04 July 2015

Happy Fourth of July!

Our town puts on a great pyrotechnics show.
Our town produces a wonderful fireworks display every year, as part of traditional festivities which include carnival rides, carnival food - fried dough, anyone? - and a local band playing patriotic favorites. A good time was had by all.

21 June 2015

"Wonder of Wool" exhibit at the American Textile History Museum

Coverlet, Pennsylvania, late 19th - early 20th century, detail.

From May 20 through December 31, 2015, the American Textile History Museum features a special exhibit, the Wonder of Wool: Ancient Fiber to Modern Marvel.

The show displays quite a variety of sheep- and wool-related objects illuminating the romance, and science, of this protein (animal-derived) fiber.  One highlight is a "please touch" wall of yarns as well as woolen fabrics, both woven and knit.

Adorable exhibit free bookmark - take several home. I did.

View of the Stevens gallery.

Tactile delight!

The image below is a wall collage of Green Mountain Spinnery mohair-blend yarn, from our neighboring state of Vermont. Luscious colors.

Wool takes dye beautifully.

The exhibit featured fashions old and new, including a late 19th-century catalog, and ladies undergarment, from "Dr. Jaeger's Sanitary Woolen System Co."  The British apparel company Jaeger was founded to produce long-johns based on the hygiene theories of German physician Gustav Jaeger (1832 - 1917.)

Before there was Victoria's Secret.

Up-to-date fashions.

The exhibit of modern apparel trumpeted wool's continuing role in high fashion, in part aided by the sustainability movement - sheep regrow their fleece each year.  Although I recognized some of the names represented, such as Massachusetts native Joseph Abboud and, of course, Pendleton, discoveries include newer labels Wool & Prince and Ramblers Way Farm.

After touring the exhibit we wandered into one of the educational spaces within the museum.  We were delighted to encounter the work of weaver Antonia Kormos on the classroom walls.

Classroom with looms.

Work by master weaver Antonia Kormos.

The Shepherd Boy, unknown artist, 1840's.

Although the information presented in the Wonder of Wool exhibit will be familiar to most textile mavens, it was still a treat to encounter 19th-century sheep-themed ephemera, such as this hand-colored wood engraving, from a design by an unidentified artist and sold by Boston vendor J. Fisher.   Note to the museum shop: I would happily buy a reproduction of this charming image if one were available.

15 June 2015

Quilters' Connection Quilt Show

Circle Game/What Was I Thinking? Karen Swiech.

The end of May brought an end to a chapter in the saga of my quilt guild, Quilters' Connection. Our annual show blanketed the walls of the Arsenal Center for the Arts for the last time. After ten years in residency, the guild has decided to up sticks and move to a convention center at Bentley College, in Waltham.  Here, for the last time, are scenes from the Arsenal Center.

Quilts at the entry.

There are no visitors in these images as I took them the day before the show opened as part of my duty as assistant quilt show photographer. The show featured a good variety of quilt genres again this year - traditional quilts, landscape creations, figurative work, etc. - as well as apparel and fashion accessories. 

The quilts in this blog post are simply ones which spoke to me, but all the quilts and wearables will be on view on the guild's Flickr site soon.

Quilts line the walls.

Spider-Spun Beach Balls, Carol Anne Grotrian.

The non-juried guild show is very egalitarian, as the work of nationally-recognized artists, such as Carol Anne Grotrian and Nancy Halpern, hangs in neighborly relation to artwork by folks like me, for whom quilting is the continuation of a family tradition, or who simply find joy in the act of creating something unique with their hands (and sewing machines.)  Enjoy, and remember that each image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

New Goose on the Block, Nancy Halpern; quilted by Ruth McDowell.

Time in a Bottle, Diane French Chait.

Pool Pleasure, Deborah Rocha.

Fear the Beard, Rosemary Bawn.

Low Volume Tiles, Michelle Gallant.

Batik Neighborhood, Margaret Rolph.

Slot Canyon at Tent Rocks, Susan Stemporzewski.

View of the Bridge, Kathleen Walsh.

