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After 30 years working with cloth, I find myself increasingly drawn to wool in fibre form. I thought some research was in order, so trotted off to the craft magazines section at the Wellington public library. I was immediately drawn to the image of a rug made of little woollen squares. The article described the rug as being the product of a “Weave-It” loom, a hand-held wooden frame with metal pins along each edge. It also recalled the perfect comforting warmth provided by a such a rug – then ended by saying the looms are no longer made and nearly impossible to find in second hand stores.
I decided this was a wool fibre technique I had to try, so I turned to the internet to track down one of these looms. On www.masez.com I found an image of the sort of rug I had read about in the library, and a picture of the “famous hand loom”. So simple, frugal and functional, and last manufactured in the time before zip codes. The more remote my chances of acquiring such a loom became, the more my longing increased.
Then I found www.eloomanation.com, complete with .pdf files of 1936 pattern books for garments made from four inch squares. The site was running a competition; the prize: an original Weave-it loom set, with both four inch and two inch frames (and a Hello Kitty tin!).
Given the quality of the weaving on the site, I thought my chance of winning this prize was slim. Nothing for it but to trawl the shops. By now I had heard of plastic versions, and had seen ones with wooden and metal pins. I wasn’t entirely sure what to ask for. Hooray for Goldings Handcrafts, stockists of a recreation of the Weave-it loom, from the Lacis Company. It is fairly primitive: a square of high density polystyrene, a vial of metal pins, and a card of graph paper.
The packaging also included a most appealing little pamphlet with instructions for a matinee jacket and a doll, which felt more achievable than a swagger coat…
Following the ‘walk before you run’ principle, I made a cushion cover! I used two solid colours and one variegated in various combinations. My edges are not as neat as the ones illustrated, so I rediscovered the joys of the crochet hook as a means of firming things up.
And that crochet hook led me to thinking about vintage crochet patterns (having made a truly horrible scarf and a slightly misshapen beanie in the first flush of excitement). These are not as common as the knitting patterns so wittily celebrated by Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins at the Hanging by a Thread symposium (see Fran’s summary here), but equally fabulous.
Once I have woven enough four inch squares for a coat, I am threatening to crochet this suit.
By guest blogger Nancy Swarbrick
When I was visiting my mother in Hamilton recently, one of her friends brought around a treasure for me to admire. It is an American mail order catalogue for a firm called Montgomery Ward & Co., dated 1920.
You might ask how it ended up in New Zealand. Well, one reason was that Montgomery and Ward shipped goods all around the world – to England, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and, yes, New Zealand. According to Jeannette (Mum’s friend) the catalogue came from a descendant of a well-known Auckland department store family, so perhaps it was used by the management to identify the season’s latest fashions in advance, or even to order stock.
Whatever its origins, the catalogue is a fascinating source of information about all manner of everyday activities, covering as it does goods ranging from farm machinery, vehicles, furniture and furnishings to clothing, shoes, patent medicines, toys and games, books, musical instruments and much more.
The clothing sections are lavishly illustrated with detailed descriptions, and while most are black and white, there are some colour plates. Click on the photos to enlarge them.
Many of these dresses seem more frilly than I had imagined clothes of that era to be – perhaps they became more tailored later in the decade.
In the women’s underwear section there are some astonishing garments I had never heard of including these scary-looking ‘maternity corsets’, advertised as providing ‘support’.
Then there is the ‘envelope chemise’, a kind of cross between a petticoat and bloomers, and the ‘boudoir cap’, presumably for wearing in bed.
Amongst the ‘hose supporters and sanitary articles’ there is the ‘sanitary apron’, to be worn backwards inside a skirt , and the ingenious combined ‘brassiere and dress shields’.
These are just a few glimpses into over 470 crowded pages – it really is an amazing historical source. Jeannette, who is now 90, wants to give the catalogue to an appropriate archive or library, and has asked my advice. I’m a bit stumped. Do the Gloryboxers have any suggestions?
Spring seems to have produced a fine crop of textile-related exhibitions and events in Wellington.
Opening in the department store Kirkcaldie and Stains on Monday 6 September is The story of El Jay, a self-described pop-up exhibition about one of New Zealand’s most well known 20th century fashion houses. The exhibition, mounted by the fledgling New Zealand Fashion Museum, had its debut in Auckland earlier this year and features 30 El Jay garments dating from the 1940s to the 1980s. It’s popping up in the delightfully archaic ‘Ladies Fashion’ (the name that is, not the clothing) section of the store and is on until 3 October.
Pataka museum in Porirua is hosting two textile-related exhibitions in September. First to open on 11 September is White goddess, which explores the goddess as a symbol of fertility, regeneration and hope through wedding dresses and accompanying head dresses. Nga kakahu: change and exchange is an exhibition of garments made by Maori and Pakeha practitioners using traditional Maori weaving techniques. It opens on 18 September. Both are on until early 2011.
The bounty of riches continues at Te Papa in central Wellington. Here, Enriching fashion: an eye of detail opens on 17 September. This exhibition concentrates on clothing from various periods that are distinguished by elaborate decoration, luxurious materials and painstaking construction. In September and October curator Angela Lassig is conducting floor talks with New Zealand fashion designers Liz Mitchell, Denise L’Estrange Corbett and Murray Crane. Check out Te Papa’s events pages for those months for more info. On Thursday 16 September the museum is open late for a special preview of the exhibition, which includes a tour and brief talks by a great line-up of artists and curators. You need to book for the tour on (04) 381 7000.