Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chinese New Year

The Year of the Horse

January 31st is celebrated as Chinese New Year.  This year is the Year of the Horse according to the Chinese zodiac.  As you have read in this blog, my husband and I spent time in China this past fall.  I would like to share some photos of various Chinese textiles we encountered from vintage to contemporary.

 Our hotel in Beijing -Double Happiness Hotel

 Hotel employees wore beautiful silk uniforms

Our room furnishings- a traditional wedding bed.  
Crisp bedding and lovely silk drapes

Traditional furniture was covered with silk brocade

Photo shoot at The Forbidden City

Display of vintage children's hats and slippers

Home furnishings display of luxurious silk bedding.  
Also available in fabrics of cotton-bamboo blends

Contemporary silk yardage

Happy New Year, especially if you were born in the Year of the Horse!

Sunday, January 19, 2014



“Sailing….Oh the canvas can do miracles , just you wait and see

Christopher Cross

About this time of year my husband and I might be planning a trip to the South Pacific to visit his relatives.  Of course, sailing, and any water sport is the sport of choice there.  Moving here, he traded his boat for a bicycle and the sea for the desert.  When one thinks of the fabric we call canvas we think of sails, although, today with modern technology, sails are manufactured of lightweight, but very durable synthetics.

But this is not what brought the subject of canvas fabric to my mind.  I happened upon some sketches of Native American pottery and decided to paint some small samples.  So out came my pad of primed, canvas paper, which I use when I paint textile samples.

So what exactly is canvas fabric?  Actually it can be cotton, hemp, linen or combinations.  It is a heavy, coarsely woven, plain weave or twill.  Another term is Duck, which originated in Denmark (doek, which means cloth).  There are many types, but the most common association is of cotton in the griege (gray) state used for sails, sacking and other industrial uses. It can be dyed and treated with waterproofing chemicals for tents awnings and tarps.  A lighter-weight canvas can be used for belts , bags and sneakers.

I have two heavy canvas tote bags from a well-known merchant of outdoor goods.  I have used these for many, many years.  They are durable, washable and I can fit an incredible amount of essential “stuff” into them, best of all they fold flat when not in use.

Artist canvas of the best quality has been, historically, linen.  For most of us, artist canvas of cotton may be purchased as bolt cloth, primed and unprimed, cloth stretched on a frame, affixed to a board or as a loose sheets. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mongolia - The Land of Felt Part 2

Since the 5th C, Central Asian nomads have used round, felt-covered yurts with collapsible wooden frames as portable housing when herding sheep, horses and cattle.  Pasturalist nomads are not constantly on the move as we understand the word “nomad”.  Unlike the caravans of the Silk Road which moved from town to oasis town carrying merchandise, pasturalists move their herds from winter to summer pastures and live in semi-permanent camps.  Some keep both locations and moved their livestock between them. 

The yurt (called “ger” in Mongolia) while capable of being transported, was not easily assembled, as say a tent would be.  Yurts can be transported by cart      ( now of course by truck) and constructed on site.  The walls are made of hand-hewn willow and poplar branches that are joined by leather thongs.  Wooden door frames are hung with intricately carved doors and there is a domed smokehole in the roof’s center.  Following the erection of the frame the yurt is draped in wool felt mats and an outer covering of reed mats which protect and add insulation.  Lightweight, yet sturdy, they are earthquake resistant amd provide excellent protection from wind and cold. 

Ordinary yurts are a plain gray.  Those for weddings and other ceremonies are white and lavishly decorated.  Felt rugs are used as interior wall, ceiling and floor coverings may be decorated with inlaid patterns cut from colored felt or appliqué or embroidery.  All dyes are natural and colors are generally shades of red, blue and brown. The yurt’s interior is surprisingly large with specific areas for eating and communal activities and others for sleeping.  There are usually several pieces of large, carved furniture: chests of various sizes for storage, for example.  Both men and women participate in the creation of the yurts.

Yurts can be seen throughout Mongolia, on farms, in woodlands and in cities.  Frequently, yurts are constructed next to permanent, wooden buildings (perhaps as in-law apartments?)

a portable souvenir shop in the capital city, Ulaan Bataar

It is possible to book accommodations in yurts at several cross-country skiing venues in  the US.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mongolia : " The Land of Felt"


 I’ve shared some of the highlights of our fall trip: China and a bit of Russia.  So now, we head to Mongolia.  Mongolia, located between Russia and China, is a fascinating country with a most colorful history. 

The Eurasian grassland , the Steepes, covers a region extending from northern China through Mongolia toward eastern Europe.  Steepe dwellers were organized around clan and tribal units.  The most famous of the Central Asian tribes were the Mongols.  Until the end of the 12thC, the Mongols were a loose confederation of rival clans.  In 1162BCE a young child was born, who by the age of 20 united the Mongol tribes, his empire reaching from China to the Caspian Sea. Much has been written about Ghengis Khan and he is honored everywhere in Mongolia today:  Ghengis as a baby, Ghengis riding a buffalo, Ghengis seated in honor at the Parliament Building in Ulaan Baatar.

The nomadic pasturalists of Central Asia lived, according to the Chinese,  in the “Land of Felt” as their world was dominated by a single fabric: woolen felt.  Felting is a process in which masses of loose animal fur or hair form a firm fabric with the application of heat, moisture and pressure.  The fibers are neither spun nor woven.  This is possible due to the structure of animal hair, wool and fur.  The fibers have a scaly surface which allow them to adhere to each other when manipulated.  This is why keeping your sofa pet hair free is so difficult.  The process used in the ancient times by the nomadic tribes has not changed significantly.

In Genghis: Birth of an Empire, Conn Iggulden, Delacorte Press, 2007, pg 71-72, there is a description of felt-making .”The smallest children carried buckets full of water to sprinkle on each layer of woolen fleeces, keeping them constantly moist…boys tied the fleeces onto upright skins on frames and beat them with long, smooth sticks for hours…After the fleeces had been thrashed into softness, the women used the width of their outstretched arms to measure out one “ald” (old Mongolian measure, approximately 160 cm), marking the fleeces with chalk.  When they had their width, they stretched them into felting cloths, smoothing and teasing the snags and loose fibers until they resembled a single, white mat.  More water helped to weigh the rough felt down in layers, but there was real skill in finding the exact thickness…When the mats were smooth and regular ,a pony was backed up and the great expanse of white wool rolled into a  long cylinder.”  The pony then pulled the cylinder along the ground while the roll was beatened, further.

This cartoon of ancient Mongolian life is available in many souvenir shops
It portrays the llet-making process described above.

Felt was used in clothing along with animal pelts and, of course, in the construction of yurts (called “gers” in Mongolia) which were used as their primary shelters.  Yurts are everywhere in Mongolia, even today, and I will present you with yurts in Mongolia: Part 2.

Today felt is manufactured from man-made fibers which are stronger than natural fibers. A machine called a finishing range sets the width and the entire process is one-step which includes heat, pressure and chemicals.  For the craftsman, woolen felt can be produced at or  in the studio and there are many instructions available.  However, haven’t we all created a Barbie sweater from mistakenly washing and drying a woolen sweater?