Saturday, December 12, 2015

The History of the Christmas Greeting Card

Holiday Cards

Although we have had a few cold days, this is the first real taste of winter here in Santa Fe and I am writing a few greeting cards to mail .  Years ago, I sent out many more holiday cards, perhaps email has made a difference in my habits. Nevertheless, I still like to select meaningful greetings to those friends and relatives we are not able to visit as often as we would wish.

The history of sending printed holiday greetings tells of Sir Henry Cole, a Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  In  May, 1843, Cole commissioned his friend, John Callcott Horsley, a former pupil of the National Academy known for his illustrations to produce a Christmas greeting card in an initial edition of 1,000.  The card was produced on cardboard and measured 5 1/8inches x 3 ¼ inches and was a handpainted triptych    The images depicted were of a family raising glasses of wine in a toast with side scenes of charity giving for the poor.  The greeting read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You”.  Subsequently, an additional edition was printed, the cards selling for 1 shilling each.  This was an essentially providential market ploy for Cole as he had helped introduce the first postage stamp (Penny Post) three years earlier.

The first printed cards available in America were available from the lithograph firm of Prang and Mayer in 1847.  The first American president and first lady to send White House cards during the Christmas season was Calvin Coolidge in 1927 and the first “official” White House Christmas card was sent in 1953 by Dwight Eisenhower.

The tradition of sending cards included merchants sending their greetings to valued customers and charity organizations soliciting donations.
Today many card manufacturers offer free email cards.

Vintage greeting cards are easy to find. as well as many reproduction cards.  In December,2013 an original Cole card was sold at auction for 4,200 pounds (over $6,000 dollars).

Here are a few cards from my collection depicting children dressed for Santa.

1915 - Reproduction 1860's - 1926

1918 - 1918 - 1913

" A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You"
 Henry Cole ( and Margy)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Holiday Shopping

Hitting Those Sales

Because the Thanksgiving Holiday was late this year we have one less week until Christmas.  Actually, Hanukkah is being celebrated extra early.  So one must be out and about enjoying the holiday shopping experience (unless, of course, you are one of the plan-ahead people who finish their gift list in July).

There are alternatives to fighting for parking places at the mall.  My  poor car was hit the other day by a woman who pulled out of a space without looking, fortunately no one was injured, but it surely didn’t put me into good spirits.

Many shoppers are online, many use catalogs.  But whatever method you use there are occasionally price shocks.  For instance, one might think a safe gift would be a scarf for the hard-to-buy-for gentleman on your list.  In one of my favorite blog resources,  The Wall Street Journal featured a small article “The Wrap Game” Nov.9, 2013 .  Illustrated were 5 scarves of various fiber contents ranging in price from $75 to $605 !!!!
But that wasn’t bad enough.  In the Style and Travel section, Tuesday, Nov.21, 2013 Christina Binkley wrote an article entitled “Sweater Sticker Shock”.  These basic-looking sweaters carried  a heafty, not-so-basic tag of $1,250 to $2,000.  For a sweater!! And they didn’t have any jeweled trims or hand embroidered embellishments, nor a faux fur collar.

 I don’t know about you, but to me this seems crazy!!  This week I was going through my “idea”file.  I’m sure you all have a folder of creative ideas, cut from favorite magazines.  This idea was from Threads Magazine, 2011.  The article, “Brocade to trim” by Judith Neukam, raised innumerable possibilities of using a design element cut from a fabric remnant, adding beads, sequins, or embroidery.  This can then be appliquéd to any garment.  Think of a plain blazer or small clutch bag. 

  Or scour your stash of crochet pieces to use as a collar or cuffs for a sweater.  Using less expensive purchases,personalized by your hand work, makes a truly unique gift that shows how much you care ( not to mention your incredible creativity).

Happy shopping, the Holidays are here!  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sporty Cycle Fashions

Cyclist’s Fashions

I recently read an article by Karen LeBat writing for The Berg Fashion Library entitled “Bicycle Clothing”.  This caught my eye since my husband is an avid cyclist.  Here in Santa Fe cycling is very popular as the weather is generally conducive to the sport throughout the year.

LeBat wrote of early cycling (mid 1800’s) clothing problems for women and Victorian notions of femininity and modesty issues. 

