Textile Ingredients

This is second in a series where I consider my own textiles in light of Mary Schoeser’s book Textiles: the Art of Mankind. 

In the section of the book titled Ingredients, along with textiles made from feather-light silks, glossy linens, and gold threads, there are textiles that include peacock feathers, iridescent beetle wings, stainless steel monofilament, plastic bread tags, polypropylene, fiber optic ropes, sound systems, old photo slides, and concrete!  (Not all together.)  It really opened my eyes to things that could be incorporated into textile creations.

Here are links to three of the examples:

Cradle to Grave  by Susie Freedman, Dr. Liz Lee, and David Critchley (2003) includes two textiles with 14,000 pills sewn into each, one representing the average number of pills prescribed to each woman in the UK over her lifetime, and the other those prescribed to each man.

Indigo and the Murex  by Carol Anne Grotrian (2008), is a work in five panels, representing the major sources of natural indigo dye.

Hope by Sara Nordling (2010) is a group of airy metal and heavy straw baskets.

My own textile collection does not contain anything so adventurous!  I have bought some items with bold and unpredicatble color combinations, but as far as the actual materials, most everything I have is made from one of the “Big Four” natural fibers — cotton, linen, silk, and wool.  I only have two that I think push the materials envelope at all, and I believe they are both rayon.

There is this lovely red and gold piece, that I have written about here.

drapery fabric

fabric detail

The interplay of thin and shiny with thick and matte is unexpected in this traditional design.

Another piece from my husband’s family is similar in construction, although it is much less drape-able. I don’t have any idea of its date of manufacture.

Blue bedspread.

Blue bedspread.

The central colors are reversed on the other side, but the borders look the same.

The central colors are reversed on the other side, but the borders look the same.

I believe it is rayon, because the threads feel more stiff and crinkly than I would expect from silk.  The ground warp is a very thin blue cotton, and then the thick shiny blue and gold threads are a supplementary warp, floated and tied down to make the different patterns.  The weft is a thick-and-thin blue cotton.  It is machine-made, but to me it epitomizes a masterful use of materials, in that just a few types of thread create many effects.

Effects from catching the supplementary warp threads in different ways.

Effects from catching the supplementary warp threads in different ways.

The pattern of the border sections.

The pattern on the borders.

Close-up showing the thick and thin threads.

Close-up showing the thick and thin threads.

The tied fringe.

The tied fringe.

When I look at my own work, the only area I really experiment in is finding natural dyes from the plants in my yard.  Other than that, I have done a few experiments with recycled materials, but more just because I have seen it done and thought I should try it.  I think I am more focused on the comfort of basic and vintage materials than I am interested in being innovative.  Like a lot of textile people, I love the look of jars of old buttons and spools of thread, so much so that I have trouble using them!  But it is a good lesson to me to consider how best to show the qualities of the materials I use.




Lovely to Look at: Difficult to Summarize

Lovely to Look at: Difficult to Summarize

I have been absorbed by Mary Schoeser’s book Textiles: The Art of Mankind.

Textiles : The Art of Mankind

Schoeser has written many books on textile history, including World Textiles: A Concise History and Silk.  This book is a little different – it is not a history book or a structured catalog of techniques.  It is 555 glorious pages of full-color inspiration, with works both historic and modern, created by anonymous craftspeople as well as by well-known textile artists and designers.

Here’s what Schoeser says about her intention for the book:

Over the past forty years, the first-hand sight of hundreds of thousands of examples has convinced me that textiles are beautiful, inventive, expressive, and more.  They reveal the human compulsion to engage with texture, colour, and storytelling.  They record our ever-changing feelings of play, joy, wonder, and profound thoughtfulness.  They preserve skills, encourage creativity and represent community. (p. 12)

By focusing on superb textiles from around the world, irrespective of their age, my aim is to inspire textile artists, those who are new to collecting, and those whose choices will shape the future of the textile arts.  (p. 13)

-from the Introduction

The structure of this book is intriguing.  There are six sections: Impact, Ingredients, Construction, Surface, Added Dimension, and Imagery.  Each of the sections begins with an essay, and is rounded out by a selection of 150 – 200 textiles that illustrate that concept;  a montage that might include an Egyptian linen fragment, a Chinese silk tapestry, a dress made out of gum wrappers, a mat made from strips of plastic bags, and Tibetan shoes made out of twined sisal.

