Article: Making Sense of Textile Family Trees

In this fascinating article, Chris Buckley looks at the ways patterns in weaving skills and motifs in warp ikats from Southeast Asia can be used to work out family tree relationships between different textiles.

Hook motifs are shared by most Southeast Asian weaving traditions and were present in the last common ancestor of all warp ikat in the region

Hook motifs are shared by most Southeast Asian weaving traditions and were present in the last common ancestor of all warp ikat in the region

One aspect of being human is the enjoyment of patterns. We like to spot familiar forms, and we respond to rhythm and repetition, whether in music, art or decorative designs. Some think these skills are innate: they helped our ancestors to understand their environment, find food and survive. Before writing this piece I spent some time reviewing postings on Pamela Cross’s textile forum and it is remarkable how many of the postings by textile enthusiasts (my own included) relate to the discussion of connections between textiles and traditions in neighboring areas.
Puzzling out the connections between textile forms, motifs and cultures seems to be an irresistible challenge, and part of the enjoyment of the field. Professional scholars are far from immune from the delights of this pursuit: many scholarly books on Asian textiles include observations of the similarities in techniques and textile motifs between different parts of Asia.
Up to now these observations have remained largely speculative, but new techniques hold out the promise of uncovering connections in a more systematic way. In this article I hope to share some of these techniques and some of the excitement surrounding them.

To read the full article in our magazine, Asian Textiles, join the OATG.

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