Dressing for the Occasion at the Carl Sandburg Home

The last home of writer Carl Sandburg is located in Flat Rock, NC, and I’ve visited the home, now a national historic site, many times. Besides taking hundreds of fifth graders to see where the great poet lived, it’s a great place to hike and have a picnic. The last time we took the tour through the house, it was a bit disappointing because most of the furnishings had been removed for renovations. The house felt naked.

When Sandburg died in 1967 his widow Lilian sold the house and most of the contents to the US Department of Interior, with the goal of opening it to the public. As a result, the house has the feel of the family having just stepped outside. Someone on today’s tour called it a time capsule, but it is much more than that. It’s almost as if the house retains the spirit of the Sandburg family.

With the renovations complete, I wanted to see how the newly spruced-up house looked. To my great joy and surprise, for the first time clothing of the Sandburgs was also on display. Most are the property of the house, while some are in the possession of the Sandburgs’ granddaughter, Paula.

The house, Connemara, was built in 1839 as a summer home for Charlestonian Christopher Memminger. The house has been altered somewhat by subsequent owners, but if you look closely, you can see that this is an antebellum house. Memminger was quite wealthy, and he served as the secretary of the treasury for the Confederacy from 1861 to 1864. And while the Wikipedia article on Connemara refers to them as “servants”, Memminger kept enslaved persons on the property. A building identified as the wash house, and later a chicken house, was originally the slave quarters, which is acknowledged by a Park Service sign.

But to visit Connemara today, you don’t get the feeling that it is a fine house. It simply feels like the Sandburg home. I loved taking my fifth graders here because they always questioned how someone so famous could live in such an ordinary house with ordinary furnishings.  They were amazed at how “lived-in” the house was.

But back to the present, I must say the old house looks great with its new paint and freshly cleaned rugs, and whatever else was done. In the living room we see Carl’s chair, and one of his many hats. And books. The house contains thousands of books, all cataloged by the Library of Congress, and many still retaining the small slips of paper Carl used to mark the place of  passages he liked.

Probably the grandest thing in the home is this grand piano.  Carl often played his guitar in this room in the evening. And he was quite fond of plaid shirts.

Carl’s office is next to the living room, and in it are more books, of course.  I learned not to make assumptions after seeing his sweater and set of silk scarves. I assumed they belonged to Lilian, Carl’s wife.

But no, these belonged to Carl who enjoyed a bit of silk around his neck! He also wore the green visor, a holdover from his days as a newspaperman.

This denim chore jacket and skirt belonged to Lilian who wore them while working with her herd of prize-winning goats.  Mrs. Sandburg never wore pants.

These two garments belonged to Sandburg daughter Margaret, and were on display in the dining room. Yes, even the walls of the dining room are covered with books. This room has a wall of windows, and the family also used it for bird-watching. The brown suede jacket was Margaret’s birding jacket. Margaret was the family librarian, and often served as her father’s editor.

Carl had a small room beside his bedroom which he used for writing. He wrote at night, went to bed around 5 AM, and then joined the family for lunch at noon.

The house curatorial staff did a good job showing the Sandburgs wearing similar clothing in photographs. Note Carl’s green visor.

This dress belonged to daughter Janet. Janet helped with the goat farming. This looks like a quite youthful style, but Janet would have been in her sixties when she wore it. Neither Janet nor Margaret ever married, and they remained in the home until their father’s death. The third daughter, Helga, lived in the house with her two children until 1952, when she remarried and moved to Washington, DC.

This is Margaret’s bedroom. I wonder if this dress was made on the sewing machine in the background.

Lilian had the best room in the house.

The dress shown in this room was worn by Lilian on a visit to the White House. That’s her wearing the dress, with Carl on the grounds of the White House.

When the Sandburgs bought the house in 1946, the kitchen was located in a separate building, a practice common in antebellum houses. Lilian had a modern 1940s kitchen installed inside the house.

This is a view of the guestroom, which featured Lilian’s dressy silk frock from 1935. And, look! Another sewing machine!

Carl often took his books and writing to the out-of-doors. What could be a nicer place to write?

I have a few words to add about visiting historic sites. While the group which which I toured the house was small (fifteen), there were some things that probably drove the volunteer docent to drink. The last thing she said was to silence phones. We stepped into the house and, you guessed it, someone’s phone rang. The guy ignored it, and so the person on the other end began yelling into the voicemail. The docent finally had to unlock the front door and let the guy out to take his call.

