Article: Bagru Textiles – Woodblock Printing near Jaipur, India

This article, written for the KINDCRAFT by Justin Lancy, looks at the tradition of woodblock printing in one particular community in Rajasthan.

The Chhipa clan have lived in Bagru for 400 years and Viju Chhipa, the founder of Bagru Textiles, is a fifth-generation dyer and printer. Lancy explains how the designs on each cloth might use 4 or 5 different woodblocks, which are carved from a variety of local trees including teak and rosewood. In this community the designs are traditionally printed onto a cream background, or sometimes the cloth is dyed blue or red. Another type of printing is done using mud-resist. The blocks are dipped into the dye and the colour applied very carefully onto the cloth by hand – a laborious task requiring a good eye for detail.

This tradition is now threatened as it requires a lot of water and the water table in the region has dropped in recent years.

The full article can be read on the KINDCRAFT website here. The majority of the beautiful images, taken by Justin and Lauren K Lancy, can be enlarged by clicking on them.

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Article: Ainu Culture – Garments and Embroideries of the Ainu People

Image by Keisuke Fukamizu

This article, with text by Kosuke Ide and fantastic photographs by Keisuke Fukamizu, examines the clothing of the Ainu people of Hokkaido island, Japan. Ide explains that hundreds of years ago these were made from the animal skins – there was a reference to them wearing “bird skin” as late as the eighteenth century. Over time they began to use fibres obtained from the inner bark of elm and linden trees to weave their textiles.  The cloth woven from these fibres was known as attush, and was sewn into garments primarily used as work clothing. These garments were decorated with patterns embroidered in cotton. Later, as cotton became cheaper and more accessible, they began to use it for their clothing rather than the attush. However the art of making attush has not died out completely. It is still practised by Rumiko Fujitani, using a traditional backstrap loom.

Ide also interviewed Nobuko Tsuda, who has conducted research on traditional Ainu garment culture and for the past 20 years has served as a curator at the Hokkaido Ainu Centre in Sapporo. I was particularly struck by her appreciation of what she refers tom as the “natural imperfections” of Ainu embroidery done in the traditional way, as opposed to the “perfection” which can be achieved using more modern methods.

The full article, which really does have some wonderful images, can be accessed on the visvim website here. Please note that this does take quite a while to load – presumably because of the quality of the images.

Textiles of Japan by Thomas Murray has recently been published by Prestel and contains over 100 pages on Ainu textiles. This book is already available in Europe and will go on sale in the US from 29 January 2019.

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Article: Minority Textiles – Kam Women Artisans

This article by Marie Anna Lee highlights the textile traditions of the Kam people from Dimen village in Guizhou province, China. They are called the Dong by the majority Han Chinese. These traditions are kept alive by a group of elderly women, known as za.

Lee explains how the za used to grow and spin their own cotton, but now use machine-made thread. They make these threads stronger through a process of treating them with an alkali solution, beating them with a flat paddle, starching in warm rice water and then drying them.

Locally grown indigo is turned into a paste which is used to dye the cloth woven from these threads time after time until it is almost black. The cloth is then dyed seven times in a red dyestuff made from dyeing yam, Rhododendron leaves and Chinese sumac. Lee goes on to describe how the cloth is stiffened and then beaten with a wooden mallet until its surface is shiny.

This dark indigo fabric really sets off the colourful belts, hand-embroidered with satin stitch which are another speciality here. Sadly many young women do not want to spend time mastering satin stitch and so use cross-stitch instead. The elderly za can no longer embroider due to their failing eyesight and so now often buy machine-made embroidery. As in so many places in the world traditions are fading with the passing of the generations.

To read the full article which describes the dyeing and other textile processes visit the  Asian Art  website.

Marie Anna Lee is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of the Pacific in California, USA. Her recently published book, Kam Women Artisans of China: Dawn of the Butterflies, follows five of these remarkable women as they reveal their unique heritage through practical demonstrations. This book was reviewed by OATG member Pamela Cross in the Summer 2018 edition (number 70) of Asian Textiles.

 

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Article: Kelaghayis of Azerbaijan

Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

The kelaghayi (kelagayi/kalaghayi) is a traditional silk scarf made in Azerbaijan. In 2014 this was added  to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This video was made by Asif Abramov and Rena Ibrahimbeyova to support the process of adding kelaghayi to this list.

These fine silk headcovers have been produced in Azerbaijan for generations. In 1862 Nasir Abdulaziz from Basgal showed his kelaghayis at the International Exhibition in London, gaining a silver medal for his work. In the mid-nineteenth century the Russian painter Grigory Grigoryevich Gagarin depicted a woman from Shamakhi (probably a musician or dancer) wearing a kelaghayi over a small cap, in the local style.

