Thursday, June 25, 2015

My cherry blossom scarf

Sakura-dyed silk scarf.
Photo by Maurice Marietti

A marvel of dyeing and weaving

Upon returning from a recent trip to Japan, my son and his family gave me an exquisite silk scarf. Dyed with cherry blossoms, the scarf is ethereal. Its silk warp is so fine it is nearly invisible and it is so light, it's like wearing a cloud. It is spectacular. 

The silk threads in the warp are so fine they are nearly invisible. Grouped in three's, these warp threads stabilize the heavier silk weft threads that produce the wave-like pattern. But the color puzzles me: I wonder how they extract and fix the dye from cherry blossoms?

Flower blossoms aren't unknown as a dye source and some, such as marigolds, coreopsis, and chrysanthemums, produce nice strong colors. However,  the dye colors derived from most plant material, including blossoms, is heavily concentrated in the range of yellows and tans. (Note, this is a gross simplification and excludes complex dyeing processes and dyestuffs less readily available, which may well be part of the cherry blossom dye extraction process.) 
Close-up of woven silk scarf pattern. Photo by Maurice Marietti

I was interested in learning just a bit more and started with the documentation from the maker, Hanagoromo, that accompanied the scarf:
"No artificial stuff....100% from cherry bloss [sic] All commodities of 'Somekobo' are made in a unique way, and dyed with extraction of cherry blossom. We don't use any artificial stuff. The color from cherry blossom is soft, beautiful and attracts people...."
Close-up detail of silk warp and weft. Photo by Maurice Marietti
Not a lot to go on there. Next I turned to the Internet, where I expected citations and references to the dyeing process. Perhaps because I neither live in Japan nor read Japanese, I found next to nothing.

Hanagoromo's website has beautiful photos of their products and a little more information, but not much. The products are "Sakura dyed" ('sakura' is cherry blossom) and "100% natural dyed pure natural color," it states, and includes the following (Google-translated) description:
"In "Around dyed workshop flowers", only 100 percent cherry dye staining in a unique method to express the hue of the petals, and we have a production.
"Without using any chemical dye, the color that is dyed using only 100% natural dyes extracted from the cherry tree, it brings only natural thing, a soft, gentle shades."
I don't know anybody who has used them as a dyestuff and was unable to find much of anything in my online research.  but I have come to the conclusion that the dye is probably extracted like other blossoms commonly as dyes. Soak them. Maybe mash them. Probably let them ferment in the liquid for a period of time. Add a mordant to fix the dye and dye the fabric.

I recognize now that my biggest stumbling block was 'pink.' As I consider the color of the scarf, I realize that I was overlaying a visual memory of the intense pinks of blooming cherry blossoms on the color of the scarf. 

The scarf isn't pink at all. It's really a very soft peach--more orange than red and lots of orangey-tan in the color.

Now it all makes sense. It may not be the right conclusion, but it's mine for the moment.

Have any of you used cherry blossoms for dyeing? If so, I'd love to hear about your experience!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Knitwear--from under- to outer-wear

Pringle Women's Runway Collection
Look 11. Autumn/Winter 2015

Pringle's retrospective celebrates 200 years of knitwear

I now know that I missed many must-see's on Scotland's Textile Trail, but have no regrets. With fewer than 24 hours to plan a 10-day trip that did not rely on a car, we hit a lot to textile highlights. The exhibit celebrating Pringle of Scotland's 200th anniversary was one of them.

Perhaps best known for its cashmere sweaters, twinsets and Argyle sweaters, Pringle of Scotland has been a fashion icon for years

Conveniently located near the Scottish galleries at the the National Museum of Scotland, the exhibit covers a lot of time and progress in a small space. The location is appropriate as Scotland is recognized as the historic birthplace of the knitwear industry. And Pringle of Scotland, which was established in the Scottish Borders, is one of the oldest fashion brands. 

From underwear to outerwear

As undergarments progress from 'peeking out' to becoming outer garments in their own right--think, bustiers, camisoles, and lacy slips, to name a few--who would have guessed that the transition began more than 100 years ago?

The exhibition, Fully Fashioned: The Pringle of Scotland Story, is well done. Now known as a luxury brand, its beginnings were, well, rather stodgy. Practical, yes. Fashionable, no.

Pringle underwear and blocking form
The company's roots are in underwear and hosiery. Surely that was good business in Scotland where the cold is ever near, even in July. But a business like Pringle's doesn't survive for 200 years without change. And Pringle has definitely changed. 

