Kirness Sisters, Jerusalem, Jacket

I haven’t bought a lot of things lately due to first one thing and then another, but I did get this pretty cross-stitched rayon jacket about a month ago. I spotted it on Instagram, where it was love at first sight. After it came I put it on a hanger and put it where I could just admire it for a while.

Today I finally took a closer look, and did a bit of searching for the makers, the Kirness Sisters. I knew about this shop, but I really didn’t know much about the sisters. A general search brought up a few garments, all hand embroidered with a Middle Eastern look. There were caftans and robes and dresses. Most of the sellers listed them as being from the 1910s or 1920s.

In the July 12, 1934 Palestine Gazette I found a notice where the business had registered as a partnership. The two owners were Esher and Lida Kirness. Their business was the manufacture and selling of the arts and crafts of Palestine.  I found no other mention of Esher, but Lida married Alexander Avraham in 1937. All the other sources were written in Hebrew, so this is pretty much it, for now.

Photo form the Tim Gidel Collection, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Luckily, this photo of the exterior of the shop survives. It was taken in 1936 during the time Palestine was under British administration.

The earliest reference I found to the Kirness Sisters was the 1934 partnership registration, but that does not necessarily mean that the business actually began in 1934. Most of the clothing I have seen with the label do look to be from the 1920s, especially the dresses. I suspect that my jacket is from the late 1920s or the early 1930s.

Here is the jacket again, this time taken before I took a close look at the interior. Compare it to the photo at the top. Can you see where an alteration was made?

If you guessed “sleeves” then you are correct. The sleeves had been shortened and made more narrow.  The person who made the adaptation, possibly the original owner, went about it in a way so that the changes were not obvious. It was not until I turned it inside-out that I saw that the sleeves had been shortened about two inches. Not only that, the sleeve seams were taken in to make the sleeves more narrow. Could this have been to update the sleeves to a more narrow 1930s look?

But this is the outside.  The alternations can barely be detected. My scissors are pointing to the seam there the sleeve was shortened. Also look just below the tip of the scissors t see one of the places where the sleeve was  narrowed.

Because the alteration was made without cutting the fabric, reversing the change was easy.  Only a crease was left to indicate the alteration.

I know that many people wear old clothes, and that in order to make them fit sometimes alterations are needed. If this is you, then please do like the alterer of this jacket did. Make any changes so that they can be reversed. That means to not use scissors.  I’d also say that reversing alterations is easier when the stitching is in a slightly different color thread than the garment. I almost went blind removing black thread from a black garment.

Here’s the label in case you are ever lucky enough to run across a Kirness Sister garment. I’m thinking that would be more likely if you are in the UK, as most of the examples I located online were from sellers in the UK.  There’s good reason for this, of course, as the British were still operating under the idea that they had the right to be in Palestine. There was a large British presence in Jerusalem.

The crossstitch is so beautiful, and it shows the marks of a skilled embroiderer. Today people might sound the cry of cultural appropriation concerning garments like this one, but you have to remember this was made by a person in Palestine for the tourist trade. It’s similar to buying Native American jewelry from the maker. It helps the local economy and supports craftsmanship.

This came from the beautiful shop of Madame E Vintage at etsy.




Filed under Collecting, Designers, Uncategorized

27 responses to “Kirness Sisters, Jerusalem, Jacket

  1. Polly Goldberg

    Cultural appropriation ends up meaning that we can only buy and appreciate things of our own culture. A, that’s ridiculous. B, it’s ahistoric. People have been appreciating and buying items and design styles of other cultures since long before written history. C, it’s rather narrow-minded, in that its result, as you point out, is the possible impoverishment of local economies. Let’s all admire and support the products of all!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The cries of cultural appropriation have died down as of late. Maybe people are beginning to see how so many cultural influences are multiple-layered, and that it’s often difficult to determine who “owns” a design. So many instances of so-called cultural appropriation are actually racism, and that’s an entirely different story.


  2. What a gorgeous jacket! Love seeing the amazing handwork. Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 2 people

  3. jacq staubs

    Incredible handwork! Cute kilts!!! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Any chance you will model the jacket? I think I see bust darts or a fold that runs down to the hem…. It looks shorter than I’d expect from the 1920s, but size affects that perception…. I once didn’t recognize a tunic dress because its width and length were about the same!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s glorious! I had my eye on this piece on Instagram, so I’m glad it’s gone to a good home.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Eric Smith

    Fascinating embroidery- it looks like the “hard and fast” rule of having all the top stitches of the crosses going in the same direction was not followed, and it varies in a way that is sensitive to the design. And the colours are magnificent on black. Do you think it was done over waste canvas?

    Liked by 1 person

    • For the most part, the same direction rule was followed, but as you saw, there are places where it varies. There *had* to have been a guide of some kind. I can’t imagine anyone being skilled enough to free-hand this!


  7. I’m with Polly Goldberg. The charge of “cultural appropriation” is a judgement supported by certain values. IMO we should respect the cultural source, and avoid wearing another culture’s religious or ceremonial item. A strict application of “cultural appropriation” would suggest we ought not wear a kaftan, dirndl skirt, sarong, or a ‘kimono’ robe. Your find is a treasure.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m with Polly and Kathleen. This gorgeous jacket deserves wide appreciation, regardless pf its origin. Besides, everything in some sense is derivative. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Back again… Googling the Kirness sisters, I came across this jacket that had previously been sold on Etsy –

    This is so very similar to an outfit worn by Lady Edith in Downton Abbey – which I suspect was an original hired from Cosprop – that I wonder if they are indeed by the same makers.


  10. Further to my previous comment (sorry, this jacket has been haunting me) I remembered that an Instagrammer recreated the Downton set, and in her info, she says the original was by Kirness Sisters –


  11. Looks like my other comment got lost, sorry – I was comparing this Etsy sale – – to this Downton Abbey costume that I thought was probably an original rented from Cosprop:


  12. I marvel at all the hand embroidery, designed and stitched dozens/hundred of times. (But what I noted first were the kilts the soldiers were wearing!)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I loved reading this! What a great find and it is an eye opening garment when it comes to alterations, I never considered it and it makes so much sense to be able to leave the garment so that at any time it can be taken back to its original state.


  14. Lillian

    I have a two kirness sister’s dresses, one pair of pajamas, and a 1930s american copy if you are interested in seeing them 🙂
    Loved seeing this article and the photo of the original store. I have found a photo of a woman of the time wearing one as well if you’d like to see it!


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