Then there was the family – two little boys of around two and four and their parents. I usually cut parents of small kids some slack, but the docent had to continually tell the kids not to climb on the furniture, swing on the rope barriers, and keep hands off the artifacts. And the parents did nothing at all to keep the two in line.

In comparison, there was another family of older kids, maybe six and eight, and they were really well-behaved, and even asked questions. It was fun being with them, or would have been if not for the other family. I got the gist of the real problem as the tour was coming to an end and the docent asked if there were any other questions. The father piped up, “Yeah. Can we leave now?”

It was perhaps the rudest thing I’ve ever experienced in a museum or historic setting. But boy, does it not explain a lot about his kids?

 

 

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler, Spring 2019

The weather here in the mountains has been so perfect that it seems like we’ve spent the last month sitting in our backyard, watching the birds. But a look through my photo files revealed some interesting things found locally and on the road that I loved but did not buy.

Above is a very large decal of a Corticelli cat that has been applied to a painted board. I have no idea what the reasoning was, but I can’t resist vintage thread memorabilia.

I spotted this pretty Jeanne Lanvin pochoir in a local store. If a pochoir has a little girl in it, it’s probably by Lanvin.

I loved this advertising sign for hooks and eyes. The puffed sleeves date this as circa 1895.

This is a shot from an antique mall in Jonesborough, Tennessee. I run across this hole-in-the-floor feature in old stores from time to time. I had the salesperson in an old country store tell me that the whole town knew the owner stood at the rail and watched for shoplifters.

This amazing sign was at Dodson’s Dig in Greenville, South Carolina. It had been on display in a restaurant, but the sign originally was above a  Greenville, Mississippi corset shop.

Dodson’s Dig is a fantastic place. It’s easy to get carried away playing, as Liza did here.

Art Nouveau girls are the best.

If I had a wall that needed covering, I’d be tempted to seek out the best fruit crate labels and have them framed.

This is an advertising poster (see husband’s fingers for size comparison). I got all excited until I saw the $17.95 price tag, because I knew immediately that it had to be a reproduction. And it was,

On a whim, I went to the Hillsville, Virginia Memorial Day flea market. I’ve written here about Hillsville many times, as I go to the Labor Day market every year. It’s a huge chaotic affair, and though it’s crazy and exhausting, I can’t resist it. I heard the spring market was not as large, but I was not prepared for the pitiful showing. To be honest, I found some great things, but we were on the way home after about three hours.

And finally, here’s one thing I did buy – a 1940s sailor boy pin. I love how he moves!

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Filed under Collecting, I Didn't Buy..., Shopping

Dress and Home Workbook, 1935

This recent flea market find is a workbook to accompany a high school textbook, The Mode in Dress and Home. The author, Dulcie G. Donovan was a home ec teacher at Hollywood High School.

I don’t remember having a textbook in my 1970s home ec classes, much less a workbook. As a teacher, I know that workbooks are an expensive addition to the school budget, and are usually reserved for classes in which they are most useful. That is, things like primary arithmetic. I’m really curious about a school that could afford  to buy, or more likely, to require the students to purchase an unnecessary workbook during the Great Depression when there was little money for such things.

As it turns out, the school was Concord High School in Concord, Virginia. Nothing I’ve read about this central Virginia village suggests a higher than average standard of living. So, the why of this book remains a mystery. But the contents are what we are really interested in.

I’m sure that much of the content directly mirrors what the students read in the textbook. But there are also many opportunities for each student to reflect on her own preferences and experiences.

If you have read Linda Przybyszwski’s book, The Lost Art of Dress, then you might recall how home ec teachers and writers  taught that the principles of art could and should be applied to one’s manner of dressing.  In this workbook there is a lot of discussion of  principles like proportion and color. Donovan also has the students look at fashions of the past, in their quest for good taste in fashion.

Of course, there is a lot of leading the horse to the water, so to speak. Any fool could see that the lines of 1935 were much better than those of  the prior years.

This page was not completed, but I love the exercise created here. Students were to prove the effects of color by the use of these templates.

In other places fabrics were collected and saved in the workbook. I’ve seen this concept in other student work of this era, mainly in the form of student-made notebooks in which samples of work and fabrics are collected as a resource for the student.

Appropriateness was a big topic. Our student, whose name was Margaret Nash, correctly identified each of the fads, but she wisely neglected to type-cast her classmates as to personality. And to make the results public would have been a big mistake, in my opinion!

