Mission & History

Mission

Design Studies MFA student Mali Mrozinski researching WPA Milwaukee Handicrafts Project textiles. Block printed wall hanging, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1935-1943, HLATC P.D.US.0030 Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, Spring 2014.

We think of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, Ruth Ketterer Harris Library, and Lynn Mecklenburg Reading Room as places of discovery. They prompt new knowledge and insights through the study of textiles related to clothing and interiors. Textiles open doors to learn about people’s lives: their relationships, values, creativity and craftsmanship. They cause us to see our world differently and inspire creativity. We invite you to discover and create your own stories.

Our Services

Our Facilities

  • Environmentally-controlled storage and workroom space in which current conservation standards are practiced
  • Classroom space welcoming classes, groups, and researchers to study textiles up close
  • Window displays and pull-out drawers in Lynn Mecklenburg Reading Room feature student and faculty work and showcase collection objects in interpretive exhibitions
  • The Ruth Ketterer Haris Library houses an extensive collection of books and journals devoted to the study of textiles and design

2015 Newsletter

History

Helen Louise Allen
Helen Louise Allen wearing hat and fur coat

Helen Louise Allen as a young woman

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.

 

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 students

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 a few of 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 Library, 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