Textiles in Hiding

At the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Georgia, among all the aircraft and equipment, is an exhibit that shows the stories of pilots downed behind enemy lines.  One part of the exhibit is a Prisoner of War camp, with items created by some of the captured men, including a crocheted vest that provided extra warmth, and a blanket stitched with insignia patches, and a handkerchief completely covered with a large insignia design.

Another part shows what could have happened for those who eluded capture.  There is a representative safe house, with hidden compartments and codes in the wallpaper, and stories of some of the people all over Europe who hid the servicemen and tried to get them through to friendly territory.

Hanging on the wall is a collection of small embellished fabric scraps.  (Unfortunately, due to the light-filtering glass, the picture didn’t turn out well, but you just have to see it.)

Embroideries done in secret by women prisoners in WWII, seen at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.

Embroideries done in secret by women prisoners in WWII, seen at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.

They were crafted in secret by women prisoners from Waldheim and Cottbus, women who had been in the Resistance in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.  They used scraps of handkerchiefs and threads drawn out of their uniforms, and when they were required to sew as a prison chore, they skimmed off some of the materials to use later.  Some of the embroideries are lilies of the valley and violets made of French knots, and some are loosely stitched words that record the camp names and prison tasks, or popular song lyrics that symbolize the women’s losses and hopes.  There are tiny yarn dolls and doll-sized felted slippers.

If the Nazis found any of these creations, they would take them away.  The ones in the display exist because the Russians liberated the camp on May 6, 1945.

I cannot imagine what I would do if I found myself in that situation.  I think I would be so afraid of being caught that I would not even try to create anything.

Obviously in all the different POW camps, conditions were very different.  The men whose textiles are in the museum didn’t seem to have to hide what they were doing, or even scavenge for materials.

I wish I knew more.  I was hoping for a postcard showing these items or a book that explained how museum staff know about these hidden embroideries, or even something general about the women in the Resistance, but there wasn’t anything like that in the museum store, or on the museum website.

Still, I am so glad that the story of the safe houses is included in the museum.  With all the terrible risks they faced, I am amazed anyone got involved in trying to get the air crewmen to safety.

Happy Earth Day!

We’re going solar!

Solar panels.

Solar panels.

And the construction makes a great run-in shed for the sheep, too!

Solar panel installation, side view.

Solar panel installation, side view.

We are not up and running yet – we have to wait until final inspection from our electricity co-op.  But I am happy we can do a little to help the earth!

Technical details:  we are still tied to the grid.  The solar installation should provide for about 80% of our energy needs.  During the periods that we produce more than we are using, the extra energy goes to the grid, and is banked for us by our utility co-op.  Then when we are not producing our own energy (like in the two months of rain we just had), we can use up our credits.  If those get used up, we pay for electricity as before.

Not Your Granny’s Sheep

The Austin Zoo is not your typical city zoo.  Its animals are mostly rescues and retirees — acquired from people who discovered that their exotic pets were too much to handle, from research labs, and from other zoos.  Right now they are displaying fiber glass animal statues that have been decorated by artists, and this was my favorite!

Too Cool for Wool, by Sara Allen.  Part of the 2015 Zoo Revue at the Austin Zoo.

Too Cool for Wool, by Sara Allen. Part of the 2015 Zoo Revue at the Austin Zoo.

Roy G Biv, all your colors are there and many more!

A Visit to the Antique Rose Emporium

A Visit to the Antique Rose Emporium

On a recent weekend, we caught enough of a break in the rain to get in a visit to the Antique Rose Emporium in Independence, Texas.

multi color rose

So many choices.

So many choices.

And a few more choices.

And a few more choices.

Along with hundreds of roses, there are brightly colored perennials, shade plants, and herbs, and you just want to take them all home.

Stunning colors.

Stunning colors.

Beautiful combinations.

Beautiful combinations.

