosity in the background, whose construction in the 1980s meant the destruction of a block of historic storefronts.)

I know you all are here for the textiles and clothing, so that’s what I’ll be showing. The inaugural exhibition in the new museum is Appalachia Now! in which all the artists either are from, or work in the area designated as “Appalachia”. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the designation. The area of the Southern Appalachians is too large and too diverse to be defined by a single word. But it’s the word chosen, and I’ll deal with it.

In an exhibition on Appalachia you would expect quilts, but the art quilts of today are a far cry from the Sunbonnet Sue and Double Wedding Rings associated with the craft. The quilt above was made by Kelly Spell, and is titled Spotted Hawkfish. “This particular work was inspired by a fish of the same name…”

What would an exhibition on Appalachia be without an overshot woven coverlet? But this work by Danielle Burke is much smaller and more finely woven than the traditional coverlet. But the design, Carolina Star, is the same.

It is almost impossible to escape the effect of textiles in art exhibitions. These works by Amanda Brazier use her own oil-based pigments from the earth (seen in the little jars) to make paintings that look like weaving patterns.

It might be hard to tell just how small this embroidered work by Amanda Remmen is, so I’ll tell you it is about six inches across. I-81, Winter 2017, is part of a “map” series. The museum has four of these on display.

 

This dress is made of oak leaves dipped in beeswax.  Garment for Remembering the Earth, 2010 -2017 was made by Jennifer L. Hand from leaves she gathered on walks in the woods. The garment is accompanied by a video showing her process.

Sculptor Elizabeth Brim uses traditional blacksmithing techniques to produce metal garments reminiscent of the ones made by her seamstress grandmother. From Italy with Love, 2017.

The area of the museum devoted to the permanent collection is a nice mix of works with regional connections, historical works, and contemporary works. To my delight, there is a section of the work of the teachers and students of Black Mountain College. The sculpture is by Ruth Asawa, and is made of wire. Untitled, circa 1954.

Dorothy Cole Ruddick used thread and embroidery to create the illusion of depth. She studied at Black Mountain in 1945. Untitled; undated.

There is a small section of regional works.  I’ve written about Bayard Wootten and her photographs in the past, and it was good seeing her represented in Asheville’s collection.

Getting a decent photo of this Granny Donaldson Cow Blanket was impossible, but I had to show it as another example of her work.  It’s not as spectacular as the one I recently posted from the Folk Art Center’s collection, nor as detailed as the one in the collection of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, but the charm of her work is readily apparent.

Asheville quilt artist Luke Haynes puts a twist on familiar works by other artists, as you can see here in [The American Context] Christina’s World, 2012. Haynes had friends strike the poses of works like Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World.  The background squares are made of fabrics from old clothing, while the figure is made from new fabrics.

I’m really excited for future exhibitions at the Asheville Art Museum. It’s exactly the cultural asset Asheville needed.

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Vintage Miscellany – January 6, 2020

Undated, but from the 1940s, based on slacks, shoes and hair. Little dogs pretty much look the same.

And now some news that wont make you scream and pull out your hair…

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Currently Reading – Southern Tufts by Ashley Callahan

Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion is one of those books for which one would  have thought there was not enough information to fill two hundred plus pages. But Ashley Callahan has proved me wrong with this publication. Actually, I heard Ashley speak on the topic in 2012 at the national Costume Society of America symposium in Atlanta, and I’m amazed at how much she uncovered in the time between her presentation and the book’s publication in 2015.

This is a great example of a seemingly small story of what is pretty much one product that was produced for a short time in a specific place. In today’s world when so much is written about Chanel and Dior, it’s great learning about how a small town industry made a product that became popular across the USA.  The product was cotton chenille and the bedspreads and garments made from it, and the small town is Dalton, Georgia.

I think that one reason I enjoyed this book so much is because so many of my interests are addressed in it. The story begins with the early twentieth century crafts revival, tells about an obscure sector of the Southern textile industry, brings in the early tourist industry in the USA, and includes the making of sportswear.

Tufting is a form of candlewick work, where thick cotton threads are stitched in rows to produce designs, and then the threads are cut on the front of the fabric, and the threads separated to form tufts. The end result is called chenille.

The chenille industry that was centered around the little town of Dalton in Northwest Georgia began with Catherine Evans Whitener, who in 1895 took up hand tufting to make a bedspread after seeing an antique one in a neighbor’s house. Catherine continued with the craft, and began selling them. As other women saw the spreads, Catherine began getting orders for more. By 1910 she was selling her tufted bedspreads to department stores, and other women in the area were recruited to help make the spreads.

By the mid 1920s the industry was firmly established with many women and men involved in the making and distribution of tufted spreads. The craft spread across North Georgia and even into neighboring states.

The earliest products are all hand stitched, but in the 1920s experiments with machine tufting began. By the mid-1930s the use of tufting machines was widespread in Georgia’s chenille industry. It’s fairly easy to tell a hand tufted fabric from a machine tufted one. On machine made tufts, the lines are very uniform, but hand tufting can be very irregular.

