Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Celebrating Italian Design

A Tribute to Italian Design

While we were in Milan ( see my blog on  Milan fashion week) wandering and window shopping I spied the most awesome store front in the plaza across from the famous La Scala Opera House.  The first floor of a block-long building showed the interior of a high-end haberdashery shop.  Through the windows the public could see stacks of fabrics, masses of buttons, zippers and all manner of sewing accessories.  This display was so realistic that many people tried to enter the building.  I admit, I would have spent days and days within.  But, of course, none of this wonderment was real.  It was the most clever fa├žade celebrating  Italian  design.  There were other public displays to be found around the city featuring design in many areas.

This is another Italian Design display found in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  This ornate shopping arcade has a floor plan on the shape of a Latin cross.  Mosaics represent the continents of Asia, Europe, America and Africa and the glass and metal ceiling was the first in Italy to be structural rather than merely decorative.  This display, in front of the Prada flagship store, featured Italy’s great reputation as jewelers to the world.  Renaissance figures adorned billboard-sized panels, dressed in finery, and, of course, their fabulous jewels.  The jewels were showcased in three dimensions .

You just never know what you might encounter.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Italian Fashion Week- Milan

Milan Fashion Week

We recently returned from a short trip to Italy, beginning with Milan during Fashion Week.  Milan, capital of the Lombardy region in northern Italy which stretches from the Alps bordering Switzerland to the flat plain of the river Po, is both the financial and fashion capital of Italy.  A fashion design rival of both New York and Paris, Milan hosted more than 60 fashion shows and more than 80 presentations with  800 showrooms throughout the city.  “This is an Italian city of progress and change” stated “King” Giorgio Armani.

Before a glimpse at the fashions for spring, 2028, let’s take a walk through the so-called “fashion quadrilateral” ( Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni. And Via sant’Andrea). Flagship stores from Armani to Versache  along with many independent boutiques offer a window-shoppers dream.  The one word I thought of as I viewed the fall and winter displays was “texture”.  Designs were often of several fabrics, heavily textured (some bulky).  The addition of animal furs ( and hair) both faux and real  added additional layers which, at times appeared to be in their natural state.  Long rovings of slightly curly fleece-like material hung from the waist or hem of garments.  (I called this the “wet English sheep-dog look”)  Other trimmings were fine textured, obviously synthetic and highly colored, Even handbags could not escape this furry look.



But you did not have to spend your Euros in the up-scale establishments, as the market stalls offered much cheaper versions.

The promise of Spring was similar but slightly more refined.  Plaids and checks from head to toe and multicolored jackets worn with cowboy boots.  But there was also shimmer and glitz with Armani’s shiny black suits and iridescent fabrics from Gucci.  But fear not, fringe was still shown , now floating on the hemline of long dresses.

Though those of us who do not walk the red carpets , do not greet heads of state, nor jet around the world with valets to care for their wardrobes can still appreciate these outpourings of fashion creativity.  The “trickle-down effect” soon reaches the ready-to-wear consumers and don’t we all want to be in fashion?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Spider Silk Sweater

Spider Silk

On the outside of the patio door to my office is a huge spider web.  I would say about 18 inches in diameter and tethered  to various hanging baskets.  The spider responsible is an enormous orange garden spider who appears occasionally in the center of the web, otherwise I don’t know where it resides, which, I admit makes me nervous when I’m outside.  I don’t like spiders at all, but “Goldie” is living outside and her web is so delicate and intricate that I find myself looking at it often.

                                            fabric swatch   American, cotton, c 1930

Many years ago I was writing an introductory course on Textile History  (Textiles 101, if you will) and prepared a lecture on little-known animal fibers.  Several animals produce silk filaments, of course Bombyx mori is the most notable, but certain mollusks, insects, as well as my “unfriends” the arachnids. 

According to the Roman poet, Ovid, Arachne was widely noted for her weaving skills and challenged the goddess Athena to a contest, which, apparently she won hands-down.  Now Athena was never known to be a gracious loser and in a rage of envy destroyed Arachne’s beautiful tapestry.  In despair, Arachne tried to hang herself , but was transformed by Athena into a spider.

As silk producers, arachnids ( nearly 300 million years ago) far preceded the silk “worm”.
The physical properties are very impressive.  Different species produce silk of varying characteristics.  Spider attachment discs are made of a strong glue to secure the draglines and framelines.  Certain species produce a dragline silk that is stronger by weight to steel, surpassing Kevlar.  This excellent tensile strength has been suggested that a pencil thick strand of silk could stop a 747 in flight., and its elasticity is superior to Nylon.  Some silks are good insulators, while some absorb water, and some are water resistant.  The reason insects, when in contact with a web, cannot escape their demise is as special silken thread called “cribellate” which forms a fine sticky mat combed atop the more substantial silk tract. 

