Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Year Greetings

Greetings for a New Year

Time to get ready to welcome a other new year.  Whatever great and wonderful things you accomplished in 2013, try for even great successes in 2014.  That is my only resolution, to do better.  I think that covers it all.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday Message

Holiday Greetings

We are very fortunate living in Santa Fe where there are many different cultures and traditions.  Especially around the holiday season there are concerts, ballet and dance performances.  The Plaza is alight with decorated trees and a large menorah celebrating Hanukkah.  There are farolitos (brown paper bags filled with sand and a lit candle, called lumenarias elsewhere) lighting roof tops and pathways.  This is also the time to celebrate the winter solstice, Kwanza and traditional feast days of the various pueblos.

However you celebrate the season, may your traditions bring you peace.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cold Weather Means Flannel Shirts

Cold Weather Fabric

This has been rough weather for the US Midwest and East Coast.  Large snowfalls and very, very cold weather with high winds have made this late fall one to remember (yes, it isn’t winter quite yet).

During cold weather we turn to “comfort” fabrics: wooly socks and caps, fleece jackets and chenille robes.  One such fabric has been a part of the winter textile scene for many, many generations: FLANNEL

Looks as if I am partial to red flannel!

Most of us can remember flannel pj’s (some with feet!), flannel sheets for the beds and flannel shirts.  Every outerwear catalog still offers these textiles as they are easy care, warm and relatively inexpensive.

Flannel is a type of weave, there are no fibers named “”flannel”.  Flannel  fabric can be created by using cotton, wool and manufactured fibers.  Having originated in Wales, the word “flannel” is derived from a Welsh word “gwlamen” which means related to wool.

Wool flannel is known for its draping qualities and is usually used as a suiting fabric.
Remember hearing about the movie “The Man in the Gray Flannel suit”, 1956, with Gregory Peck?

Most flannel textiles today are made from cotton and/or acrylic fibers. The woven fabric is napped.  Napping is a finishing process which uses a cylinder covered with teasels or wires over which the stretched cloth is passed raising a nap on the surface.  The protruding fibers cause the finished cloth to be warmer, more compact and softer

For those of you in Winter's path, stay warm and please stay safe.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The T-Shirts in My Dresser Drawer

Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt

There is no article of apparel more common to every closet than the T-shirt.  From infants to grandfathers, from NYC to Beijing, T-shirts are an integral part of everyone’s wardrobe.
Why?  They are comfortable, easily laundered, available in thousands of colors and patterns, and can be personalized with logos.  But, above all, they are cheap!!  Not only reasonable, but down-right cheap.  Sure, there are "designer" shirts available at a heftier price point, but the vast majority of these garments are the common, hard wearing, everyday, cotton tops we wear nearly everyday.

I recently reviewed a web presentation by NPR (National Public Radio) on a project that began with the farming of cotton, through distribution of manufactured t-shirts to the consumer.

The US remains the leader in cotton farming and one example was given of a Mississippi farmer with a staff of 13 and  20 machines which harvested 13,000 bales per year which translates into 9.4million shirts!!!

Next the presentation took me to Indonesia where the cotton fiber was spun into yarn , then shipped to Bangladesh (and to Columbia) for sewing.

But, how could this shirt be produced so cheaply?  Clearly the overhead is much cheaper in the far East .  It turns out that the real savings are a result of reduced shipping costs.  From the US to Indonesia to Bangladesh and back to the US consumer the shipping costs were "far less than $1 per shirt".

I learned a great deal by viewing this instructional.  There is both video as well as written text.  Also included are additional references for further reading.  I recommend spending a few minutes at

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

Now is the time for planning harvest feasts, entertaining friends and preparing for the coming holiday season.  But the real reason for Thanksgiving, is, of course, reflecting upon our blessings.  Would it not be better, actually, to spend a few minutes each day acknowledging the good things in our lives instead of waiting an entire year to do so for one day only? 

