In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Historic Clothing Collection

1870-1890

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After the Civil War, sewing machines reached the professional dressmaking and home sewing market. They were expensive. It took time before there was one in every home. Sometimes a group of women clubbed together to make the purchase and share. On the one hand, machine sewing mitigating the endless hours women spent meeting the demands of household and family garment sewing. On the other hand, speedier sewing encouraged extra detailing in fashionable garments. In the 1860s and 1870s small thread mills, such as the Haskell Silk Company of Westbrook proliferated, producing the special twist thread in high demand for machine sewing. They also made other types of threads to supply the county’s new narrow goods industry, now manufacturing decorative braids, cords, ribbons, passementerie, lace, soutache, and fringes, items heretofore imported. Seeing these silk products at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, Americans were surprised to learn that they were American made rather than imports. The 1870s steadily increasing supply of Asian raw silk for making silk yarn encouraged dress silk manufacturing, which became well established in the 1880s. Many twist mills now switched to weaving broad silks, as did the Haskell Silk Company in 1883.