Archive for November, 2010

David W. Fraser on “Vertically Twined Plateau Bags”

Posted in Uncategorized on November 27, 2010 by rjohn

Dear folks –

On August 21, 2010, David W. Fraser

(David, in the center in the above photo, talks with his wife Barbara and Bruce Baganz, the president of the TM board)

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation program here at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D. C., on the topic “Vertically Twined Plateau Bags.”

Wendel Swan, introduced David,

but digressed at first to indicate that there was a significant empty seat in the room.

He said Harold Keshishian,

who was instrumental in the  founding of these free Saturday programs in the 1960s and who was active in them ever since, both as a presenter and as a, sometimes irrepressible,  audience participant, had died recently, and so the chair at the side in which Harold often sat was unoccupied today.

Wendel said that he thought Harold knew more about a wider universe of rugs and textiles than anyone else he has known personally, and that Harold’s participation in RTAM sessions will be seriously missed.

Wendel said next that,” If Harold were in the room, he would be signaling  me, now, to ‘get on with it,’ with a ‘cut’ gesture across his throat, and in that spirit I need to turn to introduce David Fraser and today’s program.”

He said that David is trained as a medical doctor

and has had a distinguished career in medicine.  He headed the work to identify and deal with “Legionnaires’ disease,” and that demonstrating that the tampon was implicated in “Toxic Shock Syndrome.”

David has served as president of  both Swarthmore College and The Textile Museum Board, and continues to serve the TM as a Research Associate.

David is the author of the standard work on “weft-twined structures” and, with his wife Barbara, of a second  book on Chin tunics and other textiles, ethnic textiles with complex structures, woven in mainland southeast Asia.

They have done important field work in these areas, as well as in that of today’s topic, ‘Plateau bags’, a format twined by U.S. Indians in parts of the Columbia River basin.

(Ed.: In what follows I have drawn on both David’s TM presentation and on the article in American Indian Art Magazine in which the research on which David was drawing was also reported.)

David began by sketching some features of the “Plateau bag” format.

He said that they were functional bags, with front and back panels and top openings.

They vary in size, but are usually a little taller than they are wide.

( Ed.:  In the measurements I have seen as I prepared this post, the shortest Plateau bag I saw was 5.5 inches tall and 5 inches wide, and the tallest was 17 inches; its width was 13.5 inches.)

Mostly, but not always, the designs on the back are different from those on the front.  Here is the back of the Plateau bag above.

David said the the “Plateau” reference is to an actual geological plateau area in the northwestern U.S., between the Cascade and Rocky mountains near the Columbia River.

Plateau bags are sometimes described as “Nez Perce” bags, since Nez Perce did weave many of them.  But some Plateau bags were woven by members of other tribes.

David indicated that the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama, Kliktat, Tenino, Walla Walla and Palouse also wove Plateau bags.

The map above indicates where the various tribal makers were located.  The one below indicates how the reservation areas were reduced.

David also showed some images of various Native American plateau bag makers.  If you look closely, all of these photos include Plateau bags in use.  Each also has a caption that you should be able to read.

Plateau bags are also sometimes referred to as “corn husk” bags, and David indicated that this, too, is a partial truth.  Corn husk was a frequent material, but Plateau bags can also contain Indian hemp, cotton, wool and even “bear grass.”

One of these photos shows a woman making a Plateau bag.

While some twining has been done on looms (twined Chilkat dancing blankets are made on warp-weighted looms), in the case of Plateau bags, no loom is necessary.

Look again at the photo above.  Notice that this lady holds the Plateau bag that she is making loosely on her lap and is twining it (moving left to right) working with the warps ends away from herself.  The warps on which she will continue to twine hang down in front of her.

David next moved to the various structures used in Plateau bags and how they were made.

As the photo below suggests, David is someone who often finds textile structures exciting, and he can make others feel his enthusiasm.

He used four Plateau bags in the room, that are part of the Textile Museum collection, to explain some of the basic variations in construction and weave.

First, is a Plateau bag was woven by the Nez Perce in about 1880.   It is made from Indian hemp, bear grass and corn husk.

(Ed. Esther Methe, the Textile Museum, Curator of Conservation, holds this boxed bag as David speaks to it)

Here is a little better look at its front.

And here is an image of its back from the Museum card.

The underlying twining is composed of two strands of Indian hemp, twisting each other as they interlace the warps.

The design is the result of the additional use of corn husk strips or bear grass in a “false embroidery” structure.

The drawing below shows how such a strand  of patterning corn husk is introduced into the underlying twining as it proceeds.

Notice in the drawing above that the patterning corn husk strand (striped) wraps the twining strands alternately, but only on the front side of the warps.

One result of this is that, when this specific structure is used, the design is visible on the outside of the bag, but does not show on the inside.

This structure is called “false embroidery” because in real embroidery the decorating thread is inserted after the weaving and moves between the front side and the back of a ground cloth (here the “ground” is the two twined cords).

The decorating thread is seen on both sides in actual embroidery.  The “embroidery” of the piece above is “false” in the sense that the corn husk strand decorates the front, but does not move to the back side of the warps.

