Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hello 2017 !!

Greetings for a New Year

Time to get ready to welcome a other new year.  Whatever great and wonderful things you accomplished in 2016, try for even great successes in 2017.  That is my only resolution, to do better.  I think that covers it all.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Holiday Wish

                                        However you celebrate the holiday season I wish you peace.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


B is for BURLAP

Continuing with my alphabetical listing of textile terms (see my blog “ARALAC”, 11/12/16) today is the letter B.

I have already written several “B’s”  :Batik
                                                           Burton (Virginia Lee)

There are many other "B" textile references: buckram, brodade, Berlin work, but our subject is BURLAP.

Also called Hessian, Burlap is a coarse, rough, heavy plain-weave fabric made from jute or hemp fiber..The fabric was first imported from India in the 19th C. The term Hessian refers to the coarse, heavy uniforms worn by the Hessian troops of Hesse (Germany)

  Because it is known for its durability and strength, poor grades of the fabric are used for sacking and upholstery backing, however it frays easily and has poor washability.

Better grades are bleached and/or dyed and are used in the craft industry.  For years burlap has been used as the ground fabric for rug hooking.  With special finishing treatments burlap can become a smooth, attractive finishing fabric.

This burlap has been patterned for rug hooking.  Commercial kits are available with pre-printed designs.  Originally, of course, rug hookers created and drew their own patterns on the ground fabric (perhaps from used sacking).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas Giving

Christmas giving

Each year, around this time. I get requests for textile-related gift suggestions.  I usually suggest visits to thrift or antique shops for vintage table linens, hankies, hand crochet doilies, etc.

This year I thought of another idea.  Why not visit your neighborhood bookstore (used books or new).  There are many magazines and books for every textile enthusiast .  Whether your gift is for a quilter, knitter, weaver, fashion follower or collector a subscription to  a related magazine is possible.  You might try giving just one copy to see if they really love it and then complete the subscription.

  For others, there are reference books and coffee-table flashy editions in a huge range of topics.  The advantage of shopping locally is the book can be returned if it is not suitable and  a gift certificate can be issued.  There are also fiction and mystery books with textile themes .

Do not overlook the selection of “gently used” books.  Often, out of print books are not only affordable but valuable references.  My last suggestion is a textile dictionary, encyclopedia or sourcebook.  

If your recipient lives in a city near a textile or art museum with a large textile collection, how about a museum membership?  Or a membership to my favorite organization, The Textile Society of America.  There are textile guilds  in most cities: Embroidery guild, Weaving and Spinning guild, Quilting guild and membership fees are generally quite reasonable.

Thoughtful gifts such as these will bring year-long enjoyment.

Happy shopping!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving Day

“I am grateful for what I am and have,
My thanksgiving is perpetual”

                               Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, November 12, 2016


A is for…ARALAC

I decided to do an occasional series of textile themes in alphabetical order.  Taking inspiration from one of my favorite mystery writers, Sue Grafton, who uses the alphabet to title her books ( “A is for Alibi” etc.)

I have already written several “As”:   Armor
                                                            Aloha shirts

There are many textile As: acrylic, acetate, alpaca, angora and others.  But, ARALAC?

The story of this textile fiber is innovative and imaginative.   Remember the alchemists who tried to combine various compounds to produce gold, well, chemists throughout history have tried to manipulate certain elements to produce new innovations.

Textile fibers, wool and silk, have always been considered high end (and expensive) .  For many years there was a search for  fibers that could be created from common  ingredients, much in the way rayon and acetate were created from cellulose that was chemically manipulated.  This became especially important during the years between World Wars I and II.  Cloth produced from natural fibers was in great demand.  Cotton for bedding and military uniforms, silk for parachutes, wool for uniforms…..all were in  short supply.  Therefore the requirement for new fibers became paramount.

Work was being conducted on a class of fibers termed Azion.  Fibers in this class are made from regenerated proteins such as milk, soybeans, peanuts and corn. According to archives at the National Museum of American History, credit is given to H. Irving Crane  and a group of chemists working at the Atlantic Research Associates, Inc. which specialized in the development of products from the milk protein, casein ( ARA was a division of National Dairy Products Corp. which was later to be absorbed by Kraft Foods).

The casein required for Aralac was formed by adding acid to milk to form the curd (casein) which was collected from small and large creameries.  One hundred pounds of milk was required to produce 3.7 pounds of casein, which would produce 3.7 pounds of fiber. From the casein, crystals were formed by evaporation and then ground and dissolved into a solution.
The solution was processed by forcing it through spinnerets and hardened in a chemical bath. During World War II Aralac was blended with rayon and acetate for use in civilian dress fabric and,, interestingly, felted hats.  Other uses were tested (carpeting, knitting yarn, lace) but it was not deemed satisfactory due to its poor strength and difficulty in dyeing. Purchasers of the clothing products had a unique complaint:  when wet, the fabric smelled like cheese!!!   Production was halted in 1948.

