Jeff Krauss and John Howe on Blue in Rugs and Other Textiles, Part 1, the Lecture

On May 31, 2008 Jeff Krauss and John Howe gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program at The Textile Museum here in Washington, DC.

Their program was one of those complementing the exhibition Blue that was up at the TM at the moment. Its title was “Have You Got the Blues? Blue Dyes in Textiles.” They especially accentuated dyeing with indigo.

Linda Powell, The Textile Museum’s Curator of Education,

did the introductions, saying, that Jeff is a physicist, who consults internationally and is interested in Japanese textiles and resist dyeing. He collects Japanese textiles and recently donated most of his collection.

John is a retired instructional designer whose collecting is more eclectic, but includes lots of Anatolian and Turkmen material. (As the masthead on this blog indicates John is the owner and producer of it.)

They began with a PowerPoint-assisted lecture. The section below provides a virtual version of that lecture.

The title of the presentation “Have You Got the Blues? Blue in Dyes and Textiles with a Focus on Indigo” was on the screen, with the image below, as folks came into the Myers Room.

John began by saying that he and Jeff would first deliver a “tag team” lecture, then show some pieces selected to show how blue is used in rugs and other textiles, and last would look at the pieces that members of the audience had brought in.

He said that there were several parts to the lecture.

He would begin by talking about some “assorted introductory aspects of blue” and then about “symbolism attributed to blue.”

Then, he said, Jeff would talk about how blue is put into fabrics. Jeff would talk first about “indigo chemstry,” then would provide an “indigo chronology,” and last would treat “dyeing with indigo.”

John said that the concluding part of the lecture would show a number of examples of “How Blue is Used in Textiles.”

John moved to treat “Assorted Introductory Aspects of Blue.”

John:

One might be tempted to think of color as primarily a matter of certain wavelengths of visible light, but Harald Bohmer writes that color has:

‘physical, chemical, biological, physiological, psychological, genetic and aesthetic aspects’

So we are forewarned that an investigation of the color blue may not be straightforward. And because color is an instance of perception, it is necessarily to a degree individual and personal.”

There is no ‘true blue.’

There are some indications that blue may have been one of the later human color experiences.

For example, there is an interesting pattern in the seeming emergence of the use of color words, among English-speaking children, at least.

Children who are two years old usually have 500 words, but only seldom do these include any color words.

Children of five can usually name correctly red, yellow, green and blue.

This has changed over time, perhaps because of colorful toys. In 1908, this ability was only achieved by eight-year olds. And it may still be changing. A neighbor with a two-year old reports that he can accurately name not only red, yellow, green and blue, but also pink and purple.

So a socialization effect may be continuing.

There are similar patterns bearing on blue in what might be called ‘linguistic archeology’ or ‘linguistic anthropology.’

The Pomo Indians in California, have, excepting for black and white, only one color word: red.

The Ibido in Nigeria have only two color words: red and yellow.

The ancient Greeks had no word for blue.

There is no word for blue in classical Hebrew.

The presence and absence of particular color words in particular languages has been looked at systematically. Two researchers, Berlin and Kay, have found that:

All languages have words for black and white.

If a language has three color words, red will always be one of them.

If a language has four color words, either green or yellow will be one of them, but not both.

Only when a language has five color words, does it have words for both green and yellow.

And only when a language has six color words, does blue appear.

In addition, near the equator, languages of many cultures do not differentiate between blue and green.

This is the end of my “Assorted Introductory Aspects of Blue.”

Now, let’s move to “Symbolic Uses of Blue.”

The image below is of a painting by the German artist, Franz Marc. Marc seems to have claimed that his color use here is not symbolic, that horses really are blue.

That may seem doubtful to many of us.

It is probably tempting to attribute symbolic meanings to blue because important parts of our world do LOOK blue.

The sky often looks blue.

That is recognized in expressions like “sky blue.” But sometimes we go further and say such things as “my blue heaven.” So, blue is sometimes used to symbolize, the sky, the universe, even heaven.

And to retreat a little, seen from space, our planet is sometimes described as a “blue marble.”

The sea, often nearly any body of water, can look blue.

So blues in textiles are often said to refer to water, be that a small stream or pond, or even the ocean itself.