Here, again, is one of the drawings above to make one additional point.

Notice that the striped cord COULD be taken around both cords when it wraps.  If  it did (and sometimes that variation is used) the design would be visible both inside and outside the bag.

David said that the  piece we have been discussing above (repeated here for convenience),

was made in the following way.  The twiner began at the bottom

with plain twining.   The work proceeded horizontally and spirals upward row by row.  There are no seams.

After several rows of plain twining, the maker shifted to false embroidery and introduced patterning, using bear grass and corn husk.  The weaver twined two different designs, one on the area of the bag that would be its “front,” and another on what would be its “back.”

The work spirals up shifting back to plain twining at the top.  The only opening is at the top.

Here is what the Textile Museum card on this piece says:


Cornhusk bag


Nez Perce

Purchase: Mary Elizabeth King, Washington, D.C.

Materials: dogbane fiber/cornhusk/bear grass

Construction:  tubular, no seams

Patterned with false embroidery in both yarn and fiber such as cornhusk or beargrass.  Some of these are darker than others, either dyed or slightly different in nature.  Plain twining at top and bottom.  Red “hourglass” motifs on one side.   Red zigzag motifs with brown, green, and blue dots on the other side.

David said that, while some species of weft twining are not difficult, his own experience with attempting the false embroidery variety suggests that that variation is.

One has to twine (often) with two basic strands that are of one material, say Indian hemp or cotton, and simultaneously do the false embroidery patterning using another strand of another material, say corn husk.  The  corn husk must not only be introduced so that it is visible on the front but not the back of the twining being worked on, it must also be kept moist as one works.

Here is David attempting a species of twining under the guidance of a famous, expert twiner, Irene Wyena Cloud.

Very often, he said, he felt like he didn’t have enough hands.

The next three examples of bags were also from the Textile Museum collection.  David said that they were made by members of the Wasco tribe, who are west of most of the tribes that make the Plateau bags.

The first of these was the piece below.

David said that this piece begins with twining at the bottom.  The fibers used are cotton and Indian hemp.  There is use of a patterning yarn but no false embroidery.  Design is seen both on the outside of this piece and the inside.

Here is what the Museum card says about this piece:




Possibly Wasco

Bequest of Irene Emory

Materials: fiber/cotton

Twined fiber and cotton

The second Wasco piece was this one.

My notes do not say much about this piece.  Only that indigo wool is used as a patterning strand on Indian hemp.

Here’s what the Textile Museum card on this piece says in part:

Twining:  pattern not of false embroidery but twining.  Bottom begins with crossed elements that radiate  out.  Design of striped lattice in blue.  Top bound with buckskin strip, thong drawstrings and handle.

A third piece is the one below.

Here is the bottom of this piece.

Here is the Textile Museum card on this piece.

A fourth  and last Textile Museum collection piece was the one below.

A little closer detail.

The aspects that strike one about this piece is the loose, open structure and the lack of any designs embellishing it.

Here is part of the Textile Museum’s card on it.

David had brought several Plateau bags and someone in the audience had one too.  Here is what they looked like.

We’ll label the one below, PB7

Comment on PB7: This bag is vertically twined, with a seam visible along the left side.  The false embroidery yarns are wool and cornhusk. The design includes prominent use of thin vertical lines

A closer look at a detail of this front view of PB7.  It’s PB7a.

Comment on PB7a: Note the steep diagonals and thin vertical lines in the pattern.

Here is the back of PB7

Comment on PB7 back view: Steep diagonals in the pattern are prominent on this side.

A closer look at a detail of this back.

PB7 back detail

The next Plateau bag in the room was the one below.


Comment on this side of PB8:  This bag is also vertically twined, with a single seam visible along the right side.  Relatively little of the surface is covered with false embroidery (done in cornhusk), suggesting that this utilitarian bag is of considerable age.  The four orange marks at the bottom have been tentatively identified as maker’s marks.

Here is the other side of PB8

PB8 other

Comment on PB8 other side:  Steep diagonals are prominent in the pattern on this side.

The next piece shown was the one below.


Comment on PB9:  This is a horizontally twined bag, with no seam.  It has been attributed to Ida Blackeagle, a well known Nez Perce weaver.

PB9 other side

Comment on PB9 other side:  The false embroidery is done with wool and cornhusk.  Note the shallow diagonals in the pattern.

The last Plateau bag shown in the room was the one below.


Comment on PB10: This lovely bag is horizontally twined.

PB10 other side

Now, although I don’t think most of us took it in, initially, David’s presentation to this point was actually context for the specific focus of his talk.

The expression “vertically twined” in his program title indicated that he intended to focus most sharply on a particular and quite small group of Plateau bags, that have interesting, even mysterious, features.

In fact one of David’s questions when he began his exploration was whether vertically-twined Plateau bags were a deliberately made Plateau bag format, rather than the result of re-working of some sort.

Reworked bags like the one below, exist,

so the question whether some plateau bags were deliberately made with a vertically twined structure is a real one.

