Currently Reading: American Quilts by Robert Shaw

I know that having two posts on quilts is straying a bit from the usual fare here at The Vintage Traveler, but I’m sure that lovers of textiles will appreciate the beauty and work that goes into a well-crafted quilt.

I don’t buy quilt books, as a general rule, but I spotted this one at a local fabric store and after thumbing through it decided I had to have it, if only for the visual inspiration.  The book is stunningly beautiful, with 358 pages of lovely photos.  It is arranged loosely chronologically, with different eras of quilt styles serving as chapters.  And it is not just pretty pictures, as Shaw also writes about the textile industry and the development of the sewing machine and other matters of interest.

Since I’m not well versed in quilts, I’m really not qualified to comment on the the quilts chosen for the book, so I read the reviews of others who do know quilts.  Some reviewers were concerned that some quilting styles, such as Amish quilts, were given too much space in the book at the exclusion of others, such as quilts from the Appalachian regions.  And truly, I found my eyes glazing over by the end of the chapter on Amish quilts.  It was a bit too much.

But for the most part, the text is engaging and informative, just like I’d want a book of this sort to be.  The real stars though, are the quilts themselves.

Believe it or not, the cover image is from a quilt that was made in 1933 by Edith Morrow Matthews.

We sometimes think of quilts as being patchwork, but many of the earliest American quilts were appliqued.  This quilt is attributed to Mary Jane Carr of Columbia, Pennsylvania, circa 1850.  Note the dogs in the lower corners.

Named for the ship in the center, this is known as The Constitution Quilt, circa 1880. The blocks depict scenes from the Bible, patriotic and Masonic symbols, and scenes of everyday life.

The maker evidently loved birds.

I do love a good crazy quilt, or in this case, a great one.  Note how it was actually pieced in blocks and then assembled.  The embroidery tends to tie it all together.

The book points out that it is very difficult to attribute a quilt to an African-American maker.  In this case, it seems to be the subject matter that identifies this snake design as African-American.

This circa 1875 to 1900 quilt is from eastern North Carolina,  where coral snakes are a danger.

This detail is from a large quilt that is a variation of the log cabin design.  Because all the people are black and are not caricatures, it is assumed that the maker was African-American.  Circa 1890, and probably from New Jersey.

This is an Amish quilt from Ohio, made in 1928 by Christina Yoder Schlaabach.  Amish quilts varied from community to community, and in accordance to how much influence there was from the “English” world.  One thing they have in common is that they are never pictorial.

A variation of the fan design, this quilt was found in New York City, where it was possibly made around 1920.  The pieces are velvet and cotton, and is tied (the ties look like dots in the photo) rather than stitch quilted.

I love this amazing quilt.  It was made by a farmer’s wife, Fannie B. Shaw, between 1930 and 1932.  The appliqued figures all represent a profession, and are labeled as such.  And why are they looking around the corner?  They are looking for prosperity, something that President Hoover promised was “just around the corner.”  Note the representatives of the GOP and the Democrats, and finally, Uncle Sam with sacks of gold, farm relief and free beer!

This is just a corner of a fantastic quilt made by Goldie Tracy Richmond in 1966.  Richmond and her husband ran a trading post on the Papago reservation in Arizona, and she made quilts to sell to tourists.  This one shows life on the reservation.

As the twentieth century advanced, the practice of quilting declined.  But the 1970s brought a renewed interest in the traditional crafts of America, and people began to take up quilting as a hobby.  In many cases, the line between craft and art is blurred as quilts changed from being utilitarian items to being strictly decorative.  Many go beyond that into the realm of sending a message.

The quilt above is from 1986, and was made by Judy Mathieson.  Called Nautical Stars, it was inspired by a watercolor of compass roses.

Click to see a larger view

Susan at Witness2Fashion recent wrote about this quilt on her blog, and I was delighted to see it in this book.  The quilt, Portrait of a Textile Worker, is made entirely of clothing labels that were donated to the maker, Terese Agnew.  Read more about it on Susan’s blog.

Once again I have to say a word or two about historical accuracy.  While I do not know a lot about the history of quilts, the fashion historian in me could not help but be disturbed by this paragraph:

The Lancaster Amish continued to work the same small group of patterns until World War II put an end to the supply of fine wool, most of which had been imported from England. With their favored material no longer readily available, Lancaster Amish women were forced to use polyester, and the classic period of their quiltmaking effectively came to an end.

I may be reading this incorrectly, but it seems to me the author is saying that polyester replaced wool during the war.  That would not be possible because polyester became available to consumers only after the war was over, in 1950.  Another inaccuracy was that Illinois was stated to be the first state to give women the right to vote in 1913.  Actually, it was Wyoming, in 1869.  And finally, Diana Vreeland was referred to as “the influential designer” when she was, in fact, the editor of Vogue.

