Author: Mae Colburn
September is New York Textile Month! In celebration, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.
This intriguing garment made of beautiful nubby fabric is composed of panels woven to the shape of each pattern piece and joined together to form a simple jacket. Hand-woven from hand-spun wool, it is the epitome of what we recognize today as ‘slow fashion.’ With no cutting and minimal construction, it was ‘zero waste’ before ‘zero waste’ became a term in fashion.
This jacket is the creation of experimental fiber artist Ted Hallman, who studied under Finnish textile designer Marianne Strengell at Cranbrook Academy of Art before becoming head of textiles at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia and later at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto.
What makes this jacket unique is its shaping, and the diagonal elements that make the raglan sleeve. Although it’s easy enough to make a shaped pattern piece in knitting (called ‘full fashioned’), it’s difficult in weaving where warp and weft combine into a rectangular loom length. More often than not, these rectangular pieces are cut to fit the contours of the body, and what remains is cast aside as waste.
Today, an estimated fifteen to twenty percent of the fabric used to produce clothing winds up in landfills, an issue that a burgeoning ‘zero waste’ movement is attempting to redress though creative patterning solutions and the sophisticated re-use of scraps. Hallman seems to have avoided this issue by weaving individual pattern pieces on a simple loom that allowed him to create a shaped woven garment with no cutting, no hems, and no waste.
Created in 1960, Hallman’s jacket reflects the revival of interest in traditional garment construction techniques that accompanied social movements in the 1960s and 70s, reflected in the popularity of tunics, kaftans, and dashikis in American dress. Here we might also refer to Dorothy K. Burnham’s Cut my Cote (1973), a terrific little book that illustrates traditional garment construction techniques with diagrams of garments in the Royal Ontario Museum. Most are rectangular, made so that no trace of the precious cloth went to waste.
The wisdom of this precedent could not be more prescient today as the textile and garment industries grapple with real issues of over-production and over-consumption. In an interesting twist, Hallmann’s jacket was featured in a 1962 exhibition titled Fabrics International at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York, which aimed to rally textile designers towards mass production. “Faced with our complex growth and social changes,” wrote the exhibition organizers, “the need for a one hundred percent increase in the production of fabrics of all kinds is evident. The problem which faces us today is that of more.” Featured alongside chemist-concocted plastic meshes and fabric experiments in stainless steel, Hallmann’s jacket seems to speak from the wisdom of ages and tell us: less is more.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher and writer. She is a part-time lecturer at Parsons School of Design and member of the weaving and design collective ‘friends of light.’