Textiles from the Silk Road, China, Peru, Indonesian basketry, and much more….

On 10 February 2022 Cambridge University held a Dunhuang Seminar, with Professor Max Deeg of Cardiff University as the speaker. His subject was Trading Silk – Negotiating Religion: Buddhist stories and discourses about silk. The seminar was recorded and you can access the video here.

This was the second in a series of six seminars, taking place between January and March. For those interested in learning more about the rest of the series click here.

Centre: Woman wearing a pote lo’o made in twill weave during the opening of the bringing of buffa-lo ceremony (pua karapau). © Stefan Danerek.

I’ve previously blogged about the relatively new journal Fiber, Loom and Technique established by OATG members Chris Buckley and Sandra Sardjono. A new article with excellent illustrations has just been published in it, covering the basketry traditions of Palu’e, a small island off the coast of Flores in Eastern Indonesia. The author is Stefan Danerek, a Swedish researcher who has studied the language, arts and crafts of this small island for several years. I’m familiar with Palu’e weaving, so welcomed this opportunity to get to know more about another of their crafts, especially the so-called ‘mad weave’. You can learn more about Stefan’s work from his website.

Pustaha in Mandailing Batak script, with many drawings in red and black ink, before 1844. British Library, Add 19381. 18th – early 19th century.

I recently heard of this work on Batak manuscripts through Sandra Niessen. Apparently the British Library has the “oldest dateable Batak manuscript (Add 4726), which entered the British Museum collections in 1764. Until recently, this was the only Batak manuscript in the Library accessible online. However, the complete collection of 37 Batak manuscripts in the British Library has now been fully digitised, thanks to a collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) at the University of Hamburg.……. A full list of the digitised manuscripts is available on the Digital Access to Batak Manuscripts page.” – British Library

These manuscripts were sometimes written bamboo and bone, but mainly on the bark of the alim tree (Aquilaria malaccensis). The bark books, known as pustaha, often contained writings on magic and divination, which were also sometimes illustrated.

You can read the full illustrated blog by Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia, here.

MSS Batak 6, which mostly contains texts on divination in war, especially by use of rambu siporhas, divination based on the position of a double string thrown on the ground. This pustaha has a beautifully carved wooden front cover, but a plain wooden back cover.

Some of these manuscripts also had protective covers, generally of wood, which was sometimes carved. The British Library also has one example, which is made of goat skin. Annabel has also blogged about the covers here.

Fragment of a tapestry weave tunic dated 1532-1700, from Cuzco or Lake

Recently the Art Institute of Chicago held a virtual lecture on Inca Textiles under Colonial Rule. In it Andrew Hamilton, associate curator of Arts of the Americas, examined how “the violent conquest of the Inca Empire by Spanish forces dramatically changed Inca society, their artistic traditions, and the clothes that they wore.” The talk was recorded and is now available here.

On Wednesday 9 March there are two in-person events members may find of interest – one in the UK and one in the US.

The Norfolk Makers Festival will be held from 9-20 March 2022 in Norwich. There will be twelve days of crafting activities, open exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops and talks. There is an excellent events calendar, which you can search using various filters, or just browse. Sevanti Roy, who previously worked in Jaipur for textile companies including Anokhi and Fabindia, but now has a design business based in Norfolk will give a talk entitled From Persia to Norfolk: a talk about the paisley motif. The talk begins at 16:30 and is free.

A new exhibition will be opening that day at the Charles B. Wang Center, Stony Brook University, New York. Curated by Vichai and Lee Chinalai and Jinyoung Jin the exhibition is entitled Auspicious Dreams – Tribal Blankets from Southern China, and is on view until 31 May 2022. “Often made with fine materials, exemplary techniques, and unparalleled artistry, these striking textiles convey the unique identities, statuses, and traditions of diverse Chinese tribal groups.” – University website.

Lee will be giving a talk in the Wang Center Auditorium at 16:00, before the opening of the exhibition.

Vine Leaf, 1896. Designed by May Morris, produced by Morris & Company.

The Art Institute of Chicago currently has an exhibition entitled Morris & Company: The Business of Beauty, which runs until mid June 2022.

