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Textiles. my collection: each piece has a story. ~mike gradziel.

Woven fabrics are rather like written text: the words text and textile even share the same Latin root meaning "woven." Both can be read, and when constructed both usually say more than the weaver meant to convey. Besides the choice of colors or words and the arrangement of patterns or phrases, there are things like craftsmanship (an element mostly lost with the use of standard text fonts and mechanical printing) and materials and the stories they tell. I buy blankets when I travel because they pack easily and are functional and attractive when heaped on a shelf back home. This saves me from the feeling of living in a museum or a curio shop. Aside from that, I collect my blankets and rugs because they each tell a story about a distant place where fibers were spun and dyed and assembled into a flat piece of fabric. Like words on a page, each piece hints at a unique way of life that I remember and will try to share with you.

Taiwan Aboriginal Weavings. 2010.

aboriginal Taiwanese patterns Taroko Gorge, Taiwan rice paddies, Taiwan

Thousands of years ago, Pacific Island peoples arrived in Taiwan. By the 1800s they had been displaced to Taiwan's central mountains by immigrants from China; there, they lived in rather violent tribes that often fought one another. The men were head-hunters and the women, weavers; achievements in these two professions granted youths passage to adulthood. Today some remaining aboriginals in Taiwan sell weavings to visitors like me. They do some work in traditional native fibers which resemble jute, but in the interest of low cost and easy transport I just bought these woven coasters. The pattern is traditional but other than that, I suppose they look and feel like they could have been made anywhere. Maybe next time I will find something more representative of the craft.

Wool hangings, Northwest Argentina, 2007.
Wool hangings, Northwest Argentina Wool hangings, Northwest Argentina Wool hangings, Northwest Argentina Wool hangings, Northwest Argentina Wool hangings, Northwest Argentina
the shop in Purmamarca that sold me this hanging the hill of seven colors in Purmamarca Purmamarca, Argentina

These two hangings are both from the village of Purmamarca in Northwest Argentina. Nestled in desert hills along the Andes mountain range, this often-visited place is packed with shops and restaurants. My favorite meal of the entire three week trip was served there and the most spectacular desert colors I've seen anywhere surround the town. I bought a typical hand-woven wool piece - the one with the square pattern - and then I found one shop selling something different: rugs made by the Wichi people, a group indigenous to the chaco lowlands. Making colorful desert rock-art rugs isn't exactly an ages-old tradition for them, but their land has largely been taken away and covered with soybeans so they make crafts for sale as a source of income.

the shop in Purmamarca that sold me this hanging
sheep grazing beside the road in Humamuaca

Joy at the salt flats near Purmamarca the colorful road to Cachi Cardon cactus near Cachi


New Zealand Wool, 2006.
New Zealand is home to millions of sheep. Most have white fleece but some are black or brown. All live happily munching grass in the most spectacular landscape a sheep could hope for. Azure waves roll onto black pebble beaches, wildflowers carpet lush hillsides, and ice covered mountains soar above temperate pastures. Joy and I discovered a quaint wool shop in the foggy hills of Dunedin where fleeces of all colors are sold from a lovely old barn. The sheep are right outside.
Hand Woven from yarn I brought home (Nice job, Mom!):
From the wool shop in Dunedin:




Wool rug, hand woven, Hotan, Xinjiang, West China, 2005.

I bought this rug after much deliberation at a small carpet workshop near Hotan just down the road from the silk workshop. There was no one to show us around but Joy and I peeked into the weaving room and saw warp on huge scrolls and men and women seated on benches deftly looping yarn through the warp and cutting off the tufts. I don't know how they followed patterns while working so quickly. After every layer weft cord was stitched through the warp with needles, and after an inch or two of tufts was built up across the width of the rug the tufts were trimmed to length with what looked like hedge shears. That type of rug - the "Persian" rug - is so complicated with nuances of design and materials that though the handmade ones were certainly of fine quality I opted instead for this flat woven rug also made there at the workshop some time ago. The design reminds me of ones I saw in Bolivia, but it's from the far side of the planet. I like finding common things so far apart; it's somehow reassuring.

Silk-wool blend scarf, Kashgar, Xinjiang, West China, 2005.
In Xinjiang, West China, so named by the Chinese who occupy and govern the Central Asian region, Joy and I bought many scarves. Some were woven in Italy or Turkey and I don't really know where this one was made, but chances are the wool at least comes from Central Asia where judging by the menu in every city - mutton - vast quantities of wool are produced and exported. And the silk, most likely, is Chinese.


