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©Royal A rmouries Museum





Heavy metal


Imagine a metalwhich, in its freshly rolled state, has the same timeless grey and gentle sheen of a classic wool flannel, but which when heated, can turn the most beautiful shades of cham

pagne, straw, peacock blue and imperial purple.

Steel. Simple, honest steel. The metal of

Victorian Great Britain, produced in vast quanti

ties to make everything from bridges and buildings, to weaponry, transport and furniture... to yarn, fabrics and garments. A metal that can be knitted, woven, even felted and tufted. Whilst the daring and brilliant work of Henry Bessemer in the 1850s revolutionised the manufacture and enabled mass production of mild

steel in this country, steel had in fact been known

about and produced in small quantities for more

than three thousand years, valued for its extraor

dinary range of properties; flexibility strength, hardness, malleability. The ancient civilisation of the Hittites who lived in what is now Turkey, knew about and were able to manufacture a metal recorded as 'good iron' – iron with a carbonised (steel) surface, to make superior weapons and blades.

Other civilisations around the world also made

small quantities of steel, by smelting locally

gathered iron ore with different types of plant mattter, thus adding the essential 1% carbon that results in a steel alloy. Recipes were fiercely guarded and steel was often valued more highly

than its equivalent weight in bronze or copper.

In addition to being used to make blades

and weapons, steel was used on garments for its

protective qualities. Across the Mughal empire, a type of armour was developed, in which small sections of iron or steel were attached to a padded wool or cotton garment to help deflect blows during combat. The most exquisite example of this is the magnificent Elephant Armour displayed in the

Royal Armouries in Leeds. Made in the 16th

century, the elephant is clad in metal encrusted

fabric. Squares of steel attached to the cloth to

make a flexible, protective covering. Many of its 5840 platelets are decorated with chased and repoussééd flowers or animals. As with many examples of Mughal armour, the result is a brilliantly conceived, meticulously crafted, flexible outer shell, clearly inspired by natural form and function, part crocodile, part pangolin.

The function of the addition of steel and

other metals to fabric in the form of platelets and

studs has morphed over the centuries from actual to implied protection. There are many examples of studded silk and velvet garments worn on formal or royal occasions in the 18th and

19th centuries such as the ‘Coat of 1000 Nails’

also at The Royal Armouries, Leeds, that are the

decorative direct descendants of steel platelet

armour; it could even be argued that studded, leather bikers' jackets of the 1950s and 60s owe something to this ancestry – the studs offering some protection if the rider comes off his bike. Over the last 20 years, textile designers have developed ways of including steel in the structure of the cloth, rather than as an addition to its

surface. Since the 1980s, the NUNO corporation

in Japan has produced groundbreaking textiles

in which stainless steel is used in the construc

tion of both woven and knitted fabrics and as a decorative but functional surface bond, and in which iron and mild steel are used as a means to produce indelible pattern. At the forefront of these developments were textile designers Reiko Sudo, Junichi Arai, Koji Hamai and Makiko Minagawa, with examples of their work exhibited

in 'Structure and Surface – Contemporary

Japanese Textiles' in New York in 1998.





Photography by Bill Batten. Text by Clare Lewis.

Dixieland, Svenskt Tenn at Liberty, £99 per metre (inc VAT) Liberty, Regent Street, London, W1B, T:+44 (0)20 7734 1234,,







Bon Voyage, Raoul Textiles, George Smith, £169 per metre (inc VAT) George Smith, 587-589 Kings Rd, London, SW6 T:+44 (0)20 7384 1004 ,




A latter-day alchemist, American

designer Natalie Chanin constructs rich pieces from the most basic of materials - cotton jersey. Its movement and ease make jersey 'the perfect modern fabric' to Chanin, a former costume designer, who began working with it eight years ago to create

new garments from old T-shirts. “I

liked its feel, the way it looked, the

way it came together,” she recalls.

