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Entries in textiles (3)


Anatolian Kilims at the de Young Museum

Kilim, 18th century, Turkey, Anatolia - wool, cotton; slit tapestry weave. The Caroline & H. McCoy Jones Collection.
Image by de Young Museum.

The latest textile exhibit at the de Young Museum – The Art of the Anatolian Kilim – once again provides perspective on the source of a contemporary trend. If the patterns and colors of these kilims look familiar, it is because designers of every variety have been using them for inspiration in the past few years. Like their previous exhibit, To Dye For, which focused on resist dye techniques such as ikats and batiks, the de Young’s new exhibit is pitch-perfect for our time.

Looking around at some of the major home retailers, one can see new and antique kilims for sale, and even textiles inspired by the surface patterns on traditional kilims. There is definitely something relevant to appreciate and learn about this ancient textile art.

Commonly known as a “flat-weave” woolen rug, kilims have traditionally come from Turkey – the modern-day name of Anatolia. This exhibition shows pieces dating between the 15th and 19th centuries, showcasing the textile traditions of tribal life in their motifs, colors, and composition. Woven from the wools of sheep, goats, and camels, these textiles gain their eye-popping palettes from natural dyes derived from locally-harvested sources. Their bold abstract designs are both invigorating and modern, appealing to our current taste for geometrics and zig zags.

Detail of an Anatolian Kilim at the de Young Museum. Image by Poetic & Chic.

These surface designs have a two-fold purpose: they serve as symbolic renderings of architectural, human, animal, and floral motifs dating back to Neolithic times, while they also serve as a way to identify the different tribes of Anatolia. Like the stunning quilts of the Amish Abstractions exhibit of a few years ago, the kilims are produced within a certain set of parameters around pattern and structure. This makes them consistent, while still allowing enough room for individual interpretation and improvisation. Both the technique and design of kilims have been passed down from generation to generation of Anatolian women, resulting in a sort of historical document of the different tribes.

As each tribe wove kilims with signature elements, they put their kilims to work in their community. In a nomadic tent in Anatolia, kilims will serve as the walls, floors, and storage space – covering nearly everything to make the tent comfortable. Stacks of valuables are placed against the walls of a tent and then a large kilim is draped over them for protection and weight.  

Since the kilims served as an expression of identity, they also served as a commodity between the tribes, representing wealth and currency. While the kilims were crafted in a tribal environment, they were often given to mosques in tribute to serve as both floor coverings for prayer and as an asset for the community. Later in the 20th century, mosques sold their collections of kilims in order to fund improvements or other projects. Those on display at the de Young are from the famous McCoy Jones collection, whose kilims were originally gathered in Anatolia during the 1970s and 1980s, until it was finally gifted to the de Young in 1988-89. The collection was originally displayed in 1990.

Curator Jill d'Alessandro explains an Anatolian Kilim - and provides a sense of scale. Image by Poetic & Chic.

Some of the kilims in the McCoy Jones collection are massive. Curator Jill d’Alessandro went so far as to say that their scale prompted de Young architects Herzog & de Meuron to create the textile galleries with a generous height. The 18-foot ceilings are the perfect showcase for the kilims hung vertically; their colorful rhythms are shown to best advantage. In the next gallery (where the ceiling slopes gradually downward to a more intimate size), the kilims are hung horizontally, giving a reference to the Anatolian landscape.

Given the time and effort put into restoring and re-mounting the kilims, this current exhibition will be on display until June 2012. The McCoy Jones collection of Anatolian kilims is the most important group of these textiles outside of Turkey. We are all fortunate to have the de Young present it for a new generation of textile and graphic enthusiasts.

The Art of the Anatolian Kilim: Highlights from the McCoy Jones Collection is now open at the de Young museum. General museum admission ticket prices apply for this exhibition.


To Dye For Exhibit at the de Young

Woman's chapan robe, c. 1860-1870, Uzbekistan, Bukhara silk

It’s everywhere in the design world these days: Ikat fabrics of every color, pattern, and variety. As true ikats and the look of ikat patterns have entered the market we’ve seen them on pillows, upholsteries, carpets, coats, pants, dresses, and even shoes. As trends go, the synergies between home and fashion are among the strongest, with both industries sharing stylistic cross-over in texture, design details, and fabrications. But what are the roots of the trend? Where does it come from?

