Book reviews: ancient textile construction

Every morning after the dog has been fed and the kids shuttled off to school, I sit down at the kitchen table with a plate of last night’s leftovers, a pot of tea and a book or two. On occasion this leads to a loss of appetite, especially when dye techniques that involve dung or photos of dessicated corpses are involved, but it’s all in the name of improving my understanding of the long and fascinating history of textiles.  I reward myself with a bit of chocolate afterwards and call it good.


Over the past few weeks I’ve been pecking away at The Mummies of Urumchi by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. This is, of course, where the dessicated corpses come in. A section of full color photos add dimension to Barber’s narrative, giving us a glimpse of these stunningly well-preserved human remains and the clothing they wore three thousand years ago. Each chapter is crammed with information including history of language, migration, technological development, religion and even climate influences in the Ürümchi region of Central Asia.

This is not light reading, to be honest. I’ve read several other books in the time it’s taken me to get only halfway through this one. Each chapter takes a while to digest and settle, then I’m back for more, sometimes re-reading a chapter I skimmed through too quickly the first time.

Readily available on Amazon with used hardbacks even cheaper than paperbacks.

Initially picked up at a yard sale or used book store somewhere in Oregon over a decade ago, Cut My Cote
by Dorothy K. Burnham
of the Royal Ontario Museum has become, slim as it is, a valuable resource in my textile research library. The simple design layouts and brief descriptions mirror the basic construction techniques of the textiles featured in the book.

If you sew garments for SCA, Renaissance Faires or other historical re-enactment, this is particularly handy. Regional focus is primarily but not entirely Eurasian. Kimono construction covers two pages of the chapter “Coats of the Far East”.

First published in 1973, it seems to go in and out of print depending on demand.

I’m getting ready for Fanime Memorial Day weekend so there will be no new listings of vintage kimono until June. All other items including sashiko supplies, new and vintage fabrics and books will be updated throughout the week. If you’re coming to Fanime, be sure to check out my panels on kimono! I’ll post details soon.

Stay tuned: tomorrow I’ll review an assortment of sashiko books in English and Japanese.

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