As we all know, the search for alternative synthetic fibers and methods of their production  continued and endless possibilities seem inevitable.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

TSA - 15th Biennial Symposium

TSA 15th Biennial Symposium- Savannah

This year TSA partnered with SCAD-Savannah College of Art and Design- to present an exploration of the cultural crosscurrents that shape textile production and practice.

More than 400 TSA members from 22 countries attended the 5 day symposium held in Savannah, Georgia.  From the opening reception at SCAD Museum of Art to the closing awards banquet the days were filled with seminars, site visits and tours.  Independent researchers and historians, like myself, who are not affiliated with large institutions or museums feel, at times, isolated from others in our field.  Frequently, we are not always in the immediate loop of the most current information available.  Seminars such as this are the perfect opportunity to confer with colleagues and renew connections.

The wide scope of areas of textile studies was examined in seminars and study sessions.  Topics included fibers and their production, technique of fabric manufacture, fashion, costume,  dyes and design, museum studies and collections.  This year also emphasized what was termed “cross-currents”.  That is, the importance of trade, historically and currently.  The world is not so very large and  the “transnational flow of textiles” as a result of global trading explains much of the history of textiles and continues to be a major factor in today’s world economy.

The host city of Savannah was a most exciting venue for the symposium.  Culturally, historically and down-right lovely it is well worth visiting.  I regret that I could not have stayed longer and, although this was not my first visit, it will definitely not be my last.

For more information about the Textile Society of  America, including membership and additional programs, please visit their website 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Celebrating 270 Years - DMC

The Golden Skein – Celebrating 270 Years – DMC

TENUI FILO MAGNUM TEXITUR OPUS – “From one fine thread a work of art is born”

Familiar to every needle-worker are the initials DMC, which stands for Dollfus-Mieg and Company, manufacturers of fine threads and yarns.

The company began as a fabric printing company run by Jean-Henri  (1742-1802) and his brother Jean Dollfus (1729-1800), selling their hand-painted Indian cotton prints throughout Europe.  They expanded and sold their fabrics internationally.  In the late 1700’s Jean-Henri’s nephew, Daniel (1769-1818)  ran the company and married Anne-Marie Mieg, adding her surname to the company’s logo.  D.M.C.   Jean Dollfus-Meig (1800- 1887)   while studying at Leeds became acquainted with John Mercer’s process of thread manufacturing, “mercerization”  Mercer, a calico printer and self-taught chemist, patented his process (1850) which changed the texture of cotton thread, strengthening it and giving it a silk-like luster.   Jean Dollfus-Meig introduced this process in 1898 to the factory in Mulhouse, France.  Since thread quality depends on the purity of the water used in its bleaching and dyeing, the properties of the water (Vorges River)  in Mulhouse made this an ideal location for the factory.

The story of the manufacturing of fine threads and yarns  includes the meeting of  Jean Dollfud-Meig and the famous embroiderer, Therese de Dillmont.  When Jean  encountered her work in an exhibition in Paris, he invited her to Mulhouse to tour his factory.  She subsequently moved to Dornach , a nearby town and established  school of needlework in close cooperation with DMC.   Her famous “Encyclopediie des ouvrages des dames” (“Encyclopedia of Ladies Handicrafts) has been translated and distributed to more than seventeen countries.

In 1961 DMC merged with Thiriez & Cartier Bresson, a French Textile firm of over 250 years.  The company name remained DMC but the logo was changed , replacing the DMC bell with the now famous Thiriez’s horse head.

Manufactured threads include: Embroidery floss, six stranded cotton. *Twisted separable, shiny thread, suitable for surface stitchery, counted-, pulled-and drawn-thread work.  Available in 454 colors.
                                                  Pearl cotton. * Twisted, shiny thread, available in two thicknesses.  Used for stranded cotton where you require a heavier effect.
                                                  Tapestry wool.* Thicker, four ply wool.  Use as for crewel work.
                                                   Crochet thread
                                                   Metallic and fluorescent thread 
                                                   Machine embroidery thread

*The Complete International Book of Embroidery, Mary Gostelow, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1977

Advertisement - Home Arts Needlecraft, November, 1936

Early packaging for DMC thread

In addition to threads and yarns, today, DMC subsidiaries also produce fabric and sportswear

embroidery floss

pearl cotton

metalllic thrreads

To celebrate the anniversary, DMC is producing The Golden Skein. "a soft, flexiible six strand floss that incorporates a 24 karat gold wash.  A beautiful collectible, the Golden Skein is a fitting symbol of DMC heritage and also the product esteemed by stitchers: DMC Embroidery Floss.  This precious skein can be preserved or carefully stitched to add incomparable richness to a treasured embroidery.  It comes in a special deluxe box, with a bound book of DMC history and antique cross stitch charts."
For more information contact

Saturday, September 3, 2016


It has been said  that “clothes maketh the man”.  Mark Twain is quoted as saying” Clothes make the man-Naked people have little or no power”. Hans Christian Anderson wrote of the Emperor’s New Clothes (to which we will return momentarily).  Polonius advised Laertes (Hamlet- William Shakespeare) “for apparel oft proclaims the man”
So there appears to be a theme here.