But the thing I love best is that the atmosphere is so relaxed, more like a park than a business.  There are some busloads of tourists, and people wander everywhere, just chatting with their friends and taking pictures.  No one is following you around, trying to insist you buy things.  And while there are some pricey garden ornaments for sale, many others are things put together from some old supplies and a little elbow grease, things you could easily replicate at home.

flowerpot man

primary lattice

garden house

I had a hard time deciding which rose to take home this time.  I love amusing names, so I considered Granny Grimmetts  and Madame Norbert Levavasseur.  I had settled on General Schablikine, because, really, can you think of a better rose name than that?  But it didn’t have much of a scent, so I went with Maggie instead.  She may have a plain name, but she has beautiful deep pink ruffled petals and a lovely pure scent.

A bloom from Maggie.

A bloom from Maggie.

And of course, I have to finish up with some yellow roses for Texas!

yellow roses 1yellow roses 2 It was wonderful to get out and enjoy some spring color!

Textile Imagery

The final topic in Mary Schoeser’s book Textiles: The Art of Mankind is Imagery .

Pictorial imagery is an element of textile art the viewer expects to find, despite the fact that it is only one aspect of this enormous field….[O]ne of my essential points is that textiles are three-dimensional objects within which structure, texture, insertions, additions, manipulations and movement can interact.  In fact, it is more accurate to describe textiles not a s a visual art, but as a sensory art, one that calls into play all of the senses…  (p. 463)

Schoeser divides this section into three parts:

  • Identity – textiles like plaids and paisleys — pattern designs that have come to be associated with certain cultures or eras; also “subtle or overt markers of cultural allegiance that are often as dependent on the textile as on the tailoring.” (p. 464)
  • Narrative –  textiles that allude to historic events or well-known stories that the viewer understands.  “Other stories are more current and often contested… Many such contemporary myths reflect concerns about power and its impact on gender stereotypes and relationships, and about the nature of existence.  Using textiles to direct attention to life’s struggles with these issues has an added frisson, given that textiles are so often a source of comfort.” (p. 471)
  • Of Time and Place – textiles that show isolated scenes, like traditional copperplate-printed toile de Jouy, or that relate to mapping – of places, memories, or even cell functions.

There are so many nuances in imagery that we become aware of by osmosis.  Think about looking at a woman’s dress or a man’s tie, and knowing whether the prints are “appropriate” or just “too loud.”  Or looking at two plaids and knowing which one would be worn by a working cowboy, and which one would be worn by a preppy college student.

Imagery in textiles is a challenging area for me. Schoeser talks in the paragraph I quoted above about all the elements that interact in a piece of textile art.  For me, aspects of the imagery affect me more than any other element.  I am not critical of workmanship or materials, but with just quick impressions of the imagery, I turn into Goldilocks– this piece is too minimal to suit me, that piece is just a mishmash of crystals and glitter: this piece is too purposefully primitive, that piece is too prissily perfect.  Little things that feel “off” jar my attention and I quickly move on to find a piece that feels “just right.”

Using imagery in creations of my own is even more of a challenge.  Generally I just want textiles to bring a little color, pattern, and texture to a room, and that’s it, their job is done.  That’s fine most of the time, but as I think of my goal of making quilts that teach about nature, I think I need to use actual imagery, and I want to find fresh ways of doing that.

An area that intrigues me is abstract imagery drawn from visual reality.  Here are three examples I liked from the book:

Reflections by Jane Freear-Wyld is a tapestry based on buildings in Paris.

Letter from Indian Whispers by Jane McKeating (2011) is an interesting work with transparent layers, digital printing, and stitching.   This quote from the artist speaks to me: “Cloth has a way of holding images differently from paper.  Very naturally old pieces become part of the new, just as the mind blends time, and presents images affected by the past and possibilities for the future.”

Shingle One and Shingle Two by Elizabeth Brimelow (2007) to me is stunning strong image inspired by nature, but not copying nature completely.  (In the book, the Brimelow piece is called Sole Bay.  I can’t tell if this is the exact piece or a similar one, and also, I can’t get the image alone to link to it, so you have to scroll down to the sixth and seventh images on the page.)

The perfect example from my collection is Inspired by a View by Sheila Frampton-Cooper, which I wrote about here.  It is rich and detailed, and yet readable at a glance.  It goes back to the first concept in the book, impact.

