Saving the Story of Cloth

When we touch the time and place of cloth, we begin to know the story of its maker. When we preserve that cloth, we are preserving our collective stories—our celebrations, our suffering, our families, our culture and history.

Thrums Books would like to acknowledge important institutions around the globe who diligently work to preserve traditional textiles, who through exhibitions, research, and an array of special projects, are working to save the story of cloth. This is the first installment in a monthly series. If you know of a museum with a textile collection that we should share with our readers, be sure to let us know:

Textile Museum of Canada

NewLogoThe Textile Museum of Canada in downtown Toronto, Ontario, has been a force in the preservation and promotion of global textiles since 1975. The TCM’s permanent collection contains more than 13,000 textiles and spans almost 2,000 years and 200 world regions. The collection is diverse and runs the gamut from fabric and ceremonial cloth to quilts, clothing, and carpets.

The collection is astonishing, and if you’re not lucky enough to go in person, you can see much of it online. You will find a raffia apron from Papua New Guinea, a handwoven cotton baby carrier from Ghana, an 18th-century sarape from Mexico, handwoven with wool and cotton, dyed with cochineal and indigo. You will see cloth created with beeswax and beetle shells, a silk bag from western India, an embroidered bed cover from Transylvania and thousands of other pieces. It’s truly an extraordinary look at time and place through textiles.

Textile Museum of Canada
A 19th-century sarape from Saltillo, Mexico. From the collection of the Textile Museum of Canada.

Narrative Threads

In addition to its impressive collection, the Museum consistently offers special exhibitions, traveling exhibits, and dynamic online projects. One of my favorite online offerings is Narrative Threads. The TMC describes it as “National stories captured in artifact.” Stories and museums across Canada participate in this project where you will discover hundreds of artifacts from moose hide mittens to birch bark biting, from Doukhobor piled rugs, to a handwoven cotton sampler with an intriguing story.  Each curated entry is accompanied by a detailed story about the textile and its tradition.

Textile Museum of Canada
A  handwoven cotton sampler from Saskatchewan–one of  many artifacts in the Textile Museum of Canada’s online exhibition, Narrative Threads.

 Cloth and Clay, another online project—in collaboration with the Gardiner Museum—explores 2,000 years of Mexican, Central and South American culture, history, and textiles. A section features Thrums Books author Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez sharing in-depth knowledge about Andean traditional textiles.

Adding to the Museum’s depth is the H.N. Pullar Library, which has a terrific reference collection of resources about textiles and textile traditions from around the world. It has over 4,500 books, 20 journal titles, and a small collection of video. Talks presented by curators and artists, workshops, and identification clinics round out a full schedule of programs. The Museum’s website has useful information on conserving textiles, care and repair, and loads of other useful resources, especially for teachers.

Textile Museum of Canada
Yarn inlaid in beeswax by Mexican artist Francisco Carillo. From the collection of the Textile Museum of Canada.

We are so grateful to the Textile Museum of Canada for their work in preserving global traditional textiles, and also in the work they’ve done to make them so accessible.



1 thoughts on “Saving the Story of Cloth

  1. Deborah Chandler says:

    Makes me want to pack my bag and buy a ticket to Toronto right now! Thanks for the intriguing – and compelling – intro.

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