Textile people are book people. It’s inevitable–just as we collect textiles, we collect books. We have to own these books, for in their reading we dream of travel taken or places yet to come; we dream of all the projects yet to be made, or are satisfied by creating them in our mind’s eye; and we’re touched by the people who come from generations of traditional textile makers who hold onto whatever threads of history and skill to pass on to their children.
I dreamt all of this while reading the reviews of my colleague Judy Newland, and Elaine Lipson, former book- publishing colleague and originator of the slow cloth concept. Their top two textile books this year are included along with mine. And our list would certainly not be complete without noting the new releases by our sister company, Thrums Books. Make sure one or two of these books appear on your wish list this season. Now settle in and start dreaming.
Marilyn’s Wish List
Textiles of the Banjara: Cloth and Culture of a Wandering Tribe
Charllotte Kwon and Tim McLaughlin
If tribal groups, their textiles and adornments along with their historical and cultural roots call to you, then this book is a must. This collaborative work by Charllotte Kwon, owner of Maiwa Handprints and founder of the Maiwa Foundation in Vancouver, B.C., and photographer Tim McLaughlin, is based on years of fieldwork among the semi-nomadic Banjara tribe in India. Rosemary Crill, Senior Curator of the Asian Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, writes in the foreword, “For the first time, through both text and wonderful photographic portraits, we encounter the Banjara as named individuals rather than an amorphous group, and often recognize them as individuals who have remarkable skills.”
This book is an experience–from the cloth cover, to the heft (191 pages) and size (9.3 in x 12.3 in x 0.9 in), to the 300+ luscious images, and extensive bibliography and notes. During the days immersed in this book, I traveled the caravan routes with the tandas (tanda identifies both the family group and encampment), touched the women’s traditional garb covered with a “fortitude of the patterns and the wealth of stitches” combined with mirrors, cowries, coins and pom-poms, and felt the sheer weight of adornment worn by the women, their arms mostly encased by bangles and silver jewelry hanging from any extension of the body. Most of this journeying was possible due to McLaughlin’s skill of portraiture shining through in full and double-spread page images.
The five chapters portray a full view of the Banjaras: who these people are, their cultural and geographic roots, their history as nomadic traders, the fine work of the embroiderers with details about stitches used and patterns identifying them and their community, the distinctive style of dress and ornamentation, and the current revival of this folk art. I appreciate Kwon’s inclusion and support of Surya’s Garden, an embroidery initiative that grew up among the Lamdani community of Hampi. Laxmi Naik, a young Banjara woman with strong embroidery skills and hope for the future of her culture, started Surya’s Garden in 2002 and now provides work for about 80 embroiderers in three tandas.
With thanks to Kwon and McLaughlin, we are brought ever closer to these traditional artisans; for the efforts on their part and those of the Banjaras to reclaim a stitch heritage as if it was never lost and to proudly wear their traditional dress as a symbol of strength and pride. Thames & Hudson, March 2016. $50
Wings of a Ragtag Quest
Nell Battle Booker Sonnemann
Compiled and edited by Patricia Malarcher
In 1973, as Nell Battle Booker Sonnemann was on sabbatical from The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., she was seeking information on appliqué traditions in developing countries. During her research, she was dismayed at the lack of information at museums and in books. She sensed an urgent need for a comprehensive comparative study on appliqué. In a letter to a friend, Sonnemann writes, “It’s the spirit behind the traditional appliqué that I want to be a witness to, I am driven by a mission. We are losing the memory of another thing we cannot afford to lose.” Even though she was already in her 50s, had lung disease, didn’t like to travel, and lacked stamina, this calling took her to more than twenty countries on four continents. When her health no longer allowed her to travel, her friends and former students became her eyes and ears, as well as acquirers of appliqué.
Her perseverance and dedication is remarkable, and it comes forth in every aspect of this collection. She listened and engaged with others and the world answered back in the form of happenstance, to one thread connecting to many others as she traveled. She instilled her passion in many others, including this collection’s editor Patricia Malarcher who said “Yes” to her dear friend Nell. Who, after Nell’s death in 2004, spent a decade shaping photos, journals, handwritten notes, maps, tickets, receipts, and recordings into this splendid archival collection.