I actually found a print by Rudolph Ackermann (1819) of women astride English bicycles with drop seats allowing female riders to wear their long skirts.  Ackermann was a London print maker and businessman who established The Print and Picture Emporium at 101 Strand, London.  Coincidentally, Ackermann also dabbled  as an inventor and patented mechanisms for carriages.  He also obtained patents for various bicycle components, although it is not clear that he actually invented these components or merely bought the patent rights.

Ackermann's print advertising "Ladies Hobbyhorses" now exhibiting at 40 Brewer Streeet
Published May, 12, 1819 at  R. Achermanns, 101 Strand

By the late 1800’s women’s fashions introduced knickerbockers also known as “bloomers” named after Amelia Jenks Bloomer an American reformer.  “Bloomers” were loose, boxy trousers, gathered at the ankle or knee and worn by women and girls for participation in athletics. 

Men’s cycling clothing consisted of vests with insignias of their racing clubs worn over long shirts.  Special shoes and headgear soon appeared.

According to LeBat, in the early 1920’s, only the professional cyclists wore specialized clothing and the average cyclist wore popular casual clothing.  Today there is a large textile industry dedicated to sports clothing, utilizing the most advanced fibers and garment designs. Cyclists, both men and women, now wear body-fitting shorts and shirts in vibrant colors to increase their visibility.  Also necessary are gloves to facilitate grip and glasses to protect from the wind and sun.  But one of the most important accessories is the helmet, aerodynamically shaped.  Many states require bikers to wear helmets, and I cringe whenever I see riders without them,

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Give Thanks


This week we celebrate the harvest and a day of thanks which entails journeys to the homes of relatives, near and far.  Tradition mandates large dining room tables laden with turkeys the size of ostriches and several side dishes followed by desserts laden with calories.

But that is not the meaning of Thanksgiving.  We have much to be grateful for and should not require a special day to show our appreciation for friends and family.  We must also not ignore those less fortunate but strive every day to share our bounty with others.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pineapple Fiber - Pina

Pina –Fiber of the Philippines

Imagine making a luxurious, diaphanous cloth from a pineapple.  The fiber is a leaf fiber from the red pineapple.  The long fibers cannot be spun but are hand knotted to form the warp and weft yarns.  The plain weave yardage is produced on upright looms in small workshops. 

Pineapple is an herbaceous perennial, 2 ½ to 5 feet in height with a spread of 3-4 feet.  The plant is native to Brazil and Paraguay.  The South American Indians spread the plant throughout the rest of South and Central America where Columbus discovered the fruit on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493 and brought it back to Spain.  In the 16th C Spain introduced the plant into the Philippine Islands..

Sheer pina cloth was a perfect ground for intricate embroidery techniques taught by Spanish nuns.  During the late 18thC and early 19thC there was a high demand for  intricate lace-like textiles, however by the 1850’s the labor intensive production was too costly.  There was competition from factory- produced goods and the cottage industry faltered.

NEEDLECRAFT - the Magazine of Home Arts
Auguat 1930

In the 1990’s there was a renewed interested in this textile by fashion designers working with the government.  Some innovations in manufacture included using native and synthetic dyes to produce a variety of colors.  Combining the pina fibers with other plant fibers created cloth more sturdy and easier to weave.  Combined with abaca, another fiber long used in the region, the cloth is called “justi”.  Combining pina with silk warp threads produces a cloth called pina-seda.

From the Rainbow's Varied Hue - Textiles of  the southern Philiuppines
Roy W,. Hamilton, Ed.
UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, L.A.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Holiday Shopping

Giving the Gifts

The holidays are rapidly approaching.  Have you finished your holiday shopping?

Actually, I quite like shopping, whether for the holiday season, or just a leisure activity. 

The process of consumer buying has changed drastically over time.  Initially, people grew their own food, made their own clothes and were generally independent.  What goods and services they could not provide for the family were obtained through trade and barter.  As populations formed small towns and villages, a merchant class was born.  Each town had a “high street” where small shops sold their products.  Green grocers, drapers, pharmacies lined the streets and shoppers (usually women) could purchase their goods, socialize, and stop for a cup of tea.

Larger cities, too, had multiple specialty shops selling home goods, clothing, foodstuffs.   Usually these shops tended to be in proximity so that buyers could go from shop to shop with ease.

In the mid 1800’s a new establishment was born: the Department Store.  Actually, this was a collection of small retail shops under one roof, not the mega store we think of today.  In some countries, especially in Asia this is still the case.  Each shop within the building may be privately owned but for the convenience of the public they are in one location, much like our indoor malls.