But sometimes the symbolic meanings assigned to blue can be more attentuated. Here we need to be cautious because the symbolic meanings vary by culture and geography.

For example:

Cherokee (on  left)    Navajo (Apache) (on right)

Among the Cherokee Indians “blue” signified “north.”

But for some Navajos it referred to ‘south.”

Still, the various symbolic meanings assigned to blue can be interesting.

In western cultures, at least, blue is sometimes used to signify purity or innocence.

Jesus and the Virgin Mary are often given blue robes in paintings.

Blue as a sign of a certain level of social status is more tenuous. Blue WAS used by Egyptian rulers as one symbol of their royalty,

and this Bokharan emir, in a well-known photo you may have seen before,

clearly felt that blue projected, satisfactorily, his princely status.

Blue is often visible in ethnic dress. Here are some 19th century European examples in color illustrations.

First, below is a Norwegian Lapp,

a German,

a Hungarian bride,

and Italian couple (the man is a shepherd),

and a Russian peasant.

Blue has frequently been a color worn by various working class people. Here is another vertical array of examples.

First, below is a Dutchman

(“enough blue to make a Dutchman’s trousers” is an old European expression),

an indigo worker in Southwest China

(Notice that this all of this worker’s clothing is dyed with indigo and that the cap, jacket and pants are from polished indigo),

a merchant in an bazaar in Afghanistan,

and old man in a boat-yard in Morocco,

and a painting, by Rivera, of auto workers in a known Ford plant.

Blue is often selected for uniforms of various sorts.

“Navy blue” is a reference to one such use.

But many police, firefighters, and a variety of officials are often dressed in blue, perhaps projecting their “official” status and their “authority.” Here, below, is a vertical array of uniform usages of blue.

First is a drawing of an English “bobby.”

A photo and drawing of German police, on the left a domestic policeman, and then, to the right, a 19th century colonial navy officer,

The police below are Canadian.

This is how Northwest Mounted Police dress when they’re not in red coats and on horseback.

(There are some indications that police dressed in blue project a more calming presence when they do such punishing tasks as writing traffic citations or, even, making physical arrests.)

Our last uniforms example is the one below.

These are Russian Kremlin guards.

Blue is thought by some to project self-cultivation and intelligence, so it may not be surprising that blue is often selected for school uniforms and for academic robes.

Here is a vertical array of such uses. The British students who dressed like the figure below were called “blue-coat boys.”

Some other uniformed English schoolboys.

The image below is from Eton. The cap looks similar.

And here is a schoolgirl in Turkey in 2007.

One sees both girls and boys everywhere in Turkey in uniforms of this blue.

Last, here is an academic event at which the recent French president, Mitterrand, is being presented an honorary degree.

For a long time the “blue serge” suit was seen to project a respectable business man. A blue business suit was taken to signal importance, stability and a calm, confident, competence.

IBM was thought to require its male employees to wear blue suits. Although they deny that this was ever an official company policy, their own archives show that this is what a typical, male, IBM employee wore in 1982.

Although blue remains popular for business dress, the original “blue serge” suit is now seen to be stodgy and old-fashioned.

The notion that blue is a masculine color and that pink is for girls, seems to have quite recent roots. In Christian tradition, the color-sex reference seems reversed, with red shades reserved for men (for example, the costumes of Roman Catholic cardinals), and blue shades most frequently associated with women (as in the painting of the Virgin Mary we saw earlier).

And here is the cover of a 1928 fashion magazine on which

the boy is dressed in red and the girl is in blue.

The reversal seems to have come sometime after World War I when lots of blue military uniforms were adopted. It was solidified in the 1940s when marketing slogans encouraged women to emphasize their femininity by “thinking pink.”

The usage “blue ribbon” suggests that blue is asssociated by some with high quality.

The source of this expression is debated.

Those looking for an exalted origin sometimes suggest that the British “Order of the Garter” is implicated.

Others think our more humble county fair usages are sufficient.

Dark indigo blue clothing is sometimes used to symbolize, and to effect, extreme female modesty, as in the masked Arabian lady in the image below,

and two of the three Afghan women in this public dress image.