Cloth is a basic human creation.  This experience is so commonplace that we rarely think about the multiple layers (no pun intended) of meaning our choice of clothing convey.  Intentionally, or not, we use our dress as an identifier to others.  This, I firmly believe, is an individual choice,, one based upon social, ethnic, religious issues.  

Throughout history there have been certain regulations enacted regarding this freedom of choice.  The common Roman was not allowed to wear the color purple.  There were laws forbidding the use of gold threads to accent clothing in China.  Now it is rare that laws proscribing dress codes become an international discussion.  Certainly, there is a case for dress that is worn to purposely antagonize or offend, although it could be argued that it is the right of people to be obnoxious.

All this brings this discussion to the recent controversy in France over the wearing of “burkinis”.  Muslim women have a modesty dress code, which ranges from hair coverings to full body garments, depending upon their customs and religious beliefs.  One fashion designer, Vanessa Lourenco, felt Muslim women should be able to conform with their religious codes and, at the same time, enjoy the pleasures of the seaside with their families.  Thereby, the “burkini” was born.  This is obviously a Muslim item of apparel, although, with all the uproar it has created, I would suspect many non-Muslim women might wear it in protest. 

This action follows the terrorist attacks in France.  There have been more than 30 bans
 (the first in Cannes) on so called inappropriate clothing for women.  That they are targeting Muslim women is obvious.  This ethnic profiling will not stop terrorist activities.  There must be more effective measures that can be taken.  On Friday, the highest court in France The Council of State struck down the ban in one town.

Back to Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.  The tale goes that there was a very  officious Emperor, who ruled with the notion that all who disagreed with him were worthless and stupid.  This bully was approached by two tailors, who claimed they would make the ruler a fabulous set of clothes, very comfortable and very prestigious-looking.  Of course, they said, only those who were wise and deserving of high honors could actually see the clothing, it would be invisible to all others.  You can already guess the outcome.  The naked Emperor paraded before his citizens, confident of his attire.  As Twain said ”naked people have little or. no power”

So, to those in charge of such things in France, I say “enough, already.  Let it go”.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Olympic Attire

What to Wear When You Play

I happen to have a free week.  Believe me, that doesn’t happen often.  No meetings, no classes, no lunches with friends.  To my joy, this coincides with the first week of Olympic competition.  In our house, every TV (yes, we have more than one) is channeled onto sport.  While my husband will enthusiastically watch nearly everything, his favorites reflect his own athletic routine of cycling and swimming and all types of sailing,  although sailing in the desert has been  relegated to observing and not participating.

While I enjoy watching many events, I admit tennis is always my favorite.  Which brings me to comment on the various styles of sports apparel worn by the athletes.  Most contests demand certain “costumes”.  For instance, swimmers have high tech suits to enhance their performance in the pool.  Equestrians and fencers wear traditional garb, safety is also a feature here.  Cyclists wear Spandex and helmets.  All this I understand.

But have you watched tennis lately?  Conditions on the court can vary greatly: wind, heat can change the efforts needed by the players to succeed.  They must be able to move quickly and safely around the court.  They must be able to focus their attention  on the oncoming ball, while planning their return strategy.  It seems to me that tennis ( and other sports) has become a fashion extravaganza among the women athletes.  Surely, one wants to look good before the fans and TV cameras, but have some of them even looked at themselves in a mirror?  Unflattering colors and styles abound.  There are few that can wear layers of pleats and  ruffles in bold colors.  Skin tight tops paired with shorts so short they cannot accommodate an extra tennis ball, if a second service becomes necessary.  It would not matter if these outfits were comfortable.   I have seen players tug and readjust their clothing after each point.  This has brought to mind an article in the WSJ Style and Fashion section, Sat./Sun, July 2, 2016, which  lauded, what they called the Wimbledon Whites Advantage.  According to the attire requirement for the Championships Wimbledon “suitable tennis attire that is almost entirely white” is to be worn.  Refreshing and professional.

Now, some will say that is an infringement upon the athletes ability to show themselves as individuals  If one wants to look frumpy,so be it.  Personally, I would rather appear as one very lovely competitor who wore a simple white slip dress over her bloomers.  She did not fuss with her neckline, but appeared focused on the matter at hand.  Athletic wear should be advantageous, not outrageous.

Speaking of which, beach volleyball women have no where further to go.  Although they are awesome athletes and their winnings are uber impressive I remember vividly sitting on a sandy beach in a swimsuit.  Not a pleasant experience.  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Fashion Victims - Poisonous Pigments : Arsenical Greens

A Killer Green Gown

These represent green shades popular in fashion.  They are not toxic pigments
This is the second excerpt from  Alison Matthews Davis” book, Fashion Victims.  The first excerpt, 5/28/16, recounted the health risks posed by the long skirts worn by fashionable women. The skirts dragged on the ground, through the filthy streets of large cities and, of course, were then worn within the household, bringing with them all manner of pathogenic ( or at least, undesirable ) elements.

