Art Embroidery: An Expression Of The Common

By May Sembera

Art embroidery was a popular trend in Victorian America from the year 1877, and began to fade out in 1907.  Women turned to decorating their homes instead of just keeping them neat and orderly.  Art embroidery often conjures up images of society women in stitching circles during their leisure time, but in fact women at the opposite end of the financial spectrum were those practicing art embroidery.  It was an innovative opportunity for women to earn their own living, not only by producing decorative works to sell, but also by becoming teachers.  There were even experts who worked as traveling teachers.  There were embroidered magazines for many of these women that offered premiums programs so they could create their works with little or no cash outlay.

There were auxiliary societies all over America and Canada that taught the art embroidery style.  Art embroidery can be recognized by its distinctly Victorian design characteristics and motifs.  The most common motifs were floral and the most common items were centerpieces, doilies, tablecloths, napkins, tray cloths, sofa pillows, and “novelty items” like picture frames.  It also is characterized by extreme botanical realism, and natural, intricate shading by use of the Kensington stitch (a shaded flat stitch worked in many different shades of the same color).  Fine white linens or tinted brown linens were embroidered with silk.

It came into vogue when in 1877; it was featured at the first World’s Fair in Philadelphia.  Works from the Royal School of Art-Needlework of South Kensington were put on display.


Cardwell, Donna. Silk Art Embroidery: a Woman’s History of Ornament & Empowerment. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub., 2008. Print.

Crewel Embroidery, Old and New,. New York: Hearthside, 1963. Print.

Symonds, Mary. Elementary Embroidery. London: J. Hogg, 1915. Print.

Tagged , ,


By Carmen Rivera

Scientists hope to soon be able to spin spider silk without the aid of spiders, achieving this task would not only be an amazing technological breakthrough in the field of genetic manipulation, but also in the development of new and exciting fibers. Randy Lewis, a professor of molecular biology in the University of Wyoming, who’s been experimenting with the genetic manipulation of the spider’s silk producing protein. The development of the spider’s silk fiber would be an amazing advancement in the fiber sciences field by being an organic material that is not only elastic, but also quite possibly the strongest man-made fiber. But where do goats come into the mix? Well, spiders being the territorial and aggressive creatures they are make it impossible to farm, unlike goats that are accustomed to such. Because of that Prof. Lewis started working on implanting the spider’s silk producing gene into the goat’s genetic structure. The results were unbelievable, it worked! Goats could now produce the same protein that allowed their milk to be spun from liquid to solid. Such amazing results caught the Army’s attention. They now plan to use the goat’s milk fibers in their bulletproof vests, which are now 100% effective. After the development of the “Biosteel”, or what the spider silk is now referred to as, scientist researched into even further possibilities like bulletproof skin. Scientists took the genetically modified silk and cultured it with human skin cells that, after about five weeks, created a tough, flexible, living material that is calculated to make a slow bullet ricochet from skin. Scientists hope to further refine the discovery into cells that can actually stop any type of bullet as consistently as bulletproof vest. And so the spider gave the goat genetic properties that made silk as strong as iron that then made skin as strong as Superman’s.  Science will never cease to amaze us.

Photo Source:


Handwerk, Brian. “Artificial Spider Silk Could Be Used for Armor, More.” Daily Nature and Science News and Headlines | National Geographic News. National Geographic Channel, 14 Jan. 2005. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. <>.

“Military Breakthrough: ‘Bulletproof’ Skin Made from Spider Silk.” The Week – Science+Tech. The Week, 19 Aug. 2011. Web. <>.

Tagged , ,

Is Japanese Indigo Dyeing, Dying?

By Ziyan Gong

Indigo dyes have been around for centuries and are known to be one of the oldest dyes. In the 3rdcentury BC, a Chinese book refers to indigo dye in a proverb. The word indigo means a “dye from India” so it is believed to have originated in India. Indigo comes from a variety of plants such as Indigofera, Storobilanthes, and Polygonum. In Japan Polygonum is used to make natural indigo. In order for the indigo plant to be used as a dye, it has to be fermented and reduced. This way, it becomes water soluble and can produce that deep indigo color.