But David has been able to demonstrate that vertically-twined Plateau bags were sometimes deliberately made and the results of his study were published in an article in the magazine American Indian Art.

The balance of David’s program was devoted to reporting key aspects of this research and article.

Here are the questions David established as he began his study of “Vertically Twined Plateau Bags:”

1.  Do they exist?

2.  How common are they?

3.  Who made them?

4.  Why were they made?

5.  How can they be detected in historic photos?

Let’s first notice the side seam that is a characteristic of  vertically twined Plateau bags.

The bag below has such a side seem.

VT21 (VT for “vertically twined)

A Plateau bag with twining rows aligned vertically cannot be created by twining in a continuous circle.  At the mouth (at the top of the bag) the twiner must turn back or end her row and start again in an adjacent row.  The work begins along one side and ends at the other side, where a gap is left that must be closed with a seam.

So one sign that vertically twined Plateau bags are a deliberately created format is the presence of this gap and the subsequent seam.

Another sign of deliberation is to demonstrate how the mouth can be created using vertically twining.

David said that the mouth in a vertically twined bag can be achieved in two different ways.  He provided a drawing.

The drawing on the left above shows how the twiner can move in one direction and then turn back at the mouth (shown at the left side in these diagrams) and twine back in the opposite direction.

The drawing on the right above shows the second way in which the opening that the mouth can be produced.  In this method, the twining begins circling one warp at the mouth lip and continues to the opposite lip where it terminates (with some terminating edge stitch not shown).  In this second method there is no turning back.  All of the twining moves in the same direction.  In both cases, the seam will be created at the top of these diagrams, after the last row of twining.

A second indication that vertically twined Plateau bags are a deliberately created format is the completeness of the designs on both sides.

David treated another characteristic of vertically twined Plateau bags that involves continuous twining (rather than stopping each row at the far lip of the bag mouth).  It is that the false embroidery is employed every other row (the intervening row is twined using the materials of the basic twining).  One advantage of using false embroidery every other row is that it is easier for a right-handed twiner to use false embroidery moving left to right.  The “skipped” row is twined right to left (or left to right but working with the inside of the bag facing the weaver) without the false embroidery.  This practice makes it possible for the twiner always to be twining the false embroidery rows moving left to right.

Here are some images of an incomplete Plateau bag in which (1) false embroidery is being used, and (2) every other row is done in plain twining.

You will be able to see the skipped rows as the images get closer.


Comment on VT1a:  This bag has cornhusk false embroidery on underlying twining of Indian hemp.  It is worked with the warp ends facing away from the weaver, as shown.


Comment on VT1b:  The mouth of the growing bag is shown on the left side of this image.


Comment on VT1c:  Notice in the photo above that one result of using false embroidery every other row is that only half of the surface in the areas in which it is used are covered with false embroidery.  The mouth edge is smooth, reflecting the fact that the Indian hemp wefts turn back each time they reach the mouth.  The latest row of twining (without false embroidery) has not yet reached this section of the bag.


Comment on VT1d:  The top row shown in this image is the last one to be worked.  It has been worked from right to left and has no false embroidery.

David said that having demonstrated that “vertically twined plateau bags” are a real Plateau bag variety, he would move to examine how often this format occurs.  The statistical term for this is “prevalence.”

In order to determine the prevalence of “vertically twined Plateau bags,” David (and, in the case of the Yakima Valley Museum, his wife Barbara) examined all available Plateau bags in the following collections:

o  American Museum of Natural History

o  University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology

o  Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the American History

o  Yakima Valley Museum

o  Burke Museum

o  Natalie Linn’s The Plateau Bag

David analyzed a total of 432 Plateau bags.  Of these 19 were vertically twined.

Sixteen of these were excluded from the prevalence survey because they were in collections examined only because the collections were known to have vertically twined Plateau bags.   The 416 Plateau bags included in the prevalence study were from collections for which there was no prior knowledge of the presence in them of vertically twined bags.

David’s prevalence findings were:

o  Of the 416 Plateau bags included, only 5 bags, 1.2%, were vertically twined.  So although vertically twined Plateau bags are a deliberately created format, they are quite rare.

The next question was “who wove the ‘vertically twined Plateau bags?'”  This question entailed also answering the question  “who wove the ‘horizontally twined Plateau bags?'”  These questions are hard to answer because attributions of Plateau bags in museum collections are often incomplete or wrong.  In particular many such bags are reflexively attributed to the Nez  Perce.

David reported that the small universe of vertically twined plateau bags in collections other than local Plateau museums were attributed to twiners of the following tribes:

Nez Perce         5

Yakama              1

Umatilla            1

Cayuse                1

Unattributed 5

The much larger universe of horizontally twined bags were attributed to twiners of the following tribes:

Nez Perce           189

Yakama                  41

Umatilla                34

Cayuse                        1

Other                        37

Determining the provenance of given vertically twined plateau bags is made difficult because of:

1) the wide-spread tendency to attribute all plateau bags to the Nez Perce,

2) the fact that plateau bags were often given as gifts or used in trade, so the owner of a piece  may not be of the same tribe as the maker,

But David indicated that the thrust of his studies suggest that “…one, perhaps the, locus of vertically twined plateau bags was among the inter-linked tribes of the Wanapum, Walla Walla, Umatilla and Cayuse of southeastern Washington and across the border in northeastern Oregon…”

David’s next question was “Why were vertically twined Plateau bags made?”