The first department store, The Bon Marche was opened in Paris in 1852.  Of course such stores were soon to be found in other large European cities. The sheer size of the building, the enormous selection of items for sale and the lavish décor made this shopping experience hugely successful.  While the women in small towns could enjoy a few hours on the “high street”, the shoppers in large cities could spend an entire day.  The store provided amenities such as “refresh rooms”, cafes, fashion shows.  Public transportation was available for the surrounding suburban neighborhoods.  Another important feature of these businesses was the freedom to “window shop”.  That is, see the items for sale, and actually, in some cases touch and inspect them.  Prior custom was counter service where a staff employee would assist the customer.  There was an underlying obligation to actually buy what was presented.

Popular department stores became landmarks for their cities, for instance Harrod’s, the largest such shop in the UK, and Macy’s (originally R.H. Macy & Co.) The flagship store on Herald Square in NYC has over 1.1million sq. feet of retail space.

The pleasure factor of such a shopping experience has been dramatized in such productions as The Paradise, a BBC & Masterrpiece adaptation of Emile Zola’s work “Au Bonheur des Dames” set in NE England (not in original Paris) and Mr. Selfridge.  Harry Selfridge founded Selfridges on Oxford Street, London in 1909.

These large establishments have remained for today’s shoppers (and tourists).  While in Berlin this spring, my husband and I visited  Ka De We, reportedly the largest department store in the world.  It was truly magnificent.

Wine bar at Ka De We

In-store display of white asparagus and tomatoes at Ka De We

Of course, a wonderful array of pastry at Ka De We

Many department stores were faced with the emigration of families to the suburbs, where once again small, independent stores formed “strip malls”.  The evolution of the Mall became large indoor areas of individual shops, with large parking lots.  Amenities include restaurants, cinemas, travel agencies and banking and beauty salons.  Many also include large grocery stores so that it is truly a one-stop shopping experience.

However, this retail evolution is not yet complete. A vast amount of “retail therapy” is now done on-line.  The ease of internet shopping and the vast array of merchandise available has become a boon for the busy household.  Sit by your computer in your robe and slippers, peruse the many, many sites, make your selection, pay on-line and have your purchases delivered to your door, frequently with free delivery, from anywhere in the world.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Fantastic Fans

Hand fans have been a fashion accessory for centuries.  We have all seen images of servants holding large tropical leaves by the stem to cool the air around their master (and probably keep flying insects at bay).

An Egyptian fan was found in a tomb and was constructed from peacock feathers and a gold handle.

Fans can be classified as Fixed (rigid and flat)
                                        Oriental Brise (these fans have no leaves and are comprised of overlapping sticks, narrow at their bottom and held together by a rivet)

Fixed fans from Japan. Collection of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

The anatomy of a folding fan  :
  1. The leaf- a broad band connecting the upper sticks made of vellum, fabric, paper , or lace.  The leaf is usually decorated.
  2. The guards – are the heavy, outside sticks used for protection
  3. The sticks-also called ribs – serve as the inner frame, supporting the leaf.  They are made of shell, wood, ivory or bone.
  4. The head – the lower portion of the fan.  A rivet goes through the head and holds the sticks so that they can pivot.
  5. The loop-  a flat metal ring attached at the rivet.  Ribbon or tassels are attached to the loop

Folding fans came from Japan as early as the 6th-9th C.  Fans came to Europe in the 1500’s.  It is said Catherine de Medici introduced the folding fan (from Italy) into France.  France then became the center of fan manufacturing and export for Europe from the 15thC through the early 20thC.

England soon followed France in production, although England never realized the status of  France.    In 1709 The Worshipful Company of Fan Manufacturers was established in England.  The manufacture of the folding fan was a process involving as many as 20 workers.  Makers of guards and sticks shaped the material by hand until a French inventor in 1859 made a machine to do the cutting.  The leaf design was created by artists and these designs were later copied at the factory.  After the leaves were pleated, the sticks were inserted and glued into place.

By the late 18thC nearly every woman in the western world owned a fan.

The fan is associated with specific body language, often referred to as the “language of the fan” as the motion of the fan was thought to be a means of communication.  As a fashion accessory it defined femininity, denoted class and social status.

