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Category Archives: Textiles

Talking Knots

By | History, Museums, Textiles | 2 Comments

Textiles are as old as the hills. Textile fiber can be braided, hooked, woven, felted, and used to create in a multitude of ways. But even as far back as the first millennium, in the Andes of South America and during the time of the Incan empire, knotted textiles were the primary counting and communication device. These “talking knots”, or “knot records” were called quipus.

Above, you can see a particularly lovely example of an Incan quipu (pronounced kē-pu), from the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru. From Wikipedia: “A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. For the Inca, the system aided in collecting data and keeping records, ranging from monitoring tax obligations, properly collecting census records, calendrical information, and military organization.”

Here is another example, this one from about 1300 AD, again from the Larco Museum, of this quite precise and highly portable system:

There are good records of quipus from the first millennium through the 1500s, and ethnographers have unravelled their secrets, by and large. The fibers were either spun and plied thread such as wool or hair from alpaca, llama, guanaco or vicuña, or, more rarely, from cotton. Some of the knots, as well as other features, such as color, are thought to represent non-numeric information, but these secondary elements have not yet been deciphered.

For an explanation of how the counting works, let’s turn to Wikipedia:

“Each cluster of knots is a digit, and there are three main types of knots: simple overhand knots; “long knots”, consisting of an overhand knot with one or more additional turns; and figure-eight knots. A number is represented as a sequence of knot clusters in base 10.”

Here is another quipu (also spelled khipu), again from the Larco Museum in Lima:

The use of quipus as a central part of record-keeping faded out after the Spanish conquest of South America in the 1530s, though the Spanish would sometimes use them to settle local village disputes. But today, they are still used for ceremonies and rituals, and continue to be a powerful symbol of native heritage. Here is another, even more complex example, this time from the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, an ethnology museum in Germany:

Similar systems of counting were used by the ancient Chinese and native Hawaiians, and there is even a similarity to the bead-counting of wampum, in Native American culture. But quipus were a quite advanced system. The type of knot, the position of it on the string, the total number of knots and the sequence of the knots could all combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings. The whole method was based on a decimal system, like ours, with the largest decimal used being 10,000.

The Quipucamayocs (“quipu-authority”), were the accountants, those who created and deciphered the quipu knots. Quipucamayocs, once trained, could carry out basic arithmetic operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They kept track of taxation, the type of labor being performed, maintained a record of economic output, and ran a census that counted everyone from infants to “old blind men over 80”. The system was also used to keep track of the calendar. According to one authority, quipucamayocs could “read” the quipus with their eyes closed.

Does this have to do with rughooking? Well, no. But it is a pretty fascinating and elegant use of textiles as a complex code, and as textile artists, something good for us to know about!

For more pictures of quipus, go to www.museolarco.org and if you would like a more technical explanation of the counting system of knots, look to this article in Wikipedia, or this good general article from the Ancient History Encyclopedia.

Rejoice in your work, and hook on!

Simple, repeating, captivating.

By | Antique rugs, Textiles | 3 Comments

From time to time, I stop by the Nazmiyal Antique Rugs collection, just to see rugs from all different cultures – Moroccan, Scandinavian, Art Deco, Ottoman, Chinese, Berber, Persian, and many more. But today I found this rug, pictured above, in their gallery of antique hooked rugs. Just had to show it to you!

It is hand-hooked, and huge – 8’7″ in x 12′ 6″ – so must have been years in the making. It’s dated to be “early 20th century”. Not only is the overall design captivating, but look at how there are hit-or-miss borders in a basketweave pattern to the squares, and the inside of the squares are solid color! Just the opposite of the hit-or-miss rugs I have seen or made myself. It really becomes three-dimensional once you look at it for a little while.

Here is the online description:

Beautiful and Early Antique American Hooked Rug, Country of Origin: American, Circa Date: Early 20th Century – Ingenious in its style, color and composition, this spectacular antique American hooked rug features a splendid allover pattern that creates an illusion of depth and texture. The beautiful basket-weave pattern with its poly-chromatic stripes follows a strict under-over form that sets it apart from the monochromatic and subtly variegated squares featured in the background. Like a patchwork quilt that incorporates innumerable colors and prints, this stunning antique hooked rug is a joy to behold. The varied earth-tone hues are juxtaposed beautifully against the vivid pink, vermillion and turquoise accent colors that are set between the basket-weave stripes. This outstanding antique rug, an American hooked carpet illustrates the amazing versatility of a simple geometric repeating pattern, which is executed in a way that is full of color, texture and visual appeal.

