Textile Tuesday: Red Edition: May

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. 



Veil, Pakistan, 1958, silk embroidery on cotton, 88 x 47 in, E.A.I.1377, Purchased with HLATC funds

People often assume that the purpose of veiling is covering and hiding women’s faces, keeping them in the dark, out of public sight. However, in many cases, it is just the opposite: veils attract all the lights and become the most gorgeous decoration. The Sindhi mirror embroidery on this veil, or odhani, is the best example. The veil is a large rectangular shape (220 x 150 cm), with silk embroidery and mirror embellishments on the surface of the thin and sheer cotton in saturated red color. The most striking feature of the veil is the shining and reflecting effect created by countless small mirrors combined with the luster of silk thread. Such mirror embroidery is an important craft of Sindhi embroidery. This technique dates from as early as the sixteenth century, and was practiced mainly by women. At the first glance, people might be confused about how the mirror is sewn on because they cannot find a hole on the mirror nor a trace of thread in the back showing a direct connection between mirror and fabric. In fact, the mirrors are inlaid into two encircling layers of stitches: katcho and pakko. In the past, the mirrors used in embroidery were produced by broken blown glass, so they were slightly convex in appearance. Although the mirrors on this veil are more recent production and without such an ancient feature, they preserve the traditional craft and shine in the present. 

Chi Lynn Lin is in her second year of the PhD program in Art History; she has particular interests in Chinese material culture of the early modern period, furnishing fabrics, and ritual dress. 



Kimono, Japan, 1930s, embroidered silk, 64 x 58 in, E.A.J.1538a, Gift of Francis A. Marelli

The kimono was introduced to Japan during the Heian Period, which occurred from the 8th century to the 12th century. The original form of the kimono was heavily influenced by the Chinese hakama, which looked more like a long skirt rather than the robe kimono we see today. In 1185, which was the start of the Kamakura Period in Japan, the kimono was a staple Japanese clothing item. At this time, creators of kimonos started to experiment with different colors and meanings for kimonos based on categories such as gender or the season of wear. Eventually in 1603, the start of the Edo Period in Japan, kimonos became a specialized craft and became works of art. This particular red silk Japanese kimono was made during the 1930s, and is notable for both its deep red color and its dimensional embroidery. The physical structure of the embroidery is a crucial aspect of this kimono, which certainly draws the eye. For each gold thread, there is a base thread made of silk, which is then bound in a thin gold metallic strip. Together these components make for a tactile form of embroidery, which makes it adaptable to strong designs, such as the dragons. To make the dragons physically rise above the surface of the fabric even more, the gold embroidery is layered on top of scrap fabrics, which offer padding to the embroidered forms. This gives the dragons a 3D aspect, making this red silk kimono very eye-catching. 

Madeline Gravelle is a junior majoring in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies; she is also pursuing two Certificates, in Entrepreneurship, and Textiles and Design. 


Woven Napkin 

Napkin, Czechoslovakia, 1938, woven linen, 14 x 15 in, W.J.E.3173b

This napkin, made in 1938 in the former Czechoslovakia, is an intricately handwoven textile that leaves the viewer amazed at the skill and time it would have taken to weave. The napkin is part of a set along with a tablecloth, and likely had other napkins as well, although only one napkin and the tablecloth are preserved in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. There are (at least!) two notable aspects of this fabric made for everyday use. The first is the intricate two-color patterning of the weave, with different weave structures present in the central ground, borders, and corners of the napkin. The use of curving form and waving lines, all created within the rectangular matrix of weaving, is a particularly impressive achievement showing the skill of the weaver. The second is the historical context; at the time that this napkin was made, the military occupation of Czechoslovakia by the German Reich was beginning, with profound and difficult changes to daily life. It is poignant that something as humble as this napkin has survived from these troubling times.  

 Karissa Kroll is graduating in May 2023 with a B.S. in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies and two Certificates, in Entrepreneurship, and Textiles and Design. 


Neck Cloth 

Neck cloth, metallic embroidery on silk velvet, 22 x 5.5 in, 2017.10.005

The neck cloth is a grand, ornate textile, which gives the impression that a person of power or wealth would have worn it. Although it is not known when this particular neck cloth was made and worn, it appears to be a more modern example of a type of ornamental accessory that was typical of religious garments of the early modern period. The vinery, flowers, and leaves that are seen in the cloth are created from embroidering with metallic yarn, showing an excellent example of this technique. The embroidery style is zardozi, which originated in Persia. The literal definition of ‘zardozi’ means gold (zar) and embroidery (dozi). Originally zardozi was made of silk threads that were wrapped with real gold. The inspiration for this technique is said to have come from nature, which can be seen in the neck cloth. The spiraling flowers and vinery that wind up and around the textile show this natural influence. It was clear that there is time and passion put into creating this collar because of the detailing of the vinery and how each side is symmetrical. The long metal fringing around the neck cloth also reveals the time and high level of skill that was required to create this textile. 

Claire Sickinger is a junior majoring in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies, with a Certificate in Textiles and Design. 


Obi makura 

Obi makura, Japan, 1952, printed silk on cardboard with cotton ties, 43 x 5 x 2 in, C.J.0050g, Transferred from the Department of Environment, Textiles, and Design

The obi makura was an important accessory worn with the kimono in traditional Japanese dress. Makura, meaning pillow, is an oval pad that is placed under the obi sash to help secure its ornamental bow or knot; the obi is tied at the waist of the kimono. The makura is not visible once the obi is secured, and today is usually made in plain fabrics or even out of plastic. But this example from the 1950s is made of silk and is quite decorative. That even this functional part of the overall garment is made from intricately textured and printed silk speaks to the strong heritage of textiles in Japanese culture. The flat structure of the kimono brings attention to the significance and the symbolism behind the choice of color and pattern in the textiles used. The specific colors and patterns chosen indicated the distinctions between social class, gender, marital status, and the seasons and social occasions for which the kimono was worn.  

 Angeliz Colon is completing her first year at Madison as a student in Interior Architecture.