Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
News & Events

Textile Tuesday: Apparel Fabric with Metallic Embroidery

Apparel Fabric, Asia, 1800-1829, metallic thread, silk

Ellyn Webb is a student in the School of Human Ecology, majoring in Retailing and Consumer Behavior and completing a Certificate in Textiles.

This textile is from the early 1800s in Asia, made of silk and metallic thread. We do not know exactly which country it is from, but it is an apparel fabric that has meaning embedded through imagery, color, and materials. What stands out to me is the intricate detail of the embroidered roosters, and how the fabric has remained a vibrant red despite its age. In looking at this piece, I was amazed at the incredibly rich color of the silk, as well it still being extremely smooth to the touch. Because the fabric has grown thin with age, one can see the woven structure easily, as well as how the edges were once finished with a thick yellow thread.

full image of apparel fabric

The most prominent feature of the textile is the embroidery. It is done with metallic gold thread, which still has a captivating luster. In certain Asian cultures, including China and Japan, the rooster symbolizes many things including honesty, bravery, and competitiveness. Because this is an apparel fabric, these characteristics would have been attributed to the person owning and wearing the textile.

In addition to the embroidery, the silk itself had great value in certain parts of Asia, including China. Silk was a symbol of status, and was once restricted to the noble class. It became a luxury fabric because of its texture, and was an excellent item for trade. I don’t often get to feel real silk, but once I did it became clear to see why it was regarded as a luxury fabric. It was also sought after because it was more rare than other fabrics.

Close up of embroidery on textile tuesday apparel fabric

Just like this textile, each piece in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection has historical stories attached to it. It is amazing how fabric can carry so much meaning, including the significance of the rooster and the luxury of the silk itself. Sometimes all it takes is a long look at a piece of fabric in order to see some of the history tied into it. The University is lucky to have such incredible textiles, with history behind each one: simply exploring the collection is a journey back in time.

Discover more about this piece here.

#TextileTuesday is a yearlong series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

HLATC 50th anniversary logo

In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.