Love in a Daze, Elizabeth Chamberlain Habich.

Although it's unclear whether the guild will be able to mount a show at Bentley, I certainly hope we continue this tradition of sharing our work with each other and with the wider world.

25 May 2015

"Roman in the Provinces" life at the edge of empire

Funerary relief of woman, Palmyra, 125 - 150 CE.

The exhibit "Roman in the Provinces: Art on the Periphery of the Empire" is a timely, welcome and fresh look at the material culture of various peoples conquered, in the military sense, but never quite subjugated culturally, by Rome.  In the eastern-most regions of the Roman Empire, today's Syria and Jordan, the emperor was acknowledged in public inscriptions incised not in Latin, but in Greek - the heritage of Alexander the Great's earlier victories.

The woman memorialized in the sculpture shown above is depicted as a proper Roman matron, with the spindle and distaff symbolic of domestic virtue, but her name, Shagal, in carved in Aramaic, the spoken language of ancient Palestine and Judea.  In addition to linguistic traditions, pre-Roman, and, eventually, early Christian rituals, thrived within a framework of Roman governance.

The show, artfully installed in the two floors of the McMullen Museum at Boston College, features a breadth of objects in glass, clay, stone, fiber, and metal.  A special highlight, and the focus of this post, are the more than forty textile fragments, some over 1400 years old, lent by collectors Donald and Barbara Tellalian, and rarely exhibited. One of precious fragments, of a rooster, is featured on the exhibit poster.   A note on dates and materials: dates given are all CE, Christian Era; the textile fragments are made of dyed wool and plain linen.

Left: exhibit poster. Right: Textile fragment with rooster, Egypt, 5-6th cent.

From the exhibit wall text, "Weaving Identities":

While most textiles have perished, a significant number survived in graves in the dry earth of Egypt.  Many date from the fourth to ninth century and are made of linen and dyed wool.  Just as today, in late antiquity textiles were everywhere.  Their principal use was for clothing that in addition to covering the body could also express various identities: gender, age, social status, profession, religion, and cultural and regional affiliations.  In homes, textiles covered cushions and beds and served as curtains and tablecloths.  In churches they were used as altar cloths, chalice covers, and screens.  In pagan temples they were presented as lavish gifts to the gods whose images they sometimes clothed.  Highly valued, textiles often were reused until threadbare.

Commonly produced in the home, textiles were also made in factories in late antique Egypt.  Limits on their cost are set in the price edict of Emperor Diocletian, where they are the most mentioned item.  The demand for textiles throughout the empire and their portability meant that their imagery was widely disseminated.  They bear motifs drawn from the many cultures found within the empire, decorations that also appear in other media like mosaic, glass, stone, ceramic and metal.  Many of these images allow for multiple interpretations depending on the context of their use and their audience.  Grapevines, for example, held significance for both pagans and Christians, though in different ways.
Textile roundel, Egypt 5-6th cent. Photo: Yale University Gallery.

For example, in the textile roundel above we know the central female figure is a deity, because of the nimbus, or halo, around her head, but her exact identity is open to interpretation. She may be Tyche, a Greek goddess whose Roman counterpart, Fortuna, brings prosperity, but, placed in the center of a cruciform shape, she may also represent a Christian saint.

From the wall text we learn that the fragments are, well, fragmentary, because these pieces were cut from larger textiles by dealers who felt only the decorated portions were worthwhile. So it is hard to understand how these little pieces of cloth might have been used in apparel or home furnishings.  A few fortunate survivors show  more of the body of the garments embellished by the roundels and borders.

Fragment of decorated tunic, Egypt, 7-8th cent.

In the image above, the neckline of the tunic featured decorative bands which continue vertically; the vertical bands are clavi (from the same root word as clavicle).  In the image below, a detail of a 3rd century fresco in Sicily, the hunters wear tunics with similar decoration. The roundels near the bottom hem of their tunics are orbiculi.

Mosaic, Villa Romana del Casale. source: http://www.villaromanadelcasale.it/

Tunic, Egypt. 7-9th cent.

