Three fun books about fabric were under my 2020 Christmas Tree and I had plenty of time to read! Now that I have finished them all, I want to recommend each one to you. After reading just one or all of them, you will feel much more knowledgeable about the topic and empowered to keep pursuing your fabric hobby.
The Golden Thread by Kassia St Claire – 2018
This is the first book I picked up to read in January. The subtitle “How Fabric Changed History” and the lovely cover inspired my choice and I was not disappointed. The book is organized around fiber types, relaying a series of technical advancements and interesting anecdotes that surround the discovery and use of these fibers to clothe the world. Each fiber chapter is divided into easy-to-read sections. It was perfect to pick up and read bit by bit. It transported me from ancient caves and tombs to the British Medieval Court, the Olympic swim pool, and into space. I am still troubled by the chapter on the development of Rayon, which has always been one of my favorite fabrics to sew with. I hope that newer and safer techniques are used now to create such wonderful fabric.
The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postril – 2020
This is also a beautiful book and, in its description, sounded much like The Golden Thread. But on closer inspection, it traces the development of fibers and fabrics as a way to observe the history of civilization. One of the reviews on the back cover says it all: ”A fascinating, surprising and beautifully written history of technology, economics and culture told through the thread of textiles, humanity’s most indispensable artifact” (Matt Ridley). Occasionally I got lost in the authors expert knowledge of such inventions as the jacquard loom and the chemistry of fabric dying, but all in all a very illuminating look at how making fabric connected all the ends of the earth.
Threads of Life by Clare Hunter – 2019
I took a non-fiction break for a few months before I read this book and that was a wise choice. The first two books were authored by journalists with an interest in fabric. This book was written by an art therapist who uses textiles as a medium in her work. The book is part historic exploration, part memoir about the creation of art using needlework and textiles. She explores how they have been used to heal, inspire and empower individuals, communities, political movements and more. It too uses examples from across the centuries and around the globe to illustrate her thesis. The Scottish author draws upon the very rich needlework traditions of the British Isles to ground the book.
I was so inspired that I signed up for a virtual needle art class through TextileArtists.org, another British source for artful needlework inspiration. This book also has informed the organization of the Layering, A Trending Technique class I am teaching for ASG on July 11. Be sure to visit their website to sign up and join me in this conversation.
The Time In Between – Maria Duenas – 2009
The fiction break I took was to reread a wonderful novel about a custom dressmaker during the Spanish Civil War. It is an engrossing story about the empowering nature of creating beautiful clothing in difficult times. Part spy novel, love story, and coming of age saga, it is a wonderfully entertaining read.
Circling around to an old favorite, the three non-fiction books all mention the masterful 1994 book Women’s Work by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. An archaeologists look at the history of fabric making. I highly recommend it as well.
I continue to be inspired by and feel connected to women throughout history who have worked with fiber in their hands as you and I do today. What a rich history we share and all these books were gentle reminders of that heritage.
Have you read anything interesting lately about fabrics or sewing techniques? Please share other titles you have enjoyed reading; my book shelf is now empty!
Happy Sewing and Reading, RAE