Wearable Words: text and fabric


Signs, letters, words and fabric were closely linked during centuries. Remarkably, it was fabric which served as a medium of conveying textual messages and statements-long before paper or even papyrus turned popular.


Apparently, Chinese ancient civilization of 5th-3rd centuries BCE  was the pioneer of employing fabric, silk in particular, for the aims of communication and conveying important information. Among texts being placed on fabric were verses, legislative acts, philosophical treatises and most frequently- religious postulates. Indeed, silk both expensive and transportable and thin was a perfect medium for placing statements of  the great importance. Being a precious thing itself, silk emphasized perfectly the huge importance of the words which it featured on its surface.


 Islamic countries also adopted the tradition of placing textual elements of fabric. Religious treatises and postulates was a predominant content of such ‘ wearable media’. Its worth mentioning that Arabic craftsmen reached the highest levels of expertise and refinement in production of highly appraised and exquisite pieces of textile.  Such material objects being both intricately adorned and cunningly braided are now among the most valuable parts of museum collections.


In Europe fabrics adorned with embroidered elements including words and even verses had turned popular and highly expensive by the beginning of the Medieval era. But it was not until 16th century that printed fabrics began being wide-spread and well-known outside the field of the sacral and religious usage.

by Tieriekhova Masha


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