Date of this Version
Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.
Since 1986, I have been pursuing my passionate interest in handwoven velvet, both practically and academically. By velvet, I mean extra-warp pile, rather than weft-woven types of pile, such as weft-looping or knotting. Simple, monochrome plain velvets have been woven since the early Coptic period, requiring only simple looms and two simple warp tensioning systems, one for the foundation cloth and another for the pile warp.1 ( On the basis of such a simple set-up, early velvet figuration could be created through the following colour effects using: (a) striped pile warp; (b) ikat/chiné (spaced dyed) pile warp; (c) painted or printed pile warp; (d) 2 striped warps mounted counterchange style (e.g. DLDLDL/LDLDLD); or (e) 2 contrasting warps, motifs picked up by hand or held on a set of half-heddle rods. Simple textural effects include: (a) alternating stripes or bands of velvet (cut and/or uncut) and flat cloth; and (b) bands of differing heights of pile (cut or uncut). All of the above variations can be created using simple looms with as few as three or four shafts.2 For example, the elaborate figuration of Uzbeki velvet ikats is provided by the ikat dyed patterning of the pile warp, which is then woven as a “solid” velvet, whose pile uniformly covers the whole fabric surface.3 This velvet can be woven on a 4 shaft counter-balanced loom with both foundation warp and pile warp separately tensioned with “live” or gravity weighting provided by bags of bricks. Solid velvet pile warps can also be mounted on a single warp beam with uniform tension because all the pile warps are taken up identically. Examples of chequered patterning in silk velvets date back at least to the 11th century.4 Simple counterchange chequered designs can be woven with a minimum of two pile shafts and two pile warps, one of each of two contrasting colours. The two contrasting colours, let us say L & D, can also be wound together as a pair and mounted as a single pile warp in which the two colours alternate. A 4-shaft loom is sufficient for such patterns. To create the chequered pattern, the pile shafts 3 and 4 are ordered in blocks as follows:
3rd shaft – LDLDLD… DLDLDL…
4th shaft – DLDLDL… LDLDLD…
Although the loom mounting for a chequered velvet is simple, the alternation of colours, although likely balanced over the whole piece, requires a separate tension for the ends on each of the two pile shafts. This is best facilitated by weighting the ends of each pile shaft separately on uniformly tensioned warp beams or with live weights. Without separate tension, a recurring build-up of slack pile ends will interfere with smooth weaving and an even pile height.