Collector’s Cachet – Vintage Textile Exhibit in Sturbridge MA

Another great blog post from Hammertown’s favorite roving reporter, Lynne Perrella!



Collector’s Cachet
Vintage Textile Exhibit in Sturbridge, Massachusetts

Story and Photos by Lynne Perrella

I know, I know…I really should be down-sizing.  But then I take my yearly trip to Sturbridge, Massachusetts to see the Vintage Fashion & Textile Show, and find myself surrounded by the most amazing and unique enticements.   Billed as “the largest show of its type in the world”, this brilliantly-curated exposition of top dealers and experts is the brainchild of Linda Zukas.  The perfect lead-in to the frenzied goings-on at the renown Brimfield market, Linda’s event has the feeling of a rarefied gathering of inveterate collectors – both the dealers and the customers.   Those of us who were born with the collector’s gene understand the rules. When it comes to our inexplicable (and numerous) passions, there ARE no rules.   Talking with many of the dealers, I heard an often-repeated story:  Their zeal for collecting inevitably turned into a business.  Many of these savvy and knowledgeable experts travel the world to amass the wonders in their booths, and (seemingly) every artifact, swatch, and button has a story.


The phrase “Something for everyone” applies here, as I observed baronial-sized glittering scatter pins from the Forties, rough-and-ready vintage sports uniforms, delicate paper goods and ephemera, exotic beads and textiles from a Moroccan market, and a cross-referenced archive of remarkable buttons in every possible material from faceted glass to cheerful Bakelite.   Some items evoked unexpected memories – like a display of neatly-folded pastel-hued ladies’ hankies that reminded me of my mother.  Or a rugged wool boy’s varsity jacket in school colors and a girl’s jeweled cardigan sweater that took me right back to the Fifties.  Other booths provided a glimpse into an earlier, elegant age when hoop skirts, bustles, and jet-beaded mourning gowns were de rigueur.  And I saw table linens galore, from colorful, whimsical “conversation prints” of the Thirties and Forties; to incredible, stately embroidered tablecloths as large as bedspreads.  Pale leather gloves to fit the tiniest child (or doll!), and a rainbow wardrobe of women’s tailored gloves worthy of movie icons like Joan Crawford or Rita Hayworth.  To my delight, American flags were a prevalent and graphic theme this year.  I saw vintage bunting, flag-themed silk scarves, sturdy grommeted canvas flags folded in neat stacks, and framed versions of the Stars and Stripes rendered in embroidery and petit point.



One booth had the vibe of a Victorian-era writing room, with rows of cut-glass ink wells, pens and delicate quills of every size, displays of hat pins, cards of intricate glass buttons, and every accoutrement for a ladies’ dressing table.   Walking a short distance down the same aisle, I felt like I had slipped backstage at a dramatic color-soaked Chinese opera; with elaborate theatrical costumes on hangers, dimensional headdresses, embroidered slippers and exotic jewelry stacked and displayed for the ultimate visual overload experience.  Mid-way down another aisle, I found a booth replete with the most stunning array of vintage Pendleton blankets, brass-studded leather belts and saddle fittings, and rough-textured rugs and throws.  Strictly-male bunk house territory.  Right next door:  Enough passementerie, trimmings, and tasseled brocade drapery panels to re-fit a Parisian drawing room.  The Twenties were ably represented by a pair of mint-condition “boudoir dolls” depicting Pierrot and Pierette, in elegant black and white satin costumes.   An array of happily-worn sports uniforms in all sizes, emblazoned with endless team names suggested the thrills and foibles of Little League; and Scout uniforms in sensible earth tones sported prestigious badges and insignias that made me want to go in search of my cache of long-ago Girl Scout merit badges.  Fat chance of finding those! – Making it tempting to start a new collection of other people’s badges.  Any excuse will do.


I coveted a large manufacturer’s sample book, with page-after-page of swatches of whimsical clever cotton prints, with penciled notations and circled style numbers from some long-ago dry goods buyer.  And, as the child of a home sewer, I remembered the shorts and tops my mother would make me each summer.  No print was too wild for my Mom, and I remember calypso-themed yardage, Scottie-dog motifs, and color-soaked polka dots.  Continuing further down Memory Lane, I enjoyed finding a rack of pastel-hued prom dresses with miles of netting and the necessary crinolines.  One booth offered a no-holds-barred Downton Abbey experience with a selection of delicate beaded satin dancing shoes, and every size and shape of evening bag for m’lady.   Flapper dresses and voluminous velvet capes evoked evenings at Highclere, dancing to the wind-up phonograph and toasting with cut crystal.   In a neighboring booth a young dealer with a strong hip-hop vibe showed me his array of heavy canvas duffle bags, a weathered leather suitcase full of belts, work gloves, and bandannas; and a rack of vintage pea coats and rain slickers.  Every item seemed drenched in some kind of compelling back story, and I found myself staring down into the contents of the open suitcase, imagining adventures both big and small,  “Cool, right?” he said.  Definitely.


The truth about collecting is…most of the time it’s not really about the “things” that we gather.  It’s more about being drawn to the stories that emanate from each object.  Whether we are reminded of an actual piece of our past, or we are transported on the magic carpet of our imagination to…let’s say…backstage at a Chinese Opera; each object becomes a touchstone, talisman, or ticket-to-ride.   Passing hand-to-hand until it finds its’ perfect end point (no matter how temporary) every length of fabric, or whimsical button or buckle, or mint-condition over-the-top Crazy Quilt comes complete with a story.  And who doesn’t love a good story?

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