The Osborne Library recently received a fascinating pamphlet that gives a glimpse into the Confederate States of America late in the Civil War, highlighting the problems the Confederacy had paying and supplying its army, and the profiteering that went on in regards to soldiers’ clothing.
Some of the numbers of clothing supplied to the Confederate Army in the last six months of 1864.
On Feb. 11, 1865, the Confederate House of Representatives released a report of the Special Committee on the Pay and Clothing of the Army that blamed the delays in payment of creditors and soldiers to the change in currency instituted in the Confederacy in 1864. Even after the necessity of printing new currency, the Confederate Treasury Department still had not paid requisitions amounting to the tune of $128,360,584.87 by December 1864!
ATHM recently loaned a reproduction of an 1840’s mill girl to the Shima Seiki showroom at the LA Mart in Los Angeles. The reproduction had previously been on display in ATHM’s core exhibition. Shima Seiki wanted to display the contrast of older styles with the latest styles that can be made as a whole garment on their modern knitting machines.
Dr. Masahiro Shima, the founder, president and CEO of Shima Seiki Manufacturing, the world’s leading manufacturer of computerized flatbed knitting machines, was inducted into the American Textile Hall of Fame in 2012 and is an honorary trustee of ATHM. During the month of November, the dress will be seen by Shima Seiki’s many customers from the Apparel and Textile industries.
Next time you visit ATHM, you’ll see several new clothing items on display in our core exhibition, Textile Revolution. We have been replacing the majority of clothing pieces throughout the exhibition, both to showcase more of ATHM’s extensive collection and to ensure the preservation of pieces by removing them from display. Below are just a sampling of the new dresses on display in the Fitting In gallery, which highlights clothing from 1870 – 1940.
Two items in the museum have fascinated me since the first time I saw them, but for different reasons: we know a lot about the first item, but not so much about the second. These two pieces, on display in ATHM’s core exhibition, Textile Revolution, illustrate the connection between history and mystery that surround objects that humans create and leave behind. All artifacts have a story, but not every object has a provenance or background that can be discovered—therein lies the mystery—and, as objects can’t speak, it takes research and investigation to bring their history to light, as well as to establish their place in the world.
Both of my favorite items belong in the world of clothing. The first is a polyester dress from the early 1970s designed by Jonathan Logan and purchased from Bonwit Teller, a high-end department store that flourished in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The second is a navy blue knitted woman’s suit that dates to the 1930s or 1940s. The 1970s dress captivates me because it came to museum with quite a lot of its history. We know the donor, who was the original and only owner of the dress. On display is a photo of the donor wearing the dress. The dress is a typical and appealing 70s style—a black scoop-necked, long-sleeved A-line shift with a geometric design of circles, squares, and lines in bright colors that really pop against the dark background. If you saw it on someone today, you’d probably think it fits right in. I love it not only because of the style, but because we know so much about the item. The photo of the donor wearing the dress at a garden party is an extra fascination for me—her only accessories are her shoulder-length hair, parted in the middle, and a gold circle-link belt, both very 1970s items!
Advertisements for clothing come in many forms, but one of the more unique ways in which pants were advertised are two of the following.
This card for Lee Riders, cut in the shape of a pair of jeans with Lee Riders clearly visible, was probably distributed by the Lee Jeans company to retailers. This one has stamped on the back: “Hunshucker’s General Store, Casper, Wyoming, ranch and cattlemen’s supplies and apparel.” It probably dates from the 1950s. Hunshucker’s apparently no longer exists, but it is probably emblematic of the many general stores in the western part of the U.S. that catered to ranchers and cattlemen.
Turn the crank of the Gearhart Knitting Machine and the yarn carrier clicks around in a circle. A cam carries the latch needles up and back down again. Yarn unravels from the spool and the machine’s delicate hooks loop it through and through again. Turn the crank of the Gearhart Knitting Machine and a sock forms by the ingenious magic of careful engineering.
The Gearhart was the first of our textile machines that I learned to operate and it is still my favorite. Like many of the best examples of mechanical engineering, the mechanism is simple and robust. This machine has worked reliably for more than a century and needs little maintenance or adjustment. Its motion is beautiful and hypnotic. I made a short video as an ode to my favorite machine.
We here at the American Textile History Museum like to have some fun and show off our collection. So for this holiday season we’d like to present to you our version of the 12 Days of Christmas. There are many versions of the song but we will to use the version published by Pamela McArthur Cole in 1900 because it was published nearby in Boston. Here’s the version she published in the Journal of American Folklore (Vol. 13, No. 50, Jul. – Sep., 1900).
The first day of Christmas my true love sent to me … an partridge feathered Adolfo beret from the 1960s.
Quilt, c. 1790, 1996.61. American Textile History Museum.
Making quilts is often associated with a past when electric heaters, insulated walls and television weren’t available but even though times have changed people are still quilting. Since the late 18th century when this quilt was made technology, like sewing machines, and materials, like polyester batting, have improved, but what has changed most are our reasons behind why we quilt and our tastes in designs. We no longer need quilts for protection from the cold and as a result people often create them as a form of art.
Wilson Bobbin Company Display
For Leigh & Butler Company, Boston, MA
Late-19th or Early-20th Century
In the late-19th century and early 20th centuries, this display case stood in the lobby of the Leigh & Butler Company in Boston. It showed off a meticulously arranged selection of bobbins and shuttles from the Wilson Bobbin Company. Textile factories needed thousands of shuttles and bobbins every year. Shuttles crashed back and forth across looms until they wore out, and bobbins turned in circles until they were broken or lost. These were the disposable parts of a factory’s everyday operation, of no more interest than toothbrushes or #2 pencils would be to us. But, whoever designed this case took time and care to make something beautiful from the mundane.
“Your grandpa’s cane, it turns into a sword” -Bob Dylan, “On the Road Again”, 1965
The costume collection at ATHM was infused with an assortment of “novelty canes” last year, bolstering our collection of men’s accessories. The 15 canes and walking sticks, along with a solitary umbrella, were donated by Dr. Robert Breault, who has held an interest in these antique items for years.
A handwritten note enclosed in the shipping box explained his collection was built by gifts from patients and friends, as well as some purchased by the donor himself, “not at the usual antique shops, but at gun shows”. What?