Category Archives: Viewpoint

Grandma Lizzie’s Quilt, Update

I first wrote about this quilt in 2008. At the time it was just a finished pieced top that needed some stabilization work. I talked about how I was going to get it finished. Well, twelve years and one pandemic later, and the quilt is finished. I’ve been working on it for weeks, but I’m strangely sorry to see the work end.

I’ve reposted the original writing from 2008 below, but I have a bit to add to the story. I wondered about all the different pieces in the quilt. At the time she made it, probably the early 1940s judging from the fabrics used, most of her children were grown. And from photos of herI know she didn’t wear colorful dresses.

From recent conversations with niece Amari, I saw the 1940 census entry of my father’s family. I expected that at thirteen, my dad would have been the youngest in the household. But then I saw that two of his sisters who had children of their own, had moved back into the family home. There were five little kids and three young adult daughters, all of whom must have enjoyed having pretty dresses and blouses.

So, here’s the story behind my Grandma Lizzie’s quilt.

I was named for my paternal grandmother, Lizzie Adams, who died about a year before I was born.  She was one of those rare individuals who seemed to be universally loved; I’ve never heard a bad thing associated with her at all.  She had eleven children, all of whom (the nine that had children of their own) named a daughter Elizabeth in her honor.

Growing up I had another grandmother whom I adored, but I always felt somehow that I’d missed out by never knowing Grandma Lizzie.  It was always a treat hearing my dad’s family talk about her.  But my favorite story came from my mother, who only knew her for a few years.  One day, not long before Lizzie died, my parents and older brother were visiting her.  She brought out two quilt tops she had pieced, but had never gotten around to quilting.  She gave them to my mother, saying she made these for Jack’s daughters.  My mother was sort of taken aback, as Jack (her husband, and my father) had no daughters.  But as fate and Lizzie would have it, eventually he did have the two predicted daughters.

My mother gave me my quilt top years ago, and for years it’s been stored away.  A few months ago, I got it out.  There was quite a bit of fraying and raveling where it had been washed, so I decided to secure all the edges, going over the stitches my grandmother made so many years ago.  I’ve felt a closeness to her that really can’t be explained.  I can’t help but wonder about the pieces – if they came from her old aprons, or were scraps from dresses she made for a daughter or granddaughter.

I’ll admit I’ve been envious of those cousins who were older than me and lucky enough to have known her.  But I have the quilt.

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Vintage Miscellany, July, 2020

Well, the miscellany is back, thanks to several of you who have been regularly feeding great links to me. I hope to be able to share links once a month, so if you run across any good fashion or textile news, please pass then on to me.

The pandemic has made me so grateful for the internet. Many groups and museums and fashion historians have really stepped up with online content. My favorites have been live programming, such as conversations between historians and museum personnel. I’ll be sharing a few of these.

Between times, my long range project list has really dwindled. Most importantly, I have almost finished repairing and quilting a pieced quilt top my Grandma Lizzie made in the early 1940s. There’s a story that I’ll be sharing when I get it finished.

And now, the news…

* The National Arts Club in New York has been an excellent resource for live programming. They add events on a regular basis, and many are about fashion.  After they air, the programs are put on their YouTube channel. Here’s a recent conversation with an actress who portrays Hollywood designer Edith Head.

*   Just how is the pandemic changing fashion?

*   The Barbara Brackman blog is always interesting. Read this post on polka dots.

Brooks Brothers is the latest retail establishment to file for bankruptcy.

*   Another group that has had some excellent online content on fashion and cultural history is Jane Austen & Co. They recently hosted a presentation by Hilary Davidson on dressing in Austen’s time. The next presentation is about crafting in Austen’s time.

*  The excellent BBC series, A Stitch in Time with fashion historial Amber Butchart is now showing on Amazon Prime.

*   There is a new and improved Fashion and Race Database.

*   The one-day Willi Smith exhibition lives on in digital form.

*  The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum posted an online presentation,  The American Look: Georgia O’Keeffe and the Fashion of Her Time.

*  “The Gwillim Project Online, which centres around the unpublished correspondence and artwork of two sisters who lived in Madras at the beginning of the nineteenth century…” presented a program on the sisters’ correspondence concerning textiles and clothing.

* Finally, wear a mask.

 

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Updates

I lifted this photo from Jonathan at Kickshaw Productions, and I don’t know where he found it. This would have made me sad under any circumstances, but now that most museums are still closed, it makes me really sad for the opportunity these kids lost, and mad at the adults who should have better managed the time in the museum. I really hate that it looks like these kids missed out on a great art experience.  I had the pleasure of seeing Night Watch some years ago with two teens (and several art-loving adults) and it was one of the highlights of that trip.

