Archive for the ‘Weave of the week’ Category

2010 Weave of the week #8: Sparklers
October 2, 2010

Red Sparkler designed by F. Devlin, handwoven by S. Roehl

For months I have been sidelined by medical problems that have kept me  immobilized,  depressed,  and,  most definitely,  uninspired.  But the bright side of all this downtime is that I had time to work on my website,  which,  as I said almost a year ago,  has been “under construction” for years.  Well, it’s almost finished.

One of my tasks was to write brief copy about the scarves on each web page,  so I had to distill their most important features, and in the process,  I made some interesting discoveries about the red Sparkler scarf shown above and below that I have chosen as this week’s featured weave.

Red Sparkler detail

The red Sparkler is one of my favorites — I love its name,  the clear red color combined with multicolored iridescent glitter,  and the diagonal mock-leno weave.  But in looking at it again,  I was surprised at how soft and lightweight the scarf  is,  so I weighed it and found that by using a lofty merino wool in combination with an open weave,  I had gotten a 9″ x 60″ scarf that weighs just under 5 oz.

Here’s the draft that I used.  I played around with the denting and ended up cramming groups of three ends into one dent,  then leaving two dents empty,  and wet finishing easily took care of the rest.

Red sparkler draft

But what’s really important to me about the red  Sparkler is that it has inspired my first blog post in months.  I hope that’s a positive sign.

2010 Weave of the week #7: Two fancy aprons, one mystery
June 27, 2010

Mystery apron

In December 1977,  at a thrift shop in Soho,  I bought a vintage bathrobe for my honey,  and the intriguing garment shown above for my haphazard textile collection.

I find this apron such a fascinating cacophony of fabrics,  colors,  techniques,  and design motifs,  that from time to time I try to find out where it came from.  A knowledgeable friend thought that it might be from Salamanca,  Spain,  but that’s the only clue I’ve got,  so when I decided to write this post I contacted Mr.  Constancio del Alamo, the textile curator at the Hispanic Society of America in NYC, to ask him about the piece. He graciously agreed to look at my pictures and said,  by e-mail,

I never have seen an apron like this one,  and we do not have anything similar in our collection.  The designs of the embroidery,  and the use of lentejuelas [sequins] could be Spanish,  but I am not a specialist on these textiles.

So the apron’s identity is still a mystery to me.

I have posted images of several views of the apron in the slideshow below,  and here’s a brief description:

The black base fabric is coarsely woven (possibly wool),  and a sash and ruffle,  made of a lighter-weight silky plaid,  have been added to the top and bottom.  The sides are edged in a worn burgundy-colored brocade fabric.  Curvy leaf and flower shapes have been embroidered on the surface of the black cloth with chenille yarn and trimmed with metallic beads,  and in between the embroidery sections is an appliquéd light blue panel embellished with silvery metal sequins.

The waistline is tapered and gathered to give the apron shape,  and the ribbon apron strings are long enough to tie around the waist.  It is wearable.

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All this time I have assumed that the apron is part of a traditional folk costume,  but it has also occurred to me that it could  have been created by an unknown fiber artist.  That thought reminded me of another apron from the same period of my life.

In 1976,  I saw the “Glories of Russian Costume” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of  Art’s  Costume Institute,  and it rocked my world.  The lavish exhibition was curated by the outrageously flamboyant fashion priestess Diana Vreeland,  and even the peasant costumes were marvels of opulence and excess.  (The exhibition credits thank the men who “took infinite pains in arranging our three Russian chandeliers,”  and Chanel for the “Russian Leather” perfume.)

Entranced by the show,  I used some of the Russian costume elements (the color red,  a fancy multi-panel border on a plaid weave,  gold glitter, multicolored stripes,  mixed fabrics)  in an apron that I designed and wove with  yarns that I had on hand (shown full view below)


(and border detail shown here)

Border closeup

I made notes,  drawings,  samples,  and measurements before weaving the piece,  but my apron doesn’t fit me.  In fact,  it was not meant to be worn,  but to express the excitement I felt at seeing those magnificent Russian garments.  I wove the apron for pleasure and entered it in a juried exhibit of the Handweavers Guild of Connecticut where it was awarded first prize for fashion.  (I am still grateful to that jury for appreciating a piece of my work that is very close to my heart.)

