Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mysterious ham: Press-Rite tailor's forms

How about some mustard with that ham?

This last weekend, my mom gave me the tailor’s ham and sleeve roll she’s had for ages. The first thing I did when she offered them to me was the same thing I did when I was ten years old: I put the ham under my shirt and pretended I was pregnant. Alas, my poor mother, stuck with a perennial ten-year-old child.

The manufacturer is Press-Rite, and I spent way too much time today on the web trying to find out what happened to the company. But other than a completed sale on Etsy for a Press-Rite ham, I couldn’t find any other information on this Seattle business. Mom doesn't remember where she bought it 50-some years ago—there were so many little fabric stores in Seattle at that time. She lamented the disappearance of these businesses. There even used to be a button store in downtown Seattle. Just buttons—that's it. Heck, Portland has a button store downtown; get with it, Seattle! Anyhow...

These forms were always in use when I was growing up, lying around the laundry room like tidy, compact, silent pets, keeping my dad's sleeves crisply ironed and the seam allowances on sewing projects open and flat. Unlike most new hams, which have one muslin-covered side, wool fabric covers both sides of these forms. The plaids are carefully matched at the seams, and the closing-ends are hand-stitched.
Neatly matched seams Carefully hand-stitched end

I did find out that the forms were made after 1958. The giveaway is the label’s 2-letter + 5-digit phone number. Prior to that year, the phone number format was 2-letter + 4-number. Also, it was produced before 1963, when 5-digit ZIP codes were introduced. Up to that point, cities used 2-digit postal zones. It’s strange that I couldn’t find a web site that lists old Seattle postal zones; but let it now be known that West Seattle contained zone 16.
The tailor's ham still has its manufacturer's label.
The interwebs told me that the 44th Ave. SW property listed on the ham's label sold in 2008, but the phone number on the tailor’s ham label is still associated with that location! Now, how can that be? I mean, usually when a new owner moves in, they start new phone service, right? Of course, demographic info web sites often contain information which is a conglomeration of old and new data. Maybe the old number got pulled from one database and reassociated with the new owner’s name. But it’s kinda weird.

Anyhow, I snooped some more, but couldn’t find out whether the previous property owner had a business at that address. So who was Press-Rite? Was it a home business? The hand-stitched ends tell me that it could have been. Can you see the basement, filled with boxes of dense cotton batting and rolls of wool melton in all shades of plaid? Then there’s a single industrial sewing machine—most likely gray or mottled metallic green—which weighs about 382 pounds. And a big, wooden thread rack on the wall. And a scratchy push-broom for cleaning up the jetsam.

Even if I didn't have a particular, fond history with these forms, I'd still find them interesting as objects, just as I do the button tin and seam ripper my mom gave me from her batch of well-used sewing tools. But our culture is at a strange place where we, well...objectify objects. We put them on shelves and admire their rusticity, yanking history's everyday utilitarianism into a realm of precious aestheticism, which sometimes seems obsequious to the object's creator.

What I'm saying is, someone sewed wool fabric ovals together, stuffed the form tight with batting, and stitched the ends together. By hand. Then put it aside, and started on another. And then my mom bought a couple of them, and kept them in a drawer to keep them free of cat hair, clean, and useful. And I like that.

After more than fifty years of use, these things are still as firm and new as ever, and ready for their next half-century. Which is more than I can say for myself, a tad less firm, following close behind them in age, chasing my ideals of form and function, aesthetics and utility.

1 comment :

  1. I just found one of these beautiful hams at a thrift store on Widbey Island. For $2!!!! I was so excited I squealed in delight. When I googled the label info I found your blog, now I too am curious about this mystery.
    One difference, my label has a 5 digit zip code.