“Woman of Shamakhi” by Grigory Grigoryevich Gagarin

The silk scarf provided warmth in the cold weather, and protected the wearer from the heat in hot weather. It was produced in a variety of colours. Many believe that older women tended to wear darker colours, while younger women preferred lighter ones. Red was associated with weddings, and black with mourning – with scarves sometimes being used to cover the deceased too. It was tied in a variety of different ways, depending on the region. There were many beliefs associated with the production of these scarves – people should not enter the silkworm-incubation premises wearing gold or silver jewellery or a wristwatch, the scarves should never be folded with the pattern on the outside etc, etc.

Although these scarves used to be made throughout Azerbaijan, production is now centred on Sheki and Basgal. Basgal is also the home of the Kelagayi museum, the walls of which are decorated with some of the traditional motifs used on the scarves.

 Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

The scarf shown below was bought by the author in Khiva, Uzbekistan, from an Azerbaijani shop owner. It was made in the Sheki Ipek Kombinat named after Lenin, in Sheki. At one time this was one of the largest silk-weaving centres in the Soviet Union, employing 7,000 people at its peak. The factory closed after the collapse of the USSR in 1995. The twin towns of Sheki and Shamakhi have been silk-weaving centres since medieval times and in the early twentieth century there were 127 silk mills in the Sheki region, employing 3,500 people. The seller told me that scarves such as mine date to the 1970s, but I haven’t been able to verify that.

The patterns on the kelaghayi are produced using a resist technique. They are applied using stamps which were traditionally carved from pear or walnut wood, but were often also made of metal.

Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

These stamps are dipped in a mixture of paraffin, resin and solid oil, before being carefully applied to the surface of the silk cloth. Various natural dyes are used to colour the cloths, before the wax is removed with hot water.

Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

Obviously the workload and time needed to produce such scarves is increased if several different colours are used. Kelaghayi with six or seven colours were perceived as the most valuable and desirable and are still being produced in Basgal today. Versions of traditional kelaghayi produced in China using synthetic fabric are now entering the market, providing stiff competition for the workshops who produce silk scarves in the time-honoured way.

Similar scarves seem to have been produced in other areas too. The author bought this one in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in 2001. It had been made in a factory in Chardzhou in the east of the country. The factory had closed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many thanks to Christine Martens for allowing me to reproduce some of the photos she took in Basgal following the “Intersections in felt” Symposium in October 2018.

Some fabulous images, along with an interview with a workshop-owner which really gives a sense of the working conditions, can be seen in an article by Samra Sadraddinli on the Chai Khana website here.

More background information for this article comes from this piece by Emil Eyyabov for the Azerbaijan State News Agency, this article  by Valentina Reznikova for Region Plus, and finally this article by Afat Rustamayova and Ruslan Huseynov on irs-az.com.

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Article: Rediscovering a rare Japanese painting by Utamaro

 

Tim Clark, Head of the Japanese section in the Department of Asia, British Museum, recounts the discovery of a previously unknown painting by Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro. In this article he takes a closer look at this rare artwork, recounts how he examined its authenticity, and how it found its way into the Museum’s collection.

Courtesans (high ranked sex workers) were expected to provide glamorous and cultivated company, as well as sexual services, to those wealthy clients who could afford the extravagant expense. In reality though, their lives could be harsh. In Utamaro’s art this exploitation was only rarely alluded to, although it was significant at the time that he represented it at all.

To read the full article visit the website of the British Museum

Article: Culture of Jiasha, Chinese Buddhist Robes

 

Intertwined with the history of Buddhism in China, which dates back to the first century BC and has shaped the country’s culture, politics and art, jiasha, the robes worn by Buddhist monks, are an integral part of China’s material culture. Despite their significance, jiasha have been largely overlooked by historians, partly because so few examples exist today.

Jiasha are patchwork-like robes made by stitching smaller pieces of cloth together before applying decoration. The draped garment design is emblematic of monastic robes worn in India, the birthplace of Buddhism, and elsewhere in Asia. Rectangular in shape with an angled top edge, jiasha are traditionally worn draped over the left shoulder, with the addition of a single hook to fasten the robe around the torso.

Custom dictated that a jiasha was presented to monks in China on the occasion of their ordination. As such, the textile was made to be a material manifestation of Buddhist teachings and ideology. This begins with the construction of the garment. Jiasha are made by piecing together sections of cloth donated from members of the community in a patchwork-style design. Unlike patchwork, the arrangement of panels is very specific, influenced by the Buddhist mandala motif, with a core centre and flowing symmetry. The modest cut of the jiasha and pieced-together appearance references the rags worn by the Buddha during his ascetic period.

To read the full article by Emily Lush and Alan Kennedy visit the website of The Textile Atlas

Article: – Textiles from the Arab World – A Dress from Palestine

 

Abigael Flack is the Collections Officer at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, and has written a great blog about her work on a dress donated to them by Jenny Balfour-Paul.

Abigael writes:-

“As the Collections Officer, part of my role is cataloguing a recent offer of textiles collected from across the Middle-East and North Africa, which the museum is in the process of acquiring. Costume and textile collections are some of my favourite to work with, particularly because how we dress can say so much about us. As such, costume and textile objects will be a great jumping off point for discussions with our volunteers and participants.

