December 1, 2016

Edwardian Bodice, Embroidery and Fine Detailing

My friend Julia, proprietress of Basya Berkman Vintage Fashion, comes across some really marvelous old pieces during her search for marvelous old clothing.  This one is a super marvelous, old, old piece that is too delicate and troubled to be mended and worn.  It will be lovely as a decorative piece, just to marvel over.  And I also get to share it here with you.

It is a silk Victorian era shirtwaist, to be worn with a skirt.  There is a cream-colored blouse attached inside the black shirtwaist with an embroidered panel tucked inside the lower half of the opening.  Each layer closes with its own set of hooks and eyes. 

The center edges of the black silk are decorated with a double silk trim with delicate edge stitching, attached with a faggoted seam.

Unfortunately, the trim is in pretty bad shape in quite a few places.

The cuffs have more of the embroidery and trim, plus lovely thread-covered buttons.

The sleeves and yokes are cut in one piece.  The shirtwaist is shaped by pleated midriff panels.  The seam between the two sections is outlined with a small covered cording.

Made in Paris!  How fun!

I found a picture of dresses for a garden party, printed in 1900.  At the bottom is the name of this dress shop.  I also found a receipt for a sale at the shop in 1906.  (These are both items for sale, so the links may not stay active for very long.)

This is the lovely embroidered center panel.  The buttons are clear, with tiny pink flowers embedded inside.

I remain convinced that my favorite women's fashions come from the Edwardian era!

November 11, 2016

A Tale of Two Eagles

Two American eagle quilts, in honor of Veterans Day.

Several years ago, I was honored to be asked to conserve a spectacular eagle quilt.  It is embroidered prominently with the date and location - 1853 and Phelps, at town in upstate New York.  Beyond that, it is totally gorgeous, and in pretty good condition.

I was asked to do the work on this quilt by Mark Wilcox of Summer Antiques in Lake Placid, NY.

He auctioned the quilt at Sotheby's.  The auction catalog has a full description and larger photo.  My blog has photos of the conservation work I did on the quilt.  It is still one of the most important and fun adventures I've ever had in the quilt repair biz.

Well, then a week or so ago, I came across an auction listing at Freeman's for an incredibly similar quilt!  The auction will take place next week.
Photo: Freeman's
The date on this one is 1845.  The descriptive materials say that the name of the quiltmaker is known for this quilt, as it has been handed down in the family.  She was married in 1811, and died in New York state.  She could quite reasonably have been living somewhere in New York at the end of her life when the quilt was made.

I’m wondering whether or not the two quilts were made by the same person.  The borders and the halo over the eagle’s head are very different stylistically.  The designs on the 1845 quilt are quite angular by comparison, and more formal and symmetrical.  I wonder if this was a design that appeared on some other item that quiltmakers were drawn to copy and interpret on their quilts.  I poked around a bit, but haven't found anything yet.

If it was the same person, she was certainly having loads of fun coming up with different ideas!

My challenge to you all - look for a design source for this grand old bird.

Another amazing coincidence is that there is one and only one previous exhibit on the quilt's "resumé", and that was right here in my home town!  And no, I didn't know about it.  Wish I had!

November 2, 2016

Sleuthing Around a Quilt - Part 2 Fabrics

What a lively quilt this is!  A full description is in the previous post.  Here are some more photos of the fun fabrics in the quilt.

1940s, the decade I believe the quilt top was begun.

These stylized flowers in purple and blue seem very 1950s or 60s to me.

The fabric in the center of this block couldn't be more 1950s if it tried!  And I think the floral in the triangles dates to the 1950s, maybe 60s.  I'm pretty sure this whole little block was a patch.  The way the edges lie certainly helps me believe that.  Plus it's not quilted!

I want to place the triangles in the 40s or 50s, and the square in the 60s or even 70s, on the basis of the colors and design styles.

The print in the right hand square is quite 1940s. 
That magenta plaid in the triangles on the left is not!

The grey and soft brown, watercolor style leaf print seems very 60s to me.

I see these bright yellow and kelly green calicos in the 70s.

And here are a few more fabrics, just because they're fun.

Such a cute print, right?

I was really happy to see this print because I used to own pieces of it, one in blue and one in red.  I think I must've used them all up, because I can't find any scraps to photograph.

