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Familiar Weaves, Weavers And Ornament

( Originally Published 1930 )



THE technique of weaving is so varied and complicated a matter that it can only be described with the loom before the demonstrator, but the woven fabric is a matter with which we should be familiar in all its expressions. Perhaps then a few definitions may not make too dull a reading.

The primary weave of "one over, one under," is exemplified in most textiles of even surface. The tapestry weave, being the next, when considered chronologically, is a variant of that, with the weft threads thrown only the length of a detail of the pattern in-stead of away across the loom. Incidentally this last must be hand work or it fails in esthetic value. Serge or diagonal is made by passing the woof thread over two and under one, or similar irregularities. Satin has a surface almost entirely of warp thread. Damask (named from Damascus) is woven from a pattern, this design being represented by the interplay of two weaves. The reverse side also carries the pattern but reverses the weave. Brocade is far more. elaborate, for it may combine an infinite variety of colors, and of weave, besides introducing metal threads. Brocade is a weave in which the extra threads that make the design are employed only for the design and are not thrown from selvedge to selvedge except as a float seen only on the reverse between the figures. Respect for the weaver increases to amazement if one examines the threads of the brocades in the centuries before Jacquard invented his loom. Every weave went into these old brocades, even velvet, and threads of gold and silver of two kinds were introduced in the same pattern. Pick up at random a piece of brocaded silk of the Eighteenth Century and examine the scattered bouquets of flowers thrown on its background of elaborate weave. To heighten the effect the design is liberally dashed with gold or silver of a thread compounded of silk and metal twisted, and of a thread which is a fine strip of the metal alone. And such is the quality of the metal that time has had no effect upon it, and it glows against the background of salmon pink or turquoise deliciously clouded with fading.

Brocatelle we class among the damasks, but so much of linen or cotton often goes into its composition that it takes on a heavy richness all its own, dependent upon mass. It is thick, stiff, elegant, and in its olden colors is a delight.. Lampas is its near relation. These weaves are made now but are softer and mellower in the. antique fabric than in the new.

Cloth of gold and velvet each has its history. The most alluring fabric in the world of decoration is velvet. It has magic in its folds, for it makes all things animate. and inanimate look better than they really are. It is the ideal background for emphasizing beauty. Even portraits of mediocre quality are glorified into works of art by being hung against a square of rich old velvet.

The mystery of the weaving of the alluring fabric is a part of its charm. For long I refused to learn how it was made, preferring to accept it as an unknown process entirely in the hands of unseen gods who drift around looms and direct their production. A flower full of sentiment is a thing one can never bear to tear apart in the interests of botany. All this being mere folly, we will forget that velvet has strange and winning qualities, peculiarly its own, and will turn to its origins. Of course they entice us again into the East, that being the region of beginnings.

There is a suspicion that the fabric was invented as a refinement of the weave of the rug in Persia. But the manner of making requires an entirely different technique. Whereas the pile of a rug is tied in, knot by knot, twisted around underlying threads, velvet is woven on a loom. It is of two warps, one over the other, the upper one being looped on wires which are withdrawn and the surface is cut to form the pile.

It is a sort of weaver's magic, yet velvet is one of the most usual weaves and is accepted without a thrill, or a thought for those long-ago people who so patiently worked out a process. Ungrateful are we of the present time, ungrateful for our heritage of beautiful crafts.

The weaves of ancient velvet are many. The plain is called cut velvet, the brocaded is called voided, the looped is called uncut, and cisele or chiseled is a combination of both. A most enchanting process is the pile-on-pile, which was produced with long and short loops made with small and large wire, which gave two or even three thicknesses for the design to enjoy. But, alas, it is only in collections that examples can be seen of the rich beauty of its profound shadows and gleaming color. It was made in the leisure of the times we miscall Gothic. Stamped velvet is made by impressing the pattern with hot irons, printed velvet by stamping in color after the manner of printing less elegant fabrics.

We are on datable ground no earlier than the Fourteenth Century, and that in Italy, from whence came Europe's greatest supply through the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries. Persia wove the most exquisite velvets of Asia during the reign of Shah Abbas (1586-1644) and just before.

As the fabric was made with two warps, the foundation weave could be treated separately; that is, it could be woven in satin, or plain silk, or, more intricate still, it could be brocaded. Uncut loops were a later development.

Thus the weavers had in their hands the possibility of endless variety, and thence came the barbarically magnificent velvets of the late Gothic and early Renaissance to astound the world of Europe. It is to Europe that velvets especially belong because of their lavish use in that part of the world. That perhaps may have been a matter of climate. Where the winter winds blow cold, there is a natural longing on the part of man to dress his person and line his habitat with textiles suggesting warmth.

One of the earliest among the combinations of back-ground and pile is the Gothic velvet which has a de-sign of the Florentine artichoke and its enclosing circle merely traced, scarcely interrupting the smooth flow of plain velvet. There is another straying design which bears the technical foreign name of f erronniere, which suggests the pattern being traced in wrought iron. But a few years ago the dealers in Florence were offering it in squares of a meter and a half; but now—now one stands and admires in museums and private collections. "You may look but you may not touch," as is said to little boys in the cake-shop.

Big designs soon followed. The background became more elaborate and there came the fashion of the heavy diagonal stem bearing pomegranates, or artichokes, in such variety of conventionalization as makes differentiation a study for the specialist.

Gold came early into favor to combine with velvet, and gave the name of cloth of gold to the fabric. Sometimes the background was a glittering field of gold on which was thrown a bold design, or again the velvet covered almost all the surface with the ornament wrought in gold. If very little of these stuffs for regal pageantry remains today, it may be because at the decay of the textile the gold was extracted by firing, to use in other ways. Many a purse of the nobility depleted by wars has been filled this way.

At the earliest time, when velvet was being woven in the north of Italy, the Ottoman Empire to the East of them was in close touch through the markets of Constantinople and the trade of Venice, and Genoa. Turkish velvets contemporary with those of Europe resemble them, although the design is bolder, never reaching the intellectual quality of awakened Europe. The masterful display of the Turk, his desire for show, for the evidences of dominance, are plainly read in the designs of his velvets and brocades. And yet, they can sometimes be confused with the Italian.

Let us not decry the perfection of the looms of today, for they copy with fidelity the old velvets. Hand-looms are in use in Italy for velvets which need the slight imperfections or variations of the individual to give them character. With a love which begets devotion the weavers work to preserve the old models and ideals and even factories give us velvets, specially plain ones, which imitate well the deep heavy pile of the Fifteenth Century.

When the Renaissance declined, its first textile evidence was the lack of thought in design. Show took the place of thought, and patterns expanded into areas of complicated drawing. But a little later, especially when cut and uncut were used together, came a fresh inspiration, a revolt against size, a sudden fashion for small design, like sprigs, sown all over a background usually of satin. This was in the Seventeenth Century.

In the time of Louis XIV no less an artist than Daniel Marot gave himself to the drawing of designs for velvet brocades. It will be remembered that he was the architect called to England to enlarge the palace of Hampton Court. When we think on the men of talent who created the textile designs from the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Centuries the wonder ceases that they continue to be copied.



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