Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Book on South & Central American textiles.

I'm writing about this book because I have it from the library and am reading it most evenings:

Textiles of Central and South America, by Angela Thompson. Published by: The Crowood Press Limited, England, 2006. ISBN 1 86126 826 2, £25.

The author of the book has been traveling the world to collect textiles for 20 years. She's written other books, they all seem to be about embroidery. I particularly like this book for reasons beautifully summed up on the inside cover of the book:

"In writing this book, Angela Thompson has drawn upon her many years of study, meticulous research and passion for the subject to offer the reader a fascinating insight into a people and a tradition that are inextricably linked with the wonder of handwoven cloth."

Mmm. I agree with every word of that. I love to read a book written by someone passionate about their subject that really knows their stuff. It's got lots of super photos and diagrams. The textiles are described in terms of who makes them and where they are made, so you feel you are getting to know the people and their stories and their culture. I like that. I don't think you can consider the tradition without knowing the people.

She starts with a general history chapter. I found this interesting, I studied very little history at school and all i know of central and southern Americas is about the first ships to reach there from Europe and how the natives were killed by the common cold virus. And I remember odd bits from Nancy Drew adventure books, and National Geographic magazines. Well, the bits and pieces fit in with a bigger picture now. It was a good chapter.

The next chapter, Designs and Symbolism, I found a bit boring. I think that's just me - I have a limited interest in the origin of the designs, but I thought it was a thorough and well written chapter. She is a helpful author for someone who doesn't want to read the book from page one to the end in one go - she breaks up what she has to say into reasonably short sections under a heading, so you can pick and choose the bits that most interest you.

I was much more interested in the 3rd chapter, about "Yarns and Fibres", and the next one was "Spinning and Dyeing" and after that "Weaving", "Costume and Accessories"... soon this book was traveling all around our house so that it was always to hand when I got spare time to read.

I've read books by other authors about other textile traditions that don't give you the full picture, the people, history, fibre, spinning, yarn, weaving, making up clothes, decorative finishes etc. I think it can come across as a bit disrespectful to look at the textiles without putting them in context - I like this author's attitude.

If anyone out there was wondering about what I'd like for a present sometime, I hope you've got the idea this book should be on the list!

Favourite bits of this book: illustrations of the animal and bird motifs used, descriptions of different loom types (backstrap, horizontal, upright, floor looms) and the way they are used, descriptions of basic garments made from the woven cloth, an amazing patchwork made of scraps of all sorts of woven cloths (p. 138), a section on "Embroidery as a Political Statement" (yes!), photo and description of the wonderful tradition of free-stitch machine embroidery to decorate bright red bowler hats, as worn by women in the Chivan area of Peru.


Laritza said...

Oh how wonderful!
Does she have anything on Colombian textiles? I have had a hard time finding anything.

Miranda said...

Thank you, Dorothy, for bringing this book to my attention. It the next title I will add to my library.

Laritza, is there a specific type of textile or construction technique from Colombia you are looking for? Perhaps I can assist you in finding something.

Dorothy said...

Hi Miranda and Laritza, thanks for your comments.

For Laritza: I went to the index and found a number of page references under "Columbian", but they are only individual sentences and paragraphs, e.g. a paragraph about woven straw hats and mats made by the Narino in southern Columbia. It doesn't have any whole sections on Columbian traditions. On the whole, I'd say that this book looks at Central & South American textile traditions in a cross-border exploration of the related cultures.

In the Bibliography, there are books for other countries - Bolivia & Peru - but not Columbia. Maybe you're finding it hard to discover anything about Colombian textiles because there isn't much written (at least, not in English)?

Wish I could help further, I hope your search for more information will be successful.

Miranda said...


If Laritza has access to or is affiliated with a university library she can fine journal articles on Colombian textiles in these journals:

Studies in Conservation