Exotic Mexico meets Kiwi Housewife

Carrying on from the Mexican theme of a few Thursdays ago, here is the final Mexican themed textile from my stash.

It’s an embroidered apron, made by a Kiwi housewife, probably during the 1950s.

I’d been collecting mid-20th century Mexican themed textiles since my interest in them was first sparked as a teenager by all the Mexican textiles in my Grandmothers stash.

When I moved to NZ, I assumed that was the end of my collecting in that area, because I didn’t think that Mexico would have been a popular theme for fabric escapism so far across the world.

You can imagine my delight when I found this apron in an op-shop a few months ago.

The musician, the dancing senorita, the cactus, I love it all!

I figured it was an anomaly, made by a talented embroiderer who had become tired of all the usual apron embroidery patterns.

The apron was made by a skilled embroiderer.  It uses only a few stitches, but they are expertly executed, and the choice of stitches for the different textures in the design, such as the delicately scalloped senorita’s skirt, are very tricky.

The scallops! The roses! Her scarf! Darling!

It turns out it is not an anomaly though: I shared it with the Wellington Quilters Guild, and some of the more senior women reminisced about how they had made Mexican themed dressers scarves and tablecloths when they were young.  Mexico’s exotic allure stretched across the Pacific!

After all, who wouldn’t want to be serenaded by this dashing senor?

I wonder what song he is singing?

There are a few stains on the apron, and one or two design choices that bug me.

I really wish that brown had been used for the coconuts instead of grey!

Mostly though, I’m just intrigued by the popularity of Mexican textiles in the mid-20th century, especially since the fad even spread to NZ.

Pretty prickly pear

Let’s go to Mexico

Though it seems hard to comprehend as I sit barefoot in my garden and eat another slice of watermelon, I understand some of you are having some dreadful, cold, stormy weather.

To warm you up, for this Textiles on Thursday* let’s go to exotic locales south of the border and examine some vintage Mexican themed fashions and fabrics.

To start, I’ll throw you off this deep end with this jacket, which is pretty…umm…awesome.

A 1940s souvenir jacket

Just in case you couldn’t tell where it is from, her skirt says ‘Mexico’

For something a little more restrained, and more suitable for actually wearing in Mexico, what about these?

1940s Mexican novelty print beach pyjamas

Or you could go for something a little dressier:

1950s Mexican print sundress

And, of course, no survey of vintage Mexican themed garments would be complete without a scenic circle skirt.  I love the teals and purples in this one.

1950s novelty print skirt

I have some charming unmade-up vintage Mexican themed fabrics in my stash, courtesy of my Grandmother, who lived in California.

I love the aqua and fuschia colors in this fabric.  Very art-deco carry over:

1940s rayon novelty print

Let’s have a close up look at the horses and cacti:

I love the sense of movement

This 50s kitchen print on cotton has a much more stereotypically Mexican colour scheme.

Snoozing senores and saucy senoritas, along with squash, circles, and stars

I love how much imagery they achieved with very simple shapes and motifs.

Mushroom skirt!

Cool shirt

I’m not sure if my final fabric is supposed to be specifically Mexican, or just generally Latin American.  The tamborines and drums feel a little Cuban or Argentinean.  The gold colour is actually metallic gilding, very typical in the 50s and early 60s.

Tamborines and tiered skirts

Drummer boy

And to finish up, this one isn’t a textile, but how could I pass on showing it to you?

Du Barry 'The Beauty Preparations of the Success School' 1945

That’s right ladies.  Sign up for your Du Barry beauty course this year to ensure a besotted swain and that all important honeymoon in Mexico, the pinnacle of life’s accomplishment.

* Notice how I am being a good little blogger and actually following a schedule.

‘Them’ and the silk trade

Things I love about this article:

  1. ‘Them’ is used as a (relatively) good term
  2. Lots of fabric history!
  3. Fabrics named ‘Billowee’ and ‘Krinkle Krepe’ are considered elegant in comparison to ‘Necking Time’ and ‘Razzle Dazzle’
  4. “It was not exactly something new; it was merely old enough to seem new”

Reprinted from Times Magazine, Monday September 12, 1932

The U. S. silk industry, to its intense delight, last week found itself suddenly in the midst of a boom. Unlike cotton and woolen men, silk men are much at the mercy of THEM and last week it was gloriously plain that THEY—the fashion designers of Paris, the style buyers and editors from the U. S., and the 40,000,000 U. S. women who wear dresses—had decided on a style change which would require the U. S. silk industry’s most diligent services.

