Thursday, October 17, 2013

Star Spangled Glory

In previous posts I've talked about the colors of cockades. This post is about the centers of cockades - specifically, my favorite kind of center: Spangles.

This is a gorgeous original Alabama cockade with spangles.

 

You probably know them as sequins. But the sequins from the 19th century are very different from the modern plastic sparklies we're used to. Victorian era spangles are made of real, shiny metal. Here's a look at a few of my favorite cockades with spangles on them.


An original red and white Secession Cockade
 An original Irish Brigade badge (courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society) 
Can you imagine the sparkle when the sun hit these lovely beauties? Political pins just ain't what they used to be!

I wanted to recreate these gorgeous rosettes for my customers, and that led me on a journey of exploration into the subject of SPANGLES. 

How They Are Made
I was lucky enough to discover this article in the London "Daily Telegraph" from 1865. It explains how spangles are created:
 
"They are made from plated copper-wire, which comes from Germany. It is drawn out to the requisite size, and is then twisted, by English workmen, round a steel mandrel, till it has the same close spiral form as an old-fashioned spring, before the days of vulcanized india-rubber. From the long twist of metal thus shaped rings are chopped by a machine; and every ring closes by the elasticity of the metal. These rings, placed on a smooth steel anvil, are struck one by one with a smooth steel hammer, and being flattened at a blow, are spangles. Their polish is the combined effect of plating and of the smart, dexterous manner in which they are struck."

Here is the full article, which was explaining the process by which more than six pounds (!!) of spangles would be sewn to a Harlequin's dress. 

 

When you look closely at an original spangle, you can see that this process makes them slightly non-circular in shape. This is an original spangle that I photographed.


History Of Spangles
Spangles have been around for thousands of years, some historians believing they were around as early as 2500 BC. They are also called paillettes, or diamantes. The term "sequin" came from a rendition into French of the Italian word zecchino, which was a gold coin that was issued in the late medieval Republic of Venice. It looked like this:
An interesting history of these coins states in part, "In the cultures where these sequins circulated, the custom of stitching sequins and similar coins to women’s clothing, particularly headdresses, face veils, and over the bosom and hips, originally became a way to display (and store) family’s wealth. It was this ancient custom that led to the use of sequined fabric and trims in modern fashion, thus expanding the definition of sequin beyond coins to include this type of decoration."

Throughout history, we find spangles hand-sewn onto many items. Here is an acrobat's costume (with a pretty red cockade!):

Some glitter on a man's coat.

And spangles on a lovely fan in my mother's collection.


I even recently saw spangles on a Civil War regimental flag. Wow, can you imagine the sparkle as it waved in the sun? Talk about star-spangled glory!
 

Aaaaand, of course, they were used on cockades, or I wouldn't be writing this blog entry about them! This is a gorgeous cockade in my collection that would have been worn by a pallbearer at a funeral. 
Note that the spangles are sewn into a circle, rather than a star. This circle is actually 3D, being sewn on top of a little puff of cotton to make it stand out from the cockade ribbon. That was a common method of attaching spangles in the 1800s.

Another item to note on this cockade is the odd little "springs" sewn on top of the spangles. Nowadays, we call this "french wire." It was often used either in a straight strip or a little kinky loop to secure spangles and add a little more sparkle.You can see the loop version on the flag picture.

When you look at the many vintage cockades with spangles, it's hard to tell how stunning they originally were. The metal is often rusted or tarnished, giving them a dingy look. But when I recreated this lovely Union cockade in my collection, I was able to see just how gorgeous the original spangled cockades were! Isn't this pretty?


And yes, it's available in my shop! And if you search for "spangles" in my store, you'll see some other reproductions that will knock your eyes out. Our ancestors surely knew how to put on the glitz!

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