While out at a function on last weekend, I was in awe of the prints worn by some Nigerian women in the gathering. I was told by a friend of mine that these prints were specifically worn by certain tribes, that they were identifiers of one’s relationships to and with others. This got me thinking about fabric generally and how fabrics so enrich the aesthetic pleasure in our lives and that it frequently has many meanings. And yet, how much critical attention does fabric usually receive? Painting is placed in museums and in galleries, but what about the gorgeous work of textiles? Is knowledge about material relegated only to people who create clothing and housing stuffs?
For those interested in diverse cultures and sustainability, be sure to check out the blog, Red Thread Studio created by Elaine Lipson, who has a discussion of the “slow cloth” movement, a movement that parallels the “slow food” movement in its interest in sustainability and enhancing the pleasure of life. She also includes a great deal of information on current practices in many cultures. Of all the sources I perused, this was my favorite.
For the more scholarly among you, check out the many centers about the history of fabrics in universities and museums. For example, the California Academy of Sciences studies Coptic textiles from Egypt; the American National History Museum in Washington has a special collection of textiles around the world, and there exists an entire Textile Museum in northwest Washington D.C. Here in Chicagoland, the Field Museum has an extensive textile collection. There are even several scholarly journals that focus on textiles—for example, The Clothing and Textile Research Journal.
The moral of the story: Never underestimate the research that has already been done before you look.