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.
A reticule was a common style of women’s bags during the mid to late nineteenth century, used for carrying small necessities such as glasses, coins, and handkerchiefs. The most intriguing part of this artifact in my opinion is the main detail on the front. Every reticule looked different on purpose. Women of the day would utilize beading and embroidery, as well as experimentation with different shapes to individualize their bags. The main ornamentation here is a flower consisting of hundreds of little beads that were woven into a diagonal direction to complete the arrangement. The beads making up the design include a mix of metallic, clear, and opaque finishes. The flower is the defining characteristic that sets this bag apart and would be hard to replicate based on its intricacy. It is rare to be able to be able to attribute the intricate embroidery and beading design to a specific maker, as we are lucky to do with this piece: Elvira G. Stebbins.
Jacklyn Cullen is in her third year, majoring in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies.
Virginia Tiffany, a Madison resident and fiber artist, created this woven and embroidered wall hanging in the 1960s. You can see in this wall hanging that Tiffany had a full understanding of weaving, embroidery, and sewing techniques and knew how to execute them in an interesting way. You can also tell that she had a great eye for color and detail. Her use of the warm palette of reds and gold provides depth and dimensionality to a piece intended to hang on the wall. Although the composition is abstract, some of the shapes are reminiscent of elements of an agricultural landscape, such as corn and flowers. Although Tiffany well-known locally, showing at the Art Fair on the Square and other Madison venues, she also had success further afield, for example the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City. This piece was originally owned by Helen Louise Allen, who had an interest in contemporary textile craft and collected numerous fiber art pieces in the 1960s.
Grace Mackesy is in her final year majoring in Textiles and Fashion Design.
This blouse was made by Alvina Decorah (1915-1995), a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, who resided in Wisconsin. Decorah has used different colors of ribbon, cut and appliqued on top of one another with machine stitching in contrasting colors, in order to create the intricate detail at the yoke, shoulders, cuffs, and hem of this blouse, which is made from red synthetic fabric. Her use of relatively humble materials transformed into such an ornate garment shows off Decorah’s creativity and skill. Decorah stitched this garment just a year after she tragically lost her son in the Vietnam War; Elliott Decorah is believed to be the only enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation to lose his life in this conflict.
Emma Goke is a second-year student pursuing a major in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies, with a Certificate in Textiles and Design.
Through the eighteenth century, India led the production of textiles. This small fragment shows both the innovative use of natural dyes and beautiful botanical imagery. A red dye similar to madder is derived from the roots of “chay,” a herbaceous climbing plant. Areas in South India provide the perfect environment to grow chay plants. The soil is abundant with calcium from crushed-sea shells, allowing the roots to give off a glowing red color. Textiles are soaked overnight at a high temperature in the dye solution, creating the rosy red color of this fragment. The popularity of the botanical and floral imagery that we see here went all the way back to the 16th century and the start of the Mughal Empire, when gardens were appreciated for both their ornamental and economic value. Floral designs on textiles and other decorative arts reflected this interest and continued through subsequent centuries, as Indian textiles became popular around the globe.
Maddie Bergstrom is in her final year, double majoring in Journalism and Psychology, with a Certificate in Textiles and Design.