The image above is from //www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2012/byzantium-and-islam/blog/topical-essays/posts/fashion and shows a tunic with its clavi and orbiculi intact. This basic t-shaped garment was the everyday wear for men and children; women wore a longer garment called the tunica.

Elaborate tapestry weaving was used to decorate the home too, including the cushions and covers of the stone couches on which upper class citizens reclined during banquets, in good Roman fashion.  Although the figure below is memorialized dressed in Palmyrene priestly attire, he reclines, Roman style, on a couch covered with banded textiles.

Funerary relief with banquet scene, Palmyra, 200-250 CE.

Cushion cover fragment, Egypt 5-6th cent. 

The image above, featuring a dancer surrounded by bowls of fruit, is a cushion cover which, unusually, retains remnants of its fringed loop decoration; it must have been quite a plush item to lean on when new.

Larger fragments give an exciting glimpse of how color was used in these antique textiles. In the piece below the decorated band connects red and black borders. The image is a bit difficult to see but the pattern features a figure with a halo and upraised arms, flanked by pairs of nude figures with shoulder cloaks, and birds. Bacchus? Christian saint? It's a mystery.

Textile fragment with dancers and birds in heraldic pairs, Egypt 8-9th cent.

Some of the textiles are clearly associated with Christianity, such as the roundel below, which shows an ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol for life, retooled as a Christian cross. The proto-cross is surrounded by a pattern of vines and grapes, suggesting that this fragment decorated an altar cloth used for celebrating the Eucharist, possibly in an Egyptian church.

Textile roundel with interlace, Egypt, 4th cent.

Mosaic, San Vitale, Ravenna. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Vitale_in_Ravenna_06.jpg

The image above, depicting a mosaic from the Basilica of San Vitale, a church whose construction began in 526 CE, shows an altar with decorative roundels.

On the other hand, some of the textile fragments have an imperial Roman connection, such as the fragment below, featuring an eight-pointed star encircling a tree of life motif, with an outer border of dancers. The purple color, which may be true Tyrian purple, or, in this case, an imitation of that expensive dye, was traditionally only permitted on clothing used by emperors or senators; later the color was also allowed on certain religious garments.

Some of the textiles have retained their colors remarkably well, including the complex band below, sandwiched by rare remnants of plain linen weave.

Textile band with birds and foliage, Egypt, 7th cent.

Textile band, detail.

The exhibit included pre-recorded video demonstrations of glass-blowing and intaglio carving, but revealed little about the process by which these decorative bands were created, one of the few weaknesses of an otherwise stellar exhibit. To be fair, perhaps the process has yet to be researched and described.  It's clear, though, this that embellishment was time-consuming and hence a costly luxury, conveying status on the wearer.

Textile fragment with roundels with dancers, grapevines and lions. Egypt, 5-6th cent.

Detail, showing plain linen and dyed wool.

So, aesthetically, the late antiquity approach to the embellishment of clothing seems to favor attaching decorated bands or roundels to plain linen garments. Perhaps some dyestuffs were too costly to use to color entire garments, or perhaps representational motifs on garments gave the wearer status, or even protection, like a woven amulet. The band in the image above features colored ducks, a symbol of abundance, as well as grapevines surrounding a red fruit, which might well be a pomegranate, symbol of fertility.

The narrow bands as well as the roundels typically incorporate beautiful borders as well as central motifs - a lot of thought was given to the transition from field to edge in the design, and this is found in other objects, large and small, in the exhibit. Just one example is the newly-restored floor mosaic fragment below, from the church of Bishop Paul, in Gerasa (now Jorash, Jordan.)

Mosaic floor fragment, limestone, c. 526 CE.

Border detail, floor mosaic fragment.

For an exhibit on culture at the boundaries of an empire, it seems fitting to end with a craftman's careful attention to another kind of periphery, in a timeless work of art.

There is a catalog, with 15 essays, accompanying the exhibit, ISBN 978 1 892 85022 5.

14 May 2015

Wedding bouquet memory

Happy daughter with floral arrangement.

