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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.

 

 

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One Small Act

Six years ago I posted a photo of a Magda Makkay handbag I acquired, and as luck would have it a neighbor of Magda’s reached out to me. I called Magda and we’ve been friends ever since.  At the time she was turning 89, and I asked you all to send her a birthday card.

Well, Magda will be 95 soon, and once again I’d like to remember her birthday in a big way. If you would like to help me, all you need to do is send her a birthday card.  I don’t want to give out her address so I have set up a post office box for the cards, and then I’ll put them all in a box to mail to her. Please mail them so they will reach me by June 12.  Send to:

Magda Makkay

c/o Lizzie Bramlett

PO Box 493

Clyde, NC 28721

To read about Magda’s incredible life, you can revisit the old posts I wrote about her. HERE  and HERE.

I know this is just a small thing, but it will make mean so much to Magda. I have found that in times when our world seems to be completely messed up, it helps to perform a small act of kindness.

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Derrick Adams: Patrick Kelly, The Journey at SCADFASH

Sometimes a reminder cames to us to not put things off. With the majority of the world in self survival mode, there won’t be any museum going for a while. That makes my recent trip to Atlanta, taken just as the coronavirus was reaching the US, even more special. It may be the last museum jaunt for a long while.

If you were around in the 1980s, you probably remember Patrick Kelly, a young Black designer from Mississippi who took Paris by storm in 1985. His clothes were body-hugging, often in black accented with bright colors. He was known for his joyous approach to life and his loyalty to his friends. Unfortunately, Kelly died of AIDS in 1990.

Since his death, not much has been written about Kelly, though a book is now in the works. He did leave a large archive which is housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. Artist Derrick Adams took a deep dive into the archive, which inspired a body of work celebrating Kelly’s legacy.

The exhibition at SCADFASH incorporates these works from Adams, surrounded by clothing designed by Kelly, and memorabilia from his life. Many of these items were loaned to the museum by friends in Atlanta, where Kelly lived during the 1970s.

In my top photo you can see one of Adams’s works. It incorporates pattern pieces from designs Kelly licensed to Vogue Patterns, along with the brights + black scheme that so typifies many of Kelly’s dresses.

This Patrick Kelly dress seems to be to be a collage in dress form.

And here is a work by Adams using the same theme.

This Kelly dress was one that was made into a commercial pattern. The large dots of color are actually buttons.

And here is the pattern. Finding buttons that large must have been a real task for anyone not living in a place like New York with all its fashion resources. The large buttons in the photograph were specially-made buttons for Kelly’s line. He would keep a supply of them in his pocket to hand out to visitors to his boutique and workshop.

This work by Adams incorporates the button theme.

Here’s one of Kelly’s trademark caps. They often just spelled out Paris in sequins.  And there’s another of his pattern designs in the background.

One thing I neglected to photograph was a couple of little plastic baby dolls. About two inches long, each was made of molded brown plastic, representing Black babies. I remember these from my 1960s childhood, and was quite surprised that he had them in the 1980s. They were another of the little gifts Kelly passed out to friends and visitors. The Black babies were just one of the ways that Kelly stressed his Blackness, as he also appropriated Black images that were meant to be racist and demeaning. He even used a Golliwog as a motif in some of his collections.

There have been two major retrospectives of Kelly’s work, one at the Brooklyn Museum in 2004, and one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014 after they received eighty garments from his estate. There have been two podcasts about Kelly in recent months, both featuring interviews with Dr. Eric Darnell Pritchard, who has been researching Kelly’s story for an upcoming book. Listen to them at Dressed and at the FIT Podcast.

Derrick Adams: Patrick Kelly, The Journey will be on exhibit at SCADFASH in Atlanta until July 19, 2020, Hopefully the museum will reopen with plenty of time for people to see this thought provoking exhibition.

And to show how Patrick Kelly influenced fashion, here’s a dress from Better Dresses Vintage. No, it’s not a Patrick Kelly, but you sure can see the influence.

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Vintage Miscellany – October 27, 2019

Gladys is wearing her new knickers in a way that I see so often in photos from the mid 1920s and earlier. It’s a clear lesson on choosing accessories that match the feel of one’s clothing. The casual knickers and middy look more than a little weird with her white stockings and dressy shoes. I’d love to call her up with the advice to invest in a pair of oxfords and darker hosiery.