Happy Thanksgiving


Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Bit of Fashion in Russia

Vintage Clothing in St Petersburg, Russia

Spending time in Russia this fall, fashions didn’t seem too different from those at home.  There was a bit of a uniform look, though, amongst the younger women.  This look consisted of black leggings or tights worn with a long tunic knit top or very, very short black skirt and high black boots.  Actually, this was very flattering for most of these tall, thin, long-legged women, but perhaps a bit boring.  Occasionally, one would see a beautiful jewel-toned wool coat worn with a floral shawl.

While in the southern Siberian city of  Irtusk I happened upon a St. Petersburg newspaper (thankfully in English) with an article about  growing enthusiasm for vintage clothing. 
                  The St. Petersburg Tlimes, Wednesday, September, 25, 2013

We take the vintage look for granted and spend many hours scouring sources for great, unique items reasonably priced, of course.  That has not been the case in Russia.  Dressing in ”Vintage” is a fashion revolution which goes against concepts that dressing in style requires wealth.  The article proposed that dressing in clothing from the past may remind one of previous, “trying times” and wearing used clothing is not practiced commonly in Russia because “ it is normally associated with being poor”.

Those interested in dressing in unique style, can do so at a fraction of the price of current clothing.  There is a “minimum of 20% mark-up added onto clothing by western brands available” in St Petersburg.  The author looks 5 years into the future and sees the trend in retro growing and individuality replacing the “uniform look” seen on city streets. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Vacation Destination - China Part 3

Vacation  China – Silk Part 3 – A Great Product

Of course, you cannot visit China without encountering every type of silk fabric and many, many products made from this luxurious fiber.  There are dozens and dozens of workshops that will tailor a suit and deliver it to your hotel within 24 hours.  Hundreds of lovely scarves and shawls are folded on counters in every department store.   But there was one silk product I had not considered and I found it at the Yuanlong Silk Factory.

Yuanlong Silk
No. 55, T i antan Road, Dongcheng District
Beijing, China
I saw a small description of the factory-showroom in our Beijing travel guide.  I was intrigued by the description of a teaching area of sericulture and their show rooms of products, not to mention an English-speaking “tour guide”.  We found the factory was located  a 15 minute walk from a  subway station and near The Temple of Heaven where we had planned to spend the afternoon.  So off we went.

The foyer of the showroom was filled with vintage photos and maps relating to the silk industry.  A series of displays featured cocoons,  larvae, manual looms and other machines used when silk weaving was a cottage industry.

  Now, all aspects are automated and factory produced with one exception.  Silk-filled duvets!!!  Instead of a feather or down filling, these bedcovers are filled with silk filament, straight from the cocoons!

A small opening is made in the top of the cocoon and the larva removed.  The cocoon is then softened and stretched over a small frame.  The cocoon is constantly massaged and stretched over larger and larger frames until a large sheet of silk filament is the size of a mattress. Just one cocoon!!  The filament sheets are piled depending upon the weight of the final duvet.  For a 2,000 gm cover there are 4,000 cocoons used.    The mat of filaments is enclosed within a cotton cover and then packaged. 

There are sizes for all mattresses and 2 weights, 2,000 gms and 2,500 gms.
In addition to the duvets, themselves, there are covers for purchase in evey size and conceivable color.  You can get a beautiful silk brocade or a more practical cover made from a combination of cotton and bamboo fibers.

 This product is possible because of the properties of silk filaments. Due to layers of protein build-up, silk is noted for its softness to the touch and brilliant sheen.  The basic filament has incredible fineness but is pound for pound stronger than steel, yarn only 1 mm in diameter will support 100 pounds.   It has impressive insulating properties and is mildew resistant. .  

Size chart and packaged duvets

 I couldn’t resist with winter on its way.  It was so light that the compressed package fit easily into our luggage  So far, our duvet is surprisingly warm for its light weight,  and it will get much more use than a hand-tailored  suit!!!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Vacaton Destination - China Part 2

Vacation China – Silk, Part 2- Production

Silk is a filament secreted by  the silkworm when spinning its cocoon, and the name for the threads, yarns and fabrics named from the filament.  Most commercial silk is produced by the cultivated silkworm, Bombyx mori. 

