Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread, Tags, & Tips


What happens when you combine an afternoon of cleaning and organizing your workspace with a desire to play with silk?

You end up playing with silk, of course!

Yesterday, I set about cleaning and organizing my workroom, with the aid of my Minion. My workroom is a garage-gone-studio + general-household-storage space. If you’re curious to see it, you can find pictures of moving in and organizing here, pictures at the end of a typical day in the workroom here, and pictures of my workroom when set up for a class here.

So, yep. That was the plan. Clean up. Straighten up. Organize. The Mid-Week Re-Group & Re-Charge. The Wednesday Afternoon Ritual.

Only I had this box of vintage silks that needed my attention. Or… er…. that caught my attention.

And my attention was happy to oblige!

You are my justification for the distraction. After all, it’s vintage silk. It’s fun to look at. The tags make great reading. And we can even glean some good tips from them!

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

Belding Brothers silk company began in 1860, and eventually operated silk mills in five locations – four in the US and one in Canada. In 1925, Belding merged with Heminway Silk company, which operated for a time as Belding-Heminway, which was eventually bought by Corticelli Silk, which then did business as Belding-Heminway-Corticelli. The last Belding mill closed in 1932.

The silk produced by these companies was popular especially due to the “Society Silk” (or Silk Art Embroidery) that was in vogue from around 1875 – 1915. The style featured typical Victorian floral designs, stitched in silk, usually on linen, using long and short stitch. Taught to women in America in order to give them a source of income, this style of embroidery had a relatively short – though vibrant – period of popularity.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

Above, a Heminway & Sons tag.

There’s a nice history of silk production in the US, specifically in Northampton, Massachusetts, on the Northampton Silk Project website. The Northampton Silk Route brochure (PDF) is especially worth reading, if you’re interested in the subject.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

And here’s a Brainerd & Armstrong Company tag. Brainerd & Armstrong was based in New London, Connecticut, and operated from the late 1800’s through 1922.

If you’re interested, you might like the book Brainerd & Armstrong put out in 1909 called Silk: The Real Versus the Imitation, which you can find available on Google Books. It is a brief history of silk production, and includes discussion of different substitutes for silk. Interestingly, they discuss the use of spider silk produced by spiders in Madagascar, and of the cloth that can be made from this spider’s silk. In 2011, a gorgeous golden cape was woven from Madagascar’s Golden Orb spider’s silk and can be seen on the Victoria & Albert Museum’s website.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

Here’s another Belding tag for Rope Silk, which is considerably thicker than the regular floss used for more delicate long and short stitch shading on Society silk pieces.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

At one point in Belding, Heminway, and Brainerd & Armstrong’s production, these sleeves were a popular way to sell skeins of silk.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

They could fit a lot more “promotion” on the sleeves than on the tags.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

Brainerd & Armstrong sleeves also included a bit of promotion:

We were the first to produce Wash Embroidery Silks in this country, and are the sole makers of the justly celebrated “Asiatic Dye” Silks. Our Wash Silks are used and recommended by all the leading Art Societies of the United States and by the large majority of teachers of Art Needlework and dealers in Art Embroidery materials.

So there you have it!

Probably not worth mentioning to them at this point that their silk company was not as long-lived as their competitors’ companies!

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

On all the tags and on the sleeves, there are variations of the same tune when it comes to cleaning articles embroidered with these silks.

Wash in warm water with Ivory soapsuds. Rinse in clean warm water; absorb moisture quickly between cotton cloths. When the silk is dry, press under damp cloth. Do not rub soap on the silk or linen and DO NOT PRESS WHEN WET. Avoid boiling water and severe wringing.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

AVOID Scalding water, Cheap Washing Powders and Hard Wringing. Do not fold or roll up the Article while wet. THE RIGHT WAY – Use Warm Suds with IVORY SOAP (or any other Pure Soap.) Rub Lightly, Rinse Thoroughly, Dry Quickly.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

Use warm water, make a light lather with “WHITE CLOUD” or a pure, neutral soap, rub lightly and rinse well with warm water. Avoid boiling, squeeze the water out, lay article face down on flannel, cover with a dry cloth and press until dry.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

USe warm soft water with “IVORY SOAP” or any other pure neutral soap. Cleanse thoroughly – rinse well in warm water, squeeze out water and dry quickly – sprinkle and press face down on flannel. Do not fold or roll up the fabric while wet.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

And finally:

Use warm Suds made from a good neutral soap. Rub lightly. Rinse thoroughly. Dry quickly. Never allow wet embroidery to lie in a pile. Do not use an iron too hot.

We aren’t supposed to leave our wet embroidery lying in a pile? A pile of what?!

Well, now you know! Don’t leave your wet embroidery lying in a pile, ok?