Catalog from an Art Nouveau exhibition at The Fan Museum

Many museums have very large collections of fans, including The Hand Fan Museum of Heraldsburg Ca. and The Fan Museum of Greenwich, London UK

The Fan and Lace,Beryl Melville, Lochlea Pub., 1991

Further information can also be found at the Fan Association of North America.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Brilliant Colors

October Colors

This time of year is so beautiful with inspiring vibrant colors from nature.  Artists everywhere use this palette for images of autumn forests and harvest fields.

The above photo of a fall forest reminded me of this beautiful quilt designed and made by Jean Page, featured in Quilter's Newsletter Magazine,
Nov. 95

This is a vintage postcard dated November 28, 1912

Also, remember, that Halloween is a few days away.  Some literary references come to mind.

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubbles." 
 “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.”

                                                                    The Three Witches
                                                                   William Shakespeare

“Listen to them – the children of the night.               Dracula
 What music they make!”                                     Bram Stoker

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,          
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore— While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a  tapping,       
    As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
     “’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
    Only this and nothing more.”
      “Quoth the raven, “ Nevermore”.”                The Raven
                                                                               E.A. Poe

                           October Sunset over the NM desert
                                Photograph by Karen Novotny

Friday, October 9, 2015

Wool Week 2015

The Campaign for Wool

Launched in 2010, The Campaign for Wool is a promotion to educate the public about wool and wool-rich products.  HRH The Prince of Wales convened a coalition of industry leaders in manufacturing, fashion and home furnishings.  This year the 6th annual Wool Week takes place from Oct 5-11 with activities throughout the United Kingdom.
Check YouTube for 3 short videos starring sheep and farm animals: “Braaad Pitt”, Sheep of the Year” and “No Sweat”.  Also check

          London advertisement for Wool Week at Saville Row

Although the Campaign for Wool features the wool fibers from various  breeds of sheep, wool is a fiber from the fleece of various animals such as camels, llamas, alpacas and angora goats.

The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius, Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA, 2011

Wool has unique characteristics and it one of the first fibers to be used for textiles, as early as 4,000BCE in Mesopotamia.  Wool resists dirt and has a high degree of thermal insulation.  It is also flame resistant and has the ability to absorb large quantities of water.

Wool-producing countries include Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and US as well as Turkey, India, Iraq and Argentina.

Merino sheep is considered the finest marketable wool and a major source for apparel.  Through selective sheep breeding there are over 30 major varieties in various grades and colors of wool. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Slavery in the Factory -Partt 5 Child Lbor

Slavery in the Factory- Part 5

Child labor is a topic that demands some consideration.  Children have always been part of the work force due to economic considerations of their families.

In England and Scotland in the late 1700’s, 2/3 of the workers in 143 water-powered cotton mills were children.   Without their meager addition to their family’s finances the entire family would be working in government-sponsored  poor houses, and their plight would have been even more dismal.

Cultural differences come into the debate also.  In SE Asia child labor (Mui Tsai) was rationalized and even encouraged as tradition.

Most countries have child labor laws that mandate a minimum age a child may work and also the number of hours /week.  From our discussions regarding slave labor in factories in the previous blogs it would be hard to believe that all manufacturers follow the rules.
Again, Bangladesh disregards the rules and children work in factories  for up to 16 hours a day.  Some do menial work such as clipping threads from garments, while older children operate the machines in poorly ventilated, crowded quarters.  There are those that argue that when children are displaced from illegal factory jobs, they simply go to another manufacturer, or worse, live off the streets.  The answer remains the same, paying a living wage to adults negates the necessity of child labor.

Today there are many children who work in family businesses and there are exceptions to the child labor laws that allow this under certain conditions.  Nearly all legislation requires sensible working hours which allows for education, and safe conditions.  Most of these children work in agriculture, alongside their families.  It would be extremely difficult for these farmers to make a living without the efforts of all the family members, especially during times of planting and harvesting.  There is one disturbing note:  according to labor statistics, 12% of children working in agriculture suffer injuries.
It is also thought by some sociologists that children working with family, in family run businesses, are more cognizant of family finances and appreciate the rewards of labor as opposed to children who have never worked.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Slavery in the Factory - Part 4

Slavery in the Factory – Part 4

In Part 3, I told the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in NYC.  The building where more than 146 people died in 1911 is now a biology lab at New York University.

From the 1880’s to the 1920’s textile manufacturing sweatshops were fueled by immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. Following the Triangle fire reforms were passed, immigrations laws were tightened and labor unions grew powerful.  In the 1950’s there were more than 275,000 garment workers in NYC alone and they earned about the same salary as an auto worker. By 1996, there were only 70,000 , most not making minimum wage.  This was a result of mass market garment production moving to the low range work forces of Asia and Latin America.  If a US company wanted to compete it had to lower labor costs (the return of the sweatshop). 