Which brings me back to my original question about the provenance of my mystery apron.  If my red apron were to end up in a thrift shop years from now,  would people wonder what tradition it belonged to,  or would they know that it is simply a work of art.  Could it be that my mystery apron, too, was simply meant to be a nonfunctional work of art?

I hope that by posting images,  textile lovers who read my blog might help me identify it.  But even if I can’t find out where that apron came from,  I have enjoyed that exhilarating,  creative summer.

If you’re reading this and might be able to help me identify the mystery apron,  I’d appreciate it if you’d post that information in a comment, or e-mail ferndevny(at)

2010 Weave of the week #6: Cute in crepe
May 6, 2010

The bunny shown above belongs to a collection of small Japanese fabric animals (this one is about 2″ high) that I have had for years,  but until I photographed it — and literally focused on it — I was surprisingly incurious about the fabric’s extremely crinkly texture.  The bunny’s costume is made of a woven crepe fabric that has so much movement it looks alive (see closeup below).

I did some research and discovered that this fabric is called chirimen (silk) crepe,  and that it has been produced in the Osaka and Kyoto areas of Japan since the 18th century.  It is a kimono fabric that is traditionally woven in silk,  but less expensive rayon and polyster versions are available.  Toys like mine — and accessories — are made from the kimono scraps.

Below is a detail of a fabulously embellished silk crepe kimono that was created by Japanese textile artist Kubota Itchiku (1917-2003) in 1981.  I chose it because of how clearly the crepe texture shows up in the large white areas.

Itchiku Kubota, Chirimen crepe kimono detail.

Mr. Kubota spent his life attempting to revive ancient Japanese textile dyeing techniques,  but ended up developing his own complex form of kimono art.  When he was unable to obtain the old-fashioned silk fabric he sought,  he substituted a thick chirimen crepe,  because,  as Tomoyuke Yamanobe explains,  in Opulence,  The Kimonos and Robes of Itchiku Kubota, ” With chirimen he is able to heighten the effect of wrinkles created in the shibori process and to intensify the impact of his colors and patterns.”  Here is more of the kimono:

Itchiku Kubota, Chirimen crepe kimono, 1981.

There is an Itchiku Kubota museum in Japan,  but the best way to see more of his remarkable work is to search the net.

Speaking of museums,  for more small objects made of chirimen crepe, visit the Chiri-men Craft Museum’s delightful website (link here).  It’s in Japanese,  but click around to find the pictures.

My animals are made of rayon or polyester.  Below is another chirimen crepe bunny,  wearing a wonderful crepe blanket with a rabbit on it,

and here is a third bunny,  looking dignified in a richly colored and patterned cape.

(All of the bunnies were photographed enthroned upon a small cushion made of chirimen crepe.)

Coincidentally, one of my recent blog posts (link here) shows a draft of a typical crepe weave that will produce a fabric that is described by Doris Goerner,  in Woven Structure and Design Part 1, as having an “irregular surface with small broken-up effects.”  But what was more interesting to me is what she says next: “Crêpe ‘effects’ can also be achieved with plain weave and the use of harder twisted yarns containing an equal combination of right and left twist.”

To find out more,  I contacted Takako Ukei, owner of Habu Textiles, in NYC, (link here ) to ask her about yarn for weaving chirimen crepe, and her reply was:

I do carry the silk for chirimen fabric.  It goes under the item numbers NS-7 & NS-8.  Comes in S or Z twist and a cone holds 3400 yds.  Please see below.

When I asked: “Do you know what weave is used to produce chirimen fabric?  Do you recommend an actual crepe weave to get that incredible texture with your yarn,  or will alternating the twists work with tabby and/or twill?”

Her answer was:

Chirimen is not woven in just one set way.  There are many variations of S + Z in many different picks.

Many of the articles that I read mentioned using a much heavier weft yarn,  and alternating  S and Z twists pick and pick, or two and two.  I haven’t experimented myself,  but if you have,  please share your results and I’ll post them.

Here’s a group photo of my three much-loved chirimen-crepe bunnies.  I have other crepe species too,  which I will introduce in future blog posts.  Unfortunately,  Old Japan,  a store owned by my friends Amie and Roku (link here),  and my source of chirimen-crepe animals and many other treasures,  no longer sells them.  Sadly,  the family-owned Kyoto company that made them  has gone out of business,  but from what I read,  interest in chirimen-crepe crafts is growing,  so maybe someone will make more fanciful,  adorable animals when the recession ends.