This book collection is about the hidden voices and “dying art” of peoples who used whatever scraps of fabric and thread to stitch a mark about their lives. This is an artist’s book assembled in the spirit of appliqué–from the fabric flap on the book box, to each cover printed with notes and images from journals, to the typewritten pages of field notes and the notes from the writer of each country.
Convince your library or guild to purchase this collection. Then gather your textile-and travel-loving friends over to share in reading these journals. Great fodder for discussion.
Twelve soft-cover travel journals in an archival box (10 x 7 x 4”). Limited edition. $250. Contact email@example.com and reference ClothRoads.
Deeper Than Indigo: Tracing Thomas Machell, Forgotten Explorer
Jenny Balfour Paul
Jenny Balfour Paul is a world-renowned indigo scholar and intrepid traveler. Although indigo is the spark that started her on a decade long journey researching the life of a forgotten British explorer, a dauntless traveler like herself, there is much more than indigo in Thomas Machell’s lifelong adventure. This captivating story is perfect for a long winter read in front of a toasty fire. You will feel like a 19th century armchair traveler.
The author encounter’s Thomas Machell’s personal journals in the British Library in 1999 after her local librarian describes one of the journals on display, which refers to indigo planters in India. There are five volumes illustrated with watercolors, which Thomas Machell calls “talking papers” written to his father in England while he traveled to India and other exotic places in the first half of the 19th century. Although Balfour Paul had traveled to many of the same places, she was inexplicably drawn to trace Thomas’s path on a ten-year trek of her own. The many parallels in their lives turn this journey into a bit of an obsession for the author – indigo has chosen her life journey for her and she feels compelled to follow.
Many of us come under the spell of indigo magic, hooked for life to a word that hints at intuition, spiritual knowledge, the “third eye” and love. Where it will take us is often hidden from view; we arrive in unexpected places, discover “a deeper indigo” as the author does. She shares a Buddhist expression that describes the way things dipped in indigo become bluer than the dye itself, where students surpass their teachers and mentors, and move forward in life. The expression is: “from indigo, an even deeper blue”, the inspiration for the title of her book. Much of this book relates her personal journey alongside of Thomas’s – traveling the same paths more than a century apart but connecting on multiple levels.
Much more than a book on indigo, this traveling tango by two coincidental travelers connects them across time and space. And you can view the world in parallel time scales through two pairs of eyes with a passion for travel sharing their love of diverse world cultures. Medina Publishing Ltd., 2015. $37.95
Natural Color: Vibrant Plant Dye Projects for Your Home and Wardrobe
Natural Color is a project-based natural dye book that expands on Duerr’s Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, published in 2010. The beautifully photographed projects are arranged by season, which emphasizes Duerr’s strong sustainability message, one that sets her approach apart from many other natural dye books. Her introduction describes how growing up on sustainable farms in natural areas shaped her life philosophy. Duerr has been involved in the slow food movement, strongly supports the principles of permaculture and founded the Permacouture Institute to raise awareness of responsible practices in fashion and textiles.
All the basics to get started in natural dyeing are offered in the Practice of Plant Dyeing chapter, plus a workbook chapter on mordants, modifiers and techniques rounds out the practical knowledge needed. Sandwiched between these background chapters are the wonderful seasonal projects. Duerr echoes the strong environmental message put forth by India Flint, champion of sustainable eco-dyeing and Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed. The resource section includes classic natural dye books, but also a delightful mix of books on scent, fleece and fiber, simple food from kitchen gardens, ecological literacy and environmental design, Native American knowledge and much more. Duerr brings all her design, art, textile and fashion background to bear in this beautiful book whose sustainable message for natural dyers is enveloped in photography that encourages all to engage with their own landscape in a caring and thoughtful way. Watson-Guptill Publications, 2016. $30
Elaine’s Wish List
Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse
Susan Brown and Matilda McQuaid
Textile artists and collectors know well that the humblest bits of fabric can yield the most beautiful things in the hands of the right maker. It’s the essence of patchwork, boro, and other textile traditions born of both scarcity and reverence for cloth. This exquisite book explores new and inventive ways that industrial and pre-consumer textile waste and scraps are being used to transform this forgotten consequence of modern industrial textile production. Along with clear, sobering information about the volume of waste created in textile production by authors Brown and McQuaid, the book includes essays by three designers who think and imagine deeply about textile waste and bring a respectful, nuanced, and beautiful aesthetic to their work. Scraps is published in conjunction with a namesake exhibition currently on view at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Reiko Sudo, managing director of Japan’s legendary NUNO Corporation, repurposes kibiso and ogarami choshi, byproducts of silk production, and combines them with raw silk in innovative weave structures that help to employ traditional weavers and create fine textiles with great textural subtlety.
