Metallic and silk thread on linen, 1400-1499, Italy
By Austin Morrow, a third-year student in Design Studies, studying Textiles and Fashion Design.
This fifteenth-century Catholic chasuble from the northeastern shore of Italy is an incredible example of many different art forms. A chasuble is a part of the vestment, or ceremonial dress, of a Catholic priest worn during Mass. It is the top layer of the ensemble and is often ornate to celebrate the glory of God. Information about the specifics of the piece is sparse due to its age, but the time and expertise required to create this garment is obvious to anyone that sees it. The band that runs down the center of the piece is covered almost completely in embroidery. The particular method used for this embroidery is couching: a method in which one lays down pieces of thread in a pattern and sews another thread over them to hold them in place or couch them. This method is most commonly used for metallic threads, like the delicate gold threads that cover most of the embroidered band. This method also makes the beautiful painting-like use of the threads possible because it allows for more fluid, clean lines much more easily than other forms of embroidery.
Another equally impressive aspect of this piece that might be easily overlooked is the velvet. This gorgeous silk velvet has a design etched into the pile. In modern times, this effect is not often acknowledged as an art form because we use a process called devoré, or burnout. Devoré uses chemicals to burn the design into the velvet, which makes it relatively easy to create. The method used at the time that this garment was created involved cutting the pile in order to create a design. This method was long and painstaking, requiring a great deal of precision and expertise.
This artifact is a truly impressive example of the mastery of several different art forms. It serves as an excellent representation of the importance and vastness of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, combining historical significance with an incredible show of technique. It allows us as students to learn from and interact with history in a way that can inspire our own creations as well as connect us with the past.
Discover more information about this piece in the SoHE Digital Collection.
This article is one in a yearlong series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.
In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launches 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 begins 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.