Tuesday, May 14, 2013

History of Silk

Chinese legend gives the title "Goddess of Silk to Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih", wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, who was said to have ruled China about 3000 BC.  It is said she was sitting under the mulberry tree when a silk worm cocoon fell into her tea.  As she removed the cocoon from the tea it began to unravel giving her the idea to weave it. Regardless of the accuracy or truth behind the legend it is a time honored story and gives interest and mystery to this luxurious fiber.

The truth is the earliest silk found was at a site of the Yangshao culture in Xia County, Shanxi.  A silk cocoon belonging to the bombyx mori silkworm was found dating back between 4000 and 3000 BCE.

Silk was confined to China beginning in the 27th century BCE.  The imperial decree of that time indicated death to anyone attempting to export silkworm or their eggs. The right to wear silk was reserved (for about a millennium) only for the emperor and the highest dignitaries.  Lower class citizens were not allowed to wear silk until the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911).  One of the greatest discoveries in ancient China was the development of paper.  A variety of material was used in making paper such as, linen, bamboo, straw and of course silk.  The earliest silk paper discovered was in the tomb of Marchioness who died in 168 in Mawangdui, Hunan.

It wasn't until the Silk Road opened in the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) did silk move outside the China boarders.  Around 300 CE Japan began to produce silk after acquiring silkworm eggs and capturing four Chinese girls forcing them to teach them the art of silk cultivation and weaving.  In 522 the Byzantine emperor Justinian sent two monks to Central Asia who smuggled out silkworm eggs in attempt to create their own silk.   It wasn't until the Crusades that silk production entered Western Europe.  Over time the export of silk from China became less important. 

Industrial Revolution brought about the biggest change in the silk industry in Europe.  Cotton became a dominate force because it was much cheaper to manufacture.  The production of silk declined in 1845 when several disease epidemics that attacked the silkworm.  During WWII silk supplied by Japan was cut off.  The need for a new sturdy fiber was in demand.  Nylon was developed as a replacement.   It was used in parachutes for the military and stockings for women who could no longer afford the price of silk.  Though silk never made the come back the industry hoped for,  China once again took back its reign as the leading silk producer in the 20th century making silk a rare and luxurious fabric once again.

Friday, May 10, 2013

History of Linen

The fiber from the flax plant is extracted from the stem of the plant.  The fiber is very soft and flexible and is actually two or three times stronger than cotton but less elastic.   It is a very versatile fiber.  The best grades of flax are used to make linen fabrics where the coarser grade is made for ropes and twine.  Many types of paper will contain flax because of it durability
Flax, also known as linen, is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region.  In a discovery in 2009 a dyed fiber was found dating back 30,000 years.  These fibers were found in the caves of Dzudzuana, prehistoric Georgia. 

Fine linens were used as burial shrouds of the ancient pharaohs and pictures of the temple walls and tombs in Thebes depicting flowering flax plants.  In 1881 in the excavation of Ramses II they found linen in near perfect preservation.  The cloths date back to 1258 BC, about 3000 years ago.  Linen was the most important fiber used in ancient Egypt because wool and cotton were unknown to them.  They believed it to the gift of the Nile.

In the New Testament it states that the seven angels who held the past and future of mankind in their hands were clothed in white linen.  However the most prominent reference in the Bible refers to Jesus being buried in linen…
"When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph [see Joseph Of Arimathea], who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb [see The Garden Tomb], which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed. Mary Magdalene [see Mary of Magdala] and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre." (Matthew 27:57-61 RSV)

Flax is knows for is luxurious nature.  The fiber is blonde in color and when bundles it resembles blonde hair,hence the term “flaxen”.  Timing is everything when harvesting flax.  If harvested to soon the fibers are fine and weak.  If harvested to late the fiber turns brown and is brittle.  When harvested properly the seeds from the plant are removed, which is called rippling.  The term dates back to early harvesting when the stacks were pulled through a row of spikes in a plank of wood.  After the seeds are removed the stalks are ready for retting.  Retting is the process of rotting away the inner stalk, leaving the outer fibers intact. After retting the final step is scutching, which is the removal of the fiber from the stalk.

Since its discovery the flax plant has been a staple in the lives of people.  Along with the flax fiber being used to make linen, the oil from the plant is edible. Linseed oil is the oldest commercial oil in use.   The seeds from the plant are used as nutritional supplement as they are high in Omega 3.  Flax plants are grown in flower beds round the world because of their ornamental qualities.  There are about 150 varieties of the flax plant. Flax is one of the few true blue flowers. Most "blue" flowers are really a shade of purple.

What is there not to like about the Flax plant?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

History of Wool

These little ladies just needed to say HI!
Sheep were domesticated around eleven thousand years ago.  The earliest wool came from sheep that were more hairy then wooly.  Some of the earliest wool was found in Iran dating back to around 6,000 BC.    The oldest European cloth was found preserved in a Danish bog around 1500 BC.  During medieval times the trading of wool made a huge impact on the European economy.  During the 1200’s England dominated the market and for many centuries to come.  By the time the American colonies came into existence they were forbidden to trade wool with anyone but England.

Spinning yard has evolved from spinning by hand, to the spinning wheel, then to the modern day textile mills.  The very first fibers were spun by holding the wool in one hand and drawing it with the other hand.  The thread was bulky and uneven.  The first spinning wheel was crude in design but did the job.  As time progressed the spinning wheel was redesigned to make it more efficient… but that is for another blog.

Wheel barrel full of wool that needs to be cleaned.
Some feel spinning is a lost art; however it really isn’t.  People have never lost the desire to spin their own fiber.  Though the need to create our own fabric has changed, there are many people who still enjoy the art of spinning.  There are thousands of spinning guilds in existence from the very experienced spinner to the novice.  It is impressive to see the art of spinning with a drop spindle.  I, myself, am not coordinated enough to do that and stick with a modern spinning wheel.