Inspired by a View by Sheila Frampton-Cooper.  I am privileged to own this piece.

Inspired by a View by Sheila Frampton-Cooper. I am privileged to own this piece.

I returned the book to the library today.  After six weeks with it, looking at textiles in new ways, I am ready to go in some new directions.



Textile Added Dimensions

While most people are trying to “think outside the box”, textile artists are usually content to “think within the plane”.  And a spectacular job we do of it, too.  We can divide space in interesting ways, blend form and function flawlessly, and rock the color wheel.

But in the book I have been poring over for weeks, Mary Schoeser looks at those textile artists and craftspeople that go beyond a flat structure.  In Textiles: The Art of Mankind, the fifth section is Added Dimensions, and it starts this way:

“Once cloth has been woven, it may be printed or stitched, but it may also be cut up and manipulated in myriad ways, or joined to companion lengths to create a larger whole.  This versatility is the beauty of textiles, but also complicates their categorization.” (p. 365)

The essay has three subheadings:

  • Letting the Cloth Speak – this focuses especially on traditional cloths, such as kente (narrow strips are woven and sewn into wider cloth), Miao pleating, and shibori (patterning by dye resist).
  • Patchwork and Quilting
  • Textiles Parkour

The last is a new idea to me, so I will include a couple of quotes.

Since the 1970s, the freedom to move through three-dimensional space has increasingly provided opportunities for textile artists, who occupy a conceptual landscape in which they are at liberty to move in any direction within their textural domain.  There seems no better term for this activity than ‘textiles parkour’.  Parkour, a non-competitive physical activity that developed in the 20th century from the obstacle course, is also described by participants as a state of mind.  Although the aim of parkour is to move quickly and efficiently through an urban landscape, one can compare it to textiles because of parkour’s enhancement of spatial awareness, which encourages self-confidence and critical-thinking skills to overcome obstacles.  However the ‘artful dodging’ in textiles parkour takes place as if in slow motion.  (pp. 373, 374)

In this game of textile parkour, twists and turns have obliterated a single approved route to validation, offering possibilities to move into areas where the artist is unconstrained.  Inspiration might come from sources that are Eastern, Western, Latin, First Nation, Jacobean or Rococo; materials might be natural or ultra-modern.  (pp. 377, 378)

I really like this image of textile craft as a game.  Artists and designers who are seeking textile careers or recognition face a different set of obstacles than I do, but we are alike in finding joy in sources of inspiration and in overcoming whatever challenges emerge while creating.

This section has almost 200 images.

Squared Illusion 6 by Gloria Hansen (2007) is a beautiful art quilt that incorporates thin lines, strong color contrast, blended colors, and circles and ovals that float above the quilt — or do they??

TEXT-ile Series, Australian Story (For the Term of His Natural Life)* by Mandy Gunn (2011), combines cardboard constructions of collaged book text with a woven scroll.  This piece exemplifies how considering the third dimension can add richness to a work.  Here’s another one that wasn’t in the book, but I like even better — W(rapt) 2013.  I always love a grid.  And lots of colors.

There are many many pleated pieces in this section – pieces that are pleated by way of using fibers that shrink differently or react to chemical after-treatments differently, as well as pieces that are pleated by hand.   Raku by Mandy Southan (2011) has a subtle glow, and is a beautiful representative of this category of effects.

Schoeser does also include patchwork, applique, reverse applique, and stitchery here too.  I am not clear on what caused a stitched or embellished piece to be placed in the “Added Dimension” section instead of the “Surface” section, but maybe her aim is not to categorize definitively, but just to show possible ways to think about textiles.

In my own collection, the ones I would put in the “Added Dimension” category, are that pine burr quilt I just got a few weeks ago, and this Hmong bag.  The coins, beads, and rows of rick-rack build out from the ground surface.


Hmong bag, purchased in 2013

Hmong bag, purchased in 2013





In my own work, I have thrown a few beads and buttons on a piece once in a while, but I have not given much consideration to using added dimension to round out a piece’s impact.  But as with all the other sections of this book, I am glad I took the time to go through it slowly and think about its implications.