And what’s with the little elf character? He’s (she’s?) found throughout the book and is the sort of thing high school girls love to make silly jokes about. Or was that just my high school classmates?

The next part of the workbook was devoted to sewing.  Can you label the parts of the sewing machine?

The class examined the commercial sewing pattern. In 1935 most pattern companies were beginning to add to the instructions included. Up until the mid 1920s, many patterns had only brief instructions on the envelope. By the 1930s there was often an instruction sheet enclosed, but even those instructions required a working knowledge of sewing techniques.

Remember, buttons are sewed on for service and not just decoration.

As in many ambitious curriculums, the school year ran out before the workbook was completed. The second half of the book in which the home is addressed, is not used at all. Maybe it was to be used in a second year of the course. Or, more likely, home ec really meant sewing and cooking, with home decoration being an after-thought, or not studied at all. I vaguely remember cutting colorful pictures out to magazines to create rooms.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Sewing

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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Mount Airy Regional History Museum

I am a fan of museums, and throw in the word history in the name and I’ve just got to pay a visit.  On a recent trip to a flea market, we made a stop in Mount Airy, North Carolina. I’ve written about Mount Airy in the past. It is a thriving little town in the northern North Carolina foothills; thriving because of its association with the 1960s television series, The Andy Griffith Show.  But there’s more to Mount Airy than Andy, and the Mount Airy Regional History Museum was there to educate us.

One never knows what to expect when visiting a small regional history museum. There’s the very good, and unfortunately, the very, very bad. I suppose a lot of the difference is due to the amount of money available to each museum. I suspect that history museums are not terribly high on the county budget priority list.

Local museums are also often a victim of donations. Several years ago I had a long and insightful discussion with the director of a small history museum in another NC town. That museum had, in the past, had such a liberal policy concerning donations that almost anything was accepted into the collection. As a result, the museum had  six large spinning wheels, a dozen treadle sewing machines and nineteen vintage typewriters.

So many small museums end up being old stuff warehouses. Over the years I’ve been in many museums that are pretty much the same, with the usual assortment of old tools, spinning wheels, and taxidermied wildlife. But this was not (thankfully) what we found in Mount Airy.

Instead, the museum truly tells the story of the town and the surrounding area, All the exhibits are place specific. Of couse I was mainly interested in the textiles and clothing, but I also enjoyed learning about the Native inhabitants of the region and the very important granite industry.

There were actually two exhibits on textile manufacture, one of home manufacture of the early settlement, and the other on the cotton knit manufacturing that was formed in the region in the early twentieth century. Part of the home manufacture exhibit is above, and it uses period photographs and artifacts to explain how people made their textiles and clothing at home.

And, yes, there was a spinning wheel in the exhibit, but it was used within the proper context. They also had this giant loom set up in the middle of the room. These are sometimes referred to as “barn looms” as they certainly did not fit into the small pioneer homes. I’m betting there are still dozens of these in barns scattered across the eastern US.

At one time Mount Airy had several factories that made socks, underwear, and other cotton knit items. That green machine made socks, and actually, some small makers across the South still use similar machines.

The long underwear in the background had a label that sort of rang a bell. It was not until we left the museum that I remembered where I’d just seen the name.

In the next block down the street was the old Spencer’s factory.  In business for over 100 years, Spencers closed in 2007, and it looks like the buildings are being converted to condos.

There were also quite a bit of clothing on display as well. Another celebrity from Mount Airy is country singer Donna Fargo. This fringed mini dress was worn by her for performances at Disneyland in 1973.

This dress was described as an “… an antique lace top and skirt worn by Donna Fargo, was featured on her 1981 album, Brotherly Love.” To be honest, it looks more like an assemblage of old lace pieces made into an ensemble, a practice not unknown at the time.

There were some actual antique clothes, all worn by residents of the town. The 1890s suit above was a wedding dress worn by a member of a prominent Mount Airy family.

This dress was made by an unidentified bride, who also made the lace.

The wearer of this (1905ish?) dress was not identified either, but I thought the presentation was quite nice.

Another resident of Mount Airy who went on to fortune (if not actual fame) was Katherine Smith Reynolds. I’ve written about her before, as she was the owner of Reynolda House, and her husband was the founder and owner of RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company.

