November Nonfiction III: Cloth and History
Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be The Expert/ Ask the Expert/ Become the Expert with Veronica at The Thousand Book Project:
Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books
on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert),
you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that
you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own
list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).
For week 3, I decided to Be The Expert (and do a little Becoming) about the history of fabric, thread, the development thereof, and its place in societies and history. I stayed away from fashion -- that's not my area. But I sure do love reading about fabric!
These are the books I've read so far:
It's also been quite a while since I read The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich,
which was excellent. I remember especially chapters about spinning
linen thread and Native American baskets. Here's the blurb: Using
objects that Americans have saved through the centuries and
stories they have passed along, as well as histories teased from
documents, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich chronicles the production of
cloth--and of history--in early America. Under the singular and
brilliant lens that Ulrich brings to this study, ordinary household
goods provide the key to a transformed understanding of cultural
encounter, frontier war, Revolutionary politics, international commerce,
and early industrialization in America.
Then there's The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History, by Kassia St. Clair. (Here's my post.)
While Barber goes in-depth, St. Clair goes broad and hops around the
world in chapters, covering a myriad of topics from Viking sails (made
of wool!) to silk in China and synthetic spider silk fabric. This is
probably more suited to the non-fabric-obsessed person.
The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine, by Rozika Parker, (blog post here)
is not my favorite here, but is still a necessary read. Parker's book
is about embroidery and women, and it's very 80s feminist but also
stuffed with interesting information. Sometimes I wanted her to go
deeper, and sometimes I thought she was overstating the obvious.
And now, the books I plan to read but haven't got yet, together with their descriptions:
The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, by Virginia Postrel : The story of humanity is the story of textiles -- as old as civilization itself. Since the first thread was spun, the need for textiles has driven technology, business, politics, and culture. Postrel synthesizes groundbreaking research from archaeology, economics, and science to reveal a surprising history. From Minoans exporting wool colored with precious purple dye to Egypt, to Romans arrayed in costly Chinese silk, the cloth trade paved the crossroads of the ancient world. Textiles funded the Renaissance and the Mughal Empire; they gave us banks and bookkeeping, Michelangelo's David and the Taj Mahal. The cloth business spread the alphabet and arithmetic, propelled chemical research, and taught people to think in binary code.
Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle, by Clare Hunter: In 1970s Argentina, mothers marched in headscarves embroidered with the names of their “disappeared” children. In Tudor, England, when Mary, Queen of Scots, was under house arrest, her needlework carried her messages to the outside world. From the political propaganda of the Bayeux Tapestry, World War I soldiers coping with PTSD, and the maps sewn by schoolgirls in the New World, to the AIDS quilt, Hmong story clothes, and pink pussyhats, women and men have used the language of sewing to make their voices heard, even in the most desperate of circumstances. Threads of Life is a chronicle of identity, protest, memory, power, and politics told through the stories of needlework.
Cloth that Changed the World: The Art and Fashion of Indian Chintz, by Sarah Fee Chintz, a type of multicolored printed or painted cotton cloth, originated in India yet exerted influence far beyond its home shores: it became a driving force of the spice trade in the East Indies, and it attracted European merchants, who by the 17th century were importing millions of pieces. In the 18th century, Indian chintz became so coveted globally that Europeans attempted to imitate its uniquely vibrant dyes and design—a quest that eventually sparked the mechanical and business innovations that ushered in the Industrial Revolution, with its far-reaching societal impacts. This beautifully illustrated book tells the fascinating and multidisciplinary stories of the widespread desire for Indian chintz over 1,000 years to its latest resurgence in modern fashion and home design.