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

Well, it’s beautiful stuff. It’s wonderful to look at, wonderful to touch!

It’s even wonderful to stitch with – but I’m hesitant to use much of it, because I don’t have much of it, and there’s no replacing it once it’s gone.

Vintage Silk Embroidery Thread

The colors! Oh, the colors!

It was a fun bout of playing with silk, even if it did distract me for a bit from the Wednesday Afternoon Clean-Up. But it only distracted for a while – all is back in order and ready for a fresh start today! And perfect timing, with a hefty (for Kansas) snow storm on top of us, it’s a good day for stitching!

Hope you have a chance to spend some time with your needle and thread today, too!

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(38) Comments

  1. Those are so beautiful! I’m with you, not sure I could bring myself to use them.

    I’m assuming you are snowed in by now. It just started here in central Missouri–sleet right now. I’m doing a few quick chores so I don’t feel guilty about spending my whole snow day stitching!

    1. Didn’t actually start snowing here until 6:00 am, Karen – but it’s coming down fast and furious and we have a good solid coating already. It’ll be great for the ground around here to get some moisture! ~MC

  2. Lindos fios! Realmente dá pena usa-los… Talvez alguma coisa para você vestir: uma roupa, um lenço… assim poderá ver e sentir estas belezas sempre.
    Aqui (Brasil/Minas Gerais) muito, muito, muito sol e calor…ufff!
    Um abraço!


  3. Wow, those are pretty, and so much fun to read…where ” in the world ” did you find them? Do you go to a lot of sales? Stores? Or on line?

    1. They were all sent by readers who knew I had a thing for silk! 🙂 Lovely, lovely ladies!

      I haven’t been fortunate to find a good collection of vintage silks online, that’s in good condition. Occasionally, though, you do find some good listings online…

  4. Mary…

    I am delighted that I found both “Needle and Thread” plus “Stitchin’ Fingers” a little more than a month or so ago. These two websites make me feel as if I have gone to embroidery heaven!

    You are wonderful in sharing your thoughts with all of us on this site! And I do enjoy how your daily topics float back and forth as your mind is captured by something…like today’s message! I have often gone into my sewing “studio” (fancy name for 3rd bedroom) intending to clean and then get completely distracted by my stashes of fabric or buttons or thread or beads (and, yes, I do clean the room after “playing” with my stash!).

    Today’s adventure in silk thread was wonderful. I learned so much. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi, Bonnie! I’m glad you’re enjoying both websites! Ahhhhhh – the cleaning vs. distraction problem is something I think all enthusiastic stitchers face! -MC

  5. “It’s even wonderful to stitch with – but I’m hesitant to use much of it, because I don’t have much of it, and there’s no replacing it once it’s gone.”

    Though, wouldn’t it be nicer if they were enjoyed any time in a frame (or wherever) rather than in a skein you enjoy during tidy-up? You would just have to be careful not to miscalculate how much you need for the project.

    Hehe, One of the most frustrating things that I discovered while I was learning, was that kits (or floss lists that came with projects with no floss included) often came with an insufficient amount of some floss type (or brand) that was not readily available around me, and the shipping for the handfull of extra skeins (or brand of floss) was higher than the cost of the floss. So when I was younger I would often ignore the floss lists, and do it my way. Now, I invent most projects for myself, and rarely buy any. That is one reason why I am hesitant to use kits, or floss of any kind that is not readily available in stores around me. That means DMC for me, because it is available in two different (one craft and one fabric)stores we can get to in less than 10 minutes and a third (craft)store in about 20 minutes. There is a fabric store that sells Sullivans floss about 15 minutes away, and the only place I know that sells Anchor, is an independent quilting store about an hour drive (I do not drive, so I have to carpool)away. Another reason is financial, my craft budget is extremely limited, so the cost of anything but cotton is out of the question, unless I want to do only one small project a year. For me, that is no reason for a hobby, to do it for one month out of the year only.

    Another thing I do not buy are those large bags full numerous skeins of several colors of no-brand floss, usually sold to appeal to kids making frienship bracelets etcetera. Once they are gone, I cannot get enough to finish, since it is not standardized like DMC, Sullivans or Anchor. It is also filled with colors I likely won’t need for that project so the rest would sit and take up space (I have very little available) indefinitely.

  6. Thank you for sharing the information about these treasures from the past. One question comes to mind. Do you have any plans on how you will be storing these silks?

    I recently added about 100 or more skeins of the vintage type of silk called “filo” silk to my collection of threads, but am not sure what to do with them. I will be adding many skeins of vintage floss and twist to my collection as well as more of the filo floss to be used on ecclesiastical embroidery pieces in the coming months.

