Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Satinet - A Nineteenth Century Fabric

While at the Textile Society of America Biennial I attended a presentation by Peggy Hart, a weaver and author of Wool: Unraveling an American Story of Artisans and Innovations, 2017.

The subject of her paper was a fabric manufactured in the early industrial period in the mills of 18 cities in New England, called satinet. Production began in 1820 in the Capron Mill located in Uxbridge,  MA.  According to Hart, the fabric was woven commercially from 1820 to the 1860's with a cotton warp and woolen weft.  Initially woven on hand looms and then on modified cotton power looms in  NE mills with production spreading westward .  Production was usually locally marketed as fabric for whaling and sea-going outer wear and later for water-proof military uniforms and workingmen and women's clothing.  Suddenly available machine spun cotton for warp and the introduction of Merino wool in 1820 for the wool weft increased the availability.  However the invention of woolen looms that could produce all wool fabrics, said Hart, gradually replaced satinet with flannel, kersey and other woolen fabrics.

Constructed in a satin weave with a smooth, somewhat luxurious hand, but unlike satin with its cotton warp and wool weft.  The weft or filling threads form the face of the fabric.  It is finished as a wool and undergoes a fulling process.

One of the benefits of attending this large symposium is the opportunity to acquire information on a huge variety of subjects on which one might not be familiar.  Thank you Peggy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

TSA 16th Biennial Symposium

Textile Society of America

I just returned from Vancouver, Canada having attended the 16th Biennial Symposium of the TSA.  Although many papers are  presented on various subjects there is always an underlying theme to the symposium.  This year was entitled "The Social Fabric:  Deep Local to Pan Global".

Deep Local, "defined as knowledge, beliefs, resources and practices that are profoundly anchored in particular communities and places, which reflect not only the cultures of the original inhabitants but also those of later settlers."  The intent of the discussions was to "probe the impact and influence of settlers and immigration on an already long-inhabited land, and how textile traditions have been influenced, changed, and/ or adapted through and by cultural contact."  (Program Guide)

Globalization is a critical factor in our lives.  It affects commerce and trade, economic and job development and our ability to connect with peoples throughout the globe.  Introducing the concept of globalization to those communities strongly rooted in the traditions of the Deep Local is a challenging endeavor, but one of great importance, not only to that local community but to the greater whole.  We can no longer claim the superiority of our particular beliefs and customs when there is so much to be gained by sharing with others.  There is a wealth of knowledge to be explored and technology is available to enable us to discover and engage  with those who may enrich our lives.
We must not allow political, bureaucratic policies to obstruct our  endeavors to merge local traditions with global interests. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Paracas Necropolis and the Paracas Mantle

Pre-Hispanic loom and Textile of the Paracas culture of Southern Peru

Paracas Textiles

Paracas, from the Quechua language of the Quechua people of Peru and parts of Bolivia, Chile, Equador, Colombia, comes from "para-ako" which means "sand falling like rain".  The Paracas flourished on the south Pacific coast of the central Andes in Peru around 600-150 B.C.E.  It is one of the earliest known complex societies in South America.

In the ancient burial grounds on the Paracas Peninsula the dead were wrapped in layers of textiles into "mummy bundles".  The largest and richest bundles contained hundreds of brightly embroidered textiles, feathered costumes and jewelry, as well as food offerings.

Over the course of several years the noted Peruvian archaeologist, Julio Tello, recovered 394 such bundles.  Because of the hot, dry nature nature of the peninsula everything they found was in a remarkable state of preservation.

The Great Paracas Necropolis was discovered by archaelogosts during the 1920's.  This vast communal burial site held 420 bodies.

The Paracas Textile is a complex mantle or cloak, most likely a ceremonial object.  It measures 58 1/4 x 24 1/2 in.made from camelid fiber and cotton.  Mantle consists of 90 individual, colorful figures decorating a border.  the border of 3 dimensional figures are embroidered in cross-knit looping. The interior cloth is simple, possibly of an earlier date. Cross-loop stitch flowers join the border to the central cloth.

There were, of course many other textiles excavated from the Necropolis.