This pink plaid appears in several squares on the quilt, and every time, the squares are pieced of smaller pieces.  This quilt is definitely about using up scraps.

And finally,
a gorgeous umbrella conversation print.

I welcome any comments or ideas you may have on fabric dates and the construction and repair history of this quilt.  Please write in! 

October 31, 2016

Sleuthing Around a Quilt - Part 1 The Date and Story

I always love to see a quilt with vintage repairs.  Well, I've maybe coined a new term!  What I mean is that the quilt has been patched in the past by other folks who cared for it.  Vintage repairs speak volumes about how much history and love and meaning quilts can carry.

So here's an example of a cheerful quilt with vintage repairs that just visited my studio.

Most of the missing and disintegrating bits on this quilt seem to be rayon or silk.  The prints on those remaining bits and the remaining intact fabrics are mostly geometric, Art Deco style. There are also quite a few cotton 1940s style prints. 

But there are also prints that are clearly from several other, more recent decades.  At first, I was thinking the quilt had been made with a "deep scrapbag", that lovely term for a pile of fabric gleaned over several decades of home sewing.  But as I kept sleuthing, I kept finding anomalies and oddities.

My first clue to the vintage repairs, and a rather loud one indeed, was this square:

The black/grey stripe is one of the disintegrating rayons.  The red pin dot is probably 1970s or even 80s - those pin dots were popular in every color under the sun during those decades.  I'm not sure exactly when they first hit the market.  Also, the pin dot is clearly an addition on top of the existing patchwork.

So then, I went back and really investigated some of the other pieces from the decades since the 40s.  Bingo!  Some are pretty clearly patches, both because of the fabric styles and colors and because of the way the fabric lies on the quilt.  Some are perhaps entirely new little blocks.  The sleuthing is pretty difficult because the repairs were done so well!

Another bit of the history of this quilt is that the batting is polyester and the backing is a cotton-poly sheet - both of which point to a story about an older top that was finally quilted a few decades after the top had been started.  There's every chance that the repairs were made at this time, and maybe some entire blocks added - and with more than one decade represented in all those steps.


Barbara Brackman's pattern reference book gives quite a few names for this simple block:
Triangle Design
Broken Sash
Dutch Tile
Friendship Album Quilt
Diamond in the Square

My next post has more detail photos of the fun fabric history displayed in this quilt.   I welcome any comments or ideas you may have on fabric dates and the construction and repair history of this quilt.  Please write in! 

The moral of this story:

When you've repaired a quilt, write up a description of what you've done, date the page, add a photo of the quilt and as many detail shots as you'd like, and include swatches of the fabrics you used to patch.  Sleuthing can be fun, but having great documentation will be a real treat for any future historians who meet your quilt!

October 21, 2016

Women's Rights Quilt

I was just browsing through the Met Museum quilt collection and happened upon this quilt.  Boy, did I get excited!
Photo: Hearts and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society, 1987.

Just to toot my own horn a tiny bit:  When I first started teaching quilting in the early 1980s with little 6-week beginner classes, one of my students brought in an old quilt that was in her family.  I didn't know then nearly what I know now about quilt history, but I knew enough to be utterly amazed and urged the owner to treat it like the incredible piece that it is.  It did get exhibited and then published a couple of times (including in one of my all-time favorite books, Hearts and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society by Elaine Hedges, Pat Ferrero and Julie Silber, Quilter's Digest Press, 1987).  And now, oh boy oh boy, I see it's become part of the collection at the Met!!!  I feel like the beaming godmother!

The quilt was made in Illinois c. 1875.  It has both botanic appliqué designs and unique and detailed pictorial blocks showing the social history of the time.  There are some pictures that refer to the Civil War and some to the question of women's rights that sprouted during the war years.  Along with the quilt, the family had a piece of paper with captions and sometimes comical commentary for the pictorial blocks.  Such an incredible treasure!

You can read more and take a closer look at the Met collection entry.  The quilt is also described on the Quaker Quilts page in an article titled "Quaker Causes and the Women's Rights Quilt."


October 10, 2016

Mending, Mending, Mending

Well, if you have visited my blog before, you know that what I do is a whole lot of mending.  For those of you are who new here, my profession is repairing antique/vintage quilts and clothing. For example:

I mended this unfortunate tear in a mid-19th century tulip appliqué quilt.