Hand-spun, hand woven Atlas silk
with natural dyes (mineral), Hotan, Xinjiang, West China, 2005.
This scarf is hand-spun, dyed with natural materials, and hand-woven in a small workshop near Hotan at the southern edge of the Taklimakan Desert. The region is the historical source of Atlas Silk that made a name for the Silk Road; Hotan was an important oasis stop on the southern segment of the trade route. We visited the workshop and saw the materials and the looms and the spinning wheels in use; it was the middle of winter and the workers were not expecting visitors - the doors were closed and they were surprised to see us!



Acrylic/synthetic throw, Kashgar, Xinjiang, West China, 2005.
I bought this because it has regional writing on it. I don't even know if they're Uyghur characters or Turkish or something else, and the throw is not handmade nor is it particularly well made. However, it's from a market in kashgar in the center of the Asian continent where so many cultures blend together than no matter where it came from, it's still an interesting piece.


Wool shukka, Nairobi, Kenya, 2001.
Along the roads between Nairobi and the Serengeti the local people often dress in shukkas, colorful cloths like this one. Often they are trying to be traditional in the hopes that tourists will give handouts, but in the more remote villages skukkas are still commonplace dress. I bought this one in a Nairobi market just before I left for London. This is the first blanket of the collection that I bought - in Africa where thousands of exquisite ebony carvings of giraffes and rhinos tempt visitors I immediately saw what would become of my apartment if I carried home a few paltry works of art from every place I visited. Art ranges wide, but textiles range deeply instead and I like that.





Red and Black Wool, Tlachichuca, Mexico (a village near Puebla), 2002.

Jeremy and Erin and I were at a Sunday market in this remote village four hours by bus from Mexico City, looking for food to supplement what we'd brought for climbing North America's third highest mountain. I carried this wool blanket to fifteen thousand feet and back; it stayed there below the glacier when we headed up at midnight for the final ascent. It seems like I can buy the same blankets anywhere in Mexico, but the little market stall where I got this one had to be the most authentic there is anywhere. We ate freshly grilled tortillas with beans while the fish sellers lay out their catch on large blocks of ice, hardware vendors crouched behind neat rows of iron pans and ladles, and garments were hung under ramshackle tents.


Red/brown/gray/black wool, Puno, Peru, 2003.
Like the Mexican blankets, Peruvian blankets seem to be all of the same type probably made in a handful of factories and sold throughout the region. They are of course as real as any peruvian blanket; they are inexpensive and colorful and utilitarian and are used as shawls and for carrying everything from children to potatoes to baby goats. I searched for something of better quality than most blankets and found this one on the second floor of a small market in Puno. It's a tight weave rather like canvas but softer, and wool.
Natural colored Alpaca, LaPaz, Bolivia, 2003.
Along the altiplano, the huge grassy plain twelve thousand feet high that stretches from Peru through Bolivia, herds of llamas and alpacas graze on stiff tufts of golden grass. The animals range in color from white to rich brown to black, and so do the blankets woven from their wool. This one is hand-made from alpaca. It's not soft like the scarves you may be familiar with; the outer fur of the alpaca is much like sheep's wool.


Acrylic blanket, San Felipe, Mexico (northeast Baja), 2003.
This is one of those Mexican blankets that you can buy almost anywhere in the States or Mexico. It's made from acrylic and being durable and inexpensive it's great for keeping in my truck or laying on the floor. This one is reasonably well made, from different yarns dyed before weaving.


Wool rugs.
Susan Gradziel, Massachusetts, 2004.
My mom made these pieces. They are wool woven in a Krokbragd design which is Scandinavian and works particularly well for rugs because it's thick.
Weaving by Susan Gradziel, Massachusetts, 2004; fleece brought from New Zealand, spun, and dyed with natural pigments by Alice and Jim Whitaker.
This rug is also a Krokbagd weave. The weft is from sheep's fleece brought from New Zealand by my great aunt and uncle, hand-spun and dyed with natural dyes. The dyes are identified in one of the photos. The Krokbagd weave is perfect for using the variety of colors which we had on only small quantities.
Cotton & Wool runner, Susan Gradziel, Massachusetts, 2003.



Cotton.. I made this one at about age ten.



Wool-cotton blend, Susan Gradziel, Massachusetts, 2003



A sampler of colors and textures:





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