Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary - An Extraordinary Man - LLoyd Cotsen

Too often we are blinded by the bling of our culture. For some reason . perhaps a trait of our competitive  human nature, we feel compelled to strive for stature by obtaining objects, many of which are “only for show”.  This results in over-extended finances and households brimming with unappreciated “stuff”.  Undoubtedly, there are many examples of outstanding articles : luxury cars (that I would be fearful to drive), crown-worthy jewelry (that I would be uneasy to wear) and medieval manuscripts ( that I could only touch wearing gloves and would not understand the language at any rate).  These extraordinary objects have much merit, of course, however, they are eclipsed, in my opinion, by those I can touch, admire and appreciate within my lifestyle.  The most frequently asked question I receive when asked to identify  a textile is:”What is it worth?”  My answer is always the same: “It is worth what someone is willing to pay for it, nothing more”  There is a difference between worth and value.  One might value a family keepsake, its “worth” may be negligible. 

These thoughts are the result of my learning of the death of one of my favorite people: Lloyd Cotsen, (1920-2017).  I was not a family friend, nor had I ever met the man, but he had a passion, a passion for the everyday, the little things that told a story. He was a man I could relate with, at least in a small way..  Cotsen was a collector..of many, many things.  An outstanding business man, he was CEO of Neutrogena and marketed the brand to every dermatologist and into most households.  His business successes enabled him to financially add to his collections.  However, his collections were of a broad interest and a result of a lifetime study of archeology.

He was also a great philanthropist and a benefactor to many museums.  His donation to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco consisted of Japanese bamboo baskets, to the Firestone Library at Princeton his collection of more than 40,000 children’s books.
To us in Santa Fe he is very highly regarded for his contribution of over 3,000 articles from his collections to the International Folk Art Museum and the endowment funds which provide support to the museum.  This very varied accumulation of articles include many textiles ( an arctic parka of walrus gut, as an example).

“I buy things because they strike an emotional bell, they appeal to my curiosity, to the thrill of discovery of the extraordinary in the ordinary.”
Lloyd Cotsen, 1998

It might be a worthy exercise to follow Cotsen’s ability to see the “extraordinary in the ordinary”.

                  The Extraordinary in the Ordinary,  Kahlenberg, Mary Ed., Abrams, Inc., 1998

This is one of my most favorite of all the books in my reference collection.  The text is informative, the photographs beautifully printed and the scope of Cotsen's collection is outstanding.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Appropriation

I recently read an internet article “A much needed primer on cultural appropriation”.

So, what does “appropriate” mean?  According to the dictionary the word appropriate means to take as ones own, to take for ones own: hence to steal.  We are all familiar that taking an invention protected by patent  is fraudulent.  Using another’s words either orally or in print is plagiarism.  However, it becomes more murky when we speak of intellectual properties or cultural values.    The reason I was intrigued by this article is that it addressed the issue of fashion and designers that have (and are) using cultural references in their designs with little appreciation to their true significance.

There has always been the idea that design (in whatever form) is derivative,  that is, it is based upon previous concepts , sometimes very explicit references, sometimes  only a vague hint of a precursor.  In Textile Designs (Meller and Elffers, Abrams, 1991) the authors state “…the recycling wheel, which sets the motif of textile designs on a circular road of eternal return.  Nothing disappears, and nothing appears out of nowhere.”  This might be taken to imply certain permission to copy.  But this is not what I am talking about in appropriation of culture.  Certainly we are seeing in the past few years a return to mid-century style, design and color patterns.

Cultural appropriation is very different.  It is taking the values and beliefs of a people, their physical characteristics and/or lifestyle.  It is removing these symbols from their original context and  using them in fashion , let’s be real here, for a profit.  The meaning of these cultural references is nowhere addressed, and, indeed often far, far removed from any original significance.  This is not a new problem.  In the 1950’s there was great interest in so-called “ethnic” designs. Yards of printed fabric presented Mexican senores in sombreros asleep beneath palms or with burros and senoritas with baskets of flowers.  There were “Little Black Sambo” pajamas and “Aunt Jemima” aprons.  Today this is not only considered sooo politically incorrect, but down-right inflammatory.  And yet today it continues with many ethnic groups.

The problem is, I think, the consumer sees a pleasing, or intriguing design, either in the print of the fabric or the construction of the final product.  Perhaps the offense lies in the glossy advertising.  Because  the real symbolism  is unfamiliar the consumer is unaware that this is perhaps offensive and derogatory to some.  Is there a solution?   Of course, but it may be a complicated one.  The onus is on both the consumer and the producer.  We must be more aware and receptive to the idea that everyone does not live, think and believe as we do.  If there is no market, there will be no further production.  Fashion manufacturers must be held accountable. Apologies after the fact should not be the final word.. If there is an instance of such breach of good faith the public should make their voices heard.  Afterall everyone is entitled to their heritage and beliefs  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"D" is for The Draper Corporation

“D” is for The Draper Corporation

Today, we take technology as a given.  New advances are made daily, increasing the productivity of our endeavors.  These advances are exponential, not linear.  By this I mean the tech wizards do not rely on a step-by-step method of discovery and advancement (starting from the beginning every time) but rather on the entire “mass” of information available.  Because we are so demanding of immediate advances  ( new cell phone technology is a great example) we forget  the difficulties encountered in the past by the pioneers of mechanization, the tinkerers and the inventors.

