Textile Panels: Fibre, Loom and Technique
The International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS) serves as an international gathering in the field of Asian Studies with participants from over 60 countries. These textile panels are part of the 11th ICAS, which will take place in Leiden, the Netherlands, on 16-19 July 2019. The panels will take place at the Volkenkunde Museum on Thursday, 18 July. Staying longer is recommended for international travelers as there will be many other textile-related events happening around this time in Leiden and nearby cities.
More information and conference registration:
Fibre, Loom and Technique
In the past decade there has been renewed interest in textile studies in regards to materials, loom and non-loom technologies, and finished products including clothing. Many of these research activities are happening across continents in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, ethnography, as well as in museums.
In these related panels, twelve researchers from different regions and disciplines come together to share their research methodologies, findings, and philosophical issues related to their fields: Chris Buckley, Malika Kraamer, and Bernhard Bart will address issues relating to the transmission of technology; Eric Boudot will illustrate through ethnoarchaeology how contemporary traditional weavings may illuminate past practices; Christine Giuntini and Itie van Hout will present in-depth studies on looms and techniques based on early institutional collections; Analyn Salvador-Amores will illustrate how a museum collection can serve as inspiration for textile-revival projects; Geneviève Duggan will illustrate how the study of looms can demonstrate the links between textiles of different regions; Sandra Niessen will discuss an ethnographic account of a particular weaving practice; Linda S. Mcintosh will visit the complex issues of dress as markers of identities; and Stefan Danerek will present fieldwork from Palu’e that challenges notions of ‘meaning’ in textile motifs.
Panel 1: Sandra Sardjono, Independent Scholar
Panel 2: Christopher Buckley, Independent Scholar
Panel 3: Sandra Sardjono and Christopher Buckley
1. The Origins of Chinese Drawlooms
Christopher Buckley, Independent Scholar
The Chinese drawloom is not one loom but a group of related looms. The defining features of these looms are complex patterning systems that enable designs to be recorded and re-used at will. Drawlooms were probably the most complex pre-modern technology and were the basis for a celebrated silk weaving tradition. This weaving tradition was the wrapping and adornment for imperial authority and diplomacy in pre-revolutionary China. Drawlooms were also the first devices capable of reproducing detailed designs in full colour, their capabilities greatly exceeding those of early printing presses.
In this talk I review the origins of these looms, and show that their technologies are an amalgamation of design features from pre-existing looms. In particular I will discuss the importance of patterning systems on Tai looms in southwest China, a contribution to drawloom technology that has previously been overlooked. Both technical and historical considerations suggest that the expertise in polychrome supplementary weft decoration possessed by minority groups in southwest China were key to the development of the Han Chinese silk weaving tradition after the Tang dynasty.
2. From Ethnography to Archaeology: the Evolution of Patterned Weaving in China
Eric Boudot, Independent Scholar
The discovery of an 18th century Dong/Kam wedding bedcover provided the first hint that present-day ethnic figured weaving could be related to archaeological Chinese textiles. Its woven structure and aesthetic style suggested a possible link with some early Chu archaeological fragments unearthed not far away, dating from the Warring Kingdoms period, 2300 years earlier. Comparative study of active traditional looms with archaeological looms showed a remarkable consistency in the transmission of weaving techniques, structures and tools. It proved impossible, however, due to the lack of information regarding ethnicity and technological exchanges during the first millennium BCE in China, to draw a clear picture of the weaving situation at the time.
But the same comparative method could be applied to a later period, from the 3rd to the 8th century CE, when dramatic changes occurred in the history of Chinese figured textiles, owing mostly to exchanges with Central Asia. While ancient weaving traditions survived in Iran (the zilu loom) and India (the Varanasi jaala loom), the abundance of ancient textiles and texts found along the Silk Road provides ample information on this epoch of intense multicultural interactions. This period is marked by the evolution from warp faced compound tabby to samite. This process involved weaving experiments with taqueté and warp faced compound twill, which occurred concomitantly with a revolution in design iconography and loom technology from the multi-heddles patterning system loom to the drawloom. The study of ancient Iranian and Indian looms mechanisms is crucial to explain this development.
