Starting a new project is always filled with expectation and just that little bit of nervous uncertainty. Almost like starting out on an adventurous journey. Well, this is a new travel textile adventure, and I’m very excited to share it with you.
I’m Ansie van der Walt, an Afrikaans-speaking, South African-born, Australian textile writer. I live in Adelaide, South Australia with my husband and three children, where we’ve settled after also living in Uganda and the Middle East. I love to travel, discover different cultures and meet people with stories different from mine.
I write about fibre art, textiles, and fine embroidery. I’m a regular contributor to Inspirations Magazine, Garland Magazine, and the Adelaide Review. The Fabric Thread blog is where I tell the stories of all the creative people I meet along the way.
Here at Textile Encounters we’ll be exploring the textiles and embroideries of the lesser known parts of the world. Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the South Pacific and Australia are home to countless different cultures, all with their own ethnic textiles and hand crafts.
Textiles play such an integral part in most traditional communities. From cultivating the fibres, to the different processes involved in the spin, dye, weave and embellishment of the fabrics, to using these textiles in the daily activities of the community. Traditional textiles are mostly utilitarian and used for everyday activities, household needs, clothes and for ceremonial purposes. Embellishments like embroidery usually have special meaning, depicting status, gender, purpose, or have religious significance.
These skills are handed down from mother to daughter and often happen in communal settings where it is combined with oral traditions like storytelling and singing and poetry. The double edge sword of contemporary, 21st century life which brings technology, education, modern work opportunities, and city living also contributes to the loss of heritage including these hand craft skills.
Textiles is such an inherent part of our lives. The first thing that touches our skin after birth is a swaddling cloth. We use it to wrap ourselves with, to dress up in, to keep us warm, to feel safe, to sleep in, to decorate our homes, and to clean with. We use it to signify status, gender, religious affiliation, patriotism, and love. And when at last, we leave this earth, we are swaddled in cloth yet again. It is one of the most constant things in our lives.
Whenever I travel or go to a new place, I follow the textiles. When connecting with people who love textiles, you really don’t need to talk. The fabric becomes the language, the barrier-breaker and the portal into their world. When you talk with someone about textiles you end up talking about their lives, and their children, and their dreams.
That is why I love textiles.
In the Textile Encounters column I will take you back to Africa, we will travel through the Middle East, Central and South Asia and Down Under. We might even make detours into Europe and the Americas. We will meet people, artists and communities who make their art, and their life, with textiles, threads, and embroideries.
Come with me on this adventure. Let’s follow the thread and see where it leads!