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 Post subject: age of textiles
PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 4:56 am 
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I am very interested in determining the age of tribal textiles of southeast Asia. Does any one have any experience in doing this? Could you provide myself and the forum some basic and/or advanced guidelines that might help? Are there any publications specific to the aging of tribal textiles of southeast Asia?

originally posted 3 May 03


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 4:58 am 
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There are a number of books about the topic in an eliptal manner, by examining both dye samples scientifically and checking trends in design and motif. Both silk and cotton age also; textiles in daily use will of course look older than a ritual textile. Remember aniline dyes were introduced from China in the 17th cent and designs meld from one region to another. May I ask why the need for precision?

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:00 am 
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Determining the age of textiles based on design is always very complex since it may well depend on how exposed a particular group may have been to outside influences. As a collector one is always keen to know how old the textile is - or at least, the date at which it was made. I remember being very excited when, on my return from a 1988 trip to Thailand, I was looking at photos that I had taken of an old Mien woman. I was reading the Lewis' book (Peoples of the Golden Triangle) on the Mien. They said that cross stitch had only been adopted in the embroidery stitches of the Mien about 50 years before (the book was written). Some old women had never learnt the stitch when they were learning to embroider as girls. As I looked at the photo I could see that her trousers showed not a single row of cross stitch! http://www.tribaltextiles.info/Galleries/Yao/y11.htm Sorry, this is not directly on your question although somewhat relevant. I have not found a book specifically aimed at dating costume but many books indicate a rough age and/or include comments that such an item is rarely worn today. Do you have any of the Howards' book on Vietnamese tribal groups? They, for example, make such references. Again I was chuffed when they made a comment about a particualar style of headcovering worn by Tai women which was no longer being worn. In one of my photos an old lady was wearing just such a head covering. I visited a Southern White Tai village in 1995 and they were were there about a year later.

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Pamela

http://www.tribaltextiles.info
on-line tribal textiles resource


Last edited by Pamela on Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:01 am 
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Pamela, Your resonse to my inquiry was very inforamative in explaining that resources are not always the gospel as I also have found out. I would assume it takes multiple cross references to come up with an educated guess at its best. Nothing is absolute. I have asked, first hand, tribe members what a specific piece might represent and be confident in their answer only to find out from the next person that maybe he/she was not correct, or where they? Should I believe publications, people or my own instinct of weighing the facts? This forum is an excellent avenue to help us distinguish fact from fiction. The more info the better. Anyone have any thoughts on this subject matter or an interesting story to tell?

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Rusty


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:03 am 
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Rusty, Your question is a good one and has sparked much controversy in the collecting world. For a good reference to the issues I would recommend that you refer to Ladislas Segy’s book African Sculpture Speaks. He has a wonderful chapter on The Collector’s Point of View. The similarities of what has happened with African Ethnographic material and that of South East Asian textiles is prophetic. I won’t repeat what he says as I could not begin to approach his eloquence but will add a few of my own ideas on the subject.. Most of us who collect textiles will not be fortunate enough to visit all of the cultural groups first hand to collect on sight yet alone have the time to live among the diverse groups acquiring objects of traditional value. The electronic age has opened the world to those desiring a piece of a different culture and with this new opportunity, so follows the pitfalls. Provenance best serves as a start to the true age of a piece. This lacking, one can only assume or make an educated guess an age of an item. The English language has given us a wonderful opportunity to describe age in relative terms without misrepresentation. Some dealers freely use modifiers of "antique" or an age of "forty years or more" as a marketing tool. As a collector and sometime dealer, I prefer, "Early, Mid or Late" 19th or 20th century sometimes adding modifiers such as "in the traditional style of" and when buying I will typically disregard any age statement that can not be substantiated. I can not stress enough how important it is to buy from reputable people if you are spending serious money. I speculate with buying a number of textiles from people who travel to many of the places I hope to travel some day. Some are well versed in what they offer for sale others have no idea of what they buy but have a good eye for quality. I will not say that I haven’t been burned or at times disappointed with my purchases but will continue to take chances as the rewards far outweigh the cost. My advice is to handle as many textiles as you can, visit as many collections, collectors and museums that you can. Buy all of the reference books that you can afford and by all means, trust your instincts as they do get better with experience. In summary enjoy the process where ever you travel. Best to all.

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Richard


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:04 am 
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I forgot about coins. Burmese coins, in particular on Akha or Karen pieces, and Thai baht on any number of tribal textiles, may reveal some notion of age, and /or migratory pattern of a specific group. I have lived in SEAsia, and sense that the pieces I choose to collect have an intrinsic value, despite being removed from their origin, and ambivalent in their utility. Perhaps it is time to collect aesthetically, and coherently, rather than focus on age and authenticity.

