Tag Archives: textile history

Pacific Mills

Pacific Mills advertisement, Woman's Home Companion, Nov. 1937. "Maid of Pacific" rayon twill.

Pacific Mills advertisement, Woman’s Home Companion, Nov. 1937. “Maid of Pacific” rayon twill.

I found a whole series of advertisements for clothing made with Pacific Mills fabrics in the Woman’s Home Companion, 1936 and 1937. (I have not examined other years — and only done these years partially.) I’m currently reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth L. Cline, so finding an American fabric mill that proudly put its own hang-tag on garments made by various manufacturers was another reminder of the days when quality mattered to shoppers.

Pacific Mills "Maid of Pacific" rayon hangtag. WHC, Nov. 1937.

Pacific Mills “Maid of Pacific” rayon hangtag. WHC, Nov. 1937. “Crown Spun Rayon. . . laboratory-tested fabric construction, color fastness, and all wearing qualities.”

Pacific Mills also advertised in The Ladies’ Home Journal in the late 1930s. Full color ads for Pacific Mills fabrics — especially woolens — can be found online dating to the 1940’s and 1950’s as well. (Search for “Pacific Mills Ad”)

The Vintage Traveler recently showed a photo of a woman playing golf while wearing a playsuit under her open dress (click here to see it), and that reminded me of these playsuits shown in Pacific Mills ads:

Playsuits made from Pacific Mills fabrics, June and May, 1937. WHC.

Playsuits made from Pacific Mills fabrics, June and May, 1937. WHC.

Pacific Mills fabrics for cruise wear, April 1937. WHC.

Pacific Mills fabrics for cruise wear, April 1937. WHC.

The Vintage Traveler has described the rise and fall of many American textile mills (Mitchell Company, Lilly Mills, etc.) and I can’t hope to match her scholarship. A year ago, I couldn’t find anything about Pacific Mills online; now, I find that the company began in “1852 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where it manufactured prints and fancy cottons as well as worsted goods in its woolen mill operations.” [Click here for source.] Pacific Mills acquired more mills near Columbia, South Carolina in the 1900s, and expanded to Lyman, South Carolina, around 1924, where the town grew up around it. Some Pacific mills produced sheeting; I’m not sure which mill produced the printed fabrics in cotton and rayon which are featured in these 1930’s advertisements.

"All Set for Cruising," Ad for Pacific Mills Sportswear Cottons, WHC; April 1937.

“All Set for Cruising,” Ad for Pacific Mills Sportswear Cottons, WHC; April 1937.

Pacific Mills Sportswear Cottons ad, April 1937:    "Jauntaire, a linen-weave cotton; Pamico Crash, a rugged peasant-weave; Ker-Splash, a clever shantung-weave broadcloth; and Piqueway, an attractive printed pique."

Pacific Mills Sportswear Cottons ad, April 1937: “Jauntaire, a linen-weave cotton; Pamico Crash, a rugged peasant-weave; Ker-Splash, a clever shantung-weave broadcloth; and Piqueway, an attractive printed pique.”

In the 1970’s, the mill at Lyman was producing “7,000,000 yards per week of woven fabrics from 36″ to 110″ in width, over a broad range of weight from very light to bottom weights, decorated by roller printing, screen printing, beck dyeing and continuous dyeing. End use was generally apparel and sheeting. . . .” according to the Textile History site. (Click here to read the article.)

Pacific Mills "Crinkle" cottons, Ad in Woman's Home Companion, June 1937. Variations on seersucker, they needed no ironing.

Pacific Mills “Crinkle” cottons, Ad in Woman’s Home Companion, June 1937. Variations on seersucker, they needed no ironing.

Pacific Mills Crinkle cottons:  "Idlease, a medium weight seersucker; for spectator sports, afternoon and evening, Blister Sheer, a very light weight." June, 1937 ad.

Pacific Mills Crinkle cottons: “Idlease, a medium weight seersucker; for spectator sports, afternoon and evening, Blister Sheer, a very light weight.” June, 1937 ad.

“Not illustrated, but just as important, are these other Pacific Crinkles, Kwanta Crepe, Cris Crinkle, and Flock Crinkle. Look at these dresses of smart cottons and you’ll want them. . . . At smart stores everywhere … all identified by the Pacific hang-tag, your assurance not only of style-rightness but of unusual value.” — Ad in Woman’s Home Companion, June 1937.

Pacific Mills Tropical Prints ad, Woman's Home Companion, May 1937.

Pacific Mills Tropical Prints ad, Woman’s Home Companion, May 1937.

1937 may p 48 tropical bike pacific prints ad

Pacific Mills' Tropical Prints ad, May 1937. "Cotton shops in smart stores everywhere are now featuring these Pacific Tropical Prints in a variety of amusing designs."

Pacific Mills’ Tropical Prints ad, May 1937. “Cotton shops in smart stores everywhere are now featuring these Pacific Tropical Prints in a variety of amusing designs.”