Schiaparelli and Bruyere in 1932

THEY do not decide all of a sudden. The blessed event which now delights silk men really began last February when the U. S. style buyers found nothing to excite them at the Paris salons and bitterly said so, threatening never to come back. Oh, please come back next summer! begged Vionnet, Lanvin, Patou, Schiaparelli, Chanel, et al., and promised faithfully to have something that would surely start a U. S. fad, a wave of buying under the irresistible pressure of Fashion.

Dress in blue crepe, 1934

The U. S. buyers last month went back to Paris skeptically. Sure enough, word soon went around the silk industry’s lunch tables that something had been found. It was not exactly something new; it was merely old enough to seem new. It was Rough Crepe, which takes more silk fibre per yard than any other silk dress stuff. Crepe de Chine has not been “in” for years, rough crepes have never been popular. Few wardrobes would contain old crepe de Chine dresses, let alone rough crepes, that could be made over. Silk men know that there are 10,000,000 U. S. women who have never had a silk dress. Perhaps 5,000,000 more cannot now afford to buy one, though a silk dress that cost $25 in 1929 will cost but $10 this year. Even so that leaves 20 or 25 million women who will feel they must, and therefore will, have at least one crepe dress almost right away. That was the beauty of it. When THEY decide, things move quickly.

Classical fashions for spring 1932, Vogue

Silk men say that a silk fad sweeps the world about every ten years. Creeping out of the post-War slump, in 1922 the silk industry was whipped to prosperity by a huge and sudden demand for crepe de Chine. It replaced taffeta, which had clung on tenaciously from the billowy era at the turn of the century, as the standard dress silk. When the good news came last month, silk mills had little rough crepe in stock. So great and so urgent was the demand that silk men last week were vainly trying to buy from each other to satisfy orders. A good part of the silk & rayon industry’s 125.000 operatives had already trooped back to re-opened mills. Consumption of raw silk last month jumped to 60,000 bales—up 29% from last year and the highest monthly taking in nearly two years. Japanese farmers clop-clopped about their sericulture more cheerfully, for the sudden demand had shot raw silk prices 82% above the June low of $1.10 a pound.

Frocks for looking slim, 1934

Rough crepe is an old silk product but the demand for it has always been nominal. All crepes are woven on large looms with some threads highly twisted. When the cloth is removed these threads tend to untwist, giving it a rough or pebbly appearance. Rayon, though not so elastic as silk, is also used for crepes and rayon mills are sharing in the present boom.

Ladies Home Journal, 1932

Most popular colors, silk men think, will be Harvard red, followed by black, olive green and royal blue. Trade names for some of the rough crepes include Bagheera, Billowee, Bubble crepe, Krinkle Krepe. Less elegant are two new silk fabrics, Necking Time and Razzle Dazzle.

Harvard red and black in 1937

Largest maker of dress silks is Stehli Silks Corp. Susquehanna, Schwarzenbach Huber & Co., Cheney Bros., C. K. Eagle are all large silk makers, but their business is less specialized. In 1929 Stehli sold 14,000,000 yards—enough for 5,000,000 dresses. About three-fourths was sold to dress manufacturers, one-fourth to stores for over-the-counter distribution. Their annual volume is nearly $25,000,000. The business was founded by Statthalter Rudolph Stehli in Obfelden, Switzerland, in 1837, has remained in the family ever since. The company now has 3, 500 looms scattered through Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the U. S. Emil J. Stehli, grandson of the founding Statt halter and president of Stehli Silks Corp., came to the U. S. in 1897 to establish an importing house as an adjunct to Zurich’s Stehli & Co. Importing of Stehli silks proved profitable until the Dingley tariff ended it forever. As U. S. manufacturers do today in foreign lands, the resourceful Stehlis promptly started manufacture of silks safe within the tariff wall. Now the U. S. branch of the family business is four times as large as the sturdy Swiss parent. Of the fourth generation is blond, pink-cheeked Henry E. Stehli, able young secretary and treasurer of Stehli Silks Corp. To reap the harvest of rough crepe Stehli has recalled 2,000 workers, its mills have been stepped up to three shifts. Production in anticipation of another silk year is running 25% above rated capacity.

French fashions in 1933

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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