50 Years of Inspiration: Celebrating Helen Louise Allen

It all started with one woman – Helen Louise Allen.

Helen Louise Allen

A lover of travel with a desire to immerse herself in new cultures, Allen traveled the world collecting textiles from across the globe. Unlike many collectors, Allen didn’t hang these pieces on her walls or display them in her home.

A professor in the School of Human Ecology (SoHE), Allen consistently thought of her students when adding to her worldly collection of textiles. In order to “broaden their understanding of the cultures, function, materials, aesthetic, and belief systems from around the world,” Allen utilized her collection as a learning tool. Upon her passing in 1968, Allen wanted future students to gain hands-on experience with a variety of textiles, and left her collection to the UW as a way to continue her legacy.

Dubbed a “teaching collection,” and properly named the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, the collection is now comprised of over 13,000 pieces spanning 16 centuries and 108 countries.

On Sunday, April 28, the annual SoHE Fashion Show, Threads, will dedicate this year’s show, “Threads: Point of Muse” to Allen, whose collection that serves as a muse for students is celebrating its 50th birthday.

“This year’s event is going to be particularly interesting to see, as it’s the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, so part of the show will be dedicated to honoring her,” said senior student designer Sophia Downs. “People will get to see many pieces on the runway that were inspired by the textile collection so it’s a special year for the fashion show. It will be one to remember.”

Threads Ensemble
2017 “Threads: ENSEMBLE”

Threads is a showcase of student work from the Textiles and Fashion Design Program in collaboration with students in various majors across campus. According to Professor of Human Ecology Carolyn Kallenborn, the event is highly interdisciplinary, filled with not only textiles, but with light design, music, and performance, as well as graphic design, business skills, and publications coming from students on the planning crew. Runway models in the show come from endless backgrounds, as Threads opens up modeling auditions to all students at the UW.

“I joined Threads without knowing too much about it or what I was really getting into, but I am glad I did,” said junior Savina Gomez-Kalidindi, the Threads public relations and ticket sales coordinator. “I have been able to work alongside really talented people and gain real-world, hands-on experience that I don’t think I could have taken from any other class.”

Though the Textiles and Fashion Design major is fairly small in comparison to other majors at the UW, the splash that Threads makes lets the campus know who they are and why they’re here.

“Threads is hugely important to the UW-Madison campus and community,” said Downs. “It’s a chance for our somewhat small major to showcase the talent and hard work we put into our major and craft. It also brings together our community.”

Models waiting backstage at 2016 “Threads: IMPACT”

As students involved in the program gear up for showtime, they encourage those who have never heard of or attended Threads to join in the celebration of Allen’s legacy.

“Threads is an amazing production that always wows people and never disappoints,” said 4-year Threads veteran and senior student designer Rachel Cohen. “It’s an incredibly rewarding experience, particularly for those who get involved in it’s production, but even for just the audience, it’s an amazing experience,” added Downs.

“Threads: Point of Muse” will take place at 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm on Sunday, April 28 at the Madison Masonic Center (301 Wisconsin Avenue). Early-bird ticket prices are available until Sunday, April 21, but tickets are available until showtime.