Its Origin, Culture and Manufacture
The Nonotuck Silk Company
Florence Massachusetts

The secret of silk production was a closely guarded Chinese secret.  The penalty of revealing this secret was punishment by death. Inevitably, the secret was too valuable and there are several versions in folklore, which describe the lengths smugglers would go to steal the secret from China to sell it to the West  One tells of monks hiding cocoons in their walking sticks!!

Bombyx mori feeds exclusively on the leaves of various mulberry trees and spins a thin, white filament.  There are several varities of wild silkworms which feed on oak, cherry and mulberry leaves, but their filament is brown and coarse and 3 times the thickness of the cultivated.

Teaching sample of trays used for feeding.  In factories the worms are raised on huge trays fitted with a wire bottom for cleaning of the larvae waste.  The wire is then covered with fresh mulberry leaves

Carefully selected moths lay 500-700 eggs apiece.  One ounce of silkworms requires nine tons of mulberry leaves to reach maturity, their cocoons will produce 12  pounds of silk.
Eggs take 14 days to mature into larvae.  The larvae are raised on trays kept in a temperature-controlled, clean  environment and are fed every 2-3 hours. Fully grown in approximately 5 weeks, they are 70 times their original size.  Their rear silk glands produce an animal protein called fibron which is activated and sent to silk producing glands.  The silkworms are placed on a bed and enter the pupa stage, enclosing themselves in a silk filament in an endless series of figure-eights (300,000 times) 1 ½ miles in length.

Eight to nine days the silkworm changes into a moth and must emerge from the cocoon.  To do so it produces an enzyme to soften the cocoon and produce a hole, from which it emerges.  Since the enzyme is destructive to silk fibers , the fibers break down from their mile-long filament into shorter  segments of random length, ruining the silk threads.  (These waste cocoons are used to spin noil, to make various products but are not suitable for fine silk thread production.)  To prevent this, at the factory the cocoons are gassed, boiled or steamed, killing the silkworm.  Of course, enough moths are allowed to hatch so that egg-laying can continue,

Moths emerging from cocoons
Note the damage to cocoons

Intact cocoons.  Dead pupa taken from cocoons prior to reeling.  Fear not, these are an excellent source of protein and are use in the cosmetic industry. 

After drying the cocoon are inspected and graded and sent to a filature (factory) for reeling..Today, automated reeling machines are equipped with sensors, allowing for immediate replacement of empty cocoons or broken filaments. The silk filament is made stronger for weaving by plying, called throwing,  increasing the twist or adding more strands together.  

Moi inspecting a n automated reeling and plying machine at the factory.  The cocoons are stored in the blue containers at the bottom of the reeler.  The plied silk thread is on the spools at the top

Skeins of silk are formed into bundles (29) and collected into bales (132#), the amount raw silk is traded for export.

Vintage photo of silk traders examining skeins of silk

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Vacation Destination - China

Vacation Destination – China

We have just returned from an Asian vacation, Beijing, China was our first stop.

When one interested in textiles thinks of China, one thinks of silk.  In the next three weeks we will look at the silk industry in China from its inception through its processing and finally my discovery of a great, modern silk product.

Ernest E. Leavitt Jr.
Arizona State Museum
University of Arizona

The Silk Road, that magical journey, which brought spices, gems and silk to Europe, was an arduous journey of over 5,000 miles from the Mediterranean to China.  The riches were beyond imagination and the greatest of these riches was silk.  The term “silk road”. Seidenstrasse, was coined by a German explorer named Baron Ferdinand von Richtofen in 1877.  Most maps depict the Silk Road as departing from Xi’an, China although most of China’s silk was produced further south.  Xi’an was the capital of China from 206 BCE to 25CE during the Han dynasty, when Chinese emperors first expressed an interest in the lands beyond their western frontiers and when Rome was equally interested in acquiring Chinese silks. Silk was imported to Rome both as dyed thread and woven cloth, which was often unwoven to be rewoven into sheer fabrics that were more to Roman tastes.

