DOUBLE DEALING TEXTILES
WHEN BEING TWO-FACED IS A GOOD THING
Our new Switcheroo Bandana features a diagonal split that inverts the dominant color and allows the wearer to switch between a light or dark kerchief. Above you can see the original historical inspiration for our design; a silk Bengali handkerchief. This piece was block-printed with a diagonally split floral pattern and made for American export in the early 19th century.
I like the idea one cloth bearing opposite characteristics simultaneously. Especially appealing is when this duality extends the versatility of an item. With this theme in mind, I began to look for more cases of textile double-dealing.
Read on for five examples of “two-faced” textiles from around the globe. The impetus behind the development of each ranges from economic or practical to aesthetic and even religious.
A FOLD-OVER CHINESE SHAWL
This masterpiece of Chinese embroidery is dated between 1885 and 1910. The arrangement of the embroidered elements divide the shawl in half and allowed the wearer to choose between a poly-chrome side or monochrome, expanding the possibilities of fashionable pairings. The embroidery is executed in silk and gilded metallic threads. Shawls in this style were often created for export to the European market.
2. WELSH BLANKETS
Welsh blankets or ‘tapestry blankets’ are a traditional woolen textiles from Wales, UK. They are woven in a double-cloth structure that makes them reversible and plush. The color palette inverts from ‘front’ to ‘back’. Although the woolen industry in Wales has greatly fluctuated over the centuries, these double woven blankets have continued to be a mainstay. Geometric patterns first developed in the 1700s are still being produced in Welsh woolen mills today.
3. SUMMER-WINTER COVERLETS
A second example of a reversible blanket is the Appalachian-American coverlet. One specific style of coverlet is the “summer and winter” which employs two fibers, cotton and wool, with the idea that one bed-covering could be used all year around. The weave structure creates one side that is wool dominant- (the winter side) and the opposite side that is cotton dominant (summer). These coverlets were produced both professionally and in family homes from the 1700s through the early 20th century.
Another textile that employs the benefit of two fibers is mashru (or mashroo). Thought to have developed in west Asia around the 19th century, this fabric is woven with silk warps and cotton wefts which are spaced so that the outer face is silk and the inside is cotton. Mashru was developed for Muslim communities who believed that silk should not touch the skin. The combination fabric gave the wearer freedom to don fine and vibrant silk clothing without breaking religious rules. Mashru means “permitted” Arabic and misru means “mixed” in Sanskrit. The fabric has long been woven in India, primarily Gujarat, for local and foreign demand. Mashru remains popular for reasons beyond religion, as it is both an economical and comfortable way to wear silk in warm climates.
Perhaps one of the most familiar reversible fabrics is damask known for it’s expressive patterns formed in the weaving. This prevalence is probably because the fabric has been traded widely since the early-middle ages when it was developed by the Byzantine empire. The name ‘damask’ derives from the city of Damascus, a capital of trade, textile production, and part of the silk road. Damasks can be multi colored but are often monochrome; the pattern appearing in the contrasting shiny and matte areas of the cloth.
I hope you enjoyed these examples of two-faced textiles from around the world. Is there a fabric doing double duty in your life? I’d love to know about it, please share in the comments!