Paaracas Necropolis Embroidery, a mythological demon carrrying a trophy head

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Burial Cloths- The Paracas Textiles

Burial Cloths

Textiles are fragile, ancient textiles are exceedingly so. It is remarkable that there are any extant, ancient textiles surviving to tell their story. These fragments of cloth were created from natural materials, which suffer from climate variations, moisture and the ravages of insects and vermin. So where is it that these survivors were, and still are, being found? One source is burial sites. The mummies of Urumchi, and their coverings, were preserved, according to Elizabeth Wayland Barber, by being buried during the winter months in the Asian desert, sort of “freeze-dried”. Some early burials in Europe were preserved in peat bogs which prevented oxygen from penetrating the corpse bundle. We are familiar with the ancient Egyptians whose mummification practices and burial tombs survived for centuries.

All these sources remained intact until the arrival of tomb raiders and looters. Naturally, one would choose to collect jewelry, pottery, coins and such rather than fragments of cloth. After all, the looters had to satisfy their clients with display-worthy trophies. But if you are thinking that these bands of entrepreneurial ghouls , in the dark of night, risking all to eke out a living for their families are the only culprits, you are ignoring the professional grave robbers, many archaeological expeditions of the past.

Universities and their museums depend upon wealthy patrons.  In the past patrons gained much social status by donating collections as well as monies for buildings to house them to which they appended their name.  The people of the Victorian age were extremely interested in natural history, as witnessed by the overwhelming number of objects displayed in drawing rooms, libraries and almost everywhere there was an open surface.  Definitely a "more is more" philosophy. The excavation of the tomb of King Tut brought "amateur archaeologists" and their families in droves to dig sites, often supervising the sites themselves with little knowledge about proper catalogue procedures.  The result of their efforts were trunk-loads of artifacts removed from the site to their homes.  Government-sanctioned expeditions "invaded" countries and , in the name of preservation  and education literally stole the heritage of the native people. This looting continues today.

The reason for this blog is my research into Pre-Hispanic textiles of Peru Some burial sites contain hundreds of textiles.  One of the most famous is the Paracas Necropolis. The Great Paracas Necropolis was discovered by archeologists in the 1920's, a burial. site containing 420 bodies, dating 300-200 BCE .  Julio Tello, the Peruvian archaelogist began excavating Paracas after witnessing looted textiles in the Lima antique markets.However, in 1930 he was forced to abandon Paracas to the looters who exported antiquities illegally abroad.  It is reported that the Swedish Consul General in Peru exported  textiles to Sweden to form what is known as the Gothenburg Collection.  Due to questionable exhibition and storage conditions many of these textiles are in very poor condition.  Although Peru wants these textiles returned, like many countries seeking to reclaim their properties, this is not going to happen.

Next blog we will look at the famous Paracas textiles.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Synthetic Microfiber Pollution.

As Fibers Seep into Water, States Seek Warning Tags
    By Lindsey Rupp
    Bloomberg News

I have written before about the contents of the book “Fashion Victims” in which author Alison Matthews David  writes of the "dangers of dress, past and present".

I think many are not aware that there are dangers in the clothing we purchase and wear. Perhaps, we assume that care and warning labels are sufficient, although I would guess not many buyers are even aware they exist (unless they are scratchy, and then they are snipped from the garment).  Or it may be that the government with its thousands of protective concerns for us and the environment  may be cognizant of dangers and are actually doing something proactive (not that I believe that!)

I read the above article this morning and have never considered the problem of shedding microfibers.  It seems that researchers have been finding these synthetic escapees in our water supplies and are placing the blame on "garments made of polymer-based cloth" which, when washed, can actually shed as many as 1,900 fibers with each washing.  These tiny devils are less than 5 millimeters in length and are not filtered by your washing machine nor water filtration plants.  They are known to have been found in sea water and aquatic life, and you may not want to hear this, but are found in bottled water.  So much for the crystal clean water found only in the Rockies, or maybe France.

So what is being done about this pollution?  It seems as though 2 states, California and New York are proposing bills that would require a warning tag on all garments with more than 50% synthetic fiber content.  Of course, this approach has not been endorsed by the retail manufacturing industry.  Not that it would be an inducement to return to natural fiber clothing for the multitudes buying synthetic clothing.

There were listed 3 temporary solutions promoted by the advocacy group, 5Gyres Institute.
              Firstly, wash you clothing less.  It is true we go a bit overboard with cleanliness, grabbing      our alcohol-based hand cleansers at every opportunity but I shutter to think of that effect on my yoga class.
               Secondly, use a front-loading washing machine (why this is better, I don’t know) but they are much more efficient and use much less water per load.
                Thirdly, there are, somewhere on the market, additional filters that can be added to your machine to catch microfibers.  But then, what do you do with them once they have been captured?