“How diverting it will be to wear a playsuit of Sand’ Land pique in a frolicsome sea-horse print . . . a sports frock of Cris Crinkle crepe in a whimsical little airplane design  . . . plus-fours and shirt in Lingolyn, very nautically inclined with an all-over design of anchors and ropes.”

Pacific Mills also made fabrics from rayon and other synthetics.

Pacific Mills ad for synthetic fabric, "Gem-o-Sheer. WHC, May 1937.

Pacific Mills ad for synthetic fabric, “Gem-O-Sheer. WHC, May 1937.

Pacific Mills "Gem-O-Sheer" ad:  ... new sheer synthetic by Pacific. It's cool, washable, serviceable. Designs are smart and colorful, and the texture is soft and dainty." May, 1937.

Pacific Mills “Gem-O-Sheer” ad: “… new sheer synthetic by Pacific. It’s cool, washable, serviceable. Designs are smart and colorful, and the texture is soft and dainty.” May, 1937.

Pacific Mills ad, Ladies' Home journal, Oct. 1936.

Pacific Mills ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, Oct. 1936.

Pacific Mills fabrics for lounging pajamas, housecoats, smocks, dresses. Ad, LHJ, Oct. 1936.

Pacific Mills fabrics for lounging pajamas, housecoats, smocks, dresses. Ad, LHJ, Oct. 1936. ” Cris Crinkle, Smoc-Toc, and Notable Crepe hang-tags.

“Here are quaint Tyrolean prints . . . exquisite Chinese porcelain and carved ivory effects . . . Flemish and French Renaissance motifs . . . border designs from Persia and Mexico. Here, too, are pictorial prints of contemporary events:  the launching of the Queen Mary . . . the approaching election . . . the Chinese Fair in London.” For some fashions showing Chinese-influenced fabrics, click here.

“Cris Crinkle  is a permanently crinkled cotton that requires no ironing; Smoc-Toc, a peasant cotton; Notable Crepe, a cotton and rayon mixture. All are fast to washing.”

This dress is made of rayon:

Pacific Mills Crown Rayon fabric ad, WHC, Oct. 1937.

Pacific Mills Crown Rayon fabric ad, WHC, Oct. 1937.

Maid of  Pacific Crown Rayon, Pacific Mills Ad, Oct. 1937.

Maid of Pacific Crown Rayon, Pacific Mills Ad, Oct. 1937.

“This new twill-weave spun rayon does things for you. Soft dull texture, distinctive designs, rich colorings — all combine to bring out the best  in you and make the simplest frock distinguished.” “Look for the Maid of Pacific selvage-marking or hang tags and the Crown Tested insignia . . . your assurance of complete, lasting satisfaction.”

The Pacific Mills woolen fabrics which were produced in Massachusetts in the 19th century continued to be a mainstay.

Pacific Mills wool flannel for the college campus -- ad from Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

Pacific Mills wool flannel for the college campus — ad from Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

Ad for Pacific Mills wool flannel, WHC, Dec. 1936.

Ad for Pacific Mills wool flannel, WHC, Dec. 1936.

Pacific Flannels hang-tag in ad from WHC, Dec. 1936.

Pacific Flannel “100% wool” hang-tag in ad from WHC, Dec. 1936.

Pacific Mills continued to produce (and advertise) wool fabrics for men’s and women’s suits in the nineteen fifties and sixties. (Click here for a typical ad.) A search for “pacific mills ad” images brings up many lovely, full-color examples.

It’s a little surprising that there was no “product-tie-in” in these ads, naming the companies that used Pacific Mills textiles — or sharing the cost of the advertising!

The mill itself, in Lawrence, MA, is now renovated and rents commercial space to many businesses. (Click here.) The gallery has images of mill workers – mostly female — from the turn of the century and the 1920s. (Click here.)

The mill in Lyman, South Carolina, once the heart of the community, where Pacific Mills had built 325 homes, a community center, a twelve room schoolhouse, churches, a public swimming pool, and services for senior citizens, was sold to Burlington in 1954 and again to M. Lowenstein & Sons. (Click here.) It was sold again, and the Lyman mill was demolished in 2012. Click here for an article about its destruction.

I still have no idea why a textile mill in Massachusetts — and South Carolina — was called “Pacific” Mills.

 

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Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Nightclothes and Robes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear

A Costumer’s Bookshelf: Woman’s Work: the First 20,000 Years

Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, 1994. ISBN 0-393-03506-0

My definition of a classic book is that the book seems to grow with you. Every time you read it, you notice things that seemed unimportant on your previous readings. Of course, the book doesn’t change; a classic is just so rich in ideas that, as you, the reader, learn and grow, more of what’s there becomes relevant to your new experiences.

