Homespun Museum at Grovewood Village

I recently found myself with a free afternoon and a desire to see something interesting. Sometimes we forget to be a tourist in our own towns, so I decided to take in an old favorite, the Homespun Museum, which is tucked behind the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. I’ve written about the museum before, here, and here. 

The Homespun Museum is not actually about homespun fabric. It is built around the artifacts left from Biltmore Industries, which closed in 1981. Biltmore Industries was established in 1905, and for a while was a school of handicraft. The products were sold to the increasing numbers of tourists who visited Asheville. By the 1920s Biltmore Industries had moved from Biltmore Village to the grounds of the famous Grove Park Inn. The focus was on making woolen textiles, though woodcrafters were still employed to build looms and furniture and such for the enterprise.

The woolen fabric production was called Biltmore Homespun, even though the yarn was not handspun at all.  The business was much too large to produce cloth from yarn spun on old fashioned spinning wheels, though Biltmore Industries did give the impression through store displays that spinning wheels were employed.

The yarn was, however, woven by hand on people-powered looms. The looms were based on ones brought back from an information-gathering trip to Sweden. Many of the looms still exist, and one is set up in the museum.

The looms were very large, as you can see, and a special long and narrow loom building was built to accomodate what was eventually forty looms. At peak production, Biltmore Homespun produced 950  yards of cloth a day. It was marketed in magazine ads across the country, and in the museum you can see letters by celebrities like Eleanor Roosevelt praising their purchases.

It’s interesting that so much from Biltmore Industries still exists, When the business closed in 1981, much of the inventory of wool was given to former employees and local crafters, but the machinery, furnishings, displays, and ephemera was just left in the old buildings.

The table above is a cutting table used to cut the yardage. There was a shop in one of the buildings where visitors could shop for the fabric and other items.

There were quite a few of these samples on display, along with many larger samples, and garments made up from the cloth. The man in the photo is Harry Blomberg, who bought the business in the 1950s. His family still owns the property.

I’m telling you, my fingers were itching to feel these samples.

This visit was made even better because the owners have opened up the old dye shed, which has much of the machinery set up with notes about how each was used. Until seeing all these machines and reading about how each was used, I had no idea this was such a huge operation. These barrels are the dye vats where wool that had been cleaned was dyed.

After the dyed wool was dried and mixed, it was sent through a huge carding machine. It in no way resembles the hand cards (they look like brushes on a paddle) used by families who spun their own fiber.

Carded wool, ready for the spinner.

The fiber was then ready to spin into yarn. Above is the spinning machine, a mule spinner. The machine has moveable parts (see the little wheels) that pull out the wool, seen on the left, twisting it and winding the finished yarn on the right. For some reason they used red wool on the bobbins to show the finished product, but the unspun wool is white!

1068 bobbins were needed to set up the loom for weaving. The bobbins on these racks were ready for the warp roller.

After the yarns were organized on the roller, the roller was placed on the loom where each yarn was attached by hand.

This vintage photo shows the looms in the weaving shed. Today the shed contains Harry Blomberg’s antique car collection.

The woven wool was then washed in the machines above using Ivory Soap and pure mountain spring water. The moisture was extracted, and the cloth dried out-of-doors. It was then shaved to smooth it, and was carefully inspected for flaws. A group of women workers repaired any flaws with needle and yarn.

I’m still amazed by all the stuff that remains at Biltmore Industries. Bags and bags of wooden spools…

machines that still contain bits of fleece…

and fabric still on the machines. It’s like a moment in time, frozen.

The tour through the dye house is open April through November, and the museum is open April through December.

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – October 7, 2019

The news has been so stressful that I’ve had a hard time concentrating on fashion history. But in times like these, is it somehow wrong or shallow to think about frocks and pajamas and pretty shoes? Truth is, and I probably don’t have to tell you this, fashion is more than just what we wear.

Politically, my teen and early adult years were also stressful. From the time I was ten years old in 1965, I was aware of the war in Vietnam, and as soon as that ended, Watergate and the threat of impeachment of Nixon became the chief source of anxiety. No wonder fashion in the late Sixties and into the Seventies looked to the past. Even as a preteen in 1967 I was aware that fashion was flirting with looks from the wartime Forties. That’s because my mother pointed out to me how the gathered sleeved blouses and dresses, and the above the knee dirndl skirts we saw in stores reminded her of the clothing she was wearing when she was my age in 1943.

