East Anglian Stitch Textiles
Share the textile love...

Archive Monthly Archives: September 2020

Mildred Blount – a forgotten talent

During her research for E.A.S.T’s next exhibition (for more on that, see below), group member Julie Topsfield discovered the story of Mildred Blount (1907-1974). This is Mildred’s story, as told by Julie:

Mildred Blount at work

Mildred was born in North Carolina in 1907. She was orphaned as an infant, and did not complete her schooling due to ill  healthy. Yet by the 1930s and 40s she was recognised as a leading milliner for celebrities and high society.

She started work at Madame Clair’s Dress & Hat shop in New York as an errand girl. She became interested in millinery while working there which led to her opening a hat and dress shop with her sister who was a dress maker. Wealthy New Yorkers formed their clientele for dresses and hats.

In the 1930s she applied for a job as a learner with John-Frederiks the leading New York based milliner. They were taken aback as she was the first black person to have ever applied, she assured them she had talent, all she asked for was a chance. She got the job.

While working at John-Frederics, Mildred designed 87 miniature hats, representing styles from the 1680 to 1937 which where exhibited to great acclaim at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

The August 1942 issue of ‘Ladies Home Journal’ – a first for a black designer

After this exhibit, her career took off, and she came to the attention of Mrs David Selznick. This led to her designing hats for Gone with the Wind and Easter Parade making her the first black person to design hats for movie actors. Mildred did most of the work, although credit went to her employers.

Her talents and reputation continued to soar, designing Gloria Vanderbilt’s wedding veil for her first marriage in 1941, and in 1942 one of her hats was featured on the cover of Ladies Home Journal another first for a black designer.

She left John-Frederics and founded her own label in Los Angeles. By the mid-1940s, she was designing for Hollywood actresses as well as private clients, including Mary Pickford, Ginger Rodgers, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell, among others.

Still living in California, she continued to work until her death in 1974.  Her hats can be found in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the California African American Museum.

E.A.S.T members are currently working towards their latest exhibition Transformation, which we hope will open at Braintree District Museum, Braintree in Essex in April 2021. More details will be available nearer the time.

decorated embroidery on kimono

Kimono continued – techniques and design influence

Kimono deconstructed

Following on from Susan’s blog I thought I would write a little more about some of the different techniques and influences we learned about at the V&A ‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’ exhibition. As seen above, the kimono is fairly simple in structure – strips of cloth joined and unlike western style dress of the time, the focus was on the way the fabric was decorated rather than the body silhouette it enhanced or created.

Kimono for a woman (kosode) 1730-70

This kimono is decorated with a technique known as Yuzen dyeing. A cloth tube with a metal tip is filled with rice paste and applied in ribbons to outline the drawing on the fabric. Then dyes are brushed within the paste boundaries – similar to techniques used in silk painting with gutta. This is a kosode kimono – because of its short sleeves.

Kimono for a woman (furisode) 1800-50

The design for this kimono is made using a kanoko shibori technique. Look closely and you will see rows of tiny circles. These are made by tightly binding the fabric as a means to resist dye when the cloth is immersed in the dye vat. The red colour here comes from the safflower. This furisode kimono has ‘swinging sleeves’.

Hand painted kimono
Kosode Kimono, c.1785

This kimono is hand-painted in ink and colours, and thought to date to around 1785. It was created by the Japanese artist Masumura Goshon (1752-1811). Just as an artist signs a painting, Goshon included his signature and seal on the front of this kimono, indicating that he considered it a work of art.

Kosode kimono
Kosode kimono, 1780-1820

This kosode kimono was made from figured satin silk (rinzu), then hand-painted with ink (kaki-e). A stencil decoration to imitate tie-dyeing was then added (sorihitta) and finally it was embroidered in silk and gold wrapped silk threads. The text embroidered on this piece is a poem from a tenth century anthology.

Kimono for a samarui class woman
Kimono for a young samarui woman, c.1730-60

Again this kimono is created with a range of techniques but it also shows a development in design – quite boldly asymmetric and something that became fashionable in the mid-eighteenth century. Worn by a young woman of the samuri class this gown also shows how the ruling classes were becoming influenced by their social inferiors. According to the hierarchy of the day, the merchant classes were set below not only the elite classes but also the farmers and the craftsmen. As people whose fortune was made through the work of others they were put in the lowest rank. As they became wealthy they gained greater power, also the ability to lead fashion.

Kimono with small all over design
Kimono, 1750-60

By the second half of the eighteenth century, small scale designs became more common. This one was produced using the Yuzen technique (the freehand paste resist dyeing as described above).

