Saturday, November 8, 2014

Journey Down the Silk Road with Gwen Marston

                    A guest post from Gwen Marston with photography by Grady Marston

Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan
The folk art textiles I’m sharing with you today come from a part of the world with an ancient and renown history of textiles.  Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan all participated in the early trade routes that ran through the Asian continent connecting China to the Mediterranean Sea. Known as the Silk Road, it spread trade and cultural interaction along its 4000-mile length beginning as early as 206 B.C.  The artisans along the Silk Road benefited from having access to a wide range of fabrics as well as the flow of artistic ideas.

The Applique Quilt shown is from Uzbekistan. It’s made with silk motifs appliqued onto various colors of cotton backing. The designs were cut from folded fabric in the same way as we make paper snowflakes, and like the Pennsylvania Germans used to cut out their folded fabric applique shapes.  Cutting shapes from folded fabric accounts for the variations in shapes, which has always been an acceptable and expected result. The close-up shows these slight variations clearly. It also shows a variation in the corners of the motif. Notice also that the quiltmaker changed centers of the motifs freely. One of the centers is completely different than the others, which you can see in the detail photo.  
Applique Quilt 38" x 68", early 20th century Uzbekistan.

close up of appliqué quilt

The photo below shows a close up of the border motifs which is testimony of the quilters comfort with irregular shapes. This is a charactertic feature of folk art textiles the world around and one that I enthusiastically support.
Closeup of border shapes in varying sizes resulting from fabric cutting.

One of my favorite folk art quilts is the pieced quilt shown below. It was made in Afghanistan and is pretty darn “liberated” in the very best sense of the word.  Many of the squares and triangles were necessarily pieced to get the required size, one of the characteristics common on antique American scrap quilts. And the little red corner squares at the end of the needlepoint strips vary in size noticeably. (I’m just sayin’).
Pieced Quilt 44" x 72", early 20th century Afghanistan.
It’s also a prime example of the wide range of fabrics that were traded along the silk road. The closeup photo below shows Ikat, silks and damask fabrics. The silks account for the strong saturated colors in the quilt and they come in both solids and beautiful florals. The green squares are rich, lush velvet.  This close-up also shows two different versions of the “wild goose chase” needlepoint which separates and defines the blocks (an idea I bet none of us have thought of).
Closeup of Ikat, Silk and Damask.
The photo below shows the “liberated” squares on point that make up the narrow inner boarder.  This quilter was definitely “making do” with the fabrics she had and in my view, she pulled it off in spades. The backing is pieced with leftovers and the quilt is lightly quilted to hold the layers together.
"Liberated" Squares on Point inner border.

 The Horse Trapping shown below was made by Turkmen herders from Turkmenistan. It is a ceremonial wedding hanging designed to drape off the back end of a horse.  Elaborate textile hangings made for horses and camels seems quite a common practice among Tribal groups around the world.  Our own First Peoples excelled with making incredibly artful horse trappings. Seems everybody wants to look good for the big moments in their lives. As you might guess, the stars and wild goose chase designs seemed mighty familiar to me and positively caught my attention. I like the idea that there is a large vocabulary of shapes that have been around for centuries and that are universally known and used by artisans working in different mediums. Here is something we all share; a common language. 
Horse Trapping Ceremonial wedding hanging 49" x 55" c. 1900 Turkmenistan
Made by nomadic Turkmen Herders
Below is a close up of a section of the Wild Goose Chase strips worked in raw edge applique. 
Closeup of Star section and Wild Goose Chase in raw edge appliqué.
The final photo shows some of the still existing handmade tassels, which I just love.  I’m sure when this piece was new and all the tassels were bouncing around off the hips of a prancing horse carrying the young bride or groom, it must have been a quite a sight.
Close up of hand made tassels.

This is my fourth posting on Pam's blog and in conclusion I want to say a few things about my folk art textile collection.  As a “sewer of cloth”, it’s easy to see why I was drawn to folk art textiles. There is a certain fluid asymmetry that is universally characteristic in folk art around the world.  My own style of quiltmaking came directly from seeing this characteristic repeatedly, first in quilts and then in folk art textiles from virtually everywhere else.

Thanks to Pam for making it possible for me to share some of my folk art textiles with all of you. Every time I look at them I see something else I hadn’t noticed before, so it was a joy to have them out on my worktable again.  Also, I thank my photographer, Grady Marston (aka my grandson).

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  1. Pam, Thanks for spreading some of Gwen's goodness through your blog. G. alerted me to your blog and work. Beautiful, fun quilts. Congratulations on your recent ribbon, too.

  2. Nice to hear from you Kathy, and Gwen will post again soon.