Functionality and Aesthetics of Tapestries

Tapestries are fascinating to me. In the Middle Ages, tapestries were major indicators of wealth and status. Their main function was to insulate large rooms, particularly drafty stone walls in castles. They kept the cold and damp out while adding a highly decorative element. Tapestries became major signs of power and luxury as well.

Throughout the Middle Ages, tapestry design became more advanced, and these complicated designs added artistry and color to bare castle walls. Tapestries often told stories — battle scenes, the hunt, leisure activities in the country, religious scenes, family lineage, and mythology were all popular.

To cover large walls, the tapestries themselves were woven on large looms, requiring many craftsmen and a lot of capital. Tapestries were sold readymade or commissioned to depict specific scenes. The more complicated the design, the more expensive the tapestry cost. Gold thread was sometimes woven into tapestries, adding to the prestige of owning them.

Their portability added to their value. Tapestries could be taken down, rolled up, and moved to a new location easily. In fact, owners might have an employee whose sole job was tapestry care, transportation, mending, and alterations. Primarily produced in France, Belgium, and Germany, tapestries were sold to nobility and upper class across Europe.

I don’t know about you, but tapestry’s insulation factor seems highly useful right now. We could drape tapestries around our homes to help us stay warm during this brutal winter. And I can see their appeal as an item of artistic luxury as well. They are definitely worth a second look the next time you find yourself at an art museum.

Friday File

I can’t believe we’re already more than halfway through January. This month is rushing past. If you follow my Instagram account, you saw that I was in Southern California for the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, and then promptly came down with influenza when I got home. It was a bad flu, the kind with a fever and hallucinating dreams, and I was housebound throughout the so-called polar vortex. I missed a few days of work, so this was my first full week back to work.

Here are the links for the past couple weeks:

I love stories about apartments or offices that have remained untouched for decades. AnOther Magazine recently ran a post on Madame de Florian’s Paris apartment that wasn’t disturbed for 68 years and held secrets about the painter Giovanni Boldini’s lover, Marthe de Florian.

Have you read the “Do What You Love” column on Jacobin that’s been circulating social media? It’s an excellent take down of the DWYL myth — how it can be used to exploit workers and the fact that it is a very classist concept. A must read.

The current state of the American textile industry is recorded in photos and an essay, with a personal look at the factories still in production, in this NY Times piece.

Michelle Obama’s 2013 inauguration gown will be on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History for one year. No word yet if the gown will become part of the museum’s First Ladies collection permanently.

I rarely buy Vogue anymore, but I’m psyched about Lena Dunham’s cover. I might just go out and pick it up for myself.

2013 Gift Guide – Fashion History Books

My next holiday gift post is for any budding fashion historians or vintage fashion collectors. I’ve got some books that will be excellent additions to a personal library.

These first three books are great reference books. If you know someone who wants to learn more about fashion history, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

Fashion: A History From the 18th to the 20 Century from the Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute is a gorgeous book. The pages are filled with full color photographs that bleed off the page of some of the finest clothes that were ever created. The pieces featured are the height of fashion through three centuries.

The next book, 100 Ideas That Changed Fashion by Harriet Worsley, chronicles fashion history through specific aesthetic influences, movements, designers, events, technology improvements, and more. Each spread is a snap shot on a limited topic that impacted fashion. These snippets are fascinating.

Fashion: A Visual History from Regency and Romance to Retro and Revolution by NJ Stevenson, is set up as a chronological timeline that looks at women’s and men’s style from period to period, major designers, and innovations in types of garments. Again, broken up into spreads, it covers a lot of ground to give a well-rounded picture of changing Western fashion.

Moving on the collecting side of fashion history, these next two books are great for anyone who dreams of assembling their own collection.

Your Vintage Keepsake: A CSA Guide to Costume Storage and Display by Margaret T. Ordonez introduces the reader to the basic aspects of caring for historic fashion. He/she will learn the foundations to caring for and displaying clothing.

If your giftee wants to get serious about collecting fashion or textiles, Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist by Harold F. Mailand and Dorothy Stites Alig takes things up a notch. This book covers more technical aspects of collection management and exhibition. I highly recommend this guide.

P.S. More gift ideas on my Pinterest board!

Holly and ivy graphic by MyCuteGraphics.

Style File – Velvet Burn-out

Crystal tee, from Club Monaco

I was intrigued when I came across the top above on Club Monaco’s website. The burn-out velvet top was on sale and there was an extra limited-time discount, so I decided the deal was worth it and bought it.

The texture and colors make it a treat to wear in different ways. The black silk velvet is on a ground of sheer pink, purple, beige, and black chiffon.

Burn-out velvet, also known as façonné velvet, is a pile fabric with a pattern created by burning selected areas of pile fibers with chemicals. Most often, as is the case with my shirt, the pile is made of a natural fiber — mine is silk. The ground is resistant to those chemicals and normally is a man-made fiber — mine is rayon.

Last Monday I wore it with a black tank and my favorite dusty rose skirt. The skirt brought out more of the pink tones in the top. Instead of my normal nylons, I wore a pair of DKNY tights in black noir and my everyday Pour la Victore flats. I accessorized with the gold-colored, linking hoops necklace.

I had a number of visitors at work that day. One class came to see three-dimensional embellishments, and it was fun to pull some heavily textured pieces of embroidery, feathers, faux flowers, sequins, and lace. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my shirt is made of a three-dimensional textile.

Then on Saturday, I met my friend Amy for brunch. When you have a favorite new piece of clothing, don’t you find excuses to wear it more often? I know I do. I went more casual for brunch with a black cotton cardigan, Citizens of Humanity Arley jeans, black tank, and Loeffler Randall mini lynx rain boots. I’ve been leaving the zippers at each side seam half zipped to fit my hips a little better.

Exhibition File – Suited for Space

Suited for Space graphic, from Suited for Space facebook page

Have you ever considered all the ways textiles are used besides clothing and furniture? A traveling exhibition currently at the American Textile History Museum looks at textiles in space. The show, Suited for Space, shows how textiles and the technology in spacesuits keep astronauts alive in space.

Visitors will get to see real and replica spacesuits, including Buzz Aldrin’s, and learn how spacesuits have developed and evolved from beginning of the 20th century through the shuttle era. Artifacts and photographic evidence come from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

Suited for Space runs through March 3.

Address: American Textile History Museum, 491 Dutton Street, Lowell, Massachusetts
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 10-5
Admission: adults $8, children 6-16, college students, and seniors $6, children under 6 and members free

Exhibition File – Designing Women: Post-War British Textiles

For those in London, an exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum looks at the radical changes in textile design after World War II. Called Designing Women: Post-War British Textiles, the show includes more than 100 works highlighting the abstraction that occurred in textile design between the 1950s to the 1970s.

The exhibition closes on June 16, but if you can’t get to London, you can read a review of the show on the blog Advantage in Vintage.

Exhibition Hours: 11-6 Tuesday-Saturday
Admission: £7 for adults, £5 for students