Early 19th century kimono

Then as sashes became more elaborate and wider, kimono designs moved to the hem and then the front of the garment – rather than traditionally on the back. This kimono dates from the early nineteenth century.

Japanese street scene showing Parade of Courtesans in 19th century.
Print of Nakano Street in Yoshiwara by Utagawa Hiroshige II (1826-69)

Another big fashion influence were the courtesans – the fabulous gown of one you can seen in Susan’s blog. Here is one section of a print on display in the exhibition which shows a Nakano Street in Yoshiwara. It depicts the towns greatest spectacle, the parade of courtesans who wore the most extravagant attire. The glamorous lifestyle depicted was in sharp contrast to the realities of life in the sex trade.

Sanogawa Ichimatsu – actor and fashion influencer

Actors too were often seen as fashion icons. In 1741 Sanogawa Ichimatsu wore a chequerboard waist sash (obi), which became an instant fashion craze. The design became known as Ichimatsu check. This print shows Ichimatsu coming out of his shop – many actors had their own shops and ranges of goods.

Sarasa Handbook of textile designs.
The Sarasa Handbook (1778) – Indian designs for Japanese textiles

Indian fabrics were another influence – from the 1630s Japanese textile artists made versions of Indian fabrics. The Sarasa Handbook published in 1778, was the first technical guide to such cloth.

Tobacco cases and pipe case; Dutchmen portrayed on an inro and netsuke

Indian fabrics were imported by the Dutch – the first western traders with Japan. Known as the ‘red-haired people’ (komojin), the Japanese thought their fabrics highly prized and even the smallest pieces could be turned into saleable items. The Dutch people themselves were also exoticised and turned into inro and netsuke.

Kimono for western popstars

There was much more to see in this exhibition which ended with more modern developments of kimono – from both the west and the east. However, I was particularly struck by the the global influences and connections which have been a feature of kimono for centuries. As examples of more modern day global connections I have included these three items which are all associated with twentieth and twenty-first century music artists, who have other global connections. On the left is a kimono gown once owned by British artist Freddie Mercury (whose parents were of Indian descent). The red outfit was worn by American artist Madonna (whose parents were of Italian and French Canadian descent). The gown on the far right of the trio (and in the image) was designed by British designer Alexander McQueen in collaboration with Bjork, the Icelandic singer for her ‘Homogenic’ album.

If you are unable to visit the exhibition (which may already be sold out) it is still worth looking at the V&A online curator’s tour – the first part of which can be found HERE.

“The True Anzac”

I was born in Australia and during my school years there was shockingly little attention paid to the history, culture and appreciation of Indigenous people – the Aboriginal people of Australia.

In my textile work over the years I have researched and explored related themes on many occasions as a response to this woeful lacking in my education experiences.

When EAST chose to commemorate the 100-year end of the WWI, I once again returned to examine the Indigenous Aboriginal role as part of the ANZAC forces. It was illuminating.

On the first of January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed. In August 1914, when Great Britain declared war on Germany, Australia, out of loyalty to Imperial Britain, immediately pledged a force of 20,000 men.  The prime minister, Andrew Fisher, said Australia would support Great Britain “to the last man alive and the last shilling”.

On the 25th April 1915, Australian troops landed on the beaches of Gallipoli, Turkey. This date later became Anzac Day.  The Anzac soldier stood for reckless valor in a good cause, enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never know defeat.

In World War 1, indigenous Australians, known as the “Black Diggers”, fought alongside their European counterparts in every significant engagement of the War: Gallipoli, Palestine and the Western Front.  For many it was a chance to see the world, earn a decent salary and be treated equally as brothers.  However, it was the hope for fair treatment on return, with a chance of citizenship, that encouraged the indigenous Australian soldier to enlist.

This did not transpire.  There are very few examples of indigenous ex-servicemen being offered land or citizenship rights.  For many the prejudices encountered before the War were even worse when they returned home.  Tragically, those that died had given their lives for a country that they had inhabited before the white settler, yet where they were not considered equals.

Fortunately, in more recent years the contribution and recognition of the brave “Black Diggers” has begun to be acknowledged and included alongside the honour and respect awarded the Anzac soldier.  In April 2012, Trooper Horace Dalton, 11th Light Horse Regiment, was reburied with full military honours and a traditional ceremony.

In my work “The True Anzac”, I  have portrayed two features of Australian culture: that of the indigenous heritage seen in the patterns and paint markings which are included, and on the periphery surrounding the central feature, that of the white Australian.

Melinda Berkovitz