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Portal:Textile arts

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Introduction

Textile arts in ancient Egypt

Textile arts are arts and crafts that use plant, animal, or synthetic fibers to construct practical or decorative objects.

Textiles have been a fundamental part of human life since the beginning of civilization, and the methods and materials used to make them have expanded enormously, while the functions of textiles have remained the same. The history of textile arts is also the history of international trade. Tyrian purple dye was an important trade good in the ancient Mediterranean. The Silk Road brought Chinese silk to India, Africa, and Europe. Tastes for imported luxury fabrics led to sumptuary laws during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The Industrial Revolution was a revolution of textiles technology: the cotton gin, the spinning jenny, and the power loom mechanized production and led to the Luddite rebellion.

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Tulip and Willow by William Morris, 1873
Credit: William Morris

Woodblock printing on textiles is the process of printing patterns on textiles, usually of linen, cotton or silk, by means of incised wooden blocks. It is the earliest, simplest and slowest of all methods of textile printing.

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Moses H. Cone (seated) and brother Ceasar Cone
Moses H. Cone (18571908) was a textile entrepreneur, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age who was active in the southern United States. He began his career in sales and becamne an innovator who offered finished clothing, which was unusual in an era when textiles were normally sold as unfinished cloth, and carried unusual fabrics such as denim. Cone founded a company that became a leading manufacturer of denim and became a supplier to Levi Strauss and Company. A century after his death, the firm he founded remains in business supplying denim for Levis jeans. Mr. Cone and his wife had no children and donated substantial property upon their deaths. Their home Flat Top Manor has become a North Carolina tourist attraction that receives 25,000 visitors a year. It forms part of Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, which is run by the National Park Service. Their donations founded the Moses Cone Health System, a private nonprofit health care system based in Greensboro, North Carolina and its principal facility Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital.

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Brocaded silk designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite

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Silk worm cocoon
The history of silk begins, according to Chinese tradition, in the 27th century BC, and its use was confined to China until the Silk Road opened at some point during the latter half of the first millennium BC. China maintained its virtual monopoly over silk for another thousand years. Not confined to clothing, silk was also used for a number of other applications, including writing, and the colour of silk worn was an important indicator of social class during the Tang dynasty. Silk cultivation spread to Japan in around 300 AD, and by 522, the Byzantines managed to obtain silkworm eggs and were able to begin silkworm cultivation. The crusades brought silk production to Western Europe, in particular to many Italian states, which saw an economic boom exporting silk to the rest of Europe. Changes in manufacturing techniques also began to take place during the Middle Ages, with devices such as the spinning wheel first appearing. The Industrial Revolution changed much of Europe’s silk industry. Due to innovations in spinning cotton, it became much cheaper to manufacture and therefore caused more expensive silk production to become less mainstream. An epidemic of several silkworm diseases caused production to fall, especially in France, where the industry never recovered. In the 20th century, Japan and China regained their earlier role in silk production, and China is now once again the world’s largest producer of silk. The rise of new fabrics such as nylon reduced the prevalence of silk throughout the world, and silk is now once again a somewhat rare luxury good, much less important than in its heyday.

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Charles Dickens
"Is that his child?" said Madame Defarge, stopping in her work for the first time, and pointing her knitting-needle at little Lucie as if it were the finger of Fate.
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