Aunt Emily

Emily Bowyer Hammel was my father's older sister. She was the dearest person I've ever known. Over several adolescent summers, she patiently taught me how to sew and how to cook. I loved her. Sadly, she has been gone these few years and I miss her very much. However, I am carrying on her legacy of sewing and trying to carry on her legacy of caring.

Friday, August 21

Ohio State University's Costume and Textile Collection

Did you know that Ohio State University has a Costume and Textile Collection, and regularly exhibits parts of it? I did not. Via books from Martha Pullen, I knew that Kent State had such a collection, but not OSU, which is much closer to me.

They just had (ended in June!) an exhibit I am just kicking myself that I did not know about. (description and photo from website):

The Sewer's Art: Quality, Fashion, and Economy February 26 - June 27, 2009


The Sewer's Art: Quality, Fashion and Economy features 49 beautifully constructed garments that reflect the creative and artistic talents of four fashion and style-conscious women from the beginning to the end of the 20th century who sewed for economical reasons and/or for self expression, to create high quality fashionable clothing.


Home sewn clothing is rarely, if ever, exhibited in a museum. It is not considered 'art' in the academic sense. Art museums primarily showcase the work of 'professional' artists, and the clothing most often exhibited in art museums is of the 'fashion designer' variety.

Museums mostly ignore clothing that was sewn at home. It does not have the value given to 'high' art (painting and sculpture) that some designer fashions also have. In fact it is mostly anonymous, created by women who are or were, predominantly homemakers, who created their or their children's clothing mostly out of economic necessity, but often also out of a desire to express themselves creatively.

"Home-sewn" and "home-made" have become pejorative terms, generally associated with crafts of low quality. This does a great disservice, to those with high levels of skill and creative ability who produce beautiful clothing at home that rivals that produced professionally by fashion designers. The garments produced by the home sewers featured in this exhibition combine the same elements implemented by the fashion designer: fashionable style with quality materials plus creative inspiration. In spite of a frequent need to economize, home sewers often do more than merely copy a picture on a pattern. They exercise their creativity by choosing fabrics and trims and by combining or altering paper patterns to achieve the desired look. This creativity is The Sewer's Art.

Inspiration for the exhibit

The inspiration for this exhibition began with a visit from Susan Beall in 1997-98. At that time, she informed us that she had sewn most of her clothing throughout her lifetime, beginning before her graduation from OSU's School of Home Economics in 1949. Susan also informed us that she had kept a record of her sewing projects, including her inspirations, which patterns she used, swatches of the fabric she used and how much it cost, and subsequent alterations to the clothing. When she told us this, we immediately thought of Barbara Johnson's Album of Styles and Fabrics.

Barbara Johnson was an 18th century lady who kept a record of fabrics used to make her clothing and how much the fabric cost, as well as contemporary illustrations of fashionable dress. Barbara Johnson's album spans the years 1746-1823 and is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but is too fragile for handling. A facsimile of the album was published in 1987, retailing for $100. We mentioned Barbara's album to Susan Beall, and remarked that her records were a 20th century version of the Barbara Johnson book, with one difference. Susan made her own wardrobe, whereas Barbara depended on dressmakers for hers.

Susan took that comment to heart, and proceeded to further organize and document her materials. She presented an installment collection of her exquisitely sewn wardrobe with her own album and swatches in 1999, followed by more garments in 2003. From our first encounter we thought, here is an exhibition idea. Both the Barbara Johnson book and Susan Beall's album are featured in the exhibition, Susan's album as a Powerpoint presentation.

Since 1999, the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection received additional donations of garments that were sewn by their wearers, but none that rival the quality of workmanship and style paired with an interesting life story such as the selections chosen for this exhibition. In addition to Susan Beall's impressive collection are garments made and worn by Dr. Ruth Ella Moore, Mary Heck, and Dr. Joyce Smith.

Ruth Moore received her BS in Chemistry from OSU in 1925, and followed that up with an MS in bacteriology in 1927. After three years teaching at Tennessee State College, she returned to OSU and pursued her Ph.D. in Bacteriology which she received in 1933 -- the first African American woman to do so. She had an illustrious career in higher education, teaching and serving as Chair of the Department of Bacteriology at Howard University from 1948-58. Given all that responsibility, she somehow found the time to make many of her own clothes -- from quality fabrics, with quality construction, and without any formal training.

