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February 9, 2019 4:22 PM   Subscribe

A "19th-century prayer book woven entirely from silk on a Jacquard loom" is currently on display in Baltimore. The pages are black, grey and white images woven in silk lampas, using some unknown but high number of punch cards to drive the loom.

It won a grand prize at the 1889 World's Fair, probably in recognition of the technical excellence several years in the making, since the images themselves are mostly facsimiles from engraved copies of medieval manuscripts.

Livre de Prières tissé d'après les enluminures des manuscrits du XIVe au XVI siecle., 1886, produced by R.P.J Hervier, J. A. Henry, and A. Roux.
posted by clew (16 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
This image is 1870 cm^2 and uses about 24,000 cards, so about 13 cards per cm^2. That's gotta be a lot of cards. I wonder at what DPI it's weaved.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:56 PM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Whut, d d d dang

unpacking the labor conditions required to produce these cards which result in an extremely legible Victorian document imitating medieval books and possibly inadvertently simultaneously mocking, schooling, and proving the contentions of the Arts and Crafts proto-socialists would seem to be of value to me I would say
posted by mwhybark at 5:35 PM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Spitballing the DPI... Per RobotVoodooPower's link the image was 55 x 34 cm, or about 290 square inches. 24000 cards with 1000 positions per card suggest 24M dots, or roughly 83,000 dots per square inch. That works out to 288 dpi.

I could be wrong though. Is it true that 1 position in the card = 1 dot in the image? And are the dots square? I read somewhere else that each card was a full row of an image, but then that would give a 1:24 aspect ratio of dots for an image that's about 3:5. That seems unlikely.
posted by Nelson at 5:42 PM on February 9, 2019

So beautiful! Thank yo for posting this.

140 ends per inch is a pretty normal sett for 120/2 silk (which is pretty wispy thread). Sewing thread, by comparison, wants 45-60 epi. I have never personally encountered or seen for sale, but have heard of, 240/2 silk which is half the diameter and presumably wants to be sett at 280 epi.

But also the lampas weave structure uses, I think, 8 ends and four weft picks per block (smallest unit pattern) -- two for pattern and two for ground, and the pattern weft is heavier than than the ground weft, so things get complicated pretty quickly for the napkin math.

I can confirm though, that one card has to contain all the lift information for one whole row of the image -- each weft gets thrown all the way across.
posted by janell at 6:48 PM on February 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

That is really cool! I wish I had seen it earlier; a number of my recently deceased mother’s friends were at her house today to see if they could use any of her fiber arts stuff and they would have loved this. Will have to remember to show it to them next time I see them.
posted by TedW at 8:21 PM on February 9, 2019

simultaneously mocking, schooling, and proving the contentions of the Arts and Crafts proto-socialists would seem to be of value to me I would say

The conditions in the French textile mills that produced this type of artifact spawned one of the earliest labor movements. But yeah, we visited a William Morris exhibition last week, which included a small embroidered tapestry produced by Jane Morris and their daughter May, and the leisure time required to produce such an object cause the purported political goals of the movement to ring false.
posted by St. Oops at 11:16 PM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

So totally like the 1-bit artwork and fonts created on the original Macintosh (MacPaint, HyperCard, etc.).
posted by D.C. at 12:44 AM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, neat!
posted by carter at 5:36 AM on February 10, 2019

Except, St. Oops, that the Jacquard technology was the super-speedy and labor-saving improvement over the drawloom or pickup. In the drawloom scheme, the same pattern would require a second loom operator to indivually locate and pull the drawcords for every thread on the pattern weft picks. Once they were ready, the other weaver could finally throw the shuttle.
Pickup is even slower - the weaver has to play the game of manually manipulating individual threads to create a custom shed (gap to throw the shuttle through).
The Jacquard loom took programming, and they can be fussy machines, but this piece demonstrates more than anything how *fast* and *easy* it was to create intricately figured cloth by machine instead of by hand labor.
posted by janell at 10:05 AM on February 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

For that matter, Jane and May Morris were not doing embroidery in their leisure time, they were skilled members of a workshop and family firm. It's especially blind to ignore May Morris' arts education and subsequent management, design, and political work. (Although Jane's early-adulthood, class-crossing self-reinvention is more impressive to me.)
posted by clew at 10:43 AM on February 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

About the OP, it's such a pity the cards were lost and we don't seem to know much about the card-designer. Was it all done tediously crossing by crossing, or did he manage to make `subfunctions' for (e.g.) letters or repeated foliations, or something to make copying the original image easier (tracing, bitting, ...?...). The actions aren't completely independent along either warp or weft lines AFAICT, did he systematize looking for too-long floats and other unacceptable sub-patterns? Etc etc etc.

Nowadays you can get a color photo woven into a one-off actual tapestry, which is mindblowing by historical standards.
posted by clew at 10:54 AM on February 10, 2019

The lampas structure has stitching ends - it takes care of float length - so you can just design with it, clew.
posted by janell at 11:03 AM on February 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am so delighted when you bring the weaving knowledge, janell! Thanks!
posted by clew at 11:31 AM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this, I swang by the Walters yesterday just to see it! Awesome
posted by ServSci at 3:10 AM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jane and May Morris were not doing embroidery in their leisure time, they were skilled members of a workshop and family firm.

This this this. So many people, including scholars, ignore Jane Morris's professional skill at her own art and craft in favour of her status as Pre-Raphaelite muse.

The art world, of course, has historically devalued textile art because of its association with women. When Charles Worth started designing dresses, when Morris started designing textiles, they became famous for it, unlike the majority of women who'd spent centuries doing the same work.

But up until embroidery machines became commonplace in the nineteenth century, hand embroidery was an industry in its own right, and the people who produced it were professionals.
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:02 AM on February 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Speaking as an amateur weaver, may I just say HOLY SHIT.
posted by corvikate at 1:27 PM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

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