2009 Weave of the week #41: Berber wedding blanket
October 25, 2009

Berber wedding blanket

Berber wedding blanket

This week’s featured weave, the wedding blanket of which a detail is shown above,  was handwoven by Berber women in the mountains of Morocco.  (I should perhaps mention that Berbers — who call themselves “Imazigen,” which means “free people” in the Berber language — are indigenous people who have lived in North Africa for 4,000 years.)  This was another gift from my friend Penelope,  who traveled to the Fès-Meknès area and brought back some fascinating textiles.  Wedding blankets are believed to have magical powers that protect the users from the evil eye, so this would have been an especially welcome gift.  (Click this link to read an earlier post about another Moroccan textile from Penelope’s trip.  That fabric’s silk fiber content is suddenly in doubt after a reader posted interesting information about it.)

My blanket is 3’7″ x 5’8″, and is very warm to sleep under.  It is densely woven plain weave,  in natural-colored sheep’s wool,  with lighter-colored nubby cotton stripes and smooth cotton knotted pile fringe.  Round metal sequins,  like the ones visible in the photos,  are traditionally sewn on by brides-t0-be and their relatives.

Knotted pile with sequins

Knotted pile with sequins

In  his excellent book The Techniques of Rug Weaving,  Peter Collingwood says, ” A clove hitch on one or two warp ends, is used in some Moroccan rugs.”  My blanket’s fringe has four multi-strand knots per inch,  as shown in the photo above.  I can’t tell whether the clove hitch is the knot that was used or not,  but maybe I can find out at the October 31 meeting of the New York Guild of Handweavers,  when Susan S. Davis,  an anthropologist and expert on Moroccan textiles,  will be the guest speaker.  For complete information about the meeting (the public is welcome),  visit the Guild’s website,  here,  and to read more about Susan S.  Davis and about her work with Moroccan women rug weavers,  visit her website,  here.

One of the reasons that I love writing my blog is that it leads me to look closely at textiles that I have lived with,  and taken for granted,  for years,  so that I can write about them.  Knotted pile,  for example, is a technique that I tried once and discarded because it wasn’t practical for production weaving (the result was the vegetable-dyed pillow to the right of Bobby in the photo below).

Bobby and knotted pile pillow

Bobby and my only knotted pile project

However,  examining the wedding blanket has reawakened my interest in the pile weaves,  and I’m excited about where the concept may take me.  Don’t look for shaggy scarves at Saks any time soon, though.

Update:  To see three more Berber wedding blanket capes,  see  Susan S. Davis’s photo on my gallery page (click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image).

2009 Weave of the week #36: Nigerian hat (“Aso Oke”)
September 20, 2009

Nigerian man's hat

Nigerian man's hat

I chose the hat shown above as this week’s featured weave because I love the fabrics that were stitched together to make it,  the colors, and the overall design.  It came from a hole-in-the-wall African import store that once existed near Times Square.

There were no labels or tags, but identifying my hat was easy because it has several distinctive design elements that are characteristic of traditional Nigerian Yoruba handwoven narrow strip fabrics (Aso Oke).  The detail below shows those characteristics clearly:  plainweave cotton with a colored warp stripe, magenta weft brocade (possibly from waste silk), openwork holes made by drawing groups of warp threads together (or by using a comb), and discontinuous warp floats that are woven through the holes.  The gold metallic yarn was probably a Japanese import.

hat det

Wikipedia says that Aso Oke hats originated in Nigeria but are widely worn by African men for special occasions and religious holidays.  It puzzles me that although these are men’s hats, mine is only 10″ in diameter and barely fits my smallest mannequin’s head.  I didn’t come across any description of boys’ formal headwear, so perhaps it was made to fit a boy’s head.  And although hats of this style are typically worn draped over the ear on one side, the stitching and lining make my  hat too stiff to slouch gracefully.

As I mentioned, I shelved this article last week to write about Yinka Shonibare’s exhibition instead,  and since he is of Nigerian descent,  I like the idea of highlighting traditional Nigerian textiles this week.  Then too,  as my husband astutely observed, after all of Shonibare’s headless bodies,  it seems fitting to write about bodiless heads this week.

