Putting Things into Con-textile

A look at the destinations behind the world’s most interesting textiles.

Textiles act as mirrors to the cultural environments they come from. The local weaving techniques, natural dyes and materials are all cultural pathways to dazzling destinations. The best way to understand this relationship is to see it yourself. So, hold on to your bobbin, because we’re about to put things into con-textile, and visit six unbelievable places and their fabrics.

1 Peru
Geometric Weaving

Let’s pay homage to a region where one of oldest indigo-dyed cotton textiles was discovered 6,200 years ago: Peru.

Andean Kañihuan (From the collection of Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity - Ark of Taste)

These Peruvian women are not only keeping it twill but preserving an essential part of Peruvian identity: Quechua weaving.

II, Women’s costume for the Tupay dance, province of Espinar, Cusco by Mario Testino (From the collection of MATE - Museo Mario Testino)

The use and specific arrangement of color, symbols, geometric shapes, and flowers in Quechua weaving tell stories about the weaver’s everyday life. For example, focus far left of this picture and you’ll find a condor. In Incan culture Condors are Gods of the Upper World.

VIII, Male costume in the Wallatas dance, communities of Willoq and Patacancha, district of Ollantaytambo, province of Urubamba, Cusco, Peru 2010 (From the collection of MATE - Museo Mario Testino)

2 Turkey
Signs & Symbols

Let’s weave ourselves over to Turkey, a country that has played host to the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman Empires. Sometimes taking years to be completed, the legendary rugs that come from the region carry rich history in every painstakingly woven thread.

The Port from the Galata Tower (From the collection of Pera Museum Collection)

While researchers are not entirely sure the meaning of complex symbolic motifs in Turkish and Middle Eastern rugs, there are theories that they were simply what the weaver desired. For example, the star symbol in this picture at times symbolizes happiness.

Fabric tip: Pay careful attention to the knotting technique. The more knots per square inch the higher quality the rug is considered.

Three Star 'Holbein' Carpet (From the collection of The Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar)

It looks like these Harem women have a classic case of Tulip fever, as they dance on woven depictions of tulips. Tulips were the most iconic motif of the Ottoman Empire.

A Scene from the Turkish Harem by Valentin Mueller, Hans Gemminger, Franz Hermann (From the collection of Pera Museum)

Here’s an early variation of the Slav Squat from a European doing his best to Turk it up. Notice how the beautifully woven Turkish rug underneath him really ties the whole piece together, calling out all the background elements of nature and blending them beautifully with the colors of his clothes

A European in Turkish Costume by Antoine de Favray, Second half of the 18th Century - Late 18th Century (From the collection of Pera Museum)

3 The Great Plains
Storytelling Fabrics

With one look at the treacherous Teton Mountain Range, it’s no wonder much of the textiles from the Great Plains Native Americans were more on the knitty-gritty side. They were amongst the best in the world for using quilt dress as storytelling devices.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming by Alfred Eisenstaedt (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)
Four Elk in a Field, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA (From the collection of Getty Images)

This Lakota Dakota shirt not only depicts a battle scene, but also features a geometric star. The star serves the purpose of protecting deceased through their journey of the stars.

Lakota/Dakota Shirt (From the collection of Berkshire Museum)
The Buffalo that could not Dream, Felix von der Osten (From the collection of Delhi Photo Festival)

4 Japan
The Precision of Nature

From rigid Zen meditation to mastery in martial arts, strict precision has flowed through Japanese culture for thousands of years, and this comes out in their detailed fabrics.

woman's robe, Chinaearly 1900s, Republic of China (From the collection of Spencer Museum of Art)

In addition, thanks to romantic peace filled times such as the Heian period, Japan has existed in a beautiful balance with nature. Both of these themes are reflected in the textiles of Japan.

Binnenplaats van theehuis Kameido met bloeiende wisteria in Tokyo (From the collection of Rijksmuseum)

Their focus and their natural world connection is best shown in a dyeing technique called Ise-Katagami, which uses stenciling cutouts that exhibit an uncanny exactness of detailed technique.

The waves with crane, Nagaita Chūgata Nanbu Yukio and Photo: Ishii Mayumi (From the collection of Kyoto Women’s University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory)
Stenciling, Nagaita Chūgata Matsubara Nobuo and Photo: Ishii Mayumi (From the collection of Kyoto Women’s University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory)

5 India
The Color of Life

Khaki, calico, seersucker, dungarees, gingham, sash, and shawl. Okay, now say that ten times really fast. All of these commonplace descriptions of pieces of clothing were actually derived from Indian words.

Colors of Tiruvannamalai | Dinesh Khanna (From the collection of Ekalokam Trust for Photography)

Various colors in India are associated with the three main deities of Hinduism, nature, the caste system leftover by the English, and even weddings. The bright expressions all interact together to tell robust stories of life in India.

Lambani Embroiderers in Sandur, Karnataka (From the collection of JD Centre of Art)
Ceremonial Cloth and Heirloom Textile with Row of Female Musicians, origin India, Gujarat, 17th century (From the collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

To further drive home how integrally woven Indian textiles were in the world during the 18th and 19th centuries, the word “India” alone essentially became synonymous with cotton.

Cotton Plant (From the collection of the SEWA Hansiba Museum)

6 Thailand
East Meets West

If you’ve been dyeing to get to the end, not so fast. Take a moment and appreciate the true unsung hero of the list: Thailand.

Ban Phon: Phrae Waa Anak Navaraj (From the collection of Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles)

The Queen of Thailand, Queen Sirikit’s textile infatuation runs deep. She has been a force of nature in advocating for and preserving the traditional Thai textile world. Many of her dresses, which are a mix of Western sentiment and traditional Thai silk construction, have been designed by French designer Pierre Balmain.

Thai Chakri, Chong kraben Variation (Gold) by Pierre Balmain from the collection of Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

Queen Sirikit went so far as to opening the Queen Sirikit Textile Museum with the mission to “collect, display, preserve, and serve as a center for all who wish to learn about textiles, past and present, from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Asia.” (Source: http://www.iassrt.org) So, don’t forget to add your own finishing touches and treat yo’self to a virtual tour of Queen Sirikit’s Textile Museum. Just try your best to not touch anything.

Queen Sirkit Museum of Textiles, Bangkok
Written by Ryan Birol
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