ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History   /  publications

The Sample Collections of Machine Embroidery of Eastern Switzerland in the St Gallen Textile Museum
in: Textile History, 22 (2), p. 165 - 176, 1992, by Anne Wanner-JeanRichard

page 4 of 10
back - next

The Firm of Otto Alder (10)
We know about Otto Alder's life and his work because this textile entrepreneur, as an old man, wrote his memoirs.
He, too, was born in Toggenburg, in 1849 in Hemberg. He learned the French language in the French part of Switzerland, and in 1868 he travelled the world as far as Singapore.
His journey took him first from Marseilles by ship to Alexandria, and then by train to Suez, since the Suez Canal had not been built then.
In Singapore, he worked for four years as an assistant in a textile shop, selling woven fabrics.

Back in Switzerland, he was surprised by the number of the newly established embroidery enterprises, and he took up employment in one of them. In1874, he became a partner in the firm, and he was responsible for organisation, export and customers.

Otto Alder's first field for experiment was England. According to his own writings, he offered the machine-produced goods of St Gallen in an advertisement in The Times of London, receiving 137 replies.
However, independent of that, he found in John Brown an agent who was seeking to represent St Gallen.

In 1874, he saw Madeira embroidery for the first time in London (11) at the firm of John Knox, and later in Manchester at the merchant house S.& J. Watts. He also discovered these embroideries at a firm in Glasgow, that of James Orr.
In contrast to the Scottish eyelet embroidery, the Madeira embroidery was carried out with blue yarn on white fabric. James Orr is said to have sent fabrics printed with Dessin, as well as blue yarn to Madeira.


Alder bought Madeiras in London in various patterns. From the end of the 1860s, it became possible in St Gallen to produce eyelet embroidery with a machine (invention of a mechanical holer), and Otto Alder was able to have his patterns from England produced mechanically. It worked out well and over the years became a great success.

According to Alder's memoirs, he was also responsible for the introduction of various special articles, as, for instance, the mechanical production of large collars for ladies, or "Lavallières" (ladies' cravats) (12), and also accessories for ladies' hats (13).
In co-operation with customers from Paris, he found a market for the Aetzspitze (chemical or burnt-out lace) after 1883 (14). Here especially, the connection between Parisian taste and the technological skills of the St Gallen embroiderers proved extremely useful.

Otto Alder worked with various partners and accordingly the firm's name changed several times; from 1881, it was called "Alder & Rappold" and later "Alder, Rappold & Engler".
In 1892 Alder & Rappold donated a collection of embroidery specialities which could be traced back to 1861, to the St Gallen Textile Institute.

In 1931, Alder gave to the same institute a collection representing 40 years of his work, which contains nearly half a million samples. The donation was meant to give the industry and the designers ideas for innovations.
The collection consisted of single sheets and loose pieces of samples.



Otto Alder, 1848 - 1933


10 - Otto Alder, Jugenderinnerungen aus den Jahren 1849-1873 (St. Gallen, 1929) and also: Rückschau eines 84-jährigen (St. Gallen, 1933).

11- Otto Alder, Wie ich dazukam, vor zirka 55 Jahren als erster Madeira-Stickereien mit der Maschine herzustellen, (St. Galler Jarhresmappe 1939), p. 8.

12 - Alder, Rückschau, p. 29.
13 - Ibid., p. 36.
14 . Ibid., p. 55.


Introduction Rittmeyer Grauer Alder Ikle Tschumper Fraefel Types Lace Reports

content  Last revised 25 July, 2004