by Virginia Postrel
Virginia Postrel writes here a sweeping overview of all aspects of textile production, something I understand normal people seldom think about.
It’s a unique book in that Postrel barely inserts herself into the story at all – no “My Year of Trying to Learn Spinning, Weaving, and Other Fabricky Things” this. She might begin a chapter or section describing her attendance at some textile-related class, or getting food poisoning in India while researching some dye method, but then poof – it is quickly no longer about her at all. Refreshing!
Not that I wouldn’t want to hear about Postrel. Long ago I enjoyed a book of hers called THE FUTURE & ITS ENEMIES, and I used to read REASON magazine when she was editor. I listened to an interview with her promoting this book a short time ago. She learned to weave & spin, too, as part of her research. She was fun to listen to.
But the book jumps all over. The chapters are: Fiber, Thread, Cloth, Dye, Traders, & Consumers; and within the chapters themselves she also does a lot of jumping. I would have preferred more depth and more narrative arc, somehow.
My favorite chapter was “Dye.” I love this observation: “‘Any weed can be a dye,’ fifteenth-century Florentine dyers used to say. But that’s only if you want yellows, browns, or grays…” Ha! That’s always my complaint about natural dyeing with things you can find in Vermont: all I ever got was yellow.
And her dye class in India: “Rinse and dump, rinse and dump – tub after tub of water gets hurled into the yard. To my drought-trained Angeleno eyes, it seems like a disturbingly thirsty process.” I’ve often thought how different my hobbies might be if I lived out west – the washing and the dyeing of fiber uses tubs full of water. Happily, I live in a place that dumps snow during the winter in ample amounts that I feel perfectly happy pulling all the water I like out of our well all summer long.
It also seemed to me that the book was a bit Eurocentric. I wished there had been an exploration of how they made calico in India – instead, all that’s discussed is how it changed fashions and spurred competing industries in Europe.
There are copious pictures and a beautiful cover. I would recommend jumping around as the interest takes you. ( )
Did you stay home today? 100%
What local business or charity did you support? None yet – I’d better get on it
What’s for dinner? Pasta, nature’s most perfect food