The study of historical textiles is revealing in many different ways. Since every level of society used textiles, they give us a picture of life across the social structure of any given age. They illustrate how changes in technology influenced everyday life. They also tell us about migrations and relationships across space and time.
The antique pieces displayed in the photo on the right include a simple rag rug that could have been made on a sturdy two harness loom. It illustrates thrift and the art of recycling that was based on need not social pressures. When yard goods were scarce and expensive worn out clothing was recycled into utilitarian items. Although the technique is simple elaborate patterning can be achieved.
The navy and white piece with the flower motif is part of a coverlet woven in eastern Canada and passed down through the family to a present day weaver. The wool weft would have been hand spun and taken to the local weaver to be turned into a special bed covering that was both decorative and very practical. This example was woven on a Jacquard or a draw loom. The patterns would have been brought from Europe. Different patterns reflected migration from different countries in Europe. Today, technological advances have brought Jacquard weaving into the realm of the hand weaver.
Coverlets are important historical textiles of special interest in North America. The overshot technique illustrated in the photograph below was developed in colonial times as a means of extending the pattern potential of a four harness loom. The overshot technique is a favourite of hand weavers today.
Very few textiles survive from truly ancient times. But even small fragments can be revealing. Such is the case of a discovery at a grave site in South west China in the late 70's. Here archaeologists found a fabric of twill construction and a plaid design. The grave site was about 3,000 years old. The find and subsequent study of the plaid fabric at Qizilchoqa contradicts the idea that the plaid is a recent invention from Scotland. Taken with similar finds in Austria it suggests that the plaid was designed by the ancient ancestors of the Celts.
At our monthly guild meeting members were treated to a talk about the Qizilchoqa plaid by John Fitzpatrick. John specializes in the study of tartans and has reproduced this very early Asian example. For more information check out John's web site at http://www.stonearabie.com