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Saris drying after a vodka bath

Like any good Rhode Island trader, I am pleased to announce the acquisition of some India silks. To be fair, I have not burn tested these, so while they were sold as pure and not ‘art’ silk, one never knows till one puts fabric to flame.

As reported elsewhere, these did have an odor (as most vintage and used textiles do) but a bath in vodka and cold water solved that. They seemed color fast, and brighter after washed. It’s really nice when what you read on the interwebs is true, isn’t it? Thanks to the Laced Angel blog entry, Mr S and I found ourselves at the liquor store asking for the cheapest vodka they had. It came in a plastic bottle, and we were compelled to explain we were going to be cleaning with it. The manager seemed pleased to get the tip, since his wife has a collection of her aunt’s doilies and  things in their garage… I think Mr S was glad to drag me away, but he does get more human contact than I do, these days.

Samuel Ames, May 19, 1796

Samuel Ames, May 19, 1796

Besides just loving the fabrics and the potential for gowns and waistcoats, trading on Etsy with women in India pleases me logistically and historically. I retain a Huckle Cat fascination and delight with mail services, and am just astonished that a woman in New Delhi can wrap these up and put them into the India mail service and a week later they’ve made it to Rhode Island. How many trucks and airplanes does that take? And in the 18th and early 19th centuries, how many carts and ships and wagons?

Lopez and dexter 1809

By May 1796, the partnership of Brown & Francis was probably faltering (they dissolved that August, probably due to John Francis’ ill health), but Samuel James might well have boughtthe goods he advertised at wholesale from Brown & Francis. There were other importers, of course, in other Rhode Island ports, as Lopez & Dexter in Newport, advertising goods in 1809. Five cases of India silks! Four cases of fancy Prints!

It’s astonishing, the quantity of goods brought from the East, as astonishing in its way as the quantity of goods we bring from the East today. The range of colors, prints, and textures must have been incredible! For all the white muslin gowns of the Early Federal/Regency period that remain in collections, there must also have been numerous patterned gowns, shawls, and Spencers, and fancy ribbon trims, not to mention fancy silk waistcoats made up from the silks.   I think we underestimate the rich texture of the past at multiple class levels– these ranges of goods hint at how colorful and acquisitive our ancestors were.