Mending bags and Minivans

This sack came to the museum with a donation of pre 1940 clothing. I am not sure of the sack’s original purpose, but it was being used as a mending/laundry bag. What attracted my interest was that it had no side seams – it had been loomed on a circular loom. After an online search it turned out this bag had something in common with my minivan.

Seamless mending/laundry bag, c. 1930s

Sakichi Toyoda was born in 1867 and learned carpentry from his father. His interest in machinery lead to him visiting a machinery exposition in Tokyo in 1890. The following year he patented a wooden hand loom that could be used with one hand that increased the speed and efficiency of weaving.

This was the first of many inventions and improvements in textile manufacturing technology that Toyoda developed through a company he founded in Nagoya in 1894. His circular loom that used a shuttle that inserted and beat the weft into place in one motion was developed in 1906. However, it was a steam-powered loom he developed that was his first big success. Toyoda’s talent was in creative development, not facility management, and in 1910 Toyoda resigned from his own company. 

In 1911, after a tour of the world to see other loom technology, Toyoda started another company that by 1918 was called the Toyoda Spinning and Weaving Co. Ltd. This time, however, he brought in his son-in-law to manage the company. The company was successful and expanded in 1921 with a facility in Shanghai.

Circular Loom in the Toyota Museum

Improvements to his circular loom technology were made in 1924. In 1926, Toyoda developed a better method for changing shuttles without any loss of speed during operation of standard looms that lead to his most successful patent – the ‘Type G’ automatic loom. This resulted in the founding of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd. In 1929, the Type G technology was bought by the Platt Brothers & Co. in England for international use. 

Sakichi Toyoda died in 1930, three years before the Toyoda company set up an automobile development department, that produced its first car in 1935. In 1937 the automobile department was separated from the rest of the company and called Toyota Motor Co. Ltd., the forerunner of today’s Toyota Motor Corporation.

The First Paper Clothing Fad: 1889 – 1893

The late 1960s fad for disposable paper clothing resulted in some mad, mod dresses in flower power prints, but this was the second time paper clothing was a fad. The first time was 80 years earlier, and it all began when there was a change in how paper was made.

Historically, paper had been made from recycled rags, usually cotton garments that were mechanically pulped into a slurry and dried into sheets. In 1843, wood pulp was used for the first time, and although the resulting paper was not as good quality as rag paper it was cheaper to produce because the raw material was abundant. By the 1870s, mechanical pulping was being displaced by chemical pulping that used sulphites to break down the wood pulp, resulting in a better quality paper.

The insulating qualities of paper were well known – it was a common practice to tuck newspapers inside a winter coat to keep the wind from cutting through the weave of the cloth. American entrepreneur R.C. Mudge and his business partner, Edgar Wasson thought the idea of using the new sulphite paper for making clothing for winter insulation had commercial possibilities. Mudge and Wasson applied for a patent for a paper vest in 1888, and in February 1889, the R. C. Mudge Paper Clothing Company began manufacturing paper vests in Detroit, Michigan. They hired John C. McLaughlin, who would go on to apply for Canadian and American patents for the process he developed to make sulphite wood pulp paper pliable by dampening it with a gelatin solution and rolling it between sets of corrugated rollers and then rubbing it by hand. This softening process allowed for the paper to be sewn, like a textile, but still retain its strength.

The new company displayed their goods at the Detroit International Exposition and Fair in 1889. A newspaper report in the Detroit Tribute extolled the virtues of Mudge’s products: “The men’s vest cost 50 cents, the ladies’ 75 cents and other goods come at corresponding prices.  These paper garments cannot be compared with inferior woolen garments.  Wind will blow through wool.  It simply can’t get through this paper, which, besides being warm is tough, standing a pull of 98 pounds to the inch without tearing.”

To promote his venture, Mudge commissioned J.E. Fancher to create a piece of music titled “The Paper Vest Gallop”, printed on the sulphite paper he used to make his paper garments. Mudge also promoted his goods by donating paper blankets to hospitals and paper vests to postmen.

Mudge didn’t have enough financial backing to support his fledgling business that he expanded too rapidly. Despite all the promotion and accolades, his venture failed. Mudge’s business and stock were sold under a mortgage to Henry McMorran and Wilbur Davidson of the Sulfite Fibre Works of Port Huron Michigan for $75,000. The new owners hired Mudge and McLaughlin to oversee the transition and continue to improve the manufacturing process. They also changed the name of their company to the Port Huron Fibre-Garment Manufacturing Company. In July 1890, McLaughlin made suggestions on how to improve the quality of the paper with the addition of spring-loaded pounding machines, but left the company shortly afterwards. In 1891 Mudge also left the company and moved to Brooklyn where he became a Vaudeville stage manager.