Japan has always been proud of their indigo as it produced a magnificent deep blue color. Almost 80% of the clothes in Japan were dyed using indigo at one point.   However, after the industrial production of synthetic indigo dyeing, natural indigo dyeing drastically decreased since the colorant in natural indigo and synthetic indigo is identical. A few centuries ago, indigo dyeing workshops were called kouya and were all over Japan. However, now almost all of the kouyas have been closed and only a few are left, preserving the tradition. The Folk Art Movement in Japan has definitely helped to preserve the tradition. Even though the end result is the same, natural indigo dyed objects are more expensive because Japanese people cherish and appreciate the value and time that the traditional process takes. Because indigo dyeing was once the pride of Japan, I believe that it will not lose value any time soon and that the craft will be kept alive. Many designers now, including Anna Sui are taking notice and purposely using natural indigo dyes in their collections. Other niche markets such as many denim fanatics continue to use natural dyes and traditional construction techniques. For example, jean store Blue & Green sell jeans that are exact replicas of olden Levis, and other jeans that are made of “Japanese denim” dyed in traditional methods.

For more interesting blog posts, visit Pingmag for a very touching interview of Tadashi Higeta, born in Mashiko-machi, Haga-gun, who is now an 8th generation Indigo dyer and weaver.  Also, there is an interesting article on indigo dyeing in Japan on the Blue & Green blog.



Hill, D. (2008). Is there a future for natural dyes? Coloration Technology, 18-25.

Kawahito, M. (2001). Natural Indigo Dying in Tokushima, Japan. Natural Dying, 25-31.

Tagged , , ,

Thermochromic Fabric: Could It Save Lives?

by Carida Diaz

Growing up, I always had a fascination with those t-shirts and scrunchies (and countless other random summer accessories) that changed color in the sun or when you touched them. This magical material was always so mysterious and intriguing to me, but I never really knew what it was called or how it worked. Fast-forward a decade later, and I’m researching “thermochromic fabric” (fabric that chances color according to temperature)for my Textiles Science class.

When thermochromic reactions are found in fabrics, a unique type of dye acts as the thermochromic agent. This agent is typically composed of one of two main elements. When thermochromic dyes are made up of liquid crystals, the crystal molecules re-orient their helices according to their temperature causing our eyes to register a change in color. When the dye is made up of a micro-encapsulate thermochromatic system, it contains countless microscopic capsules that contain a hydrophobic solvent that contain a dye precursor and a color developer. When the temperature rises, the chemical reaction between the two causes the fabric to change color.

Thermochromic fabric has been used for a few things, most of them purely trendy- like the Hypercolor brand shirts that were popular in the 90’s and recently made a comeback at your friendly neighborhood American Apparel. However, I recently stumbled upon a function for this particular substance that could potentially save lives.

Two students pursuing their Master’s NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts , Sue Ngo and Nien Lam, recently developed a prototype for a type of garment they have entitled “Warning Signs”. Warning Signs combine carbon monoxide sensors with thermochromic fabric in order to create a graphic appliqué that changes color when it detects a spike in the level of air pollution. Ngo and Lam have designed these appliqués in lung and heart shapes that respond to this pollution chase with the appearance of a smattering of blue veins.   

Though still a prototype, the Warning Signs opens up a whole new realm in which the  nature of thermochromic fabric can be utilized. It addresses a serious issue and provides a creative and novel solution. While its a little disheartening to imagine a world in which all clothing was required to incorporate this technology, it is also quite groundbreaking. Imagine if car seats changed color when they detected a carbon monoxide leak in your garage, or your jacket developed a pattern when the air around you was no longer safe to breathe. These airborne toxins are usually invisible to the human eye, but with this type of technology we would all be more immediately able to respond in what could potentially be a life-or-death situation. This type of application is full of possibilities, and it will be interesting to see how well it catches on.



Popova, Maria. “Warning Signs: Clothing That Detects Carbon Monoxide | Design for Good | Big Think.” Big Think | Blogs, Articles and Videos from the World’s Top Thinkers and Leaders. 24 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. <>.