    (It might be a year or so down the road, but hopefully soon, there may be a good source available for some of these treasures – while they last.)

    But how to store them? The vintage filo silk is put up in such a different way from the modern skeins of floss. I have taken a few skeins apart and wrapped them on floss cards to minimize the tangles, etc. My concern it that the little floss holders are, well, so little. Over time will the edges wear the delicate filo silks and cause them to shred?

    If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears. Thanks!

    1. Hi, Carrie – I wouldn’t store them on cards. The thread is difficult enough to work with, without the kinks that come from cards. Better to spool them on something round, if you can. You can make little paper spools (cops) out of archival paper. Right now, mine are in a little archival box. But they will soon go into a storage cabinet. I use these Bisley cabinets to store all my threads: http://www.needlenthread.com/2012/04/embroidery-thread-storage.html and it just so happens that they are on sale again right now at the Container Store. They only go on sale once a year, and I just added a couple more to my collection, so I can have space for the rest of my threads, including these. The cabinets are great! I’ll be putting a plinth under the taller ones, and using them to support a tabletop that will be my permanent work table. That way, the cabinets won’t take up space! Anyway, they’re wonderful for archival storage of anything, including threads. And the threads can be laid out in their longer hanks. You can braid the hanks, to contain them a bit, too. A loose braid isn’t as prone to produce kinks in the thread, compared to winding on cards. Or you can real them on hand made paper cops. I’m doing a combination of both – the threads that still have their tags but are loose, I’m braiding loosely to help contain them, and the threads that no longer have tags and are just loose bunches, I’m untangling and winding on paper cops. Hope that helps! MC

  7. Mary, that would have distracted me, too. It looks like something you’d want to fluff and swim in. If you don’t want to use them maybe you could mount them in a display box and make a wall hanging for your stitching room…they’re pretty enough to be art.

    1. I agree with the suggestion made by Linda Taylor: Use a block of dark velvet and some pretty drawer knobs or tea hooks and hang them up! Add a nice frame around it, maybe…

  8. So beautiful, and the sheen! Those labels would be wonderful to use (photographed and printed!) in the sewing/stitchery related collage that I have started doing. I love vintage labels and advertising art — thank you for taking the time to share that aspect in addition to the thread.

  9. I found the book to be very interesting.I now have a better appreciation of that little worm.
    I love silk and have very little I received what my mother had.half spools in basic colors 8. then I went to an estate sale and come upon some very beautiful colors on spools.I cant bring myself to use them for the same reason you gave.when I ask Gail Dourn. she said -use them,she said that like having a beautiful nightgown for that special moment that never comes Oh well— lol I still cant use them,they are for me to look at as they were for my mom. maybe I should shadow box them anyone with any other Ideas

  10. Beautifull and very interesting.
    It’s snowing since 2 days on Québec area.I leave my needle for a shovel!
    I like to know how wash the silk. Thank you Mary.
    Sorry ! I can read English better than I write. I love your blog.

  11. The vintage silks are really beautiful. I’ve been able to pick up a few at vintage clothing and needlework shows but like you I’m always reluctant to actually use them.

    The caution about not leaving the embroidery “in a wet pile” reminded me of how my mother used to “dampen” her linens, some of which had embroidery, for ironing and stack them in a pile to help retain the moisture. If they were over dampened or the ironing wasn’t done right away you could end up with a “wet pile.”

  12. Dear Mary

    Oh I love silk and what a collection you have I am so envious what a unique set of silks so beautiful and yes I understand that you don’t want to use them neither would I. I completely understand the set-to-do job and when distraction comes in, you try and resist but it’s calling you and you think only a few minutes and that turns into a long time and sigh, sadly you have to put them away and carry on with the job in hand aaaahhhhhh cleaning.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  13. Those threads are beautiful, even after all this time. I still recall a box of silk flosses for not too much in an antique shop. But it was all a jumbled knotted dirty mess 🙁 . So I left it behind. Sometimes I wonder if it could have been rescued.

  14. You should do a full room tour post (or, probably more appropriately, series) sometime. I’d love to have a virtual look around your room.=) Maybe a video?? I’d probably watch it about 50 times!!

    I just had a look back at your previous room-based posts and, I must say that, whilst you feel it’s very small, I think it’s a lovely big room with plenty of storage and plenty of light.=) You should see mine – it’s 5’5″ x 6″ (approx – 1.9m x 2.1m actually)! I’d think I was in paradise if I had yours to play with and would be wondering what to fill it up with. I daresay I’d take the doors off most cupboards so that I could see things easily and could get at them all the time and, as I don’t believe in ‘overflow’ storage (we’ve never had room for it anyway), I’d have that garage sale you were joking about once and then have the whole room for fun.=) Still, I’ll never have a room like that, so….