The Port Huron Fibre-Garment Manufacturing Company eventually failed sometime in 1893 and leased their property to the American Fibre-Chamois Company. By 1894, ladies’ dresses had taken on full balloon-shaped sleeves, and the American Fibre-Chamois Company found a new, viable market selling their paper as an interlining to give sleeves their desired fullness. In 1896, McLaughlin sued for patent infringement by the American Fibre-Chamois Company over their use of his process for making the paper pliable. The court found that McLaughlin had not been specific enough in his patent over details, like the strength of the gelatin solution used to dampen the paper, and his case was dismissed.

Concurrent with Mudge’s business was the New York Paper Clothing Manufacturing Company, founded by Charles G. Barrett at 290 Pearl Street in New York. Their ‘Zero’ vest for men and women was a paper interlined cloth vest that they advertised as being “…just the thing for cold weather. It is light, comfortable, soft and pliable and fits perfectly.” The Watertown Daily Times reported on October 27, 1890 that: “Anyone that is troubled with weak lungs can readily find relief by wearing a good chest protector. These goods… can be had at the W. H. Drug Store. We have… a line of paper vests, which are made by the New York Paper Clothing Company, which are used by many who are continually exposed to this cold climate and have given the greatest satisfaction.” However, like Mudge and the Port Huron Fibre-Garment Manufacturing Co., this company also failed and was dissolved in 1893.

With thanks to Lynne Ranieri and other members of the VFG who uncovered this story.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Berlin Felt and Rumpel Felt Companies

Born in Saxony on May 10, 1850, (Johann) George Rumpel completed his schooling at the age of fourteen and then apprenticed as a shoemaker with a three year  indenture. George then followed his two older brothers example & immigrated to Canada, settling in Hamilton, Ontario in 1868. He found employment at The John McPherson Co., manufacturers of boots and shoes, and in 1872 married Wilhelmine (Minna) Hartmann.

In 1875 the couple moved to Berlin, Ontario and for two years George worked at the Berlin Felt Boot Company, which had been founded in 1871 by Jacob Shantz in the basement of a button factory at King and Railway (College) streets. In 1879 George bought out the felt business and relocated it to a former tobacco manufacturer at Victoria & Waterloo Streets to be nearer the Grand Trunk Railway station.

Berlin Felt Boot Company, c. 1892

In 1886 Rumpel exhibited a pair of felt knee-high Wellington boots at the ‘Colonial and Indian Exhibition’ in London, England. A few years later he presented examples of his ‘lumberman’s socks’ in Paris (these were felt boots, worn as liners with rubber boots.) In 1903 George travelled to Germany to study advances made in the manufacture of felt and purchased machinery & equipment to expand his production.

On 16 February 1904, disaster struck the Berlin Felt Boot Company when fire consumed two of the factories. As the buildings collapsed, smoldering embers were blown across town, but a heavy snow covering on roofs kept the fire from spreading. Only two buildings of the Berlin Felt Boots Company remained – a small factory, and a large storehouse.

Rumpel was a well-known Berlin citizen. His home at King and Cameron streets was considered one of the finest in Berlin, and he was a member of town council for eight years before serving as mayor of the town of Berlin in 1898.

Rumpel sold his business in 1909 to a Montreal investor who created The Consolidated Felt Company from the amalgamation of the Berlin Felt Boot Company, Kimmel Felt Company, and Elmira Felt Company. Rumpel stayed on as president until 1912 when he left to create the Walter G. Rumpel Felt Company for his son Walter. The company made felt for a variety of purposes – boot liners, saddlery, insulation… The following year Rumpel created The Oscar Rumpel Shoe Manufacturing Company, which specialized in felt slippers, for his son Oscar. George Rumpel died in 1916, the same year Berlin’s name was changed to Kitchener.

Rumpel Felt Company, built 1912/13

By the time Walter’s son John Rumpel took over the business after Walter’s death in 1944, the business had been renamed the Rumpel Felt Company. In 1966, John’s son David joined the business. The company was closed shortly before John’s death at the age of 92 in 2008. The 1912/13 factory built by George, near the original 1879 location, was purchased by the Region of Waterloo and has been given a heritage designation.

Mary Humphries, 1926 – 2018

I just read that Canadian fibre/fabric specialist and author Mary Humphries passed away February 22 at the age of 92.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, she grew up in Thornhill, Ontario, and received her MA from University College, University of Toronto. After marrying Michael Humphries in 1949, Mary became a specialist in textile and dye chemistry for Croy Knitting Mills. She also broadcast a weekly consumer program on CBC Radio in the 1960s.

Mary taught textile science at Seneca College in Toronto from its founding until she retired in the early 90s. During her tenure as a teacher, she developed a definitive book on fibre identification, that she self published many times (due to demand). The FHM has a first edition in its library, complete with all the swatches of material she attached to each fibre definition. Mary was also the editor of the Costume Society of Ontario’s newsletter for nearly two decades, until she retired and moved out to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia over a decade ago.

