2009 Weave of the week #41: Berber wedding blanket
October 25, 2009

Berber wedding blanket

Berber wedding blanket

This week’s featured weave, the wedding blanket of which a detail is shown above,  was handwoven by Berber women in the mountains of Morocco.  (I should perhaps mention that Berbers — who call themselves “Imazigen,” which means “free people” in the Berber language — are indigenous people who have lived in North Africa for 4,000 years.)  This was another gift from my friend Penelope,  who traveled to the Fès-Meknès area and brought back some fascinating textiles.  Wedding blankets are believed to have magical powers that protect the users from the evil eye, so this would have been an especially welcome gift.  (Click this link to read an earlier post about another Moroccan textile from Penelope’s trip.  That fabric’s silk fiber content is suddenly in doubt after a reader posted interesting information about it.)

My blanket is 3’7″ x 5’8″, and is very warm to sleep under.  It is densely woven plain weave,  in natural-colored sheep’s wool,  with lighter-colored nubby cotton stripes and smooth cotton knotted pile fringe.  Round metal sequins,  like the ones visible in the photos,  are traditionally sewn on by brides-t0-be and their relatives.

Knotted pile with sequins

Knotted pile with sequins

In  his excellent book The Techniques of Rug Weaving,  Peter Collingwood says, ” A clove hitch on one or two warp ends, is used in some Moroccan rugs.”  My blanket’s fringe has four multi-strand knots per inch,  as shown in the photo above.  I can’t tell whether the clove hitch is the knot that was used or not,  but maybe I can find out at the October 31 meeting of the New York Guild of Handweavers,  when Susan S. Davis,  an anthropologist and expert on Moroccan textiles,  will be the guest speaker.  For complete information about the meeting (the public is welcome),  visit the Guild’s website,  here,  and to read more about Susan S.  Davis and about her work with Moroccan women rug weavers,  visit her website,  here.

One of the reasons that I love writing my blog is that it leads me to look closely at textiles that I have lived with,  and taken for granted,  for years,  so that I can write about them.  Knotted pile,  for example, is a technique that I tried once and discarded because it wasn’t practical for production weaving (the result was the vegetable-dyed pillow to the right of Bobby in the photo below).

Bobby and knotted pile pillow

Bobby and my only knotted pile project

However,  examining the wedding blanket has reawakened my interest in the pile weaves,  and I’m excited about where the concept may take me.  Don’t look for shaggy scarves at Saks any time soon, though.

Update:  To see three more Berber wedding blanket capes,  see  Susan S. Davis’s photo on my gallery page (click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image).

2009 Weave of the week #25: E-gasuri — Japanese picture ikat
June 21, 2009



Ikat” is an Indonesian word for the technique of resist-dyeing threads before weaving them in order to create a patterned fabric.

This week I am focusing on traditional Japanese ikats that are known as “kasuri.”

I learned about these remarkable textiles from Yasuko Tada, a Japanese woman we met years ago who imported Japanese folk art that she sold to museum shops.  She was knowledgeable about the Japanese mingei movement (which I had never heard of), and her collections were always first-quality traditional handcrafts, not tchotchkas.  We spent some very happy hours sitting in her apartment admiring the work.  We bought as many textiles, ceramics, and other goodies as our limited budget allowed, including about a dozen pieces of kasuri and e-gasuri, which are Japanese picture kasuri, like the textile shown at the top of this page.

Harold B. Burnham, textile scholar, author of “Japanese Country Textiles” (Royal Ontario Museum, 1965), and my source for much of the information in this article, divides kasuri into three groups depending on their pattern and scale:  splashed kasuri,  like the geometric design (from one of my jackets) shown below

splashed kasuri

small-patterned kasuri,

kasuri sm

and e-gasuri. The first two types of designs are used for clothing, while e-gasuri is used for futon covers and curtains.  It is always woven with white motifs on an indigo blue ground.

Kasuri textiles can have warp-dyed threads, weft-dyed threads, or areas of both in the same cloth. It takes great skill and patience to measure, stretch, and tie the threads for warp ikat, even more skill to dye weft threads (because they don’t usually get stretched and measured before being wound on bobbins), and still more extraordinary skill to prepare the double ikat yarns precisely enough for them to meet exactly where they should when they are woven, as in the window below.

Tiger detail

Tiger detail

After tying, dyeing, and unwrapping the threads — preparation that can sometimes take a year or more — the cloth itself is woven in tabby. All of these designs are traditional and have been reproduced exactly the same way in families and in villages for hundreds of years.

But today the extraordinarily time-consuming art of hand-tying ikat has largely been replaced in Japan by printing, painting, and stamping the yarns, except for some exceptionally fine kimonos, and the work of  international contemporary fiber artists such as  Yoshiko Wada.

Many kasuri motifs express messages of good luck, longevity, etc. Bamboo leaves symbolize resilience, and when they are combined with sparrows and tigers, as they are in the piece at the top of this post, are said to symbolize happiness.

In future posts I will write about other e-gasuri pieces from my collection depicting cherry blossoms, cranes, turtles, Darumas, and castles, but of course I had to start off with, well,  a cat image.

2009 Weave of the week #11: Dobby dogs
March 15, 2009

Woven by Ann Rosenthal

Designed and handwoven by Ann Rosenthal

Right around the corner from Burlington Woolens, where I learned to weave, was Dan River Mills, where my friend Ann Rosenthal learned to weave. (Both of those once-venerable companies are now defunct, along with the rest of the U.S. textile industry.)

In Dan River’s weave room, Ann and her co-workers produced samples of shirting fabrics in fine cotton yarn on sixteen-harness table looms,  so her weaving education was very different from mine. Fabrics at Dan River could be as simple as tabby or as complex as seersucker and doublecloth.  Ann found that one of the most adaptable and interesting weave structures was the dobby (aka supplementary warp or “embroidery”) weave.

The “Dan River dog,” shown below on a tartan ground, inspired Ann to buy a sixteen-harness table loom of her own and to create the whimsical dogs shown above (I especially like the ears and tails).

Ann has continued to  experiment with the technique and has created many other fantastic creatures and woven works of art.  (See 2009 weave of the week #1 to read more about Ann and her work.)

As dobby motifs  were very popular in the apparel markets that I designed for during the 1970s,  I will probably show more of them in future articles.