He said that it is easier to think of reasons to twine a Plateau bag horizontally than it is to pinpoint reasons for doing so vertically.  For example, “…the seamlessness of the horizontally twined bag makes it stronger and less likely to lose its contents.”  David also cited reasons why a horizontally twined bag is easier to make.

But his study also identified some possible advantages of vertical twining.

First, David said, “Twining a bag vertically does create a neater mouth…”  Many earlier vertically twined Plateau bags are done with false embroidery every other row and, the continuous weft rows of this usage, makes for a neater mouth.  David conjectured that early, more utilitarian Plateau bags may have required a neater mouth.

But at the turn of the twentieth century, vertically twined Plateau bags are mostly made with false embroidery on adjacent rows and discontinuous wefts, so their mouths are not so neat and other reasons for twining vertically are needed.

David said that older vertically twined Plateau bags had simpler designs, but that those of the twentieth century became more complex.  So perhaps this increased complexity of design provided a reason for using vertical twining.

To explore this possibility David asked two questions  of the information he had collected on the plateau bags in his study universe.

These were:

o  How frequently do twined Plateau bags with thin vertical lines in the designs on their faces turn out to be vertically twined?

o  How frequently do twined Plateau bags with steep diagonals in their designs turn out to be vertically twined?

Beginning with the first of these questions David examined a preliminary question: what proportion of horizontally twined bags had thin vertical lines on their faces?

Here is an example bag face with thin vertical lines.

The by-tribe results were:

o  Nez Perce                          4.3%

0 Yakama                               6.1%

o  Umatilla                           16.4%

o  Other specific tribes  1.5%

o  No specific tribe            7.0%

So thin vertical lines in the designs of horizontally twined Plateau bags is fairly infrequent, but may be more common among the Umatilla.

David, further, found that the overall prevalence of thin vertical lines was 73% on faces of vertically twined bags and 6% on faces of horizontally twined ones.  So the association between the direction of the twining in a bag’s face and the orientation  of thin lines in its pattern is “very strong.”

The preference of the Umatilla tribe for designs with thin vertical lines suggests that this tribe may have had a design-sourced reason for using vertical twining.

David now moved to the question how frequently do twined plateau bags with steep diagonals in their designs turn out to be vertically twined?

In general, David said, Plateau bags tend to have a higher density of weft rows per inch than of warps per inch.  “…Because the diagonal goes out more quickly that it goes up,” the diagonals in designs on most Plateau bags are relatively shallow.

So David checked 423 twined Plateau bags to see what proportions of vertically twined vs. horizontally twined face diagonals  would be pitched more or less than 45 degrees to the horizontal.

He found that among horizontally twined faces

with measurable diagonals 99.2 % had angles relative to the horizontal of less than 45%.

“Among vertically worked bags, ten of the sixteen had angles relative to the horizontal of greater than 45 degrees.

He corrected this finding for examples in which the degree of steepness is affected by moving up only every other row,

and found that in general “a weaver wishing to create designs that have smooth steep diagonals would tend to favor vertical twining, whereas a weaver who wished to make designs with shallow diagonals would favor twining horizontally.”

The last issue that David treated was that of how one might identify vertically twined Plateau bags in historical photographs.

Of course, the presence of a side seam is nearly conclusive visual evidence of vertical twining, and the use of thin vertical lines and of steep diagonals in face designs also indicate Plateau bags that are likely vertically twined.

But also David noticed that Plateau bag designs woven with horizontal twining tended to twist up and to the left

and that those twined vertically often twist up and to the right.

His specific investigative question was:

o How frequently do twined Plateau bags in which the pattern(s) in the designs twist up and to the right turn out to be vertically twined?

“Of the 250 bags examined in which there was evidence of pattern twist, that twist was up and to the left in 98.7 percent of horizontally twined bags, and up and to the right in 92.9 percent when the twining was done vertically.”

David applied prevalence tests and concluded that “the most valuable clues in historic photographs regarding vertical twining (other than seeing the side seam) are likely to be the presence of steep diagonals and twisting of the pattern up and to the right.  Thin vertical lines offer additional evidence of vertical twining but are sufficiently frequent in horizontally twined bags to be less conclusive.”

David summarized his conclusions,

took questions,

and adjourned the session.

The Textile Museum examples, and others that had been brought in, were placed on tables in the Myers Room

and an adjoining one

for closer (no touching of the Museum pieces) examination.

People moved to see this material close-up, and the questions and conversation continued.

I want to thank David and his wife Barbara for sharing this fine piece of work with us, and for permitting me to fashion this virtual version of it.

Thanks to them, too, for some alert editing that saved me from reportorial error.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at a good example of the sort of empirical research that is still within the range of serious students of textiles and weaving.


