As you may have seen from my recent social media photos, I have been involved with this project for the Meadowlands Museum as a volunteer Curator and spoke last week at the Museum. This project was like a dream come true in terms of being able to curate my own exhibit on fashion history! What surprised me the most was that the more I (and the wonderful exhibition team) dug into the textile industry of this region, the more there was to find. And not just in bits and pieces — more like an avalanche of information!
Me at the Museum for the Curatorial Talk on 6.2.2018. Behind me you can see a silk gown from 1904 (first made in 1888) and a silk plaid jacket from the late 19th century.
Paterson, NJ, now in an economic slump, was once known as the Silk City or the Lyons of America. They had numerous silk mills, silk ribbon factories, and many other ties to producing clothing and textiles. Though Paterson is not in the Meadowlands, it is one of the many towns that neighbors the Meadowlands area. East Rutherford, within the Meadowlands, had a successful bleachery that spanned generations and the bleachery’s owner, William McKenzie, became an active force in shaping both East Rutherford and Rutherford, NJ. Passaic, another neighbor to the Meadowlands, was a major source of wool and cotton production for the nation at this time. They had countless factories producing fine cashmere goods, handkerchiefs, worsted wool goods, etc. Northern New Jersey, also touching the north end of the Meadowlands, I found interesting in terms of why it was chosen as a location for embroidery production. Even today, a sign on an overpass in Union City still reads, “Welcome to North New Jersey: Embroidery Capital of the World Since 1872.” This area was situated between two fashion and textile powerhouses, Paterson and New York City, which provided goods needed as well as skilled factory workers. Also, North New Jersey is built upon sturdy bedrock which was important for the embroidery machines that weighed between 5-8 tons. They drilled 20 foot shafts for the machines into the earth in order to prevent the embroidery needles from vibrating. Kearny, also within the Meadowlands, was a major producer of thread and was home to the well-known Clark Thread Company.
The exhibit is broken up into 4 major sections: Silk, Wool, & Cotton Mills; Buttons and Thread; Bleachery; and Embroidery & Silk Ribbon. Throughout each section, garments from the Museum’s collection are used to highlight these areas of production while connecting this to the larger fashion picture and what stylish residents of the Meadowlands may have worn during that time.
This information just skims the surface of the exhibit, but I hope it’s enough to entice you to head to the Meadowlands Museum and check it out!
For more information on the exhibit, go HERE to the Museum’s website
This Lane Bryant jacket and shirtwaist relates to the section on embroidery. The jacket is from 1915. Lane Bryant was one of the first companies to commercially produce maternity wear and “stout wear,” or plus-size garments.