When the Draper Corporation ceased making power looms for textile production in the mid 1970’s, it had been in operation for over 130 years in Hopedale MA, and was once the largest maker of power looms.

Ira Draper was a wealthy farmer from Weston Massachusetts with an ability to improve heavy machinery, making it more efficient.  His great-great-grandfather, from Boston, was one of the first of the colonists to begin a business weaving and selling cloth, so textile production was an interesting pursuit for Ira.  In 1816 he obtained a patent for an improved flyshuttle hand  loom and the first self-acting temple.  The loom temple was a moving device allowing the weaver to manage 2 power looms at the same time   In 1829 he received a patent for an improved version off his original design and later sold his patents and the business to his son, James.

Ebenezer Draper bought the business from his brother, James, and in 1853 another brother, George, joined the firm of E.D.& George Draper.  Over the years, he created dozens of variations of the spindle.  Following Ebenezer’s retirement in 1868, George directed the company into the developing area of Ring Spinning.  By 1887 the company owned patents of 12 varieties of ring spindles. There are two methods of spinning Mule spinning and Ring spinning.  Mule is a type of spinning frame with an intermittent action.  It was used to a considerable extent for spinning wool, but only in limited usage in this country for cotton.  Ring spinning takes place on a ring frame which drafts the roving, twists the yarn and winds it on a bobbin simultaneously and continuously, greatly more efficient.

Many automated looms had been patented but were found to be impractical and were not used.  The Draper brothers decided to redesign and  manufacture automated looms.  One, the Northrop loom (named after its inventor, James Northrop), was redeveloped, allowing the weaver to run 16 looms at once.  In 1895 the Northrop Automated Loom was patented in England, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Austria and Spain, selling over 60,000 looms by 1900.

For many decades the Draper Corporation continued to make improvements on their products, selling to southern textile companies after the northern mills had closed.  In1967 the company became part of Rockwell International, ceasing production in the mid 1970’s. 

I am a great admirer of these far-sighted pioneers who through their imaginations and hard work have made incredible advances possible.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Holiday

Easter Holiday

This weekend we celebrate Easter.  For those in the northern hemisphere, Easter is synonymous with Spring!  After a long winter season, flowers and trees are blooming, birds are singing.  Easter also means bunnies and baskets of candy.  Of course, Easter has another meaning .  For Christians throughout the world it is the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ following his death by crucifixion as ordered by Pontius Pilate, the Roman prelate.

Many believe that certain textiles have intrinsic powers, not merely symbolic, that provide protection or bring good fortune.  One such textile is the Shroud of Turin.
The earliest legend concerns the “Image of Edessa”.  The king of Edessa (Turkey)
wrote to Jesus asking him to come and cure him of leprosy.  Unable to visit, Jesus sent a miraculous self-protrait imbuded with curative power.  Some equate this story with the Shroud of Turin, however the shroud’s  linen cloth bears the image of the entire front and back impressions of an apparently crucified man.  There has been controversy on whether this textile is the burial shroud of Jesus Christ or a medieval fabrication.  Results of carbon-dating posed the age of this textile to be no older than the 1200’s.  Others suggest the actual date cannot be determined due to contamination by centuries of manipulation.  The 14 ½ foot of linen fiber is owned by the pope, but it is in the care of the archdiocese of Turin, Italy.  The Catholic Church does not make any claims toward its authenticity and has long acknowledged that there are disagreements and questions that have not been successfully addressed.

There are other “miraculous” portraits of Jesus, one of which is known as the Veronica Veil.  Veronica, it is said, was a wealthy woman of Jerusalem who witnessed the journey to Golgatha that Christ made with the cross.  She wiped his face with her veil and his visage was imprinted upon it.  There were many “originals” of the textile and it was assumed that they had been painted, however the legend asserts that the image could duplicate itself miraculously.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Children's Clothing

Clothes for Tots

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal ( Sat-Sun March 18-19, 2017) entitled “Kid’s Style: The New Order” by Kari Molvar.  According to Molvar, there are on-line couture sites dedicated to children’s clothing and accessories for parents ( and presumably grandparents and other gift givers) specializing in the very high end , and price!, attire for the kiddie set. While there are retail outlets for children’s clothing at the mall, the variety is, admittedly, somewhat limited.  I remember shopping in Lisbon, where nearly every third shop specialized in clothing for infants and children.  This got me thinking of the history of clothing for children and the lack of information available, especially in the times prior to the 17th  century.  