    (Yup, I love my room – even though it’s tiny.)

  15. ok this is not on subject but I need help or a ride to the funny form.
    L bought all the books went through video’s and then through the hoop with needle attached across the room.and swore at the cat.I guess I am to old next I am going to throw the scissors(not really they cost to much)
    I have never had much of a problem learning needlework but this time I am licked….. the evil braid stitch has me so frustrated………… I gave up stitching for a while because when I stayed with my sisters kids for her I found a(once) beautiful set of pillowcases stuffed in a corner of the garage by her husbands work bench. covered with oil I ask her why? she said they were old and worn out besides they had holes in them.I told her next time I would keep them for me.when I tried the cut work again the stitches were slanted/////////

    1. mary,
      I really feel ive given both stitches a good long try. the plaited braid looks off to one side and I think I am missing the right place to go under the x and the next or last place you go through at the end
      The other stitch is the cable plait. the one that is done in pink on your sample. the problem with that is the whole thing slips off the sides and makes knot like in the center. I drives me crazy when I cant make something work and I just cant give it up

    2. Hi, Kaye – Suggestion on the plaited braid: work it large first, and open, until you get used to the movement and path of the needle. Then reduce it in size, once you’ve got the movement / path down. With the cable plait stitch, do the opposite – it should be made rather small, because the larger it is, the more likely it is to get loop and fall apart. ~MC

  16. Hi Mary. Your post today is right on the money for me. I also posted a photo of a piece of vintage embroidery on my blog, made with Belding thread. The piece is owned by friends who would like to learn more about it’s provenance. It was bought in an antique shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada sometime in the 1980’s. Not much is known about it, other then it is thought to be from the 1930’s. Any info or ideas on how to trace it’s history would be greatly appreciated. (I don’t know how to attach a photo of the piece).

    BTW, love your website. Great photos, interesting and informative info and fun writing. (“Angels only fly, because they take themselves lightly”) Thanks!

  17. G’day Mary,
    My distraction is usually with a magazine or book, or checking something online. Comes down to the same thing though eh, an absorbing, quick passing time with the original motive left to sort itself out!
    These are really special threads and so pleased you have them. Thanks for all the info, and, no Mum, I wouldn leave me broidry anging roun on wet piles, Mum!
    Cheers, Kath.

  18. Being primarily a reproduction sampler enthusiast I would love to see silk gimp become available and if you can keep me posted would love to know any updates

  19. Good morning! what an interesting article and I have also pûchased 11 huge boxes of vintage silk “La religiosa” from a retired distributor Beautiful silk

  20. I have two special articles, wedding canopies, made by me for my daughter’s weddings. I would like silk labels to embroider personal messages. Can you offer any advice?
    M Robin

  21. I was digging in my garden and came across a small aluminum tag that was stamped beldings 10ft made in canada.with some other word or words I can’t make out.? Im just curious what it might be from?

  22. Hi,
    I have an old wood thread spool that says Belding Heminway pure silk “D” on one side and Carlson Currier shade 7315 Made in U.S.A. on the other side. I would like to know what color shade 7315 was. Can you help me? Is there a master list of silk thread color shades in print somewhere? Carlson Currier appears to be from Petaluma, California. Their mill is a historic site. I cannot find any online reference to what shade 7315 looked like.


    1. Hi, Mitch – without access to a color card or another spool with the silk on it, there’s really no way to know, I’m afraid. I haven’t had access to any Carlson threads…. Sorry! -MC

  23. hola Mary ..aunque aun no llega por aqui,esa marca.de seda imagino un paisaje de dia brillante con toques de ella,
    aqui es verano ,mucha fruta y calor ,,bellos lagos de aguas turkesas

  24. Hi,
    I just this week got a whole large bag of silk threads that have the same labels you have mentioned in you blog. I don’t know what to do with the silk. I took it because I knew it was something of value but, I am not an embroider so, is there anything else I can do with it. I do crochet but there would be lots of knots as I would have to join the pieces. Help I need ideas. I have divided the colors up it took me over 2hrs to do that. Is there a market for this silk> How would I sell it? How do I store them? I would appreciate any help you can give me. Lorraine

    1. Hi, Lorraine- you could always list it on eBay. If you take a look around eBay for similar silk, you’ll get some ideas about whether or not it’s in demand and what you can get for it.

  25. Hello! I am so glad I found this site. My grandmother taught me to embroider and I love this connection with her now that she has passed on. I just wanted to share that the other day, I was out junking and I found a small case stuffed full of silk embroidery floss. I mean stuffed full. There must have been hundreds of skeins. I have 2 iris brand phot cases full. I didn’t count I was too busy sorting! Oh and forgot to mention that all that floss was 5 bucks!

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