textile detail of beaded embroidery

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection

The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (HLATC) is a teaching collection with over 13,000 textile artifacts spanning 16 centuries and 108 countries, making it one of the nation’s largest university-held textile collections. Thousands of pieces from the collection are available for public study, loaned to outside exhibitions, and more than 9,000 objects are viewable online.

Mission of the Collection

The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection advances understanding of cultures and their history through engagement with textiles for the creative, technical, and educational benefit of scholars from UW–Madison and beyond.

Visit the Collection

Objects from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection are regularly on display in the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery during open gallery hours. Group and research visits to study objects from storage are welcome on a first come basis, with priority given to UW classes and scholars. Please complete the form below and a staff member will be in touch.

Request a Visit

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Community Day

Once a semester, the Collection staff host a Community Day where we lead behind-the-scene tours and share information about the Collection. In addition, we offer a limited number of object viewing appointments with staff where members of the public can bring a personal textile to discuss with staff. Check out our event calendar for the next Community Day event to sign up for an object viewing appointment or behind-the-scenes tour.

Event Calendar

On-Site Guidelines

To help preserve our one-of-a-kind collection, all pieces will be viewed in a chilled and environmentally-controlled space.

  • Most textiles can be handled with clean or gloved hands under the discretion and supervision of staff
  • Photography is welcome for study purposes only, without flash
  • Beverages and food, including gum and lozenges, are not permitted
  • Pens and markers are not allowed; use pencils instead
  • Be sure not to allow hair, jewelry, or loose clothing to dangle over the objects
  • Be careful not to lean on or rest hands or notebooks on the textiles


Open for Scheduled Tours:
Monday-Friday by appointment

Location and Parking

History of the Collection

Helen Louise Allen in front of textile
Helen Louise Allen with W.F.P.0258

The nucleus of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection was a bequest from the estate of UW–Madison Home Economics Professor Helen Louise Allen, who taught weaving, embroidery, textile history, and the history of interiors from 1927 until her death in 1968. During her career, she traveled and amassed a broad collection of approximately 4,000 textiles to support her teaching and research.

A pioneer in her field, Professor Allen was an early adopter of historical and anthropological perspectives in the study of the textile arts. For over 50 years the collection has been a tool for students at UW–Madison, as well as national and international researchers, historians, and artists. Professor Allen’s original vision to advance understanding of cultures and their history via the textile arts still remains at the heart of Collection’s mission and continues to inspire future generations of artists and designers.

Professor Allen is also honored on the 100 Women Wall of Honor, permanent art installation at the School of Human Ecology.

In 2021, HLATC was the proud recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation Assistance Grant for Smaller Institutions. This award allowed HLATC to continue to uphold excellent standards of care for the textiles in its permanent collection, enabling access for future generations of students, researchers, and textile enthusiasts.