Textile art books: Culturally stitching

<i>Textile art books:</i> Culturally stitching

Research suggests humans picked up some form of a needle and thread over 500,000 years ago.

Much of that early stitchwork was practical in nature, particularly to create clothing. As materials and techniques changed over time, distinctive cultural approaches to design, colour, and embellishment came to life

Textile art played an increasingly important role in expressing cultural histories, folklore, religious narratives, community organisation and family values. Thankfully, many of those textile traditions are alive and well.

Below is a list of books that literally takes you across time and geography. And you won’t have to buy a plane ticket! We start in North America with African American and Native American traditions. Then we head to the African continent, followed by a trek through Asian and Middle Eastern textile techniques. We even have a stop in Mexico.

All of these books feature gorgeous imagery and stories that are both breathtaking and inspirational. So, join us in celebrating the diversity of stitching across the globe.

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend
The quilts of Gee’s Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin

The quilts of Gee’s Bend

The women of Gee’s Bend in southern Alabama (USA) have been creating vibrant quilts since the early 19th century. Award-winning author Susan Goldman Rubin explores the history and culture of this fascinating group of women and their unique quilting traditions.

They are especially known for repurposing fabrics in remarkable ways, including old overalls, aprons, and bleached cornmeal sacks. Much to the women’s surprise, a selection of their quilts were featured in a travelling exhibition in 2002.

A New York Times critic reviewing that exhibition described their work as ‘eye-poppingly gorgeous and some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has ever produced’.

The quilts of Gee’s Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin (2017)
ISBN 9781419721311 

Sewing and Survival: Native American Quilts from 1880–2022
Sewing and survival: Native American quilts from 1880–2022 by Teresa Wong

Sewing and survival

This book offers a researched narrative based on original sources, diaries, personal letters and other notes highlighting Native American voices. Indigenous Americans have been sewing, weaving, making pottery and other crafts for thousands of years. But ongoing attacks on Native American cultures in the late 1800’s promoted a fascinating shift toward quilt making.

While quilting skills were forced on some women, others willingly took on the craft. It’s compelling to learn that quilting within the Native American culture continued to gain popularity to the point where quilts now serve as cornerstones of many Indigenous give-away traditions.

Author Teresa Wong expertly walks readers through this historical and artistic quilting evolution. Powerful narratives complement images of over 60 quilts, as well as images of significant historical events and portraits of artists and collectors.

The book is available from the author’s website and can be shipped to addresses in Canada, USA, Japan, EU, UK and Australia. The author donates $4 for every book sold to the American Indian College Fund.

Sewing and survival: Native American Quilts from 1880–2022 by Teresa Duryea Wong (2023) Published by Third Floor Quilts

African Textiles: Colour and Creativity Across a Continent
African textiles: Colour and creativity across a continent by John Gillow

Colour and creativity across a continent

Traditional handcrafted African textiles are sumptuous, intricate, and steeped in cultural significance. Readers will be introduced to an incredible range of handmade textile techniques found across the African continent.

These include the gorgeous strip weaves of the Ashanti and Ewe, lace weaves of the Yoruba, and mud cloths from Mali and West Africa. The book also explores Berber weaves from Morocco, beadwork from the Zulu, Xhosa, and Ndebele people, and the crocheted, embroidered, and feathered hats from Cameroon.

The book features over 570 colour photographs that complement in-depth information about the influences of religion, culture, trade, tradition, fashion and the changing role of women artists on African textile art. It ends with a guide to public African textile collections, as well as a glossary and suggestions for further reading.

African textiles: Colour and creativity across a continent by John Gillow (2016)
ISBN 9780500292211

Kantha: Sustainable Textiles and Mindful Making
Kantha: Sustainable textiles and mindful making by Ekta Kaul

Sustainable textiles and mindful making

‘Kantha’ is believed to have originated from the Sanskrit word kontha, which means rags. It refers to both the style of running stitch, as well as the finished quilted cloth made from layers of cast-off fabric embroidered with threads pulled from old saris and dhotis.

Author Ekta Kaul explores this rich tradition through objects of extraordinary beauty that were created to be given as gifts or for use in life event rituals, such as marriage and childbirth. 

Steeped in the ethos of sustainability, emotional repair and mindful making, this book showcases inspiring interpretations of the kantha spirit and discusses creative techniques for readers to develop their own kantha. A dictionary of fundamental kantha stitches with supporting images and instructions is included.