On the other hand, the Japanese fashion designer, Junya Watanabe, who works a lot with indigo blues, has full-faced draping in his 2008 collection, without any concern, I think, for modesty.

Blue is also used in the Middle East to signal male pride.

The smiling gentleman from Yemen, below, wears a shiny indigo turban projecting a male vanity of appearance.

The more sober man below is one of the proud, nomadic “blue men” of the Sahara, so-called because their blue clothing rubbed off on their skin.

In many cultures, dark blue and other dark shades are used to express sorrow and mourning. Black is more frequent in most western societies as is the case in the 1913 photo below of a family in mourning clothes.

Blue is said to be symbolic of death in Central Asia and Iran (although a knowledgeable Persian friend recently cast doubt on the latter).

There does seem to be some blue dress in the image below of a Kurdish funeral (oddly, of a Zoroastrian religious sect, reputed never to wear blue).

But the Shah’s widow, perhaps projecting her westernization, (or the truth of my Persian friend’s indication) wears black at her husband’s funeral in 1980.

We might smile, occasionally, at some of the symbolism assigned to blue in other societies. For example, the partly blue devices meant to distract the “evil eye”

that are ubiquitous, in a variety of forms, in Turkey.

But our own society still treats as noteworthy the symbolism that color can invoke.

It may be largely fortuitous, but Pantone, a major figure in the commercial color business, has declared a shade of blue to be its “color of the year” for 2008.

It has also suggested some of the symbolic meanings it feels this shade of blue projects. They include:

“…dependable, soul-searching, emotionally anchoring, meditative and suggestive of a touch of magic.”

These are not far from many of the symbolic meanings assigned to blue in other cultures.

That is the end of our treatment of blue symbolism.

Now Jeff is going to talk about indigo and some of the other dyes that produce blue.

Jeff began with “Indigo Chemistry.”

Indigo has a close relative called Indirubin, which is known as the “red Indigo.” It is actually a red dye. Natural Indigo dye contains various proportions of Indirubin, which is an isomer of Indigo. That means it contains the same numbers of each atom, but they are arranged differently, as the diagram below shows. Synthetic Indigo may also contain some Indirubin. Indirubin was recently identified as an active ingredient in a traditional Chinese medicine that is effective against chronic myelocytic leukemia.

Here are images of the chemical structure of Indigo and Indirubin. In these diagrams, the hexagons are called “benzene rings” and if you were a chemist you would know that they have a carbon atom and a hydrogen atom at each corner.

Indigo

C16 H10 N2 O2

Indirubin

C16 H10 N2 O2

It has been discovered that the chemical structure of “Tyrian purple” or “Royal” or “Imperial” purple, a dye that comes from snails, also has a chemical structure very close to that of Indigo and Indirubin. Jeff provided an image of that structure as well.

Dibromoindigo

He also provided some addition models of the structures of Indigo and Dibromoindigo that mark with color the location in the structure of the various element components. In these diagrams, the carbons and hydrogens are shown explicitly.

In the Dibromoindigo, two white (hydrogen) atoms, that occur at the edges in Indigo, are replaced by two red (bromine) ones. But excepting for that, the chemical structures of Indigo and Dibromoindigo are identical.

Jeff next listed some Indigo sources.

First and foremost is Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo; India and China). It is in the pea family . It contains indican which is converted through a process of enzymatic hydolysis (fermenting) and oxidation to indigotin

Here, below, are several pictures of indigo tinctoria plants.

Picture 1 of Indigofera tinctoria

Picture 2 of Indigofera tinctoria

Picture 3 of Indigofera tinctoria

Picture 4 of Indigofera tinctoria

Indigofera Tinctorian does not thrive in more temporate climates and the traditional source in indigo in Europe before Asian indigo was known and available was woad. Instatis tinctoria (woad; Europe) is in the cabbage family. Woad contains Isatan B which is converted through fermenting and oxidation to indigotin.

Here are some images of woad plants:

Pictures 1 and 2 of Instatis tinctoria (woad)

Picture 3 of Instatis Tinctoria

Since the traditional primary European source of indigo was from woad, when the eastern variety of indigo first became available, comparison of indigo from woad plants versus that from the eastern indigo plant was inevitable. Jeff spoke to that distinction and set of questions next.