I do love this rug, and it has given me ideas! And I also got a kick out of our “hit or miss” being referred to as “poly-chromatic stripes”. We’ll have to remember that! And isn’t it lucky that I don’t have a place for this large rug in my house – its price is $24,000.

Photo is courtesy of the Nazyimal Collection, online at www.nazyimalantiquerugs.com. You can go straight to their hooked rug gallery here, but I do encourage you to browse around in their collection to see many beautiful examples of rugs and carpets from around the world and throughout history. It is enough to make one dizzy with inspiration.

If you get Rug Hooking Magazine, look for my first published article (whee!) in the new issue, on making hit or miss rugs. I must say, seeing this rug is quite humbling!

Have a Wooly Good Christmas!

By | Color, Creativity, Textiles | 3 Comments

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Well here in New Hampshire, the weather is turning beastly, nasty cold – wind chill factors reaching -28 (F°) below zero. So it’s a very good day to stay inside, and a good day to show you how easy it is to make one of my favorite Christmas decorations – little garlands/streamers of wool.

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If you are like me, you have pile of wool in bright plaids – from those 100% wool plaid skirts you find in thrift shops and can’t bear to leave behind. They are perfect for this, since bright plaids are not all that easy to incorporate in your average pictorial or landscape rugs. Use two or three colors of wool, maybe the bright plaid, or two contrasting plaids, and some red, or white.

First, cut your wool up into little squares, 1 1/2″ or 2″ squares will work fine. In the photo above, the thicker one is made of 2″ squares, and the littler one is of 1 1/2″ squares. For goodness sakes, do not start obsessing about if your little pieces are perfectly measured squares! You want a consistent width, but a little variation adds to the texture of the garland!

Keep each color in a separate pile:

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Thread a needle with about three feet of thread, and first sew a small button or bead onto the end, to secure the garland end. Then just fold each little wool piece, first diagonally (into a triangle), then again in half the other way, and just go through the center with your needle and thread. Just keep adding the little pieces to your thread, just like you were stringing beads. Alternate between your three colors of wool to make a nice pattern:

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Keep the sections you are working with fairly short, like 2′ or 3′, just for ease of working, and then at the end, you can just tie the sections together to make nice, long garlands. Be sure to begin and end each section with a little button or bead, to secure the wool pieces on the thread. Here is a photo of the 15-foot garland I hang from the beam in my kitchen each year:

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And I have a shorter one just laid along the fireplace mantel:
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This is brainless-easy, and once you get your piles of little squares cut (or ripped), easy to do as you are watching a movie or something.

I have some of these garlands I have used for years now, and they hold up very well. When hanging them, I just loop them over small nails or pushpins along the window sills, and you could easily use them as a Christmas tree garland.

Have a wooly good Christmas, everyone, and stay warm!

Long ago and far away

By | Museums, Textiles | 5 Comments

image MAK1

One of the world’s oldest collection of textiles is at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, in Vienna, Austria. It’s amazing that these textile remnants have survived at all. And you’ll notice most are done on a background of woven linen, with wool for the decoration. Sound familiar? Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Above, you see a piece with this description:
Roundel (orbiculus) with stylised plant pattern and cloisonné-type framing; green, red, blue (2), orange, yellow, ecru
Material: warp: linen; weft: linen, wool
Technique: slit and toothed tapestry, Soumakh
Country: Egypt
City: Saqqara
Date: 6. to 8. century

So our new word of the day can be “orbiculus” – a small disk or other circular object. Here is another piece, from 5th-6th century in Egypt. As a motif, it would be right at home in one of our own hooked rug designs, and I think it was my favorite:

image MAK2

Its description: Foliate embellishment with ground weave remnant in blue (2), red, green and ecru
Material: ground weave: warp and weft: linen / decorative element: warp: linen, weft: linen and wool.
Technique: ground weave: tabby / decorative element: slit tapestry
Country: Egypt
Date: 5. to 6. century