What abut all the labor laws and reforms?  In 1996 , the Department of Labor had less than 800 inspectors who worked in all areas of US industry.  Owners of companies with dubious reputations kept two sets of books, coerced employee whistleblowers and could, if necessary, close their factory and simply move locations.  If you think the products of these sweatshops  are found in only the lowest-cost big box stores you would be surprised to learn invoices can be traced to some very high-end retailers.  The fact that sweatshops remain in the US can be also attributed to the need for low cost clothing

Outsourcing textile manufacturing has made some foreign manufacturers very, very wealthy.  According to the World Trade Organization the top 10 clothing exporters in 2011 were: China with $153.8 billion, Italy with $23.3 b, Bangladesh with $19.9 b, Germany, India, Turkey. Vietnam, France, Spain and Belgium trailing.  Today, Bangladesh is the second largest exporter after China.

The safety rating in these countries is approaching abysmal.  In 2012 , two factory fires in Karachi, Pakistan killed more than 283 workers.  Again, there were locked doors, barred windows and lack of safety equipment.  A fire in a factory owned by Tazreen Fashions LTD in Bangladesh killed 112 workers in a building with no fire exits.  One of the worst disasters was the collapse of the RANA Plaza, Dhakar, Bangladesh,  which killed over 1,100 workers on April 24, 2013.  As a result of the RANA catastrophe a five year accord was signed by major European retailers for the infusion of funds for renovations making factories safe and independent inspections..  The problem is that the standards of the Accord and Alliance are deemed unrealistic by Bangladesh.  According to the vice president of the Bangladesh Manufacturers and Exporters Assoc.  “it is unfair for the retailers to demand European factory standards when they are paying Bangladeshi prices for the clothes they are buying”. An engineer advising the government stated that most of the factories will fail the inspections and new factories would have to be built.  Major US retailers are pursuing similar programs. 

However, oversight and inspections  can only do so much when there are hundreds of factories in dozens of countries using workers as slaves.  The demand for cheap apparel is a result of the generational poverty levels found world-wide.  Low wages create the necessity for low cost products. Raising wages is one solution,

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Pirate Flags

September 19, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  I suppose it is no more unusual than days dedicated to librarians, teachers, dentists, or family pets. The origin of this special day can be found in a great website  Seems as thought 2 friends John and Mark started, in jest, the notion between them and a few friends joined in.  Later they emailed Dave Barry, the syndicated columnist, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Actually, the history of pirates is a well- documented account of profiteering, violence and the dangers of the sea.  Mostly, we hear the romanticized version, of swashbuckling seamen and buried treasures on deserted islands.

Let us look at some facts about these guys.  Firstly there is a difference between privateering and piracy.  Privateers were privately owned and manned armed ships commissioned by a government to attack and capture enemy ships, especially merchant vessels. They flew the national flag of the country sponsoring them, adding additional symbol flags, such as red flags for warning and, good old, “Jolly Roger”, meaning bad things were coming your way if you resisted.  Without flying a national flag, these ships were considered pirate vessels acting on their own.  There are some accounts of ships flying national flags and banners of other countries (not their own) to entice unsuspecting ships and although this smacks of cheating, as long as they replaced the false flag with the correct national flag, this was considered ok under the rules of war.  Privateers were also known as “sea beggars”.

Pirate crews were not “shanghaied” and dragged into service, rather, when a well-known captain announced his ship was “going on an account”, members of his previous crews were given first preference and then others who wished to join came next. Another interesting fact is that these crews were actually very democratic.  The Captain and the quartermaster were elected, this insured the fair treatment of the crew.  Further, subsequent votes could be taken at any time. Articles of Agreement, signed by all, spelled out various duties and shares of any spoils.  The crew pledged not to betray each other, desert or abandon ship in battle.   In reality, most pirate crews preferred taking a prize ship without a fight.  If the warned ship surrendered, there was little danger to the crew, however, if there was resistance it was met with much violence, the crew, to a man, would be slaughtered.

Of course there needed to be a factor of intimidation to the victim ship.  Pirate flags conjured up fear, accompanied with the reputation of the pirate captain.  Each captain had a variation of the skull and cross bones and additional symbols were often combined. The skull was s symbol of death as was the crossed bones, dancing skeletons did a jig with death and weapons such as spears and swords promised violence was a’comin.