But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be this girl’s basketball uniform from JJ Jones High, which was a segregated Black high school. The museum has a great display of artifacts from the school, along with an explanation of how Jim Crow laws affected the educational system.

Outside the museum is a tribute wall of sorts, that honors people who were important in making Mount Airy what it is today. It warmed my heart to see the textile mill factory worker included in the tribute.

And here’s a close up view just to make sure you could see that the statue is made from bricks.

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Filed under Museums, North Carolina, Road Trip

1940s French Bikini

I love bathing suits, and I have become very picky about the ones I chose to collect. The early French bikini above is the sort of find that keeps me excited about collecting.

When I say early, I mean late 1940s. In 1946 designer Jacques Heim released his tiny two-piece and called it L’ Atome. Shortly afterward, Louis Réard designed what he called the Bikini. Both suits were tiny and showed the navel, and even though Heim’s was released slightly earlier than Réard’s, the name Bikini stuck.

A 1940s bikini has been on my want list for a long time. They are rare  in the USA, as the suit was just too skimpy for most American women of the post-war period. Last year an example by Heim came up for auction. I crossed my fingers and made the biggest bid I could, hoping it would fly under the radar of other collectors. It did not, and in the end sold for almost $10,000. This was a bit over my budget.

But then the suit above came into my life. I first spotted it on the seller’s Instagram (Skirt Chaser Vintage), and then bought it when it came up for sale.

Many of the early French bikinis laced and tied at the sides. This was not new, as several American swimsuit makers used this feature on their larger suit briefs during the war. Daring bathers could buy the suit a bit snug and then lace loosely to show a bit more skin.

The French took the idea to a whole new level. Some of Louis Réard’s suits were actually string bikinis, with no sides at all – only the string ties.

The map of France print is a great touch. The fabric is interesting, and unexpected. It’s a cotton textured barkcloth, more suitable for curtains than a swimsuit. But this was after the war, and fabric production was not back to pre-war levels. One used what one had.

I came up completely empty when attempting to find out anything at all about the label, Lavog. If anyone has any information about it, I’d be forever grateful.

In 1948 Holiday magazine printed an amazing photo-essay on the changing bathing suit. Leading off the article was this photograph.  The caption reads:

Such brief suits, unfortunately, are not ordinarily for sale. They must be custom built for custom-built girls like Sandra Spence.

The essay features other two-piece suits, but all have navel-covering shorts. It would be another fifteen to twenty years before the bikini really caught on in the US.

 

 

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Filed under Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Appalachian Button Jamboree

I’m not completely clueless when it comes to button collecting, and I even knew there was a Western North Carolina Button Club. But I recently attended my first button show and I was completely blown away!

You can’t collect old clothes without seeing a lot of buttons. I even have quite a few of them just in case I need some replacements or a random one to match a set. And I have a lot of interesting old ones to use in my own sewing. But to see thousands of buttons mounted, sorted, and ready to buy was a new experience.

Buttons are a big business to a lot of people. Even in a small local show the buying and selling seemed to be brisk. As a button neophyte, I decided to just look and learn. And I learned a lot.

One category I liked was painted wooden buttons. I actually have a few, mainly florals like the black one at bottom right. But what about that ice skater?

I also saw lots of interesting ceramic buttons. I can see how in this medium the possibilities would be limitless.

Celluloid buttons  were plentiful, but most were pricier than these examples. But look at that little clothespin!

More celluloid.

My favorites were the metal buttons. This little owl with stars and moon was great.

There were also lots of sports themed buttons, like this skier.

But “Wow”is right. These metal with enamel bits and “jewels” were so stunning!

Some of the sellers told me they got into button collected as a result of trying to find unique buttons for their weaving, knitting, and sewing projects. I can relate to that. Imagine this button as the closure of a wrap or coat.

Most of this tray of buttons had thread or textiles as part of the button. I do love the wrapped and embroidered ones.

A few sellers also had some additional haberdashery and dry goods in their booths.

There were also a few vintage sewing machines. It does stand to reason that most people who are interested in buttons would also want to see machines and ribbons and sewing patterns.

There was also a display area where members’ collections were shown off.

But my favorite thing of all was a small display of antique clothing that was laid out on a table.  Attendees were allowed to examine the garments. It’s not often that I get the chance to look at so old a garment, both inside and out. This 18th century gentleman’s coat showed many signs of having been worn and repaired quite a bit.

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Filed under North Carolina, Sewing, Shopping