R. John Howe

Mae Festa: My First Forty Years of Collecting

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2010 by rjohn

On March 20, 2010, Mae Festa’s collection was the focus of the “Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning” program.

Mae is very experienced as a collector, but shy as a public speaker, so Wendel Swan

facilitated the presentation of selected pieces.

Here is the resulting program, approximately, as given.  During the TM session, the actual objects were shown side-by-side with screen images that often provided closer details.  Many of the items are fine or small and so seeing these details is important. Here, in order to preserve the size of the detail images, the various photos of each piece are presented sequentially.

After the session the objects were available on tables for attendee examination.


Welcome to The Textile Museum for a presentation of objects from Mae Festa’s collection, which are being displayed as a group for the first time outside her home.

While many approaches to Mae’s eclectic collection are possible, we decided to discuss the objects geographically, moving eastward from Connecticut and ending in Indonesia.

Mae is of Greek ancestry and grew up in Manhattan.  Her first serious job was with a contemporary furniture and design firm.

Later, when she and her husband Gene

were living in Athens, she began to find and appreciate folk textiles

and early embroideries.  It was then, in the 60s, that she acquired her first small pieces from Greece, Asian and Africa.

During the 60’s and 70’s she raised a son and began working professionally as an interior designer in a prominent architect’s firm.  This gave her the opportunity to use textiles as part of art collections in many projects.

This experience also gave her access to some of the textile world’s very best dealers and opened up the world of collecting to her.

Not until her first trip to Turkey in 1979 did she begin traveling to regions where tribal and ethnic textiles were still available, such as Bhutan, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Mae’s husband Gene designed their home

and it is a tremendous foil for displaying the textiles.

Mae is a true collector.  Many pieces you will see today are more or less permanently displayed in Mae and Gene’s living room, yet Mae is unfailingly enthusiastic when discussing textiles she sees daily.

We begin our journey through Mae’s collection with the object created closest to her Connecticut home.

Quite different from other beaded American Indian belts, this 19th century Iroquois belt, from the Northeastern United States,

has a velvet face on leather backing with glass beadwork applique.

Although the imagery is not traditional Iroquois, and may have been influenced by the crewel work of English settlers,

the drawing and execution mark the work of an experienced craftsman.

The oldest textile you will see today is this plaited band from the late Paracas period (meaning 200 – 200 BC) in Peru.

Made of camelid fiber, this very rare decorative addition to a sash or headband is in excellent condition for its age.

Note the fascinating structure and that the design is one band of orange and gold,

interweaving another band of pink and blue.  It almost seems as if the two bands were woven independently, but it was all woven at once.

Perhaps no other object in Mae’s collection better exemplifies the minimalist end of the spectrum than does the Inca tunic fragment, below, from Peru.

It was made of camelid fiber and cotton sometime between the 15th century and the middle of the 16th century.

This panel was apparently one of several similar variations used during this period as badges of status or merit.  It certainly make us ponder the meaning of “modern” design.

This breech cloth fragment below is also from Peru, but 14th century, Chancay.

It is of very fine tapestry weave with narrow bands, each just 1/4 inch wide, sewn together to form an irregular, stepped geometric design.

The distribution of soft colors creates a very appealing and energetic overall design almost like rippling water in a pebble-lined stream.

Like the Paracas band, this is one you must see up close to appreciate.

Although it was not in the room for this presentation, this is another candidate for the minimalist award.

This ceremonial chest cloth is from the Peruvian Huari period (roughly 8th to the 11th centuries) and is made of  macaw and parrot feathers on a camelid and cotton backing.

As early as the first millennium BC, feathers have been used in Andean textile art for ceremonial purposes.  Those who wore such textiles were in the upper echelons of society.

The mid-20th century ceremonial underskirt panel below

was woven by the Bushong ethnic group of the Kuba Kingdom of the Congo for use on special occasions.

It was made from raffia palm leaf fiber, plain-woven, then embroidered and appliqued.

Wendel said that the motifs that look like arrowheads and interlacing are ubiquitous, but that the overall effect reminded him of a map of a village, with houses, trees and pathways.

He invited contradiction, got none, and said, “OK, it’s a village.”

Below is another example of Bushong work, probably earlier than the previous example, likely from the early 20th century.

This piece was not in the room for this presentation.

Full-sized over-skirts were reserved for female members of the royal family.  This, however, is a rare miniature version.

The raffia palm leaf base is woven by men.

The pile is created by bringing the processed raffia fiber through the plain-woven ground cloth with a steel needle and then shearing it with a knife.

In another realm, we see the 18th century English mending bag below,

made of polychrome wool embroidery with silk accents, using a variety of stitches on a cotton and linen twill.

The tree of life design has many of the same small and large animals, birds and flowers that we see in Middle Eastern work, but there is also an apparent Indian influence.

The piece below is a 17th century border fragment from Italy.

Indigo-dyed silk was embroidered on linen, using cross stitches and double running stitches.

It is a prototypical example of Assisi work, using a single-color cross stitch to fill in the background.

These embroidered bands were often made in very long lengths and were used to decorate the edges of large linens, such as table cloths and bed covers.