This is the fifth in the series and there is one more coming up.

* The book calls it Tasmanian Story, but the artist’s website calls it Australian Story.

Textile Surface

Textile Surface

This is the fourth in a series I am doing in which I look at my own textiles in the light of Mary Schoeser’s book Textiles: The Art of Mankind.  Two more sections to go after this one!

The subheadings in the Surface section are easy to follow:

  • Yarns
  • Stitch (and this is where Schoeser includes embellishments)
  • Painting and Printing

If you have read the other parts of this series, you may wonder why Schoeser includes “yarns” here, when she has had a whole section on “Ingredients.”  Well, one of the things that interests me about the way this book is set up, is that the categories don’t seem hard and fast.  Each section contains a variety of works from every segment of the textile world: ancient, modern, utilitarian, useless, ritual, comical; accessory, garment, container, toy, sculpture, installation.  You could unbind the book, shuffle the photos, and reassign them to the categories, and end up with a different, but still fantastic collection to inspire new thinking.

There is unbelievably intricate embroidery in this section, epitomized by artist Nadia Albertini and the British company Hand & Lock. The actual pieces from the book are not at these links, but you get an idea of the stunning work they do.

But since I haven’t talked yet about surface design in this series, today I am going to choose just a tiny segment of that area to focus on, printed fabrics from the 1950s.  Here are two that were in the book:

Iliad by Vincent Malta (1953), in the collection of the American Textile Museum.  Warriors, rulers, and horses are depicted in a multicolor swirl of lines on a black background.

Cottage Garden by Mary White (c. 1955), in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The one in the book is in a colorway of acid green, pale blue-gray, and teal on a cream background, which I prefer to the rust, gray, and olive version at the V & A.  But I love the sense of motion in the simple shapes of the trees. ( I had never seen this fabric before, but apparently it is all over Pinterest!)

There is another 50s fabric in the book that I love – silhouettes of women in New Look dresses in green, red, and yellow, on a pale blue ground.  It is by Langfield Fashions and GOOGLE NEVER HEARD OF THEM!  (Have you ever put a search term into Google and gotten back the response, “0 results found“?  It is a little discombobulating.) So you will just have to get the book yourself and look at page 355.

I find 1950s tablecloths unfailingly cheering, and thanks to the saving habits of my family, I have a nice little group of them.


What?? You have this tablecloth TOO?  I think everybody does!  At least, every vintage linens booth at Quilt Festival seems to have it.

What?? You have this tablecloth TOO? I think everybody does!  At least, every vintage linens booth at Quilt Festival seems to have it.

This is the Royal Rose pattern by Weil and Durrse.  It has the “Wilendur” label, which means it was made prior to 1958.  This is the only one of the bunch whose producer I can identify.

Wary roosters keep an eye on the pot.

Wary roosters keep an eye on the pot.

And you have to love such wildly colored veggies.

Suspiciously-colored fruits and vegetables make it easier to diet.

Back in my youth, the colonists on the right  still had visible faces!

Back in my youth, the colonists on the right still had visible faces!  Now they are just hats, coats, and feet.  And why are the fruits as big as the people?!

My favorite has hearty pioneers...

My favorite tablecloth celebrates the era when hearty pioneers drove oxen…

...every woman knew how to churn...

…every woman knew how to churn…

...and chickens attended barn dances.

…and chickens showed up at every barn dance.

In my own work, I have not spent much time on printing, painting, or embellishing any of my pieces.  You might say I have barely scratched the surface of these techniques. :)  I would like to do more printing, but I am also very happy with all the commercial prints that are available, and for me it is fun just to combine them and stitch them together.  I love the look of heavy embellishment, but usually I am making utilitarian objects that I want to throw in the washing machine, so I have not added much in the way of beads or charms.

But again, the lesson that I draw after really thinking about all these options, is that I would like to consider all the factors that go into a piece more carefully, and choose the ones that will help that piece make a complete statement.