Fabric Souvenirs: A Tradition of Sailors

Well before the American Fleet set out for it's trip around the world, sailors had created and purchased fabric souvenirs of their adventures.  As a matter of shipboard life, sailors sew and mend, do fancywork with line to decorate the ships, and find small ways to add to their memories.  As a young sailor I remember having "Liberty Cuffs."  That when you turned up the sleeves of my "cracker-jacks" there was embroidery of dragons.  This was a way to show people that I was off-duty and ready to have a good time!  Today sailors come home with "cruise jackets" with the backs embroidered with displays of  patriotism and the ports they visited.  For the Great White Fleet there were the same kinds of crafts and souvenirs that they brought home.


hat tally pillowcase

This is a sailor-made shipboard craft completed using the hat tallys of different ships.  On liberty sailors would spend their liberty ashore and meet the crew members of other ships for excursions, meals, and drinking.  It was not uncommon to take the band from your hat and exchange them for souvenirs.  This  pillow case is made from a sailors scarf that has been quilted with 16 hat tallys from 13 ships.  The USS Arkansas is used four times as the border around the flags in the center.  The other tallys include USS Illinois, USS Monadnock, USS Wompatuck, USS Olympia, USS Dixie, USS Marietta, USS Maine, USS Nevada, USS Princeton, USS Texas, USS Newark, and USS Iris.  The pillow was probably put together in 1914 or 1915 baseed on the ships that are in the collection.  The center has embroidered American flags with letters from hat tallys spelling U.S. Navy. 



reveille and taps

As two hearts meet on the cloth of the scarf, a sailor blows a bugle to sound reveille and taps.  In the first heart, to wake her up, and the second to say goodnight.  This silk scarf has a popular border of flags of the world that had different inset themes.  From the way the center images are placed it appears the four American flags were part of the initial printing and the hearts and bugler were an overprint to the design.

This scarf was probably available to sailors in Hampton Roads, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Boston and other major homeports of the fleet for sailors to purchase and send or give to a girlfriend.


in memory of our famous cruise around the world

These large silk embroidery panels are one of the iconic items from the cruise.  They were made in Tokyo by the George Washington Company, G. Fukuughi - Dealer in Fine Art Goods.  The price, $25 - $35 with the sailor able to personalize the item with a photo in the life ring at the bottom.

The one at right has President Roosevelt, Admiral Evans, and Admiral Sperry with a hand painted mural of the battleship fleet entering Yokohama.  The photo below is of  a sailor from the USS Ohio, who had this framed when he arrived home and today is still in the original frame.  The standard panel was modified to provide three frames against the background of the American Flag.  This seems to be the standard configuration for the cruise panels as the second one I have, displayed on the Yokohama page, is configured in the same manner.

At Left is pages from the booklet at the George Washington Company showing the different types of embroidery panels that could be ordered.  Typically they would have much of the work completed and a sailor could add elements that would be ready in a few days after ordering.




uss vermont navy scarf embroidery

This is a hand-made piece of sailor craft completed on a uniform scarf containing distinguishing mark badges as elements in the design.  From the U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations of 1905, I have identified the various badges.  The cannons on the four corners are the Gun-Captain marks worn on the uniform midway between the shoulder and the elbow.  Moving towards the center are four Seaman-Gunner marks.  On the right and left, the figure-eight knots are Apprentice marks, and inside these on the four points of the compass are First Class Gun-Pointer Marks designated with the star above when a person becomes a first class.


embroidered flag from amoy china

These souvenir flags were available for purchase or may have been given to sailors during their visit to Amoy, China.  The depict an American Eagle and Chinese Dragon with the caption, "Welcome to the U.S.A. Fleet to Amoy China November 1908."  These flags were rather crude and sewn on cotton flags.  These were probably quickly made in the weeks before the fleet's visit to have available for sailors a souvenir similar to the items they had found in Japan.




souvenir of my cruise visit to japan on the famous "battle ship fleet"

With cranes, chrysanthemums, and geisha girls, this pillowcase from the fleet's visit to Japan has everything.  In the upper left and lower right are postcards images from Japan with the central theme of the American Fleet arrival through a life preserver.  The pillow is made of silk with a gray fringe and attached together with a red and white silk cord.  It is approximately 32" x 32" in size and framed with gold anchor and chain.


The Pacific Fleet

This scarf commemorates the Pacific cruisers that left San Francisco on August 24, 1908 in support of the American Fleet.  These eight ships were sent as a back-up to the battleships in the event that war should break out with Japan.

The scarf is done with the standard border of flags and an over-print of the eight ships and the ports they visited during their 8-month cruise.





The Fleet in silk

This hand sewed piece is done with silk thread on linen and displays the American Fleet at anchor with chain, anchor and floral framing the view.  Sailors of the fleet had brought back silk hand-work from the orient.  Dresses, tablecloths, and tapestries such as this one were popular gifts.  They were easy to bring back because they could be stowed onboard or mailed without fear of damage.  This piece measures 24" x 24" and has been professionally mounted to display.


uss virginia at the Jamestown celebration

This handkerchief was produced for the Jamestown Celebration with the USS Virginia representing the home state.  The image is printed on the silk cloth providing a high resolution.  The border is hand-stitched with silk thread.  

made in japan - 1900

The popularity of the silk tapestries by sailors of the world had well been established by the time of the Great White Fleet.  Embroidery shops in Yokohama and Tokyo had catalogs to choose your pattern and exported their services to fraternal organizations across the United States.   The tapestry at right is dted 1900 and shows the American, Japanese, and Australian flags.  Components of the anchor and eagle are completed with gold an silver bead thread.  32" x 24", original frame.

This piece was most likely completed by the George Washington Company of Tokyo.



the farewell - the return

I am not sure what these booklets were called, I call them memory booklets.  This one has a picture of the ship, USS Kentucky on the front in a silk frame, and when you open it, a silk panel with "The Farewell" and "The Return" images with a U.S. Flag to boot!  They were used to keep all the letters and postcards sent from a sailor at sea during the cruise.

the return


The greatest fleet

After greeting the fleet in San Francisco, many of the site-seers brought back souvenirs of their experiences.  A family from Detroit, that most likely road the train, returned with this silk banner with Rear Admiral Evans at the top, the battles of the first leg of the cruise, and the statement:  "The Greatest Fleet that has ever flown any flag in American waters wailing around South America, leaving for a 14,000 mile journey with a total number of men in crews 14,000.  Duration of Voyage 135 Days."  They had followed the events of the cruise with newspaper articles, acquired with the banner, with a "Ships are Ready" article from Bob Evans, and an announcement on December 1st as the ships departed from Manila "Head for Home" with Admiral Sperry's picture.



welcome home 1908

Remember me to Herald Square - Golden Gate.  Arriving in San Francisco was a "Welcome Home" that was commemorated in these popular cotton scarves made and sold by the thousands.  This one with the quote, "Our Ships arrived at the Golden Gate to the land of the brave and free and the girl that I left behind to wait will soon be welcoming me."




remember me

This is another memory booklet from a midshipman aboard the USS Georgia.  The uniform items attached are from a midshipman's uniform and the flag is pre-1909.  The flag is used as the pouch to save letter mailed by the midshipman and the frames, his photograph, since removed.  An item to treasure each letter sent from a sailor on cruise.



my native land

This is  a silk commemorating the return of the fleet to Hampton Roads.  It shows Lady Liberty and the battleships against a background of the United States and the ships of the cruise surrounding it.  A patriotic poem - To This My Native Land.



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