Historically, several cultures have used spider silk medicinally , as well as for fishing nets  There have been attempts to use the silk for textiles in the early 1700’s but the care of the living spiders proved too difficult.  Speaking of difficult, in the 1800’s spider silk was reeled directly from harnessed spiders.  The military has long investigated spider silk for strong lightweight materials.

DuPont’s advertisement in the Scientific American of July 1996 tells that they were studying these biopolymer structures of spider webs by using recombinant DNA technology.  I had not heard more about this research until several years ago while attending a Textile Society conference, I met a retired chemist who had worked for DuPont.  She told me a fellow chemist had resurrected these studies.  So maybe, we shall see spider filament for use in textiles.

For me, a spider silk  sweater, NO WAY!!!!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Researching the Textiles of Ancient Peru

Referencing Pre-Columbian Peruvian Textiles

After visiting the Amaco museum of pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles in January (See my blog Textile Treasure of Ancient Peru, 2/19/17)    I was inspired to do more research on the cultures of ancient Peru.  Here are only a few of references I am using.

                                                              DK Publishing INC, NY

                                           Paul Hughes, FINE TEXTILE ART, London, 1995

                                     Andreas Lommel, Hamilton publishing Group LTD, 1966

                                                   Samuel K. Lothrop, Rizoli INC., 1964

                               Lucy Davies & Mo Fini, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1994

  There is also much information available on the internet.  The images of textiles created thousands of years ago by these peoples is truly inspiring.

A few ancient textile tidbits, for now

                                                      Feathered textile, Amanco Museum

                                                   Weaving fragment, Amano Museum

Friday, August 4, 2017

Magic Clothes of Power:- Episode 1, The Wild Swans

Magic Cloths of  Power

For many years I have been asked to present lectures on various textile topics.  One of my very favorite topics I will share with you over several months : Magic Clothes of  Power.

I once had read a book by Barbara Michaels about a “bad” quilt.  It was not poorly constructed, not green and purple and orange, it was EVIL. and very dire consequences befell anyone who came to be associated with this textile.  So I began gathering stories and information about textiles that had intrinsic powers.  Not represented power, such as flags or military uniforms, but possessed actual , beyond the norm, abilities.

Folklore and literature abound with these legends.  However there are equally as many accounts of peoples and cultures that, today, believe that certain textiles have been empowered in some way either by their creator, or the fibers and materials used in their manufacture, or by some divine intervention.

                                                      Fabric-  England, Chintz, c.1835

Today, I go to literature for such an account: “Wild Swans”, Denmark, Hans Christian Anderson.
In this story, a beautiful princess weaves shirts made from the fibers of the stinging nettle plant for her 11 brothers.  It seems that their evil stepmother had cast a spell upon the boys, turning them into wild swans.  A good witch told the princess the completed shirts, when worn by her brothers, would turn them from swans back into young men again.  These wonderfully soft shirts made of something so unlikely could reverse magical spells and would endow their wearers with magical powers. And so it was.

There is, usually, in the background of such  stories a grain of truth.  In this case, it is the fiber of the nettle plant.  Stinging nettle – Urtica dioica, is a herbaceous perennial 1-2 meters in height, found abundantly in boggy areas in northern Europe and Asia, less commonly found in Canada and US.  The underside of the leaves are found with slender hairs containing several toxic chemicals which are released when brushed against causing itching and pain.

The textile fiber is a bast fiber found in the stem and is processed like flax.into very soft , supple fabric. Nettle, which was still used in northern, central and eastern Europe well into the 20th C, was found in a tomb in Denmark dating to 1,000 BCE.  White fibers originally believed to be flax by archeologists were later shown to be nettle.  When Germany and Austria ran short of cotton during the war, the value of nettle was recognized and 2 species were chosen for textiles.  It is estimated that Germany harvested over two thousand tons of wild nettles to weave fabric for their shoulders.

Several years age, my husband and I were dining in a restaurant in Istanbul which served us steamed nettle, apparently the toxins are eliminated by cooking.  Frankly , it tasted much like any cooked green.

I will share more of these textile tales in upcoming blogs.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"E" is for Eyelet


Eyelet fabric can be described as a combination of lace and embroidery.  It can be found in a variety of patterns which cover the fabric surface from selvage to selvage.  Usually produced in white but occasionally it can be found in colors.

The design is punched into the fabric ground by a series of knives called bohers.  The “hole is then stitched to prevent fraying. 

In the 1860’s an early hand-operated embroidery machine was developed, subsequently, a 24 needle machine was produce which could be powered by hand or electricity..  This machine was known as the “schiffli”, German for boat.   Programs were written in punch paper( somewhat similar to Jacqard weaving and computer punch cards).

Early schiffli machine circa 1910.  Note the machine operator is following the punch pattern.

Today a modern schiffli machine is 65 feet long and 16 feet high, containing 1,020 needles.. Most manufacturers in the US using these embroidery machines are in New Jersey.  These machines are computer run.