Wash Silks from Brainerd and Armstrong Company

Wash Silks from Brainerd and Armstrong Company

My friend Paula found an amazing box at a yard sale. I’m not much one for going to yard or garage sales as I don’t have the patience for it. But luckily Paula found a box of silk embroidery thread that must  have been from a retail establishment. Believe it or not, she paid a quarter (25 cents) for it.

It is from the Brainerd and Armstrong Company. After a little searching on Google, I found out that this company was in business in the late 1800’s until 1922 in New London, CT, USA. They made “wash silks”.

Wash silks were also called “society silks” and were used in silk art embroidery.

As you can see, the drawers are stuffed with little packets of thread. There are several different weights in a range of colors. I couldn’t resist and this box now belongs to me.

These packets have lots of information on the outside and are made specifically so the threads  won’t tangle.

Here’s just a few of the colors. Most are in the pink/red shades but there are lots of greens as well as some purples and blues. I found several books on archive.org that were published by Brainerd and Armstrong. The first book, Embroidery Lessons with Colored Studies gives projects to work and has very generalized instructions. The second book is a general look at silk, The Story of Silk and Embroidery. You can download these book for free and they are actually quite entertaining. I wouldn’t recommend them as a stitch guide as the instructions are vague but it’s well worth the time if you are at all interested in hand stitching.

I don’t think I will be able to make myself use these threads but we’ll see. It’s amazing that they are in such good condition. What do you think? Would you use the threads or save them?

30 thoughts on “Wash Silks from Brainerd and Armstrong Company

  1. I would use the threads unless you are planning on selling or giving to a museum or something. But I am not the type to have collections of things I will not use. I always prefer practical useful gifts.

  2. Oh thanks for sharing! I too would LOVE this! maybe I’d use them or maybe I’d just enjoy opening the draweres from time-to-time to admire and marvel at such a treasure so carefully arranged obviously by someone that shared the silk/color passion so long ago. Lovely connection to the past. Enjoy!!!

  3. what a find. I was given a box of silk threads on spools (wooden)……I haven’t used them……….or even tried to use them yet. I don’t know if silk goes bad and retains its strength………

    1. Silk does not go bad. I have a Big box of The same Silk threads as talked about above, and I am using them in my crazy quilt embroidery. They look amazing

  4. What an amazing find. However, I never buy anything that I don’t think will be useful, as I have limited storage. I bought a box of antique stamps that was used to make signs in department stores. I bought them because I knew I would use them. I say, use the threads. And then display your work as vintage art.

  5. Wow, that really is a bargain! Nice set of drawers too 🙂 I think you should use them for stitching and if there are any you can’t, use for embellishing felt.

  6. Very cool find Ruth. I have some that look like that that are called artisan silk I think. I am told that means they are not really silk but they are old and so pretty, they look like silk. I bought them as a stitching kit at a garage sale for a $1 only a small part of the stitching was done some I go most of the thread. now I must find them and fined a use for them.

  7. Lucky you Ruth, what a precious gift to receive.
    Because I am a passionate embroiderer, I would use them and make something that would reflect the history and beauty of the threads, Like the ‘Tree of Life’ or something like that, I would also keep some of each thread in it’s original wrap as a reminder.
    Whatever you choose to do, I’m sure you will enjoy it, whether it be the the knowledge of owning them or creating an heirloom treasure for the future.

  8. What a find! the history of these sort of things is what gets me, imagine if they could tell the story of where and what they have been used for. Maybe not so much the used, as if they had belonged to a “crafty” sort they would of been all used up!

    PS to Ruth – going to post a photo of your book on the studio flickr, I have been to a Felting retreat, and yours was one of the books that were in the collective library.

  9. The historical significance is one of the reasons I would prefer not to use the threads. But the idea of using some of them and keeping others is tempting.

    Jane – that’s exciting news about my book. I’d love to hear more about the retreat.

  10. Oh very nice Ruth, i know i personally wouldnt be able to use them, i’d much rather have them on display so i could just look at them and imagine the history. then again i can be a bit of a hoarder but i think this is one of those well worth hoarding things, see it pays to go to garage sales as you just never know what you find. I think its beautiful !!!

  11. It’s exciting to know that someone else has a collection of these embroidery threads. Mine came to me in between the pages of a 1937 magazine and were my grandmothers. I have always loved just looking at them, but I’m not sure what to do with them. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Carol – I haven’t done anything with mine. If I was going to use them, I think I would try to find some historical patterns and use them as they would have been used in their day.

  12. I have some of these silk threads in their original cardboard holders. I used some to tie my storybook crazy quilt that my grandmother made me. The threads came to me through my Mom. She said they belonged to her grandmother. I was just checking out the history of the threads.

  13. I am really envious but also happy to see that these threads got into the right pair of hands. . it was so nice to see this case and the threads in person. Since they are all so pristine looking, I don’t think I would use them. It is not about the monetary value but the historic value of American embroiderers or embroideresses (as they were often named). They are priceless.

    1. Thanks Gail – I have had them now for several years and haven’t used them. I am sure they will just stay as they are to be admired 🙂

  14. Wow, Very Nice! I also came across a 3 drawer solid wood chest at a yard sale, just this past weekend.
    I had paid $5 for it…which was the price set by the seller…..each drawer was full of contents. Miscellaneous fasteners etc….nothing silk ,embroidery, or company related however.
    The fronts of each drawer are hand carved with fancy script lettering.
    Top Drawer reads ” Embroidery”
    Middle drawer ” Brainerd & Armstrong Co”
    Bottom Drawer ” Patent Quill”

    Thinking it prob dates late 1800’s. Currently it’s a battle ship gray color painted chest. Not sure if that is the original paint or not?

    Chest of drawers measures approx 20 inch wide by 15″ deep and 9.5″ tall.

    1. My father passed in May and I
      Got a chest of drawers that was on
      His workbench for decades and was filled w nuts and bolts. I started to strip the two coats of paint and scrape the paint put of the lettering and realized they were gilded. The original paint was what I call buggy black, as it would have had a sheen to it. I googled the name and discovered all the info and pics of other chests. Needless to say it was removed from my workbench and put in my sewing room. Once I semi restore and clean the drawers it will house all my embroidery and sewing items. I wish I had asked Dad how he came to have it. My great uncle, long dead before I was born had a grocery store. Would it be possible he sold these threads in the corner of his store? I am so excited to realize what this cabinet is as my home is filled w antiques.

  15. I have a box made by the same company. It has two drawers filled with thread of every color. My mom found it at a garage sale for around a dollar. When she passed I kept it with the old singer sewing machine. It is one of my prized possessions. Thank you for the information.

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