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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Fabric Arts

Mastering Weave Structures: Transforming Ideas into Great Cloth by Sharon Alderman (Interweave Press) This exploration into the structure of various weaves provides an understanding of how each weave works, guiding weavers to design and weave their own beautiful fabrics. The underlying principles that govern a particular kind of structure are explained, as are modifying the basic draft and choosing fibers and yarns. Comprehensive and detailed, the book covers plain weave, twills, satin, waffle weaves, distortions of the grid, three-element weaves, loom-controlled double weave, Bedford cords and piques, loom-controlled pile weaves, and crepe weaves. The book answers many technical questions about various weave structures. The author discusses the structure, provides simple examples that then become building blocks for more complicated examples. She then provides beautiful examples of her work along with the structure explanations. The explanations are advanced in a logical order easy to follow and she often provides information on why certain fibers are good choices for a particular structure and what happens when less desirable fibers are chosen. This book is well thought out and very logically presented. In my view, this is a great book that will provide useful information to even the most advanced weaver.

5,000 Years of Textiles by Jennifer Harris (Smithsonian Books) 327 color, 98 b/w photographs.The classic, comprehensive, full-color survey of worldwide textile art from prehistory to the present day.

An authoritative reference and a visual delight, with examples from the Far East to the Americas, from Africa to Scandinavia, and from Egyptian artifacts dating from 3000 BC to the most up-to-date modern craftwork and furnishings. Includes an expert guide to nine fundamental textile techniques, from rug weaving and tapestry to felt and bark cloth. Each is clearly explained, using line drawings and close-up color details from actual textiles, to show how people from many different traditions have made and decorated cloth through the centuries. The breathtaking wealth of illustrations drawn from major collections all over the world includes costumes, period interiors, archive photographs, and a vast range of fabrics, from the simplest handwoven cloths to sumptuous brocades and exquisite embroidery.

The history of textiles is a wide-ranging subject which may embrace the study of archaeology, anthropology, social and economic history, and art and design history. Textile historians may be involved with any of these disciplines, and ele­ments of the different approaches peculiar to them are to be found in the present volume, which reflects the varied backgrounds of the many authors who have contributed. It has meant, inevitably, some sacrifice of unity of approach and attitude, but what is gained in its place is a wealth of varied expertise and some idea of the multi-faceted nature of the subject.

Twenty-four authors have contributed, all of them acknowledged experts in their field. They have been attentive throughout of the necessary constraints imposed in trying to convey something of the complexity of their given areas of expertise concisely and in such a way as to entice readers, perhaps coming to the subject for the first time, to explore it further. This can be done through the works listed as further reading and by visiting specialist museum collections of textiles, many of which are noted in the illustration acknowledgements. Without making claims for this book as an exhaustive survey, we believe that it offers a more comprehensive and authori­tative introduction to the history of textiles than has so far been available.

This book depends for its subject-matter on the chance survival through the centuries of mat­erials inherently prone to decay. Textiles are made to be used primarily as furnishings and dress, and are expected to wear out and even­tually be discarded. It is for this reason that books like this are essentially histories of decorated textiles, since the ordinary or the everyday will rarely survive the lifetime of its user. In the major museum collections of the world christen­ing robes, wedding dresses, festival garments, dowry items - in other words the special or the extraordinary made to be worn or used on only a few occasions - form a disproportionate per­centage of the holdings. Thus museum displays of historical textiles and, to a great extent, writ-ten histories of the subject, which tend to draw heavily on them for their illustrative materials and research, can only ever provide a partial picture.

Britain, for example, had an important woollen industry from the medieval period but, in comparison with embroidered items, little survives, having succumbed either to the ravages of clothes' moth or been`discarded as undecorated and thus not precious. And where plain cloths have survived in any number over a long period, as in the Egyptian burial grounds, these were often pillaged for the more decorative tapestry-woven ornaments on them and then tossed aside.

Textiles begin to deteriorate from the moment they are made, and even those chance survivals which make up the story of this book will have been subjected to some environmental damage. Those which were in constant use will almost certainly have suffered from exposure to light, particularly the ultraviolet rays present in both daylight and in artificial light. The greatest enemy of textiles of all kinds, light not only fades the dyes but also embrittles and thus weakens the actual structure of the fibers themselves, hastening disintegration. Climate has a similarly detrimental effect on textiles. Silk will become brittle in dry heat, whilst a humid atmosphere will rot fibers and cause mould to grow and fugitive dyes to 'bleed' into surrounding areas of cloth. When one further considers the damage done to fibers by dust and attacks by clothes' moths and other pests, one begins to wonder that so many textiles have survived at all.

In comparison with objects of metal, stone, pottery or glass textiles represent only a small proportion of excavated material. In damp soil the vegetable fibers of which many textiles are made disintegrate entirely, although occasion-ally the copper salts from oxidized bronze or silver objects pinned to articles of clothing will act to preserve small fragments of cloth from decay. Nevertheless, special circumstances in several different parts of the world have meant that some textiles have been preserved over extraordinarily long periods of time.