Gaimster, Julia. “Textiles and Trimmings.” Visual Research Methods in Fashion. [S.l.]: Berg, 2011. Print.

Tagged ,

Color The Way Nature Intended

by Jennifer E. Kim

Naturally colored cottons are different from white cottons for they do not need to go through the dyeing process to achieve coloration. They come in 8 to 12 different colors, some being beige, red, earth brown, chocolate brown, and green. They are cultivated and taken care of without the use of pesticides, and grown separately from other cottons to prevent cross-contamination. By not using chemical dyes, as well as reducing the use of pesticides, the naturally colored cottons have become popular for being ecological and environmentally safe. But there are some problems with the cottons, which  has to do with the length and the strength as well as the cost. Compared to the white cottons, the naturally colored cottons are shorter; they are ¾ of an inch, while the white cottons are usually an inch. The only solution to this is to continuously grow cottons from the best plants, as well as take extreme care in growing and cultivating the cotton. Due to the hardship and the workload  that is required to produce the cottons, the price for them is about $2.42 per pound, as compared to 70 cents for undyed cotton.

One of the  well-known cultivator of the naturally colored cotton is Sally Fox. Sally Fox started to be interested in naturally colored cotton as she came across brown cotton seeds. As she planted and grew them, she discovered that her brown cotton also had green cotton as well. From there, she carefully examined the them and began to breed them in different ways, which allowed her to create six shades: “Coyote and New Brown, both of which are reddish browns, milk-chocolate colored Buffalo, sage-colored Palo Verde, Green Fox Fibre ®, and a dark forest New Green”. These are registered under trade name Fox Fibre, which was “the first commercially spinnable, naturally colored cotton”. Fox’s study and work in cotton breeding led her to create Natural Cotton Colors Inc., which “expanded the range of natural cotton clothing and home products available in the United States and abroad”. In regards to business, Fox Fibre has sold their product to Levi Strauss, who would use it to make shirts and jeans, to Esprit, who used it to make striped T-shirts that were about $38 each, and to Fieldcrest Cannon, who would use it to create home accessories.

Photo Source:


Draft_lens17898414module149870150photo_1304366301wweblogo.gif (GIF Image, 240×207 Pixels) – Scaled (0%). 16 Dec. 2011. <;.

“EBSCOhost: CURRENTS; Cotton as New as Today And as Old as Yesterday.” 16 Dec. 2011. <;.

“EBSCOhost: Seeds of Success.” 25 Oct. 2011. <;.

Fox_work_1_190.gif (GIF Image, 190×190 Pixels) – Scaled (0%). 16 Dec. 2011. <;.

Kate Fletcher. Sustainable Fashion & Textijles: Designe Journey. London ; Sterling, VA : Earthscan, 2008. Print.

“Lemelson Center Invention Features: Sally Fox.” 25 Oct. 2011. <;.

Tagged , ,

Velvet! The Fabric Of “Kings”

by Maricela Nodar

Velvet painting, the art for kitsch and Elvis fans everywhere, is an ancient technique, but became widely popular in rural America, and in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico in the 1970s. Velvet painting originated in the homeland of fabric, ancient Kashmir. They were originally religious painting depicting icons of the Caucasus region, which were painted by Russian Orthodox priests. Marco Polo introduced black velvet paintings to western culture, some which still hang in the Vatican museum. In modern days, velvet paintings often depict images of Elvis Presley, Dale Earnhardt (yes, the NASCAR driver), John Wayne, Jesus, Native Americans, wolves, and cowboys.

Doyle Harden and Edgar Leeteg are considered to be big daddy’s of the velvet painting culture. Originally a farm from Georgia, Doyle Harden started a factory in the 1970s that hired thousands of artists to produce these great paintings that families all over the bible belt could hang over their fireplace. One artist would paint one piece of the picture, then slide the velvet along to the next artist, who would add something else. Edgar Leeteg, who is often called the “father of velvet painting”, made his best work in Tahiti from 1933 to 1953, where his paintings of exotic Polynesian women established him as an artist. Before Edgar, velvet painting was considered just a hobby, but he made it into a successful art form.