Fashion Vistims - The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, Aloson Matthes David, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015 

The topic I present now is of a pigment popular in the 1800’s which, while perceived as very attractive, was also very, very toxic.  The first dyes were made from natural materials: madder root, cochineal exoskeletons, mollusk shells.  While many colors could be produced from recipes using natural elements, there were some that were less than satisfactory.  One of these colors was green.  Green was produced as a compound color, that is the combination of two colors, yellow and blue.  Perhaps you have seen old textiles where the blue component has faded and the “green” has become a
poor example of its former self.  Chemists were constantly trying to introduce new hues for the new technology of aniline dye production. Better Living Through Chemistry as one future chemical company would motto a century later.

In 1778 Carl Wilhelm Scheele published his work on a green pigment he created by mixing potassium and white arsenic with a solution of copper vitriol (a sulfate of copper).
Yes, you read correctly..arsenic. In 1814 a more saturated green hue was synthesized from copper acetarsenite and called by various titles.  It was widely used for fabrics, children’s toys and even candies.  It was also produced as a pigment in oil paints.

Women were tired of the dull-colored clothing that was commonly worn and the introduction of  fresh green hues was most welcome.  The dye was used not only in fabric production but also in accessories such as shoes, and most widely in artificial floral wreaths of fruits and foliage worn as hair adornments and  large broaches. 

It had been noted for some time that workers who produced the artificial foliage suffered from debilitating ulcerations on their faces arms and legs.  Rashes appeared along the necklines of women wearing green gowns and there were  reports of children dying from eating ( or trying to eat) artificial fruits which appeared in baskets set upon tables in Victorian parlors.

Efforts were made to assuage the fears that soon were voiced by consumers.  Apparently, “this is not arsenical green” became a disclaimer, but was it, or was it not?  Eventually by the 1870’s, other green pigments replaced the copper arsenic compounds.

Why would anyone purchase, much less wear, something that was so very dangerous?   It was well known that arsenic was used as a pesticide and that it was toxic if ingested.  Although there were many fallacious  theories concerning disease and cures, surely, there should have been some heed paid to those physicians and chemists who warned of the danger.

Thinking of today’s times, there are still those who ignore the warnings that appear on tobacco products.  The question would be, is it worth being stylish?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Reference Book- Not New but Fabulous

Another Reference for My Library

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know I have a great fondness for my reference library.  I love textile books almost as much as the textiles themselves.  I know historians are always searching for more reference materials and haunt libraries, bookstores and vintage shops for more information.  I try to keep up with new publications in the field of textile history, but must admit it is a daunting task.  When I first began my studies nearly 3 decades ago there was little available, now there are books available in nearly every category of textiles and textile production.  One volume, published in 2010 I missed and only recently found in the library.  Occasionally, I search the library of the Santa Fe Community College after my biweekly Yoga class and, although their collection is not extensive, it does contain some very interesting and informative volumes.

Classic and Modern Fabrics - The Complete and Illustrated Sourcebook, Janet Wilson, Thames and Hudson, 2010

I own several encyclopedias of textiles but found Classic and Modern Fabrics- The Complete Illustrated Sourcebook to be more inclusive than any others I have.  It is indeed a “complete sourcebook”.  According to the introduction, the aims of this book include: preserving the knowledge of classic fabrics while providing information of new textile developments.  Also, explaining the characteristics of various types of fabrics and their construction is valuable knowledge.

Some other features include: Fabrics in alphabetical order as well any alternative names,  such as HOPSACK (basket cloth).
                                                Principal features of the fabric for identification and details about fibers, construction and history.
                                                 Fabric weights and yarn counts and weave diagrams for a greater knowledge of construction.
                                                  Finally, what I always appreciate in any reference, a detailed glossary of technical terms and a section of sources for any additional study, including a list of trademarks.

But the most remarkable feature is the enlarged photographs of the fabrics (834!) so one can easily tell the difference between Malimo (glass filament and polyester) and Malimo (glass roving and polyester).

I returned the book to the library and immediately ordered a copy of my own.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Summertime in Santa Fe

13th International Folk Art Market

Several times I have written about the International Folk Art Market, which is held in Santa Fe each July.
Today I want to give you a heads up in case you will be in our area the second week of July.
 Voted the Best Art Festival by USA Today 10 Best Reader’s Choice Awards, the Market features artists from all over the world.  This year’s Market features an increase of market space (20%) for the biggest and best Market ever!  Market events run July 8,9,& 10.  For more information contact

Other July events in Santa Fe:

60th   Anniversary Santa Fe Opera  - July 1 – Aug.27
        Santa Fe

65th Annual Traditional Spanish Market – July 30-31

30th Annual Contemporary Hispanic Market – July 30-31

Summer Season – Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

Please check the internet for other New Mexico summer events

Have a special and SAFE holiday. Come see us!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Gift of Prometheus

In the beginning only the Immortals had Fire.  Prometheus looked with compassion on the cheerless creatures of earth.  In defiance of the gods he stole Fire from the heavens and brought it to earth.