3. The Enigma of the Foot-Braced Loom in Eastern Indonesia
Geneviève Duggan, Anthropologist and Independent Scholar
Textiles in eastern Indonesia and especially in the province of NTT show striking similarities in their patterns, composition as well as in their structure. Textiles have always been part of trade so that patterns can be reproduced using different tools or equipment in faraway countries. However, composition and structure are more dependent on the type of loom on which the textiles are produced. A safe way to show a link between textiles of various islands is to study the type of loom on which they were produced. A link between textiles of NTT and those of Central and North Sulawesi has been demonstrated in ‘Tracing Ancient Networks; Linguistics, Hand-woven Cloths and Looms’ (Duggan 2011, 2015). Furthermore, the study of two types of traditional weavings on the island of Savu establishes a link between these highly regarded textiles still produced today and the foot braced loom, linking southeastern Indonesia with Dong son cultures in North Vietnam and southern China. The analysis of traditional weaving techniques is one of the methods for tracing ancient migrations in Asia.
4. An ‘Enchanting’ Technique: Twill Weaving in East Kalimantan, Indonesia
Itie van Hout, Former Textile Curator of the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
In the beginning of the 20th century the Tropenmuseum acquired several looms from Central Borneo. One loom from the Pnihing Dayak was collected by geographer and ethnologist A.W. Nieuwenhuis. He described the loom as a simple apparatus that only can produce weavings with ´diamond patterns´. B. M. Goslings, curator at the Colonial Museum (now Tropenmuseum), described the technique however as ‘puzzling’ and ‘mysterious’. Goslings asked film-maker and ethnologist H.F.Tillema to collect a similar loom and document the technique. Tillema could not find weavers still working with this loom on his trip to Borneo, but did find elderly women in the Apo Kayan region, who in a joint effort produced a model of a backstrap loom with a twill weave, with the ‘diamonds’ mentioned by Nieuwenhuis. The technique was far too complex to describe and Tillema decided to film the whole process in order to clarify the extra rods and sticks inserted in the loom.
This paper will discuss the use of the materials and products of these looms and the similarity of the twill weave patterns to Neolithic motifs on basketry and mats. It will further discuss the historical setting in which the objects were collected; the manner in which the technical aspects of this type of weaving were studied in the Netherlands; and the possible ‘enchanting effect’ of this technique and textiles on those who made and used them, and on those who collected and studied them.
5. Bantu Raffia Loom: From the Kingdom of Kongo to the Kuba Confederation, A Conservative Weaving Tradition
Christine Giuntini, Conservator, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
When the Portuguese entered the mouth of the Kongo river around 1483, they were met by local peoples who eventually guided them to the up-river capital of the local polity at Mbanza Kongo (São Salvador). There the Portuguese encountered a well-organized and prosperous city-state, one of several autonomous, but related pre-colonial states in central Africa.
Dispersed among many European institutions are approximately sixty raffia fabrics with pile patterns that can be securely dated to Kongo state at the end of the 17th or beginning of the early 18th centuries according to inventory records. 14C dating has suggested at least one of these pieces dates to the 14th century. All are examples of local production created during the early centuries of European-Kongo contact, and made of the same materials and techniques: raffia fibers, of limited length, likely woven on a single-heddle loom with pattern added by a supplementary weft technique. Larger display cloths were created by joining individual panels together.
This talk will show that while the interlocking patterns on these Kongo cloths are similar to the well-known Kuba textiles from the up-river Kasai region, a comparison of these two types of raffia cloth reveal critical differences in the patterning technique: supplementary weft with cut pile vs. embroidery with cut-pile patterning. Examination of unfinished examples from both regions reveal similar steps in loom set-up and weaving habits, with the essential difference in the method of creating pattern: supplementary weft vs. embroidery.
