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.


2008 Weave of the week #6: Swedish (?) mat
September 7, 2008

Simple and ingenious

Simple and ingenious

In the second chapter of the “how I became a weaver” saga (see the About page if you’re interested), I described my disappointment with  the twill sampler that I did in my first weaving class, so this simple and ingenious mat was a natural weave-of-the-week choice.

I picked it out from a pile of linens in an antique store years ago because it was obviously handwoven, in an interesting design and harmonious colors, and because I thought it was charming.  It was also woven in a sampler form similar to that of my twill, the difference being that it was woven by someone who knew how to design weaving.

Looking at it closely, I see just how cleverly designed this small (approx 10″x14″) mat is. The warp is fine natural cotton sett at approximately 50 epi.  Only four weft colors are used–natural and soft blue with accents of gold and black–and the meticulously planned and woven design was made by changing colors, treadling order, and thread thickness, and by plucking up some occasional loops for texture.

I don’t know who wove it, or when, or where, or for what purpose, but I wish I did, and I would appreciate hearing from anyone with information about this kind of textile.

2008 Weave of the week #5: Abstract jacquard
August 30, 2008

Vintage wool jacquard

Vintage wool jacquard

To me this swatch of vintage French woolen jacquard looks more like an abstract painting than like a textile. It was woven with fine wool set tightly (approximately 50 epi x 50 ppi), so that the tightness of the structure accentuates the colors and sharp angles between the fabric’s warp- and weft-faced satin weaves.

The piece reminded me of Abstract Cubist painter Lionel Feininger’s work, so I did a quick online search, and on NYC’s Museum of Modern Art’s website I found “Ruin by the Sea,” an oil painting with abstract geometric shapes and similar colors, that Feininger did in 1930 (to view the Feininger piece, go to www.moma.org/collection/provenance/items/593.66.html).