Indigo vs Woad

Traditionally, Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) has a thrty-fold higher pigment precursor content than does woad. Thus, Indigo is a superior source of indigotin. However, some claim that the difference may be due to inefficient processing of woad. Scientists only recently learned that to most efficiently extract the dyestuff, woad leaves must be steeped for just ten minutes at 80 degrees C and the liquid must cool down rapidly.

But Rowland Ricketts, an American who apprenticed himself for several years in northern Japan to learn traditional Japanese modes of indigo growing, processing and dyeing in a temporate climate, reports that the northern Japanese indigo processes he learned are identical to those used for processing woad. So there seems some debate about whether the noted difference is because of different processing.

There are a surprising variety of plants from which indigo can be obtained and Jeff listed a few more of them. They include:

  • Polygonum tinctoria (dyer’s knotweed; Japan) in the buckwheat family
  • Baptisia tinctoria (East Indies)
  • Baptisia australis (blue wild indigo; North America)
  • Indigofera anil (South and Central America)
  • Lonchocarpus cyanescens (West Africa)

Here is an image of Polygonum Tinctoria

This variety of sources is a reason why Indigofera tinctoria is not necessarily the source of indigo in many parts of the world.

There are also animal sources of indigo. The famous purples produced in the Mediterranean are from a variety of shellfish. The image below is of Mollusk Murex trunchulus or Murex brandaris.

This creature produces the dibromoindigo that Jeff treated in his discussion of chemical structure above.

In at least one species of shellfish, the dye varies with sex, the male producing primarily indigotin and the female producing dibromoindigo.

An additional curious fact about dibromoindigo is that it changes to indigo in sunlight.

Indigo has an extensive chronology and Jeff provided some of it.

2500 BC: Date of the earliest woad-dyed linen garment from the Old Kingdom (Egypt), found during excavations at Thebes.

1,000-600 BC: Phoenicians from Tyre and Sidon (Lebanon) use purple dye derived from a gland of the mollusk Murex trunchulus.

5th Century BC: Date of grave containing woad-dyed textiles in Luxembourg

3-4th Century BC: Date of Pazyryk indigo-dyed pile rug

44-45 AD: Roman legions reputedly encountered blue-dyed Celts (dyed with woad) in the British Isles (some aspects of this report are questioned)

100-1500: Woad produced in Europe; Indigo imported from India by caravan

1498: Discovery of the sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope—increased importing of indigo into Europe

1595-1597: First expedition of Dutch East India Company in India and China

1590s: French, British and German laws enacted forbidding use of indigo in order to protect woad growers.

17th Century: European trade with India and China increases; ban on indigo imports lifted

1742: First indigo crop in South Carolina

1775: 1.1 million pounds of indigo exported from South Carolina to Europe

1780s: Because of wars, Europe turns to India for indigo

1780: Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin

1800: Commercial indigo production in U.S. replaced by cotton, tobacco, rice and corn

1834: First isolation of synthetic dye-stuff from coal tar

1856: William Perkin produces alizarin, the dye substance in madder

1880 Indigo first artificially synthesized by the German chemist Adolf von Baeyer

1895-96: India exports 18,700 tons of indigo

1897: BASF begins commercial production of synthetic indigo; within two decades synthetic indigo dominates the world market

1900: German chemist Paul Friedlander discovers that Tyrian purple is chemically identical to indigo except that it has two atoms of bromine where indigo has hydrogen

1913-1914: India indigo exports drop to 1,000 tons

Jeff’s third section treated “Dyeing with Indigo.”

He began with indigo processing. Here are the basic steps:

1. Plants are collected during the flowering season.

2. The plants are immersed in water in soaking vats to ferment.

3. Fermentation lasts 12 to 15 hours

4. The liquid in the vats becomes a yellowish-green color (indican is transformed into indoxyl).

5. The liquid is stirred briskly for about 3 hours to increase oxygen contact.

6. The liquid turns deep blue (indoxyl is oxidized into indigotin).

7. The insoluable indigo falls to the botton of the soaking vat.

8. Thick indigo sediment is strained, pressed, cut into blocks and dried.


To summarize: During the processing steps listed above, indigo leaves are fermented in order to convert indican naturally present in the plant to the blue dye indigotin (indigo-blue).