My daughter wed last year, carrying the colorful bouquet in the image above.  When the newlyweds jaunted off on their honeymoon the floral arrangements came home with us.  It seemed very sad to just discard the flowers after the ceremony, but how to preserve them?  Dried flowers make me expect Miss Havisham to descend the stairs, ruined wedding dress trailing behind. Not a mental picture to conjure up for a happy memory.  

I happened to have a book on digital printing on fabric, borrowed from the library, lying around, and one of the images was a floral wreath. Eureka! I dug out pieces of white fabric and black fabric, carefully dis-assembled the bouquet and laid everything out on a table in the porch. 

Flowers on white.

 First, I tried the blossoms and stems on white fabric. Not so much impact.


Voila! On black fabric, dynamite!  Since I hadn't planned ahead for this - and the flowers were fading fast - my only option was a piece of black linen from my stash. I would recommend using black velvet for a nicer background.

I photographed the wreath on the black fabric, played a little bit with it in Picasa to even out the tones and got the image printed and framed in a chunky black frame, with no mat (spacers keep the glass off the photo surface.) This is my gift to the couple for their first anniversary next week. Do you think they will like it?

Bridal wreath picture, sitting in my garden.

28 April 2015

Shades of Gray baby quilt

Design is Patio, by Monica Solorio-Snow.

No, these shades of gray have nothing to do with block-buster escapist literature. The baby quilt in the image above, held by DH in bright sunlight, showcases a type of fabric your correspondent loves: prints in shades of gray, or gray with one additional hue, such as pink or yellow.  I have a number of these old fabrics from the days when apparel fabrics came in a 36" width, and the imminent arrival of a baby girl gave me an excuse to feature them in a quilt.

Vintage fabrics in grays with yellow.

The fabric on the left in the image above was a sturdy old apron, carefully picked apart, and upcycled for this quilt - click on the image to enlarge it and check out the covered wagon and log cabin.  Shades of "Little House on the Prairie." 

Prints with representational imagery are properly called "conversational prints"; sometimes ebay sellers refer to these fabrics as "novelty prints" but the phrase "novelty print" is more properly applied to fabrics with flocking, metallic components, or some other exotic (novel) feature.

The name of the quilt pattern is Patio, design by Monica Solorio-Snow, of Happy Zombie quilts, and it's a simple-to-make design. (I have no connection to Ms. Solorio-Snow; just found the pattern while browsing Pinterest for modern quilts.)  I widened the borders, from 1" to 4", to make my quilt, at 38" x 47", a bit bigger than the finished dimensions given in the pattern.

Vintage pink and gray prints.

Initially I mixed in some shot cotton solids with the prints, as you can see below in this tentative layout on my felt design wall, but the solids elements were too singular - they called too much attention to themselves - so back to look for more prints. (I think the pattern would work very well in all solids; it was just the mix that didn't work.)

Early layout.

I didn't have enough gray-with-color prints - this pattern really requires at least twelve different fabrics - so added more from my stash and luckily found the silhouette fabric on the right, below, on ebay.  (Talk about serendipity.) Again, enlarge to see the fairy tale imagery in the print on the left.

Gray and black-and-white fabrics.

For the backing fabric I used another old fabric originally from retailer J. C. Penney. In the post-war era, Penney's sold lightweight cottons with "A Regulated Cotton Never Misbehaves" printed on the selvedge.  The individual fabrics in this line each had a title, as well - this one is "Banjo." The middle fabric in the image above, also from Penney's line, is "Florentine."  The "Never Misbehaves" part referred to the fabric - meaning that the goods wouldn't bleed or shrink excessively.  (I think the women wearing clothes sewn from the fabric could behave in any way they wished.) The "hand" of these fabrics is just wonderful.

For sashing I used Kona cotton in "Ash."  The quilt top was machine-quilted by Martha Garvey, who chose the pantograph quilting pattern "Cotton Candy," and a thread color called "Pearl."  Pattern and quilting thread were prefect for this little quilt, now finished, delivered, and  ready for baby "tummy time."

All pieced, waiting to be quilted.