It is time for an update on our Joe Wood Boston Garter rug project. So far the weaving map has been made and all the wool and art silk has been dyed to our specifications. This means that we are at the stage where the hard part begins–and in this case we are depending upon the expertise of India’s women crackerjacks to tie the actual knots. Everything looks great to this point, doesn’t it? I’ll try to find out the names of the women here. Note: we are looking at the back of the rug.
If you are like me–and I’m sure that you are–every time you’ve ever walked across a hand-knotted rug you’ve asked yourself, “Gee, I wonder how they know where to put each color of thread?” The answer is that a map is produced before a single knot has been tied. These color maps are usually called “cartoons”. Here is the cartoon of our Joe Wood rug.
A great deal of planning goes into a hand-knotted rug before it even gets on the loom. First, of course, the basic design is agreed upon and colors that will be needed are selected. In our case the design will be based upon our Boston Garter Joe Wood art card. A true four-color is not possible with jacquard and so representational art, such as our Wood, is usually not attempted. With endless varieties of beautiful geometric designs readily available to the weavers that we will work with, there is usually little point in attempting to convey subjects as difficult as as subjective as the human face. However, this is Helmar and we always seem to be pushing the envelope.
Two issues are of immediate concern. In order to accomplish the intricate design that we’ve chosen it will be necessary for the weaver to make 300 hand-knots per inch when I can barely tie my shoe once. Secondly, a high quality hand-knotted rug will sometimes include up to a dozen different colors of yarn. Our piece, however, will have up to 25. The more colors that need to be integrated the more difficult the weaving. There’s no question; we’ll need an experienced artisan at the loom.
I’ll leave you with just one photo today–our yarn has already been dyed. Here is what it looks like:
A few months ago I was reading up on the stunning medieval tapestries at the NY Met. How beautiful they are! The amount of clever designing, experimenting and yes, tedious work required is mind numbing. And, as usual, I found myself wondering about this process and how it could relate to baseball. There is not a deep textile tradition in sports art and little in the way of large scale imagery.
To make a long story short, I began to research the process in some depth. It was soon apparent that old style jacquard weaving is an art that has almost disappeared. These days if you want a rug or wall hanging it is nearly always made utilizing digital printing on artificial material. Some of it looks…okay. But the real thing? You’ll have to dig deep for a traditional supplier.
After a great deal of time I have found a maker of hand-knotted carpets and we have already started on our first collaboration. For the design I’ve selected one of my favorite Helmar art cards from the Boston Garter series, Joe Wood. Here is the image:
It takes a few months of hard work to make one of these. In my next post I’ll talk more about the process.
More capable curators have described the 1912 S81 Helmar silks far more eloquently than I am able to do. They are effusive in their praise, encouraging us to savor the vibrant colors, the sharp detail and the captivating sheen of the material. The combination of these attributes made the S81’s instant classics in 1912, the middle of an era which many consider to be the high water mark for stunning sports art. Their timeless beauty has ensured that, even a century later, they remain highly desirable. There is no doubt that they would be collected more avidly today if they were not so rare, and as a consequence, so expensive.
Back in 1912 it would have been an ambitious task to acquire even a single example of this series. Produced by the S. Anargyros Famous Cigarettes company, of which I have written about, the silks were distributed only as a mail-in premium. A collector was required to mail in 25 coupons found within packs of Helmar Turkish Trophy cigarettes in exchange for each silk. The practical purpose of the silks, it can be surmised, was to be sewn onto quilts, blankets and pillow cases as an adornment. Twenty-five different ballplayers were included in the set.
What we’ve discussed thus far are the basics of this legendary series. In my next post I’d like to share some of my thoughts on the design itself and some speculations regarding how many were actually produced. Thanks for reading and thanks to Robert Edwards Auctions for the image below!