Pirate flags were sewn by the crew, and some, were commercially made by widows of sail-makers, who often accepted payment in brandy  

                                                                                       Calico Jack Rackman

                                                                                         Henry Every

                                                                                        Edward England

                                                                                                                                                             Christopher Condant

                                                                                     Edward Teach ( Blackbeard)

So, avast maties, think Johnny Depp, and unlock your treasure chest, get your map, and feed your parrot!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Slavery in the Factory - Part 3

Slavery in the Factory – The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Just after the turn of the 20th C industrialization had taken over most of the larger cities.  Thousands of immigrants (some were trained, many were not) flocked to the cities seeking work.  David Von Drehle (Triangle) writes that “nearly 100 or more Americans died on the job every day in the booming industrial years around 1911”.

Triangle - The Fire that Changed America. David Von Drehle, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2003 

Regulations regarding worker’s safety were scarce and usually disregarded.  Complaints by workers were ignored and attempts to improve conditions were met harshly.  After-all, the dissident workers could be replaced almost immediately by others seeking work.

The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the largest blouse- making factory in NYC, would prove to be a pivotal point in forcing reforms not only in New York City but in the rest of the US as well.

On Sunday March 25, 1911 this fire became the worst workplace catastrophe in history.  The entire tragedy took place in less than ½ hour. More than 146 workers perished.  It is not certain exactly how many employees were present on the 9th floor of the factory, but there were 278 sewing machines on the assembly lines.  Space was crowded with bales of fabric, cut and ready to assemble.  Waste littered the floors.  There had been some reform at the factory, following a newsworthy workers’ strike, but conditions were still dangerous.  The overcrowding of workers and machinery, the pitiful fire escapes that could only accommodate one or two persons abreast and, unbelievably, locked doors to ensure workers did not leave early or remove scraps or other materials from the factory.

How could this have been possible?  At the time factory owners were usually wealthy businessmen who looked for investment potential.  Many owners owned dozens of factories in many cities.  The management was left to supervisors whose pay was a reflection of the amount of product that the factory workers produced.  Therefore everything possible was done to ensure maximum output with minimal overhead.  This included the salaries of the workers.  There was also the political structure, which turned a blind eye to the plight of factory workers in favor of the owners, who would have naturally contributed to the campaign chest of the politicians.  Included in the network of allies were building inspectors, and even police and other city employees of rank.

Today there are laws regulating working conditions and oversight by the public and the press.  However, there are still dangerous working conditions.  With regularity there are mining disasters, heavy equipment failures and issues with faulty machinery.  The cheap products we have come to enjoy, come at a price.  That price is a hefty one.

In the next installment on this issue we will view factories and their conditions abroad.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


The Genius of Stephanie Kwolek

Most of you know, by now, that I volunteer in the Children’s Room of the Santa Fe  Library.  I am amazed every week by the number of volumes we have for children of all ages and the wide variety of topics these books cover.  Last week I happened upon a book, quite by accident.  Here was the story of the DuPont chemist who discovered the formula for synthesizing the fiber we know as Kevlar.

The Woman Who Invented The Thread That Stops Bullets -
The Genius of Stephanie Kwolek, Edwin Brit Wyckoff, 
Enslow Publishers, Inc., Brooklyn Heights, NJ, 2014

Born on July 31, 1923 in Kensington, Pennsylvania, Stephanie Kwolek had intended to become a physician.  She majored in chemistry at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, graduating in 1946.  Working at DuPont was meant to be a temporary stop on her way to a medical career.  She would remain at DuPont as a chemist for 40 years.

In 1964 she led a group of chemists searching for a lightweight, super strong fiber for the manufacture of automobile tires.  Lighter weight tires could reduce gasoline consumption and there was anticipation of a shortage in the future. More than 100,000 chains of chemical polymers were produced but none had the desired strength.

Kevlar_chemical_structure_H-bonds.png (2481×1243)

Poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide solution was cloudy and thinner than other tested solutions.  Beneath the microscope the chemical chains were straight and in alignment after spinning. Testing proved the fibers to be five times stronger than steel.

