Category Archives: Curiosities

Currently Reading: The Mountain Artisans Quilting Book

Mountain Artisans shows just exactly how important timing is in business, and in life in general.  After President Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, there were dozens of agencies set up to implement hundreds of programs that were meant to help the poor.  Mountain Artisans was started by a worker in the arts and crafts department of the Department of Commerce, Florette Angel.  Ms. Angel was in West Virginia to help a group of quilters figure out how to market the projects they were making using traditional quilting skills.

It was a good time to be starting a crafts cooperative.  Not only was there the Federal assistance that sent Ms. Angel to the quilters, it was 1968, and interest was increasing in alternative lifestyles such as the back-to-the-earth  movement.  The American Bi-centennial was coming up in 1976, and interest in history and heritage were growing.

Even so, the project got off to a rocky start.  Interestingly, there was money to spend on studies of impoverished people and how they could make money, but there was no money to pay for needed craft supplies.  All the young women who were working to start the business had no experience and they were working without pay.

Help arrived in the person of Sharon Rockefeller, whose famous name helped open doors.  She put the group in touch with the famous Parish-Hadley decorating firm, which arranged for meetings in New York, including one with Diana Vreeland at Vogue.   Through Vreeland, Oscar de la Renta ordered some of the fabric being pieced by the women in the co-op.  The group was on its way.

They also benefited from some excellent press coverage.  Whoever was in charge of public relations did a fantastic job, getting a feature in Life magazine, and mentions in Newsweek and New York Magazine.  The Associated Press and United Press International regularly distributed features on the co-op.

Dorothy Dembosky Weatherford, a local artist, donated her talents as a designer, and her work led to a distinctive Mountain Artisans style.  She liked big bold blocks of color, much in the style of the late 1960s and early 70s.

By 1972 the co-op was a success, and Weatherford won a special Coty award that year for “reviving native handicrafts.” According to an account from the AP in 1972, there were 160 full time quilters, with an additional 60 working part time.  Total sales for the previous year had been a half a million dollars.  A showroom was planned for New York.

Sharon Rockefeller wearing a Mountain Artisans skirt

The success of the group is nicely documented in this book by Alfred Allen Lewis.  Published in 1973, it is a book typical of the time, with the story of the co-op intertwined with directions for making projects based on those of the Mountain Artisans.  I’m not so sure how easy it would be to actually follow the directions, but there are lots of photos of the quilters sitting and sewing along with diagrams showing the design and construction process.

The clothes, which were mainly floor-length “hostess skirts”, were sold in high-end stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Joseph Magnin, and Neiman Marcus.  The co-operative also made patchwork pillows and quilts.  These items occasionally come up for sale today, and they are easily identified because they are labeled.

Quilt made for the Rockefeller baby

In appreciation for all the support she had given them, the group made a quilt for Sharon Rockefeller’s first baby.  Designed by Weatherford, it was not the average baby quilt made from sweet pastels.  I’ve got to wonder if the Rockefellers still have it.

Dorothy Weatherford experimented with modern-looking variations of old quilt themes.

The early 1970s were an interesting time.  People were discovering traditional handicrafts such as quilting, knitting, and sewing, and there was a definite Little House on the Prairie vibe going on in fashion.  The women running Mountain Artisans were wise to capitalize on this interest.

But fashion changes, and the homespun look died with the passing of time.  After July, 1976, interest in “tradition” waned, as Americans discovered the pleasures of disco.  Mountain Artisans closed in 1978.

8 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Currently Reading

A Matter of Proportion

I spotted this skirt recently at a nearby antique mall, and I really liked it, but for some reason it looked a little off. The mix of colors was so fresh and unexpected, so that wasn’t it.  Still, it left me a bit unsettled.

A check inside the skirt revealed one of my favorite sportswear labels from the 1950s and 60s, Bill Atkinson for Glen of Michigan.  I’ve sung the praises of this label in the past, and I know it to be of good quality and to have a sound design aesthetic.  So what about it bothered me?

I took the skirt from the rack and turned it inside out to examine it.  And there was the story.  The skirt had been shortened.

The bottom squares were originally true squares like the rest of the ones in the skirt.  Even better, there was a band of that same dark pink velveteen that is used in the waistband.  My faith in Mr. Atkinson was restored.

I was impressed that the person who turned this knee-length skirt into a mini did not take the scissors to it.  Instead she turned up the band and half of the bottom squares, which made for a very bulky hem.  I’m guessing it didn’t get a lot of wear as the condition of the skirt was so good.

