Thursday, July 20, 2017

World Tour of Textiles exhibition

The World Tour of Textiles:  Azerbaijan to Turkey is now open in the upstairs Moreland Gallery of the Benton County Historical Museum. If you like beautifully crafted items, be sure to check this exhibit out—even if you've already seen the Around the World exhibition in the first-floor gallery.

The words textile and cloth seem to be used fairly interchangeable with both referring to “ a flexible material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibres ...” (Wikipedia)  As we began drawing a list of possibilities for inclusion in this exhibition, I was amazed at the wide variety in the fibers used and methods of making them into cloth. We tried to pick items that would illustrate this variety as well as being attractive pieces.

Sheep's wool is a familiar source of animal fiber but in the Andes, people also use fibers from llamas and alpacas to make shawls like the one included in this exhibition.  Other possible animal fibers include hairs from goats, camels, and yaks. Silk, made from the cocoons of silk worms, produces a lustrous but often delicate fabric. The exhibition includes one spectacular silk item:  a embroidered silk coat worn by a Chinese official. 

Embroidered Chinese man's robe

Many of the items on display are made of cotton, the most common plant fiber.  But we have also included items made from flax (linen), the bark of the mulberry tree (tapas), fibers from the trunk of a banana tree (abaca or manila hemp), and fibers from the leaf of a pineapple plant (pina).  I was surprised to find that the prickly pineapple plant produced such a lightweight, translucent fabric.  The Horner collection includes both the vest on display, shown here, and an altar cloth also of pina cloth.

Most of us probably think of making fibers (plant or animal) into cloth by first spinning them into yarn and then weaving the threads together using a simple over, under, over, under pattern (or plain weave).  But fibers can also be meshed together by pounding them (especially when wet) into a mat.  Felt is made of pounded wool and bark cloth is made by doing the same with plant fibers. Knitting, and knotting (lace-making, carpets) are also ways to “network” fibers. The exhibition includes items made with each of these techniques.

But what is amazing is the variety of techniques used to embellish the textiles.  It seems that people everywhere want to add beauty or meaning.  The simplest method is color-- dyeing the fabric a bright color or adding a few rows of a different color yarn to create a stripe.  More complex patterns can be created by dyeing only certain sections (preserving other from the dye with wax) or weaving in supplementary threads in certain areas. Designs can be painted on, or printed with stamps or modern presses.  All sorts of objects can be sewn onto the fabric:  pieces of a different color fabric (applique), beads, sequins, shells, mirrors and coins. But to me, the most beautiful pieces are those with intricate embroidery- using stitches in a different color thread to “draw” a pattern or fill in a whole area. The mandarin robe pictured above is one of many beautifully embroidered pieces in the Horner Collection.  I plan to feature some others in up-coming posts. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

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