Monday, February 29, 2016

Extraordinary textiles from simple looms

Beautiful fabrics, magnificent colors--all woven on backstrap looms

Mara woman's mantle, 1983.

As a weaver, I was deeply humbled by the woven fabrics in the exhibition, Art of the Zo: Textiles from Myanmar, India, and Bangladesh at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. All of them woven on simple backstop looms. 

From small beads on the selvedges to tiny decorative stitches that decorate seams, the textiles show not only the technical  expertise of the weavers, but their sophistication in color and design.
Backstrap loom

I was captivated by the tunics, wrap skirts, mantles, loincloths, capes, and blankets and for the range of decorative techniques ranging from unpatterned indigo-dyed cloth to colorful stripes to complex weaves and thought you might enjoy them, too. But this is just a taste. There are many, many more in the exhibition.

The Mara woman's mantle, at top right, is described as a cotton warp-faced plain weave with discontinuous two-faced complementary weft patterning and countered weft twining. Woven by a Christian woman in India, Mizoram, Zawngling Village in 1983, it was worn to a christening.

Tashon man's ceremonial mantle
The mantle at right is a Tashon man's ceremonial mantle woven about 1960 in Myanmar. It is cotton warp-faced plain weave with discontinuous one-faced supplementary weft patterning. Look carefully at the small decorative horizontal stripe mid-way down. It seams together the long sides of the rectangular mantle and complements the design.

Below, the Mizo woman's ceremonial jacket, c. 1970-80, and ceremonial wrapped skirt, c. 1950-70, are typical of celebratory and funerary dress for married women in Myanmar, Northern Chin State or India. 
Mizo woman's ceremonial
jacket and skirt








Both the jacket and the skirt are woven of cotton woven in a warp-faced plain weave, but they differ in technique and patterning. The jacket woven structures include continuous one-face supplementary weft patterning and and discontinuous one-faced supplementary weft patterning. 

The skirt features discontinuous two-faced supplementary patterning, tapestry, weft-faced plain weave and red weft. Comprised of three lengths of cloth,it can also be worn as a mantle.
Khamau woman's tunic, c. 1900.


The Khamau woman's tunic, c. 1900, at right was a particular favorite. According to the signage, the Khama (Myanmar) are the only Zo people known to decorate their textiles with resist dyeing. Unfortunately, there have been few garments made in this tradition in the last 80 years. 

This exhibit, which includes items from the Museum’s collection of Zo textiles as well as loans from Barbara and David Fraser, authors of Mantles of Merit: Chin Textiles from Myanmar, India, and Bangladesh (2005), is well worth a visit for anyone interested in textiles.

The exhibit is in the Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and runs to March 20, 2016.

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