Within each section, I had a hard time discerning any structure.  I really couldn’t guess what criteria were used for selection and arrangement. Sometimes a work showed up in more than one section.  Sometimes one image (for example, a butterfly) was shown in six textiles in a row, but then, on the next page, all the textiles seemed very disparate in imagery and material and technique – like, a tall feathered hat in bright colors juxtaposed with some tan felted shrinking figures.

But that really didn’t bother me.  Together, the themes of the book and the unpredictable arrangement of the examples made me think in new ways.  So I thought I would do a series of posts, looking for examples of each of those themes within my own textile collection.

First is Impact.  Maybe because I live in a small country house instead of Highclere Castle, I have not considered trying to achieve “Impact” with textiles before.  Generally I use textiles in very safe ways, just to add some softness or color to a room.

One exception is in the nature quilts I make to bring along to volunteer events.  I would like those quilts to have visual impact, to catch people’s interest so we can teach them about pollinators and native plants.

To get an idea of how Schoeser sees “Impact,” here are three recent works that she included:

Belles de Jour/Belles de Nuit, 2009, by Marie-Laure Ilie.   This is a large 3-D piece of transparent and pleated images of the drapery from classical statues.

Beauty in the Deep, 2006, by Jennifer Falck Linssen.  This is a basket of katagami-style handcarved paper, with coiled sterling silver.

 Nine Objects No. 7, 2004, and Untitled, (After Te-lta) 2010*, by Rowland Ricketts  (both pieces are at the same link).  The first piece is a basket made from maple keys and indigo-dyed wool, and the second piece is a large installation of indigo wool-covered stones.

So, looking around our house, there are not many candidates in the Impact category, but there is one textile that I would grant the label to.

This is a rug that belonged to my husband’s grandparents, but we don’t know where it came from before then.

Worn, but still gorgeous.

Worn, but still gorgeous.

It epitomizes Impact to me, because it has a strong composition, and is beautiful at every level of construction,

From its surface texture...

From its surface texture…

..to the tiny dots of color that build up the design.

..to the tiny dots of color that build up the design.

From its use of positive and negative space...

From its use of positive and negative space…

... to the richness of its borders.

… to the richness of its borders.

For the detail within detail...

For the detail within detail…

... and the glorious colors.

… and the glorious colors.

For its unique imagery...

Most of all, for its unique imagery…

...and the way all the elements work together.

…and the way all the elements work together.  Even the imperfections add to its character.

I had really never studied this rug before.  It has so many lessons for me on the way small features can build into a big impact!

For those of you interested in the details, I believe the warp is wool, 8-ply very loosely spun together.  The knots are also wool and there are about 84 per square inch, and there are two rows of plain wool weft between the rows of knots.  Sadly, I do not own ANY books on Oriental rugs, so I don’t know anything more about the knot technique or the imagery.  But you know I will be trying to fill that horrible gap in my knowledge.

*Textiles: The Art of Mankind gives the date as 2009, but the artist’s website gives the date as 2010.)


Generosity and Splendor

Generosity and Splendor

The Oaks of Montgomery antique store

The Oaks of Montgomery antique store

This is wonderful antique shop that I visited a few weeks ago, the same one where I bought the flour sack quilt.

On that same visit, I walked into a large, airy room that was filled with antique clothing.  I had been in this room about 15 years before, on a historic house tour, and I had a vague memory of the then owner of the house being in costume, greeting us in this room, and talking about the clothing of the past.

I realized that many of the dresses and hats in the room were replicas, but about half were the real thing.  They were for display only, but the kind owner gave me permission to take as many photographs as I wanted, and use them for this blog.  The most fabulous gown was hanging in an open wardrobe, and he even allowed me to move it so that I could get good pictures.  And now I can share it with you!

Black sequined gown, c. 1900.

Black sequined gown.  Collection of The Oaks of Montgomery Antiques and Consignments

Detail of the collar.

Detail of the collar, and intricate beadwork on the bodice.

