A Day in Figured Velvet: Technique, Pattern, Loom was a highly informative workshop held at the TSA Conference held this summer in Washington, DC. The workshop was led by Julie Holyoke of the Lisio Foundation. She was joined by Dr. Barbara Setsu Pickett who is a velvet weaver and historian. Both instructors brought beautiful hand-woven velvets, including some small pieces for participants to dissect and analyze. Holyoke also brought informative handouts with detailed information about threads and drafting sequences. Pickett brought some of her tools and shared graphs showing how she worked out complex designs. The enthusiastic class included weavers, conservators, curators, and academics.
Velvets are some of the most complicated textiles to weave. The pile is created by a set of supplemental warps that are tensioned individually. Weavers insert special metal wires under the pile warp as they work; the wires have grooves that guide a blade when the pile is cut. Different effects are created by combining cut and uncut (looped) pile of varying lengths, as well as additional ground designs in areas with no pile. A skilled weaver might complete 16” per day, or just 5” if weaving a figured design.
During the morning, Holyoke explained the looms and tools used to weave plain and patterned (ciselé) velvets. She shared samples of different types of silk and metallic threads. Handling the silk threads revealed how seemingly subtle changes such as the twists per meter created very different threads that weavers exploit for various warps and wefts. The instructors showed a few videos of velvet weaving and gave running commentary so that we could understand the process in greater detail. A video that showcases weaving at Lisio can be viewed on Youtube.
In the afternoon, participants examined complex hand-woven velvets and spent turns trying to decipher their construction. Holyoke provided handouts with her analysis for each velvet. This was doubly helpful since it was difficult to concentrate on thread counts rather than perusing the stacks of hand-woven velvets brought by the instructors.
I want to thank Julie Holyoke and Barbara Setsu Pickett for sharing the math and magic of hand-woven velvets with us!
— By Laura Mina
Laura Mina is the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Costume and Textiles Conservation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.