2009 Weave of the week #35: Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Fabricator of tales
September 14, 2009

"Leisure Lady (with Ocelots)" by Yinka Shonibare, 2001

"Leisure Lady (with Ocelots)" by Yinka Shonibare, 2001

Yinka Shonibare, MBE, is a contemporary British-Nigerian artist, and a visit to his solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum derailed my plan to write about a traditional Nigerian (!) textile this week.  I enjoyed the show so much that I wanted to write about it before it closed next Sunday, Sept. 20.

Mr. Shonibare was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2005, and is (unlike many of the people I write about) so fabulously successful and internationally famous that I’m going to skip the basic biographical information, which is available on Wikipedia and on the artist’s website, and go right to a random sampling of my impressions from the show.

The multi-media exhibition comprises sculpture, paintings, photography, and film, and “African print” fabrics, like the ones shown throughout this article, are at the heart of almost all his work.  If Liza Lou’s goal is to bead the world, Yinka Shonibare’s may be to cover it in Dutch wax-print fabrics.  This photo from the show suggests what that might look like:


And below is a close-up of the wall covering. This print of black soccer players is the only one in the show that was designed by the artist.


The textiles that we call “African prints,” or Dutch wax prints, were inspired by Indonesian batiks, and are manufactured in the Netherlands and Africa and sold throughout Africa, where they have been completely embraced.  To see what the fabrics look like as African garments, look up, for example, Mandabi, a 1968 film directed by Ousmane Sembène of Senegal (it’s available on Netflix).  My husband saw Mandabi years ago, and all that he remembers about it is how knocked out he was by the fabrics.

A selection of Dutch wax prints was presented in a showcase in the exhibition, and the photo below shows a portion of that selection.

Dutch wax

Yinka Shonibare’s artwork is concerned with questions of identity, authenticity, colonialism, imperialism, class, art history, the Victorian Era, and fashion; but don’t get the wrong impression — his work is also colorful, accessible, inventive, and a lot of fun.

Headless mannequins are one of Mr. Shonibare’s trademarks, an idea he connects to “the French Revolution when the aristocracy had their heads chopped off” (see an excellent short videotaped interview with the artist here).  The headlessness also helps us focus on the fabrics, the costumes, and the gestures, without distractions.


I thought the similarity between the artist’s Two Heads at Once, shown above, and Nicolas Ghesquière’s “batik” dresses from Balenciaga’s 2010 Resort collection, shown below, was astonishing.  Let’s be charitable and call this an example of art influencing fashion.  (Inspired by Mr. Shonibare, I personally decapitated the models shown below.)

Balenciaga resort 2010aBalenciaga resort 2010b

There is a video in the exhibition in which Mr. Shonibare discusses his interest in fashion.  Also a thirty-minute color video, A Masked Ball, in which I noticed the interlocked “C” Chanel logo on one of the ball gowns.

The sight of a roomful of dancers whirling around in 18th-century-style formalwear (made out of a riot of color wax prints, of course), powdered wigs (not headless), and Venetian-style masks is fantastic.

But with all this eye candy to talk about,  I still haven’t mentioned the most unusual part of the exhibition, Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play,  a site-specific installation in several of the Brooklyn Museum’s 18th and 19th century rooms. Child-size mannequins, headless, and at play (in Victorian costumes made from Dutch wax fabrics), have been placed in the museum’s various period rooms for us to find.  The picture below shows a girl and her doll under the table in an 1806 South Carolina dining room.

dining room

This is my favorite part of the exhibition, because the museum’s period rooms were peaceful havens for me when I was a child, and I hadn’t visited them in years.  They are a fascinating and probably underappreciated part of the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection, so I hope that this “treasure hunt” introduces them to new visitors.

Running concurrently with the Brooklyn Museum show is another of Yinka Shonibare’s  site-specific installations, Party Time: Re-imagine America,  in the Newark Museum’s 1885 Ballantine House.

Mr. Shonibare says, “To be a good artist, you have to know how to fabricate [nice pun, if that’s a pun], how to weave tales, how to tell lies, because you’re taking your audience to a nonexistent space and telling them that it does exist.”

Well he is (good, that is),  he does (take you there),  and I enjoyed the trip.