The point needs to be made that when reading one has to be both a reader and and editor.  We are used to relying on books to supply correct information, but that is not always the case, unfortunately.  Reader beware!

All photos were taken from the book, American Quilts: The Democratic Art, by Robert Shaw.  Please do not copy photos from this site.

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Filed under Currently Reading, Vintage Sewing

Cruso Quilt Show, 2015

One of the things I have to do every summer is attend the Cruso Quilt Show.  Even though I’m not a quilter, I’m enough of a textile lover and appreciator to love spending an hour or so examining the quilts, both modern and vintage.  I always learn something and I always see something that is new to me.

The bowtie quilt above is a vintage quilt top that has been newly finished using machine stitches.

This is a new quilt made from vintage fabrics and feedsacks.  The fabrics had belonged to the quilter’s mother-in-law.

Quilts are meant to be seen from a distance, but also close up.  I love the visual impact of a beautiful quilt, but the little squares are sometimes design marvels by themselves.

In the quilting world, things are not always as they seem.  This quilt is made from modern reproductions of vintage fabrics.  The maker could have gone one step further into vintageland by using a natural muslin for the background fabric.

This one is vintage, and after looking at a lot of vintage and reproductions, the background fabrics are usually a big hint as to which is which.

This quilt that uses reproduction fabrics really caught my eye, and not only because it is so bold.  Some of the fabrics in this quilt are reproductions of the “neons” of 1892 through 1900 that I learned about back in April when I found some old swatches.

I have the originals on which the leaf prints are patterned.  Even the colors are the same.

Crazy quilts are associated with the Victorians, but women were still making them in the mid twentieth century.  The fabrics in this quilt date from the 1930s through the 1960s.  This method of making crazy squares is more obvious without all the Victorian embellishment.

This vintage quilt had the best dancing elephant fabric.

This vintage quilt is interesting for several reasons.  First, I need to point out that the squares are very small, about one and a half inches across.  This was obviously made by someone who saved even the smallest scraps.  Second, note the way the fabrics are positioned, with no attempt to cut the triangles on the grain of the fabric.  And finally, there was not much effort put into matching the corners.  We tend to thing that old equals quality, but in many cases that is just not true. Today quilting is a craft, something that people do for fun, but for many women in the past, it was just work that had to be done.

And I’ll end with a new quilt, this one made by my sister-in-law for my niece’s soon to be born baby boy.  I love the bold colors!

Correction:  I changed the word foundation to background in the paragraph following the fourth photo.  Thanks to my more-knowledgeable-than-me readers for keeping me straight.

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Filed under Southern Textiles, Vintage Sewing

From My Collection: Beach Pyjamas

After writing about beach pyjamas (or pajamas) yesterday, I thought I should show the examples I have in my collection.  The pair above is from the mid to late 1920s, as you can see from the narrow legs.  These are made from a very light and sheer woven wool, and I can’t help but wonder if there was originally a matching top or jacket.  I love how the deep waist yoke is a nod to the dropped waists of the era.

The fabric is really quite wonderful.  Believe it or not, these came from the Goodwill clearance bins several years ago.  I really could not believe my luck, as these are very hard to come by.

These crazy quilt pyjamas from the early 1930s were also a lucky Goodwill find.  At first the design looks to be completely random, but look closely and you’ll see that the maker of this garment carefully engineered the bodice, with the stripe effect mirrored in the hems of the legs.

All of the pieces are silk fabrics.  I doubt that this was ever worn, as the condition of the piece is so good, and there is no sign of neither shrinkage nor dye failure.

This last pyjama is also from the 1930s and was an ebay purchase of about ten years ago.  These have become so popular that I’d probably not be able to buy it today as the prices are much higher than what I paid.  It’s is really great, with the red and blue stripes being applied to the heavy muslin pyjama.  It was a much more practical garment for the beach than the rayon patchwork one was.

Yesterday the question came up about when to use pajama, and when to use pyjama.  Susan pointed out that the US spelling is pajama.  I used both versions of the word in yesterday’s post, mirroring the usage in the primary sources I was using.  Today, we use pajama for our sleeping garments, but pyjama is pretty much standard usage when referring to 1930s beach pyjamas.

Correction:  I originally wrote that the patchwork piece is made from rayon, but I double-checked, and the pieces are actually silk.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Along the Way to Women Wearing Slacks – Beach Pyjamas

One reason I know I’ll never be able to write a book is because I’m too easily distracted.  For the past two months I’ve been immersed in old magazines and books, looking for references to women’s hiking attire.  But I also found myself being attracted to other subjects that kept turning up, especially ones that had to do with women wearing pants.

