I used to travel to Chicago on business several times a year, and every time I squeezed in a couple of hours at the Chicago Art Institute. Not for the wonderful Impressionist collection, or the Picasso room, or even for Edward Hopper, but for the 14th century collection of armor and weapons. Here’s why:
There was one set of armor for what today we would consider a tiny man, and under all the metal was a padded undergarment of silk velvet. You could just see it peeking out of the armholes. It was jade green, faded, worn away so you could see the weave structure of what appeared to be a fine, tight unbleached linen. Just amazing. Fourteenth century! This was linen spun by hand, silk reeled by hand, very fine velvet woven by hand—French, I think, in the time of crusades and the black plague. I haven’t seen it in several years, but it’s clear in my mind’s eye.
Now here comes a book that digs deep into the history of velvet, going all the way back to the 3rd century CE—all the way! In Velvet on My Mind, Velvet on My Loom, Wendy Landry has created something remarkable: a deep historical account of this luxurious fabric across continents and eons of time. Her superb illustrations and well-researched photos help you understand the structure and the beauty and intricacy of centuries of examples, and also the brilliantly-devised looms and tools that created them.
But wait! There’s more! If you’re a weaver, if you have a four-shaft loom, you too can weave velvet. Plain, polychrome, patterned. And if you have more shafts, well, no limits! (If you’re especially clever, you could probably do it on a rigid heddle loom, too.) Wendy shows you ways to adapt for the supplementary warp that becomes pile, and ways to control and lift and cut the pile (or not). I don’t think I’ve seen a book devoted to a single weave structure that was so thorough and so thoroughly engaging. Her publisher (also Thrums Books’ publisher) Schiffer Publications has gone all out to give this content the platform it deserves. You can get a copy of your very own at schifferbooks.com, Amazon, bookshop.org or wherever great books are sold. While it lasts, that is.
IMAGES FROM THE BOOK:
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