Back to Base

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I had a wonderful experience in Amman! I really am surprised at how fast the past two weeks have gone by, with so many things to do and see. I found so much rich history and so many stories hidden away in the Middle East. The textiles of the Middle East form a large part of its culture and traditions.  Simply being there and soaking up knowledge is a tangible experience that is difficult to explain or put into words.  For example, by the end of the trip I had a good idea of where a fabric was produced just by looking at it.  I learned some interesting things about Middle Eastern jewelry as well, which is a whole other field in and of itself, but since jewelry and textiles are both important parts of the cultural costume, they go hand in hand and you can’t help but learn about both even if you didn’t intend to in the first place. Safe to say, I learned a thing or two about Middle Eastern jewelry as well.  The makers of silver jewelry traveled around the Middle East (they were often the people that harvested crops) so there was not a country-specific jewelry style. Some styles seem to be timeless; they are found in archaeological grave finds throughout the Middle East as well as sold in jewelry shops today, making them one of the hardest things to determine the true origin of.

One of the reasons that the Triaz Widad Kawar Home for Arab Dress  (http://tirazcentre.org/en/widad-kawar) is such an important and inspirational place to study is that it is one of the only places that has such an extensive Middle Eastern textile collection.   This heritage should be protected as it is slowly eroding and morphing into something that is not nearly as nice as the things from the past. Modern fabrics and machines are taking over and, while this allows textile artists more freedom of design, it also means that the traditional patterns and methods are slowly sinking out of sight without being fully recorded. I would encourage everyone who has an interest to visit.  By educating yourself, you become one more person who is there to share the knowledge.

In the following post, I will highlight a small sample of some of the textiles I find the most interesting, including not only the history and story of each textile, but also the story of how they came to be in this most impressive collection as well.

One Week in Amman

I am here in Amman, Jordan to study the collection of an inspiring textile collector named Widad Kawar who has the largest collection of Middle Eastern textiles in the world.  Not only are her textiles amazing but she is an inspirational person to be around because of all of her knowledge about textiles.  I’m here to work with and study her Syrian collection and catalogue the silk pieces produced in Syria; there are so many that it’s an impossible task to complete in just two weeks, but I’m going to try and do as much as I can! 

I’m working to catalogue all the silks, but focusing on the brocades that I find, as well as the ikats.  The ikats come from Aleppo and I find them very interesting as ikat is not an easy technique to master.. There are also lots of lovely indigo-dyed cotton fabrics coming out of Aleppo. I think one of the most interesting things is how different cities specialized in different techniques.  You can tell where a  piece was from, or even the village or tribe of the person who was wearing it, simply by the pattern and the cut.  Since what comes from where hasn’t been recorded  the people that can still make or at least identify where they came from are fast disappearing, making it doubly important that we can write it down now. This is one of the many reasons I feel it’s so imperative that we document all these things now, and that they be studied and catalogued today and not tomorrow. 
 
I wanted to share some of things that I’ve been able to study with you today so that you can have an idea about what I’m working on.  
 
These are some of my favroite pieces. They are actually all men’s jackets from different parts of Syria, mostly from Damascus.  The short one is a Bedouin jacket used for weddings and the longer two were used for festive occasions.  They were all produced between 1910-1935.
 
More to come later with even more intesting discoveries.  Honestly, for a textile person who’s interested in history and the Middle East, it’s a bit like Candy Land.Yellow and Gold Dress FrontMen's Wedding jacket backRose and Gold Dress 1

Preparing for Jordan

I can’t contain my excitement about going to Amman to study a collection of Syrian and other Middle Eastern textiles at Tiraz Widad Kawar Home for Arab Dress! (http://tirazcentre.org/en/widad-kawar) This is such an amazing opportunity.  As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, not much information on specifically Syrian textiles is available in English, so this is really a break for me and my project on damask.  I will be gone for two weeks, which seems like a long time now, but I know it will go by in a flash.  I’m excited to not only learn more about textiles but also about Amman itself as I’ve heard it is a very cosmopolitan city.  Learning about and experiencing the culture is half the learning process and I’m can’t wait to do it all.  More to come from Amman….