The rich and bold colors we get out of painting on velvet make this art form the “art we love to hate”. Although it’s tacky and a bit offensive, Americans proudly display their framed velvet paintings of cute kittens and dolphins proudly. Whether it’s the campy portraits of Elvis made by Doyle Harden, the Hollywood fan art produced by Mexican artists in the 70s, or the beautiful and exotic women by Edgar Leeteg, I feel (and partially hope) that velvet painting is here to stay. As an avid velvet lover, I’ve found another reason to love this rich fabric. Not only does it have the capability to make your garments go from plain to fabulous, but it also has the ability to show your true appreciation for NASCAR and Elvis and it’s a great way to decorate your living room!



“Velveteria.” Velveteria – The Museum of Velvet Paintings. N.p., 2011. Web. 17 Dec 2011. <>.

“Velvet Painting.” . N.p., March 2011. Web. 17 Dec 2011. <;.

Tagged , ,

Stansborough Grey Wool: The Rarest Natural Fiber in the World

by Danica Carroll


Almost 3000 acres of green hills, with beautiful views and river valleys make up the sheep and cattle ranch of Stansborough, which dates back to the 1850’s. Barry and Cheryl Eldridge purchased Stansborough Farm after moving from England to New Zealand in 1971. It was here that the Eldridge’s discovered a primitive breed of rare grey sheep, which they have preserved by storing semen and embryos of the breed throughout the last twenty years. It took over 18 years of selective breeding to create this unique grey sheep known as the Stansborough Grey. Now a unique registered breed in their own right, the flock of 1200 sheep is the only flock of it’s kind in the world. As the rarest natural fiber in the world, the Stansborough Grey wool produces a fabric that is silky and lustrous with beautiful draping qualities. The sheep are shorn two times a year producing a staple length of about 3-4 inches. The emphasis at the Stansborough Mill is on quality not quantity, and is completely eco friendly.

The ‘Stansborough Grey’ sheep wool is spun, and then woven at the Stansborough Weaving Mill in Wellington. Cheryl Eldridge personally sorts every fleece into three shades of grey as it is shorn. The industrial worsted looms at their mill date to the early 1890’s and are the only six working commercially in the world. Cheryl has been making fabric from the Stansborough Grey yarn for years, and in 1998 started work with Ngila Dickson and her team of costume designers for many of the lead characters in Peter Jacksons famous movie  trilogy, The Lord of The Rings. After the success of the Stansborough Grey ‘fellowship cloaks’ used in The Lord of The Rings, the Eldridges have been contacted by several other productions craving their beautiful fabric for costume designs. Some of these productions include the films Avatar, Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian, The Waterhorse, BBC’s Kidnapped, and Kingdom Come.



Barry Eldridge. Stansborough. Stansborough Mill. n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. ‹ ›.

International Fleeces, Inc. Focus on Fiber: Stansboroguh Grey, The Making of A Breed. 4 Aug. 2010. Web 1 Dec.2011. <>


Victimless Leather and the Promise of a Victimless Utopia

by Chelsea Franklin

In the Museum of Modern Art in New York City a project titled ‘Victimless Leather” was displayed as a small portion of a larger series known as the Tissue Culture and Art (TC&A) Project. The piece is described as being a prototype for a stitch-less jacket, grown in a techno scientific ‘body’. According to an article by the artists themselves, titled “Growing Semi-Living Sculptures: The Tissue Culture & Art Project” the core of the project functioned as an artistic manipulation of living materials, a way to challenge human reaction and prevailing western views of nature-culture dualism. The project operated out of the University of Western Australia, and was lead by artist/scientists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr. Catts and Zurr argue that the piece appears to be a part of the slowly manifesting obsession with the genetic code that has presented itself as a current trend within contemporary art. “Victimless Leather” has focused primarily on the cell, communities of cells and the forming of tissue grown from immortalized cell lines harvested from both humans and mice. In the exhibit the piece appears as a small, grown, outer garment living within a type of incubator, confronting people with the concept and moral implications of wearing previously living material. According to the project’s website, it is apart of the series that functions as the promise of a victimless utopia, combating how western culture appears to have difficulty stomaching images of real violence, but willingly views synthetic or simulated images of gore and violence. In another article by the artists titled, “Are the Semi-Living Semi-Good or Semi-Evil?” Catts and Zurr explore the “language used to describe life and evolutionary processes; from bacteria to collections of cells.” They discuss semi-living entities created by the Tissue Culture and Art Project, and investigate different notions of life “in the context of current rhetoric used in our pre-war global society”. The project has successfully challenged established ideas on the wearing of previously living substances, and provoked interesting thoughts as to the connections made here between art and science. As a whole, the potential of developing a substance that replaces leather is insightful and manages to initiate further investigation into the morality of wearing animal remains.



