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PostPosted: Mon Feb 02, 2015 11:51 am 
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I wanted to share information on a book which I recently acquired: "Spirits in the Loom: Religion and Design in Lao-Tai Textiles" by Ellison Banks Findly published in 2014 by White Lotus, Bangkok. It is No 19 in the Studies in Material Cultures of South East Asia. ISBN 978-974-8434-77-3. It also includes contributions from Patricia Cheesman and Peter Whittlesey. It follows the format of other books in the series but I think that the quality of the colour photos may have improved since some earlier volumes.

I have been fascinated by these textiles since I collected my first two (in Chiang Mai) in 1988, in northern Vietnam in 1995 and subsequently I have been unable to resist individual examples as they have crossed my path.

Our ikat enthusiasts should find the book of interest as many of the textiles include ikat as well as complex continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft. For weaving enthusiasts, the supplementary weft is sometimes joined by supplementary warp. The best perhaps for me is where supplementary weft crosses supplementary warp with ikat designs falling neatly and precisely in the created spaces! That, of course is technique. The book is focused on use and meaning. I know that, for many forum members the meaning of designs in textiles and how they are used is of overriding interest.

I am very much looking forward to delving into the book. So far I have only had a chance to leaf though, check out the photos and tantalisingly read a few paragraphs! The publisher's information on the text says:
"Spirits in the Loom with contributions by Patricia Cheesman, Eric Crystal and Peter Whittlesey Spirits in the Loom: Religion and Design in Lao- Tai Textiles is the first study of Lao-Tai textiles to focus specifically on the relation between the figural designs of the textiles and their religious meaning and use. Based primarily on interviews with weavers and shamans from Hua Phan province, Laos, this study highlights the layered meanings of design elements and their roles in providing protection and power both in everyday life and in ritual performance. Using rich data from shamans’ narratives about their trance experiences, the author provides first-hand insight into how shamanic visions shape the visual appearance of a ritual textile. In addition to 347 black and white photographs, this book presents 235 color plates."

Ellison Findly is Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. She teaches Indic religions, arts, and languages, and is the author of many articles, and of books on Mughal India, early Buddhist women and economics and philosophies of plants in India. She is currently finishing a complementary study to this volume on Lao shamanism, entitled 'Tending the Spirits: The Shamanic Experiences in Northeastern Laos'.

I have been hearing for some time from Susan Stem about this book and about how much she has learnt about Lao-Tai textiles from Ellie as she has sought out textiles to support the research for the book as well as from Patricia Cheesman. There is a very nice tribute to Susan in the book's 'Acknowledgements' as well as to Patricia and her monumental 2004 book 'Lao-Tai Textiles: The Textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan' with which many forum members are familiar. As an aside, I was very lucky a couple of weeks ago to be able to listen to Patricia talking about her current exhibition (Across Borders: Tai Textiles in ASEAN Countries) in Studio Naenna in Chiang Mai and her opening lecture at the 5th ASEAN Traditional Textile Symposium in the city.

Of course, I should have read the book carefully so that I could give a thoughtful review before making this post. However, I seem to have so much follow-up to do from my recent trip to Chiang Mai, where I was like a child in a sweet shop overwhelmed by all the textiles to see, learn about and absorb, that I thought I could make an initial post now to alert forum members to the book. I was lucky to come home with a bundle (of very heavy :D ) volumes all of which I want to read AT ONCE!

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