Yesterday was the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.  Although, it has felt as if summer has been with us for several weeks.  Across the country temperatures have soared, creating new weather records.  Living in the southwest we are no strangers to summer heat and drought.  The combination all too often results in disastrous wildfires.

Throughout history firefighters have been the heroes who braved the flames of Prometheus to protect the towns and homes of the citizenry.  Because of the dangerous conditions they faced, firefighters were given special protective clothing which differentiated them from the populace.  One of the most familiar apparel was worn from the earliest times by Japanese Firemen.  Their jackets (Hanten) were made of various materials.  In the Edo period some were made from deerskin. In the 19th C they were constructed from quilted wool or cotton, sometimes with silk linings.  The unique feature of these jackets, from an artistic point of view, was the elaborate decorations (many were considered lucky or protective symbols) which were woven, painted or embroidered on the surface of the garment, as well as on chest protectors (Maekeke).  There are many examples of these vintage fire jackets to be seen on the internet.

One component of many protective garments has been used for centuries.  It is the mineral asbestos.  Asbestos is found throughout the world and its fibers were used as  reinforcement in early pottery. Once the fire resistant properties of asbestos were known the fibers were woven into cloth.  The unfortunate aspect to the use of this mineral in a wide variety of applications, is the fact that asbestos fibers are carcinogenic and could cause Mesotheliosis.    Over 50 countries have banned the use of asbestos fibers, the US is not one of them.

Modern firefighters wear garments called “turnouts”, protective clothing.  These garments have 3 layers: an outer shell, a moisture barrier and a thermal barrier with pockets of air (dead zone) in between the layers.  Footwear is boots with a steel toe insert or rubber boots. There are additional items such as gloves, helmets and hoods.  Depending upon the type of fire, they may also wear hazmat suits.  For fighting wild fires their clothing is modified.  Their garments are a single layer, they wear industrial hard hats and leather logging boots.  They cannot wear steel-toed boots nor rubber boots due to the heat conditions of the fire.

These garments are made of a combination of two fibers of the nylon family : Nomex and Kevlar.  Both of these synthetics are product of the DuPont Corporation and are variants of aramid.    Kevlar is an aramid that does not melt, is highly flame resistant, is exceptionally strong (5 times stronger than steel on a weight basis). It has a high resistance to stretch and maintains its shape and form at high temperatures. It was first synthesized in 1971.
Nomex is a variant of aramid but unlike Kevlar, Nomex cannot align during filament formation and therefore has poor strength.  However it also has excellent thermal, chemical and radiation resistance.  Nonex was developed in the early 1960’s and first marketed in 1967.

May the Immortals protect them all.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fez, Morocco - The Tannery

The Tannery

One of the many textile – related side trips in Morocco was to a large tannery in the city of  Fez.  Morocco is known for its high quality leather textiles (as well as carpets, jewelry and ceramics).

Animal skins were probably the first textiles used for clothing and shelter.  The term skin is meant as the outer covering layer of the animal body, which would include the fur, hair and feathers of the animal as well.  Animal skins were, and are still, used in rituals and ceremonies. Leather is a term for animal skin (goats, cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and  other animals) from which the hair or fur has been removed and prepared by tanning, ether by exposure to weather or chemicals.  The ostrich is the only bird used for leather. Evidence of tanning and the use of leather for clothing was found in ancient Egypt (2420-2258 BCE).  Leather “nets” were made by ancient Egyptians from a single piece of hide by cutting small slits, allowing the leather to expand.  The “nets “ were used to protect the clothing of sailors, workmen and soldiers. Suede, a popular apparel leather, is made by napping, running the skin under a coarse emery board.

At the tannery, which is in the middle of the walled city (the Medina) visitors are free to examine the most beautiful leather goods in their retail space and also view the actual workmen and their vats of various solutions and dyes.  By ascending a 3 story, winding staircase and walking along an outside wooden ramp I could view below (from a safe distance) the tanning process.  Accompanied by one of the workers, the scene resembled a vast ancient work yard of activities.  The processes used are the same as those employed centuries ago.

Animal skins (goat, sheep, cow and camel) are delivered to the tannery from the abattoir. The skins are then placed in limestone baths for three days to kill vermin which may be present in any left over fur or hair.  The skins are then rinsed and rescraped.  I saw piles of fleece remnants which were of poor quality and, therefore, not used for commercial purposes, but for filling leather ottomans, called poofs.  (At one of the carpet houses the carpet seller showed a rug made of this type of inferior fibers.  The fibers were very coarse and an entire knot cold be plucked from the surface of the carpet easily. Just a cautionary note!)
The rinsed skins are then submerged in bath solutions made from bird dung and finally treated with vinegar as a fixative.  Only natural dyes are used (natural dyes are not fugitive, that is they do not run after the textile is finished.  Think of a red tee shirt in the laundry.  The skins in the dye vats are turned every 4 hours to ensure an even absorption of the pigments.