Catts, Oron, and Ionat Zurr. “Growing Semi-Living Sculptures: The Tissue Culture & Art Project.” Leonardo 35.4 (2002): 365-70. JSTOR. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <;.

Hemmings, Jessica, and Caryn Simonson. “Grown Fashion: Animal, Vegetable or Plastic?” Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture 6.3 (2008): 262-73. Textile Technology Complete. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Schwartz, John. “Museum Kills Live Exhibit – New York Times.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 17 Nov. 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <;.

“The Tissue Culture and Art Project – The Victimless Utopia.” The Tissue Culture and Art Project – Home. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <;.

Zurr, Ionat, and Oron Catts. “Are the Semi-Living Semi-good or Semi-evil?” Technoetic Arts: a Journal of Speculative Research 1.1 (2003): 47-60. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Electronic Knitting Provides Endless Possibility for Customization

by Elizabeth Meiklejohn

The relatively recent innovation of electronic knitting machines has made it possible for manufacturers, designers and independent artists to create knitted textiles with an incredible amount of detailed and varied patterns, much more efficiently than would otherwise be possible.  A step up from previous “mechanically controlled” knitting machines, which use physical pattern-programming devices (such as paper punch cards or peg drums), electronic knitting machines store data on a computer or external drive, automatically moving needles to create the correct pattern.  Many aspects of computer technology are well-suited to knitting, such as the binary (0 or 1) system being applied to two-color patterns or knit/tuck stitches.  Since the carriages on many (although not all) electronic knitting machines move automatically, instead of being moved back and forth by hand, textiles and garments can be created much more easily and quickly, although there is less opportunity for hand-manipulated details.  Software also exists to aid in the shaping and formation of garments, working alongside textile pattern data to produce (for example) a sweater with a repeated motif.  There are multiple types of electronic knitting machines – some, like the large machine in RISD’s textile department, move completely automatically and are capable of many complex functions including jacquard, intarsia, lace and cable-knit designs.  Others are more like traditional knitting machines with a hand-operated carriage, the only difference being that they can connect to a computer or data-storage drive.  The latter type is often used by independent artists or crafters to create knitwear and textile art that takes full advantage of the computerized aspect of these machines.  Artist Andrew Salamone and craft blogger Becky Stern have both utilized “hacked” Brother knitting machines that have been upgraded from their basic functions (knitting fabric from stored data) by adding a computer cable.  This allows the artists to input literally any pattern they can find or create, and creates room for a greater degree of intricacy.  (Andrew Salamone created a “recursive” sweater with an image of Bill Cosby wearing a sweater with a picture of Bill Cosby wearing a sweater, continuing into infinity).  This type of DIY customization or “hacking”, common in many creative and computer-based fields, has now spread to electronic knitting systems.  No longer confined to larger and more expensive machines, this type of complicated knitted pattern is now possible for anyone with a basic machine and a certain amount of technological savvy to create.

Photo:     Andrew Salamone’s project knitted on a “hacked” Brother machine: a balaclava customized with an image of the wearer’s face.


“Chapter 12: Electronics In Knitting.” Knitting Technology. 134-144. Woodhead      Publishing Limited, 2001. Textile Technology Complete. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

Stern, Becky. “How-To: Hack Your Knitting Machine.” Video blog post. CRAFT. O’Reilly Media, Inc., 5 Nov. 2010. Web. <;.

Montgomery, Angus. “Create Your Own Christmas Jumpers with a Hacked Knitting Machine.” Design Week. Centaur Media, 23 Nov. 2011. Web. <;.