Textile Tuesdays: Red Edition: March

Join us once a month during 2022 on the CDMC Stories blog for Textile Tuesdays: Red Edition! Students in the UW-Madison Design Studies class “History of Textiles” (Fall 2021) wrote these posts, choosing the color red as the theme through which they explored the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (HLATC). While of course red holds particular resonance for the Badger community, it also has a special place in the history of textiles. We can chart the development of textile dyeing and printing through the use of madder plants, cochineal insects, synthetically-produced alizarin, and other substances. Focusing on the color red allowed the students to feature a wide range of textiles from HLATC in terms of chronology, geography, use, and cultural meaning. 


Embroidered Fragment 

Fragment of pants, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, c. 1975, embroidered cotton, 2017.13.003a-b, Gift of Bob and Maya Dakan

This highly decorative embroidered textile fragment originally was part of a pair of loose-fitting pants that are typical of Laotian dress. Laos is home to a variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious groups, and while there are design motifs that are typical of particular groups, there also has been cultural and economic exchange, both between these groups, and beyond the Laotian borders. This cultural exchange can be found in different combinations of embroidery motifs such as those seen on this fragment. The intricate embroidery was usually found on the outside leg as well as the bottom border of the pants, and was a testament to the skill of the maker, especially in working the embroidery on light-weight cotton fabric that suits the climate of Laos. The overall design is worked with distinct bands of motifs formed from very small orthogonal crossed stitches; running stitches, as well as some satin stitch and tufting, highlight the main band of the design. 

Andrea Brehovska is finishing her first year at Madison, studying Psychology, and planning to undertake certificates in both Digital Studies, and Textiles and Design. 


Damask Fragment 

Fragment, France, seventeenth century, silk woven damask, 18 x 7 in, W.L.E.2946, Gift of Kay Robertson & Loewi-Robertson, Inc.

Damask is a textile weaving technique that has been around for hundreds of years, originating in China as a symbol of royalty and wealth, and this symbolism carried over into Europe when this type of textile first made its appearance in the 1300s. The luxury of Damask began because of its intricate and time-consuming hand weaving technique that resulted in the reversibility of the pattern on both sides of the textile. The thick fabric was often used for curtains and other upholstery, such as chairs or couches, and sometimes even dresses, and was very popular amongst the wealthy especially during the Renaissance period. As the textile gained popularity and as technology evolved, the development of the Jacquard loom in 1804 changed everything. It made the Damask textile not only easier to produce but also more readily available. After this innovation, Damask worked its way down into more middle-class societies and at the same time became more modernized in terms of its designs. This fragment from the seventeenth century appears at first glance to be an abstract design, however after closer inspection, it shows a botanical pattern, which was a common motif for interior furnishings at that time. 

Sophia ReDavid is a second-year student majoring in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies and undertaking certificates in Design Strategy and Sustainability. 


Print Sample 

WPA Milwaukee Handicraft Project, print sample, United States, 1935-1943, block printed cotton, 11 x 8 in, P.D.US.0467l, Transferred from the Department of Environment, Textiles, and Design

This sample print was created by the Milwaukee Handicraft Project. During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, which set aside five billion dollars for work relief programs, including the Work Projects Administration, which founded the Milwaukee Handicraft Project. Elsa Ulbricht of Milwaukee State Teachers College agreed to develop a work program for Milwaukee Country residents who lacked employment skills and needed to support their families. She proposed that the project aim to make hand-made household articles of wood, paper, yarn, and cloth. The objects were distributed to local families, nursery schools, and publicly owned institutions. The Milwaukee Handicraft Project was one of the few WPA programs to be racially integrated; workers were divided into a number of different units producing different types of skilled crafts. This print sample was produced by the Block Printing Unit, which contributed to the production of textiles for the interiors of public sites as well as fabric for book covers. The Designer-Foreman of the Unit created the patterns, which the workers transferred to linoleum blocks. The background of the design was then carefully cut away to create the stamp. The carved blocks were then inked and pounded forcefully onto paper and fabric.  

Brinda Shivapuja is planning to graduate in May with a degree in Neurobiology and a certificate in Textiles and Design.