Here is another “foliate embellishment”, and by the way, “foliate” just means leafy in form:

image MAK3

This one is described as:

Foliate embellishment with linen weave fragment, stylised floral spray or small tree; red, yellow, black, green, and ecru
Material: ground weave: warp and weft: linen / decorative element: warp: linen; weft: linen, wool
Technique: ground weave: tabby, weft bars / decorative element: slit tapestry (in ground weave)
Country: Egypt
City: Saqqara
Date: 6. to 8. century

Here’s another I thought might give me idea for a fancy rug border:

image MAK4
Description: Decorative band fragment with half circles and zigzag bands filled with stylised plants in green (2), brown, blue and ecru on red ground
Material: warp: linen; weft: linen, wool
Technique: slit and toothed tapestry, probably woven independently
Country: Egypt
City: Saqqara
Date: 5. to 7. century

And I find this next one just beautiful:

image MAK5

Description: Square decorative element (tabula) on linen, pattern of vine tendrils and grapes, inner frame with gems and pearls; ecru, blue, green, red (2), yellow, orange.
Material: ground weave: warp and weft: linen (bleached ?) / tabula: warp: wool; weft: wool, linen (bleached ?)
Technique: ground weave: tabby, warp threads floating underneath the decorative element / tabula: slit and toothed tapestry, flying shuttle, probably woven independently, appliquéd / technical analysis available
Country: Egypt
City: Akhmîm/ Panopolis
Date: 4. to 5. century

OK, just one more – then I will tell you how to go look at the hundreds of others for yourself.

image MAK6

This one is: Fragment of a decorative element in form of a bowl with fruits in red, green, brown (3), purple and ecru
Material: warp: linen; weft: linen, wool
Technique: slit tapestry
Country: Egypt
City: Akhmîm/ Panopolis
Date: 4. to 5. century

These remnants, with their lovely designs, are 17 centuries old! Gives us a little sense of continuity, doesn’t it? Hope you liked seeing them as much as I did.
All photos courtesy of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, in Vienna, Austria,
online at www.sammlungen.mak.at. You’ll see the “late antique textiles” button, which will lead you to the 1,100+ examples online.

A Treasure Trove of Antique Patterns

By | Design, History, Lettering, Textiles | No Comments

image antique pattern library

Preserving artistic heritage, creating digital heritage.

That’s how the Antique Pattern Library describes its mission.

Antique Pattern Library is an online design library that collects and provides scans of public domain crafts and design books for free, to anyone who wants to use them, under Creative Commons licensing.

“Our objective is to preserve our craft heritage in our hands; scanning and preparing donated scans so they can be downloaded by users with limited bandwidth and internet connections, and printed easily for use by craftspeople.”

image antique pattern library

All the work of collecting, cataloging and scanning is done by volunteers, and yes, all are copyright-free. I suggest you at least bookmark the site now, and go back to stroll around through these treasures when you have an hour, or a few hours, to explore. Or maybe you’ll be on a long bus trip?

image antique pattern library

The index reveals patterns for embroidery, crochet, knitting, and many antique handcrafts I’ve never heard of (like “Berlinwork”) but all have many graphic illustrations and patterns that are quite relevant to rughooking design. You’ll find everything from the needlework plotting of unusual alphabets, designs of sweet old-fashioned scenes (from fancy teapots to dogs resting under trees), florals, and many patterns from all over the world that would make lovely rugs and borders.

image antique pattern library

Think of it as a sea of design treasures for you to dip into. You’ll find some great ideas, and learn a lot about the history of fiber arts. If you do your own designs, looking through these will get you into a creative mode. And let your crocheting, needlepointing and knitting friends know about it, too.

image Antique Pattern Library

image antique pattern library

And if you have your granny’s old fiber books or magazines, this tax-exempt (501-C3) volunteer organization will be a perfect place to re-home and preserve them someday. The link is here: www.antiquepatternlibrary.org.