I have a theory that one of the big appeals of nostalgia in the Sixties and Seventies was that so many Boomers saw the stark contrast between our parent’s wartime experiences and that of our own. My mom described feel-good stories of community sacrifice in order to help defeat Germany and Japan. My wartime memories involve protest and the horror of Kent State. Who wouldn’t give that up for a country seemingly united in a common cause? At least we could wear the clothes.

And now for some news…

  • The middle-class collector is being priced out of the art market. I can see this in the vintage market as well, but on a smaller scale. There are, at least, bargains still to be had.
  • Esther Williams: The Swimming Queen of the Silver Screen will be on view in the Catalina Island Museum through March 8, 2020.
  •   Idiocy is alive and well in the fashion industry.
  •   The Eastern Band of  Cherokee Tribal Council’ approved the Native Arts and Crafts Bill, which outlaws the sale of fake Cherokee-made crafts.
  •   I loved this short video about the men characters and their shirt collars in The Maltese Falcon.
  •    Remember that church altar cloth that turned out to probably be a fragment of a dress belonging to Elizabeth I? It will be on display at Hampton Court Palace starting October 12, through February 23, 2020.
  •    Moths and old clothes just don’t mix.
  •  Fans of Jane Austen will be interested in a new book, Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion.
  •   The US has Madeleine Albright, and the UK has Lady Hale.
  •    Illustrator Mac Conner has died. I saw an exhibition of his work last year at the Upstate History Museum in Greenville, SC.
  •    Time to burn your Vans.

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler, Fall 2019

It’s once again time for me to share things I spotted while shopping, but mostly did not buy. To me the purpose of “shopping” is not so mush to buy, but to learn. I always want to see something that is new-to-me. and then wonder why I had not known of this item before. Amazingly, after 40 plus years of shopping for old stuff, I’m still making marvelous discoveries.

These nylon tights are kid sized, but aren’t they fun!

I sort of wanted this folding sewing organizer, but I talked myself out of buying it because I was tired and I would have to carry it a mile or so to my car. Does anyone have and use one of these?

This was another almost purchase, but the old guys in the painting were just too intimidating.

I love these Wolf dress forms, but they take up a lot of space.

Vintage tin paint boxes are the best, especially when they are travel themed.

Crimes against accessories. Seriously, someone thought painting these 1960s shoes and handbag somehow improved them.

A seller had a whole stack of these 1970s clog/sandals from Sears. I started thinking about them later and I went back to get a pair. They are even better than you can see in my photo. The sides of the wooden soles are carved.

This peek inside a 1930s travel trailer made me want to get a vintage camper and take it on the road.

This was a counter poster showing the 1950s consumer that even movie stars wore Summerettes. I have a pair of these in red.

I thought my opthamologist needed this sign. I’m not sure he would agree.

Dress form art.

And of course there were Scotties. I have a small group of these wooden lawn art Scotties, but passed on this one.

That late 1910s Middy Girl helped to sell a lot of products, including shoes.

Oh, my! This adorable collie border print was made complete by the leashes that form the bottom of the print. This print is from the famous John Wolfe Textiles, which was known for border prints. Unfortunately, what you see in the photo is the entirety of the piece, so there’s not enough for a gathered skirt. Still, wouldn’t it make a great apron, or a pinafore for a little girl?

Okay, I bought it because I just could not leave it.

I posted this dress in my Instagram stories and people went crazy. I did not buy this because it is child sized, but I agree that it is a pretty wonderful novelty print.

I think this is a clothespin holder.

The seller was super busy and I was super tired, so this little rouge pot did not make it into my shopping bag.

And finally, what could be better than a pair of vintage water skis with a Cypress Gardens sticker?

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Moravian Galleries at MESDA

I love a good treasure hunt, and that’s why I head to my local Goodwill bins dig a couple of times a month. And while I always hope to find a clothing treasure, my first stop is always the books bins. Almost every visit turns up at lest one clothing or textile related book. And usually the find is some old out of print book from the past; something I’d probably never know of otherwise.

A recent find was Needlepoint in America by Hope Hanley. A quick look at the photos guaranteed that there would be plenty of information about clothing and accessories, so I bought it and read it. I can remember trying needlepoint in the 1970s during the “colonial” crafts revival craze. By that time most needlepoint came in the form of kits and pre-worked designs. But if you look back to early American needlepoint, you see a freshness and creativity not seen in a kit.

I enjoyed the book because I learned so much. I had heard the term “Berlin work” but until reading this book did not realize it meant the work was made according to a pattern, the first of which where manufactured in Berlin around 1806.

I recently revisited the wonderful Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, or MESDA, in Winston-Salem, NC. I wanted to see needlework, and my husband wanted to see flintlock rifles. We were both pleased with the visit. We did a self-guided tour (more on that later) with the aim of concentrating on items actually made in Salem, NC by the original settlers, Moravians who migrated from their towns in Pennsylvania.