6. Cloth from Ghana: Transmission of Skills and Technology between Europe, Asia and West Africa
Malika Kraamer, Independent Scholar and Curator
This paper takes the perspective of cloth from Ghana in West Africa, the well-known kente textiles. It will analyse the transmission of skills and technology between Europe, Asia and West Africa as well as within the West-African region embedded in the history of kente. Some of South Asian textiles found their way to West Africa via Europe in the early modern and colonial time. I will argue that the transmission of technology happens mainly through the trade in textiles, whether in adjacent weaving areas or between different continents, than contact between weavers and those knowledgeable of the weaving process. Furthermore, it is often in the process of this kind of transmission that much innovation takes place. An African perspective opens up the possibility of new comparisons in the study of Asia in Europe, which sometimes extended further afield.
7. Igorot Life-World According to Textiles in Museum Collections
Analyn Salvador-Amores, Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of the Philippines Baguio
Among the Igorots, the ethno-linguistic groups in North Luzon Philippines, textiles played a very important role. Each of the different indigenous communities in the region possesses a unique weaving technique, with the resulting forms and patterns dictated by distinct religious, socio-political and artistic origins, functions and values. The Cordillera weaving tradition occupies a niche, one that is both cultural and functional, and at the same time featuring the artistry of indigenous weavers in the region. However, much of these century-old textiles are no longer woven today, due to the decline of the significance and use, the shift of raw to synthetic materials, and more importantly the loss of the traditional artisans.
At the turn of the century, much of the traditional textiles were collected by early missionaries, and travellers, who extensively documented the life-ways of the indigenous peoples and deposited all these information and material objects in various museums in the US and Europe. They left substantial information that is vital for modern researchers in understanding the weaving techniques, technology, and patterns of traditional weaving. Through in-depth research on the archival documents, historical photographs, digital repatriation of textiles, and to the replication of the textiles, the links in the chain from the past to present are recreated. Through replication of textiles that were originally sourced by early travellers, the local knowledge and new information elicited gave a new reference with which to engender their Igorot identity, and led to the revival of interest on textiles that still holds practical use and symbolic nature.
8. Changes in Ethnic Identity Markers in the Medium of Cloth in Xieng Khouang Province, Laos
Linda S. McIntosh, Independent Scholar
The use of handwoven cloth as identity markers – ethnic, provincial or regional, and national - remains active in Xieng Khouang Province, the Lao People Democratic Republic or Laos. Textiles and attire have served as ethnic identity markers for centuries worldwide, including Laos’ diverse population. Notions of regional and national identity markers via the medium of cloth began in the 20th century when the former kingdom became part of the French colony of Indochina and later with the establishment of the Lao People Democratic Republic. The Xieng Khouang Plateau, located in the country’s northeast region, was the locale for the Muang Phuan principality or present-day Xieng Khouang Province. This presentation examines the textiles of the province’s six official ethnic groups -Tai Phuan, Tai Dam, Phong, Khamu, O’du and Hmong - and their roles as symbols of various identities.
Women belonging to these groups presently weave on frame looms; however, handweaving on this looms type was not widespread in the past. One group, the Khamu, lacked weaving knowledge while another, the O’du, produced cloth on a foot-braced body tension loom. Bartering of cloth between ethnic groups occurred, and itinerant Chinese merchants also provided materials utilized in the composition of attire, household accessories, and ritual items. By comparing archival records with field research, a summary of traditional attire and changes in textile production are addressed before approaching the use of handwoven textiles as contemporary ethnic and other identity markers.
9. Nomenclature and Design in Palu’e Textiles
Stefan Danerek, Independent Scholar
This paper investigates the nomenclature of Palu’e textile designs and whether the naming constitutes an iconography of the designs. Research in many different locations has found that locals cannot ‘explain’ the patterns on textile designs, and that oral cultures tend to assign motifs names based on resemblances with objects. Questions: Are motif names descriptive or referential? Are known objects depicted? What do the names of textiles and motifs mean? What is the function of names? Methodology: Design and motif names acquired in fieldwork are analysed semantically, and compared with visual iconography.