Knowing a problem exists is only the beginning and I doubt the person who tosses (no recycling!) plastic water bottles everywhere and drinks with plastic straws would even care, after all the fibers are only 5 millimeters long!!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Camelid Fiber - Part Three

Meet the Camelids – Part Three

In my previous blogs I discussed the members of the camelid family: camels, vicunas and guanacos.  Two other species belong to this tribe, alpacas and llamas.

Like vicunas and guanacos, alpacas and llamas are descendents of the Limini branch of the ancient camelids.  While vicunas and guanacos are both wild tribes, the alpacas and llamas have long been domesticated.  Alpacas were domesticated nearly seven thousand years ago, llamas shortly after, both in the Peruvian Andes.  Originally it was thought that both alpacas and llamas were descendents of guanacos, however DNA evidence has shown that the ancestor of llamas is the guanaco, the ancestor of alpacas is the vicuna.

Llamas are used primarily as pack animals and there are three types of SouthAmerican llamas in existence today, the wooly type, the non-wooly type and an intermediate.  While some llamas shed their wool, others have to be shorn and because their fiber tends not to be consistent, it has less of a commercial use.  Frequently their fiber is blended with sheep wool. 

Alpacas are smaller than llamas and are bred for their fiber.  There are two types of alpaca, the Huacaya and the Suri.   The huyaca or “ wooly “type is the most prominent, while only less than 10 percent is suri with long, sleek fibers.  Processing in Peru includes sorting the fibers for natural color shades (22) and several quality grades.  Nearly half the yield is graded as super fine. Each animal will produce 7-10 pounds of fleece per year.
Alpaca textiles are light-weight woven fabrics, stronger than sheep woolen fabrics with a silky luster.  Frequently alpaca fibers are combined with manufactured fibers.

Cute, eh!

Alpaca scarf

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Camelid Fibers Part Two

Meet the Camelids –Part two

In Meet the Camelids (part one – 4-15-18) I discussed the origins of members of the camelid family, namely old world camelids, bactrian and dromedary camels who are descended from a tribe of North American animals, the Camelini.  These animals migrated to Asia across the Bering Land Bridge and became the camels of Asia and Africa.

Today I wish to present the second tribe of the now extinct North American camelids, the Lamini.  This tribe was to become the South American camelids, vicuna, guanaco, llama and alpacas.  The original ancestor Limini gave rise to two independent and distinct populations, both wild: Vicunas and Guancos.

Vicunas, the smallest of the camelids, arrived in South America nearly two million years ago on the altoplano of the Andes mountains.  When the European invasion of South America occurred it was estimated that there was nearly 2 million vicunas, however, over the ensuing years the population dwindled to nearly extinction due to hunting.  The down of the animals is amongst the most expensive in the world and was a forbidden export for international trading.  Now due to the efforts of Peru, Argentina and Bolivia and Chile the numbers have increased to the extent that natives of the Andes are allowed to hand gather the wool and export it legally.  There is some farming of the animals taking place in Argentina, while other countries depend upon gathering the wool from flocks in the wild.  It is possible for vicunas to breed with South American alpacas producing Paco-Vicuna.  This is rare and is not permitted to happen (if it can be avoided) by those wishing to keep the vicuna breed pure and from further extinction.  Since it is thought alpacas are descended from vicunas there has been DNA research to find animals that are alpacas but with vicuna traits.  Since vicunas cannot be exported these animals are being bred instead in North America..  These are also called Paco-Vicunas but are , in reality specially bred alpacas.

Vicunas are the smallest of the camelids with brown body and white bib and underbelly

Guanacos live in the high plains of Chile and Argentina and to a lesser degree in the mountain regions of Equador, Bolivia and Peru.  As with the vicunas they suffered from the Spanish emigration, now numbering around 400,000-600,000.  Although they are considered wild, they are easily tamed and can be found in US zoos and private farms.  They are double-coated, like llamas with soft downy undercoats.  Their fiber, while sparse, is secondary in fineness to vicuna.

Guanacos are the size of a medium llama with brown coats and white underbellies and gray faces.