In 1966 Kwolek and Paul Morgan were granted patents for the fiber, It would take five more years of research for DuPont to produce a fabric that could stop bullets.  More than 200 products are made from these super strong fibers.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Slavery in the Factory - The Lowell Experiment

Slavery in the Factory- Part 2

According to Arthur L. Eno, Jr. (Cotton Was King) ”In man’s four million year career he has revolutionized his economy only twice.  The first time was about seven thousand years ago when man learned to domesticate wild cereal grasses.  He went from being a hunter to a farmer…..In the mid-eighteenth century the second economic revolution introduced factory production of textile goods on a large scale using machines powered by energy derived from water-wheels.”

Cotton Was King - A History of Lowell, Massachusetts, 
Ed., ArthurL. Eno, Jr.,
New Hampshire Publishing Co.,1976

It was the production of textiles that began the industrial revolution.  In the past, textiles for family use were made in the home.  With the exception of royal workshops which produced a very small quantity of textiles for the royal entourages, or government controlled guilds producing a very narrow range of specific textiles, clothing and household linens were made by family members, often after their work in the fields was completed for the day.  Gradually, small mills began processing textile fibers, but each mill was specialized, that is, providing only one step in the process.  At this time there were other mills, of course: grist mills, saw mills, even gunpowder mills.    For power, the mills used water, which fell onto a waterwheel. 

Europe was already into their industrial revolution and sending their exports around the globe when American industrialists began following their lead by firstly manufacturing the machinery necessary to produce large quantity of goods.

The story of the Lowell Offering is the tale of astute, resourceful business entrepreneurs seeking high return for their investments.  Francis Cabot Lowell was an international trader who was much impressed with the European textile industry.  Gathering other investors he established textile industry in New England and set a precedence for industrialization throughout the country.  He established  a factory system that produced the entire finished product within one mill.  This required large capitalization, expert  management of both resources and labor, producing cheap goods in quantity.

The Lowell Offering- Writings by New England Mill women (1840-1845), Ed. Benita Eisler, Harper and Row Pub., 1977 

Other manufacturers relied on male laborers, some skilled, some not.  The Lowell Experiment hired young, farm girls from New England.  To assure the families of the safety of their daughters, boarding houses were built and run by older women, while some girls lived in the city with relatives.  The wages for these “mill girls” were paid in cash, monthly, and they were encouraged to open savings accounts in banks.  In other systems, wages were credits at the “company store” and often the laborers became indebted to the company to the extent that were not able to leave their employment.

Although the “mill girls” were undoubtedly better off financially than if they had remained on the farm, there were also disadvantages.  They were required to remain for at least one year and their lives were strictly regulated, working long hours.  Often the boardinghouses were overcrowded.  The working conditions in the factory led to health issues: lung disease and typhus.

                         Cotton Was King, Page 124

  Lowell - The Story of an Industrial City
Produced by the Division of Publications, National Park Service, 
U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., 1992

The early years of the 20th century saw  production in the Lowell mills falling.  Aging machinery was not upgraded.  The Yankee “mill girls” were replaced by immigrant labor.  The years following WW1 saw a decline and hours of production and salaries were reduced.  To make the situation worse, there came the depression..  There was a short reprieve during the Second World War, but textile manufacturing would go the way of much manufacturing in the US, elsewhere.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Salvery in the Factory


August 23rd is International Slavery Remembrance Day.  Too often we think of the institution of slavery as something in the past.  Indeed, the history of slavery is as old as the history of mankind.  There always existed the more powerful, the more influential, the richer…and the poorest, the more ignorant, the more vulnerable.

The ancient Romans had slaves, the Egyptian slaves built the pyramids and the Great Wall of China was constructed by more than 3 million slaves.

We are familiar with the African-American Slave trade that involved not only the Americas and Africa but relied upon European countries to provide the slave transports.

Sadly, slavery is not the past.  According to an article in the Washington Post, Oct. 17, 2013, it was estimated by the Walk-Free Foundation that more than 29 million people throughout the world were living as slaves (nearly 60,000 in the US). In 1981 Mauritania was the last country to officially abolish slavery.  Still, that country has one of the highest percentages of the population (nearly 4%) enslaved.

The word “slave” was first applied to captives of Slavic origin in southeastern Europe and is defined as a human being who is owned by and absolutely subject to another human being, as by capture, purchase or birth.  There are many types of slavery, from children and young women sold in the sex trade to workers harvesting coffee beans and cacoa, miners in gold mines and factory workers working under appalling conditions.

Over the next few months I will introduce thoughts (and facts) about slavery in the field of textiles and textile production. 


