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.
This textile, titled “Schizzo,” was designed by Ettore Sottsass, who was the mastermind and founder of the Memphis Group. The Memphis Group was a collective of Italian designers, architects, and writers, based in Milan, Italy, that created art of various forms such as furniture, lighting, and textiles, from 1980 to 1988. Reacting against the popularity of minimalist design in the middle of the twentieth century, the Memphis Group became trailblazers for post-modern design, which was bright, bold, and colorful, and drew from a range of historical precedents, often combining these in unique ways. Although some critics, and consumers, at the time considered this design style to be too radical and even tasteless, the Memphis Group successfully produced a new, cutting-edge collection every year for the next eight years. The Memphis Group disbanded in 1988, as its fame and popularity were on the decline, but it left behind an immense impact on the design world. This textile is a good representative of how the historical technique of roller printing on woven fabric could be harnessed for strikingly post-modern and versatile designs.
Anise Mamary is a senior majoring in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies with a Certificate in Textiles and Design.
This rug was produced by a member of the Indian Weaving Unit, a branch of the Works Progress Administration located in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, one of the few federal government assistance programs of the New Deal that employed Indigenous artists during the Great Depression. The Indian Weaving Unit specifically employed Ojibwe women, who created a variety of textile items that were sold or distributed to the poor in Vilas County. Although the Indian Weaving Unit was established with the goal of assisting Ojibwe women in supporting their families through both their artistic and utilitarian skills, there were limits to the autonomy that these women had in the design and production of rugs, woven bags, and dolls. The Weaving Unit encouraged the use of European-style floor looms, as well as patterns and motifs derived from European design, such as this red plaid rug. Though this rug may not be a traditional Indigenous design, it speaks to the continuing economic and cultural struggles of Indigenous Americans into the twentieth century. WPA-commissioned pieces such as this one became popular after the Great Depression among both private and public collectors, and the history of this rug turns it from a simple textile into a piece of local history.
Kayla Wilson is a fourth-year student majoring in Wildlife Ecology with a Certificate in Textiles and Design.
This fine cotton scarf was made using resist dye techniques that were originally developed and perfected in India, especially the Gujurat and Rajasthan states. This scarf shows bandhani, a very fine tie and dye technique where the ties act as a physical resist to the dye. In multicolour fabrics such as this one, the dyeing process is carried out multiple times with different patterns of tying and different colors of dye. The minute dots along the borders of this scarf create a linked motif of birds and flowers—this is a remarkably detailed design and shows off the skill of the textile artist and the value of the scarf to the consumer or wearer.
Corbin Woessner is a senior majoring in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies with a Certificate in Textiles and Design.
This vibrant textile panel is constructed of silk embroidery on plain woven cotton, which is also quilted to a printed cotton lining. This form, sometimes referred to as suzani, traditionally was used as a wall hanging or room divider to demarcate particular spaces, but now has more of a decorative function. It is interesting to note the provenance of this piece; it is one of the extensive gifts of over 250 textiles donated by Mr. John and Dr. Ruth C. Morrissey. Ruth Morrissey worked with the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, for example cataloguing the extensive lace holdings, and undertook her PhD on the history of Guatemalan textiles at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduating in 1983. The couple were seasoned travellers and acquired a wonderful collection of textiles on their journeys, many of which were donated in the 1990s. Several of the pieces donated to the Textile Collection by the Morrisseys will be on display in the upcoming exhibit Uncut Attire: How Weaving Informs Wearables, opening on 14 September in the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery.
Prof. Marina Moskowitz is the Lynn and Gary Mecklenburg Chair in Textiles, Material Culture, and Design.