The quality of the workmanship is very evident in the finished leather products produced by the workers.  An entire floor of the retail space is devoted to apparel.  The most beautiful coats, jackets, hats in  the most beautiful rainbow of color choices.  The temptation to max out any line of credit you may have is overwhelming.  The ground floor featured bags and purses and wallets of every size and shape.  It was here I lost all control.  Of course, they also sold handmade slippers and shoes.

View of the 2 story retail area.  Note the hand carved and painted walls

  One interesting item for sale is the ottoman or “poof”, a leather footstool or small stool for sitting or even useful as a small side table.  They are usually round, although there were some square and rectangular ones.  You can purchase them already filled (with the aforementioned  fibers), or, because most would want to carry their purchase home and carry-on space is more precious than gold, they are unfilled and folded flat.  There were racks of these articles and one visitor mentioned that they thought they were pet beds. What do you think?

 I think if I had a retail pet supply shop I would be buying dozens in different colors and sizes.
I probably should have brought one home for our cat.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fashion Victims

Dressed to Death

Fashion Victims is a collection of very interesting facts, folklore, and, sometimes dangerous misconceptions in the history of textiles and fashion.

Fashion Victims - The Dangers of Dress Past and Present
Alison Matthews David, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2015

We know the textile industry has a somewhat dubious history concerning the safety of its workers (see my blog series “Slavery in the Factory”) and many early textile techniques relied upon the use of potent chemicals and unsanitary practices.  But there is much, much more hidden in the closets throughout fashion history.  From time to time, I will share some of these, often gruesome, tales. 

Today I wish to consider one short piece of fashion history presented by the author.  I had never considered  the wearing of long skirts in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as a potential health concern ( beside the obvious tripping hazard when crossing the street) but Alison David discusses the scenario of fashionable women dragging their skirts through the filthy city streets.  We all have heard accounts and seen pictures of the unsanitary conditions prevalent in large cities at that time ( and, I might add, today in some sections of our modern cities).  The streets were clogged with horse drawn carriages, and anyone who has mucked a stable can attest to the obvious problem here.  Waste water was thrown from windows onto the street below and there was no shortage of animals, vermin and other distasteful elements present.  Obviously, the hems of the garments would inevitably become soiled and dusty and all those little microbes would then be carried into the family parlor.  The idea of the germ theory, was just a theory, and most people had little idea of the potentially dangerous consequences of their ordinary lifestyle.

We live in a very different time.  The other day I stopped to buy some bathroom cleaner at a big box store.  There were 4 long aisles, floor to ceiling, with products to clean, disinfect and sanitize the home.  Rows of detergents for the washing machine, bleaches and stain removers shared space with floor cleaners and carpet steamers.  Soaps for your body and dishes were next to several rows of hand sanitizers and wipes containing bleach, presumably to be used to destroy any virus, bacteria or other harmful pathogen.  Next came the insecticides and pest control products.  Good grief, I thought, we must be the most sterilized  civilization ever. 

But, how clean are the clothes we buy?  When you purchase items do you immediately go home and throw them into the washing machine?   After all, where have these items been?  From fiber through manufacture of the cloth, to the cutting and sewing of the garment, through packaging and shipping and finally arriving at the retail establishment there have been dozens and dozens of contacts with the environment and the textile workers.  Of course this can be said of anything we purchase, from TVs to corn soup.  But I might throw a bit of cautionary advice.  Be aware that clothing can be a conduit for those little “germies” we cannot see.  When we try on jeans to find the perfect fit, we surely know that perhaps others have been in that same dressing room, or that those jeans may have been returned after purchase.  Perhaps judicious use of  those products at “big box” is a fairly good idea.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Morocco Part 2

A trip to a Berber village

Berbers (Amazighs) are an ancient ethnic group indigenous to northern Africa. The Romans named them Berbers,”barbarians”. While they worshiped various dieties, some were Jewish Berbers and some Christians. By the 600's most were converts to Islam. While some were stereotyped as nomads, the majority were traditionally farmers and lived in villages. Today most Berbers live in Algeria and Morocco, although there are large immigrant communities in Europe and Canada.

There was no standard writing system for the many distinct languages. For instance, when I visited a carpet house the manager showed me modern Berber carpets which told the story of the maker, her family and her village, pictorially, in the designs she had woven into her carpet.
In 2011 King Mohammed VI, ordered Berber as an official language of Morocco and compulsory in all schools. Today it is spoken by 30-40 million Arabized Berbers.