For her new couture line, Alabama Chanin, she continues to work almost exclusively with the material to create garments and textiles that sparkle with wit, ingenuity, and the occasional bead. In her refined approach to

jersey, Chanin also honours the

textile traditions of her native Florence, Alabama. “Growing up, I knew our

area was rich in cotton,” she says, but it was not until she returned home

to complete Stitch, a documentary on Southern quilt making traditions, that she learned Florence's output of cotton jersey made it 'T-Shirt Capital of the World' in the 1980s. Global outsourcing has left the town's textile industry largely defunct but Chanin is proud to produce her line locally.

In fact she moved on from her first couture line,

Project Alabama, when its production facilities moved overseas in 2006. Today, every piece in the Alabama Chanin line is stitched, embroidered, and otherwise embellished by hand in a studio based in one of Florence's former textile factories. “I'm inspired by my community,” Chanin says. This local sensibility

is felt in the running stitches along her garments'

seams that evoke Southern American quilt making

traditions and in the vegetal motifs that sprawl like

wildflowers across them. Even the warm, earthy hues of the most recent Alabama Chanin collection – off-whites, tonal blues and greens – find resonance in the fields and vast, open skies of her native state. The easy grace of Chanin's designs belies their complex construction. Signature finishes include appliquéé and reverse appliquéé, while beading and

embroidery add texture to the jersey fabric. Along the

hem of a softly structured jacket from the last collection, words such as

'Respect’, 'Replay’ and 'Revisit' are embroidered in a spirited black

script, thus rendering explicit a theme of sustainability that is implicit in all of her work. In addition to using non-toxic paints and low-impact processes, Chanin has worked from the beginning with recycled cotton jersey, a knit fabric 'upcycling' it to meet her couture sensibilities.

REPRO: Hi Res supplied DSC_3.2.20062.tif

Robert R ausch www.gascreativefuel .c om

At the heart of Chanin's work is her belief in an intimacy between the seamstresses who construct her designs and the ultimate wearer of her garments. She encourages her seamstresses to

think loving thoughts as they run their fingers along a new strand of

thread before joining it to the needle, a technique she calls, “loving

your thread”. In her new Alabama Stitch Book, Chanin notes that

this act of goodwill also helps prevent the thread from knotting. This personal approach to handicraft preserves a whisper, in the exposed seams of every Alabama Chanin piece, of the personality and poise of the original artisan. •••Cindy Forest





INDULGEtextiles to buy, collect or simply admire

15 Bird brain Designers flock together

16 Backpack basics Simple summer essentials

29 Urban jungle Let prints run wild

INDUSTRY from craft to commerce

22 New designers What happened to the new designers of yesterday

48 Heavy metalTextile designers untempered enthusiasm for steel

58 Mechanical data Jump threads and tension in the Schiffli Project

ANECDOTEtextiles that touch our lives

75 Design fileA case history of classic textiles: The Silver Studio

96 Ker pow! Power dressing

CONCEPTtextiles in fine art

25 Net and nylon Elaine Duigenan captures an artificial beauty

34 Waxing lyrical Henry Moore’s textiles

52 Walking the block The poetry of Jane Weir

62 Field workSew:Sow Jeanette Appleton on tour

ATTIRE critical reporting of fashion trends

38 Disentangling denim Serge de Nîîmes or London serge: a cloth by any other name

42 Forever in blue jeansThe fashion never fades...

56 Sweet home Alabama Natalie Chanin’s love of the South

COHABIT stunning interiors beautifully photographed

66 Higher purposeCarin Mansfield’s lofty aims

GLOBAL travel destinations and ethnographic textiles

46 The wheel turns Justin Jin compares textile workers then and now

INFORMthe latest news, reviews and exhibition listings

04 bias/contributors 05 correspondence 07 news

Trends and essential

ideas 13 sustain

Mending our ways: ethical

textiles 19 Cut flowers

An extract from the

Alabama Stitch Book

65 Guiding hand Don’t turn your nose up at souvenir handkerchiefs 86 international listings

Exhibitions, fairs and

events 90 view

Body Space

Ghada Amer

From Atoms to Patterns 95coming next

The Indian Summer issue

Textiles in full bloom 93resources Information and research

links for this issue 80subscription offer A hand woven Volga Linen

tea towel worth £10 for

every new subscriber and

renewal plus Art in Action

tickets and Virago books



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