Thursday, 1 March 2018

#52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Week 8: 'Heirloom'

Week 8 Prompt:   'Heirloom' - I am including a story I wrote for the Uni subject 'Place, Image, Object' about a family object. 

Family Object.

My brother was born in 1941 and as a baby suffered from extreme eczema.  Anything against his skin caused irritation and worsened the rashes he experienced. 

My mother was at pains to try and keep his skin cool and comfortable.  My father tried to purchase soft material in town and due to the scarcity of material goods called at the local second hand dealer.  The canny second hand dealer, thinking outside the square, offered Dad a large supply of silk. 

To my mother’s surprise Dad arrived home with a whole ex-forces parachute.  My mother was overjoyed to have such an abundance of lovely natural fabric that was so soft and lightweight and set about to make a whole range of clothing for my brother.   Before the clothing could be made however Mum had to unpick and cut carefully along the seams to remove all the green cording.  This way she was able to obtain the largest pieces of uninterrupted material ready for cutting out the shapes for the garment.
Green parachute cord

The green cords were also utilised.  I still have some tucked away tying up an old box.  The cord was so strong it was used around suitcases, large packages and in our children’s play.  After all this was a great time for re-cycling - everything that could be, was used over and over and our family certainly lived by the motto “Waste not, want not”.

The patterns were made from My Aunt’s boy’s hand-me-downs picked apart and the resultant pieces copied onto paper.  The large pine kitchen table lent itself to having big pieces of silk laid upon it and the drawn up patterns chalked around ready for the cutting out. Mum had a Singer treadle machine and her Uncle (a Singer mechanic and sales rep) upgraded the foot treadle into an electric machine for her. wedding present  This made it a less tedious task than treadling and keeping the strap from flying off the wheels.Love, time and effort were poured into these garments in the mothering task of caring for my brother.  Mum said she washed the silk garments gently with Velvet laundry soap in lukewarm water and then a little vinegar in the rinsing water to prevent yellowing.  Careful immediate washing removed any stains and it dried quickly on the verandah line.

As the younger siblings my sister and I also had a turn of the silk garments that were considered suitable for girls.

Family were surprised where the silk came from but understood that damaged parachutes could not be used by the pilots again and were pleased it could be re-purposed for such a need.  More parachute silk became available after the war had finished, but Mum never needed to buy more as there was so much in that one parachute.

This shirt is only one of very many items she made. It would have fitted him at about one year old. It has some shirring with decorative smocking on each side of the front and she has used the colours blue and light brown for the embroidery which were accepted colours for boys in those days.  The shirt is of simple design with a collar, loose short sleeves, front buttoned placket and buttons at the waist to attach to pants or overalls. 

The silk has lasted well - still that parachute creamy colour and very soft to the touch.
As this is a short sleeve shirt I believe it would have been worn less than the long sleeved shirts which helped prevent him scratching, so it has possibly stayed in better condition with less wear and tear. It has been kept in a cardboard box wrapped in tissue paper.

Summertime was hot in Victoria and when my parents moved out onto an orchard the dust from the orchard roads and fluff from the peach skins were further irritants to my brother’s body.  My mother said that the parachute silk was a ‘saviour’.  Cotton, a natural vegetable fibre was harder on the skin and wool, a natural animal fibre caused heating and rubbing.Other health advice was not to drink cow’s milk - so it was goat’s milk for him from then on.  Despite all the care and alternatives for my brother his skin problems persisted and when he was about ten years old the Doctor advised to ‘get him off the orchard’ the decision was made that he go to boarding school in Melbourne 120 miles south of our home.  This did seem to give him some relief, but brought sadness to us - his two younger sisters.  I now wonder how this affected my brother, mother and father.

There were hard times during and after the war for some years.  Stories have come to light about other people using parachute silk for all sorts of things including pants, bras, petticoats, blouses, christening gowns, evening and wedding dresses. Fashion on the Ration: Style in the Second World War, by Julie Summers, March 2015, London, UK, Profile Books Ltd.


Silk is a natural product from SILKWORMS  Silk is an animal protein fiber produced by certain insects to build their cocoons and webs.Cultivation of the silkworm (technically a moth pupa) is known as sericulture. Although many insects produce silk, only the filament produced by Bombyx mori, the mulberry silk moth and a few others in the same genus, is used by the commercial silk industry.Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Natural Fibre, raw Material, 

CLASSIFICATION AND PROPERTIESla Brittanica:Below: y_circle_oNatural fibres tend to yellow upon exposure to sunlight and moisture, and extended exposure results in loss of strength.  All natural fibres are particularly susceptible to microbial decomposition, including mildew and rot. Wool and silk are also subject to microbial decomposition by bacteria and holds and damage by moths and carpet beetles.  

HISTORYThe manufacture of silk and silk products originated in the highly developed Chinese culture; the invention and development of sericulture (cultivation of silkworms for raw-silk production) and of methods to spin silk date from 2640 bc.Natural fibres’ actual share of the market has decreased with the influx of the cheaper, synthetic fibres which require fewer man-hours for production.
How Products are Made; Ref: MadeHow Volume 5, 

On researching parachutes I found that “the parachute is a device used to slow the movement of a person or object as it falls or moves through the air. Used primarily for safe descent from high altitudes (e.g: …a person or object dropped from an airplane),

Historically there is some evidence that rigid, umbrella-like parachutes were used for entertainment in China as early as the twelfth century, allowing people to jump from high places and float to the ground.

“Da Vince wrote about and drew the first known account of a parachute concept C.1495.  It consisted of a cloth material pulled tightly over a rigid pyramidal structure. Although da Vinci never made the device, he is given credit for the concept of lowering man to the earth safely using a maximum drag decelerator.”Others further developed the idea and built and tried out their models.

From World War I to the early 1930's, conventional round silk (now known as solid cloth) parachutes remained unchanged in structure.”  

German pilots used parachutes in the final year of World War I but American military pilots only started using them as standard equipment after 1918.  

“Parachute canopies were first made of canvas. Early canvas was woven from hemp or linen fibres.  Silk proved to be more practical because it was thin, lightweight, strong, easy to pack, fire resistant, and springy. During World War II, the United States was unable to import silk from Japan, and parachute manufacturers began using nylon fabric. “(The advantages of Silk as a parachute were what also made it such a suitable apparel for a child with skin problems).

Parachutes were widely used during World War II, not only as life-saving devices for pilots, but also for troop deployment.”

“Historical Review”Excerpt from Sandia Report SAND85-1180, ”An Introduction to Deployable Recovery Systems” by Jan Meyer,  August 1985

Future Storage and Clothes Moth Prevention for SilkStore clean and dry – to prevent moth larvae feeding on food stains and the residual from perspirationStore neatly folded in breathable cotton storage bags and in non-acidic tissue paper or hung in clothing covers in a dark, dry place.  Avoid sealed plastic containers that may cause moisture or yellowing of the silk.  Moisture will significantly increase the risk of any moth eggs that may be present being able to survive and develop into damaging moth larvae.  For long period storage periodically shake the clothing and air in non-direct but bright light to deter any potential moth larvae settling.


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