Conclusions: Motif names are taken from daily life and are, with few exceptions, not referential, instead the nomenclature tend to be based on formal or chance resemblances, confirmed in interviews with weavers. Fieldwork reveals that motif names are not of primary importance to weavers, who understand that the nomenclature is not referential. A few males take a more literal view of motif names and assign symbolism to the designs, but the assigning of meaning is subjective. Less than 10% of motifs depict objects realistically, and in ways close to stylised representation. Palu’e designs do not feature anthropomorphic motifs, and only indirectly feature few zoomorphic motifs. Influence of Patola and other foreign sources is insignificant. The designs, proven to faithfully reproduce proto-Austronesian designs, are much more stable than the nomenclature, which comes after making, as do the inconsistent myths that surround them.
11. A Bulang by Any Other Loom...Integration of Design, Technique and Loom in the Making of an Indonesian Textile
Sandra Niessen, Independent Scholar
The Simalungun 'bulang' textile is a women's headdress, one of the most complex cloths in the Batak (Sumatra) repertory. It is an object lesson in how a traditional textile design is integrally linked to a specific kind of loom and the way it is customarily deployed. Both the process of weaving and the resultant textile express the Hindu-Buddhist influenced Batak worldview. Using slides, film clips and textiles, this presentation demonstrates how the design and weaving of the bulang can be 'read' and why it is not authentic (i.e. it becomes just a cloth sporting a look-alike design and no longer a culturally meaningful artifact) when made on a (semi-)mechanized loom or printed. The bulang is an expression of a commons, the product of generation upon generation of a community of weavers. The Batak weaving tradition is currently in sharp decline.
This presentation also raises concerns about ostensibly well-meaning attempts to rescue indigenous weaving traditions through fashion and computer designing, by pointing out that these strategies constitute not just the appropriation of design, but also the design process, for commercial ends. Can there be a future for indigenous textile design if weavers do not have the room and scope to continue their community design process?
11. From the Khmer to the Minangkabau - Technical Analysis of the Weaving Tools and Looms
Bernhard Bart, Creative Director Studio Songket Palantaloom, Independent Scholar
For the past 20 years, I have been researching and revitalizing the songket weaving of the Minangkabau tradition. From the start, I have always wondered why the Minangkabau people use the frame loom to make their beautiful fabric; they do not sit on the ground like all other traditional weavers in Indonesia (except in the regions of Siak and Batu Bara, both on the East coast of Sumatra).
Some scholars have proposed through historical study that the frame loom came from the Khmer people, and it was brought to Terengganu, then to Siak, and from there to Minangkabau. In this talk, I will demonstrate this transmission route from a different angle of study, through the analysis of weaving tools and loom parts. The study shows that weaving tools hardly changed over the centuries. Only the outer frame of the loom, in which the weaving tools were installed, had undergone modifications. At the end of this talk, I will summarize the development of the Minangkabau frame loom from its first appearance (late 18th century) until today.
12. Open discussion: challenges and future directions for the study of looms and weaving technique.
Led by Christopher Buckley and Sandra Sardjono.
The study of textiles and textile-related cultures has gone through major changes in the past half-century. Past areas of focus (European drawloom traditions, Egyptian archaeology, Far Eastern ethnography) have produced much interesting knowledge, but it is worth asking whether these will continue to serve in the future. Scholarship in the humanities is also undergoing changes, with a reduction in staffing and funding in Europe and America, and the emergence of new centers of scholarship in other parts of the world, particularly in Asia. This discussion is intended to elicit ideas from panelists and others on what directions are needed for the future, and what will inspire the next generation of scholars to take up textile and weaving studies.