Textile Information

Clare Watson

What type of textile is this?
An embroidered silk dress.
Was it produced for a specific use?
The material was embroidered and then made into a dress for a specific person.
What material(s) is it comprised of?
Parachute silk
What are its dimensions?
Petite—it was made for a short person.
What year (or date range) was it made?
Probably sometime in the 1930s.
Where was it made (geographical location)?
Plauen, Saxony. A city in Germany not far from the Czech border.
Was the textile handmade or mass-produced?
The parachute silk was mass-produced. It was dyed pale green. The embroidery was made with a machine, possibly specifically for the dress.
Can the textile be attributed to a specific designer, craftsperson or artist or a company that produced the item?
The embroidery was probably done in Plauen. The silk may also have come from there or a factory nearby. I believe the original owner specified the dress design.
How did you come to own this particular textile?
It was given to me by someone I cleaned for in my teens called Ilse Ketzel. She was a German emigre who lived in the town where I grew up. She told me it was made from parachute silk from her father’s factory and it was dyed, embroidered, and sewn into a dress especially for her.
How would you describe the status of this textile in your lived environment (i.e. do you wear it, store it, display it, use it, etc.)?
I wore it in my early twenties and took down the hem. I cut off part of the sleeves as they were too tight around the elbow. I used those scraps to patch under the arms where it was worn to holes. It then disappeared amongst my textile stash until recently. I now have it hanging in my studio. It is a pertinent reminder of its history and how fortunate I am to have it in my possession.
Do you recall what drew you to this textile initially?
I was attracted to both vintage clothes and textiles so was delighted with this gift.
What further information (if any) would you feel important to add about this textile, either in relation to your interview or more generally?
Through some recent research I learned that Plauen was a center for textile manufacture and in the late nineteenth century specialized in a product known as chemical lace. In 1889 Max Villstadt set up a machine embroidery factory in an underdeveloped district in Plauen. There were several silk mills in central and eastern Germany, including in Plauen. Some specific factories were instructed to exclusively produce silk for parachutes from 1936 as part of the National Socialists’ military build-up. I do not know the exact date or circumstances, but I believe that Ilse Ketzel left (escaped?) Germany sometime in the 1930s and settled in the UK.