 

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A Series of Weaving Workshops

Just a bit of a forward I was supposed to put some photos with this but as they never came my way and it seems a shame for me to lest this post go to waste, even if it’s a few months old.  This is the end of our first set of weaving workshops before the winter holiday, I just wanted to add some finaly thoughts onto it, but as you see I never quite got around too it. However, better late than never.  Here our my final thoughts on our first set of wrokshops, happy reading 🙂

As I have mentioned in a previous blog post this weaving course was the off-shot project of another course I was attending, this was a totally hands on workshop dealing with Bronze and Iron Age textile tools and how to use them, warping and weaving on the two beamed loom, as well as setting up the warp weighted loom.  Those were the main projects, as well as preparing and spinning wool on various Bronze Age style drop spindles and the occasional modern one. Not only was it an opportunity for people to learn about textiles and textile archaeology it was a great place to have discussions around all parts of the history of textiles while learning the old ways of making textiles.  No matter how many or few skills you have in working with textiles you will always learn something and speaking as someone who knows a fair amount regarding textiles, I still learned so much about working with, for instance the two beamed loom, as a modern weaver it was so great to be able to work on a style of loom that was used so many years ago.  I think it’s just so amazing how advanced people were back then and I’m sure as time will tell they were even more advanced than we think.

As you can see this is very physical work, can you imagine how fit the people who were working as full time textile workers were?  I would say that it was akin to what we would call today a “modern” athlete, a person of today would never been able to keep up with the physical capabilities of people in the Bronze Age. Simply from warping and weaving I can tell you that you have to sit in some very uncomfortable positions and you will have to jump up and down very frequently.  Practically every time you want to change a shed.  So to says that weaving is a very physical activity is an understatement to say the least and that leaves out all the the fiber preparation, something like hours of spinning really works your shoulders and arms so that you can be very sore after only an hour and you would have needed to spin upwards of 13,000 hours to get enough yarn to weave a single garment.  The threads were also very fine, making them hard to see. As someone who already finds somethings hard to see I wonder how they worked that way, only during day light hours or by the light of a candle or fire of some kind, how would that have affected their eyes as they grew older and how old would a woman or a man be when they would be forced to stop weaving and move onto another occupation?  These are just a few of the questions that I think to myself when I start weaving ans struggle with these things, it really gives you an shoulders of what it took to make a garment in the Bronze Age, but these things are things that you would never think about if you weren’t working with it yourself and experiencing the sore back or shoulder the next day or struggling to see the fine threads that you are weaving.  It really opens up a whole new perspective to what life in the Bronze Age might have been like as a textile worker.

You really learn a lot from doing and I think that’s one of the reasons the workshops have worked out so well, as they are also very free, letting each person experiment with the things that they are interested in.  This term we were only able to fit in a four part series, but since they worked out so well  I know they will be back next semester to continue and expand these wonderful experiments.