For the interior of North Carolina, the Moravian settlements are quite early, dating to 1753. They were meticulous recordkeepers, so much is known about their lives. From the time Salem was established in 1772, it was a crafts village and marketplace. Workers there were renowned for pottery, silversmithing, and gunsmithing. The arts were acknowledged and encouraged, with there being a town band, and an artist’s studio. Girls were well educated in both academics and needlework.  And because the houses and properties tended to remain in Moravian hands, much of their crafts heritage has survived.

And here is where my recent reading of Needlepoint in America came in handy. The dog and cat drawings are a pattern to make needlework slippers, much like the ones seen above. The exhibit notes described the pattern as “Berlin Work Shoe Pattern, P. Trube, Berlin, Germany, 1820-1840. It was exciting to actually see a Berlin work pattern, just like I’d just been reading about! This one is on loan from the collection of Salem College, the school Moravians established for girls.

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This needlepoint pocket book dates to 182o through 1840.

This Berlin work picture is attributed to Moravian Louisa Lauretta Vogler, circa 1835.

It wasn’t all needlepoint. This embroidered linen pocket was made in Salem around 1780. The maker was probably Martha Elizabeth Spach.

This is a little silk sewing bag with a fish-shaped pincushion attached. It was made in Salem circa 1800-1820.

This tiny sewing box has all the original pieces. Unfortunately, the maker is unknown.

Not all samplers have mottoes and alphabets. Maria Steiner practiced her stitches on this piece of linen in 1808.

Each of the ovals is different.

This creation is a mix of embroidery and painting. Made in Salem between 1825 and 1835, the unknown maker used a variety of materials to construct her picture, including silk thread, chenille, silk fabric scraps, and ribbon.

This rare Southern bandbox came from a Salem milliner’s shop. that of Sarah A. Fulkerson, mid nineteenth century.

This is a needle case, made in Salem in 1838.

Made by tin and silversmith John Vogler, these are silver cape clasps made between 1815 and 1830. Vogler was a prolific craftsman and he lived to be 98.

The early Moravians were pacifists who refused to participate in the Revolutionary War. By the time of the Civil War eighty years later, their stance had softened, with many young men from Salem joining the fight. It appears that many in Salem were against secession, but once the fight started the town provided Confederate soldiers, their brass band, and fabric for Confederate uniforms from a Moravian owned mill.

All this makes the little hand-stitched flag a bit odd. It was made by Emma Miller in Salem in 1865. At the time of the war Moravians as a group were suspected of being Union sympathizers due to their close relationship to the church in Pennsylvania. There’s little evidence supporting the claim, but still, the flag exists.

Here’s Emma with her husband. Maybe she was trying to make something concrete to show her loyalty once it was obvious the war was lost.

The Moravians also had a pottery business, and they made both items that were similar to those of other potters in the region, and pottery that was reminiscent of their Central European heritage. I thought these animal jars were particularly charming.

Salem had a homegrown artist in town, Christian Daniel Welfare. In 1824 he traveled to Philadelphia to study with Thomas Sully, and then returned to Salem the next year, when he painted this self portrait. I loved how the museum put a door frame around the portrait, which seems to invite the viewer into the artist’s studio. Do you think he could have been influenced by Charles Willson Peale’s painting of his sons, which Welfare could have seen in Philadelphia?

Many Salem residents had their portraits painted by Welfare. This is Elizabeth Hege Ruez and her son Zacharias, circa 1825.

And this a a quite sour looking Christina Hege, 1928. She was artist Welfare’s sister-in-law. Note that Christina is dressed in the style of the 1820s.

You can see a marked contrast between the clothing of Elizabeth and Christina and the woman in this portrait, Anna Maria Benzien. This portrait of the Moravian sister was made in London around 1754 before she and her husband went to America. She is wearing the proper dress for a Moravian woman at the time. By 1825 the old rules of dress of the sect were giving way to fashion.

If you are ever in the Winston-Salem area, MESDA should be high on your list of places to visit. Tim and I took the self-guided tour, which gets you into only a small part of the general galleries plus the Moravian galleries. Spend the extra money and take the guided tour, which I have taken in the past. You see so much more.

 

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Motoring Goggles

One of the questions I get asked most often is how do I know the age of an item, especially if it is not a fashion item with all sorts of clues. The short answer to that question is that I do a lot of research in the manner of studying catalogs and magazines from the past. So many times it just comes down to good luck in spotting an item for which I have been searching.