As a short person, I’ve learned that there is often more to consider when putting up a hem than just length.  Proportion is very important in order for a dress or skirt to look “right.”  Several years ago before maxi-length dresses came back into fashion, it was common on ebay to see 1970s maxis that the seller had cut off to a mini length.  Because the scale of prints in the early 70s was often quite large, the prints were well suited to the maxi length.  But with three feet of fabric sliced from the bottom, the mini versions always ended up looking off kilter.

I’m glad that floor-length dresses made a reappearance in fashion, because it saved many vintage 1970s maxi dresses from the chopping block.

Correction: Spelling error

9 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Charm, January 1957

I can imagine that to the average Charm reader, a trip to somewhere in which a swimsuit would be needed in January was just a dream.  It was, after all, The Magazine for Women Who Work, and not for the women who had large sums of money with which to take winter vacations. Or maybe this was meant to be for the “later” mentioned in the caption.

I’m really interested in the idea of swimsuits with sleeves.  Ever since the sleeves were banished from bathing suits in the early 1920s, makers have tried on numerous occasions to bring them back, and in fact, many of Claire McCardell’s designs for swimsuits had sleeves.  Nevertheless, it is very rare for one to come onto the vintage market, so I’m betting they just didn’t go over, especially in the days when much of the object of wearing one was to get a tan.

Today  everything from two pieces of string tied strategically to a long sleeved leotard paired with leggings can pass for a bathing suit.  I rather like the idea of a short sleeved bathing suit, but then I’m pretty much in favor of all sleeves these days.

Bathing suit was part of the International Set line from Jantzen; hat by John Fredericks; copyright Conde Nast.

13 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Too Marvelous for Words

Trail Cookery for Girl Scouts

 

This little cook booklet dates from 1945, and while it is not an official Girl Scout publication, the company that printed it made it specifically with the Girl Scouts in mind.  Look closely at the pictures to figure out who made the booklet.

Even without the date, I’d have put this in the 1940s due to the cute pleated shorts all the girls are wearing.

One girl just can’t resist those Boy Scouts on the opposite mountain.

The booklet does not actually tell you how to cook an egg with a magnifying glass, unfortunately.

There are even menus included which predominately feature the product of the publisher.  And guesses yet?

Yes, this booklet was developed by the Home Economics Department of the Kellogg Company of Battle Creek, Michigan.

Those baby bears simply cannot resist Rice Krispies!

 

7 Comments

Filed under Curiosities

Vintage Label Quilt, Part II

Five years ago I wrote about a quilt that was made of clothing labels.  It had taken me ten years to track it down, but I finally was put in touch with the owner, Chris Kluge.  Chris’s great grandfather started a label weaving company,  Artistic Weaving, which was at one time the world’s largest manufacturers of woven labels.  Using the word “artistic” as part of the company’s name was totally appropriate, as the labels are little works of art.  You can read the story of Artistic Weaving in my post from five years ago.

Several days ago I got an email from Seref Ozen, a dealer of antique textiles who lives in Istanbul, Turkey.  He was in possession of a similar quilt, and had found my old blog post in looking for information.  Instead of clothing labels, this one was made of woven Christmas greetings.  Many were signed by Albert Kluge, or stated that they were from the Artistic Weaving Company.

I really could not tell Seref anything else about his quilt, but I was intrigued.  How did such an obviously American item end up in his possession in Turkey?  What was the meaning of the woven greetings?

My first step was to contact Chris Kluge.  He confirmed what I suspected, that the company made their own woven Christmas greetings.  His great uncle Albert Kluge sent them to his customers and friends, and after Chris’s father inherited the business he continued the tradition until the business was sold in the late 1990s.

Chris also said that it was possible that these were designed by a Mr. Smith, who was a label artist at Artistic.  He “may well have created the colored sketch which was then ‘translated’ into jacquard punch cards for weaving the pictures.”

So how did this quilt end up in Istanbul?  Believe it or not, it came from Afghanistan. From Seref: “The piece was found by an Afghan picker in Afghanistan and an Uzbek picker” brought it to his attention.  He bought it.

There is really no way to know with certainty how this quilt ended up in Afghanistan, but Seref has a theory.  “I have no idea but I think, people are sending lots of aid boxes to Afghanistan because every now and then I find things that don’t make sense in Afghanistan.  I even got a YoYo quilt years ago.”

My guess is that these woven greetings were made in the 1920s through the 1940s.  The amount of detail is simply amazing.  If these don’t make you long for the days of wonderful woven labels, nothing will.

