While working as part of the curatorial staff on the 2017 exhibition Material Culture: Form, Function & Fashion at Turtle Bay Exploration Park & Museum, I became fascinated with a small silver case containing six steel double-pointed knitting needles.
The set of six size-two needles is kept in a Nantucket-made silver case engraved with a name and date, “Hepsibeth A. Edwards, 1840.” A fascinating history revealed itself as I researched the needles. The stories that surround the set reveal a complex web of politics, religion, industry, handcraft, and creativity in our ancestors’ daily lives. Discovering how these knitting needles and others like them were used, by whom, and why provided insights into our collective cultural history as well as inspiration for some fun knitting projects.
I’m thrilled to share that my research on these needles, along with a complimentary pattern for my adaptation of a vintage Sunflower pincushion, have just been published in the Winter issue of Piecework Magazine (Long Thread Media).
Heather Vaughan Lee is the founding author of Fashion Historia. She is an author and historian, whose work focuses on the study of dress in the late 19th through the 20th century. Covering a range of topics and perspectives in dress history, she is primarily known for her research on designer Natacha Rambova, American fashion history, and the history of knitting in America and the UK. Her forthcoming book, Artifacts from American Fashion is available for pre-order on Amazon (November 2019 from ABC-CLIO). More posts by the Author »
Sometimes I come across the strangest things while doing research. Many are aware of the more traditional elements of the history of the Motorcycle jacket, and its association with twentieth-century rebellion, youth, and masculinity.
Its history lies in World War I and aviation attire, but the standard asymmetrical motorcycle jacket style was defined in the late 1920s with a Schott Brothers design called the “Perfecto” (Schott 2019). They were the first to put a zipper on a jacket, and the look took hold. Hollywood films of the 1950s, combined with rock-and-roll style solidified the image of the tough, rebellious biker with slicked-back hair, spawning the greaser trend. By the 1970s the black leather jacket was being used by New York City Punk musicians and gay subcultures who added studs, chains, safety pins and other personalization’s. It is an iconic representation of twentieth-century American culture.
However, I recently unearthed two odd tidbits about the motorcycle jacket’s trajectory:
Did you know that Mussolini’s Motorcycle Jacket impacted knitwear styles in 1933? Or that you could clothe your 2-year-old in a Marlon-Brando-Perfecto-Style leather motorcycle jacket as early as 1955?
Apparently, after Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (1883- 1945), Italy’s Fascist leader, appeared in American newspapers and newsreels inspecting and leading 10,000 of his troops in a celebratory parade from a motorcycle in late May of 1933, Bradley Knitting Company (of Delavan, Wisconsin) began producing skiwear inspired by his look. Mussolini motorcycle coats were made of beige and brown wool with metal buttons with a matching knit cap.
And then there’s this square-looking six-year-old in a tie-wearing the more recognizable version of an ‘authentic’ motorcycle jacket in 1955 by Los Angeles-based, California Sportswear. . .
*Mussolini is warmly applauded when he leads a rally at Rome driving his own motorcycle Date: May 1933
DeLong, Marilyn, and Juyeon Park. 2008. “From Cool to Hot to Cool: The Case for the Black Leather Jacket.” In The Men’s Fashion Reader, edited by Andrew Reilly and Sarah Cosbey, 166–179. New York: Fairchild Books.
Duffy, Keanan. 2009. Rebel, Rebel: Anti-Style. New York: Universe Publishing.
Podolsky, Jeffrey. 2014. “Cruising the History of Biker Jackets.” New York Times Magazine. March 4. Accessed April 1, 2019. https://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/…/on-view-cruising-the-history-of-biker-jackets/
Heather Vaughan Lee is the founding author of Fashion Historia. She is an author and historian, whose work focuses on the study of dress in the late 19th through the 20th century. Covering a range of topics and perspectives in dress history, she is primarily known for her research on designer Natacha Rambova, American fashion history, and the history of knitting in America and the UK. Her forthcoming book, Artifacts from American Fashion is forthcoming in 2020 from ABC-CLIO. More posts by the Author »
My current obsession — at least knitting-wise — has to do with fabrics and textiles whose stitch patterns seem to suggest water (spirals and waves) and those that resemble scales (as in mermaids and other water creatures).
I’m in the early stages of researching this kind of stitch patterning in the history of knitting – and while my initial instinct was to assume Celtic and Nordic traditions, Japanese and Chinese influences are quickly (and clearly) showing their relevance.
My interest and inspiration derives from an odd confluence of things: The current exhibit at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, “Mythic Creatures” from the American Museum of Natural History (which includes Mermaids, and other sea creatures); the animated Irish film, “Song of the Sea” (which tells a story of Celtic Selkies or seal-people, and which includes beautiful examples of Celtic spirals); and a knitting tradition in my brother-in-laws family, which includes a stitch pattern resembling waves. So far, my knitting has only ventured into the depiction of waves/scales (by spirals may be next).