Actually, museums are beginning to reopen, and I think that’s a good thing as long as numbers of visitors are limited and that visitors use good sense. Most of the museums I’ve visited over the past few years have not been so crowded that keeping a safe distance from others would be difficult.

I want to thank all of you who have sent birthday cards for Magda Makkay.  It’s not too late to get yours in the mail!  I’ll be mailing the package of them on June 18th, and if there are stragglers I’ll be sending a second packet if necessary.

Magda Makkay

c/o Lizzie Bramlett

PO Box 493

Clyde, NC 28721

 

Many, many thanks!

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May 4th and All’s Well.

Since several readers have emailed wondering if I have fallen off the edge of the earth, I thought I’d better post and relieve everyone’s collective mind. The truth is, I have a massive case of writer’s block. I did not realize how just being out in the world inspired my writing here.

I have been doing a lot of reading, but I hate for every post to be about a book. Nevertheless, I will be sharing a few more over the next few weeks.

Because of the shutdown, I missed my favorite shopping opportunity of the spring, the Liberty Antiques Festival. Actually, everyone missed it, as it didn’t happen. Maybe the situation will be different in September. I have been doing a lot of online “shopping”. Actually, I should say online looking, as I haven’t found a lot to buy. I’ll be sharing a few things in the upcoming days, or weeks, or months…

The postcard above was bought on the last real shopping trip I took before the current unpleasantness fell upon us. Such a romantic view of sailing! I know from experience that sailing is a lot of work. I once spent a week on a schooner sailing around the coast of Maine, and I had no chance to wear my Edwardian sailing suit. I’m kidding as I had no Edwardian sailing outfit, but trust me, sailing is hard work – very hard. That is unless you are rich and can pay others to do the line pulling and such.

I just read the Wall Street Journal report on how the cruise ship industry helped spread Covid-19 around the world. I had pretty much given up on the idea of cruising once the ships got so huge, and so many intestinal virus and bacteria upsets became rampant on the ships. I actually took a cruise through the Aegean in  2001, and I enjoyed it. But never again.

Fortunately, I have had the time to work on a new research project that I hope the present to the Costume Society of America next year. The topic is how pajamas were adopted by women for sleeping, and how they then became acceptable beachwear. I will, of course, post the paper here as well.

And I’m taking book recommendations.

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History and Mythology

On my recent trip to north Georgia, I passed through the little town of Ringgold. I’d never given Ringgold much thought, but it turns out a lot happened there in 1863 and 1864. If you know a bit of American Civil War history, you might recall that after Confederate forces were forced to retreat south of Chattanooga, the Union army then set its sights on Atlanta. Ringgold was on the railroad line between the two cities, and as a result, was the scene of a small battle.

The town’s sturdy railroad depot played a part, as it was used by the Union army as a protective barrier when planning their attack. The battle then took place, with the Confederates holding on long enough to evacuate equipment and supplies. But the battle did nothing to stop the tide of the war, and of  Generals Grant, Hooker,  and Sherman’s trek to Atlanta.

General Hooker used the depot as his headquarters for the three or so days he was in Ringgold. When he and his men left, they attempted to blow up the structure, but while it was severely damaged, most of it remained standing. You can clearly see the repaired sections due to the difference in rocks used.

A few hundred yards away stands this house. It was the home of Ringgold merchant William Whitman and his family. The family stood at the windows and watched the battle. Afterwards it was commandeered by General Grant as his headquarters.

The Whitman House is still privately owned, but there is a historical marker in the yard. Erected in 1955, it’s not a reliable historical record. First of all, the house was built in 1857, not 1863 as seen on the marker. But what’s really interesting is the story about Mrs. Whitman and General Grant. She refused his money, he paid her a compliment, and his men cheered her. Or, as the marker reads, “Grant is said to have remarked…”

The problem with this story is there is no proof it ever happened. Much of what is known about the house’s history comes from an account written by the Whitman’s granddaughter many years later. She was not born until years after the Civil War. Written accounts of Union soldiers do not mention the exchange.

But there it is, big as life, on a bronze marker on the lawn of the house. How many Ringgold citizens learned the story as children? How many continue to believe this romanticized account of the proud Southern woman defying the great general?

I’ve met many Northerners who marvel at the long memory of the Confederate South. What they don’t realize is how there are daily reminders of the invasion of the South by the Union forces. Everyone who passes this house on her way to town sees a reminder of how a brave Southern woman defied the great Grant.

I was born in 1955. Jim Crow was still an active force in the South. Southerners were still  being educated in the mythology of the Lost Cause. Is there any wonder some Southerners cling to this mythology?

The way to the truth is education. Unfortunately the way to the mythology of the Lost Cause was also through education – bad education. Only we can set the record straight. This is not rewriting history; it is reclaiming the truth.