My guess is that this dress is from 1900 – 1905.  I am basing that on the relatively narrow skirt, and the sleeves that are reduced in size from the giant leg-o’-mutton sleeves that were in style from 1894 – 1896.  However, if you can date it with more precision, I would be happy to hear from you!

Close-up of the embellishment.

Close-up of the embellishment.

I was happily shooting away, getting pictures to show the construction, when my husband asked what sequins were made of.  I thought that modern ones are made of some sort of plastic, but I had no idea what earlier ones were made of!

So that started me on a hunt.  The most interesting article about sequin history is here at Fanzine (although the constant use of sentence fragments wears thin after a few paragraphs.  It’s like Sam Spade is narrating textile history).  The part that sticks with me, is that during the early 1800s, Napoleon tried to sustain his soldiers on pure gelatin, unsuccessfully.  French inventors then found other uses for gelatin, including rolling it into sheets, punching and electroplating to make shiny spangles.  The sequins took dye well, but they also melt in the heat, so not many of them have survived.  (I would think, especially not here in Texas.)

That article made it sound like the gelatin sequins were first produced in the early 1800s, but this article from the Smithsonian says the process started in the 1930s (and that is also where I found the link to the Fanzine article).  It also links to this site about the 2009 recreation of a sequined jacket of the 1600s! at Plimoth Plantation.  I was hoping to find details about sequin production in the centuries between King Tut’s gold and the gelatin sequins, some time that would bring me closer to understanding the embellishment on this dress.  The Plimoth historians mention that their recreated jacket used more than 10,000 gilded spangles, and that they brought back production methods unused for hundreds of years, but the blog that detailed their process has apparently been taken down, so no more details available there.  :(

Detail, showing the chain stitching that holds the sequins to the tulle.

Detail, showing the chain stitching that holds the sequins to the netting.

What about the fabric to which the sequins are affixed?  My inclination was to call that “tulle,” but realizing I knew nothing about the sequins made me question my labeling of the fabric too.

Here’s what 1964 Textile Fabrics and Their Selection* has to say:

Nearly all the laces classified as “real laces” can be duplicated by machine with slight variations and simplifications.  Machinery for making looped net was invented about 1764.  But the forerunner of the present lace machine, the bobbinet machine, was patented by John Heathcote in the early 1800’s and was later modified…

Bobbinet, which comes in wide lengths like dress goods, is often imported from France…Bobbinet is sold by the hole count… The greater the hole count, the finer the quality.  When stiffened, [it] is used for veiling, evening gowns, and dress lining.

Tulle.  This is similar to bobbinet but is made in silk, rayon, or nylon and has a higher hole count.  Tulle is stiffened.

In Textiles: the Art of Mankind, Mary Schoesser gives more detail:

Tulle was first made in Nottingham, England, in 1768, and its mechanized construction was perfected and patented by John Heathcoat in 1809.  After his Loughborough factory was attacked by Luddites in 1816, he removed to Tiverton, Devon, and also established a steam-powered factory in Tulle, France — a location that gave its name to this net.  (p. 169)

I find it really amazing that machines for making lace were in use so long ago!

Detail of the layers of cloth and embellishment at the hemline.

Detail of the layers of cloth and embellishment at the hemline.

The gown being held up in the light (only for a moment!) by my patient husband.

The gown being held up in the light (only for a moment!) by my patient husband.

I felt very honored to have some time with this beautiful survivor. The kindness of the store owner gave me a wonderful afternoon!


*Fifth edition, by Isabel B. Wingate, Prentiss-Hall, Inc.

Too Many Lambs


Here is my gift to you on International Happiness Day!

Originally posted on Meridian Jacobs Weblog:

I know, how could there be too many lambs? When there are too many it’s hard to get that perfect jumping lamb photo. There is always another lamb in the wrong place. Here are tonight’s attempts. (Thank goodness for digital cameras.)DSC_3127 DSC_3243

DSC_3152DSC_3186DSC_3190DSC_3227DSC_3231  DSC_3271

This one is today’s favorite:DSC_3161

View original

15 in ’15 First Quarter Check-in

15 in ’15 First Quarter Check-in

After a very wet and overcast winter, spring is here!


Spring in East Texas

Spring in East Texas

Time to check in on my list of goals for the year.  (My original post about 2015 goals is here.)