The Wonder of Wool

By | Textiles, Wool and Sheep | 2 Comments

image ATHM image

I’ve never been to the American Textile History Museum, though it’s only an hour and a half from home. But the current exhibit at this museum in Lowell, MA., an affiliate of the Smithsonian, could change that.

The exhibit is called The Wonder of Wool – Ancient Fiber to Modern Marvel. Here’s a description:

Through December 31, 2015. Wool is one of the most commonly used fibers in the world and easily the most misunderstood. Wonder of Wool takes a captivating look at the significance of wool, giving you a new understanding and appreciation of this fascinating fiber.

The Wonder of Wool explores the unique characteristics of the fabric that have made it so useful both historically and today, with a broad range of uses. The exhibit shatters many of the misconceptions of wool: that it is itchy, only for cold weather, hard to wash, can’t get wet, and has a bad odor.

Visitors to Wonder of Wool can experience the diversity of the wool fibers, from the rough and scratchy 19th century carpet wool to today’s supple and silky wool fabrics used in men’s suits. The exhibit also features woolen clothing through the centuries. Visitors will see what wool fiber looks like at a microscopic level and how that translates to wearability and performance.

The exhibit explores the history of wool, with images from the first recorded use by the Greeks and Romans to modern day. Bedouin desert nomads wore wool because it was cool. Until the 20th century, with the advent of synthetic fibers, wool was a popular year-round fabric. The competition with the synthetic fabrics forced wool manufacturers to focus on creating more attractive and wearable fabrics, by processes to smooth out the wool fibers, making them softer, finer and gentler to the touch – and easier to clean.

Wool is one of the four most common natural fibers and, therefore, sheep have been of great interest to farmers, breeders, spinners, dyers, weavers, manufacturers, economists, politicians, and even artists. Images in the ATHM collection record the varieties of sheep developed by selective breeding, while others reveal the animals in their habitat or revel in the scenes they create.

The Museum is open Wed.-Sun., 10 am – 4 pm, and looks like it also has an interesting gift shop. Anyone want to go with me?

The photo is courtesy of the museum, and its website has more information about this and other exhibits, good directions, and even a $2 off coupon for the adult $10 admission cost, online at www.athm.org.

Happy Flag Day!

By | History, Textiles | 3 Comments

image Amoskeag Flag

I am off to a small but wonderful annual hook-in today in Canaan, NH, so will leave you with two nice historic photos in honor of today, Flag Day. Not about rughooking, but definitely in the “textiles” arena.

If you grew up in Manchester, NH, as I did, this was a famous photo. In 1917, this American flag was woven and made up by the Amoskeag mill-workers in Manchester. It was the largest US flag that had ever been made. The proud millworkers gathered in the mill windows, and lined up under the flag for this photo, as the flag hangs from the side of the Amoskeag Mills. Throughout the 19th century the Amoskeag grew into the largest cotton textile plant in the world. Many of the mill buildings still line the Merrimack River in the heart of Manchester. This photo was taken for the October 1917 issue of National Geographic Magazine.

One of the daily newspapers of the day reported:
The largest United States flag in existence has just been finished by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. It is 95 feet long and 50 feet wide. Each of the 13 stripes is nearly four feet high or 47 inches. The stars on the flag are constructed within a 39-inch circle, and are about three feet from point to point. The blue field is 38 feet in length and a little over 20 feet in height. The stars alone weigh nine pounds, while the completed flag weighs 200 pounds. In making this huge flag the government regulation that the nation’s banner shall never be allowed to touch the ground was complied with, although this was difficult on account of the dimensions. A pole 285 feet high has been prepared to hold the flag.”

And although this woman was not working on that large flag, she was working on another flag in the cloth room of the Amoskeag Mills. I think it’s quite a lovely photo:
image Amoskeag millworker

When I was a kid in Manchester, we heard about how hard life was for the millworkers. But when I moved north in New Hampshire, I also heard how the mill work was very attractive to northern hardscrabble farmers eeking out a bare living from our rocky soil. The thought that they could move south and work in a mill, and only work nine hours per day, and have all of Sunday free – it sounded pretty attractive to many.

Photographs by Harlan A. Marshall, as printed on page 411 of The National Geographic Magazine, October 1917.