With the improving of highways and the growing popularity of the automobile in the 1920s, American hit the road and the tourist industry boomed. The Dixie Highway which started in Michigan and ended in Florida was begun in 1915, with one branch going through the Dalton area. It didn’t take long for the tufters to realize there was money to be made from all the people traveling to Florida on vacation. Roadside stands selling chenille goods sprang up all over Northwest Georgia.

Chenille clothing was advertised as early as 1921, but it was not until the single needle machine tufter was invented that clothing became a major product. Most of the clothing made was suitable for wear at the beach, with capes and robes being the most widely available. This chenille dress is a rare early example of a garment made by a single needle machine.

In these examples of beach capes, look closely at the one on the right to see that the cape was made first, then it was tufted.  Some makers made the tufted fabric first, then cut it out and made the garment. This became more prevalent after 1941 when multi-needle machines were patented, making the process much faster.

Here’s a cape from my collection. You can see the regular stitches on the interior of the cape, a sign of machine tufting. Note also that the lines of chenille are fairly far apart, with probably means this cape was tufted using a single needle machine.

This example from my collection is later. See how close the rows of tufts are? This points to the use of a multi-needle tufting machine. Also, the anchors and ropes are tufted over the white tufting. This is a process that was developed after the multi-needle machine came into use.

Another way to tell the later multi-needle garments is that often the lines of the tufts run horizontally around the garment. Note how in my earlier cape the lines of tufts are diagonal, a process that was easier with the single-needle machine.

This was not addressed in the book, but many of the later examples are made using lighter colors, like the green seen around the border of my cape. Starting in 1957, rayon was sometimes added to the threads, and in 1963, nylon was used. I’ve seen plenty of the nylon tufted bedspreads. They have a very different look and feel from the cotton ones.

And just when you think you have seen it all, photos of the most amazing chenille pants appear. These were made around 1940. I’ve never seen a pair, and now I must find one for my collection.

During the 1950s, long chenille bathrobes were the most popular garment produced by the tufters. But by the 1960s, terry cloth robes were gaining in popularity, with chenille being thought to be an old-fashioned option.  Even worse, the chenille companies were having a difficult time figuring out how to comply with the fire prevention laws that were passed in the 1950s. Times grew tough for the chenille industry. Many of the companies closed, but others survived by switching production to carpets. Today Dalton calls itself the Carpet Capital of the World.

There were dozens of companies making chenille products in the mid twentieth century, and Callahan has documented the history of many of them. Unfortunately, chenille garments tend to not be labeled. I have four examples in my collection, none of which have labels, and from looking at them obsessively on Etsy and Ebay, I rarely ever see one with a maker’s label.

I really loved reading this book, especially since I learned so much about how to date my examples. My thanks to Liza at Better Dresses Vintage for knowing I’d love the book, and for loaning her copy to me.

 

 

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History and Mythology

On my recent trip to north Georgia, I passed through the little town of Ringgold. I’d never given Ringgold much thought, but it turns out a lot happened there in 1863 and 1864. If you know a bit of American Civil War history, you might recall that after Confederate forces were forced to retreat south of Chattanooga, the Union army then set its sights on Atlanta. Ringgold was on the railroad line between the two cities, and as a result, was the scene of a small battle.

The town’s sturdy railroad depot played a part, as it was used by the Union army as a protective barrier when planning their attack. The battle then took place, with the Confederates holding on long enough to evacuate equipment and supplies. But the battle did nothing to stop the tide of the war, and of  Generals Grant, Hooker,  and Sherman’s trek to Atlanta.

General Hooker used the depot as his headquarters for the three or so days he was in Ringgold. When he and his men left, they attempted to blow up the structure, but while it was severely damaged, most of it remained standing. You can clearly see the repaired sections due to the difference in rocks used.

A few hundred yards away stands this house. It was the home of Ringgold merchant William Whitman and his family. The family stood at the windows and watched the battle. Afterwards it was commandeered by General Grant as his headquarters.

The Whitman House is still privately owned, but there is a historical marker in the yard. Erected in 1955, it’s not a reliable historical record. First of all, the house was built in 1857, not 1863 as seen on the marker. But what’s really interesting is the story about Mrs. Whitman and General Grant. She refused his money, he paid her a compliment, and his men cheered her. Or, as the marker reads, “Grant is said to have remarked…”

The problem with this story is there is no proof it ever happened. Much of what is known about the house’s history comes from an account written by the Whitman’s granddaughter many years later. She was not born until years after the Civil War. Written accounts of Union soldiers do not mention the exchange.

But there it is, big as life, on a bronze marker on the lawn of the house. How many Ringgold citizens learned the story as children? How many continue to believe this romanticized account of the proud Southern woman defying the great general?

I’ve met many Northerners who marvel at the long memory of the Confederate South. What they don’t realize is how there are daily reminders of the invasion of the South by the Union forces. Everyone who passes this house on her way to town sees a reminder of how a brave Southern woman defied the great Grant.

I was born in 1955. Jim Crow was still an active force in the South. Southerners were still  being educated in the mythology of the Lost Cause. Is there any wonder some Southerners cling to this mythology?

