my textile pilgrimage

Last month I went to New York on a textile pilgrimage, of sorts. Most people thought it was just a regular holiday, but given that I was the only one of my friends to have an interest in such things, I would say I did pretty well for sneaking in textile exhibits all over the place. I only hope I didn’t bore the socks off my (geologist) companions – though in fact even if their little socks did drop off out of sheer textile boredom, I’m sure I saw enough fossils and dinosaurs to make up for it. First off, we went to the Museum of Natural History, where, in between dinosaurs and dead animals, I found a selection of examples of weaving by Eastern Woodlands and Plains Indians, like the bag below. They used a huge variety of different patterns and colours in their weaving, as well as several different weaving techniques, the likes of which I hadn’t seen before, which produce really striking designs.

Next we visited the Met, which is like an entire city in itself, and I think probably the most amazing museum I have ever set foot in. I wanted to move in right then and there. They had a small collection of African textiles, including several beautiful blankets woven in strips of even length and sewn together, just like the ones I’ve been reading about recently in this book (a gift to myself one quiet afternoon…). There also happened to be a special exhibition of Andean tunics, which I made a beeline for. There were quite a few: some with geometric patterns, and some with creatures woven into the designs, like the fierce cats on the tunic below. Fierce cats seemed to be a recurring theme. They even had several mini tunics, which were only a few inches long, and which often resembled the full-size ones exactly. Apparently these mini tunics would dress little gold and silver figurines, which were then used as religious offerings.

A few days later we went to the American Folk Art Museum, which stood up exceedingly well next to the Museum of Modern Art (all except for their display of Issey Miyake’s A-POC Queen Textile, which was way cool). It contained all the character and soul that the MoMA lacked, and to top it all off, they even had a huge exhibition of patchwork quilts displayed over three floors (thanks to 2011 being the Year of the Quilt! What luck!). There were so many to see: quilts with patches in the shape of states, to make up maps of the US; examples of crazy quilting, with all variety of different stitches between patches; applique quilts; quilts for special occasions made from velvet and silk; and genuine patchwork, made from scraps. The close-up below is just from one whose style I particularly liked, but I could have featured any number of amazing quilts.

And finally, the part of my trip that most resembled a pilgrimage was our one-day trip to Washington, DC, with the primary aim of seeing the Textile Museum (we saw some more dinosaurs here too, at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, as well as the White House and the Capitol and so on, but they were really just a sideline). It was a bit of a mega outing, as in order to get the cheapest trains (which still weren’t cheap) we had to get up at 4am, only to return to bed at 2:30am. The Textile Museum was only fairly small – much smaller than I had imagined from looking at their website – but what they had on display was definitely worth seeing.

There was a special exhibition on the theme of ‘Green’, which included both pieces that were green in colour, such as a lovely embroidered C19 Chinese silk robe, and pieces that were green environmentally-speaking, for example made by re-using and re-purposing found material (like this embroidered strip by artist Maggy Rozycki Hiltner). Then upstairs, there was a selection from their permanent collection on the theme of recycled textiles, which included several different kinds of patchwork quilt from various cultures, an amazing Japanese man’s coat, and a navajo blanket, painstakingly made from re-woven threads.

All in all, quite a textile-packed trip for something that wasn’t explicitly meant to be. I would say it was a wild success.