Tuesday Teaser: Ballet, Rodarte, and the Kingdom of Style

Last week, Fashion blog Kingdom of Style put up a thoughtful and visually stunning post on the connections between the design duo known as Rodarte, Black Swan and the links between dance and fashion. It highlights a new collaboration between ‘big name’ fashion designers and the English National Ballet.

Coupled with the coverage of the capsule collections Rodarte made for Pitti Uomo and Pitti W, it turned into quite a Rodarte-focused week around many blogs (see Exhibiting Fashion and The Fashion Informer for examples).

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Curator Interview: Wrapping Traditions: Korean Textiles Now

Newly open at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco is Wrapping Traditions: Korean Textiles Now ( from June 17-October 23, 2011) featuring 65 re-interpretations of the the traditional Korean textile Bojagi (Bo-Jah-ki), or ‘wrapping cloths’ by both Korean and international artists. It’s similarity to the western craft of quilting and patchwork, I was immediately drawn to the idea of this exhibition. According to the museum’s press materials:

In-yul Heo Embroidery Bojagi (Replica), 2010 Hand-embroidered silk (Via Museum of Craft and Folk Art)

“Traditional Bojagi was made from leftover pieces of cloths or papers, which were elaborately embroidered together and was a primarily non- professional activity, engaged in by women in a folk art tradition. Function determined the form and the result often created beautiful abstract patterns. Bojagi were made to protect and to decorate items and gifts wrapped inside them as alternatives to boxes and chests. Bojagi stored precious objects, clothing, bedding and covered food in the home. Although this folkloric custom continues in the country, today, the craft of Bojagi has had a great influence on contemporary artists from Korea and around the world. Wrapping Traditions: Korean Textiles Now brings together contemporary artists from Korea, and ten other countries that are inspired by this Korean folk art.”

Guest curator Chunghie Lee, adjunct faculty in the textile department at the Rhode Island School of Design, graciously agreed to answer a few questions I had for her about the exhibit:

Fashion Historia: Do you have a favorite piece in the show?

Chunghie Lee: “There are three that stand out to me the most. One conventional piece exemplifies what bogaji is and the other two because of the artist’s vision to push the meaning of bogaji and interpreted it in a whole different light. Interestingly, all three artists have completely, different backgrounds – one textile, one architecture, and the other a painter. Being Korean, and having a textile background Sora Lee’s ‘Harmony 2010’ work encompasses the traditional Samsol technique with all hand stitching, bring the calmness and serendipity atmosphere in life – 79” by 79” off-white work (raw silk). The work silently speaks of the patience and endurance that the no-name women might have lived in the past.

Kuzina Cheng "Over the River" (Image provided by Chunghie Lee)

The second piece is done by a recent RISD student of mine, Kuzina Cheng. Having just completed her sophomore year at RISD, she pushed and challenged herself, making a 60 inch by 12 feet piece with pocketed flaps. The pockets fluttered when they were filled with wind and her piece stretched across to “wrap” the canal in Providence. The canal was where she found peace in her hectic school year, to her it was her precious place. She challenged to wrap something, which essentially cannot be wrapped or kept – water and wind. Upon first glance, one may not recognize the piece as bojagi inspired, but she has stayed true to the meaning behind bojagi in an innovative way. I was impressed by her thought process and that at such a young age, she had accomplished something so big.

The third artist focused in more on the unique characteristics of bojagi. She was very interested in the use of transparent fabrics and the use of light. Catherine O’Leary transformed bojagi into something functional and fashionable. Having a painting background, she works intuitively and picked up on the bojagi characteristics immediately. Her pieces are light and look mysteriously dimensional, as if able to float away if you didn’t grasp onto it tightly. These dresses are unlike anything ordinary, they move with the body and have voluminous bottom making one feel like they are in a fairytale. She is a natural talent, does as she goes, and because of that none of her pieces are the same and all one of a kind.”

Catherine O'Leary, "Wearable" (Image Via Chunghie Lee)

Fashion Historia: Is Bojagi something you have a close personal connection with? Was it something you grew up around?

