History

Helen Louise Allen

Helen Louise Allen was a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1927 until her death in 1968. Allen was an expert in the history of textiles, interiors, and in weaving and embroidery techniques. She was a pioneer in her field, using historical and anthropological perspectives in the study of textiles. Allen had a strong interest in ethnographic textiles, building up a private textile collection to support her teaching and research. It was that collection which became the basis for the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.Within this collection includes the work of Allen herself as well as Allen’s papers, artwork, and photographs.

Helen Louise Allen wearing hat and fur coat

Helen Louise Allen as a young woman

At a young age, Allen learned needlework and weaving from the women in her family. She acquired her first loom in the second grade and made what she recalled was “an olive green pot holder.” Allen moved to Turkey with her family in the fourth grade where they stayed for many years. Here Allen began her fascination with textiles, frequenting a silk weaving shop. Allen became a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; she taught classes in the history of interiors and textiles as well as in weaving. She also conducted short courses on creative stitchery and embroidery. Many of Allen’s published works focused on the subjects of historical and ethnic textiles as well as weaving.

In 1935, Allen authored a book called American and European Handweaving which was later revised in 1939. Knowledgeable in many areas of textile design including embroidery and knitting, Allen is perhaps best known for her weaving. As an expert in weaving techniques, Allen developed her own methods for creating texture and pattern. Allen’s historical and ethnographical perspectives on textiles often times translated into her own work.

Helen Louise Allen teaching weaving students

Helen Louise Allen teaching weaving

Helen Louise Allen among a few of her textiles. Dozens of textiles are resting and draped over shelves and rolled on tubes piled on table.

Helen Louise Allen among her textiles

Helen Louise Allen standing in front of woven textile

Helen Louise Allen with textile

 

Ruth Ketterer Harris

Over the course of her life, Ruth Ketterer Harris found many ways to share her love of textiles with others. After she earned a BS (1931) in Home Economics Education and a MS (1932) in Home Economics at UW-Madison, she taught home economics at a high school until she got married. From 1943 to 1945, she served as curator of the Wisconsin State Historical Society while her husband was in military service. In the 1950s, she taught weaving at the Madison Vocational School. During these years she also taught weaving courses at UW-Madison when her close friend Helen Louise Allen was traveling. Harris’ full-time tenure at UW-Madison began in 1968 when Allen passed away and Harris was appointed the first curator of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. She continued as curator until 1977, when she retired as Curator Emeritus (Assistant Professor).

Ruth Ketterer Harris weaving at Pendarvis, Wisconsin

Ruth Ketterer Harris, namesake of the Harris lecture series, weaving at Pendarvis, Wisconsin

Ruth Ketterer Harris, first curator of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, inspecting a woven textile in early collection storage space

Ruth Ketterer Harris, first curator of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, in early collection storage space