Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.

When I go visit Washington, D.C., I always try to manage a trip to The Textile Museum . One of its exhibits is an ongoing display of various weaving techniques. The display is designed for children and probably also adults who know little or nothing about weaving. I find it fascinating however.

This time, however, I went to see their special exhibit on the tent bands of central Asia. I didn’t know what to expect. Something like contemporary inkle bands, I suppose. What I saw was something quite different. They were much wider than I had expected. They were much sturdier bands than I had expected. Before I went to the exhibit, I had had no idea that these bands were woven for the purpose of the tent structure to keep it upright. These bands were clearly thick and strong. And the bands were very beautiful.

Not unlike inkle bands, they are warp-faced. But they are also decorated with pile. On some of the bands, only the decorations are done in pile. The pile was created by knotting pieces of wool, or sometimes silk, onto the cloth created by the warp-face plain weave. On others, the whole band is done in pile. The basic weave structure generally uses wool.

Bands were also woven purely for their decorative effect. Instead of being wrapped around the outside of the tents to support the structure, these were hung inside the tents.

These tents were designed for use by nomads. Thus they were easy to take down and put up. At least it was easy for the nomads! When these people settled down in one place, however, they no longer had any use for these tents and therefore no further use for the bands. So they sometimes chose to recycle them. Sometimes they used them as furniture coverings. The use I found most intriguing however, was their conversion to rugs.

To convert the bands into rugs, they were cut into pieces. The pieces were then sewn together. The pieces did not necessarily match. In fact, sometimes pieces were cut from different bands and sewn together. But they were beautiful nonetheless

There were also black-and-white photographs of the period which showed some of these tents and bands. There were photographs as well as of weavers at work. As seems to be true of so many ethnic weavers, they wove while sitting on the ground. And the looms, by our standards, were primitive. These photographs were interesting, but it was the visual effect of all those bands that was the heart of the exhibit.

The exhibit is on until August 19, and I very much recommend it.

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