It’s a fascination that I may not be able to fully satisfy, though seeking out different variations of wave patterns (over time ) and in different ountries has proven interesting and eye-opening. Asian countries such as China and Japan also rely on water for their livelihood, and even more clear representations come in the form of modern shadow-puppets (in China), historic Kimono designs in Japan (notably the Seigaiha Symbol).
Do you have an example to share that I’ve not considered? Please share in the comments below!
Dig in to the Fashion Revolution: together, we can create change by re-envisioning value chains from soil to soil. Whether you want to know who grows your clothes, or how to mend and repair them, or gain a better undertanding of the role of our working landscapes in drawing down carbon, read on for classes, events, opportunities, and inspiration from the Fibershed movement and community.
Fashion Revolution Week is a worldwide campaign to raise awareness and promote change in the fashion industry. Join Fibershed Producer members Sierra Reading and Amy Keefer along with local designers Mira Blackman and Jenny Fong to refashion your clothing with mending, natural dyeing, and embroidery, at Handcraft Studio School in El Cerrito.
You can also participate at home by sharing on social media and asking #whomademyclothes? We invite you to deepen the conversation in your Fibershed by including #Fibershed in your posts and considering #whogrewmyclothes.
Textile-based gallery and studio Ogaard hosts Within, a monthlong wellness study in collaboration with Amina Horozic, including weekly panels that bring together “local luminaries in the worlds of art, design, food, business, social justice, and community.” Fibershed founder and Director Rebecca Burgess will join Jennifer Gately of the Bolinas Museum, Heroine podcast founder Majo Molfino, and Indhira Rojas of Anxy Magazine, in conversation.
Fibershed Materials Manager Krystle Moody and friends are designing a Carbon Farming Education Day at Stemple Creek Ranch—one of Fibershed’s Carbon Farm Plan partners—as a way to gather together to learn more about Carbon Farming while sharing a casual meal produced at Stemple Creek and Fortunate Farm. Proceeds for the event will support Krystle’s Climate Ride participation. Mark your calendars for August 13th for the event; tickets reserved ahead of the June Climate Ride fundraising goal will help advance this effort.
Join the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator for a look at cloth that was grown, milled, and made within the region. Designer and activist Laura Sansone founded Textile Lab to rebuild regional textile manufacturing and connect sustainable supply chains, and the Regional Cloth Project does just that with a focus on Hudson Valley fibers and stakeholders.
This month, Kentucky Cloth Project collaborators will gather to provide information and hands-on experiences on hemp farming and fiber processing. We welcome you to explore your regional land-based fiber system through your hands and senses. All ages and skill levels are invited, and presentations and classes are free of charge, thanks to the good graces of the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation.
Felt Decoded explores wool as nature’s technology, and the ways in which felt connects us to our nomadic past and a sustainable future. The exhibition features selected wool samples from the Northern California Fibershed, and a display copy of the Wool & Fine Fiber Book. On April 27th, artist and curator Janice Arnold will share her inspirations, design process, exhibition highlights and insights.
Earlier this year, I was thrilled to share that Piecework Magazine published my article on the history of the knitted nightingale (January/February 2017). I started by explaining that “The nineteenth-century wrap that became known as “The Nightingale,” a garment worn over the shoulders in bed, was the Victorian ancestor of the modern-day slanket (blanket with sleeves) or snuggie.
“Also called a bed jacket, dressing gown, shawl, wrap, cape, cloak, or sacque, the Nightingale was, over time, made from different fabrics.” The research was a fun romp through the early history of nursing and Florence Nightingale’s career, the Crimean war, wartime knitting, and yes, even Fashion History (an 1856 issue of Godey’s pictured a mantle called the “Nightingale” likely based on published images of Florence Nightingale).
My article also included a re-worked pattern for a Knitted Nightingale, which I’m happy to share is now for sale on the Interweave website. “This pattern is based on the Knitted Nightingale in Weldon’s Practical Knitter Sixteenth Series. With the exception of the choice of ribbon color, this knitted nightingale is true to the original Weldon’s pattern. The lapels on this Nightingale are fairly wide and are intended to imitate those seen in portraits of Florence Nightingale from the 1850s. They can easily be adjusted to your own preference. Extra length in the dolman-like sleeves allows for a generous range of movement and an added sense of coziness.” It was a long-time project that began July 16, 2015, and finished with a crochet edge on May 4, 2016.
*Florence Nightingale; Frances Parthenope, Lady Verney by William White watercolour, circa 1836 18 1/4 in. x 14 1/8 in. (462 mm x 358 mm) overall Given by Sir Harry Lushington Stephen, 3rd Bt, 1945 NPG 3246
In an effort to get blogging about the fashion history projects on my plate right now, I’m sharing this photo of an in-progress paid project, a knitting history project! It relates to Victorian Knitting, War Comforts, and continues to appear up into the 1920s, 1930s and even up through the 1950s and 1960s. Once completed it will be over 6 feet long and three feet wide (I’ve been working on it –off and on–for almost a year). I’ll reveal more (of course) once the project is completed and published.
Does the textile pattern remind you of anything?
Guesses are welcome in the comments (Unless I’ve already talked to you about it!)
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.
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.
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.