Thursday, October 22, 2020

Magic Cloths of Power

 This year has been one not to be imagined: uncontained forest fires, hurricanes and floods and contentious politics.  As if that were not enough to dismay one's soul, we are hit with the worst medical disaster in modern times.  Not just us here, but everywhere!!  The morbidity and mortality rates continue to be staggering.  But I don't have to remind anyone, we are all too aware.  But what if I told you of a magical, powerful textile, that when worn might help to prevent the spread of this plague to you and your family?

Why, given past hyped products, it would sell out in mere minutes, only to reappear on Ebay at outrageous prices, so that only the very rich could afford its protection. Think about it.  A small piece of ordinary cloth covering our nose and mouth when out in public.  Readily available at many stores and, of course on the internet , it can also be made in minutes right at home with ordinary supplies.  A very small inconvenience , the rewards  may be life-saving. Of course, I am writing about facial coverings: masks, bandanas, scarves.  Never in the history of textiles has a bit of cloth held such importance.

I pray you are safe, staying at home when you can and wearing you magic cloth when out in public.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Therese de Dillmont

 Therese de Dillmont  (Oct. 10, 1846 - May 22, 1890) 


She was an outstanding needleworker and embroiderer with over 100 books attributed to her and her niece on the subject. She attended an embroidery school founded by Empress Marie-Theresa as a young woman, having been educated in Vienna.  She established her own embroidery studio with her sister, Franzisha and later moved to Paris where she wrote "Encycolpedie des ouvarages des damas" (Encyclopedia of Needlework) which featured thousands of textile designs from many countries, including China Turkey, Bulgaria and translated into 17 languages.

Embroidery on Lacis or Net Canvas as worked with D-M-C Persian silk  (soie de Perse)

Applique Embroidery on Damask Ground, worked with D_M_C Persian silk (Soie de Perse)


In 1878 she met Jean Dollfus-Meig at the Universal Exposition.  Recognizing her importance and the potential contribution she would bring to his company, DMC , manufacturer of fine threads and yarns, he invited to tour his factory in Mulhouse.  She then moved to the neighboring town of Dornach, establishing a school of needlework, cooperating with DMC in 1884.  With Dillmont's assistance DMC became known for their publications with clear instructions and illustrations. Even following her death in 1890 DMC continued to publish books under her name.

DMC is offering on their website free copies of Dillmont's designs.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Wm. E. Wright & Sons Co.

 It all began with bias tape. Designed to enclose raw edges, bias tape can be made from a single piece of fabric , obviously cut on the bias into strips. It can be single folded or double folded. However, bias binding can be found in the notions section of any fabric store.  It is available in a wide range of colors and several widths, along with a plethora of trimmings for any home sewing need.

Manufactured bias tape was the brain-child of Wm. E. Wright.   

Following a career as a traveling dry goods salesman, Wright moved to NYC and partnered with William Nagel to establish a business , W & N, to manufacture prepackaged, folded bias tape for home sewers.  In 1897 they formed Wm.E. Wright Co. Following Nagel's death, Wright bought his late partners shares.

When two of his sons joined the firm in 1905 ( later many relatives would become involved) the firm's name was changed to Wm. E. Wright & Sons.  It was following WWI that Wright was able to purchase color fast dyes from Germany, with a guaranty printed on each package. He also expanded his products into the British Commonwealth counties of Canada, Britain and New Zealand.  Wright died in 1926 and the company remained in the family.  To remain solvent prices were reduced from 15 cent tapes to 5 cents and sold their products to such stores as Woolworth and Kresge. The company also moved to a more fiscally favorable location of West Warren MA.         

