Tut, Tut, Tut

When the tomb of King Tut was discovered in 1922, it ignited a worldwide craze for Egyptian Revival Jewelry. The discovery, along with the translation of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, helped bring Egyptomania to a fever pitch in the West. But this interest in ancient civilizations dates back much further than these events, originating with the French Revolution and Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt. During his time in Egypt, the French monarch studied archaeology as a science and made many

Egyptian scarab beetle, a symbol of wealth

discoveries. When he returned to France, he brought home a treasure trove of inspiration.  Napoleon continued to pursue an interest in Egypt and its ancient history.

This interest in Egypt spread to Europe and influenced not only the design of a wide range of products, but also the way we see and think about architecture, music, and art. It even permeated the fashion industry. Jewelry became a popular form of expression that reflected an individual’s interest in Egypt’s ancient culture. A lotus flower was often depicted in jewelry, with its symbolic association with the Sun god Aman-Ra. The ankh, a hieroglyph for life, was also an important motif in Egyptian jewelry. The Ba, a bird-like aspect of the ‘soul’ that could travel out of the tomb after death, was another key symbol in Egyptian culture. These motifs were used in many styles of jewelry, from heavy gold shield shaped brooches and earrings of the Victorian period to the more refined ‘Art Deco’ pieces that are still in vogue today.

Cloisonné enamel was also very popular among jewelers and was frequently used in the depiction of Egyptian motifs. The motifs, including ram’s head and scarab beetles, were also often carved in precious and semiprecious gemstones, for example, sapphire and lapis lazuli, which the ancients believed would protect the wearer from evil. In the late 19th century, when the craze for Egyptian motifs reached its peak, jewelers were not attempting to recreate ancient Egyptian motifs as accurately as they had done in the past, but rather to adapt them to a modern style. The Egyptian Revival movement was an apt name for this refined mash-up of two different eras and a fusion of artistic technique. Continue reading “Tut, Tut, Tut”

Programming Fashion

Weaving fibers to form a fabric has been a part of human existence since ancient times. Weaving is the process of interlacing longitudinally oriented warp threads with horizontally oriented weft threads to form a woven fabric. Weaving is performed on a loom, a device arranged to hold warp threads under tension while allowing the weft threads to be sequentially added to them, to produce a fabric. The relative movement and positioning of the warp and weft threads during the weaving process results in a sequence of thread placements that together form a pattern in the finished fabric. To change patterns, the sequence of thread placements must be modified, a traditionally labor and time intensive process. Through the centuries, looms have had a variety of configurations, but their basic function has remained the same.

Loom technology has seen a variety of innovations throughout history in a continuous effort to make fabric production faster, easier, and more cost-effective. The Jacquard machine invented by French weaver Joseph-Marie Jacquard (born 1752 in Lyon, France) revolutionized the field of weaving. His invention, which uses punch cards to represent a desired sequence of thread placements during operation of the loom, greatly reduced the labor involved in the process of weaving. Jacquard designed a device that would be attached to a loom to control the placement of individual warp threads according to a pre-set progression of steps represented and controlled by a pattern of holes in each of a set of punch cards. This allowed looms to not only produce complex textile patterns such as brocade, damask, and lace, but also to be changed quickly from one pattern to another. By simply exchanging a first set of punch cards for a second set of punch cards, the loom could be reprogrammed to produce a new fabric pattern. Jacquard looms are used for weaving all sorts of intricate patterned textiles. They could be programmed to weave a single pattern fabric or a combination of patterns with different colors. Continue reading “Programming Fashion”

From Home-Made to Store-Bought Fashion

Fashion is a way of creating new and distinctive designs that can be worn by different people in different settings. It is often a reflection of the times in which it is created, but it can also be influenced by, technology, culture, even religion. Before the mid-19th century, most clothing was home-made.  Occasionally, a village dressmaker was available to make a made-to-measure dress.  The wealthy often employed seamstresses who dealt directly, and often exclusively, with their patron. The rapid mechanization of fabric production led to the appearance of ready-to-wear stores that provided the middle classes an opportunity to move away from home-made garments.

Aniline dye printed fabrics were used for many of the garments that were produced in this period. They were woven according to a manufacturing method that caused the dyes to run down the surface of the fabric. This made the garments more textured and interesting.  The process created fabrics that contrasted with the smoother, lighter-colored cottons and linens that were also popular at the time. Aniline dyes could also be applied to other materials to give them a more sophisticated appearance. One example is aniline colored velvet which was very popular through the 1890’s. It was made in a range of colors, from soft pink to dark red and sometimes bright purple. The Aniline colored velvet was a soft, comfortable fabric that clung to the body, revealing the wearer’s shape, and giving it an attractive drape. It was especially popular for evening dresses. Velvet was made in a range of textures, from fine to coarse. It was usually trimmed with delicate embroidery, lace, ribbons and beading. Continue reading “From Home-Made to Store-Bought Fashion”

Color My World: Aniline Dyes in Fashion

The past centuries have seen a variety of cultural and technological shifts, and the fashion world has followed suit. These changes have also had a profound impact on the way we dress.  In the 19th century, the commercialization of newly discovered aniline dyes for printed fabrics had a profound impact on fashion. The use of these synthetic dyes changed the way we colored fabrics, allowing manufacturers to scale up production. Aniline dyes made it easy for manufacturers to print on a wide range of fabric types all with consistent hue and tone of the color between batches. This allowed for the reemergence of the dyeing industry, which was formerly languishing because of its long dependency on expensive naturally derived pigments. Continue reading “Color My World: Aniline Dyes in Fashion”

From Coal Tar to Couture: The Discovery of Aniline Dyes and The Effect Upon Fashion

Around 1856 an 18-year-old British chemist named William Henry Perkin changed the world of fashion forever.  He had been performing experiments seeking to replace the natural anti-malarial drug quinine. Instead of the colorless powder he had expected, he found that oxidizing aniline, a coal tar derivative, produced a reddish powder containing something far more exciting: an intense purple. Fashion would never be the same!  This discovery led to the wide commercial availability of low cost, brightly colored fabrics that would be available to all. It also marked the beginning of a hugely profitable business. Continue reading “From Coal Tar to Couture: The Discovery of Aniline Dyes and The Effect Upon Fashion”

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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