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.
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.