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Jonathan Stephenson

Type of strong, substantial cloth originally made of hemp (Cannabis sativa, from which it takes its name) but more likely to be of a coarse flax or tightly woven linen; similar textiles of cotton or jute are also called canvas. A cloth type rather than a specific cloth, with varied practical applications, canvas is important as a material used for making painting supports. ‘Canvas’ has therefore come to mean not only the raw cloth but also a piece of fabric mounted on a stretching frame and prepared for use in painting or a finished painting, usually in oils, painted on a textile support.

Canvas is most often a plainly woven cloth with a weft that passes alternately under and over each warp thread. The warp and weft are usually of equal strength, but the tightness of the weave may vary: substantial canvases might have coarse, robust threads, loosely woven, or fine ones tightly packed together. The weave affects the stability of the cloth, the ease with which it can be prepared for painting and the texture (tooth) that the prepared surface presents. The choice of canvas, although often based on practicalities, therefore has an influence on the final appearance of the painting. The more complex twill weaves sometimes used for canvas produce a pronounced surface pattern either of parallel diagonal lines or of a herringbone design. Such cloth is a particular feature of the work of ...


Ksynia Marko

See also Tapestry

For the purposes of conservation, it is necessary to place tapestries in a category of their own. There are several reasons for this. Tapestries have always been expensive and highly valued, especially since they often incorporate fine silk and metal threads. The skill of manufacture and pictorial subject matter, together with the fact that they were designed by such well-known artists as David Teniers (ii) and William Morris, have given them a cultural significance and monetary value more commonly associated with paintings than with textiles. From a practical point of view, certain characteristics of the tapestry-weaving technique, along with the great size and weight of many hangings, give rise to specific problems that need to be dealt with by specialist conservators. In addition, the space, equipment, and skill required in handling a delicate object that can measure as much as 4–6 m high and 10 m long, and the difficulties of maintaining a consistent standard of workmanship throughout a single treatment that might last many months or even years, mean that tapestry conservation has to some extent evolved as a separate discipline....


Sheila Landi

The fragments of ancient textiles recovered from bogs and burials around the world are among the first signs of the technological developments that are the basis of modern civilization. However, they have not always been treated with the respect they deserve, and much information has been lost through indifference on the part of archaeologists and dealers, and even some museum curators who were blind to the cultural significance of textiles. Increasing industrial pollution created by that very same civilization put at risk objects that were at last being recognized as of great historical interest when most museums were short of space and money, and provision for textiles was often particularly poor and overcrowded. As we advance into the 21st century, attitudes towards textiles have changed for the better, but there is still much to be done to encourage investment in the preservation of artifacts that are especially vulnerable to environmental fluctuations, the wear and tear of ordinary use, and poor storage conditions....



Natalie Rothstein

Fibre made from the long, soft hairs (lint) surrounding the seeds of the cotton plant (Gossypium). In the right climate (temperate to hot), cotton is easy to grow; it is also cheap to harvest and easily packed into compact bales for transport and export. Indigenous to India (see Indian subcontinent §VII 2., (i)), the Sudan and Ethiopia, it was later grown in Egypt, China (see China, People’s Republic of §XIII 1., (i)), western Central Asia (see Central Asia §I 6., (i), (b)), North America and elsewhere. Cotton is a very versatile fibre: used alone it can produce very fine, light and quite strong textiles (lawn and muslin), and used alone or in combination with other fibres it can make extremely durable and heavy fabrics (e.g. for use in bedspreads, rugs and carpets). It takes dyestuffs very well and can be painted or printed with designs. The first mention of cotton is in the ...



Carved, moulded or painted ornament representing a chain or loop of fruit, flowers or leaves, suspended at both ends and often represented as bound with ribbons. It is sometimes distinguished from a swag, which may be defined as a piece of cloth or drapery hung in the same shape and also widely used as a decorative device in architecture and decoration. The device originated in Classical antiquity, when festoons of real fruit were hung between the skulls of slaughtered sacrificial animals and the sacrificial instruments. Later the festoon was applied as carved decoration to temple friezes and became part of the repertory of motifs used in secular architecture. The device has been widely applied in revivals of the classical style in architecture, interior decoration and, particularly from the 17th century, as an ornament on furniture, carpets, pottery and plate. Its forms are always slightly altered according to the prevailing taste and range from rich and elaborate clustered festoons of the Baroque period to the light and flowing festoons of the Neo-classical. In the Renaissance the festoon became one of the chief decorative motifs; instead of animal skulls or bucrania, ribbons, rosettes, masks and figures were incorporated into the design. The festoon was also popular during the Neo-classical period and was a frequent decorative feature of interiors by ...


D. M. Mitchell

Self-patterned, fine white linen that has been used in western Europe since the 15th century for tablecloths, napkins and handtowels. Initially, these figured linens were described in various ways, but in England by the mid-16th century they were classed, notably in probate inventories, as either ‘diaper’ or ‘damask’. This classification was descriptive rather than technical, ‘diaper’ and ‘damask’ being differentiated solely on the complexity of the pattern: small repeat patterns, often of a geometrical form, were described as ‘diaper’ and figurative patterns with longer repeats as ‘damasks’.