Chunghie Lee: “Contrary to what one might think, I did not grow up around bojagi. Even having been a fiber artist for most of my life (my undergraduate B.F.A. was furniture design and much later year M.F.A. on fiber-weaving and dyeing), I was oblivious to this cultural tradition. I was first exposed to it by my mother-in-law when she handed me down her precious clothes. At such a young age of 20, I didn’t realize the importance of it. It wasn’t until I was invited to come to the US as part of the Korea Metal and Fiber Artist exhibition in 1991. The tour lasted for 3 years and went across the US and parts of Canada. During the tour, I was unexpectedly asked to give a presentation about something Korean related. I quickly did some homework and looked into bojagi. As I researched into this deep rooted Korean tradition, I learned about the nameless woman and the male dominated society that Korea use to be. I had heard stories about it before, but never paid much attention. After the presentation, I have been working closely with bojagi. In 1999, I was lucky enough to be presented with another amazing opportunity, RISD had asked to me teach at their school. Speaking about it was one thing, but teaching it uncovered my passion for this Korean cultural tradition. Soon enough, without realization, I found myself in the middle of it all – I was spreading awareness about bojagi not only in the US but all over the world including from Canada to Europe and of course, Asia. It took me by surprise when I came across an article of myself being described as the bojagi ambassador. I think that was when it all hit me. Since then, I have been invited to shows and have held my own exhibitions. One of my major curated shows was held in France, in conjunction with the European Patchwork Meeting in Alsace, France, where I showcased works of bojagi, joomchi (Korean traditional textured paper) and quilt. To my surprise, people from nearly 50 countries attended the show. I still have two more one person show in this year, one in London and the other in Utania in the UK. Bojagi keeps bringing me unexpected surprises and countless opportunities, I cannot imagine my life without it now.”

Thanks so much to Chunghie Lee and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art for their help with this post. I’d love to hear from those who attend the show (open through October 23, 2011), for reactions and commentary. Below, are a selection of the 65 pieces included in the exhibit (Click one for a slideshow):

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Worn Through Wednesdays: Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns

Today’s book review over on Worn Through is from Mark Hutter, a hugely important scholar in his field. He is the Senior Tailor in the Department of Historic Trades at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and currently serves as a Vice President for the Costume Society of America.

Please enjoy his review of the just released, Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns edited by Susan North and Jenny Tiramani.

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Teaser Tuesday: Behind the Scenes in Hollywood

The fantastically choreographed work of director Busby Berkeley

So happy to share this brief, but highly entertaining clip “Behind the Scenes in Hollywood (1934).” It’s an endearing look at a simpler time and tells a nice story  of a college football team visiting with Busby Berkeley‘s chorus girls on set, and one of them has a chance at a screen test. Glamorous young women in their every-day clothes, and young men in nice suits. It seemed useful for film and fashion historians. I’d love to hear your thoughts:


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Researching my own Collection: A 1940s Folk Jacket

Green Coat Images via Etsy seller missfarfalla

For Christmas last year, I asked for and received this marvelous 1940s felt jacket sold by Etsy seller missfarfalla. I was enamored with its unique ‘Western’ version of folk art, the hand work (applique and embroidery), not to mention that it was one of my favorite colors.  I particularly love the cactus, palm tree and the tiny sequins that decorate the piece. It’s unlined and smells strongly of old wool – but it doesn’t have any holes or noticeable weak spots.

Once the jacket was added to my small, odd and sporadic collection of vintage clothing I began to wonder about it’s origins and meanings. I did some light research, but my sporadic schedule left me with more questions than I had time to answer. I found some other similar jackets being sold online and noticed that most other available jackets had polychromatic embroidery and applique, where as mine had only white figures with modest embellishments. I suspected that this meant mine might be earlier than the others.

Slowly, though, as winter vacation drew to a close my free time quickly disappeared and I put the jacket away in my closet… Until yesterday. Sunday evening, I took the jacket out to take a closer look.

A question came to into my head that I hadn’t thought to ask before: Was it machine made? In looking at the seam along the bottom (where the green connects to the white band at the bottom), I quickly saw that it was in fact sewn by machine with gold thread – but more interestingly, I found writing in the seam!


It repeated that phrase, along with what might be some kind of copyright mark, three times along that seam. Until yesterday, I had thought that the jacket contained no label at all. I’ve always thought that the insides of garments yielded far more information than the surface decoration, and I’m surprised at myself that I hadn’t given this a more through going over in the first place. Unfortunately, this ‘label’ didn’t get me very far in identifying any possible significance for the figures. Thus far – I’m guessing it was a tourist item and made for export in Mexico (given how prevalent they seem to be in vintage shops). But I can’t help wondering if it was based on some earlier form of the garment that was actually a part of Mexican culture.

That said, I did come upon a similar jacket in Worn Journal, indicating its significance in popular culture :

The Shining (1980), Costumes by Milena Canonero


Other examples:

Via Etsy Seller: aliciahanson Oceanside, CA
Via Vintage Detail



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Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art

As many of you know, I’m an avid knitter. I’ve previously written about knitting from a variety of perspectives: ‘vintage’ inspired pattern books (Ohio Knitting Mills); the new(ish) street art trend for Yarn Bombing, as well as crafting and gender. Though I’m amazed by the work of avant garde designer Sandra Backlund, I really don’t know if it’s possible to emulate her patterns. In contrast to Tove Hermanson‘s cry for more modern and experimental knit patterns, I crave historicism and ‘vintage charm.’