The next object is a real mystery.

In Mae’s inventory, someone described it as “Central Asia – Uzbekistan, hammam bag, 20th century.”  No one, Mae included, believes any of that except the 20th century part.

It is silk embroidered on silk in a tambour stitch.

The fleur de lys certainly is reminiscent of the French crest, but only one thing is certain – it was purchased from someone in Jerusalem.

Wendel welcomed any ideas of attribution, but none were given.

Although the next example of silk brocade on damask ground with silver metallic thread, is from Lyon, France,

for a brief period, beginning at the end of the 17th century, a strange style, known now as “bizarre,” was popular in European textile design, especially in Sweden and Denmark.

Especially seen in woven silks, this style included a variety of juxtaposed motifs of different origins and in different scales.

This cranberry red example dates from the early 19th century.

The first of several Greek textiles we’ll see today is this 19th  century shawl, done in silk embroidery on a fine linen ground.

It was woven in the city of Metelini on the island of Lesbos, only 15 miles from the Turkish coast.

The ends show a garden with cypress trees, birds, stylized flowers, and a house in the center of each end.

A variation of a Greek wave design surrounds the garden.

It is no wonder that Mae would be attracted to the garment fragment below, from Crete, circa 1800.

It is probably a skirt border, with silk embroidery on cotton, in Italianate style.

Using a variety of stitches, there is a narrow frieze set upon a narrow edge band based on flowing floral tendrils.

The spaces are filled with double-headed eagles, snakes, flowers and birds.

The next object is a fragment of an 18th century bed curtain from Naxos, the largest island in the Cyclades group in the Aegean.

Its pattern is ancient in the Near Eastern area…and virtually the same is the Roman mosaic on the right.  But this item in Mae’s collection is silk embroidery on natural linen, using a darning stitch.

Wendel then asked what he called a “trick question.”  It was “How many shades of red are in this embroidery?”

Please write your own answer down on something.










Answer: Only one.

There appear to be two shades because the stitching in the lighter-seeming areas is done in a different direction than those in the darker-seeming ones.

It is the way that light reflects on silk placed at particular and different angles that creates the seeming difference in shade.  One sees a similar effect when one turns a silk pile rug upside down: one side with be markedly lighter than the other despite the fact that all of the colors are precisely the same.

The next piece is a textile that is the antithesis of the sturdy floor-covering oriental rug.  It is referred to as a “Turkish napkin” and is estimated to have been made in the mid-19th century.

It is probably workshop production

and is silk and silver embroidery on cotton with a gossamer quality.

The 17th century Persian velvet below

was too delicate to travel for this session, but it is clearly worth seeing, in part, because Mae has relatively few Persian pieces.

The design is quite similar to what we expect to, and will, see in Central Asian and Indonesian textiles.

About the piece below, Wendel said,

“When I saw this piece at Mae’s house, I immediately recognized it as an unusual and very attractive Kurdish khorjin or saddlebag face that I had seen advertised in Hali many years ago.

It was probably made in the 19th century by either the Jaf or Sanjabi Kurds in Southern Kurdistan on the Iraq/Iran border.

The combination of motif is unlike that of any other Kurdish piece that I know.

The elem design is particularly unusual.

It is very heavy and substantial.”

The powerful 18th century piece below

is one of several silk embroideries on hand-loomed cotton from Daghestan in the Caucasus that are in Mae’s collection.

Invariably called “Kaitag,” for the multi-ethnic people who made them,

these panels incorporate traditional Zoroastrian, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and pagan symbolism.

The Kaitag, below, is another from Mae’s collection.

They were ritual cloths made by women to be used at times of birth, wedding, and death.

The dimensions of almost all Kaitags we see confirm their use as crib covers for infants.

However, they were also used at funerals to cover the face of the dead.

The isolation of these mountain communities resulted in an unbroken chain of traditional design.

The cloud-like motifs may be irregular pinwheels, as precision in drawing is not a hallmark of Kaitag embroideries.

For rug lovers, here is a mid-19th century torba bag face from Kygyzstan.

It is all wool and has natural dyes.  It was probably used for storage of some sort.

Although the structure suggests that it is Karakalpak, the design motifs clearly have Kyrgyz origins.

The muted blue, red and soft pink of the field.

are enlivened by the golden yellow border.

The double cross in the border and the central panel’s stepped guls are both very traditional Kyrgyz forms.

Mae purchased the early 19th century Turkman chuval or bag face fragment, below, in Bokhara in 2000.

Originally, it would have been about 45 inches wide.

It isn’t unusual to find fragments of old weavings in rug producing areas, because treasured textiles were used until they virtually disappeared.

But it was unusual, even ten years ago, to find such a piece in a city like Bukhara, where dealers have combed the shops for years looking for just such pieces.

The charming and unusual late 19th century Ersari group bag face below

differs from most of the objects in Mae’s collection in that its drawing is much less precise and controlled,

The colors are nice, especially the green, while a lovely floral motif fills the field.

The next piece, below, is a fragment of a Kyrgyz band probably woven to decorate the interior of yurt.

