Upcoming textile events

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A new exhibition has just opened at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London and will run until 26 June 2021. Opium, Silk and the Missionaries in China retells one of the largely forgotten histories between Britain and China in the nineteenth century.  

Chinese headdress, comb and slippers from the Gladys Aylward collection. Courtesy of SOAS Special Collections.

“Drawing on several collections using artefacts to explore the history of the Opium Wars through botanical arts and tools; historical artefacts about silk; missionary work and intercultural shared experiences in China recorded by British Missionaries throughout this period. ” – Gallery website.

On Tuesday 25 May 2021 the London-based Oriental Rug and Textile Society will host an online talk by OATG member Maria Wronska-Friend of James Cook University, Queensland. Her subject will be From Sarong to Sari: Rabindranath Tagore’s fascination with the batik of Java. In 1927 Tagore developed an interest in Javanese batik, collecting several dozen examples. On his return to West Bengal “he supported the introduction of the batik technique into the curriculum of the local art school. The new technique has been embraced in Santiniketan with great enthusiasm and resulted in the production of thousands of stunning saris, stoles, fitted garments and decorative fabrics.” – ORTS website. For more details of this talk which begins at 18:00 BST click here.

On Tuesday 2 June 2021 Richard Wilding will give a talk to the Royal Society for Asian Affairs on the Traditional Costumes and Culture of Saudi Arabia. He, along with Hamida Alireza, is co-editor of a recently published book with the same title. “The Mansoojat Foundation is a UK-registered charity founded by Saudi women. The charity is dedicated to the preservation of ethnic Arabian costumes. They conduct research that is vital to our knowledge of the region’s history and culture, and make Arabian heritage accessible to the public. Their workshop in Jeddah offers employment to women with hearing and speech impediments.” – Publisher’s website. Click here to see a sample of several pages from the book.

The webinar will look at how the “costumes and jewellery of Saudi Arabia reveal a great diversity of regional and tribal identities, reflecting the Kingdom’s contrasting urban and rural, settled and nomadic, desert and mountain environments. The Arabian Peninsula sits at the centre of ancient pilgrimage and trade routes, and this has resulted in centuries of influence from textiles, beads and jewellery passing through the region.” It takes place at 14:00 BST and is free, but you do need to register for it.

Child’s Coat with Ducks in Pearl Medallions (detail), 700s. Sogdia (present-day Uzbekistan). Silk; w. 84.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 1996.2.1 

Another event taking place on 2 June 2021 is the annual Pauline and Joseph Degenfelder Distinguished Lecture in Chinese Art. This is held by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the speaker this year will be Zhao Feng. His subject will be Chinese Textiles from the Silk Road.

“For centuries, the Silk Road has been an important network of trade routes that has allowed for the exchange of silk and other goods, as well as of ideas and technologies between cultures across Asia and Europe.

Zhao Feng, director of the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, presents recently excavated and conserved silk textiles from sites along the Silk Road. He shares new insight on fibers, dyes, weave structures, tailoring, and pattern designs featured in these textiles and discusses international collaborative initiatives, such as the Interactive Silk Map of the World and the Silk Road Online Museum.” – Cleveland Museum of Art website. The lecture is at 19:00 EDT, which sadly is midnight in the UK, so this is one for the night owls. Register here for this free event.

Drying the fibres. © Kyoto Women’s University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Another annual lecture will take place on Saturday 5 June 2021 – this time hosted by the Textile Arts Council. The speaker for this year’s Sinton Lecture will be Kana Taira and her subject is Ryukyu Bashofu: Banana Fiber Textiles of Okinawa.

Bashofu cloth is made from the bast fibers of the Okinawan ito-basho, a variety of banana tree. For centuries this weaving tradition thrived among people of all walks of life on the Okinawan islands. But after World War II, with changes in lifestyle, Bashofu nearly died out. However, in the village of Kijoka, Ogimi, noted for its Bashofu production from before the war, local women led by weaver Toshiko Taira put their passion and dedication into reviving this unique Okinawan weaving tradition. Working together, they established the Kijoka Bashofu Kumiai.(Kijoka Bashofu Association), whose goals were to both revitalize the traditional techniques and to train new generations of weavers. Today the Association produces the renown bashofu kimono and other textile products and trains weavers who come from all over Japan to study there.” – TAC website. Kana Taira is a granddaughter of Toshiko Taira. This online event takes place at 15:00 PDT, which is 22:00 BST. There is s small charge for non-members and you can register via this link.