Sewing garments in the home has a long history -- one based in the necessity to clothe the members of the family and provide the household linens. Before the industrial revolution, the invention of the sewing machine, and mass produced clothing, women were responsible for making their own clothes, including underclothing and night clothing, as well as all of the children's clothing, and shirts, underwear, and nightwear for the men of the household. The task of providing clothing for the family, as well as making the necessary household textiles such as towels, pillowcases and sheets, was a never-ending task. Even with the arrival of the sewing machine, the work did not necessarily decrease; the sewing machine saved time and money but not labor.

Many women worked as seamstresses or dressmakers in the 19th century, either at a place of employment, or as was often the case, piecework was done in the home to provide extra income. Columbus even had a dressmaking school located downtown on High Street in the 1890s. Women who married brought these skills into their households. Mary Heck, another featured artist in our exhibition, was such a person. She worked in a tailor's shop before marriage, but afterwards, made her and her daughter Grace's clothing. Two of Mary's dresses and two dresses she made for Grace dating from 1895-1911 are featured in the exhibition, along with Mary's treadle sewing machine. One of Mary's dresses is referred to as an 'artistic' dress.

Sewing was very much a part of a woman's education during the 19th century, and land-grant colleges created toward the end of that century continued this tradition by offering courses (for women) in the "domestic sciences," including sewing. In 1914, the Smith Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension Service to spread knowledge from the land grant colleges to the citizens of the states via educational programs developed by extension agents. Sewing education is represented in the exhibition via 'how-to' manuals, including several written by Mary Brooks Picken for the Women's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences series, a child's toy Singer sewing machine, and two 4H projects created by Christine Kibler Dambach in 1926 and 1932.

Also featured in the exhibition is the wardrobe of Dr. Joyce Smith, professor emeritus in the College of Education and Human Ecology. As a State Extension Specialist for Clothing, Joyce authored a number of training manuals and teaching aids, and traveled to County Extension Offices, 4-H clubs, high schools, colleges, and universities educating girls and women in clothing selection and construction and introducing them to personal style and couture fashion. She constructed her own wardrobe specifically to demonstrate techniques of clothing, design, fit, and construction.

This is the description of the collection from their website:

The Historic Costume & Textiles Collection is a scholarly and artistic resource of apparel and textile material culture, jointly administered by the College of Education and Human Ecology and the OSU Libraries. The 11,500+ holdings encompass a range of three dimensional objects such as textiles and articles of clothing and accessories for men, women, and children, including national dress costume, from the mid-18th century to contemporary 21st century designers. The Collection also houses a number of period fashion magazines, fashion plates, swatch books and commercial patterns. Our mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret textile and apparel material culture and make these artifacts available to researchers.

Particular strengths of the Collection are objects pertaining to central Ohio and the U.S. fashion industry.

Blue crepe jersey draped dress, one shoulder, Halston, 1970-1979. Gift of Mrs. John Anderson II.
Blue crepe jersey draped dress, one shoulder, Halston, 1970-1979. Gift of Mrs. John Anderson

One of the many buttons in the Ann Rudolph Button Collection.

One of the many buttons in the Ann Rudolph Button Collection.

Paisley shawl, red center, 1850-1860, gift of Mrs. Frank Mykrantz. Paisley shawl, black center, 1860-1875, anonymous donor. Kashmir shawl, 1850-1875, gift of Mrs. Frank Mykrantz.

Paisley shawl, red center, 1850-1860, gift of Mrs. Frank Mykrantz. Paisley shawl, black center, 1860-1875, anonymous donor. Kashmir shawl, 1850-1875, gift of Mrs. Frank Mykrantz.

1860s gown with evening and day bodice of aqua silk satin trimmed with green velvet, ivory satin, and white beads.

1860s gown with evening and day bodice of aqua silk satin trimmed with green velvet, ivory satin, and white beads.

1930s Japanese wedding kimono. Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Frank Fletcher.

1930s Japanese wedding kimono. Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Frank Fletcher.

20th Century Designer Collection

The Collection's main strength is its selection of women's garments by American fashion designers. Showcasing a history of twentieth century fashion, the majority of artifacts date from the mid to late century.

Several designers are well-represented with over fifty individual examples of their work; some with close to a hundred. American designers James Galanos, Arnold Scaasi, Pauline Trigere, and Calvin Klein have all donated garments from their collection archives to the Collection. In addition to these designers, photos, sketches, and other documentation accompany the collections of Irene and Bonnie Cashin garments.

Ann Rudolph Button Collection

The Ann Rudolph Button Collection, with over 25,000 artifacts, is one of the most complete holdings of buttons and button-related materials in the United States. It includes representative examples of almost every type of button, many of which are unique, rare and seldom available to scholars and collectors.

Housed within the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, the buttons are organized, identified, and catalogued according to standards of the National Button Society. Button die stamps, button cleaning boards, button hooks, and other button-related artifacts add to the depth of this unique collection.

Extensive research sources including books, catalogs, and journals related to button history, button manufacture, button collecting, and the role of buttons in fashion and dress exist within the OSU Library system and can be accessed via the library catalog, OSCAR. A further enhancement, OSU Libraries is the designated repository for the archives of the National Button Society.

Textile Collection

Textiles in the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection are from both Western and non-Western traditions.

The earliest textiles date from the fifteenth century. Pre-Columbian South American textile artifacts woven on a backstrap loom and silk velvet European liturgical textiles span the technology of textile manufacturing at this time.

The approximately 1,000 textile examples offer a historical chronology of Western textile design and manufacturing techniques for both dress as well as furnishing fabrics including quilts, coverlets, paisley shawls and Spanish shawls.

The Collection also offers many examples of design and manufacturing techniques from cultures around the globe. Especially significant is a collection of over 60 Indonesian ikat textiles from the collection of Fred Richman.

Traphagen Collection

In 1995, the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection purchased five 19th century garments from the estate of Ethel Traphagen, and received 69 others as a donation from her heirs. Ethel Traphagen, a fashion designer who is credited with introducing shorts and slacks into American women's fashion, founded the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York City in the 1920s. The school was known for its technical orientation of fashion design, with courses in pattern making and draping. The school closed its doors in the early 1990s. (The only records from the school that remain are held by the New York State Department of Education. These are the academic records (transcripts) of the students who attended Traphagen. If students need that information they would need to write directly to the NY State Department of Education providing the pertinent details including the years that they attended Traphagen.)

Some of the better known names in the fashion industry attended the Traphagen School of Fashion. Alumni members include: Geoffrey Beene, James Galanos, Mary McFadden, John Kloss, Christos Yiannakou, and African-American designer Franklin Rowe.

The Traphagen collection at the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection consists of 74 garments and 33 assorted hats. The costumes range in date from the 1830s to the 1910s, with particular strength in the 1890s. The hats date from the 1820s up to the early 1950s. The Traphagen collection includes garments exemplifying the silhouettes of the 19th century, others are remarkable for their fabrics and opulence, and a few have French labels.

Ethnographic Dress

The collection of ethnographic dress in the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection includes folk costume, and traditional dress worn outside the Western fashion tradition. Complete ensembles from various time periods and geographic cultures are represented, displaying a vast array of embellishment techniques.

Examples include:

  • Complete pre-WWII Japanese wedding kimono in three layers of obi, obi aga, tabi, and geta
  • Children's kimono for the Japanese ceremony Shichi-go-san
  • Complete Macedonian wedding ensemble

Gallery Hours

Weds and Thurs 11-6
Fri and Sat 12-4
Also open by appointment
Closed on all University Holidays
Open by appointment only during break weeks


The Historic Costume and Textiles Collection is located on The Ohio State University campus in the northwest corner of Campbell Hall, 1787 Neil Avenue. Access to the Snowden Galleries in the Geraldine Schottenstein Wing is easiest through the arched entrance from the north side of the building.

OSU map of the area around Campbell Hall

Campbell Hall on Google Maps


Visitor parking is available at the Neil Avenue parking garage (after 4pm on weekdays and any time on weekends), the OSU Hospital parking garage, and other area garages (including the Ohio Union parking garage and the Tuttle Park parking garage).

More OSU parking garage information.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My mom went to Traphagen School of Fashion and studied pattern drafting under "Miss Traphagen" from 1938 - 1941. She told me about the costumes, which students were allowed to copy from in order to create new designs. Much of this is included in my mom's memoir, which you can find at Thanks!