Category Archives: manufacturing

College-Maid, from the Girls at Maryville College

A recent acquisition is this cute little 1920s blouse with an interesting back-story. It wasn’t so much the blouse that sold me on this piece, but rather, the label.

This one ticked several boxes: women’s college related, somewhat local to me, and after digging a bit, sportswear related. And the Deco-ish embroidery didn’t hurt a bit. So what’s the story?

Maryville College is one of the fifty oldest colleges in the country, being founded in 1819 as a Presbyterian seminary. From the beginning the school was racially integrated, until it was forced to segregate in 1901. It began admitting women in the 1860s, and in 1875 granted the first degree to a women in Tennessee. By the 1920s there were more women than men in the college, probably because it offered degrees in education.

In 1921 (or 1920, according to one source) home economics teacher Kathryn McMurray devised a plan to help girls who were not able to afford their college fees to stay in school. She set up a sewing enterprise where students made simple garments that were then sold under the label “College-Maid”. The program started with ten girls, but three years later more than 400 girls were earning money to help pay for their education.

Several types of garments were made by the students. One was the apron, which is the champion of beginning sewing projects. I also found references to house dresses and work dresses, but best of all, by 1926 they were making two-piece pajamas. I am quite sure that my blouse is actually a pajama top.

Ms. McMurray traveled around the country, encouraging women’s organizations and department stores to sell College-Maid products. Women’s groups would have what we today would call pop-up shops to sell the garments for the college. Some department stores advertised the goods as late as 1934. A dress cost $1.95 at that time.

Several years ago I found some pages from a photo album belonging to a Maryville College student.

Ruth, Gert, Mae and Eva had lots of adventures. I can’t help but wonder if any of them worked making College-Maid garments.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Made in the USA, manufacturing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Vintage Photographs

Award Sweaters from Octonek, 1946

I just received this catalog from a company of which I’d never heard, the Octonek Knitting Company of Seattle. It was a gift, and a very welcome one! My thanks to Mary of @pdxsquared. A friend of hers was cleaning out her mother’s things when this was found, and they just wanted it to go to a good home. And it did.

I have been able to find a little information about Octonek. It was founded in 1913 by J.H. and Theresa Breece. In a 1915 business register their products listed were wool knit items, including  sweaters, cardigans, golf vests, and hosiery.  A 1935 advertisement in a hiking club publication  listed “Knitted suits and dresses, sweaters, wool socks, mittens, caps for skiers, caps, and gloves”. The last print reference I located was in a 1950 Seattle University Spectator newsletter, in which bathing suits were also advertised.

There was a little about the company inside the catalog. Most surprising was that Octonek would make a sweater to order, made to the customer’s measurements. This would be very useful for very short or very tall or very large persons who could not find knits to fit.

We also get a glimpse into the factory, which I love seeing.

Again, we can see Octonek’s willingness to tailor their product to the buyer’s specifications.

As with other garments, the sweaters openings for girls lapped right over left, and those for boys lapped left over right. That, along perhaps with size, is often the only clue as to the gender of the former owner.

I love the term yell leader. Was that a regional thing? Here in the South I’ve only ever seen and heard them referred to as cheerleaders. And yell kings, dukes, and queens are new to me terms as well.

Octonek also made wool chenille emblems, and because they used the same yarns as the sweaters, they were guaranteed to match.

 

 

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Filed under Advertisements, manufacturing, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

The Art of Reweaving

This swatch is on the reverse side of a very lovely vintage skirt. You are looking at one of the best examples of reweaving I’ve ever seen.

Here is the front of the same section of the skirt. Don’t bother looking for the mends as they are completely invisible. Reweaving is one of those skills that sounds simple to acquire, but is, in fact, quite difficult to do properly. I know because I’ve tried, with varying success. I would never attempt to reweave such a complicated and finely woven plaid.

In this enlargement you can better see how the reweaver used a needle to replicate the pattern. And in the center is the hole. Reweaving is still practiced today, but be prepared to pay for the service. This is highly skilled  work.

And here’s the suit, part of the collection at Style and Salvage, a local vintage business. I love visiting and watching them work because there is always something new to see and to learn.

I can see why the original owner had this suit repaired. It is a great set, and she bought it at Miller’s, THE department store in Knoxville, Tennessee. And this was during the time that people did not see their clothing as being disposable. Repairs were considered part of the upkeep of nice things.

The curve of the collar is repeated in the pockets.

I’m not familiar with the maker, Elynor, but a trip to the trademark site told me the company first used the name in 1927. It was one of the many quality suit makers in the New York Garment District.