On a trip to the Ourika Valley at the foot of the Atlas Mountains we visited a Berber family. Lest you think Morocco is only desert, the Atlas range is the highest in North Africa (known as “mountain of mountains”), snow falling regularly from September to May. In the High Atlas Mountains the language is a dialect of Berber Tashelhit (with some Tamazight).

While Arabs tend to leave the family home upon adulthood and marriage, Berbers typically live in compound houses with extended family.

In Morocco, hot, freshly brewed mint tea is served to every guest. Made of green tea and mint it is quite refreshing and it is considered very rude to not partake of a small glass (even if it is your 3rd or 4th of the morning). The offering ranges from a full brewing ritual with many silver pots and kettles to brewed tea served in small glasses on a silver tray.

The lady of the house wore, for us, a traditional Berber costume,matching green pants and caftan, richly embroidered, and small green hat. Although no English was spoken, she graciously showed us her home and terraces , which held striking views. 

No home, however off the beaten path should be without TV!!!  The present king had electricity brought to the valley.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


The Bazaar

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
       Dante Alighieri
The Divine Comedy – The Inferno

We just ended a perfectly wonderful vacation in Morocco. The weather was pleasantly warm and the people were fabulous hosts. If you have not traveled there, I would urge you to plan a trip soon. We stayed in riads (guest houses, usually with 4-10 rooms with baths,food service and most western mod-coms,even wifi. English is no problem,nor,of course is French or Arabic.

Riad in Marrakesh

The riads are located in the “old city” part of town, called the Medina. The Medina of each city is a miniature city in itself, walled from invaders or perhaps to keep the citizenry inside, the walls are reminiscent of castle walls. Within the Medina there are shops for everything necessary for daily life, as the inhabitants both live and work within these walls. 

The streets are not really streets, but a series of winding alleyways, often without names. They are often too narrow for cars and transportation is walking, motorbikes and carts (pulled by donkeys or people).

 Of course it it very easy to get lost, especially at night, with no street lights and everything looking the same. But there are two types of “lost” in the Medina. The second is the area of the bazaar, the market , the souks.

Every tourist guide book will have pages about the market sellers. Some areas are shops where the bargaining is civil (and somewhat limited, although one should always try for the best price). Other areas are stalls where the seller sits outside and tries to entice you to buy. The amount of merchandise is staggering. Hundreds of thousands of key chains, scarfs, tee shirts, jewelry. 

 Early in the day one can see throngs of tourists energetically pushing their way through large numbers of other tourists (just in case there would be some shortage of goods to buy).
They are sheep going to slaughter. They are accosted immediately by the sellers.
The words “just looking, not right now, I'll be back” or just plain “NO” are ignored. Having read their guide books, tourists know about the bargain process. Believe me, they know nothing of what is to come. By midday the energetic shoppers have slowed their pace, their eyes have a glazed look. The crowds, the noise, the heat are taking their toll. By early afternoon they are “lost”. They wander along loaded with large plastic bags filled with their treasures. It is not until they pack their bags for home that they realize exactly what has happened.

Do you avoid this experience? Never!!! It is part of a lifestyle different from our usual trip to the mall.

This is the stuff that makes the tales of our trips interesting. But remember this is the livelihood of the vendors. This is how they feed their families. No matter how strongly they push, be polite. Just walk away if you are not interested. Also be aware that using a credit card for small purchases decreases the money available to the vendor. In fact, many small merchants hesitate to accept plastic at all.

In the coming weeks I will share my other experiences, including the master of all sellers: The Carpet Seller.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Talent Lost

“Good night sweet prince: And flocks of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
      Wm. Shakespeare

Unless you are residing on another planet, you will have heard of the untimely death of the music superstar Prince.  He has been called “iconic”, enigmatic, and, above all, supremely talented.  Prince was a composer, performer, musician and choreographer. 

As I watched TV footage of some of his many concerts and performances spanning the decades from the 1980’s, I was struck not only by his musical prowess, but his ability to transform a concert into a magical, often overwhelming experience.  It could never be said that the artist was boring, dull nor uninspiring.  Part of this mystique came with the costuming of his productions.  I am, after all, inspired by textiles and costuming and stage presentations featuring, what were, in the beginning of his career, considered, by some, to be well over-the-top.  Many a “tsk” could be heard when describing his outrageous and flamboyant use of dress ( or in some cases, undress).    Today we are used to the pyrotechnics, elaborate costuming and gyratic choreography preformed at every sports event, awards ceremony or ribbon cutting dedication.  In light of today’s standards there would have be few raised eyebrows by his provocative stage performances.

I heard one of  his costume designers interviewed who expressed the joy of working with such a talented, artistic mindset.  Prince Rogers Nelson was an original.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Art Therapy

Art Therapy

While on vacation visiting my New Zealand relatives, I mentioned to my sister-in-law that I really needed the vacation.  Sensing some degree of stress on my part, she told me about an adult coloring book that was given to my mother-in-law for Christmas.  Apparently, I was the only person who had not heard of this trend to eliminate anxiety and stress.  While shopping at her favorite book/gift shop, my sister-in-law introduced me to a large selection of these art books.  I was amazed at the intricacy and variety of designs, so much so that I bought several different “Adult Coloring Books”. Amongst my selections were two books of textile designs and one of traditional Japanese designs.

