Today, we bring you one of Sylvia Henricks' "Remembrances." You can read more of Sylvia's columns weekly in The Franklin Township Informer, or in her book From The Ash Grove (available directly from the FTHS, and via the web site).
"We found this in an old trunk in an upstairs bedroom of the house my daughter and her husband bought," Nancy VanArendonk said, showing us a strange object, a wooden board covered on one side with narrow metal strips hinged at one end and clamping to the board at the other.
What could it be? We at the Meeting House, gathered for a board meeting, had no idea. Faded printed directions on the back of the board gave us a suggestion, calling it a "Paris Plaiter." "Plaiting," to our group, meant a braiding-like process, but as we deciphered the instructions, we learned they referred to what we call "pleating." The device was apparently an aid to producing evenly spaced pleats in a dress or blouse.
I took the Paris Plaiter home, cleaned it up a bit -- it was both rusty and dirty, but apparently in working order. As I read the directions (with a magnifying glass, I must admit), I learned you needed a cardboard gauge to properly pleat the fabric, which lay under some of the metal strips, and on top of others. But how did you keep the pleats in place so you could sew them down.? A final sentence in the directions suggested the answer. "If you are working with wool, use a damp cloth." Of course! You ironed them in -- that was why the thing was on a heavy board!
While I didn't succeed in making a set of plaits/pleats, I could see it might be done by a nimble-fingered persistent seamstress. I found a 1906 copy of a women's magazine, and sure enough, there was an article about making tucks, gathers and pleats. But who today makes pleated bodices, which would also surely have to be carefully ironed?
One wonders if the seamstress of a century ago who lived on a farm on Vandergriff Road and who bought a Paris Plaiter found it useful. Perhaps she tried it out, decided her "old way" was easier, and put her new purchase away for a future day...