Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Bunnies

Nearly every spring since Ian and I moved to Santa Fe the first sign of the season is not a robin but a very small bunny, sometimes two bunnies, inside the walls surrounding our front patio.  Most assuredly, they eat my flowers.  But they sure are cute!

The fabric for this charming embroidery is a textile bag, more commonly known as a feedsack.  “Feedsack” is a term used to describe the textile bags manufactured for storage and transportation of dried goods.  Nearly every dry product was packaged in this manner: grains and flour, sugar, salt, potatoes animal feed, seeds, fertilizer, money and tobacco.  The Bemis Bag Co. of St. Louis, established in 1858, was the leading textile bag producer followed by Chase Co.

Prior to the 1930’s, textile bags were white cotton with the advertising logo of the content’s producer (as well as the logo of the bag manufacturer) inked on the front of the bag.  Some textile bags, such as you see here, had a pattern pre-printed on the sack for embroidery, doll making or quilt blocks.  Transfer patterns were also available by mail through women’s magazines.  These embroidery patterns were easily ironed onto the white sacking and colorfully embroidered.

This example shows a leaping rabbit, embroidered in variegated colored thread in a stem (or outline) stitch on the right.  Quite visible is the logo “Jack Rabbit Brand
 (Reg.U.S.Pat.Off.) Choice Hand Picked Navy Beans”.  Above the rabbit is the weight of the beans “5Lbs. Net”. The left side features a lady rabbit, presumably the mother rabbit, washing clothes with a washboard and tub.  The stitching (stem, lazy-daisy, and straight stitch) was done in both variegated pastel-colored thread and solid colored.  Behind the mother is a small bunny pulling a wagon, perhaps loaded with more laundry. Above the embroidered scene is stamped “To Occupy Little Fingers” with a scissors, spool of thread and a needle encasing the instructions “work the design in various color threads.  Wash in the usual manner.” and signed A Chase Design.

Following WWII the paper bag industry supplanted the use of textile bags in packaging despite the efforts of The National Cotton Council.  Although today most consumer goods are packaged in paper, there are still products available in fiber bags.

Today “feedsacks” have become a growing collectible.  Identification numbers, names and addresses of mills and bag manufacturers can be traced.  There is much history to be learned from these textiles and many stories to be uncovered.

I have written  2 CDs on feedsack history.  Each CD also includes hundreds of photographs of feedsack patterns as well as unusual textile bags.  For more information please visit my website

Friday, March 23, 2012

Forty-seven Stars

Forty-seven Stars

In a recent edition of El Palacio I came across an article by Louise Stiver, formerly of the Department of Cultural Affairs, now an advisor and journalist contributor to the magazine. What struck my interest was two-fold. Firstly its subject was, of course, a textile, namely a flag. But not just any American flag. This article concerned the flag of 47 stars, the statehood of New Mexico. This is the centennial year of New Mexico’s statehood and there has been much interest in our history.

Apparently, the custom of creating a new star field in our flag after a state is admitted to the union was rather a random procedure and there had been many different configurations. In the beginning, June 14, 1777
 ( June 14 is till known as “Flag Day”) the Continental Congress resolved “ that the flag of the 13 United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.” In 1818 a flag law set the standards for what, is now, our flag of thirteen stripes for the original colonies and a field of stars, one for each state. The new star is to be officially added to the design on July 4 following the state’s admission. That, it seems , was the problem of the 47 star flag.

You may recall that New Mexico was not the only state admitted that year. Only a few weeks after our recognition (at long last) in 1912, our neighbor to the west, Arizona, was also admitted so that two stars were officially added to the flag on July 4, 1912.

Not waiting (and sharing stars) until July, many 47 star flags were created to show our patriotism and were flown over the state capital and Palace of the Governors and displayed by citizens throughout the state. Now these were not official flags, per se, and not, according to Stiver all of one design. This makes the search for these textiles especially tantalizing for historians and collectors. The New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe will display their 47 star flags throughout this centennial year.

El Palacio was first published in 1913, one year following statehood. The name references the Palace of the Governors, the first museum of New Mexico. The periodical highlights Southwestern culture and history. For more information visit

Friday, March 16, 2012


I have decided to start a blog. Not too innovative, I admit, as there are hundreds and hundreds out there. However, for me, it is a new experience. I hope to create a dialog about textiles, specifically, textile history. You see I am a textile historian: I research, write and lecture on topics of textile history. For many years I worked from my studio in Massachusetts , buying and selling vintage textiles while I studied and researched their history.

The more I learned, the more I realized how little I actually knew about the history of fibers and textiles, cloth and costume. The more books I read, the more classes I took and lectures I attended the more I became determined to become as knowledgeable as possible about this fascinating subject. The subject is so vast, at first it seemed impossible to create an order to the information I was obtaining, but I pursued gathering bits of facts (and fiction) on all sorts of related topics. Then it became apparent that a plan was needed. Other professionals in the field limited their scope to specific areas of interest, becoming “experts” in their narrow field. While this appeared a more manageable approach, I was unsatisfied with the lack of connection between various topics.. for example, why would a group of people decide to use certain dyes, while their neighbors chose differently and thousand of miles away another society, or clan or tribe was using the same dyestuffs. Why are some patterns and designs universally used? How did events in one part of the world influence textile decisions elsewhere? So instead of specializing, I decided my initial approach would be as a generalist, putting together a chronology of textile history from prehistoric to contemporary. Obviously this would work if I realized I could not spend months and years on a specific topic but let my colleagues answer questions ( and those of my students and lecture attendees) that demanded an in depth approach. Fortunately, over these many years I have had the great pleasure of accumulating quite a list of “go to” experts.

Nearly 8 years ago my husband, Ian, and I moved from New England winters and traffic and our 250 year old farmhouse to a small home in Santa Fe NM. I now work from my office at home which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, don’t misunderstand, but I miss my daily interactions with others in the field. Sometimes I wish I could just share a bit of trivia regarding, say the rabbit population in France for angora production

So hence this blog. I want to share information and experiences with textiles and their history, upcoming and current exhibitions , reference sources and, very importantly, the work of textile researchers and artists. I wish this site to be informative, but to be effective I will need the feedback and contributions of you readers.