Did you know there was a textile factory at Sutter’s Fort?

Looms, placed near windows, at the blanket factory of Sutter's Fort
For sale in the store at Sutter's Fort

On a mini-vacation to Sacramento last week, I spent a little while at the Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. For those unfamiliar, the Swiss immigrant named John Sutter founded the fort in the Sacramento Valley after getting a land grant from the Mexican government in 1939.  Sutter then created a flourishing agricultural empire, and a haven for many immigrants traveling west. More famously, on January 24, 1848,  James Marshall made his customary inspection of the sawmill he was building for John Sutter, and discovered gold that began California’s famous gold rush.

Interestingly, it was the same James Marshall, Sutter’s head carpenter, who made the looms and spinning wheels for the Sutter’s Fort blanket factory. Thousands of sheep were raised near the fort and in the spring, the sheep were sheare, and the wool processed at the Fort. Local Native Americans worked the looms and wheels. The factory was in the same location in 1846 that it is today, and there is much educational programming (mostly for children) related to its history. The Fort also displays hand-knitting and other textile arts throughout its rooms, and the store even has small kits for learning to quilt, spin, weave, and even sew.

 

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Victorian Dress at the Sutter County Museum

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The Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County in Yuba City, CA is holding an exhibition of Victorian gowns from its own collection (Remembrance of Gowns Past on view through November 16). The museum website details:

The Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County is featuring a new exhibit called Remembrance of Gowns Past to display a portion of the Museum’s collection of Victorian era dresses. . . . Accompanying the dresses are photographs of women from the Yuba-Sutter area wearing typical apparel from the second half of the 19th century, with long full skirts and elaborate hats. Admission to the opening event is free. The exhibit will remain through November 16th.

According to Museum Director, Julie Stark, the exhibit includes wedding dresses, day dresses, and maternity dresses that are “accompanied by photographs from the nineteenth century of Yuba-Sutter residents, all dressed in their best clothing for their photo portraits taken at a photographer’s studio in Marysville.” The exhibit also includes a 1960s gown showing Victorian influence and a Steampunk coat referencing duster-style coats of the era. There are about a dozen ensembles in the exhibit, ranging in date from 1860 to 1910 (plus the two twentieth-century pieces).

The museum is located at 1333 Butte House Rd  Yuba City, CA 95993 and is open Wednesday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free.

*Photos via the Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County.

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Fiber in the North State: Fiber Fusion 2013

Sheep at Fiber Fusion 2013 (Chico, CA)

A few weekends ago I treated myself to a trip to the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico for  Fiber Fusion 2013, an event put on by the Mount Lassen Fiber Guild. So yes, I mostly went because of my obsession with knitting – but much to my surprise, the spinners and weavers nearly out-numbered the knitters. Though I do own a spinning wheel, and even have fleece yet to spin, I’m fairly new at that.

There were sheep, and full fleeces, spinning and weaving displays, lace and tatting displays, as well as an adorable Angora rabbit that almost ended up coming home with me. Participants learned to make rope, what tatting was, and how to dye fabric using natural materials (like avocado pits, oak leaves, and tree bark).

It was a feast for both the eyes and for the hands (unlike most museum exhibits, the exhibitors invite you to touch!). I came home with far too much yarn, a brain full of inspiration, and perhaps even a desire to raise some fiber animals myself. Many of the vendor’s mentioned their plans to go to Lamb Town in Dixon on October 6 – so if you missed Fiber Fusion, or live closer to the SF Bay Area, give Lamb Town a try.

 

 

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Victorian dress at Fort Vancouver and the McLoughlin House

 

Chain-stitch sewing machine at the McLoughlin House
Historic clothing at the McLoughlin House

A few weeks ago, I was one of a lucky few to travel to Oregon City, Oregon and Fort Vancouver, Washington to participate in the Costume Society of America Western Region‘s program on Victorian clothing on the west coast. Along with twenty or so other attendees, the program included a visit to the Fort Vancouver costume shop and the historic home of John McLoughlin (who presided over the Hudson’s Bay Company, and was later known as the ‘father of Oregon’).

At the costume shop, we learned about the process of dressing the volunteer re-enactors who play a large role in making history come alive at the fort-including a look at the reproduction costumes, their trimmings library, and sewing shop.