The earliest excavated silk is a group of ribbons, threads and woven fragments, all dyed red, dated to 3,000BCE.  Archeological remains reveal that already in Shang times(1600-1050 BCE) Chinese were making fine silk damasks and elaborate silk embroideries.  Silk fabric was used to pay taxes and salaries and to purchase peace in the coursed of diplomatic negotiations. Repeated invasions of Mongols from the north forced China to begin paying raiders quantities of silk, as much as 450,000 pieces of silk per year to keep them at bay.

The state was in control of the silk industry. Emperors set up weaving and embroidery mills to satisfy the needs of their courts.  These institutions were managed by appointees of the emperor, whose mission was to provide the raw materials, pay the craftsmen and supervise the distribution of the finished products.

In legendary periods the thwarted love of the 2 deities- the male cowherd and the female weaver, who were allowed to meet 1 day a year, is a reminder of the Chinese division of the day’s work: men plow, women weave.  The Weaver is the alpha star of  Lyra constellation.  She weaves all year round by the side of the Milky Way.  On the opposite side is the Bootes constellation, tilling his fields and harnessed to the chariot of  Ursa Major.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Not So Different

Not So Different

Just returned from our Asian adventure and over the next weeks I will share my textile experiences with you.  Today, though, I want to share an observation that many travelers witness.  As large as is our world, that is also how small it is.  As different as various cultures are, the similarities are more numerous than the differences.

Due to social media, ideas, trends, and new products are immediately available all over the world, no matter how remote the location of the user.  This has led to a globalization of culture.  The official uniform of young people is jeans and sneakers.  Their accessories are backpacks and cell phones.  The allure of high end retail shopping has led to The United Colors of  Benneton and other trendy shops appearing next to neighborhood markets, fast food such as KFC and McDonalds adjoin ethnic street vendors.

Photos from China, Mongolia and Russia

Need I say more?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Off on a Textile Adventure

Off on a Textile Adventure

This isn’t my usual blog, it’s  just a notice that I will have lots of great textile news in the coming weeks

As you read this, if all goes as planned, I will be on the Trans-Siberian Railroad traveling from Mongolia into Russia after some time in Bejing.  Hopefully I will have taken lots of pictures so far (of course, shopping comes first).

So stay tuned.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Penny Loafers

Penny Loafers

I have to admit, I love shoes!  I don’t love the large, platform shoes with the 4 inch spikey heels, as I am terminally clumsy and would be wearing casts on both legs after only getting out of the car.  But all others would be good to go. Are they textiles?  Maybe not, but they are generally made of leather with some sort of synthetic fabric lining.  A compromise would be labeling them fashion accessories.

I read a small article a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal by Tasha Green who wrote about penny loafers.  I had a pair once, years ago, and I remember that nearly all my friends did as well.  They seemed to be especially popular with the young college men who wore them with khakis and blue blazers and button-down collared shirts.

According to Green, they were first produced by B.H.Bass (anyone from New England would recognize that firm) in 1936.  A testament to their popularity would be that I was wearing them 30 years later.  Apparently, students in the 1950’s were responsible for inserting the pennies in the pocket on the front of the shoe, hence the name.

Fashion is cyclic, as we all know.  Anyone who has discarded a pricey piece of apparel because it might be a bit dated lived to regret that move when it reappeared some time later. So now shoe designers are reintroducing the loafers and the article hinted at unusual colors, but to my mind the basics are the most practical because I also remember those shoe simply did not wear out.

Incidentally, the article was accompanied by a photo, “Dark Brown Penny Loafer, $1175, John Lobb”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hotel Linens

Hotel Souvenirs

OK, ‘fess up.  Who, among you out there, never placed a “souvenir” from your hotel room into your carry-on luggage?  I have taken a huge number of shampoos, soaps and lotions, after all, I figure I truly have paid for these.  Also add stationery and those coffee singles.  But I honestly draw the line with bathrobes and towels.  And who in their right mind would want those dubious blankets. (I think crisp white duvets have revolutionized hotel d├ęcor, not to mention cleanliness) 

I came across these vintage towels in a basket of assorted linens  If you look closely, you may be able to see the logo of the Plaza Hotel of NYC in the damask weave.. 

