Feathered Thread

22 October 2016

fullsizeoutput_5d5There are many ways to weave with feathers and but study of this 300 year old textile fragment, tlámachtentli de Madeline,  at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca(MTO) revealed that it was woven with a thread spun with down feathers.  Sorry about the quality of the picture, it is from a slide.  The white feathered yarn jumps out at you but there is also red, yellow and blue feathered areas.

Research at the MTO suggests that this is bottom of a panel from a huipil backstrap woven on a striped warp  They found only 6 pieces, all old, all made in Mexico that were woven with this this feathered thread and no one now was doing it. About 10 years ago MTO initiated a project to recover  how to make and weave with this kind of yarn.  The results are now in a current exhibition at the MTO,  Hilar el Viento: Los Tejidos  Mexicanos de Pluma ( To Spin the Wind: Mexican Feathered Cloths).

Current artists have developed 3 kinds of feathered yarn.  All use down feathers from geese or ducks because down feathers are the only feathers pliable enough to twist into a yarn.  Groupo Khadi cards the down into the cotton and then spins it on a driven spindle wheel.

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carding down with cotton

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spinning the down cotton yarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another artist , Román Gutiérrez,  adds the feathers when plying.  He starts with two strands of cotton thread, singles, and as he plies them he catches the down between the two strands.  Lots of twists is added to secure the down.  This yarn is fluffier than the carded yarn.  All done on a medium sized great wheel with two chairs working as a lazy kate.

I did a pre-conference workshop, on dyeing and spinning with down feathers, with Román in Teotilan del Valle and here is my piece of purple feather yarn,

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that I did on my drop spindle because I had it with me and access to one wheel was limited.

Others ply this feathered yarn together to get a thicker fluffy yarn, 4-ply cabled yarn, that I saw couched down on the surface of textiles.

Here are a couple of piece from the MTO exhibit just to give you and idea of the impact of feathered yarn.

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I have been looking for a hand woven huipil to buy since I’ve arrived in Oaxaca de Juarez in December 2014.  I finally found one! 

black cotton three panel huipil with coyuche and purpura pansa brocade

  
 
I found it at the Festval of Artisans that the state organized just above the Santo Domingo Church for Holy Week. 

I do have my criteria:

  • Back strap woven
  • Good craftsmanship 
  • Three panels
  • A colorway that I would wear
  • A size that I feel comfortable in. 

The size has been the stumbling block. Most are made for Señoritas, I need twice as wide to feel comfortable.  I did a turn of the whole festival and came back to an Amuzgo booth. She had many beautiful, well woven huipiles. Mostly on a natural or off- white ground, which looks lovely with their black hair but I don’t much like with my all white hair, too monochromatic.   She did have a pale pink one that looked a little greyed and a Mexican Rose one with black brocade. I love Mexican Rose but the craftsmanship  of this one wasn’t top quality, particularly in the construction. She had an elegant black on black  huipil, sized for a small señorita. 😟

She hung up a very beautiful  huipil in a cinnamon brown with natural colored brocade.   It was very fine brocade and the colors were spectacular, the brocade almost looked golden. Very elegant and special. When she got it down so I could see it closer I recognized the color as that from nanche, a tree that has an edible fruit and the bark can be used for dyeing. Unfortunately the nanche color had already stained parts of the natural colored threads that were used for brocade and construction. Yes, it was natural dye but it was not well dyed. 

Reluctantly I left that booth and went to a booth that had some lovely small utility cloths with brocade style I associate with San Juan Colorado, but wasn’t from San Juan. There were several styles of brocade in the booth, which I think was a coop. Some pieces had women’s names on them, which I thought was the maker’s name. She began showing me huipiles too and some were lovely but small. She finally showed me a “large” three panel black huipil with brocade in coyuche, that is always hand spun, and purpura pansa, the seashell violet. Excellent workmanship.  Price I could afford. Perfect except it was too small. She thought it was big enough, but I insisted that it was only as wide as the top I had on and the top had slits from the waist down. The black huipil was ankle length and I had to convince her that it was going to catch on my hips so I wouldn’t wear it.  As I was ready to walk away she said she had a very large one.  I said let me see it, she had to root around a bit to find it and when I saw it it was perfect. Big enough, well made, black ground with Leno and coyuche and purpura pansa brocade.  It is now mine!