I replaced missing beading on a gorgeous wedding dress

I'm fascinated by finding old pieces that have been previously repaired over the decades of their lives.  And I am simultaneously saddened by what seems to be a growing proportion of folks who have no sewing knowledge whatsoever.  A real change over time, I think!

The other day, while enjoying my morning tea, I came across an inspiring article via a long bit of following links from one page to another.  Sometimes these sessions are not totally a "waste!"  Right?

The article is called "The rise of mending: how Britain learned to repair clothes again".  It appeared in The Guardian in 2014.

The article describes an English shop called Make Do & Mend that opened in 2002.  And then as the owner, Pippa Bray, relates, “When the recession hit, people became more conscious of cost and started valuing their clothes more. We do a lot of replacing zips, taking up hems, altering old clothes to fit.”  The shop's popularity skyrocketed.  At the time the article was written, the shop had expanded enough to employ 12 people!

The article also mentions an idea called Home Repair Café.  These are kind of little pop-up workshops where people can bring all sorts of broken things and find people to repair or teach them to repair.  It's done as a community building activity and sounds really neat.  The website serves as a networking hub for cities - all over the world - that are creating their own repair sites.  Sounds like bunches of fun!

Why do I like repairing things so much?  I've thought about this a lot, and have concluded:

#1 - I like making things neat.  Repair cleans up all the rips and dangling threads.  (By the way, this does not mean my house is neat as a pin.  But I do put my clutter in fairly neat piles!  And I am also aware that I enjoy weeding because it neatens up the yard.)

#2 - Repairing and reusing is frugal - both for my money and for the world's resources.

#3 - I enjoy handling old things, and getting to explore the fabrics and construction techniques up close.

#4 - Repair is a way to learn about and preserve the history embodied in each item.

#5 - Repairing honors the creativity, skill, and work of whoever made the item. 

Mending can actually be very creative - lots of problem solving.  I show some fun mends on a previous post.  It's not necessarily the drudgery that most folks expect!

September 26, 2016

Just For Fun Embroidery Projects

Tablecloth update:

Having finished embroidering and doing the cutwork in all but one corner, the tablecloth is on hiatus.  My daughter is going to finish up the last corner so we will end up with an heirloom stitched by three generations.  The whole story of the tablecloth is elsewhere on this blog.

Next project:
I always like to have some carry-along needlework at the ready to fill tedious waiting times and to doodle away on when watching some show with loads of commercial breaks.  So.....

This is a dresser scarf with a delightful debutante at each end.  She has a cleverly appliquéd skirt complete with hem ruffle.  She is pre-printed for embroidery, and there are also butterflies flitting around in the center section of the scarf.

She was found by my friend Julia during her sleuthing for vintage clothing for her shop.  She loves to pick up odds and ends that she thinks will suit her friends.  This find was just perfect for me!

Here are my planned floss choices.  I decided to make her brown-haired (like I used to be!) because there is already so much yellow in her skirt.  And then she's a portrait of me as the girly, ball gown wearing, princess that I have never been.

The butterflies will have a lot of pinks and maybe some red.  The details on her gown will be green and blue, with a darker blue for the ribbon that twines around her.

Right away, some plans changed.  I hadn't realized how much using a single strand of the floss dulls out the color of the whole skein.  Of course, this makes sense.  So the two colors I picked for the bodice looked exactly the same and I had to find a new second color.  I ended up using some of the variegated yellow from the tablecloth threads.  Cool.

I'm still stumped on a skin thread.  I don't want to use pink because I'm not pink, but a pale tan kind of gets lost.  We shall see. 

And then there's this:
The guild I belong to, North Suburban Needlework Guild, asks members to make and wear needlework a name tag.  So....

Another find by Julia.  She brought me some old hankies that weren't in great shape, but had nice details.  One of them had a decorated corner where a name or initials had probably been embroidered and removed.  The fabric was a bit messed up.  So....

I cut out the corner, backed it with another layer of the hankie fabric and some flannel and cotton to give it some body.  And embroidered my name.  And added a few more leaves to fill in the empty spaces.  (Kind of a problem with my first and last names being such different lengths, also because as hard as I tried, my name still didn't come out quite centered.)


FYI, this little darlin' is 4" x 2 1/2", and on silk fabric.  Now I can feel really pretty at every meeting!