The Fort has over 700 volunteers and over 100 under the age of 18, due in large part to the Dame School and Young Engage School – a special youth volunteer interpretive program that teaches local youth in hand work and living skills from the 19th century.

Jewelry on display at the McLoughlin house

At the historic McLoughlin House, back in Oregon City, we were able to view of some historic garments from the 1820s-1870s from a private collection, as well as some of the textiles, home-craft tools, and jewelry related to the McLoughlin family – who were known for their skills at embroidery, knitting, and other hand work. I was particularly intrigued by the jewelry in a small display case downstairs – that included a mourning ring.

The tour ended with attendees being invited to learn fish scale embroidery or “Imitation Pearl Work” using scales from Carp (Salmon, it turns out, have scales that are much too small). I spent the better part of an hour nearly one-on-one with the instructor, who told me the details of how she obtained the scales, and researched which were the best to use. It was a fascinating process. According to Erin Gilday, “most surviving fish-scale embroideries, which adorned everything from mantel draperies to lampshades, cushions, scarves, needle books, and purses, were made in England, researchers also have found examples in France, the West Indies, Barbados, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. (Those who want to know more about it should checkout Gilday’s article “Sew Fishy: The Use of Fish Scales in Victorian Embroidery” in the July/August 2012 issue of Piecework Magazine).

Fish Scale Embroideries at the McLoughlin House (This one by Heather Vaughan)

 

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Books in Brief: The Mechanical Smile by Caroline Evans

Many of you will know that I’ve been doing a lot of research into the history of fashion in America. Happily, well-known historian Caroline Evans came out with a book this summer that fills a gap in the available research on early fashion shows. Her book, The Mechanical Smile: Modernism and the First Fashion Shows in France and America, 1900-1929 (Yale, July 2013) actually covers the 1890s through 1929 in both France and the United States, and relies on significant new archival evidence. It not only includes close discussions of early fashion shows, but also their impacts on dance and early cinema.

Twelve chapters divided evenly between discussions of fashion shows and of mannequins (models), this large format, 330 page book is heavily illustrated, and as a good resource should, includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. For my purposes (i.e. American fashion history), Chapter 4: 1900-1917 America was insightful and well-documented.

Lucile's vaudeville version of "Fleurette's Dream at Peronne," 1917. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As is the premise of Marlis Schweitzer’s book, When Broadway Was the Runway, Evans spends some time discussing the theatrical connections of the first fashion shows in the US, especially the appeal they held for Broadway and Vaudeville producers. This included a two-week show in September 1903 at Madison Square Garden (more of a static convention than what we now think of as a fashion show) which included live fashion shows of French only designs (no American designs). Evans goes onto to describe the first department store shows – which also only showed French designers – including Wanamakers’ Napoleonic themed fashion show in 1908, Poiret’s American tour of Macy’s, Gimbel’s and Wanamakers in 1913, as well as these store’s own shows beginning in 1910. Not surprisingly, Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon), her models, and their New York presence are also well covered (and well illustrated). Here, FIT’s special collection of Lucile related ephemera plays heavily.

The next section of the America chapter explores the rapid spread of fashion shows across the US (and across markets) after these early beginnings. Evnas notes, “From 1910 fashion shows began to be staged twice a year in Los Angeles and San Francisco, collectively organized by the major department stores and called the United Fashion Show.” The chapter goes on to talk about theatricality in American fashion shows: theme’s, dramatic structures, and other elements that American shows used to appeal to buyers and consumers.

Evans’ three year fellowship to research and write the book certainly paid off. Her endnotes alone reveal how much research she did for this project, and the results are drool-worthy. She catches all the details one might need to learn more about a particular nugget in this fact-packed resource. I’ll certainly be using it as a resource for years to come.

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Upcoming Event: Fiber Fusion on September 28

Angora Blizzard with Cormo Wool! (Bungalow Angora Farms)

What is purported to be the largest Fiber and Quilt Show in Northern California will take place on September 28 at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, CA. Fiber Fusion 2013 will include an array of Northern California-based fiber related artists (plant and animal fibers), and vendors, as well as well as quilters. It looks like a great way for fiber-and-yarn lovers (like me) to get to know where to find locally produced products. I’m especially keep on the Alpaca and Angora vendors… According to the Mount Lassen Fiber Guild, it will include:

Vendors, demonstrations, and hands-on activities as well as FREE door prizes and fabulous raffle baskets for everything fiber – weaving, knitting, spinning, crochet, felting, dyeing, native basketry, fleeces, yarn, books, patterns, connections for instruction and workshops. Vendors and demonstrators include breeders, yarn shops, and fiber artists.