Jeff now moved to “Dyeing with Indigo”:

Indigo is a solid or powder, insoluble in water.

Indigo does not react with, and will not bind chemically to, fabric fibers (no mordants are used when dyeing with indigo).

Indigo dye (indigotin, also called “indigo-blue”) reacts with reducing agents such as sodium hydrosulfite (sodium dithionite), sulfurous acid, hydrogen sulfide or urine, in an alkaline solution.

Water soluble yellow-colored leuco-indigo, also called “indigo-white” is produced.

Fibers (or woven cloth) are dyed with indigo by immersing them in this yellowish solution and then taking them out.

But, you may be wondering, “how and why does the fabric turn blue?”

What happens when you take fabric out of an indigo dye pot is visually dramatic.

Jeff gave the sequence:

1. The indigo dye vat works to keep the dye in solution.

2. The fiber or fabric is dipped.

3. Dye penetrates and adheres to the fabric fibers.

4. When the fiber/fabric is removed from the vat it comes in contact with the air. The oxygen in the air “oxidizes” the indigo-white turning it into indigo blue.

5. The color of the fiber/fabric can be seen to change from yellow to blue.

6. Insoluble indigo molecules are trapped inside the fibers of the fabric.

Here is a microscopic illustration of this penentration and trapping process, from an old book.

Jeff contrasted indigo dyeing with mordant dyeing using a step-by-step, dyeing cotton with madder, example.

1. Alizarin, the chemical dye in madder, is a mordant dye.
2. A mordant dye requires that the fibers of the fabric to be dyed be treated with a metal salt solution (such as an aluminum, chromium or copper salt) before the dye can bind to the fabric.
3. Metal ions bond to the hydroxyl groups on the cotton (cellulose)
4. When alizarin is added, it binds to the metal. This binding is the dyeing of the cotton fabric.
Jeff then summarized the differences he sees between “indigo vat dye” and “mordant dyes”.

I have been listening to Jeff’s careful examination of the more scientific aspects of coloring textiles blue. Two things seem to me to distinguish what happens in indigo dyeing from what happens in mordant dyeing.

Indigo is NOT a mordant dye

Mordant dye molecules are chemically bound to fabric molecules

Indigo dye molecules are mechanically bound (physically trapped) on and within fabric fibers

As Jeff clearly says, with indigo dyeing, the bonding is mechanical (a kind of “stickiness”), not chemical. And (this is me thinking now) perhaps because there is no chemical reaction, the penetration in indigo dyeing is often not as extensive as it is in mordant dyeing.

Rowland Ricketts, the indigo dyer mentioned above, said that one test of the limited extensiveness of penetration in indigo dyeing is to dye a white fabric in indigo, then cut it and examine the edge. He said that there will almost always be a core of white visible showing the extent to which the indigo dye penetrated the fabric. He said this would not be the case for the same fabric dyed in a mordant dye like madder. With mordant dyeing no core of white would show.

This difference is likely why the literature on indigo often describes indigo as “laying on the surface” of a fabric dyed with it. Not quite accurate, as Jeff has shown, but because indigo’s adherence is mechanical, its penetration seems often not to be complete.

Fading of an indigo-dyed fabric is the result of the small indigo molecules dropping out of the cellulose or protein bundles of the fabric. So while indigo-dyed fabric is water-fast, it is not rub fast.

Here at the end of his sections, Jeff treated two specialized points.

First, he said, there is one more indigo dye that should be mentioned. It is Indigo Sulphonic Acid, but also called “Saxon Blue” and “Indigo Carmine.” Some rug folks say “sulphonic blue.”

This is a dye that Bohmer calls the “first half-synthetic dyestuff.” It was synthesized in 1740 from indigo and concentrated sulfuric acid.

It is water soluble, but not fast (it runs or fades).

It was widely used in Persian and Turkish carpets from about 1850 to about 1910 and is for that reason sometimes seen as an approximate age marker.

The strong acid in it can damage fibers.

Jeff provided an image of its chemical structure, which is similar to indigo and indirubin.