Luisa Cevese of Riedizioni works with discarded selvages from production yardage of silk fabric and linen artists’ canvas, among other materials, to build textiles that become functional (and beautiful) bags and other products.
Christina Kim of dosa develops systems for textile production designed to both use cloth thoughtfully and employ traditional weavers and artisans in India making jamdani sari cloth. From zero-waste strategies, Kim now allows scrap to be generated for further creative and design use in limited-edition garments and art textiles of intricate grace.
Scraps, printed in the United States, is hardbound with a cover made from waste cloth called achada from a Delhi design studio. This level of detail is echoed throughout the book, filled with beautiful images, inspiring and authentic text, and plenty of inspiration for textile artists (those interested in textile process and global textiles, and those excited by the evolution of truly sustainable textile ethics and aesthetics). As Luisa Cevese says in her essay, “In the end, choosing to work with waste, closing the production loop and giving new life and a new use to something that is considered useless is an expression of my belief in the moral responsibility of the designer, whose contribution is to build a better world for everyone.” Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2016. $24.95
Textile Nature: Textile techniques and inspiration from the natural world
This lovely book bridges the advice often given to artists to use nature as inspiration and the specific practices of textile artmaking. Filled with examples of work and creative statements by the author and other textile artists and designers, the book aims to provide “ideas and starting points” for making printed, stitched, patterned, dimensional, assembled, naturally dyed, and collaged textiles and art books with natural and botanical themes. While there are some instructions for techniques, they’re brief, and assume some familiarity with stitching methods and a willingness to experiment.
If you’re an artist in search of thematic ideas or processes, and are drawn to nature as a resource, Textile Nature will inspire you and push you to work through ideas in depth. Kelly acknowledges that some artists and designers want to make statements about environmental issues and others simply want to explore the abundance of design, pattern, and life in the natural world through textiles. This book celebrates the rewards of either path. It’s likely to introduce you to artists whose work you may not know and inspire you to look at flowers, leaves, trees, insects, birds, stones, landscapes, and organic shapes in new ways.
In a botanical illustration class at the Denver Botanic Gardens, my teacher told me that historically there’s been a revival of art with nature themes at the turn of every century, possibly in response to rapidly evolving technologies and a sense of time moving too fast. In this century, that interest in botanical art shows no sign of diminishing as our digital world explodes. If finding a way to connect your textile work to nature makes sense as a response to contemporary life, this book will guide and delight you. I wish that Kelly had included dimensions for the many beautiful works that she includes; instead, we have to guess at scale, but that’s a minor issue that won’t prevent you from thoroughly enjoying Textile Nature. Batsford, 2016. $29.95
Oaxaca Stories in Cloth: A Book about People, Belonging, Identity, and Adornment
Eric Sebastian Mindling
In this gorgeous new photography book, more than 100 sensitive, intimate full-color portraits of traditional people offer rare glimpses of Oaxacan village life. Companion vignettes are a beautiful blend of villagers’ personal stories and the author’s praise song to vanishing cultural traditions of Mexico. Perfect for the traveler on your gift list, and anyone interested in the history, culture, and people of Mexico. Thrums Books, October 2016. $36.95. Also available in eBook formats.
Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping
This clever new travel guide caters to the textile collector. Offering smart advice on where to go and how to get there, it focuses on safety and comfort for visitors who don’t want the stresses and schedules of traditional tour groups. The author shares insider tips from her extensive travels in Mexico and her expert textile knowledge, including a guide for ethical shopping. Vibrant photographs illustrate the adventure and will inspire you to travel along. Thrums Books, October 2016. $24.95. Also available in eBook formats.