With the Dalai Lama in our midst, I am reminded of how Buddhism made its way from India, across Central Asia, to China along the silk routes during the “axial” period (roughly the first millenium BCE). Cultural exchange along the overland silk routes was vast and really began much earlier than this era; however, an major expansion of human endeavor occurred during this period, including in the creation of cloth. Indeed, the “silk road” derives its name from the extensive silk fabric trade that occurred during the later centuries of the Axial Period, along with all other manner of textiles and raw materials for cloth production. As I more deeply explore the history of textiles and textile techniques, it is astounding to me how much cross-fertilization and emergence of what we now think of as “civilization” occurred during this period, including in the realm of textile craft skills. This was the era of a deep unfolding of human culture and it is really exciting to trace back, from whatever point of entry (whether it be visual arts, craft, science, philosophy), to discover what makes us truly human.
I thirst for big pictures more and more. By piecing together a larger picture (over time and across cultures) from the point of view of cloth and textile techniques, I begin to really gain perspective. I use the term “continuum” a lot but it really applies to this story – the story of us – for we are still connecting, cross-fertilizing and reinterpreting what has been given to us by others, as well as what we have inherited from the millennia of past human activity. We have made some mistakes along the way, but it is astonishing that we have made it this far. Tap into the “continuum”…there is much to be gained from the appreciation of where we have been – among other things, a temporary transcendence of the limitations of our own point of view – as we work out where we are headed as human creatures.