Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mongolian threads

Traditional Mongolian deel

Historical textiles and traditional dress

Genghis Khan.The name alone invokes warfare and power. From the steppes of Mongolia, so it is said, hordes of Mongols swept south and west to conquer. And conquer most of Eurasia, they did. 

An exhibit, Genghis Khan: Bring the Legend to Life, currently at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia tells the tale and includes some rather incredible artifacts, almost all of which are from private collections. It would be of interest to know where. 

Among the many treasures, we were particularly impressed with the sword attributed as a gift from Marco Polo, but since this blog focuses on textiles, I'll stick to the wealth in that realm. 

Textiles are a common thread throughout the exhibit and begins at the entrance where a cut-away gur (or ger) provides a view of traditional Mongolian nomad living quarters. Also known as yurts, these portable tent-like structures consist of a wooden frame with felt cover and sides. Beautiful rugs cover the floor.

Mongolian spinning weights. Drop spindle replica (left).

From spinning to clothing

I find early textile tools intriguing and these jade spinning disks, which formed the weight for drop spindles, are no exception. The white jade disk, which is part of a drop spindle replica, is 2,000 years old. The disk on the right, a mere 7,000 years old.

There are plenty of traditional costumes in the exhibit to appreciate and to inspire. Personally, I have always liked the asymmetry of Asian costume such as the Mongolian deel (above, right). That includes their braid-based loops and buttons. (Kumihimo!) (More information on Mongolian clothing here.)
Mongolian mesh armor

Even the structure of Mongolian armor is appealing. In the fragmented mesh armor, at right, I can see a contemporary knit--a sweater or a jacket.

Although the warrior garments are interesting, I find traditional costumes more interesting for their colors and patterns. The traditional woman's costume (18th to 19th century) was well preserved and provides a wealth of design potential. 

Mongolian woman's traditional costume, purse
18th to 19th c
And that little purse! I know. Little purses like this are readily available in Chinese markets, but small purses from all eras enchant me...I'm fascinated by how they're constructed, what they're made of and how they complement the costume. This little gem satisfies all criteria.

Mongolian woman's traditional costume.
18th to 19th c

In the same week, we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art's special exhibit, China: Through the Looking Glass. The two exhibits were bookends. One, the traditional. The other, the influence. 

I've chosen to share the Genghis Khan exhibit now as it's still at The Franklin Institute (Philadelphia). Go, if you can.

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