Navajo Weaving in the Late Twentieth Century: Kin, Community, and Collectors by Ann Lane Hedlund (University of Arizona Press) A treasury of 74 dazzling color plates representing the work of sixty of the finest native weavers in the American Southwest. The creations depicted here reflect a number of styles--revival, sandpainting, pictorial, miniature, sampler--and a number of major regional variations, from Ganado to Teec Nos Pos. Textile authority Hedlund provides an introductory narrative about the development of Navajo textile collecting and a brief review of the history of Navajo weaving.

According to the Navajos, the holy people Spider Man and Spider Woman first brought the tools for weaving to the People. Over the centuries, Navajo artists have used those tools to weave a web of beauty—a rich tradition that continues to the present day.

In testimony to this living art form, this book presents 74 dazzling color plates of Navajo rugs and wall hangings woven between 1971 and 1996. Drawn from a private southwestern collec­tion, they represent the work of sixty of the finest native weavers in the American Southwest. The creations depicted here reflect a number of styles—revival, sand-painting, pictorial, minia­ture, sampler—and a number of major regional variations, from Ganado to Teec Nos Pos.

Textile authority Ann Hedlund provides an introductory narrative about the development of Navajo textile collecting—including the shift of attention from artifacts to art—and a brief review of the history of Navajo weaving. She then com­ments on the shaping of the particular collection represented in the book, offering a rich source of knowledge and insight for other collectors.

Explaining themes in Navajo weaving over the quarter-century represented by the Santa Fe Collection, Hedlund focuses on the development of modern rug designs and the influence on weavers of family, community, artistic identity, and the marketplace. She also introduces each section of plates with a description of the repre­sentative style, its significance, and the weavers who perpetuate and deviate from it. In addition to

the textile plates, Hedlund's color photographs show the families, landscapes, livestock, and looms that surround today's Navajo weavers.

Navajo Weaving in the Late Twentieth Century explores many of the important con­nections that exist today among weavers through their families and neighbors,`and the significant role that collectors play in perpetu­ating this dynamic art form. For all who appre­ciate American Indian art and culture, this book provides invaluable guidance to the fine points of collecting as well as a rich visual feast.


Junior Knits by Debbie Bliss (Trafalgar Square) Top knitwear designer Debbie Bliss presents 25 fabulous new projects for four–to–ten– year–olds, from easy striped legwarmers to a denim sweater and hooded parka. Charmingly photographed and spiral–bound to lie flat for easy use.
As more and more people learn to knit, Debbie Bliss continues to meet the demand for stylish, yet easy–to–create designs. In Junior Knits, she concentrates on children four to ten years–old, with 25 projects that include an Aran`sweater dress, a zipped hoody with pockets, a cabled–tweed jacket, an easy–knit stocking–stitch sweater, and a moss–stitch bag with flowers and contrasting lining. Complete with clear step–by–step instructions, simple charts, and gorgeous color photographs, this is another must–have collection from the foremost designer of knitwear for babies and children. Debbie Bliss, former designer for Baby Gap, is the best–selling author of more than a dozen books, including Baby Knits for Beginners, The Baby Knits Book, Debbie Bliss Knitting Workbook, How to Knit, and Classic Knits for Kids.

Moroccan Textile Embroidery by Isabelle Denamur (Flammarion) At the heart of Morocco 's vibrant handicraft culture is an essentially feminine art form of embroidery on silk, cotton, and linen-one of the most vibrant arts in North Africa for many centuries and in vogue through the 1930s. These exquisite embroidered objects bear witness to the sophisticated taste of a bygone society.

Moroccan Textile Embroidery explains how Moroccan women passed this cultural art on to the next generation and how embroidered patterns were used to decorate interior spaces-cushions, tablecloths, curtains and mats-as well as certain traditional accessories in the female wardrobe-shawls, belts, handkerchiefs, and headscarves.

Because of the rarity of older patterns and difficulty conserving textiles, Moroccan embroidery has remained largely undiscovered. Here for pattern artists and textile enthusiasts, is a rare photographic documentation of this beautiful ancestral art, including over one hundred historical pieces.

Morocco lies at the crossroads of the African, Mediterranean, and European worlds and has been a melting pot of different civilizations. Its Islamic culture, which developed from the seventh century onward, absorbed Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Jewish, Spanish, and French elements. These diverse influences have nourished Morocco's decorative arts. The basic geometrical forms-crosses, triangles, zigzag lines, checkerboards, starbursts, rosettes-recall African, Berber, and Coptic motifs, while the arabesques, flowers and foliage, palm fronds, traceries, and inscriptions echo Byzantine and Oriental traditions.

This synthesis of styles is particularly evident in the refined, elegant, urban art of Muslim Spain. Introduced into Spain by the Arab conquest and strengthened by the assimilation of strongly Andalusian characteristics, it combined delicate foliage, calligraphy, and floral arabesques with dazzling patterns (diamonds, polygons, foliage) and simple, powerful forms. The styles were applied to mosques and madrasas, palaces, city gates, town­houses, fountains, and gardens, as well as to everyday items such as furniture, jewelry, weaponry, and embroidered ceremonial costumes, clothing, and household furnishings. The styles also became one of the most distinctive features of the brilliant medieval civilization of Al-Andalus, which flourished in Cordoba, Granada, and Seville from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries under the Berber dynasties known as the Almoravids (from the Sahara) and the Almohads (from the Atlas Mountains).

