Even for those who don’t know anything about textiles, Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe by Deb Brandon is a beautiful book. The photographs are rich and colorful, augmenting the text without replacing it. A textile sampler that talks about weaving, dyeing, knitting, and embroidery traditions from many different cultures, I would recommend this book to anyone at all interested in fiber arts.

Each chapter is a snapshot, a quick introductions of each textile tradition with information about the people who keep it alive and what it means to them. While the methods used to make the textiles are described, this is not an instruction book. Instead, each chapter includes references for the reader who wants to learn more.

Reading about so many different traditions made me aware of some unexpected similarities between them.

While men, women, or both might be involved in the making a given textile, their roles are often clearly defined. In India for example, bandhani cloth (an intricate type of tie-dye) is dyed by the men but tied by the women.

For all these cultures, the described fabric is more than just a practical item. Every tradition has layers of meaning. Sometimes the symbolism is in the steps that go with the creation of the material (Berber weaving in Morocco), sometimes it’s in the designs represented in the cloth (kente cloth from Ghana). In nearly every case, the fabric’s final use is also important, with some items being made for specific purposes (Haitian vodou flags) while others have many potential uses (backstrap weaving from Bhutan).

Perhaps not so surprising is the fact that a lot of time and effort goes into making truly beautiful fabric. Many of these traditions are in danger of being forgotten because they are so time-intensive that they have become too expensive for most people to own. But this book is one of the ways we can help appreciation for these arts live on.

If you love making textiles or know someone who does, take the time to read Threads Around the World. You’re sure to learn something interesting.

What are some of your favorite books about textiles?

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