Stroock was, as the label clearly proclaims, a fine woolen cloth manufacturer. The history of the company dates back to 1866 as a maker of blankets of fine fibers including cashmere and vicuna.

Thanks to Mel and Jeff at Style and Salvage for allowing me to share this great suit.

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Filed under Curiosities, manufacturing, Sewing

Harford Frocks Sales Cards, 1940s

I think most of us would be familiar with at least one company that marketed direct to consumers in their homes. Examples are Avon cosmetics, Longaberger baskets, and Fuller brushes.  In most cases the salespersons were (are, as some of these are still in business) not employees of the company, but were private contractors who took orders for a commission. There were also several companies that sold clothing. One was Doncaster, who first used members of the Junior League as their “fashion consultants”. Doncaster recently closed after eighty-seven years.

Another fashion company that used direst sales was Harford Frocks of Cincinnati. Consultants were usually women, especially homemakers who wanted to make a little extra money. Each consultant had a sales kit that included cards showing all the available styles. The best part was the attached fabric swatch on each card, allowing the customer to actually feel the fabric.

I haven’t spent a lot of time researching the company so I can’t give a complete history of the company. The president was Clarence Israel, who arrived in Cincinnati in the early 1930s. His papers are held by the American Jewish Archives, but there is probably not much about his time at Harford. His more important work was as a social activist, and he worked to benefit the Jewish community of Cincinnati.

There are several interesting tidbits I want to share, however. I couldn’t find any firm dates for when Harford was in business, but the best source for trying to figure it out was Pinterest. Lots of cards are on view there, with the earliest ones dating to the mid 1920s, and the latest to the mid 1960s.

The company advertised in cheap magazines and comics, and according to the ads, the consultant got a free dress for every three she sold. I also found ads in the want ads section of Popular Mechanics.

The company was located in what is today the American Sign Museum. In 1937 the Ohio flooded, and the building was damaged. They sued their insurance company because it would not pay for damages. The insurance company won the case.

I have thirty-seven cards, but they are double-sided. They are not dated, but the designs look to be 1946 ish to me.  There are all kinds of garments, including  socks for men and “Curve Curbers” (aka girdles). There are suits for women and a few designs for little girls. But by far the best represented garment is the frock.

Each design has a fabric swatch or two, and included are the sizes available. They had three size ranges, what we would today call juniors, misses and half sizes. Some of the designs went up to a 44 inch bust.

The designs marketed to the teen market often had novelty features, like the pockets above.

This two piece dress looks like it has Schiaparelli-inspired buttons, but look closer and you’ll see that the buttons are round, and the top of the notes are embroidered onto the jacket.

Noticeably absent are pants. These shorts were the only pants in the entire set, though I have no way of knowing if some cards, which may include pants suits, are missing.

There were several sundresses with jackets. The horse fabric is a printed pique.

This is a versatile set, but it would be even more so if a pair of shorts were included.

One of the best things about post-World War Two fashion was the return of lots of color. Note that even the shoes are a bright, cherry color.

Like so much of the clothing advertising in the first six decades of the twentieth century, the fabric was up front and featured. Bates was a well-known brand of textiles, and Harford was quick to point out the connection.

Pleated to capacity!

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Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, manufacturing, Proper Clothing

At Hood Rubber Company, Circa 1905

click to enlarge

Back in the winter I wrote about Hood Rubber. The company made all sorts of products that incorporated rubber, but the most interesting to me were the canvas and rubber leisure shoes.  After making the post, my friend Lynn of AmericanAgeFashion wrote to remind me that she had also written about the company because she had a wonderful old photo that showed some workers in one of the Hood factories. When I met Lynn in Charlotte a few weeks ago, she gave the photo to me to add to my archive.

The only person identified in the photo is the older woman who is standing between two men. She was identified as Grandmother King. In another pen was added “Hood Rubber Watertown”, and in pencil someone wrote “c 1910”. These identifications were added much later, as the pens used were ballpoints, which did not come into common use until the 1940s. My point is that the circa 1910 seems to be a bit off, as I’d put this at least five years earlier.

My guess is this is a cutting room. At the time, athletic shoes were either black or white, and that’s what we can see in the bolts stacked behind the workers. Even though this area has electric lights, the factory still makes use of the natural light by placing the work tables near the windows. And look carefully at the tables. They appear to be spread with the canvas, and you can see the bolts on the floor on the backs of the tables.

Old industrial photos of this sort provide a lot of information about everything from the types of clothing workers wore to the way factories were set up. They are hard to find, so I’m really happy to have this one and to add it to my records. Thanks Lynn!

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Filed under Collecting, Made in the USA, manufacturing, Shoes, Vintage Photographs