Friday, September 27, 2013

Penny Loafers

Penny Loafers

I have to admit, I love shoes!  I don’t love the large, platform shoes with the 4 inch spikey heels, as I am terminally clumsy and would be wearing casts on both legs after only getting out of the car.  But all others would be good to go. Are they textiles?  Maybe not, but they are generally made of leather with some sort of synthetic fabric lining.  A compromise would be labeling them fashion accessories.

I read a small article a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal by Tasha Green who wrote about penny loafers.  I had a pair once, years ago, and I remember that nearly all my friends did as well.  They seemed to be especially popular with the young college men who wore them with khakis and blue blazers and button-down collared shirts.

According to Green, they were first produced by B.H.Bass (anyone from New England would recognize that firm) in 1936.  A testament to their popularity would be that I was wearing them 30 years later.  Apparently, students in the 1950’s were responsible for inserting the pennies in the pocket on the front of the shoe, hence the name.

Fashion is cyclic, as we all know.  Anyone who has discarded a pricey piece of apparel because it might be a bit dated lived to regret that move when it reappeared some time later. So now shoe designers are reintroducing the loafers and the article hinted at unusual colors, but to my mind the basics are the most practical because I also remember those shoe simply did not wear out.

Incidentally, the article was accompanied by a photo, “Dark Brown Penny Loafer, $1175, John Lobb”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hotel Linens

Hotel Souvenirs

OK, ‘fess up.  Who, among you out there, never placed a “souvenir” from your hotel room into your carry-on luggage?  I have taken a huge number of shampoos, soaps and lotions, after all, I figure I truly have paid for these.  Also add stationery and those coffee singles.  But I honestly draw the line with bathrobes and towels.  And who in their right mind would want those dubious blankets. (I think crisp white duvets have revolutionized hotel d├ęcor, not to mention cleanliness) 

I came across these vintage towels in a basket of assorted linens  If you look closely, you may be able to see the logo of the Plaza Hotel of NYC in the damask weave.. 

Bath towel and hand towel from the Plaza Hote 

Before terry-cloth towels, bath and hand towels were woven linen or cotton.  It wasn’t until after WWI when returning soldiers told of the lush bath towels in Europe that manufacturers began producing the loop surface towels we now purchase.  In the beginning, though, this fabric was prone to snagging. When a looped was pulled or snagged it created a “run” with the background fabric showing through.  I’m sure you have all seen this in cheap terry fabric.  There has been improvement is the manufacturing process which eliminates this problem.

Friday, September 13, 2013

1950's Patio Prints on Barkcloth

Grandma’s Bark Cloth

Barkcloth is a heavyweight, cotton fabric with a rough textured surface.  Do not confuse this with a textile made from the bark of various trees: breadfruit, fig and paper mulberry found in South America and more frequently, Polynesia.

Grandma’s barkcloth was manufactured in the late 1940’s and 50’s when fine fabric was scarce due to WWII.  It is usually associated with large-scale prints of tropical florals and birds.  These fabrics were bold in palettes of chartreuse, yellows, vivid greens and corals.
Occasionally, the tone was more refined featuring stripes and softer colors of blues and creams.

Because of their terrific graphic qualities and the sturdiness of the weave, barkcloth became very popular as an upholstery fabric, especially for porch and patio furniture.  I remember seeing it on furniture in my grandmother’s “Florida Room”, as sun rooms were often called, although she lived nowhere near Florida. Actually, the climate wasn’t really sunny most of the time either.

Barkcloth with a Japanese motif

Today “patio prints” of barkcloth are very popular once again and vintage barkcloth is fetching surprising prices.  One word of caution, most vintage remnants lived a prior life as curtains, draperies or upholstered pillows and cushions.  If the fabric was placed in a room with direct sunlight and heat (they didn’t call them sun rooms for nothing) the textile will have become fragile and often fractures or splits will occur with reuse.  If you are planning on using this type of fabric for upholstery consider purchasing a reproduction and save the vintage for pillows and small accessories.

Occasionally, one might find textured, heavy, cotton fabrics depicting a bucolic scene reminiscent of toiles, incongruous though it sounds, a finely etched design on linen or cotton compared to a printed scene on roughly textured fabric. These mid twentieth century fabrics were produced for the middle class market by companies such as Waverly Fabrics and F. Schumacher & Co.   

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Barbara Brackman - Quilt Historian

Barbara Brackman

Over twenty years ago at an antique show and sale I fell in love with textile history.  The show was housed in and for the benefit of an historic house in a small New England town.  As a member of our local quilt guild, I was attending a booth selling quilt publications.  Also a vendor who was a fellow guild member  sold vintage textiles including a very impressive selection of vintage quilts.

What I was especially intrigued by was the description of each quilt with its approximate date of creation.  While I could see the obvious distinction between 20th  century pastel and “cute” printed fabrics and the more formal, somber characteristics of 19thC quilts, I didn’t understand the more subtle nuances that allowed for accurate dating.

When I commented on this to a friend and said I was really interested in dating quilts, she recommended the first resource book I ever purchased on textile history: Clues in the Calico by Barbara Brackman.

My background was in science and medicine and I was familiar with research material.  I found to my delight Brackman’s approach was very user friendly, written for the interested reader, not necessarily, the expert.

The more I studied textiles, the more I realized that the subject of textile history was a perfect fit for me and I have enjoyed every course, workshop, conference and reference article I have encountered since.  After those twenty years I still find enormous information to research and immense quantities of textiles to examine.

My hero, Barbara Brackman, was always interested in history and preservation.  She was a member of the National Trust and a founding member of the Kansas Grassroots Art Association in 1974.  Her passionate interest in quilt history lead her to become a founding member of the American Quilt Study Group, and was inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame in 2001.

Brackman has written over a dozen books on the topic of quilt history and currently designs reproduction vintage fabrics for Moda.