Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Old age alone is not enough to be attractive. And conversely youth alone is not enough to be rejected.
“I want to be different” she said.
In a village where hand embroidery was a part of the culture, where dyes were made using natural materials – roots, flowers, minerals, everyone followed the same traditions in all aspects of the art. motifs, colors, dyes, fabric, stitch technicalities – everything was the same.
The men bought the few basic raw materials that were needed from the market and most the subsequent processing was done within the home. There simply was no need felt to get any of the work done outside.
Then on some prosperous day, with the husband out in the market feeling a little more prosperous than usual, encounters a salesman who is a little more aggressive than usual and the man is convinced to take home a ‘new’ ‘modern’ ‘expensive’ thread for embroidery that is colored bright orange with a synthetic dye.
Because of the price element, the woman uses it sparingly and saves it for a small segment. She shows of this color with pride. Her friends are wowed by this as they have only used natural dyes until now. And soon little by little, this synthetic dye is introduced into the village weavings. Sparingly at first because this requires money and then over time with prosperity, more frequently. Many are shocking oranges, greens and pinks. he fluorescent were chosen probably to make sure that the thread that was ‘purchased’ instead of home-dyed did not go unnoticed. So the color had to be as different as possible from home-made dyes – something that simply could not even be made at home even if one tried.
To these ladies, that one little patch rendered in an anomalous shade conferred the ‘premium’ title on her work.
And diametrically opposite to that view is the view of collectors of antique textiles today.
The reason for this is simple.
Synthetic dyes appeared at a certain point in the 20th century. [Exactly which year this happened depends on the region and the marketing efforts of the chemical dye manufacturers in that specific region]. So the presence of synthetic dye is a firm undeniable forensic that says that the textile was produced ‘on or after XYZ date’ which is sometime in the first half of the 20th century. The absence of a synthetic dye allows one to make any claim of 19th / 18th century or earlier – which without support of other indicators is impossible to prove or disprove. Of course other indicators usually do exist and allow for a more robust conjecture. But in case they are not conclusive, one can quite easily allow the imagination to lead us to the belief that that textile is older than it actually is. Why not? There is nothing to prove otherwise! And ‘age’ in itself is after all a desirable quality for many antique textile collectors!
I think about this often and yet am unable to resolve this conclusively – is ‘age’ alone enough to make a textile desirable?
A little diversion:
Since my 30s I have also been a fan of older generations – the grandpas and grandmas of my friends and of late it is the just the fathers and mothers of my friends. I gravitate to them and enjoy and cherish conversations with them as they usually have so much life experience and wisdom and and their words are always stimulating.
Or so I thought – until on a work trip in 1998-99, when I met the mother of friend and enthusiastically looked forward to a long conversation. Alas, a whole afternoon of chatting yielded in nothing. Not even one stimulating thought. First disappointment.
I recall feeling very cheated as I left the home of my friends. My premise that “older people usually have so much life experience and wisdom and therefore their words are always stimulating / interesting / wise” had fallen apart. I realised that the fault lay in my expectation. The fault lay in the idea that age alone was enough to make one attractive.
Being ‘not stimulating’ is not a crime but at that time I had certainly felt shortchanged.
Back to textiles.
So age alone is not enough. It has got to be beautiful too.
The Young [people or textiles] can be interesting too!
Here is an example of a young textile from the early 1900s. One that is young enough to have the bright synthetic dyes. But does that make it rejectible?
This Pile decorated tent band is over 14 meters long, and has dense pile work woven onto flatweave.
Although this piece has young dyes, to me, this is still a fantastic work of art – with its unique size that has survived shears, its unique technique of decorating flatweave with pile so extensively and its wonderful motifs across the piece.
I am still marveling at the concept of the hybrid weaving. And of course the way the functional textile was used as a medium of art. Some may have had more time / more ideas than others and have introduced different motifs across the length of the textile. Others may have been in a hurry or maybe they did not have exposure to so many memes from their community or maybe they produced for another and did not infuse their soul into the creation.
So for all the stimulation it offers me, I am compelled to excuse its youth!
Age Alone is not Enough to be Attractive