Today I have something special to add to the research on period methods of adding skirt fullness in the mid-1890s. A length of antique, unused "Skirtbone" produced by the Warren Featherbone Company of Three Elms, Michigan.
At just a quarter of an inch wide and about 1/16 inch thick (NOT 1/32" as I have it in the video), it's a springy, sproingy boning. It weighs, well, a feather, and you'd not notice any additional weight in your skirt, I believe.
To understand it, you really have to see it close up, see it move, and see the insides. It's really remarkable, and perhaps the most interesting thing about it, is that it's not made of wire, but the quills of poultry feathers, set parallel to one another. I hypothesize that the quills were woven together with black thread and probably glued in place, and then covered by interwoven black threads that are again glued or perhaps starched.
I've made a YouTube video so you can get as close as possible to experiencing the real thing.
Here's the reel that the length actually came from, below.
|Warren Featherbone Company's "Skirtbone" hem boning. Photo from Annie's Antiques on Etsy.|
|The skirtbone in detail. The actual boning in only 1/4" wide, so the photo is quite magnified.|
It's really quite small. Photo from Annie's Antiques on Etsy.
How would Skirtbone would be actually used? For that, if you haven't read it already, please see "1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 5, Steels, Rattan, Candlewicking, and Dust Ruffles".
I sure wish I knew more about the construction and production methods of Featherbone in general and Skirtbone in particular. What a clever use of easily available and renewable natural materials. Back in the day, Featherbone was an alternative to whalebone, and made from materials not otherwise used, say in feather dusters. Skirtbone would have been an alternative to wire-based skirt hem products, too, which would have been subject to rust; somehow I can't see folks using stainless steel for a stiffened hem tape, do you? I do not know how Skirtbone would have handled extended damp or wettings, and I am not going to subject my precious length to an experimental dunk some 120-ish years later.
The Skirtbone is still amazingly flexible, as we have seen. No, we don't know how how it stood up to sudden breakage or repetitive stress breakage. We do know that whalebone tended to become brittle, while this product isn't brittle at all, even now. That's some pretty good longevity, no? Am I going to bend it wildly or bash it to see how it takes rough treatment? Um, no. It's antique and a small but significant part of dress history. It goes into the collection.
For those among us who are vegetarian or vegan, the prospect of reviving the use of feathers for boning likely doesn't appeal. However, it is a nice alternative to plastic. I sure wish Warren's would consider bringing it out again. Are you listening, ladies and gentlemen of the Warren Featherbone Company?
The Warren Featherbone Company is still in business, although it's no longer in Three Elms, Michigan, but in Georgia. There's quite a bit out there about the company and its history. Here are a few good examples, and if you run a search, you'll find much more:
- The Legacy of Warren Featherbone
- Exhibit - From Corsets to Philanthropy: The Warren Featherbone Company
- Information from the archives of Western Michigan University
Explores the skirt silhouette and the raft of stiffeners and underpinnings used to create it. Sources include period books, magazines, extant objects, and period film.
- Part 1: Fullness and Flare
- Part 2: Petticoats with Crinoline, Ties, Bones, Wires!
- Part 2B: Petticoat Redux
- Part 3: Skirt Interlinings
- Part 4: Skirt Godet Plaits and Interior Ties
- Part 5: Steels, Candlewicking, and Dust Ruffles
- The Way They Moved: Mid-1890s Skirts in Videos and Photographs