Ekta Kaul grew up in India and trained at India’s National Institute of Design. She received a Masters in Textiles in the UK, and has lived in Edinburgh, Bath, Ahmedabad, Delhi and London. Ekta says living in so many vibrant cities provided a wonderful education in celebrating plurality of perspectives, helping to develop her unique creative style.

Kantha: Sustainable Textiles and Mindful Making by Ekta Kaul (published June 2024)
ISBN 9781789940435

Threads of Awakening: An American Woman’s Journey into Tibet’s Sacred Textile Art
Threads of awakening: An American woman’s journey into Tibet’s sacred textile art by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo

Threads of awakening

When Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo set out to travel the world, little did she know she’d get sidetracked in a Himalayan sewing workshop. Ironically, that sidetrack proved to be her necessary life path.

Equal parts art book, memoir and spiritual travelogue, Leslie shares her experience as a Californian woman travelling to the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India to manage an economic development fund, only to wind up sewing pictures of Buddha instead. 

Tibetans have been creating sacred images from pieces of silk for more than 500 years. Much rarer than paintings and sculptures, these stitched fabric thangkas are among Tibet’s finest artworks. Leslie reveals the unique stitches of an ancient needlework tradition, introduces the Buddhist deities, and shares insights into the compassion, interdependence and possibility they embody.

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo is a textile artist, teacher and author. She offers an online hands-on apprentice program called Stitching Buddhas that bridges East and West, traditional and contemporary.

Threads of awakening: An American woman’s journey into Tibet’s sacred textile art by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo (2022)
ISBN 9781647420932

Hmong Story Cloths: Preserving Historical & Cultural Treasures
Hmong story cloths: Preserving historical & cultural treasures by Linda Gerdner

Hmong story cloths

The Hmong people from the country of Laos have a rich tradition of creating story cloths to document their history and cultural legacy. Subjects for the cloths include traditional life in Laos, the Hmong New Year, folk tales and neighbouring peoples.

The Hmong first began making story cloths during their time in refugee camps. Story cloths begin with selecting fabrics and outlining images onto a backing cloth. Fabrics are then cut into the various shapes and appliquéd using intricate satin stitches. Borders are then pieced together and hand stitched. 

This beautiful book features 48 vibrant story cloths that provide a comprehensive look into the makers’ lives and culture. Readers will also find personal stories and artefacts that make this a great book for both history buffs and textile artists.

Hmong story cloths: Preserving historical & cultural treasures by Linda Gerdner (2015)
ISBN 9780764348594

Bojagi: The Art of Korean Textiles (2024)
Bojagi: The art of Korean textiles by Youngmin Lee

The art of Korean textiles

Bojagi, sometimes called pojagi, is the traditional Korean art of making textile wrapping cloths from exquisitely patchworked fabrics. The careful arrangement of pieces of cloth allows the maker to build unique abstract compositions, which is why this technique often appeals to textile artists and quilters.

In this book, artist and author Youngmin Lee shares the history of this art form and its place in Korean culture. You’ll discover bojagi hand stitch techniques, seam finishes and decorative motifs through a variety of contemporary and beautifully-illustrated projects.

Youngmin Lee is a Korean-born textile artist and educator based in California, USA. In 2017, she founded the Korean Textile Tour, an educational trip for textile enthusiasts. Youngmin has exhibited in the USA and internationally, including at the De Young Open Exhibition, San Francisco, in 2023-2024.

Bojagi: The art of Korean textiles by Youngmin Lee (published July, 2024)
ISBN 9781789941838

Shibori for Textile Artists

Shibori for textile artists

Shibori is one of the world’s richest textile traditions. While commonly associated with Japan, the technique has been long used in Africa, India and South America. In this practical guide, textile artist Janice Gunner shows how to combine all geographic shibori methods with contemporary techniques to create stunning textiles bursting with rich intricate patterns and bold colour.

Various creative approaches are clearly explained and illustrated, including tied and stitched designs, folding, clamping, pleating and binding. Simple and safe instructions for a range of dyeing techniques are also provided.

Janice Gunner is an award-winning stitched textile artist, quilter and author. She is a renowned expert on Japanese textile art and was recently awarded The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles Education and Travel Bursary.