Kijoka Bashofu thread. From the left: the soft natural colour of basho (banana fibres), dyed yellow with sap tree, and dyed brown with silverberry. © Noboru Morikawa

As is often the case when compiling information for this blog I got sidetracked and started to look for more information on this fascinating subject. I found this article by Noriko Nii on the Visit Okinawa site a useful starting point. I was amazed to learn that it takes the fibres from around two hundred trees to weave the cloth for one kimono! On the website of the Bashofu Hall I discovered some of the other ways the plant is utilised. “The surface fiber has long been used in the production of banana paper, which has recently enjoyed a surge of use for bouquets, bookmarks, papercraft, and more. The outer husk of the fiber, which is unsuitable for yarn, is called shīsāū and is an essential part of the lion masks used in the traditional lion dance performed throughout Okinawa. The fiber is used to create strands of hair to adorn the lion heads, so it is ordered in large quantities each year. The plant is also burned to create a charcoal that is used as a glaze for earthenware, among other uses. “

I would also highly recommend taking a look at this online exhibition on these textiles and the way they are produced. It was created by Ikeda Yuuka and Ueyama Emiko of the Kyoto Women’s University and has some stunning images to complement the text.

Next to a textile event which is taking place in real life – not on a screen! Many of you will be familiar with the World Textile Days which take place at various UK locations throughout the year. The pandemic put a stop to those for some time, but they are restarting next month. The first will be on Saturday 5 June 2021 from 10:00 – 16:00 in Frodsham, Cheshire. Due to Covid restrictions there will not be a talk at this event, nor any catering. However visitors are welcome to take their own food and drink and there will be space provided to consume it. These are always really fun events, with textiles available from a range of traders, including The African Fabric Shop, Textile Traders, Susan Briscoe, The Running Stitches, Fabazaar and Experience Ukraine. Full details here.

OATG members David and Sue Richardson have just added a new section to their Asian Textile Studies website, this time looking at Cambodian kiet textiles. The article looks at historical examples of Cham clothing and various resist-dyeing techniques before examining different types of Cham kiet – from the very simple to the complex.

Carpet with poetry verses, 1550-1600, Iran. Silk warp and weft, knotted wool pile, areas brocaded with metal thread. 231 x 165 cm. V&A: T.402-1910. Bequeathed by George Salting

In my most recent blog I wrote about the Epic Iran exhibition which opens at the V&A in London on 29 May 2021. I explained that Sarah Piram, Curator of the Iranian collections at the V & A, will give an online talk to the OATG next month. This talk will give an overview of some major works, from early silk fragments showing roundels of animals, to Safavid carpets and contemporary craft tradition. Textiles and carpets will be showcased in different parts of the exhibition, and I’m sure one of the highlights will be the ‘Sanguszko’ carpet belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry – one of the greatest seventeenth century Persian carpets in private hands. This talk will take place on 10 June at 18:30 BST. OATG members should already have received their invitations, and registration is now also open non-members through this link.

Some of the ryijys on show

Unfortunately I have only just found out about this exhibition which opened at the Kunsthalle, Helsinki in February and ends this Sunday 23 May 2021. “The exhibition Woven Beauty – Four centuries of Finnish ryijy textiles presents a wide and diverse selection of ryijys that shows their richness as well as their many shapes, textures and patterns that have changed over time. The ryijy has seen many colourful phases in its history and recent times, always returning in new forms to carry on its lively tradition for new generations. Kunsthalle Helsinki will exhibit ryijys from over 300 years. The selection of around 130 ryijys includes traditional types from the 18th and 19th centuries such as bridal and tree of life motifs, modern artistic ryijys from the 1960s, as well as new ryijys from recent years that exemplify a diversity of materials.” – museum website.

Thankfully there is a short video which enables us to see some of the ryijys on show and learn a little more about them. The presentation is in English.

There are so many great textile events coming up that I have had to split them across two blogs – part two coming soon…….