Sunday, February 16, 2014

Textile Travelling...On the Hunt...and in the Trunk...

I spend a lot of time hunting. Well I call it hunting. Why, because you have to hunt things out. You need to go far afield, look in unlikely places to find the treasure tucked away. Scratching the surface doesn't deliver the gems, perhaps the fools gold but not the pot of gold.

I think this bug has been in me since I was a child. I was always finding things that perhaps I shouldn' santas presents before christmas or my brothers hidden cigarettes.

But it gave me the nose (and its kinda a big one) to sniff things out. Curiosity and a healthy desire to learn the how, what, when and why made me a traveller. Not only of places but of the stories that come with the people and history. Match that with my other love, textiles and its a beast that needs to be fed, the itch that needs to be scratched. Maybe when I am old, I can look back on this as my life's work.

On this recent trip I caught up with many people I have met over the years feeding this need. People with amazing stories. The more I get to know these amazing ladies the more I learn about pushing past the barriers and becoming fearless. Becoming honourable. Becoming the best of what you do. Being and doing good in business. Surviving in the big sea. I am now a strong swimmer thanks to these ladies. I learn from them more and more. I look up to you and I thank you for taking me under your wings.

But as much as I go far afield physically and have my head stuck in a history book reading and learning about the stories of the past so I can understand more for the future, there is one common thing. Its a thread. I find this thread where ever I go. It's something that binds us together. A language you can speak even if you do not know the words. It can be shown with your hands, it can be shown through the motion of acting out the mime of picking up a needle and thread and pretending to sew. It is universal. Every country and every culture has some form of textile story.

When I travel I collect these stories. The ones about great grandmothers who made the finest laces.  The tablecloths that were embroidered by grandmothers. The weaving done by a tribe or the dyeing done by a family. A textile heritage is there. From the wrappers worn by statuesque African ladies to the tight skinny jeans worn by the teenager down the road, its all a textile. The shirt on our back as much as its a necessity for modesty can also be a work of design or a feat of human hand. The survival of haute couture requires the finest hand workers as machines are not allowed. So many stories of the past talk of innovation and progress. But at the same time mechanisation and industrialisation is also killing age old traditions and skills.

Some of the saddest things I have seen are the closing and dying out of traditional skills as Chinese manufacturing pushes into traditional areas. The weavers who support their villages being replaced by Chinese polyesters printed to look like the traditional textiles of the region - this is happening in Vietnam as the traditional Hmong weavers are being pushed out to cheap Chinese imports. In Africa the traditional wax cloths as now screen printed in factories in China and are being sold into the region cheaper than they can be produced locally killing off local industry and jobs. Even in our own country we have lost our local textile industry. One such practice is to send boat loads of unprocessed wool full of grease and grit from the shorn sheep over to china for cleaning and processing then shipping it back.

These are only 3 examples of many....

So I collect textiles and the stories that go with them. I find the original examples of human ingenuity before Chinese and computerised mass production took over. People wonder why I collect early printed textiles. I do so because to me they are clever. Done without the aid of a computer. Hand drawn designs and repeats carefully worked out. The screens separated by talented technical artists who split the colours into the separate screens for printing. Engravers who etched the plates by hand. All coming to together to create prints that flow beautifully with an effortless quality and organic line that can only be achieved by hand. The first of the trends and design eras, colours and technological advancements. We have had more advancement and movement in history in these last 100 years or so than any other period in history. Thats exciting.

The other reason I collect early printed textiles is the design and innovation that goes behind them. How technology and its effects on social history brought forward trends and milestone moments in history. As simple as a particular colour being able to be produced successfully starting a fashion trend and the age of new technology. Perkins Purple is an example of this. Even good old black was not an easily obtained colour that was stable until the early 1890s when 'Direct' black was created. Orange is another that set the world on alight with bright happy joy in the 1920s. Why the 1930s was mute and pastel was they could then produce those hues with stability and success. I just find this stuff really interesting. I like how curiosity and invention shapes the way we create things. These days we can have what ever we want. Sort of takes the fun out of it really.

So my thirst for finding the most interesting, clever, quirky, technically wonderful or down right wacky original print textiles continues. And I am sharing them with you.

Come to the special trunk show on Saturday and Sunday the 1st and 2nd of March at the Ceres Township Sunday School Hall.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post.

    1. Thanks Rachel. I'm only just getting the hang of these comment boxes. I didn't know I could reply!