My "Hush Hush" 1920s knitted nightie (of lace Merino)

And so, for the last six weeks I’ve been knitting a 1920s shift dress with a lovely feather and fan pattern detail and some ribbing.  It has been slow going – small needles and tiny yarn with lots of details. I just finished it this week and I have to admit that it’s satisfying to have come this far. About half-way through the project, I received a copy of the paperback, Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Sock to High Art and so wanted to start reading it immediately. I resisted the temptation, and now that I’m finished with my dress, I get to explore the book!

Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Sock to High Art by academic and knitter Susan M. Strawn (formerly of Interweave Press, and now a professor at dress and culture at Dominican University), is thoroughly researched and includes a good index, resources list and detailed endnotes. It is heavily illustrated (300+) with paintings, photographs, posters and vintage advertisements. It covers “The First American Knitters” (Chapter 1) of the 1700s through “Knitting Redefined” (Chapter 12) which brings the book up to 2007.

Not surprisingly, a good portion of the book connects women’s and children’s knitting to military activism and patriotism (especially during the Civil War, WWI, and WWII). It includes fascinating posters and slogans such as “Remember Pearl Harbor, PURL HARDER” and the red cross campaign slogan,”Our Boys need Sox, Knit Your Bit” (seen below). After thumbing through it, one really gets a clear message that the perception  of knitting transforms frequently in American popular culture – though it always seems to have been found valuable. Knitting America includes a few paragraphs on Native American knitting, and interestingly, that the popularity of knitting seems to have wained in the 1920s (it seems that due to the high demand for hand-knitted items in WWI, people were just burnt out on it by the 1920s).

Page 98-99 (From Chapter Six "The Knitting War")

The book also includes 20 historical knitting patterns, including various military socks, baby clothes, a particularly intriguing purse from the 1890s, as well as mittens, scarves and ties. The patters seem to be based on both actual historical garments (the Zoar Mittens below are from the Ohio Historical Society) as well as historical printed pattern instructions. covers the idea of knitting in American history with amazing breadth – everything from Civil War Reenactment Knitters (pg 49) to the emergence of ‘art knitting’ (pg 192) to Native Alaskan Qiviut Lace Knitting (pg 71) to Amish and Mennonite Knitting (p6 65) and even includes a photograph of Sojourner Truth knitting in 1864 (pg. 40).

Page 60-61 (Chapter 4: Traveling Stitches) including Pattern for 1880s Zoar Mittens

Of the 20 patters included in the book, I have my sights set on either the 1950s Men’s argyle socks (164) or 1930s Baby Soaker (pg 127) reprinted from the The Farmer’s Wife, March 1939. If anyone has tried out any of the patterns, I’d love to hear your feedback.

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Fashion History Finds me: In a Hospital

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a relative in a hospital in the rural Northern California town of Colusa. The halls of there were filled with various forms of art for sale. While most were paintings of local life, there was also the odd quilt or photograph. In one large display (pointed out to me by my mother -thanks Mom!), I came upon the work of a former patient: Josephine Lanouette (May 26, 1917 to June 7, 2002).

A group of 10 beautiful illustrations dating to the early 1930s were up in the case. Most notable were the outfit pages in color seen here at the left (note the bottom left includes a flying outfit, swimming outfit, beach outfit and dancing outfit – labeled around the heads). Other pages included a study of 1930s hairstyles, glamorous scenes that looked right out of a movie set, single portraits, silhouettes, and an illustration of fashionable children playing in a yard, among others.

According to the text accompanying the display, Jo began drawing fashion illustrations at the age of 14 because she couldn’t afford the clothes that she wanted. These illustrations were primarily of clothes dating from the early 1930s, and are strongly reminiscent of Hollywood’s glamorous leading ladies.

Several years ago, I read the book Some Wore Bobby Sox: The Emergence of Teenage Girls’ Culture, 1920-1945 by Kelly Schrum and couldn’t help remarking on the similarities. Chapter 5 in particular is particularly relevant: “A Guiding Factor in my Life”: Teenage Girls and the Movies:

Teenage girls used these materials [fan magazines and film stills] to personalize rooms, decorate belongings, construct scrapbooks, or trade images. Irene Scholfield, a high school student in Northern California in the late 1920s, lovingly drew pictures of movie stars based on movie magazine photographs … turning mass produced images into personal art. And she was not alone. Seniors in 1933 nostalgically remembered their younger high school days of ‘deskcovers hidden by drawings and photographs of moviestars.'” (155)

Josephine’s illustrations seem to fit right into Schrum’s book, both because of their link to Hollywood glamour as well as to teen culture during the depression era. The clothes she drew were SO glamorous! It’s unclear if she ended up pursuing any sort of career related to costume and fashion, though her obituary did note that she was “a former member of the Colusa Stagehands,” a local community theatre group.


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