One thing I’ve had on my list of things to buy was a pair of motoring goggles. Back before cars had enclosed seating, the driver, and sometimes even passengers, wore goggles to protect the eyes from the dust and dirt of the road. Sometimes even dogs wore them.

These belonged to Bud, who accompanied Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker in 1903 on the first auto trek across the US.

Since seeing Bud’s goggles at the National Museum of American History several years ago, I’ve wanted to add a pair to my collection. The problem has been with identification. I’ve looked at hundreds of pairs online, but mainly what is being sold as motoring goggles are actually industrial goggles.  Starting out I did not know the difference myself, and it has been only through careful study of period photographs and drawings that I knew what I was actually looking at.

Still, when I ran across this pair recently, I wasn’t sure. I left them in the flea market stall where I spotted them, and then came to my senses, went back for them, and got lucky that they were still there.  Still, I had doubts. They looked so flimsy, almost as if they were a toy version of goggles. But they were adult sized, so I took a chance on them.

They are made from a leather piece with glass lenses set into aluminum frames. The outside of the leather is made sturdy by a wire encased in the binding. An elastic string holds the goggles on the face.

It wasn’t until after I took these photos that I decided to get out any catalogs that might have motoring goggles. I got lucky on the first place I consulted, a 1910 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

Here are two of the ten styles of goggles Abercrombie & Fitch offered in the catalog. And while I did not find an exact match for my goggles, you can see how mine are a sort of cross between two of the styles in the catalog.  They are close enough that I have satisfied my own curiosity about these.

 

 

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1918 Fleisher’s Knitting & Crocheting Manuel

The reason that old sayings tend to endure is that so often they are true. In this case, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” applies.  This dull brown cover gives little hint of the treasures within.

At over two hundred pages, the Fleisher’s Knitting and Crocheting Manuel is more than a basic how-to book. First of all, it’s an advertisement, as Fleisher’s was a brand of yarn. It’s also a book of knitting and crocheting patterns with garments for the entire family. And best of all, it’s a time capsule.

In 1918 the USA was involved in the Great War, now known as World War 1. There were a dozen patterns for garments and accessories for the man in service. Many were easy to make, and I’m sure many clubs and groups were busy making  Service Sweater, Type “C”, or mufflers and socks.

This cap and face protector and muffler in one was called a helmet, and was often mentioned in magazines of the period as a prized possession of many doughboys.

I learned how to crochet in high school (it was, after all, the crafty Seventies) but I really had no idea that so many stitches were possible beyond the standard single and double crochet, and the popcorn stitch. My eyes have been opened to the wonders of crocheting.

There’s a whole range of sweaters, all photographed in the out-of-doors – on the beach, in boats, on a woodsy walk.

One thing I really love about this book is how there are piece charts for many of the sweaters.

It’s not all sportswear. There are quite a few patterns for bed jackets, shawls, and “kimonos”. Even the bed jackets are called kimonos.

In 1918 it appears that the sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks were not standardized.  Fleisher’s helped to solve the problem by numbering the metric diameter of each tool. I’m not sure that still applies because I measured my 10.5 knitting need and it has a diameter of  7mm.

One could either crochet or knit a tam.

By 1918 the middy blouse was wildly popular. I love the middy influence in this sweater.

While most of the sweaters have a waistband or belt, and definitely have an early Coco Chanel look, this one is looking forward to the more streamlined  Twenties.

Now, if only my skills were as good as these designs, I’d be making a sweater instead of just writing about them.

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Vintage Miscellany – September 15, 2019

For work or for leisure, the denim or cotton twill overall was a standard in the early 1940s. It was sort of the jeans and tee shirt of the day.

  •  Amber Butchart explains the enduring popularity of seaside style.
  •   Designer Isabel Toledo has died.
  •   Second hand September urges us to go a month without shopping for new stuff. I can do that.
  •    There’s a new book featuring the photographs of Bill Cunningham.
  •    Many historic sites are finally beginning to acknowledge the work of the enslaved. Not surprisingly, some ninnies are complaining.
  •   Pendleton Woolen Mills is celebrating 70 years of making clothing for women.
  •    Project Runway favorite Chris March has died.
  •    Companies know that there are many labor issues that need to be fixed, but little is being accomplished in the way of improvement. I’ve been posting stories like this one for fifteen years.
  •    The same can be said for racism and the fashion industry.
  •    Here’s a great story about how a housekeeper saved a treasure trove of historic clothing.
  •   And finally, a story from The New York Times about the Jantzen diving girl. Thanks to the many readers who emailed this link to me.

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