Museum Piece II

by Alden Cole on April 13, 2014 · 0 comments

KarenTubeb&wWP1965-6: An inter-departmental exchange of classes senior year allowed students in both Apparel and Textile Design to become more familiar with one another’s discipline; a wise course considering the inter-dependence of the two in the general scheme of things. We Apparel Designers devoted a single three-hour studio session each week; to weaving first semester, then printing-on-fabric second. The aim of both classes was to create fabrics which we would use in garments made that year for Collection ’66, our final fashion show. The first weaving project was to set up a small hand-operated loom with a warp measuring 16″ wide, using very nubby thick yarns; then winding bobbins that would be inserted in shuttlecocks that would weave a woof (or weft as it is also called) into the warp. After the prep work, we hand wove a length of fabric about 2 yards long. To my memory, none of that experimental yardage ever made it into a garment; however a few swatches are still with me, in the form of small pillow-covers on my couch. The second weaving project was much more challenging: setting up a warp on an electrically-powered mechanical loom, after which department technicians would run off several yards of fabric, enough to make a complete garment. To start I combed through the department looking for fibers suitable for use as the warp. I discovered a dust-covered box filled with spools of eye-catching iridescent fibers made of fine plastic, in two colorations: blue-turquoise with mauve undertones, and opalescent with warm undertones. Mentored by my professors I mapped out a project that consumed hours of preparation: setting up a 36″ wide warp, of stripes in random widths using the two different iridescent fibers, on one of the most awe-inspiring pieces of machinery I have ever worked with. This was followed by dyeing hundreds of yards of fine wool fiber in twelve different colors, to be used as the woof; then winding those dyed fibers onto bobbins. All this was based on figuring out how to program the loom to weave off just the right amount of fabric so that the finished garment — a floor length evening dress — would start with yellow at the neckline, then gradually shift through the rainbow tones of orange into red into purple into blue into green, then back into yellow at the hem. I’m awed at how precisely this all had to be figured out in advance, so that the mechanical loom would weave off two complete lengths of the fabric; for front and back, plus sleeves, and even the shoes.

RISDfashion4WPEarly that spring, the completed fabric was cut off the loom, one of the most exciting days of my RISD career. I picked up the yardage from Textiles, proudly carried it back to the apparel department, where we took it out on the roof for viewing, I swathed my model Karen Saloomey with the finished goods, and one of our classmates preserved the moment in a candid snapshot of us. To make an already long story somewhat shorter, the dress got made. Unfortunately, Karen, for whom the garment was originally intended, was almost six feet tall, so the finished dress came to her ankles, rather than to her instep. Professor Surprenant looked around the department and suggested we try the dress on Amy van Gilder who was only 5’9″. The dress was a perfect fit on her, and she did it justice on the runway, as evidenced by last Thursday’s post, as well as my memory of the applause. And it’s possible that her runway presentation may have been responsible in part for the final honor I was accorded. At the end of the show department-head Bert Surprenant announced which two garments would be kept by the RISD museum for their costume collection, an annual distinction. I can still remember my temporary disappointment when I heard my name announced, apprising me that I was one of the two selected. I had been planning to buy the dress for myself in the annual post-Collection sale. Fortunately my classmates convinced me that to have the dress kept by the museum was probably a better fate than the one I had planned for it…

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: