Last week we toured the Middle East and North Africa and saw all the textiles named after locales of that area.
India became a major source of textiles in the 17th century, and was an important source for fabric for the next 200 years. Not surprisingly, many fabrics are named after places in India.
I’m sure that in many cases the naming process went like this:
European trader (pantomimes “What do you call that fabric?”)
Local “It is made in Kozhikode”
European “Ah, we will call it Calico”
Local “Whatever, you are dumb”
Notable examples are:
Kashmir, which (of course) gave us cashmere from the wonderful goats that live in the mountains around the Vale of Kashmir.
The Vale of Kashmir - elaborate houseboats on Walur Lake add to the fairy tale
Detail of a waistcoat made from a cashmere shawl, ca 1785, V&A Museum
Machilipatnam in Eastern India was known as Maisolos and Masalia to the Romans, and (according to one theory at least, see the fabric tour of the middle east for the other) from these names comes the word muslin.
Machilipatnam beach on the Coromandel coast of India
Detail of the net lace trim on a muslin robe a la francaise, 1775-1780, France, V&A Museum
Kozhikode, Kerala, India was known as Calicut, and gives us calico. (note, Calicut is not the same city as Calcutta, they are in totally different parts of India!)
If this is Kozhikode, take me there now!
'Surfing beauties' dress fabric from the Calico Printers Association, Manchester, UK. Roll printing on cotton calico, 1937, V&A Museum
Madapollam, Narsapur, West Godavari, was the site of a factory where madapolan, a type of soft calico with equal stretch along the warp and weft, was made.
The railway at Narsapur. Madapollam is a tiny village nearby.
The De Havilland 'mosquito', which was covered in madapolam
Similarly, jaconet, a fine cotton with a glazed finish, is also named after the Indian village of where the fabric was made, in this case Jagannath, Puri.
Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa
La Belle Assemblée October 1814 (printed in the September issue) "Morning Walking Dress" of jaconet muslin
Next week I’ll take you to the far east (mostly China), and the one place in all the rest of the world that has managed to have a textile name – and even then it cheats.
Last week we visited Europe, and all the cities and countries and valleys there that gave their names to the fabrics that we wrap ourselves in.
This week let’s head to the Middle East and North Africa, which have been a major trading and production area of cloth for millennia.
There I would visit:
Gaza in Palestine, the fabric centre famous for gauze, which began to be imported into Europe in the 13th century.
I'll happily go just about anywhere that has a nice beach
Historically gauze was made from silk, but today it is usually cotton
Mosul in Iraq, may be the origin of the word muslin. Marco Polo describes the fabric being sold by salesmen known as musolini.
It looks like a beautiful (if smoggy) city. I'd love to visit Iraq and Iran - I hope this becomes possible soon.
White muslin evening dress, 1800-1810, V&A Museum
Damascus, in Syria, was among the first places to create damask in the early Middle Ages, and carried the name with the fabric up into Europe.
I feel uplifted just looking at it.
Silk damask, Italy, ca. 1680 to 1690, V&A Museum
The El-Fustat district of Cairo, Egypt produced a strong fabric of linen and cotton which came to be known as fustian.
Pots, El Fustat, Old Cairo
Block printed fustian, France, 1685-1725, V&A Museum
I could also tour the rest of Egypt to commemorate Egyptian cotton, which is not cotton that is grown in Egypt, but a particularly long-staple cotton, and (rather loosely) the fabric made from it.
Egypt, it's not all about pyramids (though having made it to Egypt it would be inexcusable not to go all the way and see them too!)
You are so soft and fluffy!
After the Middle East, our tour will take us to India, which donated a plethora of names, all of which I will tell you about…next week.
This is this weeks pogey bait:
It’s a ball of carpet fluff. The stuff you get off of a newly cut wool carpet.
No, I’m not kidding. I’m really showing you carpet fluff.
This is special carpet fluff though. It is carpet fluff that is dyed with gold.
Yep. It turns out that if you dissolve gold into miniscule nano sized particles with strong acid it is an excellent dye.
A group of scholars at Victoria University of Wellington are doing groundbreaking research on dyeing with gold.
They can dye wool and silk – anything keratin based because the sulphur particles in keratin form a strong bond with the gold.
In addition to being just flat out cool, dyeing stuff with gold has numerous practical benefits as well.
It is environmentally friendly – the process uses nothing but wool, water, gold and a very small amount of acid. At the end of the process the water has far less chemicals in it than the water coming out of your dishwasher.
Wool dyed with gold is also antibacterial and antimicrobial, and moths can’t live in it. And, unlike items treated with silver, the gold-wool bond extremely strong, so the gold doesn’t wash an wear out.
Finally, gold dyed wool is anti-static, great for cars and airplanes and medical textiles.
And because the gold is broken down into nano particles, it reflects the light in a completely different way, so comes in a whole range of colours, from yellow, to mauve (like my fluff) to blue and grey.
At this point I think the aim is to use gold-dyed wool in high fashion.
You can read more about it here.
I have my own personal dustbunny of gold dyed wool because one of the scientists involved with the project was a guest lecturer in a course I teach. She passed around examples, including a square of carpet covered in the fluff, and I asked to keep the ball of fluff at the end.
I’d better put it in a jar with a label so it doesn’t get mistaken for an ordinary dustbunny!