 

detail with purpura pansa dyed yarn used for brocade and construction


The ground cloth is 16/2 black cotton in plain weave and leno. The cloth is light weight and drapes well. Not hot because of the open work, leno. Each panel has a few warps of purpura at each side selvage. The panels are joined by hand with a faggoting stitch in the same purpura.  The neck edge is carefully made and decorated with the same purpura dyed yarn. 

The purpura dyed yarn is commercially spun yarn that is taken to the seaside. The wet yarn is held in the hand and the sea snails are pried from the rocks and their excretions rubbed on the yarn. The snails are returned to their rock. The secretions slowly change color, in the sun and air , until the yarn is a pale red- violet color. 
The coyuche is a brown cotton that grows here. It is short staple and thus hand spun.  Both colors are from prehispanic times. 

The brocade technique is discontinuous inlay. This inlay is done with the weft turns on the top making tiny scalloped edges around each motif. 

  • detail of the brocade with coyuche and purpura

 
This brocade style has a neat backside that is only slightly different from the front. 

 

here is the fourth selvage carachteristic of back strap weaving and the neat backside of the brocade


 Blessing on the weaver that made my cherished huipil!

Rebozo weaver

16 March 2016

Yesterday the Museo Textil de Oaxaca had a midday celebration to honor a 90 year old rebozo weaver from near Mexico City, Evaristo Borboa.  

  

Señor Evaristo was weaving in the interior courtyard of the museum, a beautiful space with natural light and many pillars. 

He weaves jaspe or ikat rebozos in cotton. 

  He weaves standing. As you can see the warp is wider than he is, 28-30″ would be my guess.   It must take a lot of upper body strength to open the sheds and standing allows him more leverage.  

These rebozos are large, 28-30″ wide by  90+ ” long by our standards but because they are light and drapey they are just the right size to wrap yourself  up. 

The resist dyed design is in the warp and to show it off the cloth is warp- faced.  The warp threads are ultra- fine mercerized cotton; the final cloth feels and drapes like silk. I can’t even guess at how many threads there are in this warp. Each one has been dyed and placed in order to create the design. 
  
Here you can see both the woven cloth and the unwoven warp.   If you have trouble finding the fell line look for the bottom edge of the sword or machete. Farther from the fell line the pattern on the warp is less visible, all you see are tiny spots.  This is just plain weave folks, but there is nothing plain about this. 

  
 If you are observant you can see that his loom is set up to weave four selvages. The final rebozos all have long elonorate fringes. 

  
My conclusion is that the fringe is added after weaving. This maybe the reason that other ikat rebozos have incongruent colors in the fringe. 

Here is a video of Señor Evaristo weaving.   Interesting to me is how he uses his sword to open the heddled shed.   I first noticed the hump in the warp threads when he took out the sword to open the heddled shed, then I watched it form. 

Señor Evaristo has been weaving for 83 years. That is longer than most of us have been talking, weaving must be as second nature for him as talking is for us. 

On Friday I did a quick walk through of the new exhibit of Rebozos at the museum, El rebozo, don de la Llorona.  I just picked out one to share with you, #41 in the exhibit.

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As you can see this rebozo has very dramatic fringes.  This is not uncommon in Mexican weaving.  This rebozo is hung in the exhibit so that you can see both the front and the back of the fringe section.  The fluffy areas are added little tassels as you can see in the row acrossed the top.image.jpeg

The top row of tassels are in the body of the shawl and I could not touch it to see if there was woven cloth under the fluffy part.  So I looked up the description in the gallery notes:image

It says that this rebozo was made in the middle of the 20th century in an area of Purépecha people in the town of Ahuiran, state of Michoacán.