Jeff ended with some comments on “Printing/Painting Textiles with Indigo.”

Indigo, as we have seen, oxidizes quickly when exposed to air, so unlike water soluble mordant dyes, it can’t be used in a printing or silk screening process.

But there is (or was) a dye called “pencil blue” that was made by heating finely ground indigo with orpiment and potash

“Orpiment” is arsenic sulfide As2S3 (which is highly toxic).

But with this concoction, oxidation is slowed.

“Pencil blue” can be painted into small areas of textiles.

It was used during the 18th century.

Jeff didn’t include them but there are also some rather unsavory aspects of natural dyeing with most indigo and woad.

First, the harvesting and processing was heavily dependent on cheap labor and so nearly or actual slave labor was often a part of this industry.

Second, one of the frequent ways to produce the alkaline solutions needed for fermenting was to resort to the uses of human and animal urine and feces. (The urine of young males after alcohol drinking was reputed to be especially effective.)

Third, much traditional indigo and woad processing created unpleasant smells. Queen Elizabeth I is said to have decreed that no woad plant could be located within five miles of any of her residences.

An odd fact associated with this last one one is that apparently not all processing and dyeing with indigo and woad entails such smells, or else those working with indigo and woad get used to them. Neither Jenny Balfour-Paul or Rowland Ricketts felt that the indigo they work with smells unpleasantly and the German manufacturer of synthetic indigo had to put some of the smell of the natural processing back into their product to get some dyers to use it. The dyers had become used to it and “missed” the traditional odors.

John came back, in the final part of their lecture,

to provide some examples of ” Some Uses of Blue in Rugs and Other Textiles.”

He said that the Blue exhibition, currently gracing the downstairs galleries, presents 30 carefully selected and display examples.

“But we are not constrained in some of the ways that museum curators are, and have collected our own array of such use.”

John’s first two examples were displayed in the three images below.

Textiles 1 and 2

These mummies, found in remote western China, have clothing that includes blue. The small swaddled figure is the mummy of a baby with a blue/green cap/hat and a partly blue plied tying cord. There is also blue in the adult’s leg wrappings. These mummies date from about 1,000 BC. Elizabeth Barber says that testing for the dye sources has, so far, not been permitted.

Textile 3 was a border detail from the Pazaryk pile rug, dated as early as 500 BC.

Textile 3

The Pazaryk rug has a predominant red ground, but there is use of what is known to be indigo-dyed blue in it borders. (Jenny Balfour-Paul, author of the book “Indigo,” and one of the speakers in the Blue lecture series, joked that this may be the oldest pair of indigo-dyed trousers known.)

And the potentially even more visually impressive Pazaryk felts, show definite use of blue.

Textile 4

Textile 4 is a felt horse cover in which blue is used positively in the animal figure designs.

I am going to refer frequently in my descriptions of these pieces to “positive” and “negative” uses of blue. A “positive” use of blue is one where blue is used to color particular design elements, in this case, the animal figure. A “negative” use of blue is one where blue is used in a background mode and where other colors do the figuring.

The ground color of the detail below, from a pre-Columbian burial blanket, looks a little brownish, but is actually “night-blue” cotton.

Textile 5

The use of blue as a background field color is a clear “negative” use.

This Paracus piece is estimated to have been woven 200 BC to 200 AD. It is embroidered in alpaca wool. The designs are “puma-demons,” and include the positive use of a turquoise blue and one other.

Rowland Ricketts, one of the artists who contributed to the Blue exhibition, and who dyes with indigo, said in his lecture here that brownish tendencies can result from insufficient washing after dyeing. About 40% of natural indigo, at point of dyeing, is composed of other impurities. These impurities can be washed out, but need to be. Color, Ricketts said, “blooms” with repeated washings. So this brownish cast may be the result of inadquate washing.

Textile 6, below, is a spectacular Huari tunic from Peru.

Textile 6

The piece is part of The Textile Museum collection and was featured recently on the TM web site as a “Textile of the Month.”

