The Art of the Loom: Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing across the World/Printed and Dyed Textiles from Africa

By Aronson, Lisa | African Studies Review, September 2003 | Go to article overview

The Art of the Loom: Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing across the World/Printed and Dyed Textiles from Africa


Aronson, Lisa, African Studies Review


LITERATURE AND THE ARTS Ann Hecht. The Art of the Loom: Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing across the World. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001. 95 pp. Illustrations. Sources. Index. $29.95. Paper.

John Gillow. Printed and Dyed Textiles from Africa. Fabric Folios Series. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001. 88 pp. Color illustrations. Glossary. Selected Readings. Index. $18.95. Paper.

Textiles can be a fascinating area for study because of their many complex layers of meaning. One draws these meanings from their use as commodities and mediums of exchange in trade, as components of ceremony and ritual, as bodily attire, and as the furnishings of architectural spaces, both sacred and secular. In addition, there is both meaning and history embedded in their varied colors, designs, and textures, and in the techniques used to create them. The question of variation in designs and technique provides the basis for two books that address African textiles. John Gillow's Pnnted and Dyed Textiles from Africa focuses entirely on Africa, while Ann Hecht's The Art of the Loom is a global study of loom weaving, with West Africa as one of several traditions discussed. This soft-cover version is a reprint of her 9 199 89 original edition.

Hecht, who is a weaver, begins with a general introduction on the technology of weaving, followed by in-depth chapters on eight different weaving traditions: Navaho, Bedouin, Indonesian, Japanese, Nepalese, Guatemalan, Peruvian, and West African strip weaving. For each, she provides a brief history and excellent, detailed accounts of the cloth-making process accompanied by good quality photographs and line drawings, 189 in all, 60 of them in color.

A good example is her chapter on Japanese ikat, or kasuri (meaning "blurred"), which is one of two traditions (the other being Guatemalan weaving) that she has studied personally. She provides an immensely useful and well-illustrated breakdown of the types of looms used for kasuri, including their names and histories, along with clear descriptions of every stage of the process, from the cultivation of silk and the dyeing of the threads to how they are then woven to create the beautiful designs. Such clarity is consistent throughout the book, making this volume extremely appealing to experienced weavers and dyers, and even to those who may wish to learn these arts.

I would caution them, however, about her chapter on West African strip weaving, which is overly general and relies heavily on outdated sources, resulting in several inaccuracies. To cite three examples. She claims that Ewe Rente is strictly pictorial (a mistake her source, Venice Lamb, also makes), when, in fact, certain regional styles of Ewe weaving are completely devoid of representational imagery. It also is misleading for her to say that most West African strip weaving is plain woven when there are many West African weaving traditions (for example, Wolof, Bamana, Fulani, Djerma, Hausa, and Yoruba) known for their complex float and brocade structures. In one instance, she makes the sweeping generalization that West African weavers name cloths according to color variation in the warp. She bases this claim on an obscure source on the Ashanti, as if what the latter do is typical of all West African weaving. Such mistakes could have been avoided had she focused her chapter on the weaving of one particular West African culture, such as Ashanti or Yoruba, or one country, such as Ghana or Nigeria, for which there are reliable and up-to-date sources. …

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