Both the warp and weft are made of industrially spun cotton singles, Z spun and possibly dyed with natural indigo.The warp has stripes of royal blue rayon, 2 ply, z twist.  The cloth is warp faced plain weave.  The warp ends  are flat braided to form the fringe, and the braiding is diagonal and forms holes  in the network.  Tassels made of rayon floss ( floss has no twist) are tied on at the little holes.

The tassels make a multi-colored diamond design.  Then they discuss a bit about if this is the style of the village where it was made or not.  Even though this is a wide cloth, even today these rebozos are made on backstrap looms.   Some of this style rebozos from the 19th century , the tassels added to the fringe form little animals or other figures.

Here is the back of the fringe:

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Done dyeing, packing

6 December 2015

I haven’t runout of things to try but I have runout of time.
I dyed many skeins with cochineal this year.

samples skiens dyed with cochineal

samples skiens dyed with cochineal

My goal was to understand how cochineal on cotton behaved and to get a stable color.  A pretty bright color.  Dull dirty colors are plentiful  and not worthy of cochineal, but I got those first

before I got to the clear bright fuschias on cotton.

It seemed to me that what I had learned dying the recalcitrant cotton would also improve my work with wool.  Wool is easy to dye with cochineal but still sensitive to hard water and pH.  I was right and I got a beautiful red on the wool, best ever.

beautiful color on wool alpaca yarn

beautiful color on wool alpaca yarn

So now I am packing, I leave for Oaxaca again on Thursday for a long stay.  I’m going to teach at the Museo Textile de Oaxaca in Jan. a course on dyeing cotton with cochineal. So packing teaching materials too.

Next post from Oaxaca!

All these cotton yarns have been dyed with cochineal.

All these cotton yarns have been dyed with cochineal.

Dyeing cochineal on cotton can be a challenge.  Cochineal on wool or silk is so easy.  It is all in the steps before the dyeing that determine the quality of the color ; scouring and mordanting.

Twenty years ago I dyed some cotton with cochineal and the samples are in the box, still dark and strong colors.  But then we did a scour, alum, tannin, alum mordanting—- that is four hot baths before you get to the dyeing. Today we generally use  two baths, a hot scour and a warm mordant and that is a big improvement.  Others have been working on mordanting cotton problem,  but cochineal has special challenges; it doesn’t like hard water and it is sensitive to pH.

So I have been working on what is the best way to mordant specifically for cochineal.  I have very hard water here, dilute limestone you could call it,   so even if I use distilled water for the dye bath, do I have to use distilled water for mordant and scour baths also?

The study mentioned above suggests that a tannin treatment can be used  make the colors darker and make them more light resistant. Cochineal has good light fastness but I wanted darker colors.  Here is my first study of tannin treatment, after scouring but before mordanting:

The scoured substrate was first treated with a tannin from pomegranate, then mordanted with aluminium acetate and then dyed with cochineal. From the left; substrate, tannin alone, then 4 with cochineal also.

The scoured substrate was first treated with a tannin from pomegranate, then mordanted with aluminium acetate and then dyed with cochineal.
From the left; substrate, tannin alone, then 4 with cochineal also.

The natural colored substrate is on the left, next is the the scoured substrate that has been treated with tannin from pomegranate, it actual color is mustard yellow.  I was expecting a much paler yellow beige color.  Could be that the pomegranate powder I have has deteriorated with age?  I need to try some fresh pomegranate tannin, but don’t have any at the moment. But I had already treated a bunch of skeins with this old pomegranate so I decided to continue to see what I could learn. The next 4 sample go from brown to dark red.  This little study has 10 baths involved.  When I try to  save time by treating a bunch of skeins at the same time and something goes wrong, such as the tannin is old, then a bunch of skeins have been ruined.   After I get some fresh tannin I’ll need to redo these samples. I have gone through 59 skeins so far  and may have more questions than when I started.  I think I will be dyeing all summer.

The point being that I have not been weaving much but dyeing a LOT.  I still have lots of work to do.  First I have to wind small sample skeins from the yarn I brought back from Oaxaca, a rather tedious task. Luckily I have a friend that will keep me company and chat while I wind them  and all I remember is the pleasant company.