I am really enjoying this checklist structure.  I feel like I am cruising along, getting a little bit done in a lot of areas, and pretty much staying with the program.

So far, three of the areas are getting most of the emphasis.

I had picked 14 fabrics I wanted to finish up and get out of here, and I just finished up the third one.  I think I bought this fabric back in the 80s, planning to make clothes for an old-fashioned cloth doll for one of my daughters.  That never happened.

Fabric from the 1980s.

Fabric from the 1980s.

Older fabrics feel so much better than a lot of what is available today, but I just didn’t have any other fabrics to blend in with it.  There are not a lot of dusty rose and Wedgewood blue fabrics out there.  I found a long thin piece of a floral, with “1986” and “Teflon® finish” printed on the selvedge, and decided to do a little strippy lap quilt.  I just quilted the large floral strips, and not too precisely either.  But the important thing is that this fabric has finally made it into a useful project.

Two fabrics used up, just before their 30th anniversary.

Two fabrics used up, just before their 30th anniversary!  (The back is that small-scale stripe, too.)

Another goal I had was to watch some of the many craft videos and online classes I have.  I chose an easy-to-achieve number here, and said I would watch 11 segments.  I could mark this goal complete for this year, because I have watched 19!  I have gotten a lot of ideas and tips from them too.  One that sticks with me is regarding ink paint sticks.  I had tried them once, just coloring directly on fabric, and didn’t really like the result.  In a Quilting Arts video, I saw that you should scribble with the paint stick on a piece of palette or freezer paper, and then pick up the pigment with a brush, and apply it that way.  Ah, instructions. If I wasn’t surrounded by such a plethora of them, maybe I would pay more attention to them.

Another goal was to share textile knowledge six times.  I have given three weaving lessons, and then last night I brought a loom to a 4-H group.  There were about 30 kids, ranging in age from 5 to 15.  The previous month, a spinner had come and showed her work, so although I had brought some different fibers and a drop spindle with me, I proceeded to the weaving process.  For 5 – 10 minutes, I showed a variety of textiles, old and new, and told something special about each one, and then I let the kids weave if they wanted to.

I always enjoy the reaction of those kids that do give it a try.  They pick it up so quickly, and then they start asking all kinds of questions — “How do you change colors?”  “What do you do when you run out of space?”  “Are you sure you don’t have to tie a knot in the ends?”

Last night there were two in particular who were so interested.  One was a boy about seven years old.  As he waited his turn, he was flipping through all the samples I had brought, and kept returning to this 8 harness weave:

8 harness twill

8 harness twill

He was really studying it, and trying to figure out how to do that.  I had only brought a 4 harness loom, and I was having all the other kids do plain weave, but I thought he was ready for more, so I started him on twill.  He was very intent and soon figured out that he could reverse the treadling.

The red twill is where the 7-year-old started weaving.

The red twill is where the 7-year-old started weaving.

The other interested one was also a boy, about 14.  He took a short turn, and then left to go on to the other activities in the room.  But he kept coming back, and saying things like, “So you could have a really big loom, and then you could make wider pieces, right?  But then you would have so many treadles, you wouldn’t have enough feet to work them.”  So I explained about tying up more than one harness to a treadle.  Understanding would dawn, and he would go off for a while, and then come back with, “So you could use some really thick warps, and some thin ones, and space them out differently, right?”  It is so amazing, to talk with someone who gets it so quickly, much more quickly than I ever did!

SO!  I’m having lots of fun completing some projects and goals, and lots more ideas are springing up too.

Toadflax!  I am going to have to draw some toads spinning!

Toadflax! I am going to have to draw some toads spinning!


Flour Sacks – and More! – Quilt

My poor husband has been suffering from cabin fever, due to being stuck at home while recuperating from shoulder surgery, during weeks and weeks of rain.  He is able to work from home, but he can’t do any of his usual renovation or gardening projects, and it is driving him crazy.  Saturday was cool and overcast, not inviting weather to be out and about, but he couldn’t stand it any more, and decided we should head to town and see what was going on.

You’d think he would learn, that when he takes me to town, textiles will surely find me and follow me home!