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Costume Magic

Costumes for Opera

I have been looking through a small box of fabric scraps, intending to use some for a project I am designing.  These are no ordinary scraps.  I had been collecting these tiny treasures for years when I visited San Francisco and a fabulous fabric emporium on a small side street near Union Square.  Of course they carried a very wide range of fabrics for every sewing need, but I was interested in their collection of extravagant, luxury fabrics, many of which were imported.  I did not need, nor could I afford, to buy yardage, but I would spend much time sorting through containers of very small scraps.  For a few dollars, I could purchase bits and pieces of heavily embroidered, jewel encrusted silks and velvets, whispery tulles and beautiful laces.

On one visit as I was entranced by rolls of these fabrics, afraid to even touch them, an assistant  approached , possibly thinking I had a credit card limit in the astronomical range.  She told me of her last customer who had purchased rolls of these fabrics for use by the costume department of the San Francisco Opera.  Of course, this was the perfect use for these magical textiles.

Opera Themes and Plots, Rudolph Fellner, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1958 

As I thought about that visit and the sales attendant’s story about the opera, I remembered an article I have saved from Threads Magazine, Oct/Nov 2011 entitled “Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Opera.  Written by Kenneth D. King, it was the behind-the scenes world of the costume and design department with a staff of 100. When one thinks of the operatic experience it is the combination of magnificent music, superb vocalists and theater.  It is a performance which tells a story. The magic is enhanced by the spectacular scenery and costumes.  Whether the performance is traditional or a modern adaptation, the performers must evoke their characters and this is achieved visually (through costumes and scenery) as well as vocally.

The design staff of any costume department has many highly skilled artisans.  The workshops are filled with tailors and seamstresses, drafts-men and. pattern-makers with years of experience.  While the drapers and cutters calculate the fabrics required, it is the shoppers that tour the world searching for not only the required fabrics for a specific performance, but also for inspirations, which might appear in later creations.  This would be my dream job, traveling and sourcing trims and fabrics.   

This is not to be, I fear.  I must remain content to dress myself for a night at the opera.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lotus Slippers

If You Want to be Beautiful, You Must Suffer –French saying

For centuries every culture supported customs that were considered indicative of social status, power and/or physical beauty.  Many of these customs were achieved with a certain amount of discomfort , many with considerable pain. Scarification (small, superficial incisions creating patterns of scars on the skin), tattoos, piercings and the use of toxic cosmetics are commonly noted.

  One of the most excessive of these practices was the breaking and binding of the feet of young girls in China.  Foot- binding began as early as 900, remaining the custom of royalty and rich nobility until the end of the 17thC.  From that time until the practice was officially banned by the 1911 revolutionary government, millions of young girls from every socioeconomic background were subjected to excruciating pain and permanent deformity.  Not all Chinese practiced this custom (the Manchu did not practice this, the Han did).   The daughters of poor farmers were important laborers and were spared (if you cannot walk, you cannot toil).

The actual binding began when a girl reached the age of 4-7 years, when her bones were still flexible.  The feet were soaked in solutions containing various herbs and other ingredients according to secret family recipes. The four small toes were bound against the sole of the foot after breaking of the arch of the foot, while the big toe was left exposed.  Strips of cotton cloth were used to tightly bind the feet.  The child would then have to don a tiny pair of shoes (usually made by her mother).  The bindings were changed at regular intervals, more tightly wound each time, the shoes becoming smaller and smaller.  The practitioners of foot-binding might have been the female relatives of the child, or a professional might be employed.  It would take two years for the feet to be shaped into an unopened lotus flower bud.  In realty the foot did not so much resemble a flower but a misshapen mass of crushed bones.

Foot-binding left the women  virtual captives in their house, frequently they could only walk with very short, mincing steps, and needed to be carried or transported by carriage or cart when outside.  Obviously, male dominance was one factor, but not the only one.  Small, bound feet ( as small as 3 inches) were considered symbols of beauty, family status, mariageablilty and duty.  

Splendid Slippers- A Thousand Years of an Exotic Tradition, Beverly Jackson, 
Ten speed Press, Berkeley, California, 1997

To cover their deformity, girls and women made exquisite miniature shoes of the richest material they could afford.  Tradition patterns and symbols were embroidered with silken threads.  Even the soles were often patterned as they would show very little wear. These slippers have great aesthetic qualities and showcase great talents of the girls for embellishment.  However, they also represent the great pain and life-long deformity associated with this practice.