And yes, there is some news…

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How Not to Waste a Scrap

I recently found a set of twelve unfinished patchwork pieces in the Dresden Plate pattern. I scooped these up from the bottom of a bin at the Goodwill Dig, knowing I had absolutely no use for them. But the thought of these Depression Era fabrics ending up in a ragger’s bundle made me so sad I had to rescue them.

All the fabrics are 1930s dress fabrics or feedsack fabrics. Some of the fabrics are the same but in different colors, like the blue and green examples above. Maybe a mother made matching dresses for her little girls – blue for one girl and green for the other. And since that same design is also present in red and in purple, maybe there were four daughters.

What really impressed me the most is that some of the pieces are actually pieced from even smaller scraps. The center piece above is made from five tiny scraps, some of them much smaller than an inch in width and length. The maker really knew how to use up every tiny bit of the precious material.

Amazingly, these designs were all pieced by hand. Do you see why I just had to rescue these?

In my own sewing, one of the things I hate facing is the large amount of unusable scrap fabric left over from the cutting. I’m not a quilter, and for the most part, don’t indulge in fiddly crafts that use tiny scraps of fabric. I do make lots of pillows, and all my scraps are cut even smaller to make filling. After reading about how much textile waste ends up in the trash dumps of the world, I can’t bear to add to the problem.

I know that in some areas there is textile recycling. And if worst comes to worst, scraps can be donated to Goodwill where they end up in the ragger’s bundles.  Are there any other ideas?

So now I have twelve pieces of Dresden plate, which I don’t need. I’d love to pass them on to someone who will actually use them, and that person has been located. Thanks, Joni, for taking these off my hands!

A few of the pieces have stains. This is the worst one I have noted.

 

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – June 2, 2019

Climbing the tree must have been someone’s idea of a fun thing to do. I suspect it was the person with the camera. The girls in the tree don’t look so sure.  How did they get up there? Look at the board leaning against the tree and you’ll see wet footprints!

And now for the news…

  •   Printing the Pastoral, an exhibition of early roller printed textiles is on view now at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
  •    Will the Breton shirt ever lose its appeal?
  •    “Commitments by global fashion brands to pay the living wage are not translating into ‘meaningful change on the ground’, a study has found.” The Guardian.
  •   Boldini and Fashion at the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy closes today, but it is great that he has been given a serious look. My favorite painting at the Biltmore Estate is a Boldini, and until fairly recently it was hung as sort of an after-thought. Now it has a prominent place in the Tapestry Hall.
  •   Meet Sinéad Burke and her crusade to made fashion more diverse.
  •    Work continues in Gastonia, NC’s historic Loray Mill Village.
  •  And just for fun, it’s time for the croquet garden.
  •   Is buying fast fashion the equivalent of grocery shopping at Lidl (or Aldi)?
  •   Learning from historic photographs.
  •  How to fact-check a quote.

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Education, Museums, and the Daughters of the Confederacy

One of the reasons I love travel to historic sites is that it gives me a chance to reconcile the past with current events and with my own thoughts about the past. Growing up in the South, one can’t help but to have been exposed to the ideas spread through the Jim Crow era. We are all still under the influence of what we learned in school and from our elders in the aftermath of The Lost Cause. Much of that education was greatly influenced by a group of privileged White women, the Daughters of the Confederacy (DOC).

Actually, my exposure to these ideas was probably much less than the average Southern Baby Boomer, being brought up in the Appalachians of North Carolina. The great majority of Whites living here in 1860 were not enslavers. That does not mean they thought slavery was wrong; it means they could not afford the high cost of enslaving people. When the call to arms went out in 1861, men from my region signed up to fight. I can’t say what they thought they were fighting for. The mythology says it was to “whip the Yankees’ asses”, and a big part of me believes this.

Anyway, as the war dragged on, enthusiasm for the war began to wane. Deserting soldiers from the mountains made their way home (Cold Mountain tells a fictional version) and were hidden by their families. Families that were barely making a living before the war were pushed to the brink of starvation without men to help with the farming and because of high taxes imposed by the Confederate and state governments. There were bands of raiders and life was perilous. The only positive was that the region saw very little actual warfare.