The full length isn’t known, but we can see what appears to be one end.

Although done in pile, other structures may have been the inspiration for its ascending pattern.

Decorative yurt hangings, such as the 19th century Lakai example below from Uzbekistan,

were discovered by collectors only relatively recently, but Mae collected one of the earliest extant.

It is silk embroidery on wool mounted on a cotton panel.

It is possible that its subtle internal design, achieved in a single color in each motif repeat, may be a point of departure for more highly developed designs in following decades.

The decorative pouch, below, comes from 19th century Kyrgystan

and is made of leather applique, felted wool and Russian or British broadcloth.

Such pouches were traditionally used for storage and had a back and closure flap.  They were later used as purely decorative hangings and most often were embellished with tassels.  This piece has neither back nor tassels, but is beautifully wrought with one of the most ancient Kyrgyz motifs in four rich colors.

The extraordinary richness of the dyes and the talent of the dyers is apparent in the three lengths of Uzbek silk velvet below.

They are late 19th century and from near Bukhara.

In the two on the left, the same motif repeats in offset rows

enlivened by alternating colors.

In the central length, there is a center length

there is an additional central motif with botehs at its corners.

There are five colors (natural white, red, yellow, blue and green), suggesting three dye baths.  Each has selvedges of multiple hues.  Although Mae has a number of velvet textiles in her collection, these silk velvet ikats have a very special attraction by combining the luxury of velvet with very bold and usually geometric patterns.

There are also botehs in the right length, repeated here below.

The overall format of the small suzani, below, from Uzbekistan probably third quarter 19th century,

seems fairly conventional, but it has several distinctive design features.

The suggestion of a medallion that spans the width of the field and the quartered flowers in the corners provide a Persianate feeling.

It also alternates paired botehs (uncommon in suzanis) with large, open flowers in the borders.

Blue, in two hues, is present here to an extent rarely seen in suzanis, particularly in the flowers arrayed in profile throughout the field.

The lovely Indian shawl fragment below

comes from 19th century Kashmir.

Its three rows of roses, done in twill weave with Pashmina wool, echo its Mughal ancestry.

Its pattern is also similar to Persian textiles and to those in some familiar 19th century Caucasian rugs.

Although it was too fragile to make the trip, this fine fragment below is an example of the silk velvet woven in India during the Mughal period.

This particular fragment has been dated to the last decade of the 17th century.

The very fine and colorful textile, below, is called a “rumal” and is from the Chamba Valley in Northern India.

This type of rumal was used to cover gifts or offerings and was sometimes used to cover the images of deities.

The fine embroidery, done with silk floss on fine, white cotton, appears the same on both sides.  The patterning is sketched onto the cloth and then the embroidery is done by girls and women.

As we sorted through Mae’s pieces to decide which to include in this program, she said that the one below is one of her favorites.

It is a man’s shawl from Northeast India made, in the 20th century, of tie-dyed cotton.

The simple pattern contrasts sharply with the details we just saw in the rumal,

but it illustrates Mae’s fondness for a range of textiles.

The piece below

is a fragment of an 18th century Japanese napkin used to cover ceremonial items.

Note the dragons, the symbolic spirit of life, opposing flaming pearls, which have the power to protect against fire.  The dragon is the spirit of life itself, representing strength and goodness.

This is silk brocading, using gold-wrapped silk thread.

In the 18th century Tibetan ritual cloth below

small triangles of Chinese silk damask were pieced into squares, which are in turn arranged in a 5 by 5 grid.

It has yellow and blue damask borders.  Silk was often used in these geometric ritual cloths because of its value.  Small patchwork cloths were used to wrap sacred objects.  This example shows incense staining due to ritual use.

One could almost be persuaded, at first glance, that this is an Amish quilt.

The 19th Tibetan saddle blanket below, which was not in the room,

has three horizontal bands of twill-weave wool, hand-stamped red and blue cruciform motifs, and a red cotton top border.

There are three triangular ornaments and a backing of heavy raw silk with a blue cloth edge band.

In the 18th century Tibetan square, below, of blue silk damask with chain stitch embroidery,

the central motif is a “double vajra,” said to represent a double thunderbolt, an important symbol in Tibetan Buddhism.

Ritual implements were placed on cloths with this design to empower the objects, which were then wrapped in the cloths for safe-keeping.

The cruciform motif is common wherever textiles are woven, but the groups of three circles or balls, both within this version, and at its edges, are reminiscent of  the Chintamani pattern.

At first glance, the piece below looks like a prop from a 1950s science fiction or horror movie,

but, in fact, it is a Bhutan rain hat made of yak hair that was given to Mae by John Sommer.

The idea is that the rain is wicked off the head by the five leg-like long points.  Wendel asked Mae whether she had ever tried it to see whether it works, but I did not capture her response.

In the 19th century Chinese jacket, below,

small, hollow, bamboo beads were threaded together to form netting and the edges were bound in silk.  A silk ribbon tie was added at the waist.

Men’s bamboo jackets were worn as undergarments to provide a layer of insulated air under clothing in both warm and cool weather.

