For me, an essential element of the Slow Cloth philosophy is the protection of indigenous textile techniques. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently closed a session of its Committee for Safeguarding the Intangible Heritage by recognizing some magnificent textile arts and crafts. The designated intangible heritages include the following (from the UNESCO press release):
- China - The craftsmanship of Nanjing Yunjin brocade. In the Chinese tradition of weaving Nanjing Yunjin brocade, two craftspeople operate the upper and lower parts of a large, complicated loom to produce textiles incorporating fine materials such as silk, gold and peacock feather yarn.
- China - Sericulture and silk craftsmanship of China. Sericulture and silk craftsmanship of China, based in Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces near Shanghai and Chengdu in Sichuan Province, have an ancient history. Traditionally an important role for women in the economy of rural regions, silk-making encompasses planting mulberry, raising silkworms, unreeling silk, making thread, and designing and weaving fabric.
- China - The traditional handicrafts of making Xuan paper. The unique water quality and mild climate of Jing County in Anhui Province in eastern China are two of the key ingredients in the craft of making Xuan paper that thrives there.
- Croatia - Lacemaking in Croatia. At least three distinct traditions of Lacemaking in Croatia persist today, centred on the towns of Pag on the Adriatic, Lepoglava in northern Croatia and Hvar on the Dalmatian island of the same name.
- Cyprus - Lefkara laces or Lefkaritika. The tradition of lacemaking in the village of Lefkara in southeastern Cyprus dates back to at least the fourteenth century. Influenced by indigenous craft, the embroidery of Venetian courtiers who ruled the country beginning in 1489, and ancient Greek and Byzantine geometric patterns, Lefkara lace is made by hand in designs combining four basic elements: the hemstitch, cut work, satin stitch fillings and needlepoint edgings.
- France - Aubusson tapestry. A centuries-old tradition, the craft of Aubusson tapestry consists of weaving an image using processes practised in Aubusson and a number of other localities in the Creuse region of France.
- Indonesia - Indonesian Batik. The techniques, symbolism and culture surrounding hand-dyed cotton and silk garments known as Indonesian Batik permeate the lives of Indonesians from beginning to end: infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck, and the dead are shrouded in funerary batik.
- Japan - Ojiya-chijimi, Echigo-jofu: techniques of making ramie fabric in Uonuma region, Niigata Prefecture. The high-quality, lightweight patterned textiles made from the ramie plant are ideal for the hot and humid Japanese summer.
- Japan - Sekishu-Banshi: papermaking in the Iwami region of Shimane Prefecture. The unique techniques of Sekishu-Banshi papermaking create the strongest paper produced in Japan. Sekishu-Banshi has long been made in the Iwami region of Shimane Prefecture in western Japan, originally as a side business for local farmers.
The committee also identified the Li textile techniques of China as an intangible heritage in need of urgent preservation:
The designation gives these countries a responsibility to document, preserve and protect the intangible heritage. Indonesia, for example, says it will begin to amass a database of batik patterns and techniques. According to The Jakarta Post, ". . . the validation meant Indonesia now had to work to safeguard and manage batik, the wax-resistant dyeing technique used on textiles." Indonesia celebrated by naming October 2 as a national day of batik.
This is good news for textile artists, scholars, and global explorers (like me!). Safeguarding the intangible heritage is a formal and poetic way of saying that there is value in these techniques; to lose them is to lose something of our collective soul.
Apparently Indonesia was in a bit of a tug-of-war with Malaysia over which country would earn the award for batik; the New York Times story is here. "In June, things had reached the point where Malaysia’s defense minister felt it necessary to declare that, contrary to appearances, the two countries were not on the brink of war."
Yikes. Between the Olympics and batik . . . can't we all just get along? World peace, people.