Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, producers of books and art of the 1500's to 1600's wanted you to believe so. Being a virtuoso at your craft, whether it be needlepoint, printing, sewing, was akin to being virtuous.
The current exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art explores the connection of print patterns, embroidery and its influence on fashion. Prior to the 1500s, fashion for anyone outside of the aristocrats was pretty limited to plain, basic function. The technology of print really did revolutionize fashion for the masses. For the first time, fabrics could be printed with pretty motifs, echoing the trends of wealthier classes. Prior to that, only a select few could afford hand-made embroidered clothing. In the pre-Pinterest days, the samplers of stitches or embroidery layouts offered inspiration to those who aspired to make DIY finery for themselves.
It is quite a marketing trick to inspire homemakers to work hard at a skill (and sell product) by aligning their crafts with their church. The exhibit features printing tools like carved woodblocks. There were printed needlepoint patterns where you could see the needle punched holes to transfer the designs onto fabric. There were lots of illustration plates showing detailed crochet and embroidery designs as well as the finished product. You could see a lot of nature-inspired and religious motifs in the mix. These collections of textile patterns for fashion were the Vogue Magazine of Rennaissance times.
At the end of the exhibit, there were pretty examples of both historical costume and contemporary fashion designers who produced clothing with these techniques. French linen lace tunics, Mexican embroidered ponchos, Iranian silk slippers and Russian apron dresses that looked in sync with the 90's Todd Oldham slip dress. While the textile and print books were mainly from Rennaissance Germany and Italy, you can see how much they resemble the techniques of other cultures in embroidery and color.
Can you achieve virtue being a master of DIY? Well, there are enough current magazines and Youtube stars that will tell you it does. Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution will be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until January 10, 2015.
Photos by Mariana Leung