Bath towel and hand towel from the Plaza Hote 

Before terry-cloth towels, bath and hand towels were woven linen or cotton.  It wasn’t until after WWI when returning soldiers told of the lush bath towels in Europe that manufacturers began producing the loop surface towels we now purchase.  In the beginning, though, this fabric was prone to snagging. When a looped was pulled or snagged it created a “run” with the background fabric showing through.  I’m sure you have all seen this in cheap terry fabric.  There has been improvement is the manufacturing process which eliminates this problem.

Friday, September 13, 2013

1950's Patio Prints on Barkcloth

Grandma’s Bark Cloth

Barkcloth is a heavyweight, cotton fabric with a rough textured surface.  Do not confuse this with a textile made from the bark of various trees: breadfruit, fig and paper mulberry found in South America and more frequently, Polynesia.

Grandma’s barkcloth was manufactured in the late 1940’s and 50’s when fine fabric was scarce due to WWII.  It is usually associated with large-scale prints of tropical florals and birds.  These fabrics were bold in palettes of chartreuse, yellows, vivid greens and corals.
Occasionally, the tone was more refined featuring stripes and softer colors of blues and creams.

Because of their terrific graphic qualities and the sturdiness of the weave, barkcloth became very popular as an upholstery fabric, especially for porch and patio furniture.  I remember seeing it on furniture in my grandmother’s “Florida Room”, as sun rooms were often called, although she lived nowhere near Florida. Actually, the climate wasn’t really sunny most of the time either.

Barkcloth with a Japanese motif

Today “patio prints” of barkcloth are very popular once again and vintage barkcloth is fetching surprising prices.  One word of caution, most vintage remnants lived a prior life as curtains, draperies or upholstered pillows and cushions.  If the fabric was placed in a room with direct sunlight and heat (they didn’t call them sun rooms for nothing) the textile will have become fragile and often fractures or splits will occur with reuse.  If you are planning on using this type of fabric for upholstery consider purchasing a reproduction and save the vintage for pillows and small accessories.

Occasionally, one might find textured, heavy, cotton fabrics depicting a bucolic scene reminiscent of toiles, incongruous though it sounds, a finely etched design on linen or cotton compared to a printed scene on roughly textured fabric. These mid twentieth century fabrics were produced for the middle class market by companies such as Waverly Fabrics and F. Schumacher & Co.   

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Barbara Brackman - Quilt Historian

Barbara Brackman

Over twenty years ago at an antique show and sale I fell in love with textile history.  The show was housed in and for the benefit of an historic house in a small New England town.  As a member of our local quilt guild, I was attending a booth selling quilt publications.  Also a vendor who was a fellow guild member  sold vintage textiles including a very impressive selection of vintage quilts.

What I was especially intrigued by was the description of each quilt with its approximate date of creation.  While I could see the obvious distinction between 20th  century pastel and “cute” printed fabrics and the more formal, somber characteristics of 19thC quilts, I didn’t understand the more subtle nuances that allowed for accurate dating.

When I commented on this to a friend and said I was really interested in dating quilts, she recommended the first resource book I ever purchased on textile history: Clues in the Calico by Barbara Brackman.

My background was in science and medicine and I was familiar with research material.  I found to my delight Brackman’s approach was very user friendly, written for the interested reader, not necessarily, the expert.

The more I studied textiles, the more I realized that the subject of textile history was a perfect fit for me and I have enjoyed every course, workshop, conference and reference article I have encountered since.  After those twenty years I still find enormous information to research and immense quantities of textiles to examine.

My hero, Barbara Brackman, was always interested in history and preservation.  She was a member of the National Trust and a founding member of the Kansas Grassroots Art Association in 1974.  Her passionate interest in quilt history lead her to become a founding member of the American Quilt Study Group, and was inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame in 2001.

Brackman has written over a dozen books on the topic of quilt history and currently designs reproduction vintage fabrics for Moda.