I’ve just read Women’s Work for the fourth time. I had to use a library copy, because, although I’ve bought the paperback several times, I always end up giving it to another costumer, or a textile artist, or someone who’s interested in women’s studies or archeology or mythology or ethnic embroidery or…. This book covers a lot of ground.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber is a woman archeologist. She realized that the work women have done since pre-historic times usually involves textiles, but, because cloth is perishable, and looms made of wood are perishable, as are wooden distaffs and spindles, the huge contribution that textiles made to ancient economies has been overlooked by [mostly male] archeologists.

Vase, 560 BC, showing vertical loom & loom weights in use. Illustration from Women's Work of a vase in the Metropolitan Museum.

Vase, 560 BC, showing vertical loom & loom weights in use. Illustration from Women’s Work of a vase in the Metropolitan Museum.

Thousands and thousands of loom weights have been found at Troy and other ancient sites where vertical looms were used. (Loom weights are made of non-perishable clay or stone.) But when Troy  or Knossos or Kültepe burned, so did the looms and the textiles that were part of their treasures.

I am simplifying here, but Barber’s point is that half of the products, and at least half of the objects that determined the ancient world’s trade and economy, have disappeared from the historical record – the half that was women’s work.

Textiles: Traditionally Women’s Work

Barber explains that spinning and weaving were tasks compatible with child-minding, while hunting and herding large animals were not.

“Among the thousands of archeologists who have written about pottery or architecture, how many have actually tried to make a pot or build a building? Precious few….” she writes on page 24.

But Barber taught herself to spin and weave so that she could analyze ancient textiles – even reproducing some – to get insight into the differences in societies that lead to different kinds of looms and spindles, etc. A nomadic society, for instance, can’t use a loom that hangs on the wall and uses loom weights for tension on the warp, so archeological evidence of their textile work rarely survives. We know about horizontal Egyptian looms primarily because of wall paintings and models left in tombs; archeologists didn’t need to find piles of loom weights to know that the Egyptians produced vast amounts of cloth.

Things I never really thought about until I read this book:

1. Thread. Fiber. String.

"Needle netted linen bag with stone button. thought to be a ceremonial hat and thus the oldest preserved clothing." From Israel, 6500 BC. (drawing from Women's Work by Tamar Schick.)

“Needle netted linen bag with stone button. thought to be a ceremonial hat and thus the oldest preserved clothing.” From Israel, 6500 BC. (drawing from Women’s Work by Tamar Schick.) Click to enlarge.

On vacation years ago, I was hiking along the Welsh border. Small clumps of white stuff drifted across the road and were caught in the hedges. I stopped to read a map, alone – I thought – and a voice on the other side of the tall hedge cried, “Maa!”  There was a flock of sheep on the other side of the hawthorn bushes, and that white stuff caught on the branches was wool. I was in the position of some paleolithic woman or man who, more clever that I am, gathered some of the animal hair or plant fibers she found, twisted them in her fingers, added more, twisted them together, and invented string or thread.

Drawing from Women's Work by Barber, after Glory

Drawing from Women’s Work by Barber, after Glory

2. Textiles were necessary for trade.

Archeologists find non-perishable items like obsidian, pottery, tin, gold, ax-heads and knives, beads, beakers, and statuettes – trade items that show us how far pre-historic people traveled and how wide-spread and interlinked ancient societies were. But a pack animal can carry only so much metal or stone. Textiles are lighter; they can be used to wrap the precious metals and objects and then sold or traded at the end of the journey.  “The records tell us that one particular donkey [that left Assyria] carried twenty-six cloths of two sorts, sixty-five units of sealed tin, and nine units of loose tin [used to pay for expenses on the way.]”  An ancient letter written from a trader to his wife says, “If you don’t manage to make fine textiles [in time for the caravan], … Buy [them] for me and send [them] to me.” (pp. 170 -171)

3. The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the ancient Greek plays confirm the economic importance of women’s textile work.

A Spinster. "Woman spinning with a drop spindle, depicted on a Greek vase of ca. 490 B.C." From Women's Work, by E. W. Barber

A Spinster. From Women’s Work, by E. W. Barber

At the end of a war, the losers were killed or enslaved.  Numerous female slaves were needed because it takes much longer to spin the thread for a garment than it does to weave the cloth – “as much as seven to ten times as long, using a hand spindle.” (P. 87) “Spinsters” were especially valuable prizes of war.

4. Textiles are part of our language and proverbs. “Spinster.” “On the Distaff side.” “Cut your coat to suit your cloth.” “Man must work from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.” That was literally true. A woman can spin thread while walking, while ‘resting,’ and even in the near-darkness of a fire-lit hut or cave. A woman would spin day and night for most of the year in order to have enough thread to weave cloth for her family: that was woman’s work.

You don’t have to know anything about textiles or archeology before reading Women’s Work. Barber’s writing is scholarly, but never stuffy or condescending. There are plenty of illustrations from Egyptian, early European, and Middle Eastern cultures, and a wealth of odd facts about everything from Egyptian eye makeup to “dragon’s blood” dye.

Every time I read Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, I enjoy it. I learn from it. It’s a classic.

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Filed under A Costumers' Bookshelf