I’ve been waiting almost 10 years to see the quilt above. Seriously.
When I was still teaching I had a kid whose mother worked at Lark Books in Asheville. It was the early days of the VFG Label Resource, and I was telling her about that project when she mentioned a quilt made of vintage labels that was hanging in the lobby or stairwell of the Lark offices. But she seemed to think that the quilt had been removed. You know how it is when you see something everyday; after a while you stop noticing it.
She could see that I was excited to see the quilt, so she promised to track it down and then I could visit her at her office so I could see it. Well, the quilt really was gone, and she was never able to locate it.
Last month while visiting Kate Mathews of Folkwear Patterns, I happened to mention the quilt, as she used to be co-owner of Lark. She remembered it, but did not know what had happened to it. It belonged to a guy named Chris Kluge, whose family owned the label company that made the labels. She promised to track it down.
As it turned out, the quilt had been returned to Chris. A few weeks later she sent Chris’s email, and the rest is history. Here, in Chris’s own charming words, is the story behind this remarkable quilt:
“It was created in the latter 1970’s by my best friend’s mother…. full name Laura Margaret Sherrill Hobson (aka “Midge” and “Midget”, for her diminuitive size ) Midge Hobson was born near Asheville, NC and moved to New York City in the 40’s as an Arthur Murrey Dance Instructor… where she attempted to teach a semi-clumsy returning Navy veteran to dance…. He was hopeless as a dancer, and hopelessly in love (as was she) so they married… She spent most of the rest of her life in New Jersey, raising two boys with her husband, Russ Hobson Jr. (an inventor and successful entrepreneur. .a story unto himself for certain..) They retired back to NC (near Old Fort) in the early 70’s.
Midge Hobson was aware of my family’s history in the label business*, and, after showing her some old sample books (from 20’s and 30’s), she expressed an interest in using some for a quilt she was currently making. I happily gave her the books to peruse… and you see the result!! I was very surprised to receive the quilt after Mrs. Hobson’s death in the 80’s.
* The Label Business….. My paternal great grandfather was one of five brothers who, with their father, ran a narrow fabrics weaving mill in Krefeld, Germany (probably began in 1860’s or so) They wove jacquard design trim for corset borders, and other apparel and design-related markets…. This business was called Gebruder Kluge (“Kluge Brothers”)
Around the mid 1880s, Herr Papa Kluge sent four of his sons to establish new markets for their German manufactured goods… one to Sweden, one to Italy, one to United States, and one to Russia (and one Kluge stayed at home, wee-wee- etc… My great grandfather, Adolf Kluge, established German Artistic Weaving Company in New York City (somewhere around 32nd St.), at first only importing narrow fabrics woven in Germany.. .But, when tarrifs were put on same, he bought looms (again, in a loft around 32nd Street), to manufacture within the US. Family lore has a sheriff padlocking that location at one time(s) or another.
Adolf Kluge then bought riverside property in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey (from a black powder contractor to Dupont Powder Works… Smith Powder Works) With a water-driven turbine, he proceeded to build and expand on that site, eventually claiming to be “The World’s Largest Manufactuer of Woven Labels” (I have an old salescard that says so…. so it MUST be true, eh?)
Eventually over hundred looms were weaving narrow fabrics, coinciding with the booming “ready-to-wear” garment needs of new immigrants, and his business thrived. (Side note… One of Adolf’s Brothers, Emile, came over to help with the business…. Emile thought he could do better, so he split off from his Brother Adolf, and established his OWN US-based label company… “E.H.Kluge” of course, the brothers never spoke again…. (Emile’s company was big success, until crash in 1929 wiped him out.)
With the outbreak of German hostilities in Europe, German-Artistic Company thought it prudent to become Artistic Weaving Company. ( which it remained until the 1970’s.) Adolf Kluge died in 1920, leaving his label business to his sons, Albert and Willard. Albert bought his brother (my paternal grandfather) out in the early 30’s. Albert Kluge built a label mill in Pittsboro, North Carolina (“Chatham Mills”) and it was still cranking out labels into the mid 1990’s. When Albert died in 1957, my Father, Willard Kluge Jr, inherited the company. At that time the basic shuttle-style jacquard looms in use were not too different from looms of 100 years ago.
Loom technology changed dramatically. Highspeed broadlooms, running polyester warps and figure yarns, were converted to narrow-fabric capability by having electrically-heated wires cut and fuse. What had been used to weave broad goods could now crank out labels… AND, cause millions of people, myself among them, to cut out those nasty fused-edge neck labels
Which is a handy segueway back to those older labels Mrs. Hobson used for her magnificent quilt…. Being of such older vintage, they are mostly rayon and cotton (some might even be silk, which is what was used before Dupont invented Rayon.. in 20’s.) The German Artistic Weaving company that was begun over 100 years ago in a loft in NYC ended in mid 1990s… sold to another North Carolina- based label company, which went bankrupt within two years.