Shibori for textile artists by Janice Gunner (2018)
ISBN 9781849945301

Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The Fabric of Life
Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The fabric of life by Fahmida Suleman

The fabric of life

From the intricate embroidery on a Palestinian wedding dress to the complex iconography on an Afghan war rug, textiles from the Middle East and Central Asia reflect their makers’ diverse beliefs, practices and experiences. This book explores the significance and beauty of textiles from across the vast area and is arranged thematically to enable cross-regional comparisons of the function and symbolic meaning of textiles.

Each chapter focuses on key life events, such as childhood, marriage, ceremony, religion and belief, and homestead. Featured textiles include garments, hats and headdresses, mosque curtains and prayer mats, floor coverings, tent hangings, hand towels, cushions, storage sacks, amulets and much more.

Contemporary works that grapple with modern political issues are also included. The author’s focus on the British Museum’s remarkable collection is sure to provide both education and creative inspiration.

Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The fabric of life by Fahmida Suleman (2017)
ISBN 9780500519912

Last but not least…

Serving a global community of over 60,000 stitchers can sometimes make it difficult to select books that are accessible to all. This is especially true for books that are out of print or self-published. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth mentioning, though, so we’re sharing a few interesting titles that may be more tricky to locate, but still worth a read.

Phulkari From Punjab: Embroidery in Transition
Phulkari from Punjab: Embroidery in transition by Shalina Mehta and Anu H Gupta

Phulkari from Punjab: Embroidery in transition

This meticulously researched book traces the history of Phulkari through the ages. Over 350 photographs help bring to life the nearly lost craft, including instances of revival and innovation amongst artists and designers.

Every stitch in Phulkari placed on the fabric tells a story in the form of motifs. Author Shalina Mehta spent seven years searching out those stories across the villages and byways of Punjab, which is considered home for this ancient craft.

Shalina traces the history of Phulkari from its decline to its revival and includes stories collected from practitioners along her journey.

Phulkari from Punjab: Embroidery in transition by Shalina Mehta and Anu H Gupta (2020)
ISBN 9781911630180

Beadwork Techniques of the Native Americans
Beadwork Techniques of the Native Americans by Scott Sutton

Beadwork techniques of the Native Americans

This book focuses on beadwork techniques among the western Plains’ Indians, both past and present. Readers will discover the basics, advanced techniques, supplies and actual examples of beadwork through rich illustrations and easy-to-follow instruction.

Styles include loom work, appliqué, lazy/lane stitch and the gourd (peyote) stitch. Instructions for making and beading moccasins are also included. This book is both instructional and artistic, as it features dozens of images of beaded works housed in museums and private collections.

Beadwork Techniques of the Native Americans by Scott Sutton (2008)
ISBN 9781929572113

Mexican Textiles
Mexican textiles by Masako Takahashi

Mexican textiles

Mexican textiles are known for their passionate appreciation of colour, pattern and design. Author and photographer Masako Takahashi shares her love of the form by taking readers on a journey to artisan workshops, weaving centres, lace makers and family-owned rug manufacturers.

Readers are given an inside view of how traditional fabrics are designed, dyed, woven and finished. The photos are gorgeous, and the author shares insightful notes on regional differences, history, and technique.

Mexican textiles by Masako Takahashi (2003)
ISBN 9780811833783

Featured books

Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The fabric of life by Fahmida Suleman (2017)

Phulkari from Punjab: embroidery in transition by Shalina Anu Mehta H Gupta (2020)

Beadwork techniques of the Native Americans by Scott Sutton (2008)

Mexican textiles by Masako Takahashi (2003)

The feature image is a detail from “Manjushri,” hand-stitched Tibetan appliqué by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo.

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Interested in more book suggestions? Check out this Stitch Picks list showcasing sustainable stitching and how to bring wellbeing into your practice.

Thursday 18th, July 2024 / 04:00

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TextileArtist.org is a place for textile artists and art enthusiasts to be inspired, learn from the best, promote their work and communicate with like-minded creatives.

NEWSLETTER FOR TEXTILE & FIBER ARTISTS

JOIN A COMMUNITY OF 60,000 STITCHERS

Share in the creative secrets of the world's most celebrated embroidery artists.

And discover how to create breathtaking art with textiles and stitch.

All Inspiration. No Spam.

Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter

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