The Secret Life of Textiles: The Milton Sonday Archive

Exhibition Website

Dec 18 2017 - May 5 2019

Textile scholar Milton Sonday is one of the world's foremost authorities on the structures of handmade fabrics, particularly woven textiles and lace. Hired in 1962 by the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., as a draftsman for a project on Precolumbian ceramics, he was promoted shortly thereafter to assistant curator responsible for carpets. In 1967, he joined the curatorial staff of the Cooper Hewitt Museum. Early in his career, Sonday began to put his artistic skills to use in creating legible and visually pleasing technical drawings that express the weaves of patterned textiles. He went on to teach seminars on fabric analysis, developing various methods that enabled students (even those who claimed they "couldn't draw") to re-create and therefore understand the structures of historical textiles.

This installation includes a selection of Sonday's studies of lace structures and couched embroidery, loom models for patterned weaves, and diagrams made from classic handwoven textiles. His clear, comprehensible, and attractive drawings and models have become more than didactic tools. The wit and imagination evident in Sonday's choices of materials and colors and the skill with which the works are made has inspired delight and appreciation over the years.

In 2012, Sonday donated his research archive to the Antonio Ratti Textile Center at The Met. The first portions are available for study now while the Museum continues cataloguing and processing this treasure trove. Sonday has generously given his time to assist with the ongoing organization of the archive, which spans his entire career and includes his most recent projects.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website 

  • Works on Paper
  • Contemporary
  • Design
  • Milton Sonday

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