Adventures in Lyon

While I am always interested in looms and weaving of any kind, I do love damasks and pretty much anything that occurs along the Silk Road.  (Okay, what am I saying, you say “loom” and I’m there) but more to the point: a few weeks ago I was presented with a very exciting and unique opportunity to go to Lyon, France to see a few looms (*giggles in hysterical excitement*).  Lyon was the capital of weaving production during the 19th century.   It seems that weaving wasn’t well paid and it was an undervalued job. I find that interesting.  Nowadays when I see a weaver, I always get excited and am like “let’s talk about weaving, teach me everything you know!” but back then they weren’t well treated and only got paid once the fabric was finished; if the buyer didn’t like the fabric, or said there were mistakes in it and wouldn’t buy it, the weaver, who could have been working on this fabric for one to two years, would have had a disaster on his hands.  It seems crazy to me to think that there was a time when weaving was something other than an art, all that time and energy spent weaving, making such beauty with your hands.  Sad to think that when the weavers went on strike they were simply shot during the strike.
To me, an experienced weaver is like gold. It’s funny how different what we used to, and now do, deem most precious.  Mostly it’s been money (mostly? who am I kidding, it’s always been money).  At one point silk and gold were equally valuable, which I find quite amazing considering the fact that now we can buy silk very cheaply; it can cost almost nothing (although there are no promises about the quality).
Lyon was also the home to Joseph Jacquard, the inventor of the Jacquard loom. His loom changed the way of weaving forever and was the first mechanical loom.
Not to mention Lyon is just a beautiful place to be.  If you climb up Lyon (it’s partly on a hill) you will have such a wonderful view looking across the city and down to the two rivers.  It was so wonderful to enjoy the sun after being in Denmark; it felt almost like it could have been summer in the middle of winter.  It was quite a break from the depressing, gray weather.
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Of course they are famous not only for their weaving; there’s screen printing and velour to think of as well.  Below is  a picture of velour painting. It’s got such an amazing texture that you want to touch it all day.  It’s genuinely wonderful to see how the colors are blended on the fabric as well. It’s a fabric with a very magical feeling. Very aesthetically pleasing.img_0272These textiles provide not only a history of the techniques but also of the people who make them, sometimes for generations. This man (or what you can see of him) has been working in the business for ages, working with screen printing and velour.  Here you see him adding the last layer of paint to a series of scarves.  In the studio, they mix the inks themselves with their own recipes, and there are many tests done to assure that the color is the same every time. He even went back with a brush to fix some mistakes where the ink didn’t come through.  There is just so much precision to it that it is truly incredible to watch. img_0265However, Lyon as is sensational on the inside as the outside. When it comes to looms it’s actually difficult for me to put into words the way I feel about them.  They are like very old people with so many stories, so smart and yet often overlooked.  I want to be the person who hears the stories of the looms, the unique fabrics they have produced.  I always want to be around looms and I can’t really explain why, but they just make me happy.  A well-made loom, at least to my mind, is as valuable as a painting or a precious stone, if not more so, as  it gives you more and increases its worth every time a magnificant piece of fabric comes off of it.  Pictured below is a brocade weave, with the background as the white and the small shuttles are the pattern, not unlike a knitting pattern carrying the pattern threads.img_0351Below is the first mechanical band loom I’ve ever seen.  It’s truly an fascinating thing to see at work.  They don’t have one big reed, they have individual ones for each band. I found that very curious.img_0377Here is a woven velour. I wish I could have everyone one touch it.  It’s got such a unique texture, especially the difference between the cut and uncut parts. Of course this is the weave you have to pay the most attention to, as if you make a mistake there is no going back! img_0359This a picture of a piece woven on a Jacquard loom (that I had to stand on a chair just to take a picture of).  This fabric made in Lyon is all about where I grew up, Philadelphia!  I think it’s so cool that you can see the far-reaching arm of the Lyon weaving industry stretching across an ocean, all the way to my home town! img_0363There are some other things that just can’t be beat, and I have to say that the open air fresh food markets were definitely right up there (but after looms of course). I mean, just look at this lettuce! It’s so green and tasty!  Makes me want to have a salad even in the heart of winter.  With all the people out there buying their fresh food everyday, it’s really something that we in the north could take a page from, although maybe not through all of the winter.  But, we definitely need more veggies that look like this up here.
img_0423Lyon sits on the uppermost cusp of southern Europe, making it just as picturesque as any city in the south of Europe, while still having small elements of northern Europe hidden in it.  There are so many little galleries and cafes.  It would take years to explore.  While I do love it here, even that short taste has made me wonder, why don’t I live there? img_0428