Born of the desire to create a refined backdrop to everyday life, embroidery is a universal art that has chiefly been practiced by women. In Babylon, Athens, Rome, Byzantium, Baghdad, Venice, Cordoba, and Budapest, women used embroidery to add a touch of luxury to their costumes and their homes. In Morocco, embroidery has flourished (and been well docu­mented) since the Middle Ages, particularly in the northern cities.

The materials of choice are natural silk thread­soft and downy with a fine sheen in shimmering colors obtained from natural vegetable or animal dyes-on muslin, lawn, linen, cotton, or, more rarely, silk. Despite evolving lifestyles, embroidery continues to play a prominent role in Moroccan society today. The sumptuous interiors and women's apparel that so dazzled nineteenth-century European painters are still a feature of modern-day Moroccan life, albeit adapted to changing times and needs.

Embroideries accompany every stage of the journey from cradle to grave: the katfiya adorns the traditional costume of the new-born baby; the sebniya handkerchief covers the bride's hand after the ceremonial application of henna, while the groom is resplendent in tunic, headdress, and gilet. A shan headscarf is worn over the hair after bathing, and the deceased are draped in an embroidered shroud for the journey to the afterlife. Cushions known as mesned or mhedda are scattered on beds and divans or placed on the floor for use as backrests, elbowrests, pillows, or seating. Tablecloths (mendil) and smaller squares known as rzma have a variety of uses. With their corners knotted together, they make elegant parcels

for especially treasured items: the bride's trousseau, gifts from her fiancé, or freshly laundered clothes to take to the hammam.

Large curtains known as izar used to be hung in the doorways of rooms opening onto courtyards and enclosed gardens; swollen gently by the evening breeze, their translucent fabric allowed the women of the house to see out, without being seen themselves. In both Chechaouen and Azemmour, large hangings known as arid are placed around the bed niche of a newly married couple; in Tetouan, mirrors are adorned with sumptuously embroidered silk bands known as tenchifa to protect against the evil`eye.

These embroideries-the product of patience, perseverance, and rigor-never fail to delight, with their subtle nuances, harmonious and rhythmic patterns, powerful compositions, and distinctive styles particular to each individual city. Fez is noted for its delicate monochromatic work, that uses fine geometric and floral motifs, while Rabat's multicolored pieces are clearly distinguishable from the monochromatic, geometric, almost architectural designs of its neighbor, Sale. Tetouan work affords striking similarities with Spanish Muslim embroideries of the fifteenth century but also features the tulips, hyacinths, and wild roses of the Ottoman herbary, themselves a common feature of Algerian embroideries. Azemmour designs draw on the fantastic Byzantine bestiary, and Chechaouen work mingles geometry and floral motifs in shimmering colors reminiscent of manuscript illuminations or mosaics. Meknes embroideries favor abstract, fantastic designs in a multitude of bright, cheerful colors.

Two clear strands of influence are discernible in the embroideries of Morocco. One is Spanish in origin, and the other can be traced to the Balkans. Successive waves of Jewish, Muslim, and Spanish emigrants from Andalusia brought the former to the cities of Fez, Chechaouen, Tétouan, Sale (where two distinctive styles have evolved), Rabat (the city's early work), Azemmour, and Meknes. The latter's influence is discernible in the Fez stitch and the city's so-called aleuj embroideries, as practiced by Turkish and Circassian women in the city's harems. These twin traditions are complemented today by the influence of European fabrics, evident in modern Rabat embroidery. But the often-young women who created these pieces were not slaves to tradition. Their works are often highly original, always unique, and feature freely adapted motifs, varied and imaginative compositions, and a fine sense of color. Highly pleasing to the eye, they are also above all a means of communication, an expression of cultural exchange and an eloquent testimony to the lifestyles, emotions, prayers, and dreams of vanished generations of women.

Inspired by these marvelous pieces, Isabelle Denamur has produced a study of great scientific rigor and aesthetic sensitivity-a fitting tribute to their creators, the women of Morocco, past and present.

The Weaver's Craft: Cloth, Commerce, and Industry in Early Pennsylvania by Adrienne D. Hood (Early American Studies: University of Pennsylvania Press)

Adrienne D. Hood, former curator textiles at the Royal Ontario Museum , focuses on Pennsylvania and the long sweep of history yields a new under­standing of the complexities of early American fabric production and the regional variations that led to distinct experiences of industrializa­tion. Drawing on an extensive array of primary sources, combined with a quantitative approach, the author argues that in contrast to New England , rural Pennsylvania women spun the yarn that a small group of trained male artisans wove into cloth on a commercial basis through­out the eighteenth century. Their production was considerably augmented by consumers purchasing cheap cloth from Europe and Asia , making them active participants in a global marketplace. Hooch’s painstaking research and numerous illustrations of textile equipment, swatch books, and consumer goods in The Weaver's Craft will be of interest to both scholars and craftspeople.


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