Schwalm Costume

Schwalm Costume – The Dark Aprons

White or dark aprons were a component of the festive Schwalm costume for women. Here you will learn a little bit about the dark aprons; the white aprons will be the subject of a separate article.

The dark aprons were simple and unfussy in appearance and style.
The bottom edge of the apron fell just above of the bottom edges of the skirt, and the sweep of the apron was about half that of the skirts.
Schwalm women had aprons that were black and dark blue with either a polished or matte finish. The aprons with a dull finish were worn in mourning. On Sundays the shiny linen aprons were worn. For celebrations and holidays extra shiny satin aprons were preferred. Fabric with a satin weave created a high gloss finish on the front side and a matte finish on the back.
To special celebrations, such as weddings, the women wore the röserische (moire) aprons. The fabric of these aprons underwent an additional process to get this special rose pattern. Mostly these aprons were made from linen, as the image below shows.
Röserische aprons made from satin were rare.
Often dark blue aprons were worn on black skirts and vice versa.

The aprons had a length of about 55–60 cm and a width of about 145–152 cm. Most of the weaving looms of the Schwalm region were made for narrower widths. So, the aprons were mostly made with two strips of fabric with a seam in the middle.

At the waistline, the middle section of the apron was flat for about 16 cm. To the left and to the right of this section, the apron was gathered with tiny pleats. Short sections on both sides were again left flat. In this way, the apron could spread over the width of the skirts without adding too much bulk over the belly. The aprons’ waistband was small and was closed in the back with a hook and eye.
The pleats were laid carefully and evenly and were usually secured with several rows of Running stitches, sometimes also with Back stitches.
The hems of the aprons were up to 15 cm deep. The deep hem added weight to the aprons creating an attractive drape on top of the skirts.
Of course the dark and unfussy aprons got a variety of decorations. Silk bands, small apron bands, and the apron corners with their blaze of colour ensured that there was always splendor. But I will dedicate separate articles to all these decorative elements of the festive Schwalm costume for women – I hope you will look forward to them.

Unstitching a Schwalm Passementerie Button

I have in my collection a typical Schwalm passementerie button that is slightly damaged. Because it is not in pristine condition, I decided to unstitch it to see exactly how it was made and the materials that were used.
Photos were taken while re-working. They are now shown in the reverse order.
Needed for establishing such a button were:

  • A wooden disc that had a hole in the center
  • Silk threads in red and (formerly) green
  • 4 metallic threads in a length of 35 cm each
  • 1 metallic thread in a length of 90 cm
  • Black linen thread

The tape measure allows one to imagine the fineness of the threads.
The disc has a diameter of 1.8 cm. The wood is from the beech tree. The left image – the front of the disc – shows indentations on the edges caused by the tightening of the wrapped metal threads. I cannot see division marks on the front or the back sides.
To the naked eye a difference in the thicknesses of the metal threads is imperceptible, but a difference can be felt when the threads are held between two fingers. The thread for wrapping feels stiffer.
I found the difference when I untwisted the threads. Both metal threads had different twisted cores that were wrapped with a metal band. The metal band on the thread used for wrapping the disc (white core) was more closely wrapped around the core than on the thread used for the weaving stitches (yellow core).

So the threads used for wrapping were more stable (the top thread in the picture below).
Button making was a stand-alone trade at the time. It is chronicled that a Konrad Plannet, button maker master in Schwalmstadt-Treysa, in the middle of the 19th century needed 12–14 hours to work about twenty buttons. It is hardly surprising because he had to twist carefully and exactly all the necessary threads first.

The ends of four silver threads were knotted together with a black linen thread.
The knot was positioned at the back of the wooden disc, approximately in the middle between the center and the edge. The metal threads were laid around the disc so that all four threads lay densely parallel and beside the center hole.
The black thread is laid to the opposite edge of the disc and there, a small distance from the edge, laid across the metal threads. These were bent back
and laid again across the front of the disc, parallel to the first but this time on the opposite side of the center hole.
On the back the black thread held and tightened the metal threads (using the black thread in such a way also enabled the button maker to conserve precious metal threads). The steps were repeated two times, laying four parallel metal threads outward of the first wrapping and again laying four parallel metal threads outward of the second wrapping. (This image shows that the metal threads were originally silver wires.)
The disc was rotated 30° clockwise, and the steps were repeated once
and again after rotating 30° clockwise twice.
On the back all metal thread bundles were held in place and stretched with the black thread. It is clearly visible that the curve of the first two bundles is closer to the edge than the curve of the second two bundles. And the thread bundles leading from one section to the next were laid in a curve that nearly reaches the center. In this way bulky areas on the back of the button were avoided.
The thread ends were wrapped many times and then cut. The more flexible metal thread – in the picture it looks like gold wire (it makes sense that the yellow core thread was covered with gold wire, the white core thread was covered with silver wire) – got a knot at one end and was slid under one thread bundle on the back.
Emerging directly from the thread bundle, it was brought to the front side. (The red arrow marks the knot.)
On the front side, it was woven over the first bundle of metal threads, under the two crossing bundles, and over the fourth bundle.
Now the working thread is – seen clockwise – lying before a sixteen-thread bundle. On the back it is brought clockwise three sixteen-thread bundles away and now lies – seen clockwise – behind the third sixteen-thread bundle. Unfortunately the brittle thread spread out of place, so I marked the position with arrows. The blue arrow marks the ending of a weaving sequence, the green line marks the thread’s path along the back of the disc, and the red arrow marks the beginning of the next weaving sequence, which is parallel outward the previously laid threads.
Always in the same way the thread was woven and wrapped until a star with a four-thread edge was established.
On the back it looked like this:
Now a red silk thread was fastened with a knot and slid under a thread bundle in the back
to be brought up at the side of the bundle (see blue arrow) and slid under the laid threads (coming up one thread past the middle).
With Running stitches over the points of the established star and under the two middlemost threads of the first laid bundles, a circle pattern is created close to the bases of the star points.
Two more rounds are worked outward with the Running stitches (when they cross the star points) becoming shorter one thread each side and each round.
Here it is clearly visible that the Silk thread was twisted with two thick plies. (It is chronicled that the above mentioned button maker master took 6–8 ultra-fine silk plies for twisting the threads for the Running stitches and 10–15 ultra-fine silk plies for twisting the threads for the buttonhole stitches at the edges.)
After three rounds of Running stitches, the thread is brought to the back and secured.
Now a (formerly green) silk thread was taken up. Six Running stitches were worked in a round near the edge crossing always over fourteen of the sixteen-thread bundles.
Buttonhole stitches were worked on these threads. I count seven Buttonhole stitches in each section.
A second row of Buttonhole stitches was worked (unfortunately this is no longer completely intact)
to bring the stitches around the edge.
On the back the stitches were fastened by wrapping around previously worked threads.
Although considered one of the more simple button designs, a similar, but undamaged, button from the same garment shows the original beauty of these buttons.

