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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book review: Textiles: the Whole Story

Textiles: the Whole Story
By Beverly Gordon
Thames & Hudson, 2011  

Fiber, and the textiles made from it, is all around us.  Beverly Gordon’s splendid new book provides a comprehensive analysis of that fact.  She acknowledges that there are millions of people for whom textile-making is a hobby or a craft profession: quiltmakers, weavers, knitters, basketmakers, seamsters, and others. Gordon goes deeper and in so doing enriches our understanding of the fiber that supports our lives.
·         Textiles in human consciousness
n  Language and imagery – we use textile terms as metaphors (“tie up loose ends,” “cut from the same cloth”)
n  Myth and legend – the three Fates; Penelope’s weaving as she waited for Odysseus; and similar stories from other cultures
n  Textiles for weddings (the chuppa) and funerals (the pall)
·         Textiles and human survival
n  Clothing and shelter (tents, draperies, hammocks)
n  Food preparation and storage (nets, baskets)
n  Hygiene, medicine, protection
n  Transportation
      ·         Social meaning of textiles
n  Quilting bees
n  Performing arts and sports (costumes and equipment, e.g. hot air balloons)
·         Cloth and power (money, trade, status, control)
n  Value of cloth:  “cloth of gold” and “cloth of silver” with real metals; the cost of dye (murex for purple, cochineal for red)
n  How the silk and cotton trades created economies (East to West; U.S. and Europe; slavery)
n  Power:  the yellow stars Jews had to wear in Nazi Europe; embroidered shoes for bound feet in China
·         Cloth expression (meaning, messages, and beauty)
n  Peruvian knotted strings for record-keeping
n  Signal flags
n  Embroidered samplers and their verses
n  Tapestries
·         Sacred, spiritual, and healing significance of cloth
n  Symbolism of white cloth
n  Sacred garments (Jewish tallit)
n  Prayer flags and prayer shawls

Extensive color illustrations show examples from around the world, historical and contemporary. I have noted several (too many!) books in the bibliography that I’d like to read.  (Kathleen Curtis Wilson was writing  Irish People, Irish Linen   as Prof. Gordon was writing this book. I hope they have read one another’s work by now.) 

Gordon is professor emerita in the Design Studies  Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Design Studies incorporates interior design and textile design. The department is in the School of Human Ecology, which was originally the School of Home Economics).   

This book will be of interest to anyone who works with any kind of fiber and to anyone who is interested in history.  I enthusiastically recommend it!

1 comment:

  1. It sounds excellent! Going to try and get my hands on a copy asap. Thanks for blogging about it!


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