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360° Students Get Hands-On Experience in Creating and Analyzing Textiles

March 30, 2021

360°: Textiles in Context provides a multidisciplinary approach to the technical analysis, historical interpretation, and museum display of early Byzantine textiles.

The 360° is made up of two courses. The chemistry course Analysis of Art: Early Byzantine Textiles, co-taught by Marianne Weldon and Alicia Walker, introduces the science of textiles through hands-on training in the analysis of textile weaving techniques and materials. The history of art course Byzantine Textiles in Life, Death, and Afterlife, also taught by Walker, explores the manifold uses and meanings of textiles in early Byzantine culture. 360°: Textiles in Context is an inter-institutional collaboration with the Textile and Costume Collection at Thomas Jefferson University.

Several of the “hands-on” experiences of the class occurred earlier this month as students worked in two groups to engage in a number of activities. The groups alternated between a classroom in Canaday where they learned to card and spin wool with the help of guest lecturer Bettes Silver-Schack '75, an experienced craftsperson active in promoting the art of weaving, and a space in Old Library where they learned how to use Polarizing Light Microscopes to identify textile fibers.

In the above photos, students learn how to card wool, and spin it into yarn using a drop spindle. The extremely time-intensive process would have been used to create the yarn in the historic textiles the students are researching this semester.

This group of photos shows students learning the basics of how to use a polarizing light microscope to identify the fibers in the textiles they are researching. To date, all of the textiles that the students are researching this semester are composed of wool and bast (likely flax) fibers. The morphology of these fibers allows the students to identify them under the microscope.

360° is an interdisciplinary experience that creates an opportunity to participate in a cluster of multiple courses connecting students and faculty in a single semester (or in some cases across contiguous semesters) to focus on common problems, themes, and experiences for the purposes of research and scholarship.