Woven sample and pattern, 20th century, textile and paper, 8 ½ x 11 in.
Amanda Thatch is a second year MFA candidate in Design Studies in the School of Human Ecology.
The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (HLATC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison contains many beautiful and astounding objects. There is also, however, a far less formal collection of objects that co-mingle teaching materials from careers of Helen Louise Allen, who taught textiles at UW from 1928 until her death in 1968, and her colleague Ruth Ketterer Harris. These items, stored in a few office boxes, contain items such as magazine clippings, class notes, and mimeographed worksheets. There are also several batches of textile swatches, showing samples in knitting, lace, and hand weaving.
Among the items in these boxes, which hold the leftovers of nearly 40 years of textile teaching, a piece of cardstock with materials attached to both sides. On one side are two bands of woven fabric, arranged one above the other, each a few inches tall. A dark green pattern sits on a background striped with horizontal bands of brick red, orange, and turquoise. On the other side is a piece of blue graph paper where handwritten notes surround a central area with sequentially filled boxes. At the top of the page is a heading that says “Summer and Winter, Atwater p. 234 –No. 221 –Slate and Rose.” Mary Meigs Atwater was a major influence in the revival of hand weaving in the United States, as a collector and publisher of weaving patterns. On page 234 of the 1928 edition of Atwater’s famous compilation of pattern drafts and instruction, The Shuttlecraft Book of American Hand-Weaving, the pattern “Slates and Roses”is illustrated with a draft matching the sample from the HLATC.
Even for accomplished weavers like Helen Allen, simply seeing the pattern in a book was only the beginning of understanding it. What began with a purely visual and abstract experience of the weaving draft in published form was, in this sample, replicated on graph paper in hand writing, using a personal organizational system to reframe the information. For Allen and Harris, having an actual swatch to examine and handle would have been an imperative part of teaching students to become expert judges of textiles. This summer and winter weaving sample is one example of using several forms of technical and sensory information to teach students how to glean information at many different phases of textile production, from the instructions to the final cloth.
In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched 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 began 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.