The exhibit brings together a collection of representative knitwear samples over the company's 200 years. Most were from knitwear collections, but in at least one case, the women's golf sweater, the item was "reknit" based on surviving photographs of women golfers in the 1920's.

A walk through the exhibit takes the viewer through not only changes in fashion, but some of the challenges the company faced in the fashion business as it evolved--and sometimes struggled to remain a highly regarded luxury brand. 

A contemporary high-fashion knit coat from Autumn/Winter 2015 runway collection (top, right) sets the stage for the exhibit. It is a dramatic statement that says, 'Look at us now.' Across the aisle, the knit long johns humbly say, 'And this is where we started.' (Alongside the underwear is a blocking form used to shape the garments. Surely the  outsize shape in the thigh area was related to comfort, but I can't help envisioning a disproportional woman with really big thighs and tiny ankles.)

100 years on the outside

Pringle Snug Coat (L), 1940's
According to the exhibit's timeline, Pringle first introduced knitted garments as outerwear in 1905. An accompanying illustration shows a short, close fitting, waist-hugging sweater with front buttons and decorative yoke. The company added silk stockings in 1927--a fashion statement at the time. 

Historical knitwear garments really begin with a 1940's Snug Coat that shows its underwear roots not only it its color, but also in its shaping, its tightly ribbed waistline and the deep ribbing of the lower section (at right). (It doesn't quite live up to my idea of a 'coat.' I'd be more likely to call it  a heavy sweater.) 

And beside it, the classic round-neck button front cardigan (above right). In 40 years, the sweater has gained ease and length. Who would call this vintage?

By the mid-1950's, Pringle had become media savvy. The company used Hollywood actresses as models promote their products. They also invested in top-name designers, updated their look and their promotions. My husband fondly recalls how much he yearned for a Pringle sweater in his college years. He never owned one, but the time aligns with Pringle's promotions and the introduction of its men's Ryder Cup golf shirt.

I was impressed that the company opened a nursery in the mid-1960's to enable more skilled women to work there. (Do they still have a nursery onsite, I wonder?)

Contemporary garments include high fashion garments, as well as classics. Most knitters I know would drool over the hand knit Look 11 in their Women's Runway Collection of Autumn/Winter 2015 collection shown in the top right photo. And then they'd try to figure out how to knit it.

The exhibit runs at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh until August 16, 2015 and is definitely worth a visit. And if you can't make it, check out the museum's slideshow here.

Pringle of Scotland's 20th c. classics--the twinset and the argyle sweater

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Afternoon at the museum

Celtic brooch

Inspiration and awe

On our last full day in Scotland, we returned to Edinburgh and spent the afternoon at the National Museum of Scotland. With limited time, we restricted our visit to the Scottish History and Archaeology wing. With a museum guide, time from the Palaeolithic era to the present day was compressed to fewer than two hours. 

The museum is exceedingly well laid-out and the artifacts, well-displayed. We lingered after the guided tour that compressed the time from the Palaeolithic era to the present day into fewer than two hours. 

I especially treasure museum visits as they almost always provide sources of inspiration. It may be color, line, texture, design--I never know what it will be. But I know that it is almost always there. I just need to slow down and drink in what surrounds me. 

Old designs, modern form and function

Iron Age gold torc
There is a beautiful display of jewelry made by the Early People, so named because they left no written history and little is known about them. Among my favorites were the recently discovered Iron Age gold neck ornaments (torcs) (left) and the Celtic brooch pin (above right).

The torc is spectacular and its design, timeless. The museum obviously thinks so, too. The gift shop has beautiful replicas for sale. 

Woven willow wool basket

I also especially liked the woven willow wool basket, made on the Isle of Skye. Functional and beautiful. And perfect for storing wool to be spun. 

(I keep trying to maintain some focus, but just maybe I do need to try my hand at basketry, after all.)

Industrial archeology

Jacquard loom cards
We also spent a lot of time in the galleries of historic textile equipment. All the machines I have heard of were there--and more. Many are original, but some are scaled down models of the originals. It is quite an impressive collection.

There is a loom like the one at the Weaver's Cottage and there is a Jacquard loom, a mechanical loom that enabled weavers to produce complex patterns such as brocades and damask--and those for paisley shawls. The loom is controlled by a series of punched cards, which are laced together in a continuous sequence. Don't they remind you of early computer punch cards? 

A young Chinese-American couple was also visiting. He works in the textile import business and showed us a photo of the machine in his factory in China that produces textiles. It was nearly identical to the Jacquard loom in the display.

