2010 Weave of the week #3: The accidental detective
February 8, 2010

"Pantalones Solola" Photo: Judy Sidonie Tillinger

It was not the striped pants pictured above that prompted me to write this post,  but what they are and how I found out what they are.

If the pants look familiar, it could be because you read my Faux Ikat post last year ( here), about knocking off a similar woven pattern.  Unfortunately,  in that post I incorrectly identified the original fabric (which I don’t have anymore) as Mexican.  Because of two accidental and serendipitous discoveries,  I know now that the original ikat fabric was actually woven on a backstrap loom in Sololá, Guatemala.

The first discovery occurred last year while I was researching a blog post about a Guatemalan cinta (hair ribbon) (post here).  I used a powerful image from Judy Sidonie Tillinger’s online photo gallery to illustrate how the cinta is worn.  Judy is a New York photographer and textile lover whose work I admire.  She has traveled to some of the world’s handweaving meccas and shares hundreds of her dazzling photographs online.  While I enjoy browsing through all her galleries, the traje (link here) in particular contains some of the most spectacular textiles I’ve ever seen.  And among that collection I happened to see an image of ikat-striped pantalones (photo at top of post) from Sololá,  Guatemala, that looked very much like the “Mexican” textile that I had copied years ago.  Below are close-ups of the true ikat (on the left) and my version (on the right).

Of course I was glad to be able to correct my mistake,  but the coincidence of finding the textile (which I hadn’t even been looking for) astonished me.

For the Guatemalan cinta post, I also got help from a longtime friend who is an expert in Guatemalan textiles,  Bhakti Ziek.  Her book, Weaving on a Backstrap Loom,  provided the second serendipitous confirmation of the cloth’s identity — the photo below of  “a woman of  Sololá wearing her town’s tied-dyed shirt.”

Photo: Bhakti Ziek

Her book also provided this insight:

Very often the women [of Totonicipán] purchase enough pre-tie-dyed material for a chosen number of stripes.  Then they need do only the weaving.  In Sololá,  men’s shirts and pants and women’s huipiles are backstrap woven of tied-dyed material.  Here,  too,  the women purchase the thread already patterned.

I nodded in recognition at finding that Guatemalan weavers take short-cuts,  too,  and I wondered whether they,  in their turn,  might nod in recognition if they saw my supplementary-warp version of their cloth.  I’ll never know,  of course,  but thinking about the question makes me feel closer to these marvelous weavers.

I enjoyed putting these pieces together,  and I’m bemused by the way in which the aptly named world wide web makes such (accidental) detective work possible,  by linking traditional weaving on backstrap looms in distant countries with modern commnication technology and digital cameras.

For their help with this article I would like to thank Bhakti  Ziek,  Judy Sidonie Tillinger,  and the weavers of Sololá,  Guatemala.  And before leaving this subject,  I would like to share this from my research:  ” Sololá has a breath-taking view of Lake Atitlán and ‘atitlán’ is a Mayan word that translates as ‘the place where the rainbow gets it’s colors.'” (More about Guatemala here.)

2009 Weave of the week #32: Recycling kimono fabrics
August 9, 2009

Handmade by Masako from recycled kimono silk

Handmade by Masako from recycled kimono silk

I have been thinking and writing about recycling textiles recently, and this week’s featured weave — the notecard shown above — takes a gentle low-tech approach to recycling fabric that appeals to me.  Masako, the New York artist who designed it, handwove strips of recycled Japanese kimono silk and mounted them on rice paper.

Masako was trained in Japanese dancing at an early age — her mother teaches it — and she grew up wearing kimono and developed a deep appreciation for the fabrics.  Later, her work as a graphic arts designer in Tokyo refined her sensitivity to color, texture, and pattern and the skill with which she handles the delicate silk fabrics.

I have a few of Masako’s one-of-a-kind cards in  my collection and love to look at all of the fascinating individual fabrics, but I chose the card above to highlight because it has strips of remarkably tiny shibori dots,

Masako 2b_det1

and ikat patterns that I’ve never seen before,

Masako 2b_det2

interwoven with quieter strips of jacquard-woven and printed fabrics.

At the same time that I bought the notecards, I also bought a bundle of vintage kimono fabric swatches (shown below ) — similar to the ones that Masako uses.


I had no specific project in mind for these fabrics, but then, when I see an unusual textile, like this one from the bundle,


I’m much more likely to frame it or blog about it,  or just save it and enjoy it, than I am to cut it up.

Masako’s notecards and my fabric bundle came from Old Japan, in Lenox, MA, a shop owned by my friends Amie and Roku. They love and appreciate Japanese textiles, so their shop also stocks bundles of stenciled cotton and indigo ikat cotton kimono fabrics.

Masako’s notecards are not on their website yet, but to find out more about Old Japan’s textile offerings, and to see images, go here.

2009 Weave of the week #28: Faux ikat
July 12, 2009


Since I recently wrote about super-labor-intensive Japanese picture ikat, I thought that it would be fun, this week, to feature an imitation ikat fabric that I designed in 1976 for Wollman Industries, NYC.  My fabric is shown above, next to a photo,  in an unidentified catalog, of a skirt that was made from it (left).

The fabric was a yarn-dyed cotton (woven in western Pennsylvania) that I designed to look as much like a hand-dyed, handwoven Mexican textile as possible. My faux-ikat cloth was mostly tabby with irregular, supplementary-warp ikat-like motifs edged by 3/1 raised twill stripes. Since all of the non-tabby ends were sleyed more densely than the tabby ends, this was not a cheap knockoff and in fact it was probably pretty expensive fabric. The pattern sold very well in red and in other colorways, two of which are shown below:

faux ikat colorways

The 1970s were turbulent years for the New York textile industry. Wollman was my first solo design job, and they had hired me during a painful recession. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Wollman was in, or was soon to be in, Chapter 11, and almost as soon as I started working my salary was cut and the merchandiser whom I was counting on for help left the company.

We were competing not only with much bigger companies from lower-wage states, but also with two-dollar-a-yard cottons from India, so the market prospects for five-dollar-a-yard cotton fabrics weren’t promising.

But one of the benefits of being a designer in a small, family-owned business like Wollman was that I had almost unlimited creative freedom to come up with new and fashionable designs to entice the apparel manufacturers who were Wollman’s customers.  I was extremely anxious about my — and the company’s — survival but somehow ended up doing some of the best and most spontaneous (read panicked) designing that I’ve ever done. I don’t recommend fear as a motivator, but in this case, it probably was.

Below is a rare picture of me, from that period, taken at Wollman by my boss.

Designer (me) at work

Designer (me) at work

I wasn’t always as cheerful at work as I look in this photo, but it seems to me, now — all things considered — that it was a pretty good gig.

Update: The original textile was not from Mexico after all,  it was from Guatemala.  If you’re interested in how I accidentally discovered that,  and for information about the real ikat,  read this post.