In an effort to trace the roots of this current trend and give it some context, the de Young museum is showing an exhibit entitled To Dye For: A World Saturated in Color. Uniting all different types of resist-dye techniques: Mordant-Resist, Batik, Stitch-Resist, Ikat, Shibori, and Tie-Dye, the show draws from local collections and the de Young’s own archives to dig deeper into the artistry and heritage of these textiles.

Oscar de la Renta, Trench Coat, 2005, silk

Textile curator Jill D’Alessandro sourced pieces from around the globe to highlight how cultures everywhere have used similar techniques for centuries, but with varying results. D’Alessandro admits that this exhibition is her particular area of expertise; during a course of study in Indonesia years ago, she fell in love with traditional resist techniques. This show shares her keen understanding of the different textiles, and clearly illustrates their significance in today’s design world. Pulling the focus back to the present day, fashion pieces from Rodarte and Oscar de la Renta are also included in the exhibit, showing how the traditional dye processes still hold a place in our modern style culture. In the case of the de la Renta coat from 2005, it’s shown next to an Uzbek chapan from the late 19th Century; the similarities between the two are striking. Other pieces in the exhibit date from the 15th Century, up through 2010, providing a rich background for print patterns we may now take for granted.

For anyone who loves fashion, home design, and wants to learn more about an important trend, (one that’s been in fashion for centuries,) then the To Dye For exhibit is for you!


Toiles on the Brain

I don't know why, but I simply cannot stop thinking about Toile de Jouy lately. This is odd because while I love its history, design, and long-standing appeal, I have always found that when it's used, it tends to be over-used. For some reason Toile de Jouy is synonymous with "heavy-handed". One is nice, but layers upon layers is just too insane.

Um, yeah.

Usually depicting a pastoral or allegorical scene, toiles are leafy and narrative - like a Fragonard painting on a textile for the home. Later on, toiles picked up on the Oriental trend with Chinoiserie pastorals in bright reds and deep blacks. This was especially the case as 20th century textile designers adapted toile prints for barkcloth fabrics.

According to the fabulous textile tome Textile Designs by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers (a must-have book - go buy it now!), the first toile was actually created in Ireland by Francis Nixon of Drumcondra, in 1752. It wasn't long before the French caught on to the printing technique and began their own production at the famous Oberkampf mill in Jouy as early as 1783. "Oberkampf hired the best artists of the time to design these prints...the toiles made his name - they were what today would be called his luxury line." The museum of Toile de Jouy is in the town of Jouy (near Versailles) at the Chateau Eglantine.

A colorized version of a famous Oberkampf toile, depicting the process of making Toile de Jouy.

Toiles are sometimes associated with Spode or Burleigh tableware collections, which isn't entirely wrong. Both the textiles and pottery are printed with copperplate techniques, with a similar look and motifs in the design. The pottery is a transferware however, and the textile is printed.

I do think that in smaller doses it's incredibly chic and a lot of fun. It's not exactly modern, but it's two-toned patterns add a lot to an otherwise-boring room - as long as you keep everything else really simple and clean. For me, I'm thinking maybe just a toss pillow or two will be a new way to tie my apartment together.

This is great, but even a little bit of the so-called "classic" blue & white makes me want to cry. To me it always looks like an unhappy tea service.

These are some naughty kids playing on this toile!

I loved this idea of coloring in a black & white toile, as seen on Simple, modern, and playful! While classic toiles depict just one or two colors on a plain white or cream background, the newer toiles combine colored motifs on colored backgrounds, making them more vibrant and less stodgy. But, the influx of pink-and-black and pink-and-green "preppy" toiles hurts my eyes (and brain). Some of these new toiles get so far away from the original spirit of the textile that it's just plain wrong. A good toile should have the essence of the classic somehow; this type of textile is not meant to be dumbed-down!

Cliché anyone? This is absolutely awful.

I do love this yellow & black toile for some reason - maybe because I need something to punch up my reds a bit? Too bad this is a wallpaper...

I guess I'm drawn to toiles because there's something familiar and eternally elegant about them, but at the same time they have a sense of humor. Their opulent motifs can only be taken with a grain of salt, or the room would be very serious indeed. I'm going to keep noodling on toiles in the hope that I can sort out a more modern take, and I'll keep you posted!

Images from The Design Vote, a photo of Red on Red by Stephanie Hoppen, Cumbersome, and internet searches.