Here is most of the TM’s detailed description of it there:

“This tunic is made of 120 separate small pieces of cloth. The pieces were probably woven in strips over a set of scaffold yarns. Each strip was tie-dyed in one of six color combinations and two patterns: either three rows of small circles or two of larger circles. The scaffold yarns were then removed to separate the individual pieces of cloth, which were reorganized and reassembled into a tunic by sewing the pieces back together again.” The result is the pattern-breaking design that you see. “Such pattern-breaking is a hallmark of Huari textile design.”

Roman textiles are rare and most of those surviving are from Eygpt.

Textile 7

Textile 7, above, is a late 3rd century, wool, tapestry, cushion cover, probably from Alexandria. It was actually offered for sale in Hali in 1988.

Textile 8, below, is another detail of a pre-Columbian textile with highly stylized figures of gods done partly in blue.

Textile 8

It is estimated to have been woven 500-700 AD.

Textile 9, below, is a detail of a dramatic border of a 13th century Anatolian rug.

Textile 9

This is a graphically powerful use of two shades of blue.

Textile 10 is another spectacular pre-Columbian piece.

Textile 10

This is a 13-15th century Chimu feathered mantle from southern Peru, and another that is part of The Textile Museum’s collection. The feathers, are, of course, not dyed, but are the natural colors of those of the birds from which they were taken. The feathers are attached to a cotton ground. Blue is used positively, in the bird figures, and for two stripes.

Textile 11, below, is a piece of Spanish, Islamic silk, possibly 14th-15th centuries.

Textile 11

Two shades of blue are used positively as the predominant figuring colors.

Textile 12 is a 16th-17th century Chinese K’ossu tapestry.

Textile 12

“K’ossu” (also sometimes “kesi” or “cut silk”) is a very old and traditional Chinese species of silk, slit tapestry. Designs are made with weft threads. Different colored wefts are independent of one another. Ends of wefts at color changes are sewn into the fabric and the designs are the same on both sides.

In this piece, blue is used at the top in a background mode to create a “sky.” But there is positive use of two shades of blue in lower parts of the design.

Textile 12 is a particularly sumptious piece, since some of the areas in it are of silk wrapped with gold.

The piece below is a 16th century Anatolian rug with a plain, bright blue field.

Textile 13

Blue was also used in its mostly missing borders.

Textile 14 is a 16th century Ottaman silk robe

Textile 14

with blue used positively in a graphically strong lattice design.

Textile 15 is a 16th century woven linen towel from Italy.

Textile 15

Notice that there is positive use of blue in the lower section, but negative use of blue in the ones above.

Textile 16, is a 17th century Spanish carpet.

Textile 16

Blue is used negatively in the field but positively in the borders. If you look closely you may see “house” designs in the central rectangular medallion of Textile 16.

Textile 17 in an unusually colored, 17th century “garden” carpet from Kerman.

Textile 17

Blue is used positively and negatively throughout. Narrow vertical and horizontal cross-panels may suggest water.

The next textile is an 18th century, linen, resist-dyed print from France.

Textile 18

Blue is used entirely as a negative color.

Textile 19 is an 18th century Sarkhoy kilim.

Textile 19

Two shades of blue are used, both as ground colors.

Textile 20 is an 18th century, flatwoven, cushion cover from southern Sweden featuring strong graphics of a larger scale than is usual.

Textile 20

Two blues are used, effectively, especially, for punctuating purposes.

Next we encounter an elegant, 19th century Balouch main carpet.

Textile 21

At least two shades of blue are used negatively and positively.

Textile 22 below is a 19th century, cotton dhurrie from India.

Textile 22

At least two blues are used positively and negatively. The field has a “Noah’s ark” design.

The next textile is unusual. It is a 19th century Japanese “Kyogan” robe with a pictorial design and two shades of blue used negatively.

Textile 22

Kyogan is a comic variety of Japanese theater. Better known forms of Japanese theater are No and Kabuki.

Textile 23 is an Ottoman embroidered “prayer cloth,” with blue used positively in crisp design devices.

Textile 23

Here is a closer look at this embroidery.

Textile 23a

Next, is a detail of a colorful 19th century Shirvan saf.

Textile 24

Again, a little closer look.


Textile 24a

If the darkest color here is a blue, then, three blue shades are used, both positively and negatively, and with good graphic effect.

Textile 25 is an early 19th century Thracian kilim.