I enjoyed reading this blog by Melinda Watt about May Morris, daughter of William, who completed many designs for the family firm. At the tender age of 23 she was responsible for supervising all of the embroidery operations in the company.

I was interested to learn that in “support of female artists and designers, she founded the Women’s Guild for Arts in 1907 to provide the support and networking opportunities they lacked, as they were excluded from the Art Worker’s Guild on the basis of gender.”

Pitt Rivers inspiration, Samoan barkcloth, sealskin, Indonesian ikat and more.

PLEASE NOTE If you subscribe to this blog via email you will be unable to see the videos unless you click on the blue title in the email, which will direct you to our blog site.

In my most recent blog I shared a lot of information about the textiles of peoples of the Amur area and fish skin clothing in particular. That prompted OATG member Pamela Cross to contact me about a work by leading art quiltmaker Pauline Burbidge.

It was inspired by a visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum, where she saw this Siberian seal skin pictogram.

Sealskin accession number 1966.19.1. © Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

It was collected in the 1860s or 1870s, probably by the captain of an Arctic whaler. It was made by a member of the Chukot/Chukchi culture, and has been described by some authors as a map, and by others as depicting the events of a specific year. Much more information about it can be found on the Pitt Rivers website.

Her second source of inspiration was a display of barkcloths from Samoa. The example below was collected there in 1874 by the Reverend Joseph King.

Barkcloth accession number 1891.61.24. © Pitt Rivers Museum

Pauline’s response to seeing these items was to produce a large quiltscape, incorporating some of these ideas and motifs. She has made a short video, detailing her creative process and I loved seeing the drawings she had made in her notebook, and how they eventually appeared in the finished piece.

Go to her website to see more of her work.

On Saturday 12 February Yorkshire auctioneers Tennant’s will hold a sale of Costume, Accessories and Textiles. While the majority of the lots are Victorian (including some super sewing accessories), there are also several from China, Japan and Eastern Europe. Click here for more details.

A selection of the lots for sale at the auction

A quick reminder that there are also two talks taking place on that day. The first is by Tom Hannaher on the Mola Art of the Kuna Indians, and the second is by Chris Martens on Distinguishing Uyghur Feltmaking.

Tamu Rambu Hamu Eti about to show us some of the textiles in her basket. © David Richardson

I have been travelling to Indonesia regularly for many years now, and one of my favourite destinations is the island of Sumba. We always enjoy going to Rindi, which has a great tradition of producing fine textiles and baskets.

A few years ago Threads of Life, a Bali-based organisation that works with weavers throughout the archipelago, produced a video there with Tamu Rambu Hamu Eti, documenting all of the different stages of the weaving and dyeing process. The video was in Sumbanese, however they have also produced this very useful and informative infographic in English, based on the information gained from the original video.

So much care and attention needs to go into each step, but the results are certainly worth it!

Tamu Rambu Hamu Eti showed us a selection of her textiles. They are all naturally dyed, and the one at the front is woven from handspun cotton. © David Richardson.

While on the subject of Indonesia I would also like to recommend this video, An Indian Loom in Indonesia, produced by OATG members Sandra Sardjono and Chris Buckley, in which they share some of the findings from their paper of the same name which appeared in Fiber, Loom and Technique.

“A loom in use in Balai Cacang village in the Minangkabau region of Sumatra has an unusual warp suspension system, in which the warp is attached to a cord and tensioned around a pole. We show that this system is similar to that used on traditional Indian pit looms, and that it probably crossed the Indian Ocean to Indonesia. Indian influence on Indonesian textile forms is well-documented, but this is the first identification of an Indian loom technology in Indonesia. It implies the presence of Indian craftspeople in Indonesia in the past.” – Fiber, Loom and Technique.

A pdf of the full article can be downloaded here.

Don’t forget to let me know if you hear of events, exhibitions, articles, or anything else you think I should include here!

Tracing Patterns update and new textile journal

OATG members Chris Buckley and Sandra Sardjono are well known to many for their work in the field of textiles. Indeed Chris has given presentations to us in Oxford, and always brings great textiles to our Show and Tell sessions. OATG also sponsored one of their recent videos. In this guest blog they describe the work they are currently undertaking.

