Monthly Archives: January 2012

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. <;.

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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. <;.