Diaper and damask are both ‘float’ or ‘self-patterned’ weaves, and it is the warp or weft threads ‘floating’ unbound over two or more weft or warp threads that catch the light and reveal the figure. The three basic binding systems, tabby, twill and satin (see Textile, §II, 1, (ii)), were all used for float weaves. A few figured linens with tabby bindings survive, probably what were described in the 17th century as ‘...


Sandra Sider

Abbreviation for ‘optical art’, referring to painting, prints, sculpture, and textiles exploiting the optical effects of visual perception. The term entered American art vocabulary in 1964, referring especially to two-dimensional structures with strong psychophysiological effects. The reasons for these effects had been explained in three 19th-century treatises: Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Zur Farbenlehre (The Theory of Colors; 1810); Michel-Eugène Chevreul’s De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs (Simultaneous Contrast of Colors; 1839); and Hermann von Helmholtz’s Physiologische Optik (Physiological Optics; 1855–66).

See also Op art.

Painting was transformed after the mid-19th century, once artists understood the three-receptor theory of vision, and how the mind—not the eye—creates colour. The optical experiences in Op art include after-images, line interference, reversible perspective, chromatic vibration, ambiguous forms, and sculptural superimpositions. Op art awakens questions in the viewer concerning the perceptive processes: ‘As we stand before Op paintings that resist our understanding, we introduce ourselves to our unconscious selves’ (exh. cat. ...




Gary Urton

[khipu; Quecha: “knot”]

Knotted string constructions made of cotton or camelid (llama or alpaca) fibers that were the principal devices used for record keeping in the Inka Empire of Pre-Columbian South America. The typical structure of a quipu is built on a multistrand spun and plied cord, called a primary cord, that usually has a radius of around a half-centimeter and an average length of some 85 cm. Thinner spun and plied cords, called pendant strings/cords, are knotted onto the primary cord. When the primary cord is suspended between the hands, the pendant cords hang pendant. Quipus have been found with as few as 2 and as many as 1500 pendant strings. Secondary, or subsidiary, cords may be tied onto pendant strings, while some carry third-, fourth-, and up to sixth-order subsidiaries. Thus, the structure of quipus may be likened to rhizomes, with linear and horizontal stems from which roots shoot downwards.

The pendant strings of quipus are usually knotted in complex patterns, most commonly with clusters of knots in tiers (about a palm’s width apart) down the length of the strings. In the majority of quipus, the tiered knot clusters signified numerical values in the base-10 (decimal) place value system used by Inka cord keepers—called ...



Amy McNair, Jane Casey Singer, Jyotindra Jain, and Claire Illouz

Roll of cloth or paper with written text and/or decoration. This article discusses the scroll in Asia; for Western scrolls, see Roll. The scroll format developed independently in several regions of Asia. Its advantages over other pictorial formats, such as screens and murals, are portability, durability and ease of storage. Scrolls were first made in China c. the 1st–2nd century ad. The form was transmitted to Korea and Japan with Buddhism in the 4th and 6th century. Scrolls exist in two forms: the handscroll or horizontal scroll (Chin. shoujuan; Jap. emakimono) and the hanging or vertical scroll (Chin. lizhou; Jap. kakemono). The handscroll is read from right to left, being unrolled to the left one arm’s length at a time, while the right-hand portion is loosely re-rolled inwards. When finished it is carefully rolled back to the right. The hanging scroll is completely unrolled when on display. Similar in design to East Asian hanging scrolls are ...



Jonathan Stephenson

Surface object or substance that carries a two-dimensional work of art, in particular a painting, drawing or print. Thus, in the case of a painting on canvas, the cloth and the frame over which it is stretched are together considered the support.

To be technically correct, a support should be carefully differentiated from its Ground, that is any preparatory layer that renders the surface of the support suitable for receiving paint or other media. However, it is not always practical or necessary to prepare the surface; in some cases, the same substance may both act as a support and provide the ground. Paper is a good example: the type of fibre in it, the sizing and introduced colouring, if any, all affect the performance of the paper as a ground, but they are also part of its structure and therefore its role as a support. This is most obvious with transparent watercolour, where the brilliance of the colour washes depends on the lightness of the underlying paper acting as a ground, but it applies equally to other media, where paper is the support and no separate ground is applied. Niceties of definition occur with ...



Jane L. Merritt, Doris Goerner, Natalie Rothstein, Santina M. Levey, and Deryn O’Connor

Fabric composed of any form of pliable fibre held together by such techniques as weaving, felting, plaiting, looping etc. The following survey describes the technical aspects of textile production. Detailed information on the history of textile use can be found in this dictionary within country and civilization surveys under the headings ‘Textiles’ and ‘Other arts’.

See also Conservation for Textiles

D. Burnham: Weft and Warp: A Textile Terminology (Toronto, 1980)A. Seiler-Baldinger: Systematik der Textilen Techniken (Basle, 1991; Eng. trans. Washington, DC, 1994)J. Harris, ed.: 5000 Years of Textiles (London, 1993)E. Hardouin-Fugier, B. Berthod and M. Chavent-Fusaro: Les étoffes: Dictionnaire historique ([Paris, 1994])M. C. Tubbs: Textile Terms and Definitions: Compiled by the Textile Institute Textile Terms and Definitions Committee (Manchester, 10/1995)P. Tortora, ed.: Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles (New York, 1996)J. Gillow and B. Sentence: World Textiles: A Visual Guide to Traditional Techniques (London, 1999)M. Schoeser...