Tracing Patterns Foundation (TPF) is a small, non-profit foundation based in Berkeley, California. Our focus is on recording textile traditions (past and present) and making this information available to as many people as possible. We live in an era in which things are changing rapidly and much information is being lost.

TPF consists of the wife-and-husband team of curator and conservator Sandra Sardjono and researcher Chris Buckley. We organise seminars and create video material that is shared online via our Youtube page.

Part of the Hampton Archive of artifacts and documentation from the Highland of Papua. © Tracing Patterns Foundation

Recently we have been joined by conservator Katarina Kaspari, who is doing conservation work on an important collection of ethnographic material from Papua. We will be giving an online talk to OATG members on this topic in October, but you can get a flavour of it by watching this short video. [Editor – registration for this talk will open one month in advance and will be listed on the OATG website and included in a blog].

We have now embarked on a new project, launching a journal called Fiber, Loom and Technique (FLT). As its name suggests, it’s for publications on topics related to the making of textiles and fibers … not just the woven variety, we are also interested in papers on non-woven textiles such as bark-cloth, and non-loom techniques.

Why a new journal? We think that the textile field is well-served with book-length publications, such as books on collections or conference proceedings, but there are limited opportunities to publish journal articles, particularly in a timely manner. Textile scholars will be familiar with the responses ‘it doesn’t fit with our upcoming theme issues’, ‘we might be able to publish it the year after next’ and ‘this is too long/short for our journal’. FLT will provide a new way to publish material more rapidly, and there are no limits on length or the number of illustrations.

It’s an online-only journal, and papers will be added as soon as they are ready for publication. It’s Open-Access, which means you can download material freely. There are no publication fees. Each issue corresponds to one calendar year. The journal submission process is completely online, and would-be authors are welcome to write to us with proposals if you’d like feedback on whether your paper is likely to be a good fit with the journal. We welcome submissions from established scholars, young scholars and independent people who have knowledge to share. Degrees and letters after your name are not necessary, and we welcome contributions from all parts of the globe. Perfect English is not essential, our editors can tidy things up provided the meaning is clear to us. We already have an illustrious international team of editors:

As mentioned, technique … meaning how things are made … is the core of what the journal is about, but we hope our authors will explain the context and background too. Our first two papers link historical, archaeological and ethnographic information together, and we hope that this intersection will be a continuing theme in FLT.

Songket weaver from Palembang © Bo Long and Feng Zhao.

The first paper is by Bo Long and Feng Zhao of the China National Silk Museum, and it compares the loom models from the celebrated Laoguanshan tomb, which dates from the Han dynasty (around 2000 years ago) with ethnographic looms in China and Southeast Asia. The Laoguanshan loom had multiple heddles with which patterns were woven in early silk textiles, a method which is still widely used today by rural weavers and small-scale commercial workshops, such as weavers in Palembang, Indonesia who make songket cloths. This is not a true drawloom, but it is an important step in loom evolution.

Early silk taqueté fragment, carbon 14 dated to 5th or 6th century. Chris Hall Collection. © Eric Boudot

The second paper, by Eric Boudot, describes the structure of a remarkable early textile fragment in Chris Hall’s collection. This has an early form of the simurgh, a mythical creature which later became common on Sasanian weavings, particularly those with the famous ‘pearl roundel’ designs. These are the creatures that look like lean, rangy dogs at the top of the textile. Eric shows that the loom used had a mechanism for making a repeating design in the weft direction, and speculates that the loom used was related to the upright zilu loom that is still used in Iran today. As will be clear to readers looking at his structure diagrams, he has done an amazing amount of detailed work with a microscope.

These first two papers are long and somewhat technical. We hope to publish shorter papers as well, which we call ‘Field Notes’ and which will consist of observations ‘in the field’ of weaving and fiber related techniques. In the interests of faster turnaround we will try to use our editorial judgment to match the review process to the material. Longer, technical articles need more peer review (which will be done ‘blind’), but short, factual descriptions do not. In some cases we will publish pieces with just a brief editorial review, if we think it’s appropriate.

If you’d like to contribute, or if you’d like to volunteer your help as a reviewer or editor please get in touch with us.

You can look at the papers online and download them without ‘signing up’ to the journal, but if you’d like to be notified when new papers are added then do please ‘sign up’ on the website.

Sandra Sardjono and Chris Buckley