I was also drawn to the beetling engine, mostly because I'd never heard of such a thing. The huge machine was used to soften linen thread and also to add the 'glaze' finish on quality woven linens. Note the hooks for holding--and twisting--linen threads on the bottom left. I can only imagine the noise it would make pounding the material. 
Beetling engine
The museum is a must-see for anyone interested--even a little bit--in Scotland, its history and its people. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Time travel in Kilbarchan

The Weaver's Cottage imparts a proud history of people and their craft

The Weaver's Cottage, Kilbarchan
Glasgow had long been on my bucket list and although we traveled extensively throughout the U.K. during the years we lived in London, we'd never been there. I wanted to see more  of the work of Charles Rennie Macintosh, but I was also interested in the area as it once was a major weaving center.

Call me a fiber art aficionado, a fiber geek, or just plain curious, I love well-crafted textiles. In addition to simply admiring them, I want to understand who made them and how they're made--whether they were made last week or 1,000 years ago. 

I own some wonderful textiles and love to wear them. Many were special gifts. Among them is an antique paisley shawl, which was surely made in Paisley and accompanied a Scot or English woman immigrating to America many years ago.

Paisley, the center of paisley shawl production, is near Glasgow, but that industry is long gone. However, a little further west in Kilbarchan the National Trust for Scotland has preserved a  The Weaver's Cottage much as it was 200 years ago.

There are plenty of period homes of the rich and famous, but few that offer as pure a view  into the lives of ordinary people as the Weaver's Cottage does. No kitsch. No sugar-coating. 

Some of the Cottage's tartan samples
The cottage was built in 1723 and lived in continuously until 1953. The National Trust acquired it the following next year. Some of the furnishings, including samplers, belonged to the family. The steep stairs and hollowed out floors bear witness to many footsteps over many years.

The loom, which is in the lower level, is not original to the house as the last resident had closed off the space allowing the loom to deteriorate beyond repair. In 1957, the loom of one of the last weavers in the village, William Meikle, was moved to the cottage. In the mid-20th century, Meikle wove most of the tartan samples in Cottage's collection, which fill many drawers like the one above.

Industrialization and market forces take a toll

Kilbarchan was the center of weaving for nearly 200 years. According to Weaver's Cottage history, the peak was in the 1830s when there were 800 handlooms in the community. When power looms in nearby towns undercut the Kilbarchan handweavers market, the weavers turned to plaids and tartans. Even so, by the 1930s, only 20 handlooms remained in the village.
The 200-year old loom in the Weaver's Cottage
Note the floor cut away for the treadles
I found the cottage remarkable. I appreciated the yarn-related equipment throughout the house--yarn swifts, skein winders, and spinning wheels, both big and small--but I loved the big, hulking, old four harness fly-shuttle loom. It isn't fancy, nor does it appear to be any more than what it is--a functional workhorse. The loom was made for production weaving and its owners used what was at hand to keep it in working order. I particularly liked the curling stone weights. 

The ceiling is low. To accommodate the loom, a space was dug in the floor to accommodate depressed treadles--a common practice for cellar looms.

I also enjoyed talking to Christine MacLeod, manager of the property, who provided a wealth of information. A Kilbarchan native, her primary interest is historical textiles. In the garden in back grows madder, dyer's greenweed, rhubarb, and woad, among others, for dyeing. And I envied her her job.

The day we visited, Ms. MacLeod had a Black Watch pattern on the loom. She is also is a designer. Her recently designed Battle of Bannockburn tartan commemorates the 700th anniversary of the battle and is a beauty. She uses Gardiner Yarns for her historical weaving. 
Teaching is also a function of the Weaver's Cottage, so a modern Louet loom is set up opposite the old loom for interested visitors to try their hand at weaving. That loom is set up with wool from New Lanark Wool & Textiles mill where the yarn is still spun in one of the historic mills from organic British wool by traditional methods. All proceeds from the sale of their yarns go toward care and development of the New Lanark World Heritage Site.

Unpretentious and personal

From the bedrooms to the garden to the loom room, this cottage does not aspire to greatness. And yet, 'great' is exactly how I would describe it--at least for me. It was a home of people--people with names and faces. In fact, at one time, it was three cottages. And It included a workroom that provided a living for families. It is as close to 'tasting the time' as I can get.

And there is another aspect to the visit that will stay with us. The volunteers at the property are not only informative and committed, they go beyond usual volunteerism. Thank you, David Baillie, for so kindly and graciously helping us get back to Glasgow. 
Warping board & woven items in the loom room