Mary Schoeser is a leading authority in the field of textiles and is Honorary President of the UK Textile Society. As an adviser on historic textiles and wallpaper, she has worked with organisations such as English Heritage, the National Trust, Liberty in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Mary will be taking part in the Selvedge Textile Literary Festival and has kindly given us a sneak preview of the revised edition of World Textiles that is due out later this year. It aims to capture just how rapidly the world of textile history is changing!
At the very least by 4000–3000 BCE thread-making was a highly-developed craft that in many regions also included the use of a distaff. It might also be inferred that sheep, goat and camelid fibres are by 3000 BCE already widely recognized for their warmth, porosity and elasticity, and the finest of bast and cotton fibres for their coolness and comfort next to the skin.
What can be said with certainty is that by the later Neolithic period a complex range of materials, fibres and related technologies were in use. Nevertheless, there is still no entirely cohesive picture of the state of development, and each new find changes the outline sketch.
For example, until 1995 finds dated 7160–6150 BCE from the Hemel Cave in the Judean desert, Palestine, including rope, netting, mats, yarns spun and plied mainly from flax, and plain (tabby) woven cloths, one dyed blue and decorated with beads and shells, were thought to be preceded only by the impressions of cloth found at Jarmo. Current textile archaeology is an expanding field, enhanced by ever-more advanced microscopy, spectroscopy, histochemistry, archaeobotany, zooarchaeology and DNA analysis.
The exciting discovery of an intact 10,500-year-old basket, found early in 2021 at Muraba’at Cave in the Judean Desert was eclipsed only months later by the discovery in Kenya of a burial some 78,000 years old, containing a child whose skeleton indicated that the upper body was wrapped in a perishable shroud and the head supported by a now-vanished pillow. This evidence suggests a pre-historic symbiosis between the manipulation of materials and early human ritual behaviours.
Thus, current knowledge of the Stone Age can only hint at the sophisticated textile traditions that were bequeathed to the Bronze and Iron Ages, and that continued to define many nomadic and tribal peoples into our own time.
Excerpt from the revised edition of World Textiles, written by Mary Schoeser.
We're delighted that Mary will be taking part in the Selvedge Textile Literary Festival on Saturday 2 April. She will give a quick overview of a career that for over 30 years has been as a freelance historian, specialising in textiles and wallpapers. Her focus is on how she came somewhat accidentally to have written so many books - as well as curating over 40 exhibitions. Her hope is that some viewers will be inspired to follow the opportunities that life offers no matter how diverse these are.
Book your tickets and find out more here: