It’s All In the Initials: Sewing Advances at the Fair

One hundred and twenty years ago, in the summer of 1893, newspapers across the country were reporting on a grand spectacle of an event taking place in a big city. That big city was Chicago and the event was the Columbian Exposition also known as the World’s Fair.

Silk Handkerchief Souvenir from the World's Fair Chicago 1893

Silk Handkerchief Souvenir from the World’s Fair Chicago 1893

For six months, from May – October, the reception gates welcomed visitors to the downtown Chicago lakefront staging area that was a marvel in size, scale and execution.

Aerial view of the Chicago World's Fair. Photo via pinterest.

Aerial view of the Chicago World’s Fair. Photo via pinterest.

A staggering 25% of Americans attended the Fair in those six months, and Ms. Jeannie is excited to report that one such visitor was her great great grandmother, Martha.

martha5

Martha traveled from Iowa to Illinois, armed with a summer’s worth of knowledge about the Fair thanks to the frequent reporting of her local newspaper, the Vinton Eagle who kept it’s readers up to date on all aspects of the Exposition from logistics to exhibits, history to happenings.

In illustrated glory, all the details of the World's Fair as reported by The Vinton Eagle in a July 1893  edition

In illustrated glory, all the details of the World’s Fair as reported by The Vinton Eagle in a July 1893 paper

That year, the Fair commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America and celebrated the latest advances in industry and technology occuring throughout the world.  It was an exciting place to be, not only as an eyewitness to progress, but also for all the hope and possibility that hung in the air as our nation quickly approached the dawning of a new century.

Opening day of the Chicago World's Fair. Photo via pinterest.

Opening day of the Chicago World’s Fair, May 1893. Photo via pinterest.

No doubt, Martha was caught up in the fever and wonder of such marvelous new sights like the first Ferris wheel, the first automatic dishwasher, the introduction of food novelties like gum and ready made pancake mix and the debut of the zipper.

Also in the sewing category came a new piece of machinery, which drew delight to many attendees, especially among the ladies, Martha included. Debuting at the fair was the first on-site embroidery machine that could embroider names and initials on fabric while you waited.

The Palace of Mechanical Arts was where most of the textile exhibits were located. Photo via pinterest

The Palace of Mechanical Arts was where most of the textile exhibits were located. Photo via pinterest

Martha was so enamored with this “instant gratification” concept that she purchased a colorful souvenir handkerchief…

A silk handkerchief momento

A silk handkerchief momento depicting the layout of the entire Exhibition.

And had her name embroidered in the corner…

M. J. Edwards

M. J. Edwards

If you look closely, you’ll notice there is no “s” on the end of Edwards – whether that was accidental or limited due to a specific amount of allowable letters, Ms. Jeannie will never actually know. But she loves that this handkerchief carries a personal touch of her great great grandmother at an event that was so creative and inspiring.

The handkerchief itself is in wonderful condition.  The silk fabric so delicate yet bright with its vivid colors and detailed drawing of the fairgrounds.  The embroidery looks like it was sewn yesterday, instead of over a century ago.  Ms. Jeannie wonders if Martha ever wore it or used it in any way or if it remained stored away as a special reminder of a special trip.

Martha was a sewer herself, so maybe she just appreciated the fact that a machine could now produce something as equally lovely and delicate as initials without having to do it by hand.

At the time of the Fair, Martha was 47 years old, she had been married for 29 years, and had birthed 11 babies. Waiting for her back at home in Iowa, in addition to her own kids  (the youngest which was aged six)  were 10 grandchildren all under the age of 7.

Ms. Jeannie bets that Martha saw her fair share of mending projects involved with that large brood! It’s no wonder that she amazed by this speedy embroidery machine. Imagine how fast all those sewing projects would go if she had one of these machines of her very own!

fair4

So maybe this handkerchief represents a time-saving industrial novelty, or maybe it represents a fun travel adventure or perhaps just a stunning flight of fancy from one sewer to another… either way, Ms. Jeannie is thrilled that it has stayed in her family and survived intact for 120 years.  That’s a true marvel in keeping with the theme of the World’s Fair itself!

5 thoughts on “It’s All In the Initials: Sewing Advances at the Fair

  1. Pingback: On The Campaign Trail in 1896 | msjeannieology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s