Thursday, December 03, 2015

Hunting endangered needlework

Colorado Public Radio ran a lovely story this morning about Linda Ligon of Thrums Books*.  Linda travels around the world to learn about 'endangered' forms of traditional needlework and the women who make them.  Listen to the story and view a slide show of some of the places she's been.

Afghani woman doing traditional embroidery.
She's right in her observation that most of her interviewees want a 'better' life for their children that does not involve making needlework.  These art forms will die out unless we provide a market where people can make a good living doing this.

I first became aware of Afghan embroidery when I saw the Common Places show of Afghan embroidery at LACMA. The Italian artist Alighiero Boetti employed a similar tactic to the researchers at the Fowler. Although, being a man, he used female intermediaries to meet the needlewomen that collaborated with him on the art work.

UCLA's Fowler museum has one of the world's largest collection of handmade textiles because their anthropological researchers would pose as collectors of textile art (which are usually made by women). Researchers would say that they will buy only if they are sure about the provenance; they must speak personally to the artist.

In many societies, women are not allowed to speak to outsiders. But, with $$$$ riding on it, the researchers were able to purchase access to interview subjects. Along the way, they collected some mighty fine textile art. See it on display on the UCLA campus!

* What?  You don't know what a thrum is?  Have you been living under a rock?


  1. I did not know what a thrum was, but now I do! I love traditional needlework. So much work and skill go into it. I guard the pieces my grandmother made as if they were jewels

  2. I knew what a thrum is, but did not know about Thrums Books. I shall be visiting that site again. Thank you for spreading the word.

  3. I'm so grateful that you posted on this. I don't know when if ever I might have found out about it and I'm entranced by the topic. Very much enjoy and/or empathize with so many of your topics, please keep sharing!

  4. Actually, Stephanie's definition of a thrum is an evolution, not the original definition of word thrum. Thrums are the leftover threads after cutting cloth off of the loom. These can be anywhere from a few inches to several feet. Linda's reference is to weaver's thrums -- by product of weaving cloth in different cultures.

    If you are interested in learning more, you should also check out WARP (Weave a Real Peace,


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