Unraveling One of the World’s Oldest Art Forms

Written by Christine Wallerand-Barrat & Simone | 1st March 2019

Starting from a single thread of wool, linen, silk or cotton, Antiques expert Christine Wallerand-Barrat explains why textiles are one of the world’s oldest, most overlooked art forms.

Whilst collecting textiles has become an increasingly popular 21st-century hobby, it’s actually a tradition that goes a long way back in time. In fact, it might be one of the earliest collected art forms. Which is hardly surprising, when we consider that old textiles are among the most beautiful, versatile and historic art forms and handicrafts that are still widely available.

Although unfortunately, the oldest artefacts have disintegrated, many antique textiles are exceptionally well preserved, portable and highly decorative examples of artistic ingenuity, combining form and function while other textiles are purely decorative works of art that have little purpose beyond delighting the viewer’s eyes.

In Western cultures, knitting, sewing and embroidery are still often seen as a craft rather than an art form, even when covering the same subjects as other recognized art forms. This is arguably because the techniques were often associated with domesticity and devalued as ‘women’s work’, becoming invisible to the bigger public.

Detail of a hand-embroidered rug

Women between the Middle Ages and the 20th Century were often denied access to more traditional ‘art forms’, as writing, painting and sculpture were reframed as masculine pursuits. When women were able to gain some public recognition for their work, it was never in the same volume as their male counterparts.

So, in search of a voice and a way to socially acceptable way to communicate, many women turned to textiles.

There are many references throughout history where women used textiles as a communication device; embroidering their own coded language. Looking back at some of the work created throughout the ages, you’ll discover that there are actually deeply subversive messages hidden in the fabric.

In recent years, textiles have come back into the public eye, with women reclaiming textiles as 'fiber art', books like ‘The Subversive Stitch’ in the early 80s and current art movements like yarn bombing. The diversity of antique textiles is unparalleled, using dyes, paints, resists, decorative embroidery stitches, weaving techniques and other imaginative processes to subvert traditional ideas of what textile art entails.

Two examples of 'yarn bombing'

To honour this unique and versatile art form we are launching a new auction, featuring exclusively handmade, hand sewn, embroidered, crafted decorative and wearable textiles.


Discover more antiques | textiles | curio

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