Woman’s March on Copenhagen

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Yesterday was the Women’s March in Washington DC, as well as their sister marches all over the world. I was fortunate enough to take part in the Women’s March in Copenhagen, where I was pleasantly surprised to see 5000 people who came out to march. While I’m not a big march/rally person (aka one who doesn’t go out for most marches) this one meant more to me.  As an American expat, it’s been really hard to watch the whole election process from Europe and not be able to participate fully. I think that everyone should have a good quality of life, not everyone is crazy, and not everyone wants to be a billionaire.  We just want to do things that make us happy and be free.  Is that really too much to ask of this world?  Oh, and also not to be scared of walking down the streets, and maybe for the world not to explode in my lifetime, or in my children and my children’s lifetimes, that this planet will still be here long after I’m dead.
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Most people on this earth want to be safe and happy and loved; it’s just human nature.  It’s really not that much to ask for as far as I’m concerned .  I was lucky enough (although not very old) to witness the turn of the century.  That means a lot, doesn’t it? I mean, we live in the 21st century, don’t we?  I mean, my calendar says 2017, doesn’t yours?  That’s what I thought, it does.  Then I ask you, why do the calendars of the world leaders read something like 1850????  I really am so impressed with the Women’s March, have so much respect for all the people who gave up their time to organize such a massive event and everyone who went out to march. I personally know people that were at 5 or 6 different marches, and I mean those are just people I really call friends.  It was an awe-inspiring sight yesterday.

Now, I’ve seen some hate out there for the women’s marches as well, which I find very sad.  There were many, MANY good reasons for marching and people have many different causes (which is normal, because we are DIVERSE people).  All of theses causes are valid, they need our attention.  I wish that I could devote myself to all of them but that would not be effective, but I’m off track again.  There is hate for everything out there, which is silly and downright depressing, but it’s a fact.  However no matter the haters out there, I think that we showed them that there is a world of LOVE, this is truly going to be the beginning of a long fight, a fight for fundamental human rights.  It’s the birth of a movement that is scary and exciting.  It’s so sad though, that in the 21st century we should still be protesting things that our parents protested and for them, they are still doing it!
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I do just want to mention that people, no matter what their skin color, care about people.  These things don’t have a border, it’s basic human nature. I’ve seen some things saying that white feminists shouldn’t be at the march because they won’t be affected as much or that they are a part of the problem because 53% of white women voted for Trump.  But let me tell you, if you saw them at the Women’s March and think they shouldn’t be there, then YOU, my friend are part of the problem.  The whole mantra of Trump’s campaign and the impending next 4 years will be to conquer and divide.  Now is the time to show love and support to EVERYONE around you!! If we all work together then, maybe, just maybe, we can make a difference, but first that all starts with the individual.  I know that some people didn’t vote in the election because they thought their vote didn’t count but that’s where we will lose.  It’s like thinking: if I dump my things in the landfill but others don’t then the planet will be okay, right? WRONG, this type of thought is why the planet is warming. We all count and if we remember that and take the time to remember that, no matter what other people tell us, then we can make a difference but we have to remember that we should make the effort, no matter if it’s just something small, it will help and you can make a change.  Now is the time.

Wool

There are over a 1000 different breeds of sheep in the world today.  Sheep have been around for 20,000 years. and were some of the first animals to be domesticated.  They have been domesticated for at least 11,000 years and possibly since 9,000 B.C. in some places.  There are some very wooly countries where there are more sheep than people, such as Wales, where there are approximately three sheep to one person, or New Zealand, where there are 22 sheep per person! Now, that’s a lot of sheep!
As we can see from these numbers, sheep are everywhere! Sheep have been an intergal part of this world for a very long time, supplying meat, milk and wool.  Sheep are very versatile animals, something that you can use down to the very last piece, not to mention the fact that sheep graze and are good for keeping your lawn trimmed if need be.  There are many breeds of sheep (and there are probably even more unknown breeds).  It’s hard to cover them all; there are only maybe one or two books that even make an attempt.
However, as the textile person I am, I’m going to talk about wool.  We all have wool in our lives, regardless of whether we know it or not. Although in the present day we use wool less than we used to, it’s still around.  In fact, wool is all over the place.  Even if it’s not 100% wool, it’s there, sneaking in, in blankets, pillows, scarves and sweaters, all with a touch of wool.  Now as a fiber person, I don’t particularly like non-natural fibers.  I think they are very icky (you probably what to find a better word) and not good for the environment or the human body, keeping in what needs to be breathed out and not letting good things in.  Besides this,  what happens when we produce these fibers?  They either take a lot of water (during the manufacturing process?  When?  Take how?  Or do you mean use?) or release toxins into the air. Whereas shearing wool is actually healthy for the animal.  Sheep that aren’t shorn look a bit like this:
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Not shearing a sheep is sort of like not cutting your hair.  It’s just not healthy after a while and if it gets too long and heavy then it can seriously hurt you. The same goes for sheep, it can seriously hurt them as well, so while the sheep may not like getting shorn in the same way we may not like to get a haircut, it’s equally important that we all do it.