After the 1700’s there is more information on this subject of youth fashions ,which can be found readily on the Internet.  It was not until the mid 1800’s that journals gave detailed descriptions of children’s wear.

 However, before that time there  is scarce reference to the costumes worn by children.  We get information of the past through paintings, drawings and literature created at the time.  While not always totally accurate, there is a tendency to put on a “good face” when rendering life styles, these sources do give  clues from which historians can draw plausible conclusions.  Herein lies our problem.  There are few pictorial references to children in early history.  One of the few references I found was a painting now in the Louvre “The Dauphin Charles Orland” 1495 by Maitre Des Moulins.  According to Francoise Boucher, ( 20,000 Years of Fashion), in the 16th C children’s costume “was still largely practical: flannel gowns, linen bibs, caps with turned up flaps worn over *‘beguins’.  In the course of the century they began to be dressed like miniature adults”.

                                                           Harry Abrams, Inc, NY

It is reasonable to assume that before the emergence of the middle classes in the 1800’s, few had the financial ability to hire portraits of their family.  Most paintings that were not of religious nature were those commissioned by nobility and, therefore, not an accurate representation of the general populace.  There is, sadly,  another reason that children were generally not represented in early times.  The rate of infant mortality was extremely high.  Many infants did not survive to childhood, many children did not survive past the age of five years. Perhaps, it was not deemed necessary to provided anything but the basic clothing of tunics and stockings and caps.  Until children reached an age when they were put to work in the fields (or later in factories) there was no perceived need for children’s costumes.  Even as they aged, as referenced by Boucher they were dressed in scaled-down versions of clothing worn by their parents.

Now, even the young toddler has a sense of what they would prefer to wear.  As I have said previously, I volunteer in the Children’s Room of our public library.  Every week for Pre-school Story-time 2-5 year olds attend dressed in costumes of their fictional heroes, or dress as seen in the media,  choosing their dress and accessories for themselves. Occasionally, their choices are humorous, albeit, whole hearted.  Nevertheless they are confident in their fashion style.

*Beguin- a folded piece of linen worn as a hood, under a cap, in the Flemish style.

Friday, March 17, 2017

May the Luck of the Irish Be With You

A Day to Wear Green

Wherever you go
Whatever you do
May the luck of the Irish
Be with you

Today is St Patrick’s Day and since my grandmother was Irish, as a child, I always considered this a very special day. I loved all the stories of the “wee people” and I was sure my family had a castle in Ireland. (Where that castle came from, I have no idea)

The textile tradition in Ireland is a long one.  The bogs were important to the production of flax and superior Irish Linen.  Taught by nuns, Irish women and their daughters made Irish lace and crochet.  See my blog “Irish Lace”, March 2013.

                                       Needlecraft, The Magazine of Home Arts, March 1931

Since my husband also has Irish ancestors, we have been dining this week on meals from Irish recipes:  Shepard’s Pie, Irish Soda Bread, Scones and Smoked Salmon.  But, tonight it is Corned Beef and Cabbage, my grandmother’s recipe!!

So today, wear green, whether Irish or not for good luck.  And, if you should see a rainbow, search for the pot of gold.  You never know!!!  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

C is for Candlewicking

C is for Candlewicking

This is the third blog in my series of alphabetical themed textile topics ( A is for Amalac, B is for Burlap)

If you are not familiar with this needlework technique, it is understandable  as this type of embroidery is not common today.  The history of candlewicking goes back to the late 1600’s when Englishwomen embroidered white bedspreads.  On a twilled woven linen ground they embroidered clustered flowers and fruits in very small French knots.  Flowing vines were made from white cord laid and couched.  In the late 18thC  this knotted worked appeared in America where the white cord was replaced with “wicking” giving it the name “candlewicking”.  Wicking is the material used for making fiber to be cut into lengths used for making candle wicks.

The early candlewicking was always worked white on white.  Vines  and clusters of grapes were popular motifs, also sprays and baskets of flowers.  For early American candlewicking 4-, 6-, and 8 ply thread was used.  The needles were long with a large eye and a wide shaft.  After the embroidery was completed the spread or counterpane was washed to shrink the fabric so that the threads were held in place more firmly.

Candlewicked spreads were replaced by the production of tufted chenille.  In the late 1970’s there was a limited renewed interest in this handwork, usually for the making of small, decorated items, such as sachets.  Kits were available which contained the ground fabric, wicking, needles and a pattern.

                      Design: Davie Harrington, LWS Productions, Inc., Union Lake Mi, 1983

Two kits from my collection.  The Christmas stocking kit (No. 8639 "Snowflakes") was produced by Creative Moments a trademark of National Paragon Corp., NY, 1983

There are many vintage candlewicking kits in new condition available on eBay at very reasonable prices.