My first recollection of being swept up by the siren call of textiles was of fondling an iridescent silk scarf my Great Aunt Edna brought my mother from India. At the age of 7 I had never touched anything so fine and would sneak into my parents bedroom to find the scarf in a dresser drawer to just hold it, turning it in the light to see how the colors changed, mesmerized by the glint of gold in what I now know to be tissue picks of metallic thread on the plain woven, iridescent ground. I remember my mother explaining the concept of iridescence, or changeant as the French like to say, where the colors shift and vary depending on the angle of the light and one’s vantage point. I even learned to spell the word iridescent, and was on my way to assembling a textile dictionary that would serve me well in years to come.
What Mom didn’t know was how the woven iridescent effect was created and this is something I set out to discover. It turns out you need pretty fine yarns – silk and polyester are perfect. The weave is usually plain, and what brings up the changeant effect is the amount of contrast between the warp and fill colors. Orange and red will produce much less of the effect than blue and red – the colors in my mother’s scarf. The values of the colors will also determine how pronounced the iridescent effect is. In woven fabrics the goal is to create a design that has some of the magic of magnificent bird feathers and butterfly wings. Not an easy task, but a worthy aspiration.
Ironically this beautiful effect is not always welcomed or understood by the customers of upholstery textiles. While it is often embraced and even encouraged in window coverings because the light is so readily available to play with the colors, in upholstery there are some who don’t get it. They want the fabric to be blue, all the time, not gold sometimes and blue others, just blue. Got it? Just blue. To each his own, but I will always have a soft spot for iridescence. Change is good!