There are so many defining factors to sheep besides their colour, such as how curly the sheep’s wool is, or how long the actual fibers of the wool are.  The fiber lengths are called staples, so if we were having a techniqual conversation we would be discussing the ‘staple length’ of each breed of sheep.  The staple length can be very long or very short, (ranging from x to x).  The longer the staple length, the easier it is to spin.  If you have a shorter staple, it requires a higher amount of twist to keep the fibers from falling apart and is

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Example of Staple Length

therefore harder to spin.  If you are spinning with a wool that has a very long staple length, you can have a much looser twist in your spun yarn.  That’s just one example of how your staple length can affect your work, but there are so many factors to consider, such as how curly is your fiber?  This can also affect the twist, as well as how smooth your yarn will spin.  Some of the very curly wools (Wensleydale, for example) are more often used for felting than spinning or as an add-on to art yarns.  Some wools are better for
felting, as they have more barbs on them.  All wool has tiny barbs on each individual hair (like a tiny rose bush’s thorns).  When you rub the wool together, the little barbs get entangled and they stick together; this is called felting.

There are so many uses for wool.  I do wonder what even was the point of inventing synthetic fabrics when we have such a good, and also more environmentally sustainable,

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Wool Baby’s Toy

 

one right here. Some wools have a staple length that is really too short for spinning and not enough barbs to felt.  This is, in modern times, often found on sheep that are bred for meat.  Most of the time that wool is thrown away and only the meat is used (how wasteful, I know).  However, the wool from these breeds of sheep is perfect for stuffing for such items as blankets, duvets, pillows, chairs and couches.  Wool can be used for so many things, this barely covers the surface.  One day when I write a novel about it, maybe then I’ll be able to cover it all.

Wool is also very useful for toys as it’s easy to clean and is extremely safe.  It will simply crumble away if on fire and will not burn the person near it, unlike a toy made of synthetic fibers, which will smolder and melt onto skin, as well as emit gases or fumes.  Wool will do none of those things.  Just the other day, I was cooking and I dropped some oil onto the burner of my stove, which caused it to flare up right onto my arm which was over the burner.  Now that could have been REALLY bad, but I was wearing a wool sweater; otherwise I would have caught fire and burnt myself, yet nothing happened to it or me.  It smoked for a second but when I stopped to look I couldn’t even see that my sweater had been near fire at all.  Natural fibers are pretty amazing.
When the tiny barbs on the wool felt together, they trap heat when you wear it, but also it lets your skin breath so that you won’t sweat as much and therefore stay cleaner and warmer. Wool’s natural oil,  called lanolin, is washed away when preparing the wool for commercial textile use, but it is also very good for the skin, and when working with unwashed wool will actually make your hands very soft.  You can also sometimes find lanolin in soaps, as it is so beneficial to your skin.
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There are so many uses for sheep and wool, not to mention that if you own a flock of sheep, you will never have to mow a lawn in your life! Natural fibers are amazing things.  Once you start working with them you never stop learning.   I think we’ve only discovered half the things we can do with wool, if even that.