I’ve been catching up on reading in the middle of a busy production schedule and am finding great nourishment for thought in all of it. From reviewing back issues of FiberArts, to exploring the history of various favorite textile techniques (e.g., Memory on Cloth by Yoshiko Wada – see the Books and Inspiration page in this blog), to essays on craft theory, I have covered an enormous amount of ground and have much more to cover yet!
One of the topics that interests me in exploring historic and contemporary cloth is the cross-fertilization and apparent concurrent generation of textile “technology” that has occurred across cultures and over time (and this phenomenon, of course, is not only limited to textile techniques). From the harvesting and processing of plant and animal fibers for practical application, to deriving colorants from the wild, to weaving and mark-making techniques on completed cloth surfaces – it is astounding how many “concurrences” exist in such disparate cultural and geographic situations.
There is a wealth of examples of traceable cross-fertilization in geographically connected areas. The more curious are those which occurred in more geographically “isolated” cultures – i.e., before sustaining contact of the type that marked the expanding days of discovery of the 14th and 15th centuries. Take, for example, Pre-Columbian Peruvian textile fragments preserved from the early centuries of the first millennium AD which demonstrate great complexity and skill, and which emerged independently of similar techniques practiced concurrently (and earlier) in Africa and India.
My grasp of this is mostly superficial being neither a historian nor an anthropologist. However, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the drive to create and decorate cloth is a universal impulse that marks various stages of the human cultural unfolding, regardless of geographic situation. It is pretty difficult to look at the evolution of pre-industrial textile techniques and not be overwhelmed with awe by the creativity that emerged in response to one basic challenge to all human beings – to be clothed. We moved from basic, plain weave and braided fibers, to complex woven structures, to surface patterning created through dyeing and printing, to highly embellished and rarefied garments meant in some cultures only for royalty, as a means of reinforcing existing social hierarchies, or by priests and shamans, as a way to further enhance high ritual occasions.
It is a joy to explore new techniques, evolve current favorites and revisit/reinvest in forgotten techniques with new-found enthusiasm. The more time I spend working with cloth, the more of a marvel it is to me, and the more connected I feel to my ancient and historic counterparts, as well as to my contemporaries – practitioners who have chosen to be a part of a continuum of cloth-creating in its humblest to its most exalted forms.