How many hours, how much patience, and how much craftsmanship were put into making a single
small button! And the garments of a Schwalm woman needed many buttons.

Schwalm Passementerie Buttons

The buttons for the Schwalm women’s waistcoats and other items of dress were passementerie buttons. The Huguenots brought this button-making technique to the Schwalm from France at the beginning of the 18th century. Materials used were gold and silver wires and silk threads in red, green, lilac, and black (matching the festive costume ); white and yellow silk threads were also used, but only rarely. Sometimes only metallic threads were used, and sometimes only silk threads. One will see silk-only buttons mostly in the black buttons on mourning garments and in children’s buttons. Most common, however, was a combination of both materials.
Threads were wrapped radially around a wooden disc that had a hole in the center. They were held in place with weaving and Running stitches.

Usually the buttons got a needlelace edging, serving as both an additional decoration and to protect the edges.
I found two different ways of wrapping the threads. All wrappings create a six-pointed star pattern on top of the button.

The most common method for establishing a star was to lay threads in two wide parallel stripes left and right of the center and to continue laying similar stripes two more times by rotating the piece 60° and 120°.
The stripes were held in place with weaving and Running stitches of different lengths.
The other method used to create the star was to rotate the button 60° after every two wrappings.
This star was also held in place with Running stitches of different lengths.
The metal threads tarnished over the years. But they can be polished with a special cleaning cloth for silver.

Buttons with a diameter of about 1.8 cm were most common. However, the size of the button changed according to the size of the garment. So, children’s garments had small buttons, and women’s garments had slightly larger buttons.
A damaged button shows the inner disc (image above) and the image below shows a similar, but undamaged, button. It is part of a child’s waistcoat.

Schwalm Costume – The Black Velvet Bands

Black patterned velvet bands were used in Schwalm for decorating women´s waistcoats and women´s jackets. They were also used for decorating the bottom edges of the skirts of the black festive costumes.
Most common were bands whose patterns were woven with a relief technique. Bands can also be found with the velvet of the pattern having different heights (first band of the picture below), but these are rare.
These patterns do not appear as clear as those found on the other bands where the velvet alternates with clearly contrasting fabric sections.
All bands that I found on Schwalm festive waistcoats for women show the same pattern: a Pomegranate motif.
A Pomegranate with three leaves on one side
alternates with the pattern element shown above.
The bands had widths of 5 cm up to 7.5 cm, according to the size of the garment. So children´s garments had small bands, and women´s garments had slightly wider bands.

All bands are black. In older bands the colour of the ground fabric faded, so the patterns in the pictures really stand out.
Decorated with the black velvet bands and the shining and colourful buttons, the garments look absolutely pretty and very festive.

Schwalm Costume – The Waistcoat

The Schwalm women´s festive costume waistcoat – also, because of its many buttons (Knöpfe), called “Knöppding” or “Kneppding” (thing to button up) – was worn over the bodice.
The back of the waistcoat was unadorned.
The waistcoat was usually made of black velvet, but black woolen cloth was also used. The lining was made from fine white linen.
From the collarbone to the waist, the waistcoat was close fitting.
From the hem to the waist, some cuts were made. The sections below the waist were worn under the skirts. The cuts enable the waistcoat to lie over the bolster of the harness.
Some waistcoats had bags attached to the sections below the waist. These bags could be filled to simulate a bolster and thus eliminate the need to wear a harness.
The upper sections of both front pieces were cut with large curves. One was worn on top of the other.
The armscyes and the front necklines were edged with black patterned velvet bands about 5.5 cm wide. The bands needed to be eased (with tiny pleats) around the curves.
The same velvet edging is found on both front pieces of the waistcoat. However, on the left side the edging was also applied at the neckline and the front edge.
In this way a heart was formed. This heart has at the outside edges a piping in the colour of the costume – red, green, blue or black.
Often the inside edges of the heart were embroidered using silk threads in the colours of the costume. So the significance of the heart form is further established.
On the curved velvet band of the right front, buttons were sewn 3 cm apart. This was done symmetrically on the left front. On the outside band of the left front, buttonholes were worked.
When the waistcoat was buttoned, the arrangement of the buttons formed another heart.

A woman’s waistcoat usually had nineteen buttons. Not all buttons were usually buttoned up; often three or four buttons remained unbuttoned.
Waistcoats in the other colours also looked precious. The waistcoat below was part of a girl’s red costume. Unfortunately, this waistcoat is missing some buttons.
The fancy handmade buttons in the special arrangement gave the waistcoat the splendor,
and the number of buttons gave the waistcoat its name – Knöppding.


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