Category Archives: textile art

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.

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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.

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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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