This time, we went into some new (to us, anyway) antique shops, and sure enough, an interesting find was waiting for me.

When I first spotted it, it was tossed into a bathtub.

When I first spotted it, it was tossed into a bathtub!

I had never seen anything like this before – squares of fabric are folded into triangles, and then sewn in rows to a backing fabric, making a 3-D effect.  There’s no batting, so it’s not really a quilt.  I guess you could call it a bed cover.

vintage bed cover

Internet research tells me that it might be called a “pine burr” pattern, although those are usually sewn in circles.  The pine burr is the official quilt pattern of Alabama!  This tutorial makes me want to make one myself!

“Pineapple” or prairie points” might be a more accurate name.  If you know anything about this pattern, I would love to hear from you!

The folded squares give a pineapple texture.

The folded squares give a pineapple texture.

It contains all kinds of fabric, from wool twills to silk and (I believe) rayon.  Tucks and seams that were in the original fabrics were incorporated into the quilt as is.  Many of them are flour sack prints.  There are even some little ears of wheat in the prints, and the words “home” and “night”.

Multiple textures, from coarse to fine.

Multiple textures, from coarse to fine.

The bedspread is about 68 inches (170 cm) by 76 inches (190 cm) long.  The fabric pieces were machine sewn in wiggly rows, about one inch apart, to four narrow strips of a heavy-duty cotton, 17 inches (43 cm) wide.  Each row of triangles has two machine seams attaching it to the backing. On the top side these joins are covered with a pink floral ruffle.   It looks to me as if two different people worked on it.  Two of the strips have smaller pieces, more regularly sewn.  The other two are a little more haphazard, and consist of mostly red, white, and blue fabrics.

One side has four large areas of red, white, and blue.

One side has four large areas of red, white, and blue.

The thing I love about it is the unfaded sides of the fabrics.  I took a picture of the points as they appear on the surface, then flipped them and tacked them down in the opposite direction, so you can see the original colors of the prints.

The top, faded surface of the pieces...

The top, faded surface of the pieces…

The same pieces, flipped down to show their original, bright colors.

The same pieces, flipped down to show their original, vibrant colors.  So festive!

The antique shop is in a house that was built in 1861.  I went into it about 15 years ago, when it was still just a residence, on a historic tour, and the owners at that time collected all sorts of things, including textiles.  The current owner said that this bedcover was part of the inventory that came with the house when he bought it, and other than than, he didn’t know anything about it.  (This shop owner was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, and I will have a few more posts about his collection.)

The bedcover is not pristine.  There are brittle, sticky strips on the back, as if someone put stick-on Velcro strips on it at one time, and it feels like there is starch in it, too.  But most of the individual fabrics are in good shape.

I am not sure if I will actually display it, but I do know I will find lots of inspiration in those fabrics, both the faded and the fresh.

If you have any advice on its care, I would love to hear from you too!

13 Ways of Looking at a Wren

13 Ways of Looking at a Wren

Carolina Wrens have dumpy little bodies that are constantly in motion.  Their characteristic bobbing movement reminds me of those cheap toys that have springy legs and suction cup feet – you push the toy all the way down, and when the suction cups let go, the legs spring up to full length.  That’s how the wrens move – turn sharply left, turn center and sink all the way down, spring up sharply to the right – over and over.

With strong white “eyebrow” stripes and a long, down-curving beak, they look like they are permanently sneering.  They remind me of feisty tiny old men. If they had hands they would hold miniature walking sticks to shake at unwelcome intruders.

They are absolutely undiscriminating as to where they build their nests, and I am always finding nests in old cardboard boxes of nails, or in old river shoes that have been left out in the barn.

Best of all, they say “cheeseburgie cheeseburgie cheeseburgie”  just like John Belushi on those old SNL skits.  (Listen to the second recording here, and you will see that I am right.)

Normally my photos capture the wrens in profile,

Carolina Wren in profile.

Carolina Wren in profile.

but about a month ago I got a picture straight on, that made me wonder how a wren sees around that beak!  I loved this composition of graceful lines of branches and vines arching protectively over the pear-shaped wren, and decided to use the image for some art quilt technique practice.

Carolina wren with vines

I loved the blurred patches of color in the background, too.  (I increased the saturation.)

