Communications Project

Document Type:Master's Thesis
Name:Renee Susan Jackson
Title:Use of Noninvasive Methods to Document the Characteristics of Sewing Thread Used in US Women's Dress Ensembles From 1880 to 1909
Degree:Master of Science
Department:Clothing and Textiles
Committee Chair: Catherine A. Cerny
Committee Members:Rinn M. Cloud, Co-chair
Valerie L. Giddings, Member
Polly Willman, Member
Keywords:Thread, Sewing, Cotton, Nineteenth Century, Noninvasive Methods
Date of defense:October 24, 1997
Availability:Release the entire work for Virginia Tech access only.
After one year release worldwide only with written permission of the student and the advisory committee chair.


This study was an historical garment study that investigated the similarities and differences between variables for thread characteristics, such as thread configuration, degree of twist, direction of twist, color, and color match grades of sewing thread used in assembling American women's dresses and suits during the time period between 1880 and 1909. Items were selected using a convenience sampling from the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, in Washington, DC, and The Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia. A total of 417 observations were collected from 39 garments. Noninvasive procedures were used to examine late nineteenth and early twentieth century garments and record sewing thread characteristics from multiple designated locations. Research objectives of the study included: 1) documentation of thread characteristics for machine-sewn seams, 2) documentation of thread characteristics for handsewn seams or stitchings, and 3) documentation of dominant thread characteristics by five year periods.

Frequency distributions and frequency distribution tables were completed. The results of this study revealed widespread use of one basic type of sewing thread for the total sample during the time period 1880-1909. Characteristics of threads used in handsewn and machine-sewn seams or stitchings were 3/2-cord thread with high degree of twist and S direction of twist. It appeared that aesthetic concerns for color differences and matching contrasts of thread with the fashion fabric did not always coincide with use of threads with high strength.

Data analyses revealed recurring patterns. Results found for year to year observations were consistent with results found within the five year group increments. Dominant thread characteristics found within the group observations for chain stitch thread characteristics were also present in the lockstitch group observations and machine-sewn group observations. Patterns noted in observations for handsewn seams or stitchings were also similar to those found in machine-sewn seams.

Noninvasive methods were used for collection of data during the study. Methods used included naked-eye visual observations and hand-held microscope observations for recording seam, stitch, and thread characteristics.

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