January 31, 2017

Take 2: Optical Illusion With Plaid (complete and with photos this time!)

(I inadvertently posted this a few days ago, long before I was done writing it.  Here it is in it's final form!)

"It just looked like a happy quilt that needed a home!"

That's what the owner of this quilt told me when she sent it to me for repairs.  I think that's a lovely reason to buy a quilt, don't you?

What makes this quilt especially fun for me are the blocks that were pieced with a large red and white plaid.  Piecing that plaid next to a plain white made the seam lines of the patchwork pretty much disappear, creating a syncopated, modernistic pattern in the midst of this otherwise very quaint, old-fashioned quilt!


Honestly, it took me a bit to sort of uncross my eyes and figure out what I was looking at!  I really want to experiment with this in a quilt one day, maybe soon.

This block combines that same effect with three pieces of a different plaid, resulting in yet another eye-crossing look.
The sashing fabric is also playing games and illusions.  This style of fabric is called a double pink.  It looks at first like a darker pink printed on a light pink ground.  But on closer inspection, the floral sprigs are the same ink, printed solid against a ground of fine pink dots on white.

This cute, unassuming little quilt is hiding all sorts of tricks!

The repairs needed were pretty straightforward compared to the trickiness of the fabrics.  I patched over the places where a couple of fabrics had totally worn away.

For this one, I chose a vintage print that was the same sort of overall grey print of the old fabric (at least that's what the minimal amount of remaining and very faded fabric looked like!) plus a bit of red and black.  When choosing repair fabrics, of course it's virtually impossible to find an exact replacement.  This one works nicely since there are still strong reds and blacks elsewhere on the quilt.

This is how I experiment with what color thread to use.

Here's the first patch, pinned on and ready to sew. 

Here are the completed patches.

And here they are again after being re-quilted.  Sometimes, when the original batting and quilting are still intact, re-quilting isn't structurally necessary.  But it generally is a good idea anyway because it helps the new fabric blend in with the surface texture of the quilt.

In this block, I patched the black and the five brown pieces. (And yes, that's how the original fabrics were placed.  I believe that repairs should replicate what the maker intended.  It's still her quilt, not mine!)

And finally, here's my little scrap basket, all full.   I always love that great feeling of accomplishment!  You can also see the swatches of patch fabric hanging on my pincushion.  I make a record of the repairs I've made that includes swatches.  That way, it's clear to future owners what's original and what's not.

January 27, 2017

A 1920s Beaded Velvet Gown - An Absolute Work of Art

Welcome to vintage clothing heaven!

The pedigree of this dress is:
- dates to the 1920s
- made by the Nemser Original Model label, a super high-end designer in New York City
- silk velvet
- heavily, heavily beaded with glass beads
- in near perfect condition, significantly better condition than some of the other Nemser dresses that have appeared online

(For more info on the dress, contact Julia at Basya Berkman Vintage Clothing - basyaberkman@gmail.com - or on Instagram @basyaberkmanvintage, where you can see an adorable little video of Julia's model Megan doing the Charleston.)

My photos and story are going to relate to the bead-beads-beads.  Such incredible design and workmanship!

There were missing beads here and there.  For some, I was ecstatic to have a great match.  For others, I had to do quite a bit of searching.  Here's how my work kit finally ended up. 

One tricky bead was the elongated silver-lined crystal bead on the edges of the hem flaps.  The silver has tarnished over the years, and is now grey.  A modern silver-lined bead was too bright, and I couldn't find grey-lined beads that were a good color match.  At some point in the past, someone had replaced some of these beads with plain, clear beads and I was about to settle for that.  And then, one of those lovely lightbulb moments happened.  I tried stitching the clear beads with a dark grey thread.  Bingo! (original beads below pin)

I saw silver-lined beads like these once before when I was replacing missing beads on a wedding dress.  For that, I found some grey-lined seed beads that were a perfect replacement.  And then, I was able to use some more of those same wedding dress beads on this dress, too, in the bands of beading around the skirt.

The other really tricky beads to match were the tiny (3mm) rhinestones.  Similarly, the old silver mounts had tarnished, and the new silver mounts are too shiny.  Also, it seems that the setting mounts are now much deeper than they were in the 1920s.  I finally found a website with flatter mounts, and crystals in the color "black diamond" which sufficiently disguised the shininess of the new mounts.