The evolution and brief history of woven labels in the US is typical of many industries….. from small, family-owned endeavors, building customers, expanding into new markets, consolidating with similar businesses…. and, as all labor-intensive business have, fleeing to cheaper labor markets….. first labels….. then shirts……. then computers… then… finance? Stay tuned!!
Interesting how Mrs. Hobson’s handsewn quilt has outlasted the businesses that inspired her marvelous efforts!”
What a story! My thanks to Chris for taking the time to write this all out and for sending photos. If you want to see what Chris is up to, visit his website, Chriskluge.com. He is a marionette maker, though I don’t see any on his site that look like him. As I hear it he bears a striking resemblence to George Clooney!
Tommorow: thoughts about vintage labels.
Posted by pinky-a-gogo:
What a great story and wonderful quilt!
Posted by Jonathan:
Wonderful story and what a wonderful piece of domestic industrial folk art!
Posted by The Red Velvet Shoe:
I don’t have time to read the whole post right now, but will be back to do so. What an amazing quilt, it should be in the Smithsonian!
Posted by Couture Allure:
I am in love. This quilt is incredibly beautiful! Thank you so much for this great story, Lizzie.
Posted by Tina:
This is a beautiful quilt, I’ve never seen anything else like it!
Posted by Brenda:
Worth the wait is right Lizzie. This is such an inspiring story and the quilt is incredible. Bravo!
Posted by The Vintage Vortex:
How incredibly fabulous! Great reading and a great story!! I called my husband over to see as he loves quilts and he commented on how difficult if must have been to line up so many different size labels to make a perfect rectangle!! Amazing!
Posted by The Cosmic Cowgirl:
Ah! The elusive label quilt! So glad you discovered and shared its wonderful story!
Posted by Sarah:
What a remarkable quilt, and how wonderful that you managed to track it down! I agree with The Red Shoes that it deserves to be in a museum.
Chris Kluge supplies a fascinating story about the history and production of labels, and it was a pleasure to read.
Posted by Cathy Hammond:
What a fantastic piece of history! Thank you for sharing this great American story and the fabulous one-of-a-kind quilt.
Posted by Carrie:
What an amazing quilt–both a work of art and a piece of history! And what a wonderful story behind it (and the tale-spinner is rumored to look like George Cloooney? 😛 )
Thanks for sharing the results of your sleuthing efforts with us, Lizzie!
Posted by Mod Betty / Retro Roadmap:
How wonderful! I could sit and look at those labels for days. So glad you shared the history and story with us all!
Posted by Sue Barton:
Lizzie, this was such a fascinating read and what a treat to see pics of this quilt. Great story! Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
Posted by Susie Hurst:
What a fascinating quilt and story! Thank you so much for sharing this. I would love to see this quilt in person!:)
Posted by Melody Fortier/Tangerine Boutique:
That quilt is a historical treasure!! Thank you so much for sharing. I hope it does make it into a museum.
Posted by chris kluge:
I am very thankful for Lizzie tracking this fabulous creation of Mrs. Hobson’s down, and for allowing me to relate a little of the history behind the labels Mrs. Hobson so beautifully put to use!
( ,,and thx to Miss Lizzie for going along with the bit about George Clooney… 🙂 But all other parts of the story are TRUE… xx chris k
Posted by Jeff Haubrich:
Thanks for sharing, not only great photos, but a history of Artistic Weaving and some family history.
Posted by Woody Pumphrey:
Mrs.”H” was also a great jig-saw puzzle solver! The First thing she would do is hide the box, so she wouldn’t look at the picture. She never did the edge first, saying “that’s cheating!”. I have seen her do puzzles upside DOWN…it’s no wonder(to me) this Quilt is so Beautiful because she certainly was! 🙂
Posted by chris kluge:
Woody P… .you are RIGHT!! I forgot all about her puzzle capabilities… and, considering the 2 genius rascals she and Mr. H brought into the world….. well, she was definitely quite a human!
Posted by Lizzie:
I’ve really enjoyed everyone’s comments. Woddy, thanks for sharing Mrs. H’s extraordinary puzzle solving skills. It explains how she was able to sort out all those labels!
And a big thanks to Kate Mathews for putting this into motion!
Posted by fleur anglaise:
Wow – what a tactile piece of history! I want one!:)
Posted by Laura Stokes:
Posted by lady kingdom:
Very nice blog here …
Great post from you .
Posted by sara loughton:
That is the coolest quilt i’ve seen in awhile.