Patterns from Supplement No.1

Some examples from my sewing notions collection

Following the move the company introduced rickrack and novelty trims.  The family owned  company entered into a series of acquisitions and limited partnerships. In 2001 Conso-Simplicity buys Wrights and the company name is changed to W.m. Wright Co. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Disappearing Department Store

 In a recent article in the WSJ (Wed. Aug. 5, 2020) Suzanne Kapner described the downward spiral of the iconic American department store.  The list of stores filing for bankruptcy includes, J C Penney, Neiman Marcus and the latest is Lord and Taylor.  Perhaps the reason for this business  debacle is not so apparent, it began in the 1980's says Kapner.  Long before the big-box stores, before Amazon and online shopping and way, way before the Covid-19 crises, corporate executives somehow lost sight of what the typical American consumer expected from the retail establishments. What consumers do not want, apparently, is the same stores in every mall in every city.  They do not want the same merchandise in every store in every city.  Why drive, attempt to find a reasonably close parking place if it will not be a pleasurable and unique experience.

I grew up in a very small town.  Our one room (there was also a loft)  "department store" had burned down when I was quite young but  I remember the town was quite devastated  by this event.  It meant having to go to the next town (somewhat bigger) to buy the most basic of household items.  Of course, a drive of about one hour brought one to a bigger city with a real three story department store.  It even had a restaurant , of sorts, more like a tea room.  The attendants wore gloves, and a type of uniform.  Best of all, their windows on the street level were gloriously decorated for holidays.  Now this was a true shopping experience.

Which brings me to the beginnings of the  era of big city shopping.  Paris was the birthplace of Bon Marche, which opened in 1852.  The growth of prosperous, urban populations who  were aware of the possibility of a pleasurable , rather than  a merely functional chore embraced the idea. The late 18th and early 19th century saw stores like Liberty's, Selfridges and Harrods of London become retail innovators.  Clientele was almost exclusively women and they were catered to with amenities such a ladies restrooms and salons.  Tea rooms enabled customers to spend an entire day. Harrods and Selfridges offered large food emporiums.  Emile Zola called department stores"cathedrals of commerce". 

America, especially NY City, had their share of grand-designed department stores: Lord and Taylor (Est. 1826 , in 2016 had 50 locations), Macy's (Est. 1858, with now nearly 730 stores), B. Altman          (Est.1865, closed 1989),  Bonwit Teller (Est. 1895,closed 1990), Saks Fifth Avenue (Est. 1902, sold to Hudson Bay Company), Gimbel's (Est 1910, closed 1986).

B. Altman
Bonwit Teller



Kapner's article quotes Rachael Shechtman, once a Macy's officer "Two things that made stores great were amazing customer service and great merchandise that you couldn't find elsewhere.  It's almost impossible to name a store that does that today."

It is obvious that CEO's and other executives  have to have a major rethink.  Fairly paid staff must know their customers and their merchandise. Perhaps there may come a backward shift in shopping habits, this remains to be seen.

Monday, August 3, 2020

A New Edition to Collections

A new edition to Collections

Several years ago Cinnamon produced a two volume set of interactive CDs which featured the history of feedsacks along with several hundred visuals of actual vintage feedsack fabrics.

During this stay-at-home period we produced another two set volume of CDs.  This time my collection of Indonesian textiles is the star accompanied by a bit of Indonesian history and a look at the techniques that produce these magnificent textiles.

Ship Cloth

Ikat dyeing

For information on Collections please see my web

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Homes for Travel

Homes for Travel

Before the existence of RV's, double-wide mobile homes and "tiny "houses which can be towed by pickups, nomadic peoples throughout the world constructed shelters which they could easily dismantle and take with them.