In this photo (a shoulder strap), you can distinguish the new from the old rhinestone beads by the color of the mounting prongs - silver for new beads, black for original beads.

Just imagine how the dress looked when it was new.  All that is grey at this point would be sparkling silver.  The dress would positively glow! 

For those of you who have never worked with sew-on stones before, here's how it works.  There are two tiny channels in the mounts, criss-crossing underneath the stones.  It's pretty delicate stitching when the stones are this small!

For those of us who love old stitchery, the reverse side that shows construction details is just as fun, if not more so.  Here you can see the reverse of the straps, and of the heaviest beaded band on the skirt.

I got really excited about the stitching in this second photo.  The long rows of beads are attached with a chain stitch.  This means they were done with a method call tambour embroidery.  It's still used today for one-of-a-kind couture beading and sequins.  A while ago, I bought myself a tambour hook and hoop, just for fun, but have not yet sat down to experiment with it.  I'm feeling a bit inspired now after restoring this dress!

This photo shows how the beads were applied to give depth to some parts of the beading.  I think the strands of beads are a bit too big for the area, so they end up in arcs rather than lying flat on the fabric.  This photo also shows the wonderfully striated olive green beads.

Here are detail shots of the various design elements.  The color palette is rich, the designs are incredibly complex.  There are so many beads that the dress weighs as much as probably 4 or 5 non-beaded dresses. 

Front waist
Back waist
Back straps
Skirt band 1
Skirt band 2
Skirt band 3
Skirt band 3, detail
Those little pearly beads in the last photo aren't actually pearls.  They are hollow, glass bubble beads!  Those were replaced using similar beads from a vintage item that had been too damaged to be saved.

Wouldn't it be so wonderful to know just which elegant gala events this dress has attended?!

January 23, 2017

Edwardian Bodice, Embroidery and Fine Detailing - Addendum

A short while ago, I posted photos and described a wonderful piece of vintage clothing.  You can see more photos and my description of the bodice there.

My friend Martha Spark responded with more info about the embroidered panels.  She wrote:

I recognized this immediately as Chinese in origin, and very distinctive of the embroidery that was done for their own clothes, and for export, in the early 20th century. Peking Knots (small knots) were an integral part of these types of embroideries that were being done before the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. The Clark Museum in Eureka, CA (where I worked as Textiles Curator in the mid-1980s) had a wonderful collection of early 20th cen. Chinese embroidered garments, including a beautiful paneled skirt that had many areas of  this similar type embroidery.  There was a significant population of Oriental immigrants to Northern California in the late 1800s, due to the demand for labor with the railroads. They brought with them the clothing from their country of origin.

The hair silks are SO fine -  the embroiderers were so talented!

The couched gold threads are another clue to oriental embroideries of this time period.

I do wonder how this came about!  Perhaps the panel and cuffs were made to order for this dressmaker to use.  Perhaps these were remnants cut from a precious piece of fabric or from a larger, worn item. A comprehensive article on clothing manufacture and styles in the 1830s by the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park (located just outside Indianapolis) says that silk fabrics were mostly imported from China and India.  Many dyestuffs and other fabrics were also imported from various countries.  It's easy to forget that globalization and trade has been growing for centuries.  It's far from a new dynamic of our modern era! 

January 11, 2017

Buckeye Beauty - A Quilt and A Story

Quilt blocks with this geometry combining half-square triangles and 4-patches go by many names depending on the placement of the colors and the arrangement of the blocks.  This arrangement is called Buckeye Beauty.  (The quilt is way too big (13 x 13 blocks) for me photograph the whole thing!)

The quilt's owner tells this story:

The quilt was a Christmas present to me from my grandmother, Lillian Faatz, in December 1982. I was 25 years old and had just finished grad school and had my first apartment. I believe my grandmother made all of the blocks that make up the quilt. She was a member of a quilting group at the First United Methodist Church of Carbondale, PA for many years. As long as I can remember she would make quilt blocks for the group. Generally, they made quilts which they donated to people who needed but could not afford them. It is possible that some of the blocks were made by other members of the group, but I don't think that is likely.

My grandmother was born in 1896, so when she made the blocks for this quilt she was in her mid 80s. Once she had assembled all the blocks, the end product was hand-quilted by the members of the quilt group.

