Diamonds Are Forever

“Always keep a diamond in your mind.” —Tom Waits


In reading our friend Janet deBoer’s most recent Fibre Forum E-bulletin,  I learned about Spiral Textile: Ancient Design–Modern Hands. This is a juried competition challenging textile artists from around the world to produce a repeating spiral design that was drawn on an ancient papyrus. The drawing was found in a house along with about 500 objects from daily life including textile fragments, weaving materials, and textile tools.

Ancient spiral design on 3rd to 4th century papyrus, University of Michigan inv. 5143c

The goal of this project is to create a spiral textile using historic techniques and materials. The project’s organizers, two academic researchers, have selected seven different textile techniques found in cloths dating to this period; you create your entry using one of these techniques. Their hope is that the project will “bridge the gap between historic textile studies and practitioners.” Splendid. I may not enter the competition, but I’ll be paying attention.

The spiral motif is in ancient and modern cultures from all over the world—carved into cave dwellings, in Greek and Celtic art, the Nazca lines in Peru, Native American basket weaving, Molas from Panama, Australian aborigine paintings, and on and on and on. The organizers of Spiral Textile say the project is “a testimony to the importance and continuity of certain motifs over time.”

Diamonds and Others

Edilfonso Huaman, a weaver from Accha Alta, Peru. Photograph by Joe Coca from Faces of Tradition: Weaving Elders of the Andes.

I love how the same motifs turn up in textiles from the most disparate locales. There’s that ubiquitous 8-pointed star or flower motif that’s woven and stitched into an assortment of textiles from Norway to Turkey and beyond. Then there’s the triangle with its many interpretations. And the diamond. Chip Morris explains in Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas that the diamond design in Maya weaving represents the Universe and the path of the sun. I think of this when I see the diamonds in Peruvian ponchos, Lao silks, Guatemalan huipils, Kente cloth, embroidery in Afghanistan or Chiapas. The universe in cloth. I’m heartened when I see the same motifs woven across culture and time. It stands as some kind of proof that as different as we are, there’s a shared vision to which we all return—symmetry, beauty, and, of course, the making of it.


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