‘Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800’ at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art through January 5, 2014
As an interior designer who works with textiles all the time, this was a must-see for me. It’s a rich, fascinating show, with a huge variety of Renaissance, Baroque, 18th and 19th century objects. With examples from almost every corner of the world, the show lived up to its premise of ‘interwoven’ in the way each object demonstrated the cross-cultural influences that came with the burst in trading as the age of exploration began.
I looked at the show with different kinds of ‘eyes.’ First of course was the sheer delight at looking at beautiful things, the colors and textures varied and wonderful. Second, as a 21st century human, the amazing connections between Asian, European and American textile traditions and how what was usually a disastrous clash in human terms was a creative one artistically. Finally, as a professional who works with artisans and craftspeople I was struck that these objects, made by artisans for use in homes and churches, have achieved the status of ‘art’ to be displayed on a museum’s walls. Artisanal to art.
Speaking of artisanal, Jonathan Burden Antiques
is showing hand made-weaves and designs from Africa. The exciting thing here was to watch Massan Dembélé, master weaver from Burkina Faso in West Africa, using a rope loom actually tied around his back to create incredibly intricate designs. Watching this age-old technique being celebrated and revived is inspiring.
What’s happening now in the 21st century? Not only the huge influence of globalization in terms of style, there are incredible new materials that are producing exciting results. Polyesters now bear very little resemblance to that cheap-looking fabric we remember from the 1970s. Some polyester drapery fabric is indistinguishable from silk, and is more durable and easier to care for. New technology is adding exciting choices for me to design with.
To illustrate how old and new are being used, a fabric manufactured by Carnegie Fabrics called Xorel marries an entirely modern fabric with age-old techniques: jacquard weaving, embossing, embroidery, quilting, and appliqué. Carnegie has long been a proponent of environmentally-friendly, PVC-free fabrics; years of research have produced a new polyethylene yarn that is produced from sugar cane (rather than fossil fuels) allowing them to create BioXorel fabrics that are 60-85 percent bio-based.
At Creation Bauman
fabrics are produced using laser cutting, another new technology being used to cut a variety of open patterns in fabrics. The possibilities of this technique are endless.
Makes my job really fun to have all these choices!
I’m thinking that in a hundred years some of the pieces created by people I work with, using these new fabrics in conjunction with old techniques, will be hanging on the walls of the Metropolitan Museum. Now that would be an exciting show!
The show at the Met is truly special. At the Metropolitan Museum until January 5, 2014. And for those of you in the field, a visit to the Carnegie showroom would be well worth your time. The Carnegie showroom is at 41 West 25th St, New York. www.carnegiefabrics.com. I love the creative choices at Jonathan Burden Antiques: 180 Duane St, New York. www.jonathanburden.com. And for ‘way out there,’ Creation Bauman is at the D&D Building, 979 Third Ave, New York. www.creationbauman.com
* * *There are many specialized terms used in the descriptions of the objects at the Museum. I either tried to look up these terms on my phone while I was walking through, or just scratched my head, trying to remember what they meant. At the end of the show, the pop-up gift shop sold a marvelous book, Looking at Textiles, A Guide to Technical Terms, by Elena Phipps (Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011). If you’re keen on this subject, take this book with you; I’ve compiled a short glossary of some of these terms, which you may find helpful.