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.