The best part ? It’s free. Participants include:

Pit River Wool Company (McArthur, CA)

Meridian Jacobs (Vacaville, CA)

Menagerie Hill Ranch (Vacaville, CA)

Bungalow Farm Angora (No. California)

Arbuckle Fiber Company (Arbuckle, CA)

For more information, and a complete list of vendors/participants, visit the Mt. Lassen Fiber Guild’s website or Facebook page.

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Knitting on the homefront (WWI)

Nurse Bertha Mullen (Mrs. Chester Mullen), ca 1918. Photo by Chester Mullen. Bertha Mullen wearing a Red Cross uniform and is knitting a sock. (Shasta Historical Society)

Knitting played a large part in women’s experience of WWI (1914-1918). That fact is recorded in historical collections across the United States, including rural Northern California, as well as across the world. As historian Susan Strawn notes in her book Knitting America, “By the time America entered the war, knitters around the world were already sending hand-knit comforts to soldiers and refugees in Europe. In the far-flung British dominion of Australia, volunteers turned out astounding numbers of socks.” (91).

The Red Cross developed a nationwide campaign, with posters and pattern books designed to encourage women to aid in the war effort – even children knit for the red cross. The Red Cross even went so far as to supply yarn, patterns, needles, and instructions, ensuring distributed of needed articles of hand-knit to the military directly.

 

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Fall Fashion in August 1912: Braid and Military influence

San Francisco Call, Volume 112, Number 66, 5 August 1912, pg 7

 

 

 

“On the left is a fall suit trimmed in braid a la militaire. The dictum of fashion for fall wear brings all sorts of braid to the fore. The model shows a pretty fall afternoon walking gown of the new material, scintilla, trimmed effectively with braid. The effect on the skirt gives it a military appearance. The “ocean wave” braid trimmed walking suit at the right is an effective braid trimmed fall walking suit of white French broadcloth, trimmed with “ocean wave” design braid. Braids will play a prominent part as trimmings this fall.”

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North State opportunities for Fashion History

My new diggs, in Redding, CA are providing me with a great opportunity to explore and learn new elements of fashion and its history in a part of California that isn’t well documented. This past weekend, I went to French Gulch Old West Days (about half an hour North of where I live). A few of the activities sounded intriguing – “Mountain Men Exhibits” and “Craft Booths” as well as re-enactors in costume. Many of the historical and educational institutions here were closed for the day, because they planned to be in attendance there – including the Shasta Historical Society and Shasta County Library.

I’m eager to explore the resources of both places, along with the costume collection at Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Below, are a few of the images I dug up from the Shasta Historical Society’s website. Can’t wait to dig in and learn more!

Bland, Carrie Tuggle sitting in her wedding dress (no date given, though she was born in 1877) Shasta Historical Society
Full length photo of woman in wedding dress holding bridal bouquet. Reverse: "Virginia M. Wood Redding - married William A. Banigan - Anderson July 14, 1923" Shasta Historical Society.
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Victorian Fashion History (including Embroidery) on Sept. 15

The Costume Society of America, Western Region has an exciting and unique opportunity for members and guests alike: Costumes, Campfires, and Candlelight on Saturday, September 14 at Ft. Vancouver, WA (just a few minutes from Portland, OR).

Seamstress Brigid Nelson lets down the hem of a dress. The dye that produced the color -- chrome orange -- was formulated in the early 1800s.

This full-day event will include a private tour of the Costume Center, a visit to historical Oregon City, (“the end of the Oregon Trail”), a demonstration of Victorian Fish Scale Embroidery, and much more. The registration deadline is August 30, 2013. CSA members cost is $35.00,non-members $40.00, students receive discounts.

I’ve just registered – and hope to see you there!

More Information: Costumes, Campfires, and Candlelight

 

 

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