As with everything, time has changed the wool world.  Today, of the one billion sheep in existence only 30 million are in England.  Australia has become the dominated force in the wool industry.  Sheep adapt well to almost any environment and can be found in all parts of the world.  There are nearly 40 recognizable breed of sheep in the world.  England has lost its place as the dominate force in the wool industry.

Hand dyed wool from Wooly Bully Yard
As with all fibers, the different types of wool have different types of usage. The fiber diameter, color and strength of the fiber determine the quality of the wool.  Fiber diameters of 25 microns are used for garments.  Fibers larger than 25 microns are normally used for carpeting and rugs.

Long gone are the days of scratch wool clothing.  There are many different kinds of wools and when blended with each other or other natural fibers they create luscious fabrics.  Shetland, Merino, lampswool, mohair, angora, alpaca are just a few wools that can be blended to make wonderful garments or can be spun alone.

I want one of each... Wooly Bully Yarn .
Wool can be dyed in an array of colors or left natural.  It can be dyed either before or after spinning.   The creators of Wooly Bully Yarn have a variety of wool and colors to pick from and are always pushing the boundaries when it comes to drying the fiber.

***All photos are courtesy of a of Deb Austin-Johnson owner of Glass Onion Bead Co and Wooly Bully Yarn

Monday, May 6, 2013

History of Cotton

It is hard to imagine not having cotton available in a wide variety of colors and textures.  From slip covers to quilts, cotton is a used daily in everyone's life. 

It is difficult to put a date on how old cotton really is.  Cotton balls and fiber have been found in the Tehuacan Valley of  Mexico which date back 7,000 years.    Most research puts the discovery of cotton between 3,000 – 5,000 BC.  It was found as early as 2,500 BC in the Egyptian tombs.   Around the same time, Pre-Incan cotton grave cloths were found in Huaca Prieta, Peru, and were mentioned in Hindu hymns in 1500 BC.

Alexander the Great introduced the fiber to the Greeks and Arabs.  Around 800 AD Arab merchants introduced cotton to European countries.  Cotton cloth started to become highly sought-after in Europe during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment period. When Columbus discovered America in 1492, cotton was found growing in the Bahamas.  By 1500, cotton was known throughout the world and became a huge commodity.

Cotton seeds are believed to have been planted in Florida in 1556 and in Virginia in 1607.  This began a dark part of the US history when slaves were bought and sold to support the cotton industry.   The phrase “King Cotton” was coined because of the belief Southern states could successfully succeed from the union and be economically independent.  Things didn’t turn out as they planned.

With the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 by Eli Whitney there was an explosion in the fiber industry.  The cotton gin could do the work 10 times faster than by hand. By 1801 the annual production of cotton was 22 million kilograms.  By 1840 US produced 60% of the cotton worldwide.   The U.S. cotton crop rose from $150,000 to more than $8 million within 10 years.

By the 18th century, the middle class had become more concerned with cleanliness and fashion.  The need for fabric that could hold more color and would wash easily became a demand in the textile world.  With the volume of cotton fiber being traded by the East India Company starting in around 1664, cotton became a staple in the garment industry in across the globe.

Today the main producer of cotton fiber is now China, who produce 7.5 million tons of fiber yearly.

It is the "Fabric of our lives."

Monday, April 15, 2013

History of Lampshades

Have you ever watch someone pick out a lamp and a shade?  They hold it, turn it in all directions, place different shade on different lamp bases.  They turn the lamp on and off.  They stand or sit close to it and far away.  They bring pillows and throws when picking out a shade because the match needs to be just right for the room that the lamp will go in.

It wasn’t always like this, however.  Homes in the 1800’s were lite by kerosene lamps. The shade and base where made of glass.  These lamps were design for practical use only.

In 1879 the first commercial incandescent light bulb was created.  That changed everything in the world.  We no longer lived and worked by the sunlight.  Life expanded into the evening hours.  As electricity slowly moved into homes across the country the need for lampshade increased.  Their main purpose was to help diffuse the harsh light that emanated from the early light bulbs.

Early lampshades were made of paper.  It wasn’t until the Victorian era, which began during the reign of Queen Victoria from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901, that shades became more elaborate and the craft of designing shades became an art.  Victorian shades are mainly made of material, beads, trim and fringe.  They were created to give the room elegance and romance.

The first Tiffany lamp was created around 1895 by Louis Tiffany in New York.  The bright colored glass cemented the design to create an atmosphere in a home that was inviting.

Like fashion, interior design reflects the decorating trends and social class.  We all want our homes to look nice and be a reflection of who we are.  With the invention of the light bulb a shift was made in how people decorated their home.  We went from practical to expressive.  Stop and think about it.  Don’t you sit in the room that makes you feel the most comfortable?   It is filled with many of your favorite things.  There is your favorite pieces of furniture, wall hangings, decorative objects and the perfect lamp to see it all by.

It is how I began refurbishing lampshades.  I wanted the perfect shade.  Since I couldn’t find it, I made it.  Now I make them for others who need just the right one.

Happy lighting!   

Monday, April 8, 2013

Time for a Little TLC

This poor lampshade needed a little TLC.  It couldn't even be touched without the material ripping.  After giving the shade a much needed face lift it was delivered to the owners a few days before Easter company arrived.  Owners and lampshade are now happy!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lampshade for a small area


There are many styles of shade to pick from.  This is a perfect shade if you need a lamp for a small area.  It is called a half shade.  It is meant to sit close to a wall giving you extra space on your table. 

Size:  7 1/2" H  x  12" W  x  5" D plus a 7 1/2" fringe

This special lampshade was a Christmas gift for a lucky someone.