Unsurprisingly, the war left a bad taste in mountain people’s mouths. But over time, things began to change. Prosperity returned as the men who fought for the Confederacy were aging and dying. Across the South, even here in the mountains, there were grand reunions where the old guys were brought out to have group photos taken and for them to tell wild tales about the glory of battle.

And that’s where the Daughters come in. All those Confederate monuments scattered across the South were largely the work of the DOC. It was their mission to memorialize the heroes of the Confederacy, but more than that, they were able to change the way people in the South viewed the conflict. And in many states they were able to have history textbooks written that supported their view of the war and The Lost Cause.  For several generations the ideas put forth during the Jim Crow era by organizations like the DOC have continued to be spread. People tend to believe what they were taught as children, and these ideas are passed on to the next generation.

I’d really never given the  DOC much thought until a worker at a small museum we visited on our trip east somehow got on the topic of Confederate monuments. He told us that most people were wrong in thinking the KKK was responsible for all the monuments because they were the work of the Daughter of the Confederacy. This seemed to somehow justify the monuments, as how could a bunch of privileged White middle-aged women a hundred years ago have had anything but honorable intent?

His words really stuck with me, and I spent the rest of the trip looking more closely at how the Confederacy was represented in museums.  The photo above shows an apron made by a Mrs. Dewey early in the war. The eleven stars represent the eleven states that had joined the Confederacy at the time the apron was made. According to the exhibit notes, Mrs. Dewey wore the apron at tea parties at her home in New Bern to show her support for the Confederacy.

Down the street in New Bern is the historic district that is administered by the Tryon Palace. This is the Jones House, which was used as a prison by the occupying Union troops after the city was taken in 1862.

The building was closed, but a display outside told a bit of the story of the most famous prisoner held here, Emeline Pigott. I didn’t know the story of Miss Pigott, but evidently she is quite well-known in the New Bern and Morehead City areas, as we encountered her story in both towns.

This is a display in a history museum in Morehead City, near where Miss Pigott lived. They have a recreated dress and hoop skirt, showing how Pigott was supposed to have smuggled supplies to the Confederate soldiers hiding in the area. She was eventually captured and imprisoned in the Jones House.

The carriage in the photo is said to be the one she rode in when returning home  after being released from prison. According to a leaflet given out at the museum, she was released after threatening to expose the crimes of some influential New Bern men. The leaflet reads like a silent film melodrama, with Miss Pigott turning to spying after her lover was killed by the Yankees at Gettysburg. She had incriminating papers on her when arrested which she sneakily tore into bits and ingested.

In order to get a full picture of how the Civil War is presented in museums in the South, you would have to visit many more than the half dozen or so we saw during this trip. Above is part of Fort Macon State Park, which guarded the entrance to the ports of Morehead City and Beaufort. Normally there is an excellent display of artifacts (including Confederate) in the fort, but the artifacts were damaged due to high water from Hurricane Florence last year. It’s a shame, because Fort Macon does a really good job of interpreting the fort’s participation in the conflict without romanticising it.

I know it must be difficult for small historical societies to fully interpret the history of a region considering the lack of funds and the fact that displays have to be built around the artifacts in the collection. Often the story of a place is as much legend as it is historical fact. As in the case of Emeline Pigott, sometimes it is difficult to determine what is truth and what is legend. Still, it seems a bit odd that two historical organizations put so much emphasis on the story of a Confederate smuggler and spy.

As much as I want to see the stories of women included in our museums, I was left feeling disheartened that of the two women I encountered, one was known for her tea parties, and the other was the old female spy cliché. The objects associated with them seemed more like relics than artifacts.

The Morehead City chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy was named in Miss Pigott’s honor. In 1926, several years after her death, the chapter erected a Confederate monument in the county seat of Beaufort.  All the while the DOC was busy pushing their version of the Civil War and The Lost Cause.

In a more positive note, a new museum opens tomorrow, May 4, 2019, in Richmond, Virginia. The American Civil War Museum has a very interesting backstory, and so to learn more I suggest you listen to an episode of the podcast Backstory which explains how an old Confederacy museum based on relics has become a modern museum that attempts to tell the story of the Civil War from multiple perspectives.

 

 

 

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