Notice how the “stripes” at the bottom were created.

The Li ethnic group of Hainan Island in China produced the head cloth, below, probably in the early 20th century.

The silk embroidery end panels

are on a woven indigo-dyed band.

Here is a close view of the other embroidered end.

And a further half detail of it.

The Miao ethnic group from Guizhou in China produced the woman’s garment below

in the early 20th century by embroidering cotton on cotton.

The striking geometric patterns of the center square

are surrounded by soft red representations of flowering water courses.

Traditional diamond shapes are in the side panels.

The Miao also made the sleeve fragment below in the late 19th century of plain weave cloth with very fine silk running stitch embroidery.

The design is dominated by three central dragonflies,

which signify summer and transience.  Other popular symbols represented are birds, insects and the ever-present swastika.

The richness of the design motifs belies the fact that only two colors, red and blue, are used, with a tiny bit of gray.

Stylistically, one is reminded of some of the Caucasian covers, also from the 19th century.

The brocade fragment, below, comes from Northern China during the Mongol period, likely late 13th or early 14th Century.

The staggered rows contain images of hares, each under a flowering tree.

While the hunting of hares was an established Mongol tradition, the weaving itself is probably influenced by earlier eastern Persian usages.

About this next piece, Wendel said,

“At the end of this lecture, you’ll see this spectacular 19th century Tibetan Buddhist monk’s cape composed of 24 columns of golden yellow damask, pieced with blue silk thread and

with an embroidered medallion at the top, center panel.  It would have been worn by a high-ranking lama.”

In Japan, there are many garments associated with protection against fire, including the well-known firemen’s coats.

Fire costumes were worn by nobility to protect against sparks from a burning building.  The crest indicates that this chest protector might have been woven for ceremonial use.  It would have been worn across the front of a fire coat, usually under a cape.

It is dark indigo wool plain weave, silk applique with silk embroidered edging, green cotton edge binding, and woolen straps.

From the large island of Hokkaido, in the northern extremity of Japan, comes this ceremonial carrying bag which has been opened.

Made by the Ainu people in the early 19th century, the ground cloth is elm bark fiber with cotton applique and tambour stitch embroidery.

The Ainu are bear-worshipping people whose decoration reflects ancient traditional forms.

Notice how these forms relate to some woodcarving and textile art of the natives of the southern Alaskan coast.

[Ed. Interestingly, some Alaskan textiles, such as the twined Chilkat dancing blankets, are also partly made from plant fibers.]

From the island of Java, comes the 19th century shawl, below,

done on highly prized yellow silk, with a wide batik border and a tie-dyed pattern in the field.

These two techniques are commonly used separately in Indonesian textiles.

The image below is of one of nine panels in a late 19th century banner from central Lombok in Indonesia.

It is done in a discontinuous supplementary weft.

Similar patterns appear in Indian textiles, but the format is the familiar “stars and bars”

seen in many Near Eastern ceramics, such as these 13th century tiles from Kashan in Persia.

Here, below, we see a huge, mounted Indonesian textile

that was simply too big to bring to this TM session.

The primary motif is a boat, but there are many other design devices as well.

The next to the last textile in this session was the late 19th century gift cover (or “Tampua”) below.

It was woven in the Lampug district of Sumatra in cotton in a supplementary weft weave.

For a wedding, elaborate gifts were given to the parents and relatives of the couple, and this would have been a cover for such a gift.

Horses with riders (ed. and lots of anatomically correct male figures) can be seen,

but the motif at the bottom is a dragon on a boat.

Having circumnavigated the world, we return to where you can see, again, how Mae lives with her collection and how her passion for textiles has affected her life.

She says, “In my collecting, I became aware that the textile arts are a common thread of all cultures, ancient and modern.  I realized that my interest was not to search for origins or masterpieces, but the individual aesthetic appeal of each piece.  To know it, to marvel at its beauty, technique, color, form, its refinement of design, or basic primal power.  After my initial Turkey trip, I came back with a new focus.  I joined the Hajji Baba Club, The Textile Museum, the Textile Society of America, and later, the New England Rug Society.”

Mae is currently engaged in compiling an extensive catalog of works from her collection.

Mae took questions and comments

and then indicated that folks were free now to look more closely at the pieces she had brought, including this one.

The applause was gratifying,

and the movement to the pieces and to small group conversations began.

I want to thank Mae, for sharing her collection with us, for her considerable work in preparation, and for permitting this virtual version of her session.

A large thanks is also due to Mae’s husband, Gene, who gave assistance throughout but who nearly single-handedly and meticulously, packaged and transported the large number of textiles we saw first hand in the room, from, and then back to, New Haven, Connecticut.

This program would not have been possible without Wendel’s Swan’s considerable work with Mae in preparation, and in his masterful presentation in the RTAM session itself.  He traveled to New Haven, took photos and then fashioned the Powerpoint document that has been the primary source of the virtual version, you have just read.

A number of us have for years seen glimpses of Mae’s collection and always wanted to see more of it.  I hope you have enjoyed this effort to make that possible.


R. John Howe