Tuesday, 17 April 2012

this really is "The Stuff That Matters"

"The stuff that matters” is an exquisite collection of textiles compiled by Seth Siegelaub for the Centre for Social Research on Old Textiles. Siegelaub has a particular interest in the social history of hand-woven textiles and the exhibition reflects strongly on the geographic and historic context of its location.

Artillery Lane is not the typical location you would expect to find such an exhibition. Squeezed amongst the towering blocks of shiny financial offices and bustling sandwich bars one may ask why on earth it is located here. On reading the accompanying exhibition brochure it is so interesting to learn of a lucrative textile industry, which developed in the Spitalfields area after the introduction of a ban on foreign woven silk in 1766. The industry thrived and the quality and richness of its products rivelled even those of France. The ban on foreign trade was removed in 1824, which consequentially allowed an influx of novelty, cheaply priced French silks. This crippled the industry in Spitalfields and led to its collapse, which did not see a glimmer of revival until much later in the 19th Century.

The collection is displayed over several floors of these former silk merchants shops and is divided into silks and textiles of the European rich and the church, archaeological textiles, and ethnographic textiles. The wealth of different fabrics and designs really excite the mind and provide an extraordinary source of inspiration. The detail of the incredible collection of global hats and headdresses speak so much about social and cultural history without the use of words, which I found especially interesting. I was also struck by the muted beauty of the painted bark panels. The simplicity of their patterns and natural colours show that textiles need not be fancy and complex. There is definitely a lot to take in at this exhibition and I would say that several visits are essential.

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