I used the quilt from January 1983 through 1997 when my wife and I upgraded from a queen bed to a king. At that point we stored the quilt in a closet. The resulting damage was a result of mice getting into the closet. At the time, we had two indoor-outdoor cats. While normally people have cats to catch mice in the house and destroy them, we had the opposite problem. Our cats would bring mice in from outside and let them go in the house. Then they would hunt the mice in the house ... Unfortunately - the cats didn't always catch all their mice - and hence the damage to the quilt.

It's great to have this story about Lillian Faatz and her longtime love of quiltmaking, and the good work of the women of the Carbondale, PA, church.  The quilt is clearly made from a collection of scraps from several decades. 

There are probably 4 decades represented here.  The orange and blue print at the top of this photo looks to be 1940s, the purple and white calico is likely 1970s, and the other prints fall in the decades in between.

But the fabric that made me look twice is this one:
A ducks and strawberries print!?  Yup!  This fabric just makes me giggle.

Lilian made her Buckeye Beauty as a scrap quilt.  At first glance, I thought this was a two block quilt, one block with half-square triangles making a square on point, and one block with four-patches making an X.  But the color placement made me realize that this is actually just one 4-patch block.  It has two each half square triangles and smaller 4-patches of each fabric with white.  Then, half the blocks were rotated 90-degrees, to create the overall pattern that fooled me into seeing two different blocks!

To finish the quilt, Lilian pieced half blocks as borders around the quilt, and in doing so, finished the shapes created where the blocks join together.   So clever!

And another fun little note.  I have almost exactly this white on green floral in my stash.  I bought it in my early quilting years, which began in 1978.  You have to look really, really closely to see that it's a bit different.  This fabric was in fine shape everywhere, so I didn't get to actually use my (almost) perfect match.

Here are several more shots showing the range of colors and prints on the quilt:


Thanks to the quilt owner for writing and sharing his grandmother's story!

January 4, 2017

Buttons! Oh, Boy! Oh, Boy!


Well, for the last couple of weeks I've been pretty much sedentary due to a broken bone in my foot.  I have found the silver lining!  I resorted all my buttons!

Up until now, I've just had them divided according to whether I had just one or several of them.  That's been helpful when looking for replacement buttons for vintage clothes.  It worked well enough until I started going haywire at estate sales and coming home with button jars and boxes one after another.

So I sat around yesterday and sorted them by color as well.  The piles filled up my whole work table!  I really think I have enough buttons....

Even though I do need a good selection so I can find replacement buttons for the vintage clothes, and even though I do sometimes put buttons on quilts....  Even though I do use them, even though I love playing with them....  I'm on a self-imposed button buying hiatus. 

It did cheer me up quite a bit.  Lots of buttons are almost as satisfying as lots of fabric!  Hee hee.

Nineteenth Century Handwriting

Yesterday, I got back to researching the history of this inscribed quilt.  (Enlarge photo to see the names.  The ink is fading away....)  You can read the results of my research so far in a series of posts called History Comes to Life on a Quilt

I've gotten most of my information via the ancestry.com website.  Being able to look at all the original census documents is such a treat!  Well, during my sleuthing yesterday, I came across the most gorgeous handwriting I've ever seen.

The couple I was looking for is #7, Francis H. Merrill and Mary I. Peirson.  I already knew that Francis was known as Frank, and that he's the Frank H. Merrill on the quilt.  There are many members of the Merrill family on the quilt, including both an Isabel F. Merrill and an Isabel P. Merrill.  I found Isabel F. easily as one of Frank's siblings, but I couldn't find an Isabel P. Merrill on the census records anywhere.  I was finally able to identify her as Frank's wife thanks to a most wonderful librarian who has scoured the town records and sent me many great resources, including a compilation of obituaries for names that appear on the quilt.  Lo and behold, there is a Mary Isabella (!) Peirson Merrill.  Mary went by her middle name, Isabel, and is inscribed on the quilt as Isabel P. Merrill. 

These are the twists and turns of research that are at first frustrating and then quite enjoyable!  This time, it was a double enjoyment - one for the problem solved and one for the beauty of the handwriting that solved it.

The legibility and style of the handwriting on all these records varies greatly.  This one is the blue ribbon winner as far as I'm concerned.