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Sandie


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:05 am 
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Yes, coins can help give age perametres i.e. the garment cannot have been made before... I have a very interesting Dao Quan Trang (Mien) jacket which has French coins hanging from the back of the neck and embroidery on the back of the jacket saying 'Nam 1965'. This tells me that the jacket cannot have been made before the date of the coins and probably not before 1965. However, the date could have been copied 'blind' from something seen and very likely well after 1965. I know it was made during or before 1994 when I bought it in Hanoi. It is important to document textiles bought including location (especially if collected in the field) and the date collected. Many of us do not collect textiles because they are old but having been attracted to the textiles want to know how old they are and 'locate' both in place and time. The most important reason for any collection must surely be important - that the collector is attracted by the piece. Occasionally, in order to fill a gap in a collection or make up a 'complete' costume a collector may end up buying something with which they have little affinity but hopefully not often. I agree with Richard that you should try and handle (but with care of course!) a many textiles as possible; see as many in museums and collections (especially if they have good background details) and certainly buy as many books as you can afford. I find that going back to the reference books as I see more textiles enables me to gain more and more from the books. For me one of the best parts of collecting is the search for knowledge afterwards. It can open up so many new avenues.

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Pamela

http://www.tribaltextiles.info
on-line tribal textiles resource


Last edited by Pamela on Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:20 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:07 am 
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Thanks to everyone for the great input. Pamela and Richard I have not read Howards book on Vietnam or Ladislas Segy's book but will put them on my list. Also some great advice of handling as many pieces as possible. To find a few excellent pieces , I probably handle hundreds of pieces, or possibly thousands if you count the number of new textiles sorted through. Yes, I do typically sort out the new stuff because I find the older and worn pieces are likely to be more intricate and finely detailed than their counterparts. Simpley put "older is better". However, I do have an example of a new a new tribal costume "Yao pants" (I think I mentioned these under the Batik Trends subject) that seem to be the exception of my opinionated rule. I will try to provide a picture link of these pants. As for my collecting interests, age and use are the most important factors when looking for that "perfect piece". Cross referencing books would also be important but is impracticle for me to carry in the field, thus relying on my gut instict of just how old I think a piece may be.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:08 am 
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Yes, I am very often attracted to the older pieces because so often the work is finer (if it is in good condition). As someone who sews (or used to when she had time) including clothing, I very much admire various textile skills. I agree that you cannot take books into the field. I sometimes photocopy a few pages which I think may be of particular help - but, of course, it is the unexpected opportuntity which so often delivers the best textile. However, as I have already said, finding out more about what you have bought on your return is so rewarding. Follow your instincts for 'quality' and whether the piece satisfyies your own personal priorities and then age will only add to the overall and cannot actually detract - unless you happen to be buying for age alone. I have some pieces in my collection which are not of particularly good quality but have 'sentimental' value because they have been purchased by way of thanks for hospitality and support - and I know, Rusty, that you will have some of these. You will understand why I was so interested in your Hani photos http://www.tribaltextiles.info/Galleries/Hani-Akha.htm as they represent a 'time capsule' of textiles from a particular group, 'now' and in a particular place. As a reference point for collectors they are useful.

(PS There is a gallery that I visit in Singapore (Akemi Gallery, Tanglin Shopping Centre) where Akemi so often shows me a book from her library with a similar textile and this has led to some of my best book finds as well as nice textiles.

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Pamela

http://www.tribaltextiles.info
on-line tribal textiles resource


Last edited by Pamela on Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:21 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:09 am 
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Rusty has emailed me with a photo of a pair of embroidered Yao (Mien) pants which he and Crista collected in a small village in northwest Laos which he wanted to share with the forum. http://www.tribaltextiles.info/forum/rly.htm He also referred to them in the thread on batik market trends. It is interesting to see the difference in stitches used between the photo of a Yao (Mien) old woman in Thailand which I refer to above. The colours used are also quite different and reflect modern trends. However, the quality of both is very fine - and which reflects Rusty's point that some excellent quality work is being produced in modern tribal textiles.


Last edited by Pamela on Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:25 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:14 am 
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Just a few more thoughts: Sandie's earlier comment about “textiles in daily use will of course look older than a ritual textile” is an important one. Consider the recent history of the tribal groups in SE Asia. For the most part, populations are relatively small and were severely disrupted with was, relocation, more war etc. etc. In addition the environmental conditions of these area are not the best for conservation of older textiles and most will age much faster than those we’ve stored in our collections do. In the past few years, droves of people have scoured the countryside looking for “antique” textiles and with the demand so goes the supply. My friends that are collecting in the field have advised me that the number of “antique” or “old” textiles are more abundant now then in past years. Is this the case? Is it because there is a market offering hard currency that has persuaded people to part with their heritage? Yes for some but for the most part, I think not. As a collector that can not afford to buy textiles with heavily documented provenance, I force myself to be reminded that equating quality with age is a bold mistake. I also believe that most of the “aged” textiles are not meant to deceive but meant to supply the market with what is in demand. Are the current conditions for buying and collecting in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia etc., much different from that in Indonesia? Granted, they may be somewhat behind the island cultures in tourism and therefore still do not have the demands of the market indicative a great influx of eager buyers as is the case with the Sumba Hinggi or African masks. The scouts and buyers supplying the conduit for collectors are very aware of what is happening and so will the artisans, if not now in the very near future. Artificially aged textiles are a reality and I fear the rule and not the exception. Age can always be faked, quality can not. Best regards to all.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:15 am 
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Richard, I'm very happy with your response. Most people who complain bitterly about being ripped off are those who insist on "antique" textiles, and its corollary- natural dyes. But there's another problem with "older is better", and that is refusing to accept the evolution of textiles from a traditional form, to contemporary expression, which can still posses traditional skill, but modified for the modern world, and yes, even for sale. The myth of every woman a weaver also denigates the role textiles played in ritual exchange-some women were just better than others. Also note that in Thailand, mudmee (ikat) technique is now done by men as well, who establish great reputations for the subtleness of their design and color.When we were in Cambodia, I went looking for "pidan", and any older textiles I could find. The moral is that I found a FRAGMENT of a very old piece, full of holes, for which I paid $50. The piece had been sitting in that stall since Cambodia was reopened for tourists, but nobody wanted it because they wanted an antique in perfect condition. Futher thoughts anyone? Sandie