Most intriguing was the way beach pyjamas burst onto the American fashion scene in 1925.  In January, 1925, Vogue speculated on the success of the daring new style:

All the shops are showing the new and brilliant beach pyjamas, so successfully worn at the Lido – so daringly sponsored by one lone Newport leader last summer.  Will they – or won’t they – be seen at Palm Beach?  Poiret, for one, declares that they will.  But customs are very different at the Lido and at Palm Beach, and it is unlikely that their popularity will be as great in this country as in Italy.

To me, the term beach pyjamas conjures up a vision of the wide legged one-piece pyjamas worn in the early 1930s.  But Vogue was referring to an entirely different silhouette.  The beach pajamas of the 1920s were more like pajamas of today, with narrow legs and consisting of two pieces.  The photo above is from a 1925 ad for Best & Co.

The Lido Pajama is the latest thing for beach wear.  These have wool jersey trousers and a smart little mandarin top of bright patterned rubberized silk banded in jersey.

By April, Vogue had taken another tone when referring to beach pyjamas.  In an article titled “Warm Weather Accessories,” beach pyjamas were mentioned almost matter of factly.

For those who prefer the freedom of the pyjama is this terry cloth beach set.

Through the end of the 1920s, beach pyjamas were just that – a two-piece set of top and trousers.  The photo above was taken in 1929.

To get a better picture of what American women were actually wearing, I turned to Good Housekeeping, a magazine that had monthly fashion features but which was not a fashion magazine.  It was not until June of 1930 that I found a reference to beach pyjamas in that more mainstream publication.  The one pictured was French and one-piece, but the trouser legs were still slim.

But wide legs were on their way.  The illustration above is from a 1931 publication from Wright’s Bias Fold Tape.  You can see the transition from the older style pajamas in the green suit on the right, to the wider legs of the other two examples.

Of course I don’t know why the legs got so wide so fast, but it can be observed that the wide legged pyjamas of the early 1930s seem to mirror the shape of the floor length evening gowns of the period with their narrow waists and wide, sweeping hem.  Those of the 1920s were a more boyish look, in keeping with the “garçonne” look of the mid 1920s.

 

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Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Photographs

Vintage Miscellany – August 23, 2015

Today’s photo comes to us from 1935.  I’ve posted it before, some years ago, but it illustrates so well what I’ve been spending so much of my time on lately.  If you think I’ve not been posting here as often as I once did then, you would be correct.  I’ve been up to my neck in old magazines and books, looking for accounts of women wearing pants in the years before 1935.  I’ll be sharing my findings, along with other great things I found along the way as posting here gets back to a more normal schedule.

And now for the news…

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What I Didn’t Buy – Ties + Denim = Disaster Skirt

When shopping at the Goodwill Outlet bins, I never know what I’m going to find.  For each found treasure, there are probably one thousand pieces of drek.  I’ve gotten really good at filtering out the Forever 21 and the Kathy Lee junk, but sometimes a garment will surface that makes me stop and think.  This is such a piece.

I posted this photo on Instagram, and got some really interesting comments.  One person asked if it mattered when the ties were so ugly.  Another pointed out that it could be the work of a student, as some schools’ textiles programs assign a tie reworking project.

My objection to this skirt has nothing to do with the ugliness of the ties, though there are some ugly ties there.  I’m not concerned with the haphazard construction.  And at this point in time, I can’t see that there would be much of a market for these late 1970s and early 80s ties.  What really bothered me was that I’m very certain that 7/8 of each of the sixteen ties and 3/4 of the denim from the skirt ended up in the trash, all for a skirt that was probably never worn.

A lot has been written lately about how much textile waste each person living in developed countries generates in a year.  I’ve read everything from sixty to seventy-five pounds of waste per person.  At that rate we will soon be buried in fiber.

There is no way that the Goodwill in my area can sell in their retail stores all the stuff that is donated.  Much of it never even reaches the store, as items thought to be unsalable go straight into the bins.  Items that have been on the sales floor for over a period of time are culled and put into the bins.  Even after spending hours in a bin that is sorted through by dozens of eager shoppers, there is a lot of textile items that are left unsold. At that point the leftovers are baled and sold to a rag house.

There is a great article in The New Republic about how these raggers work.  Basically, cloth items are sorted into three groups:  the really good stuff and vintage which is sorted and sold to vintage and other resale shops, the okay stuff which is sent to developing countries, and the stuff that is so bad that all they can to is sell it to be made into rags, felt, and other reprocessed cloth.