Lately I’ve been working on textiles that were collected from Palestine, like this beautifully embroidered dress. This traditional dress (thob) is probably from either Ramallah or Bethlehem and likely made around the 1920s-30s. It is made from hand woven natural linen and decorated with distinctive red silk embroidery. The silk would likely have been imported from Syria. The dress shows many of the features of traditional Palestinian costume, including the rich colour of the threads and the square chest panel (Qabbah) with embroidered motifs.”

To read the full blog and see more images of this dress click here.

Article: Beadwork in the Arts of Africa and Beyond

 

What exactly are beads?

Beads are most often small and spherical, made from materials that are desirable because of qualities such as color, shine, or rarity. By definition, beads are pierced with a hole so that they may be strung together or attached to a surface through various techniques, and they are some of the first decorative objects made by man: archaeologists working in the Blombos cave in South Africa recently uncovered forty-one marine shell (Nassarius kraussianus) beads made approximately seventy-five thousand years ago.

The study of these small and precious objects provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of global trade, reminding us that people of different ages, places, and cultures may hold precisely the same objects dear. While this article primarily examines the use of glass beads in African art, it recognises beads as a global medium of expression used for millennia, and therefore draws on objects from across The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection to further our understanding.

Beads made from glass have served as a basic item of trade since ancient times, and in the sixteenth century the circulation of glass beads grew exponentially with the development of world trade. The intrinsic desirability of the bead—as well as the ease with which a relatively large quantity could be transported as cargo—made them an essential item of trade. As these beads became an ever more popular commodity, the tiny island of Murano—located about one mile north of Venice, Italy—developed into the global capital of glass-bead manufacture. By 1606 there were 251 bead-making firms recorded in Murano alone, and Venetian glassmakers are thought to have made some one hundred thousand different varieties of bead types and designs for global export.

To read the full article by James Green and see some fabulous beadwork click here

Article: Lotha Weaving in Nagaland India

 

The Lotha Naga in Longsa village, Wokha District, Nagaland, weave lotha – vividly coloured, geometrically patterned shawls that when worn, denote a man or woman’s social status in the community. The weaving of shawls, scarves and sarongs is done exclusively by women on loin or body tension looms, which are commonly used throughout northeast India. The Naga loom consists of a simple back-strap with a continuous horizontal warp. Basic tools such as warp beams, lease rods, healed sticks and beating swords are fashioned from debris, making the loom inexpensive and highly portable.

Cotton, wool and increasingly, rayon are all used for weaving the long, narrow shawls. Stripes, squares and bands of black, red and white colour are typically used; some designs are woven over with patterns depicting animals or human figures, symbolised by a circular shape. The finished lotha is warp-dominant and has a ribbed texture.

To read the full article and watch a short video on Lotha weaving visit the website of The Textile Atlas here

Article: Diversity and Exquisiteness – Examples of Three Asian Textile Sample Books

 

 

In this article Andrijana Sajic, Senior Book Conservation Coordinator, Thomas J. Watson Library (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) discusses three Asian textile sample books from their Special Collections.

The first of these is Japanese Textiles, whose accordion structure allows readers to see either side of the book because they are mounted on the front and back of the boards. Based on the thickness and patterns of the samples, the textiles were used for mounting hanging scrolls. The book could have belonged to an individual scroll maker or studio, and been used as a personal record or a commercial reference guide. While little is known about this sample book, it is certain that these beautiful, thin, woven silks, with their extraordinary motifs, metallic threads, and metallic leaf applications, are remarkable samples of cloth.

Another Japanese textile sample book is Nippon Hand Weaves in Kusakizome Dyes, published in 1959 by Akira Yamazaki. Unlike the Japanese Textiles book, this book contains detailed information about its function and maker’s intentions. It is a collection of twenty-six plant-dyed, handwoven textiles that were specifically made for this book and created, as the author states in the introduction, to “transmit the wealth of the past.” This elegant structure contains information about each cloth sample and plant used in the dyeing process, and also about the materials used in the construction of the book.

The textile sample book Balai Penelitian Batik, which has an unknown date of production, was created by the Ministry of the Industry of People of Jogjakarta and Batik Research Centre. Unlike the two other books presented here, this is a manual that leads the viewer through steps in batik production, in both English and Indonesian. Each page contains a sample of treated cloth, a brief description of the process, and an illustrative photograph.

The information in the introduction does not explain the institution’s intention in creating this manual. However, this publication clearly captures the complex, time-consuming process of batik production and educates readers through didactic samples that illustrate the wax-resist dyeing technique with copper stamps. Descriptions are brief and factual, and samples are the focal point of the page. The viewer is invited, through nine consecutive cloth samples, to see and feel the transformation of pure starched white cloth into a finished batik design, a sample of which is adhered to the front cover of the book.

To read the full article click here