The nomadic pasturalists of Central Asia lived, according to the Chinese, in the "Land of Felt" as their world was dominated by a single fabric:woolen felt.  Felt was used for clothing and in the construction of yurts (called "gers" in Mongolia).  Since the 5thC, Central Asian nomads have used round, felt-covered yurts with collapsible wooden frames as portable housing when herding sheep, horses and cattle.  Pasturalist nomads are not constantly on the move as we understand the word "nomad".  They move their herds from winter to summer pastures and live in semi-permanent camps.  Some kept both locations and moved their livestock between them. The yurt while capable of being transported by cart (now by truck) was constructed on site.  The walls are made of hand-hewn willow and poplar branches that are joined by leather thongs.  Wooden door frames are hung with intricately carved doors and there is a domed smoke hole in the roof's center.  Following erection of the frame the yurt ids draped in wool felt mats and an outer covering of reed mats which provide protection and insulation.  Light-weight, yet sturdy,  they are earthquake resistant and provide excellent protection from wind and cold.  Ordinary yurts are plain grey, those used for weddings and other ceremonies are white and lavishly decorated.  The yurt's interior is surprisingly large with  specific areas for eating and communal activities and others for sleeping.

The Lavvu is a temporary structure used by the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia enabling them to follow reindeer herds.  It is constructed by three or more evenly spaced poles which are notched forming a tripod for support, then ten or more straight poles are laid up against the tripod.  There is no need for stakes or ropes or center pole to provide stability.  Reindeer hides were used to cover the lavvu until the mid 1800's until British textiles were made available.  Inside the living quarters of the lavvu there is a fireplace in the middle which is used for heating with a smoke hole at the top of the structure which is usually left open.

The Plains Indians of North America erected tipis as they followed herds of bison.  Using multiple "lodge" poles 12-15 feet in length which are tied together at the end and raised upright and adjusted on the ground, the tipi is nearly ten feet in diameter.  Tanned (and untanned) buffalo skins are sewn together and their lower edges are secured to the ground by tent pegs.  There is a central fire pit and an extra skin at the top to be opened to facilitate the escape of smoke. Tipis were easily set up and dismantled to allow camps to be moved.  The poles of the structure were used to assemble a dog pulled travois upon which additional poles and the coverings were placed. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Tactile Textiles

The first of our senses, when appreciating textiles, is usually thought to be sight.  We perceive color in all variations, we note pattern and size.  However another sense is equally important: touch.
This past weekend I experienced two examples of the importance of  tactile experiences.

While watching the final rounds of the French Open tennis championship I sorted a huge collection of possible reference materials which had been collecting next to my reading chair in our great room.  Among newspaper  clippings and correspondence I came upon an old copy of a quilt magazine.  What jumped out as I page through it was an article by Julia Caprara (making a textile surface).  "Texture is irresistible to all who work with textiles.  Just spend a few minutes watching yourself when confronted by a new stash of fabrics or threads and notice how your fingers are immediately drawn to the surface qualities.  We touch, tease and handle fiber and cloth, 'seeing' it in a tactile way".  This quote by the author was accompanied by a beautiful photo example .  I cannot imagine anyone not tempted to cautiously (perhaps surreptitiously) touch this textile.

Julia Caprara, Quilting Arts Magazine, Winter 2005

My second experience this weekend with the subject of tactile textiles came with a visit to the International Folk Art Museum 's annual Flea Market.  Every year thousands of items donated by members are sold to the general public as a fund raiser for the museum.  My husband's box of treasures included a carved wooden pig, a pottery wine cask and a Mexican oil pitcher.  I restrained myself and only purchased several Guatemalan embroidered bags, just the right size for glasses or cell phones or credit cards.  Just because I didn't purchase great quantities of cloths, embroideries, rugs and linens doesn't mean that I didn't take time to examine what was offered.  I came upon a woven throw of some age.  The color was a dull brownish -grey with an embroidered design of the same hue.  Now this was the type of article that would normally not draw a great deal of attention, but it had a great "hand".  It was soft, and apparently well-loved, although in very good condition. 
What I found interesting was that nearly everyone gathered around this table of many brightly, some exotic textiles, actually touched this piece, some examining it closely.  When I returned for a final perusal, just in case I missed the bargain of the day, the throw was gone.  I hope it went to a loving home in a box with other treasures found at the market.