The article mentions that there are people in these rag houses who are trained to spot vintage clothing.  I’ve read elsewhere that some of these companies actually let vintage shop owners come in and sort through.  I do hope that all the great things that I see, but can’t justify buying, end up in a nice vintage store somewhere.

There is never a shortage of neckties in thrift stores, and my Goodwill is no exception.  I imagine that ninety percent of the ones that go through that place end up at the rag house.  But at least those ties will be recycled into rags or whatever for industrial use, and will not land in a landfill somewhere like the unused portion of the skirt ties most likely did.

But what about the project itself?  Is there any hope for the dated and seemingly ugly tie?  What can be made with all the millions of out of style neckties?

Actually, I think there is some hope for a similar project.  In this case, not only was the choice of ties unfortunate, but the execution of the project was poor.  Instead of overlapping and stitching the ties, they could be placed edge to edge and zig-zagged.  They could even be left unstitched, to make a dancing skirt with a lot of movement.  But most importantly, some actual pretty ties could be used, like those from Liberty of London.  But then, how does one come up with sixteen Liberty neckties?

As I spotted this skirt, another shopper also spotted it.  In one of the great cross-overs from digital to real life, this shopper was Jessamyn, who is a reader of this blog and who recognized me.  We ended up in a conversation that included the question of what can be done with unwanted neckties.  She mentioned that she had made crazy quilts using some of the wonderful silk ones she had found.  And that is a good point, for though it seems like the thrifts are full of the tacky ones from 1982, there are also plenty of fabulous Italian silks.

I recently mentioned that I always buy the Liberty ties because they make great bias binding and can be used for small projects.  Reader Nancy was so kind as to send to me two lovely Liberty ties she had found.  It’s just too bad that not all the old neckties were made of such wonderful fabric.

One last thought: I can’t help wondering if the ties that I consider to be ugly and pretty much worthless will someday become desirable.  It has happened before with neckties from the 1940s.  

Interior look at how the ties were attached to the skirt.

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Filed under I Didn't Buy...

Helping Fight Bad History

One thing about being a teacher for twenty-eight years is that it helps you develop a very strong bullshit meter.  Not that you would need much of one for this bit of nonsense.  In 1921, women in the US had gotten the vote, so there are no need to be a suffragette.  It may look like the women are eating pizza, but in the early 1920s, pizza was not the easily-obtained food that it is today.  And I’ve never, ever heard of groups of women eating to annoy men.

This photo was taken from Shorpy, where it is plainly labeled that the women are eating pie, something you can see for yourself in an enlarged view of the original.

We are all adults here, so I’m hoping I’ll not be bursting any bubbles when I tell you that you simply cannot believe everything you see – or read – on the WWW.  There are entire websites dedicated to exposing the fake and the falsely captioned.  It seems to be a huge losing battle, as the desire to make a twitter photo or a facebook post go “viral” is so much more important to many users than is the truth.

One of the great values of the internet is the ability to share information.  I’ve talked here many times about merely posting about an object or a clothing company is a fantastic way to collect information about it.  People who know the answers will find you, eventually, through Google.

Many people are using the internet to discover the “lost” stories of defunct fashion companies and to piece together the trends of the past.  Rubbish like the pizza-eating suffragettes only muddies the historical waters.

Of course ClassicPics could have simply repeated the caption from Shorpy, and even credited that site as the origin of the photo.  But what would be the fun in that?

My second beef with this twitter posting is the lack of a source.  The photo itself is quite interesting, and might be just the thing that a researcher needs to illustrate a paper or a presentation.  The problem then becomes finding the original source, something that one of the debunking sites had already done in this case, but would have taken me all day to figure out.

I’ve had that great blog post at Wynken de Worde on my mind, the one I posted a link to in last week’s Vintage Miscellany about the same issues I’m addressing here.  This really struck home yesterday when I spotted two of my photos on Instagram, both of which had been cropped, neither of which was attributed to me or to the copyright holder.  It’s disheartening that people who  profess to love fashion history are posting photos out of their true context, separating objects from their history.

For the most part I don’t mind if people use my images as long as a credit is given (and a link is even better).  That way if someone stumbles across one of my images elsewhere on the internet, they can follow the breadcrumbs back here to read more about the object.  It is a win for everyone concerned.  But images without a way to learn more about them steals a learning opportunity from the viewer and it robs me of a visitor to this blog.

I have gotten to the place where I’ll point out when an image was taken from my site.  I don’t like doing it because I always feel like I’m being a bit passive-aggressive in my approach.  But it is either that or silently fume, which is something I just refuse to do.

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