An ancient metaphor: thought is a
thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns -- but the true
storyteller, the poet, is a weaver. The scribes made this old and
audible abstraction into a new and visible fact. After long
practice, their work took on such an even, flexible texture that
they called the written page a textus, which means cloth. [Robert
Bringhurst, "The Elements of Typographic Style"]
At the Met, visiting
we walked through rooms of beautiful textiles that had been traded
globally between 1500 and 1800.
which has been woven
Text: literally the ‘thing woven' from Latin texere
to weave, from PIE root tek to weave or to fabricate.
As we stalked the
exhibit with our acquisitive writers’ eyes, we recalled the words
for textiles that we knew—words that added to the color and
texture of our vocabulary, the geography of our days:
(from Latin sericum, referencing the Latin name Seres for
the people of the Orient from whom silks were traded, in Chinese
si is silk);
(from the Arabic al qoton); damask (from the city
(from the Arabic gazz for raw silk, perhaps ultimately from
(from the Arabic saffaf, transparent);
(from the name of the city Calicut, now Kozhikode);
(from the Arabic mukhayyar, a cloth of goat hair, 'choice,
selected' khayyara meaning 'he chose');
(from Mosul). . . .
And now there were other words here, some new, some with new
stories, to be absorbed into that thing called a working
palampore, patolu, bizarre . . . .
rosettes (detail), 18th century, India (Coromandel Coast), for the
Japanese market, Cotton (painted resist and mordant, dyed)
(from Hindi sarasa, superior): During the Edo period, the
Japanese used these fine, colorful cottons from India with their
repeating painted and printed patterns for obi and kosode linings,
and in accessories such as tobacco pouches and bags for tea
ceremony use. Ryukyu traders had taken Indian textiles to Japan
beginning in the 15th century. The rosettes here refer to Buddhist
symbols—the lotus, the wheel, and variations. . . .
mid-18th century, Indian (Coromandel Coast), for the European
market, cotton embroidered with silk
(from Hindi palang-pos bedspread): These bedcovers are
sumptuously patterned and most often decorated with a Tree of
Life--a central, spreading, and serpentine flowering tree with
exotic and fantastic blooms, fruits, and motifs such as peacocks
and elephants. In this palampore there is a synthesis of
Indian, European, and Chinese motifs.
Patolu (detail), late 18th
century, India (Gujarat) for the Indonesian market, Silk double-ikat
(patolu is the singular, the word is of uncertain origin): Warp
and weft threads are pre-dyed so that the pattern is revealed only
after the weaving is complete. Ikat uses only dyed warp threads
and a patolu is, in essence, a double-ikat. Patola
is a meticulous, premeditated art, for warp and weft have to match
perfectly during weaving.
first quarter 18th century, Indian, Coromandel Coast, Cotton,
painted resist and mordant, dyed
(from plural of Hindi chint,
from Sanskrit chitr-a clear, bright) were originally
elaborately and colorfully patterned textiles from India with
floral and other motifs, usually on a light background. They were
painted or dyed glazed calico, and in the early 17th century the
finest were from Gujarat and the Coromandel Coast. Floral-motifs
of European influence were used in chintz for Western markets.
There was some synthesis over time of patterns, the original
Indian designs drew from Islamic and Mughal motifs. By the late
17th century, they were used for furnishings.
Length of "Bizarre" Silk (detail), 1700–10, French or Italian, silk satin,
brocaded, silk and metal-wrapped thread
European weavings whose design referred to Persian and Mughal
Indian motifs as well as Chinoiserie and European floral patterns.
The bizarre silks date from about 1690 to 1720 and were patterned
with lush flora intertwining with architectural features: fantasy
fruits and flowers, pagoda shaped pavilions, allusions to the
shape of mihrab. They were usually designed with a diagonal
as base, and the original floral and architectural inspirations
were often distorted and almost unrecognizable in the final
design. The fabrics were used for women’s dresses and for
furniture and wall panels.
To walk through
these rooms is to not only be entranced with the pattern and color
and texture of these antique fabrics and objects that were traded
across the seas, but to come to some new understanding of the
nature of a text, language that is itself global and accumulative,
warp and weft threads of thought like lines of latitude and
longitude on some map of book or poem that has already been
written or has yet to be woven . . . .
through January 5,
2014 at the Metropolitan Museum
Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile
language literature color
Buddhist Vestment detail (Kashaya in
Sanskrit, Kesa in Japanese), Edo,
18th century, Japan, Lampas: silk; squares: silk satin, brocaded,
silk and gilt paper-wrapped thread
Gilded Floral Pattern (detail), 18th century, India, for the
Japanese market, Cotton (painted mordant, dyed) with applied gold
"An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a
spinner of yarns -- but the true storyteller, the poet, is a