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Textile Conservation

Oct 21

2014

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Tweed Fabric

I am so elated that this Winters trend fabric is Tweed, and the Harris Tweed especially!   Though there are many types and variations the Harris tweed is superior in my estimation. One can hardly refer to Tweed as a Trend- its origins stem way back. Its more of a revival.

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As the nature lover in me is always identifying the commercial market back to its natural origin, being able to correlate the rough moorlands of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides and its range of colours is relatively easy. For those of you never fortunate enough to venture to this part of the world, think …. Mel Gibson in Braveheart, or The writings of Thomas Hardy with those wonderful scenic descriptions.
Conjour the peat marshes and ragged dark mountains, heavy grey mists over bleached grassy plains or bright heathered slopes against freezing blue bottomless seas. The sure footed mountain sheep with their neutral tawny mix coats against ochre slate for an alternate palette.  There is such artistry woven into these artistic patterns. The warp and weft blending colours and textures symbolic of its history.
Tweeds really do reflect the natural colours of their origin, and they are captured even more so as many of these wools were spun and dyed using natural plant dyes.
Harris Tweeds are the only mix blend yarns that are dyed before being spun.
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Colours reflect our mood and seasons, they also calm and excite the senses. Texture adds depth and definition.  So as you browse through the racks this winter selecting your hounds tooth or herringbone, basket weave or glen check, remind yourself that history repeats itself and that your money would be well spent investing in tweed because it will always in be fashion.

Aug 11

2014

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Banana Leaf wall coverings

This week, I am spotlighting banana leaf wall coverings. As it is the middle of summer and blisteringly hot, I liked the idea of bringing the outdoors in and creating an escape without leaving your home! I am particularly attracted the various green hues and vivid patterns of banana leaf papers, I feel that they immediately transport to you to Palm Beach in the 40s.

Perhaps the most recognizable banana lead paper is the Martinique “A” Wallpaper BH90210 as seen in the Beverly Hills Hotel. Originally designed for the hotel’s hallways and coffee shops, the iconic print has withstood the test of time and is still being used in modern design today. Most often pictured and used in green, the paper actually comes in Burgandy and Mustard Yellow as well.
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Here is the famous Martinique paper featured in Nikki Hilton’s dining room
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again in NYC restuarant Indochine
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Designer Nate Berkus’s home in Milan
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A similar but different print also made popular in the 40s was by eccentric designer Dorothy Draper. Titled “Brazillance”, this particular paper gained fame when Draper designed the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia. She saturated the hotel with the print throughout the lobby and even on the hallway carpets.
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If you’re feeling bold and looking to bring some colour into your life, Martinique and Brazillance is the way to go!

 

Nov 01

2013

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Vintage Textiles

 

If you follow style predictions, you already know that vintage is going to be big for this winter 2013 and continue well into 2014. But, before we head down to the nearest emporium to rummage for a unique length of vintage fabric, let’s briefly consider vintage textiles and their wider implications.

So what exactly does the term ‘vintage’ mean? For example, when does vintage become ‘antique’ or, moving forward in time, ‘retro’? The term currently covers such a broad spectrum – just take a look online at the myriad of fabrics that are included in the category. The English dictionary defines the term ‘vintage’ as being a ‘genre’, marking an era or period in history with a value of class or quality.


The custom of acquiring vintage or second-hand textiles is not new, in fact, the practice has been carried out for centuries. The term, ‘fripperers’  was coined in the 15th Century to describe people who used to trade second-hand clothing, which was derived from the old French word ‘friperie’ that comes from ‘frepe’, meaning ‘rag’. The English Websters’ dictionary (1886) describes a ‘fripperer’ as someone dealing in old clothes and ‘frippery,’ or second-hand finery. So in the true sense of the word, it describes fabrics of quality. But how do we interpret ‘quality’?  The subject is too vast and complex to be entered into here, but it is worth considering our own interpretation when looking at vintage.

Nor, is this a new phenomenon for interior design: for example, in the early 19th century, the then popular neo-classic style was a revival of Greek motifs, such as the key pattern. Similarly, in the 1960’s, certainly in Britain, the fashion was for William Morris fabric and Victoriana, marked by the romantic designs of Laura Ashley. (William Morris lead the Arts and Crafts movement in the latter part of the 19th Century). Today, original William Morris fabric, is highly valued and displayed in domestic settings.

In the past, precious fabrics and items of clothing were bequeathed in wills or formed part of a dowry. What would our reaction be today at a similar gift, would we value it as much as our ancestors? Probably not.  So what is behind the vintage fabric revival? Are we seeking authenticity by possessing an historic object, regardless of its origin and provenance? Or, are designers so lacking in originality that they have to constantly re-invent the past?

One particular area that should be questioned is the practice of incorporating ‘vintage’ fabrics into pillows. On an international scale, there are numerous websites that sell soft furnishing items and décor, that include a plethora of pillows including grain-sacks, parts of kilim, tapestries and pieces taken from Middle Eastern and Asian textiles. We can argue that it is legitimate for a badly damaged textiles, where elements can be recycled, for them to be incorporated into new pillows but to this end, is it ethical to destroy entire textiles that are in good condition? If we believe this is the case, should we support the market in these items? After all, how many decorative pillows does society need and have we ever stopped to think what the knock-on effect might be in other areas: Chinese chickens for instance, being the major supplier of feathers for the filling?

 

As history has demonstrated, we will continue to bring vintage fabrics into our decorative interiors, and for that reason, we should take responsibility for them by creating better methods for displaying them in our homes. For example, hanging a length of vintage fabric as a backdrop to a bed or, hanging it as one would a picture against a wall space, works just as well.

Good hunting!

Alexandra Seth-Smith

Textile Conservator

The Textile Conservancy Co. Ltd.

www.textile-conservation.co.uk

Jul 11

2013

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American Indian Bead Belt Conservation

As Spring melds into Summer, the arrival of blue skies, scudding clouds and peaceful days spent in natural surroundings are gladly welcomed after a long winter. Perhaps the maker of this nineteenth century beaded belt was also inspired by their own natural environment as evident through their use of predominately white and blue beads.

Detail of the White and Blue Beads

This American Indian beaded belt is possibly Sioux in origin, most likely Lakota Sioux, as identified by the beading patterns. The colours of the beads evoke some of the natural colour that would have been prevalent decades ago, which allows for a contextual connection to the time and place in which it was worn. The beads themselves are stitched to a leather backing which makes up the skeleton of the belt and is fastened with a metal button. Curiously, the button is a standard US military button of a pattern first introduced in the 1850s. The “I” in the middle stands for infantry.

Detail of Button

These buttons were produced in great number and the fact that one found its way out into the western frontier around 1870 to 1880 is no surprise. On one side of the belt, at the top, there is a large dent, which seems to have been formed from the weight of a knife or revolver holster. This Plains Indian belt is a direct connection to a fascinating part of American history in which settlers pushed further and further westward. We can only ever speculate, but could it be that this belt belonged to an Indian Scout?

Detail of Belt

The belt is to be conserved so that it may safely be stored and displayed as part of a private collection. The surface of the beads will be cleaned and any loose threads will be secured to ensure that no further beads are lost. A conservation grade mount will be prepared on which to position the belt for display.

Alexandra Seth-Smith

Textile Conservator

The Textile Conservancy Co. Ltd.

www.textile-conservation.co.uk