Textile 25

The wide, dark blue ground borders nearly overwhelm the small field area. Despite this two blues are at work in the latter, coloring small design devices.

Textile 26 is a 19th century Uzbek suzani.

Textile 26

Note: I have, since publication, received a message from Mr. Christian Erber, in Germany, saying: “Textile 26 is not a 19th century Uzbek embroidery. It’s real Ottoman, maybe from the 17th, at most from the 18th century.”  My thanks to Mr. Erber for this further indication.

Blue is used positively to color prominent design elements.

Textile 27 is a detail of a 20th century, Javanese, cotton batik.

Textile 27

At least two, but perhaps three blues are used to give this design presence and depth.

Textile 28 is another item of cotton batik from Java.

Textile 28

This lovely piece displays a delicate elephant design in which two blues are used positively.

The next piece has a little more punch.

Textile 29

This is an ikat poncho from southern Chile. Blue is used both for ground and for strong graphic elements.

Textile 30 is an item that is in the current TM Blue exhibtion.

Textile 30

It is thought to be the oldest pair of Levis known. 1890. Nobody predicted that “blue jeans,” and their offspring in a variety of colors, would be adopted worldwide or by the numbers of folks who wear them. It is said that their popularity “saved” the synthetic indigo industry.

There is something further to notice about this particular pair of Levis. During the 1950s, men’s slacks, for awhile, sported decorative “belts in the back.” I thought, then, that this was a design innovation of that time, but here it is on the oldest pair of Levis known.

Textile 31 was a striking Palestian dress.

Textile 31

This dress is silk embroidery on resist-dyed linen with applique. It was made in 1920 and is attributed to Yatta, Palestine. There is an embroidered Palestinian dress in the Blue exhibition.

Textile 32 is an attractive Anatolian felt made in the Konya area in the workshop of Mehmet Girgic in 1998.

Textile 32

I am not sure how Mr. Girgic would describe his use of blue in this graphically impactful design, but it seems to me to invite a negative reading. The lighter blue might be seen to be in a plane above that of the darker shade.

Mr. Girgic spoke to the local rug club here in the DC area (the IHBS) recently.

(You can see him and more of his felts on the IHBS web site: http://www.ihbs.org/events/04202008/04202008.htm )

The next piece, Textile 33, was an “attus”-type, Ainu robe from northern Japan.

Textile 33

Both “Ainu’ and “attus” are likely terms that need explaining.

The “Ainu” are an indigenous people of Japan, who live today in the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Ainu culture is different from Japanese culture, and the traditional clothing is different as well.

The “attus” is a coat of this style. Attus that were worn for everyday wear did not have much decoration, but those made for ceremonial wear were decorated on the back and around the sleeves.

The basic fabric is made of woven bast fibers (from a Japanese elm tree). The decorations are applique pieces embroidered in navy and black. The design on this robe is intended to ward off evil spirits.

Textile 34 is a contemporary decorative pile rug woven with handspun wools that have been dyed with natural dyes.

Textile 34

The design is a traditional one, in which two blues are employed. Notice how the effective use of the light blue in both the field and the minor borders brings light and life to this piece.

Textile 35 is another piece similar to one in the Blue exhibtion.

Textile 35

I could not resist sharing it with you here because of its dramatic presentation. Here is a closer look at about half of it.

Textile 35a

This is a resist-dyed and embroidered child’s skirt from the Miao group in southwest China. It was collected in 1995.

The next to the last piece presented in our lecture was Textile 36 below.

Textile 36

This is a cotton robe from Liberia, composed of woven blocks of blue and white with some red decoration.

The final textile image in our lecture was a rare Japanese futon cover from the Edo period. The Edo period began with the start of the 17th century and continued just past the middle of the 18th.

Textile 37

Such futon covers were patched over and over. Today, there is a small but dedicated group of collectors who seek out these rare, old pieces, regardless of cost, and others who treat them as modern abstract art.

This is the end of our lecture.

Now let’s look at some examples of the use of blue “in the fabric.”

For that you need to go on to Part 2.

https://rjohnhowe.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/jeff-krauss-and-john-howe-on-blue-in-rugs-and-other-textiles-part-2-pieces-you-could-get-your-hands-on/

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