 

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – November 17, 2019

Could the photo above be giving us a glimpse inside an early 1920s sporting event, perhaps at a school for girls? What else could explain the presence of the two women, who could possibly be mothers of some of the girls? There’s no way to know because there’s nothing at all written on the back of the photo to give us a hint. All I can do is speculate.

And here is a bit of news…

  •   Momentum is building in the movement to build a museum devoted to women’s baseball.
  •    Here’s a taste of what we might expect from Ingrid Mida’s new book, Reading Fashion in Art.
  •    Well, along with the corruption of the words vintage and curate, you can now add provenance to the list.
  •    Another Nazi-tainted work of art will be restored to the heirs of the rightful owners.
  •    In an upcoming movie, Lady  Gaga will play Patrizia Reggiani, the ex-wife of Maurizio Gucci who was convicted of plotting his murder in 1996.
  •    Here’s a nice article about textile designer Tammis Keefe.
  •   Bride Lyndsey Raby chose her flower girls wisely, and they even had matching dresses that looked good on them all.
  •    Jane Fonda is giving up clothes shopping, sort of.
  •   “Where there is wool, there is a woman who weaves, if only to pass the time.” Thankfully, that is what many women of the Bauhaus did.
  •   Clothing collector Sandy Schreier is really having her moment.
  •   One of the forces behind Columbia Sportswear, Gert Boyle, has died.

 

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Cultural Exchange

Circa 1928 evening dress from E.L.Mayer, Collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum

Circa 1928 evening dress from E.L.Mayer, Collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum

This past week has brought another example of how using “other” cultures in fashion can be a very slippery slope. Dior perfumes went so far as to consult with Native leaders, and they employed a Native dancer to try and stave off criticism. But no matter, as people did strongly object to Native imagery and narration by non-Native actor Johnny Depp. The problem was the name of the perfume, Sauvage.

I first wrote about cultural appropriation in 2011, and I’ve revisited the subject from time to time, usually after a big internet dustup. Even though Dior went to some lengths to head off the cries of cultural appropriation, what they missed is that the ad is simply racist. And I’ve come to believe that most cases of accused cultural appropriation are, in fact, something else.

Back in June the government of Mexico expressed their displeasure at American clothing company Carolina Herrera whose Resort 2020 collection included items inspired by Mexican handicraft. There were striped dresses made from fabrics that strongly resembled those used in making the serape. There were long, flowy “Mexican” wedding dresses (remember those from the 1970s?). But most problematic were embroidered blouses that were very near copies of the work of Native embroiderers in Tenango de Doria in Hidalgo, Mexico.  So near, in fact, that you might be tempted to say the designs were stolen.

Of course you need to ask yourself about the origins of the embroidered blouses. As indigenous cultures were exposed to European clothing, many garments were adapted to form new types of clothing. A good example of this is what is considered to be traditional Navajo dress for women, with deep velvets being made into tiered shirts with chemise-type blouses. This dress was adapted from the styles the White Victorian women of the nearby forts and trading posts were wearing. And the style comes full circle in the late 1940s when dress manufacturers in the American Southwest developed a similar style for tourists – the patio or “squaw” dress.

So, when you start to look at all the historic exchanges between cultures, it becomes apparent that “cultural appropriation” is seldom a matter of black or white. That does not mean I’m excusing Wes Gordon, the designer at Carolina Herrera. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the company had gone to Tenango de Doria to have the embroiderers there execute the designs so they could profit from a collaboration?

I’ve had these issues on my mind over the past few weeks after seeing Kimono Refashioned at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  Looking at all the stunningly beautiful garments it occurred to me that in today’s world there would be an internet mob out to get Paul Poiret and Liberty & Co. I was relieved that the curators took the approach of cultural exchange, rather than that of appropriation.

I think the most insightful words came from Akiko Fukai, curator at the Kyoto Costume Institute.

…the West had moved beyond its initial superficial interest in the kimono’s exoticism to appreciate it at a deeper level. Fashion adapted the kimono in steps and from several different angles. Furthermore, these responses demonstrate that, when borrowing ideas, modern fashion frequently turned to prototypes for inspiration.

So much of what is accused of being cultural appropriation is simply racism or classism. To me, this is a serious problem that clothing companies and consumers need to address.  But claiming “appropriation” for the use of Asian or Latin American textiles is just one more thing in today’s world that is pitting humans against one another. We already have an atmosphere of us against them. We don’t need that attitude when it comes to our clothing.

If a product or ad is racist, it’s time to protest. But the exchange of ideas between cultures can lead to greater understanding between groups. It might be time for us all to look at what we have in common.

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