We are sorry to lose Mary who was always so supportive of the Fashion History Museum.

A visit to the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum

The Mississippi Valley Textile Museum (MVTM) is located in an 1860s woollen mill in Almonte, Ontario, (west of Ottawa.) The museum preserves early machinery, local mill history, and early Canadian textile history.

Before I go any further let’s clear up the fact that the word Mississippi is derived from the Algonquin ‘Misi-ziibi’, which means ‘Great River’. While the most famous Mississippi River runs down the middle of the United States, a smaller but still great Mississippi river also runs through Ontario and is a tributary of the St. Lawrence River. The river was a source of industry for early settlers who created water-powered mills along its length in the early 19th century, especially woollen and textile mills.

As the Fashion History Museum will be redeveloping its former travelling exhibition WARdrobe: Fashion During World War II for MVTM in 2019, a trip to check out the facility was in order. WARdrobe will be installed in a gallery for temporary exhibitions on the main floor, but upstairs there is a permanent exhibition about the 19th century textile industry that is fascinating.

The permanent gallery space is huge with high-ceilings, tall windows, stone walls and wide plank floors. Dotted about the gallery are several massive Victorian era machines used for carding, combing, spinning, twisting, weaving, and finishing textiles. Although these industrial sculptures sit silent, many are still in working order and have a film showing it, or a similar machine, in action.

The weirdest artifact on display is a stuffed sheep preserved in a glass case. The Cumberland Ram was the last of an extinct breed of sheep from Cape Breton. The same ram currently on display was also on show at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo when assassin Leon Czolgosz leaned against the case to steady his aim to fire a shot at President McKinley, mortally wounding the president.

For more information about the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, visit their website:

Soviet Deco Textiles

There were some amazing textiles created in the late 1920s and very early 1930s in Soviet Russia, particularly between about 1927 and 1930. I have been collecting a file as I come across samples online:

Canadian textile artist Thor Hansen

Danish born Canadian artist Thor Hansen (1903-1974) created amazing prints for household textiles in the 1950s and 1960s. Settling in Saskatchewan in 1927, he eventually found work at the British American Oil Company’s Regina office. In 1938, he was transferred to Toronto and in 1951 was hired to create the decor for the company’s new head office.

Inspired by the works of the Group of Seven, Hansen frequently incorporated Canadian imagery into his works.Most of Hansen’s textiles were hand-screened and made by Kitchener Ontario upholstery manufacturer A.B. Caya Ltd. The Huronia Museum in Midland, Ontario has the largest collection of his work.

123 Year old Levis

This undated photo provided by Daniel Buck Auctions & Appraisals shows the front of a pair of 1893 Levi-Strauss denim blue jeans in pristine condition that will go up for auction Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 in Lisbon Falls, Maine. The auction house said the jeans were ordered for Solomon Warner, a businessman and pioneer who participated in the creation of the Arizona Territory. Warner wore them only a few times before falling ill. He died in 1899. (Daniel Buck Soules/Daniel Buck Auctions & Appraisals via AP)

1893 Levi-Strauss Blue Jeans, photo by Daniel Buck Auctions & Appraisals, Lisbon Falls, Maine

These modern-looking jeans in a modern size (44 waist and 36 inseam) were purchased in 1893 by Solomon Warner, a dry goods store owner in Tucson, Arizona Territory. They are in near mint condition, having been worn only a few times before the owner fell ill. Warner died in 1899. The only design features that give away their age are the suspender buttons instead of belt loops, and the use of only one back pocket instead of two.

This undated photo provided by Daniel Buck Auctions & Appraisals shows a leather label on a pair of 1893 Levi-Strauss denim blue jeans in pristine condition that will go up for auction Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 in Lisbon Falls, Maine. The auction house said the jeans were ordered for Solomon Warner, a businessman and pioneer who participated in the creation of the Arizona Territory. Warner wore them only a few times before falling ill. He died in 1899. (Daniel Buck Auctions & Appraisals via AP)

Leather label from jeans


The American jeans (the cotton was milled in New Hampshire and the jeans made up in San Francisco) were supposed to be sold at a Maine auction house this past Saturday, but apparently a technical glitch prevented their sale. I suspect its more likely there are many private offers to buy the jeans directly, before they go to public auction. Similar pairs in less than pristine condition have sold in recent years for upwards of 6 figures.

Intended as wallpaper and possibly a fashion?

Bubblewrap was developed in 1957 as a space-age wallpaper, but nobody liked the idea. Then the American inventors, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, realized it had potential as a packing material. They went into business in 1960 and one of their first clients was IBM that used the material for shipping delicate office machinery. The product took off in the 1970s as a packing material for general use. Since then there has been some experimentation with it for fashion, but nothing successful yet: