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.
What would you expect a millennia-old Egyptian archaeological textile fragment to look like in the year 2021? You may expect it to be flushed of color, as there is no way that the dyes from this time would withstand more than one thousand years. You may even expect a tattered, dirt-ridden piece of cloth that no longer holds details or structure. If this was your train of thought, you couldn’t be more wrong, but don’t feel like you’re alone. I too as many others have a different expectation for a textile more than a millennium old. This “Coptic” Egyptian fragment is quite contrary to popular belief. Rather, this textile still holds the bright, popping colors it held since it was created in this ancient Egyptian period. A deep red color spans across the edges and in the interwoven details of this fragment. Along with the red are hints of yellow, green, and blue in the woven imagery. These pigments and woven details within the delicate linen and wool textile were most likely preserved by the dry conditions of Egypt’s climate. Not only does the climate help to preserve these types of textiles, but during this time period of 300-400 A.D., quite a few linen textiles just like this one were used for burial services and as family heirlooms. It is hard to tell this fragment’s specific purpose at the time, mostly because it is a smaller piece of a much larger fabric. Being able to be fortunate enough to see how it has withstood the test of more than one thousand years is amazing to witness and observe.
Gage Czuppa is a senior majoring in Textiles and Fashion Design, and is also completing a Certificate in Entrepreneurship.
This beautiful piece of cloth comes from a piece of furniture from Great Britain during the late 18th century. Interior decor of the 18th century can be described as “Rococo”. This type of design was artisticand theatrical with patterns that were noted as whimsical yet elegant and rich. This style of furniture is associated with those of extreme wealth and fortune, in particular, King Louis XV who ruled during the mid 18th century. Inspired by the beautiful artistry of the French, the English began to adopt this style around 1740. It follows the standard Rococo rich and vibrant colors while also displaying aspects of elegance. The textile is woven with intricate patterns of flowers and other types of plants that come together to create a unique piece of fabric. It is also important to notice the colors that are displayed on this textile. During the late 18th century, red dye was primarily used for interior decors, such as furniture and tapestry. This particular color symbolizes wealth and power as it was commonly used by royals in Europe. The piece that we are observing is predominantly covered in red while incorporating other colors such as royal blue, dark green, and sage. These dyes are also royally significant as they too embody authority and affluence.
Caroline Haberland-Ervin plans to graduate in May 2022 with a B.A. in Political Science and Certificate in Textiles and Design.
This furnishing fabric from the early 20th century is exemplary of the craftsmanship and material skills of the designer Mariano Fortuny, who was Spanish by birth by worked in Venice. Fortuny was both inspired by the rich artistic heritage of Italy and an innovator in textile techniques. This fabric was crafted out of cotton that was plain woven and dyed sometime between 1922 and 1939. This textile was dyed using resist dyeing techniques. The dyed and undyed areas are even across the entirety of textile; one tone does nnot overpower the other, but rather they exist in harmony. The dyed area consists of ruby, garnet, hints of tawny and even sections of purple, meanwhile the undyed area is light amber with tones of silver. Playing into the vibrant cascade of color is the thick and whimsical ornamental design that cuts right into the pattern. It interrupts the aggressive presence of the red by not allowing it to overpower the textile and thus overwhelm the eyes of the viewer. The duality is ever present throughout the textile with its ornamental design, like yin and yang. The symmetrical, botanical pattern gives off the essence of upholstery used on an armchair or perhaps long, draping curtains in an estate.
Katherine Lyons is a third-year student majoring in Consumer Behavior & Marketplace Studies and working towards a Certificate in Design Strategy.
Chinese Ceremonial Textile
This piece is a “longevity tapestry”: the text celebrates the 81rst birthday of a woman known as Madame
Lin, telling her life story and praising her many personal attributes, such as virtue, ethics, and piety. It also has a list of names of all of those who testified to her character and celebrated this occasion with her. I was particularly interested in the apparent use and preservation of the cloth through sewing repairs. There is a fair amount of wear such as visible warp threads, tears, and discoloration. Some of the imperfections have been covered by embroidery, which you are able to infer because it is the only embroidery on this piece that is not a symbol of the Chinese language. Through my observation, I was able to find two small bee figures embroidered onto the textile that seemed to reinforce the fabric structure. The bees were embroidered in a gold colored thread and featured black thread in the face and antenna segments. In addition to this new colored thread, I was able to tell that they were not a part of the original composition because they appeared to be randomly placed on top of the very regular Chinese text. These slight imperfections show me that this piece was created by hand, which would be incredibly time consuming given its scale and detail. This dedication of time, as well as the additional effort put in to restore the textile, prove that this HLATC item was sentimental to the maker and/or the recipient.
Desiree Alu is a junior majoring in Textiles and Fashion Design with a certificate in Entrepreneurship. (Translation of the text on this textile kindly shared by UW-Madison graduate students Ji Wang, Yuzhe Li, and Tong Su.)
Despite the dominance of the fast fashion industry, there has recently been a large upsurge in sustainableand ethical fashion. Many consumers today are much more conscious about buying clothing that is made well and meant to last a long time. The 1960s paper dress craze perpetrated the exact opposite of this sentiment. Paper dresses, such as the Scott Paper Company dress from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (HLATC), were made to be worn once or twice and then thrown away. The red paisley paper dress from the HLATC, dated back to 1966, comes from the height of the craze. The Scott Paper Company created and sold the dress as promotional material for their napkin and toilet paper products and did not expect it to become so popular. Of course, other companies quickly capitalized on the trend and started to sell very gimmicky, promotional dresses. Although they may have seemed like a harmless trend at the time, paper dresses highlight a few large issues within the world of fashion: hyper-consumerism, short trend-cycles, and material waste. A very similar situation is still seen today in the amount of waste being produced to create cheaply manufactured garments at a rapid pace to keep up with ever-shortening trend cycles. The emerging environmentalist movement of the early 70s that killed off the disposable paper dress can be seen as a precursor to the sustainability efforts we see now. Overall, the short-lived paper dress trend from the mid to late 1960s is very reflective of the tensions in the fast fashion industry today.
Grace Lashbrook is a junior majoring in Textiles and Fashion Design.