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2003 10:14 pm 
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Old or new for me the most important thing is that the textile 'speaks' to me. I will share with you a piece of wax resist which I bought in Guangxi Province, southwest China in 2000. I bought it from the 'artist' who was probably around my own age - then early 50s - and whose skill I very much admired. The length of fabric has designs which do not repeat; it has been dyed twice - note the two shades of indigo blue on white. We haggled over the price - which I hated to do as the work was so excellent. She would only go down so far as she recognised the true worth of her skill. We compromised on the price by her allowing me to photograph her holding the roll of fabric. I hope that she was as pleased as I was in the overall bargain. http://www.tribaltextiles.info/Gallerie ... DSJE24.htm What was interesting in this village, as in many others, was that at first, very much more brash items came out for sale. It was only as the villagers saw what we were interested in - the pieces with fine work being worn by older women rather than the instant glitz of newer pieces made for the dance competitions - that some very fine pieces started to emerge. Pamela


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2003 10:16 pm 
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At the risk of being redundant of the very good, intelligent and enlightening responses already posted, I'm sorry, but I just couldn't resist contributing a few thoughts on this subject. Age is, unfortunately, too often a prime criterion desired by a collector. Consequently there is a lot of incorrect information given regarding attributions of age; many sellers are guilty of telling the buyer what they think they want to hear. Instead of age, buyers need to be concerned with other things such as the skill of the producer, the use of the piece, etc. The intellectual and visual enrichment and growth from studying the textiles and the resources is what really makes collecting interesting.

Specific to this discussion of age, I recently had an interesting experience when visiting a Karen village near the Thai/Burma border: I was presented with an obviously well-used, very faded indigo blouse of traditional design by an older woman, who when questioned said that she made it when she was 18 and now she is 68. It had had a hard 50 years, and to some would appear to be much older. Pertinent to this are the previous comments about use: many tribal people are poor and do not have the luxury of owning many textiles, let alone not using them. This blouse may have been special when it was new, but as it was used and washed, it lost that quality. I also noted that the modern pieces being worn, tho traditional in design and ornamentation, were woven of commercial thread in a totally different palette. Obviously, 'fashion' is a concern and like women everywhere, the allure of 'new' colors is irresistible.

Some pieces are, however created and reserved for ritual use, tho I find that more prevalent in Indonesia where 'adat' textiles are revered, and cared for fairly meticulously. In this part of the world I have found that it is rare that a tribal textile, with the insects, molds, etc. outlives two or three generations. For this reason many of the claims of "19th century" by many dealers should be greeted with skepticism unless proven provenance is supplied. Also, thank you Pamela for the nice page of Rusty and Crista's Hani pieces. It is very useful to see items with known origin.

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Susan Stem

http://www.tribaltrappings.com
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2003 10:18 pm 
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Susan, thanks for your contribution. As someone involved in both buying and selling - as well as living in a tribal region - your insight is very relevant. Collecting is such a personal thing and the reason and timing of the collection is also important. I find that what I now collect has a different emphasis that it did some years ago. I mature as a collector; I learn more so sometimes I 'see' more. Sometimes I collect with my brain - but often I collect with my heart - fall in love and 'must have'! What I collect personally and the collections that I like to see - say in a museum - are different. In a museum I find it helpful if I can understand context and continuity; how styles have developed and changed. I have some molas from the San Blas islands in Panama. I collected some in the early 1970s when I was living in the Cayman Islands. I collected a couple more in the early 1990s when some Kuna gave a workshop at the British Museum. My personal 'artistic' taste prefers the older pieces because they are more simple and direct in design. My 'technical' appreciation is drawn to the later ones which have now become very complex (and even over worked) as the women spend more and more time on them - and have become the bread winners in the family based on their molas which has quite changed the social balance in the community. My compromise is a dancing octopus on my wall that I look at and enjoy every day and a compex cat folded away with my textile collection. I shall be looking out in another 15-20 years to see the development of the genre! Pamela


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