A Little Commemoration Here, Please

I went to get stamps today, and chose the Building a Nation series, which features black-and-white photos of workers from the early 1900s.  When I got a good look at them, I was so happy!  In amongst the construction workers and steel workers, there were two women textile workers!

I got to thinking that these must be the first textile workers ever on US stamps.  And then I tried to remember any textile-related stamps at all.

I could remember a series of four quilt stamps of the basket pattern, and I thought I remembered some Navajo rugs, and maybe a spinning wheel from back at the Bicentennial…

So when I got home, I did a little research.

I started with the US Postal Service website, and found out that for this series, the stamp designer used mostly the photographs of Lewis Hines.  You might have heard of him in conjunction with his work documenting child laborers in the early 1900s, or from his work documenting the construction of the Empire State Building in 1930.  For more than 25 years, he took thousands of pictures of ordinary people.

In this set of stamps, one of the textile workers pictured is creating a hat, the other is drawing in warp threads for weaving.  Rather than just insert the image of those stamps here (which I’m guessing would be frowned upon), I decided to find more of Hines’ images of textile workers.  The Library of Congress is a treasure trove, with over 5000 of Hines’ images online in an easily searchable database.

These three pictures are similar to the one that was made into a stamp.  They all show stages of “dressing the loom”, or preparing all the threads for weaving.

Lewis Hines photo from 1916 in Massachusetts- The worker is drawing each warp end through a heddle – working with four heddle frames (or shafts) at once. The warp threads have all been measured and wound around a giant beam, like a spool of thread, only with thousands of loose ends instead of one.  The worker has to keep each warp end in its proper place so it doesn’t twist and break.


Here you can clearly see each thread coming from an enormous beam – the girl is drawing one warp at a time through wire heddles on shafts. This Lewis Hines photo has no notes on date or location, but I would bet money that this is at a different mill than the first picture.


This mill worker is also drawing-in – it looks to me like the warp threads have already come through the heddles, and now this worker has to draw each one through a reed, to space them properly.


(A quick aside – If you would like more information on how the weaving process works, you can click on the Extremely Basic Fiber Processing tab up top – I did a lot of work on that page, not realizing that WordPress doesn’t publish new pages in the same way as posts.  Even if you don’t need any weaving info, click on it anyway – it’s just sitting there, cold and lonely.)

Okay, so after hours of wandering through the virtual stacks at the Library of Congress, I went back to the Postal Service to find out how often textiles and textile people have been featured on stamps.  I used the  timeline feature on their website, and here is everything I could find:

1940 – Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin.

1971 – a sheep stamp, to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the introduction of sheep into North America.

1978 – quilt stamps, a series of four, one pattern in four different colorways – Basket pattern.  They look more like a pointy coffee cup than a basket to me.

(I don’t know why macrame did not get a stamp in the 70s!)

1986 – Navajo rugs, series of four.  These were big, shiny and gorgeous with lots of red.

1987 – lace-making, two stamps.  Very nice detail.

2001 – Amish quilts, a series of four – Lone Star, Sunlight and Shadows, Diamond in the Square, Double Ninepatch.  These were also big stamps, with lots of color.

2005 – Rio Grande blankets, a series of four.  A lot like the Navajo rugs stamps.

2006  Quilts of Gee’s Bend – a series of ten! Gorgeous inspirational colors.

2007 – Holiday Knits, a series of four.  After several series of big beautiful textile stamps, it was like a trip back into the sad 1970s.  They were small one-color patterns that looked like graph paper designs.  If the stamps were made from items that had actually been knit up, it was hard to tell; they just looked pixilated.  (My husband says they weren’t popular because the bumpy yarn kept getting caught in the sorting machines.)

2011 – 2 sewing machines (on one stamp) are featured in the series Pioneers of American Industrial Design

2012 – Aloha Shirts , a series of five.

2012 – cotton makes it onto the stamp of Texas, in Flags of Our Nation Part Six.  I had no part in determining this, but I like it!

And that’s it!  I was right, no textile worker has been featured before. (Would you count Eli Whitney?  I wouldn’t.  He was an inventor.)

It looks to me like we owe some stamps to the spinners, crocheters, felters, surface designers, and embroiderers, and really, the knitters deserve two more sets to make up for those ugly ones in 2007.  I can think of a lot more I’d like to see – how about a yarn-bombing stamp?  or fiber animals, like alpacas, angora goats, and angora rabbits?

Do you know of any I missed?  Those of you not from the States – does your country do a better job of honoring their craftspeople with stamps?  Let me know!