Fiber to Fabric: History Museum explores the textile arts

The History Museum’s latest exhibit, “Follow the Thread,” pays homage to the local textile arts community while showcasing the history of humans and the many uses of fabric. Above, drop spindles hang near a 19th century walking wheel.

Photo by Trisha Walker
The History Museum’s latest exhibit, “Follow the Thread,” pays homage to the local textile arts community while showcasing the history of humans and the many uses of fabric. Above, drop spindles hang near a 19th century walking wheel.

The History Museum of Hood River County chronicles the art of textiles in its newest exhibit, showcased through Aug. 31.

“From Fiber to Fabric: Follow the Thread” explores the history of textiles — be they handcrafted or machine-made — and the local textile arts community. It includes a variety of styles, techniques and equipment ranging from drop spindles to a 19th century walking wheel to a large, modern loom.


The museum is holding a drawing for this reproduction coverlet, created by artist Ruth Dye using a pattern from a fragment in the permanent collection.

The displays offer plenty of eye candy, historical and contemporary pieces alike: Colorful scarves, quilts, wall hangings and baskets line the walls and fill display cases. Fabrics, embroidery and lace — some from the museum’s collection, some on loan — round out the exhibition.

It’s the detail of the pieces that are the most stunning, especially the intricate stitching methods of days gone by. One such example is a delicate cotton thread, tatted baby bonnet donated to the museum by the late Nellie Hjaltalin — it’s hard to imagine crafting such a cap for a baby, let alone having the patience to put such an item together.

Modern pieces, such as those on loan from local weavers, offer contemporary twists to an age-old craft and are just as intricate — such as the work-in-progress by artist Ruth Dye. Dye has already created reproductions of an early 1800s coverlet, the pattern taken from a remnant of a coverlet in the museum’s collection.

Dye replicated the design using graph paper and a magnifying glass, then wove two blankets, one of which will remain in the permanent collection. She donated the other for a special drawing, the proceeds of which will go to the museum.

Coverlet drawing

Tickets are on sale now for a chance to win a reproduction coverlet, measuring approximately 38 by 69 inches. Proceeds will benefit the museum.

Tickets are $10 each or three for $25 and on sale through Aug. 31 at the museum.

Interwoven throughout the exhibit is the history of textiles, with “chat” panels explaining humans’ evolving relationship with items that are as useful as they are beautiful.

“Since the beginning of human society, man has pursued sources of food, shelter and protection of the elements,” reads one panel. “Depending on regional raw materials and climatic conditions, humans used animal furs and hides and available vegetation to secure protection from the elements …

“Textiles were handcrafted until the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. With mechanization and mass production, textiles became more readily available worldwide. Through the years, the handcrafted skills of spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, lacemaking and embroidery have been passed down from generation to generation.”

The display opens with handheld spindles, the first tools used to make thread, which are juxtaposed with a walking wheel — revolutionary technology in its time.

Also on display is a modern counterbalance loom, on loan from Grace Carter Weavers and Gorge Handweavers Guild. And knitted wool Jantzen swimsuits from 1915 to c. 1920s are just inches away from current hats on loan from Hood River’s Pistil.

Side note: The Portland-based Jantzen had a Hood River manufacturing site, producing women’s sportswear, from the early 1970s to mid-1980s.

While most of the displays are meant to be looked at only, there are several that offer hands-on learning. The most interactive is a wall that includes samples of various animal fibers that can be touched, as well as three examples of how each look in their various forms — thread, knitted and woven. Look books that include patterns and samples beg to be perused.

The History Museum of Hood River County is located at 300 E. Port Marina Drive and is open Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5.

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