The entire quilt is quite large.

Gearing up for WWII?

19 Comments

Filed under Curiosities

The Cowichan Indian Sweater

I pulled this great little booklet out of a Goodwill bin, along with some other vintage booklets about Native American textiles.  What really interested me about this one was the section on knitted goods made by Vancouver Island Indians.  I know that knitting is not what generally springs to mind when thinking of Native textiles, but the Cowichan sweater is a special story.

In the early days of ebay chat boards, I loved to read the Vintage Fashion Board.  This was in the late 1990s, or maybe early 2000s, long before any vintage blogs or other sources of information online.  It was the best vintage education I could have gotten because it was an open discussion about anything and everything about old clothes.

One discussion I remembered in particular involved Mary Maxim and Cowichan sweaters.  As ebay was growing (exploding, actually) one of the big concerns was using key words so buyers could find what they wanted through searching.  For some reason, probably due to some “expert” on the board giving bad information, sellers started using the term Cowichan to describe Mary Maxim sweaters.

The only things the two sweaters really have in common is the use of a heavy multi-ply yarn in their making and often, the depiction of wildlife.  Mary Maxim is a company that sold knitting charts and yarns to home knitters.  The patterns are pictorial in nature, with themes like fishing or bowling or airplanes, usually in bright colors on a tan background.  They are best described, I suppose, as novelty sweaters.  Cowichan sweaters are hand knit by Indians on Vancouver Island, often with geometric patterns, but also depicting local wildlife.  They are knit in neutral colors of wool.

In the course of the ebay discussion, some knowledgeable person finally showed up and set us all straight about the Cowichan.  To use the term Cowichan to describe any bulky hand knit was just wrong, and to be honest, ignorant.  It was a good lesson for me, not to rely on the word of people I don’t really know.  Do my own research and be careful with the details.  Of course it is much easier now, fifteen years later.  The amount  of information on the internet is far beyond anything I imagined in 2000.  And it helps that today I know many people online whose knowledge I can trust.

Following is the text from the booklet, Indian Weaving, Knitting, Basketry of the Northwest, by Elizabeth Hawkins.  It was published in 1978.

Knitting is a modern technique that was introduced by early Scottish settlers to Vancouver Island Indians.  Today, Native knitting is predominated by the Salish women knitting the famous Cowichan Indian sweaters, and to a lesser extent, tams, socks, mitts and ponchos.  Many women still spin and dye their own wool both because of the handcrafted touch it gives and to keep the cost down.  Many of the sweaters are knitted in the round using as many as eight needles and therefore produce a seamless garment.

There is such a demand today for these sweaters that I was recently told that on two of the Vancouver Island reserves every woman of age commercially knits.  While the southern Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley tribes are the predominant knitters the demand is encouraging a similar home industry in northern villages as well.

Design

Geometric patterns predominate in primitive Salish design but more modern designs often incorporate wildlife.  Thunderbird, eagle, killer whale and deer are crest figures often portrayed.

Duncan Fall Fair brings forth competition among Cowichan knitters.

I thought the spindles were really interesting.  I’ve never seen a spinning wheel adapted from an old treadle sewing machine.

Note the Scottish influence in the sweaters hanging behind the happy spinners.  I love that argyle.  The snowflake is interesting as well.  It looks like other knitting designs such as Scandinavian were being appropriated into the Cowichan.

13 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949, Part II

Click to enlarge

 

In reading about the Schiaparelli for Catalina swim suit I recently bought I discovered that, according to an advertisement, that this suit was the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.” That sent me on an internet search to see if I could actually find photos of the contestants wearing this particular suit.  When I came up  empty I just assumed that it was Catalina suits in general that were the official suit of the pageant.

To my surprise and delight, I got the above photo in my inbox last night.  Julie of Jet Set Sewing saw my Schiaparelli suit and thought it looked familiar.  Then she realized that a photo of the 1948 contestants wearing the suit was hanging in her home.  Julie’s husband found the photo in a shop in Paris.

As you can see, it is the Schiaparelli swim suit, but with the addition of the Catalina flying fish logo.  And even though this was the 1948 Miss America contest, the suit was not made commercially until the next year.  Thus, all my searches for “Miss America Catalina 1949” brought up a different set of swim suits.

Even though the power of Google is great and it so often leads us to the correct information, it makes me happy that it was a friend who provided the breakthrough on this one.  Thanks, Julie!

Click to enlarge

 

8 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Rest of the Story, Sportswear, Summer Sports