To reduce my photos down to their important lines, I have been using Photoshop to convert the picture to black and white, and then using the “Find Edges” filter, and that gives an effect like this:

The wren photo run through the Stylize/Find Edges filter in Adobe Photoshop.

The wren photo after going through the Stylize/Find Edges filter in Adobe Photoshop.

But in her book Dreaming From The Journal Page, Melanie Testa suggests using just regular tracing paper to capture the lines you like in a picture, and then using that as a layer of an art journal page.  I tried it, and really preferred it — the lines looked more alive to me.  I used one traced drawing over a background of Golden acrylic paints, and one by itself, with some Inktense colored pencil details drawn on top.

The tracing paper drawing is glued over acrylic paints, and any extra tracing paper is cut or torn away .

The tracing paper drawing is glued over acrylic paints, and any extra tracing paper is cut or torn away .

A simple tracing with some colored pencil details.

A simple tracing with some colored pencil details.

Then it was time to translate this into fabric.  I wanted to see how vintage linens would work.  I folded an old raveled and stained linen damask napkin in half, put some batting in between the layers, and thread-sketched the image.

I had seen an article somewhere years ago, about printing an image on organza, and then mounting it with its original photograph to give a misty, hazy effect.  I couldn’t find the article anywhere so I did a little trial and error.  I printed the picture on a piece of silk organza, and it was much more transparent than I expected.  You could barely see it!  I was very disappointed.

And yet, when I laid it over the sketches, I saw that, even though it didn’t call attention to itself, it did add some depth and a hint of realism.

The thread sketch.

The thread sketch.

sketch organza detail

The organza print is very faint.  At this point, I was thinking, “Is this worth $2 a sheet?”

The painted sketch without the organza layer...

The painted sketch without the organza layer…

...and with the organza.  It's blurry because I didn't worry about registering it precisely, but it looks more 3-D to me.

…and with the organza. It’s blurry because I didn’t worry about registering it precisely, but it looks more 3-D to me.

Setting aside the organza for a while, I went on to try different media on the vintage linen, which was lovely to work on!  I used Jacquard Lumiere textile paints on one side —

Wren quiltlet with Lumiere paints.

Wren quiltlet with Lumiere paints.

— and Inktense pencils and textile medium on the other.  I preferred the more muted colors of the Lumiere paints.  But the pure hues of the Inktense pencils could look good on a project for kids.

Wren quiltlet with Inktense pencils.

Wren quiltlet with Inktense pencils.  Not my favorite piece, but it’s only practice.

I still wanted to find a good way to use the sheer image, so I searched online “printed organza with photos.”  One of the top results was a Quilting Arts video that I already had, but had never watched!  (Season 2, Episode 209, and the segment is downloadable here.)

I immediately watched it, and learned so much from artist Wen Redmond.  Due to the supplies I had at home, I ended up doing things a little differently than she does.  She dyes, prints, or paints special fabric to match her focus image, and then transfers the image onto that.  She sews the silk organza to fabric and mounts those on the front of artists’ stretcher bars, and then mounts the background image below.  The two printed images are then 3/4 of an inch apart, which she says is the perfect distance for them to register correctly, and still be readable as two separate images.

I used a regular artists’ canvas that I had on hand, flipped upside down.  Inside, on what would normally be the back of the canvas, I painted some green textile paint.  I printed the wren photo on a piece of printer silk, and attached it with basting spray.  I glued some batting scraps to the wooden bars of the canvas to pad them a little.  Then I sewed various scraps of fabric around the organza print, and wrapped them around the edges of the canvas.

The same image is used twice - a regular print inside the shallow box, and a sheer print suspended above.

The same image is used twice – a regular print inside the shallow box, and a sheer print suspended above.  If I decide I like it, I will probably add something more to the plain white sections.

This photo is taken from the side, to show how the two layers appear at different angles.

This photo is taken from the side, to show how the two layers appear at different angles.

The final effect is a little like those changeable pictures that came as Cracker Jack prizes.  I did not get the amazing results I  hoped for, but I can think of a lot of variables I can tweak to get better results.  And  I’m glad I finally got to this technique that has been on my “To Try” list for a long time.