I began with a book of William Morris wallpaper designs. (See my blog about Morris- William Morris, Textiles and Interior Design, 6/18/14)

Brooklyn Museum, Pomegranate Publications, 2009

I decided upon one of his monotone designs which I wanted to reproduce, as much as possible, in the original colorway.
Illustrated coloring page - Arcadia Pattern
Original Pattern and colorway
My effort

My other textile book presents Liberty of London fabrics ( see my blog, Liberty Style, 2/16/14) and I am researching the original fabrics chosen for the book.

While this might seem a frivolous use of time, I found the degree of concentration necessary to complete these designs actually provided  stress relief.  One of the most challenging aspects of this activity is choosing the art materials to use (I selected ink and brush for my first efforts.  Next, I will try watercolor pencils.)    Of course, changing the color palette creates an entirely different look and this would be a good exercise for any textile student.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Food and Textiles

Food and Textiles

As I have written many times, I love books and have quite the collection.  Of course I have my textile books and, for nighttime reading, mysteries. I recently started collecting old cookbooks as I find the history of food and the culinary arts very interesting.  I recently purchased an illustrated history, which is a compilation of very old recipes.  Several short recipes are supposedly from Roman times including one for “boiled parrot”.  The recipe ends with the suggestion that if you cannot obtain parrot ( I guess the local butcher along the Apian Way didn’t get his weekly order) you could substitute flamingo.

While reading through these cookbooks I noticed many recipes had names in common with textile terms.  Think “cotton candy”.  Here are a few of the many I found.  Perhaps you can think of others.

Red Flannel  Hash
  According to Eric Quale (Old Cook Books, An Illustrated Histtory) the recipe was created in Vermont’s Green Mountains and favored by the Revolutionary Green Mountain Boys.  It is made from mashed, cooked beetroots and potatoes, mixed with minced, cooked steak, butter, cream, onion and salt and pepper.
  Flannel cloth refers to the weave used, usually a plain weave, not its fiber content.  It can be made from cotton, wool and manufactured fibers.  The term “flannel” comes from the Welsh”gwlamen”.

Chiffon Pie
    Chiffon is a word that can describe either a cake or a pie, light textured and fluffy.  A professional baker invented chiffon pie in the 1920’s, and another professional baker invented the chiffon cake in the 1940’s.  According to Women’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, the pie chef’s mother was taken with the dessert named it “chiffon” as it reminded her of a pile of the fluffy fabric.  For lemon chiffon pie, one would need a baked pie crust, unflavored gelatin salt, sugar, water, lemon juice and grated lemon peel, eggs and whipped heavy cream.


  Chiffon fabric, originally made of silk but, today it can be made from manufactured fibers as well as silk and rayon.  Highly twisted yarn in plain weave produces a transparent, fine fabric which is durable despite its delicate hand.

Chantilly Cream
    Chantilly refers to fresh whipped cream with the addition of egg white and flavoring. It is more stable than whipped cream and maintains consistency for 24 hours.
     Chantilly lace is a bobbin lace from Chantilly, France and was a favorite of royalty.  It was originally made of black silk , but also famous for white silk “blonde”  Black lace was extremely popular during the ‘mourning period” of Queen Victoria and during the American Civil War..
Shawl of black Chantilly lace

Crepe is French for a very thin, delicate pancake sweet or savory, plain or stuffed.  The recipe calls for eggs, butter, milk, sugar, salt and flour.  A crepe is almost always made from white flour (crepe de froment) but can also be made from buckwheat (galette ) Galettes are nearly always served s a main course, not as a dessert.
(.David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen)

crepe suzettes 
    Crepe fabric is woven in plain weave from yarn which has been twisted in extreme degree under tension, giving the fabric a wavy appearance.  The fiber may be wool, cotton, silk or manufactured. 

Red Velvet Cake
   Anne Byrn, author of The Cake Doctor, searched the origin of this dessert with somewhat mixed results.  One source traced the recipe to the Waldorf- Astoria Hotel in NYC in the 1930’s.  However, it seems as if the Waldorf chef was only responding to requests of diners, finally asking one of the callers to send him the recipe.  Basically, the cake is a chocolate ( or German- chocolate cake) to which a bottle of red food coloring has been added to the batter.  The food coloring adds no flavor but a certain dramatic flair.  It has been noted that there are versions of this dessert in green and orange!
    Velvet fabric -  Perhaps originating in Italy during the Reanissance, velvet is a plie fabric which can be woven from a wide variety of fibers.  There are two methods of construction.  One method involves cutting wires inserted in the weft.  The wires cut the pile as they are withdrawn.  A more common method is the creation of a double cloth with separate pile threads joining the two layers.  After weaving, the pile threads. are cut.