The way to the truth is education. Unfortunately the way to the mythology of the Lost Cause was also through education – bad education. Only we can set the record straight. This is not rewriting history; it is reclaiming the truth.

 

 

 

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Currently Reading – Fashion in the Age of Jane Austen by Hilary Davidson

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion by Hilary Davidson is one of those books that you wish could just go on and on. At 300 plus pages, one would think I’d be satisfied, but the topic is so interesting, and Hilary’s approach is so novel that I could do with a few more chapters.

But that would be tampering with how she approached Regency dress. Instead of looking at the topic chronologically, Davidson chose to make each chapter focus on how people of Austen’s time interacted with the world, in terms of self, home, village, country, city, nation, and world. It’s like an ever widening circle of relationships, and this worked well in the context of Austen and the Regency.

While it’s not completely necessary to be a fan of Jane Austen’s work, it really does help in the understanding of the text. Davidson refers often to Austen’s characters, and a knowledge of them, especially in the film versions, adds greatly to the enjoyment of this book. I really do wish I’d have reread all of Austen’s novels before reading this book, even though I’m well acquainted with her work.

Hilary Davidson chose the years of 1795 through 1825 to study. The Regency technically was from 1811 to 1820, but most historians extend the period for a longer time, as the fashions just didn’t change overnight. The beginnings of what we think of Regency fashion do start in the eighteenth century.

The illustrations are excellent, and well chosen. Above you see the only garment that we know was owned by Jane Austen. It’s a pelisse from around 1812. A lot can be told about Austen by studying this garment. For instance, we learn she was tall and thin.  And if you aren’t acquainted with the term pelisse, there’s a convenient glossary in the book.

So many times books on fashion deal with the clothing of the privileged only. Davidson has strived to give us a look at what different classes of people would have worn. Here we see the grocer alongside the shopper of a higher class.

Most interestingly, Davidson shows how fashion spread across the world, even in the early nineteenth century. These women on St. Kitts in the Caribbean can immediately be identified as wearing Regency fashion, though they are thousands of miles from Britain.

Another strength of the book is the inclusion of men’s attire.

We also are treated to looks at accessories like hats and shoes.

The book contains a through explanation of how textiles were, even two hundred years ago, a global enterprise. Muslin from India and cashmere shawls from Kashmir were highly prized in Regency England. This dress is circa 1800.

Along with telling what people wore during Jane Austen’s time, we also learn how clothing and textiles were acquired by consumers. I loved this look at an 1809 draper’s emporium.

Davidson also makes clear the changes that occurred in the thirty-five year span the book covers. Compare the circa 1820 gown above to the circa 1800 dress shown earlier. The waistline is moving downward toward the natural waist. The skirt is widening and gaining decoration.

So, what did I not like about this book? The only thing I really can complain about is the color of the print. Instead of being black, it’s a medium gray. That may not be an issue for readers with excellent eyes, but I found I had to either read under a strong lamp, or in bright natural light. But considering the quality of the research and the writing, I gladly gave up my habit of reading in bed to enjoy this one in my armchair with a 100 watt bulb.

 

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Button Collecting

When friend Liza asked if I wanted to go with her to see a button collection, there was no hesitation on my part. She said it was a great collection in a historic house, but nothing prepared me for what I was to see.

The collection belongs to Linda who does live in a fabulous Victorian house in a small town in north Georgia. Liza had met her on a tour of homes, and was invited back for a closer look at Linda’s stuff. And I say stuff because it’s not just buttons, but also antique and vintage sewing and knitting implements.I thought we would stay an hour or so, but Linda and her husband, Steve, were so gracious that one hour turned to four. And we still could have stayed longer.

These buttons were stored in an old dental case, which has lots of little drawers that once held dental tools. Now each drawer is packed full of buttons. All these plaid decorated ones came from the same estate.

Button collectors often make framed assemblages of buttons on a theme. Here are some of Linda’s dog buttons.

You may not be able to tell from the photo, but this cabinet was about ten feet high. It was custom built for a coin collector.  All the little drawers are full of buttons, with some of Linda’s yarn in the shelves beneath. Linda is a knitter, and she does beautiful work.

There were fancy wooden buttons…

buttons carved from nuts…

figural bakelite buttons…

sports themed buttons…

and plastic buttons.

These printed cloth nursery rhyme buttons are still on the original card.

Remember my post that told about the Muscatine, Iowa button industry?  Linda has a shell from there with the little blanks stamped out.

But it’s not just buttons. Linda also collects other sewing things, and has a wonderful grouping of pincushions and novelty tape measures.

This little sewing machine is a music box that plays “Buttons and Bows.”

Linda also has an enviable collection of antique ribbons and trims.

This trim is silk with silver metal bauble and embroidery.

Like any good button collector, Linda loves all sorts of miniatures. This is a hiking themed pin.

I loved this tiny terrier trimmed purse.

A knitter must also collect knitting aids. These string holders are by Holt Howard and are perfect for yarn.

I’m sorry this is so fuzzy, but I had to show it anyway. This is a silver yarn holder with a bracelet ring.  Beauty and function.

Thanks so much to Liza at Better Dresses Vintage for taking me along on this button adventure.

 

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