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Selvedge Magazine | Issue 90

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September / October 2019 

Issue 90 West - Textiles on the wild side

WORDS BY Polly Leonard Founder of Selvedge Magazine

"‘Go West, young man’ is a phrase often credited to the American author and newspaper editor Horace Greeley concerning America's expansion westward. No one has yet proven who first used this phrase in print, but it certainly captures the independent, free thinking, adventurous lives of Heidi Bjørnsdotter Thorvik from Norway, and Nicola Kilmartin in the Falkland Islands. They share a desire to create beauty from meagre, locally available natural resources, and their spirit is admirable. Unfortunately, a hunger for wealth and adventure has historically resulted in a disregard for indiginous peoples. However, during the last century we witnessed growing engagement with the value of indiginous cultures. Initial attempts to bring such works to public attention had mixed results, despite the beauty of what had been created. This was the case with the remarkable printed textiles produced in the 1950-60s at the Kinngait Studios, on Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada. More recently, we have seen the adaptation of the Cowichan sweater and their confirmation as national symbol when worn by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. There has also been a heartening increase of appreciation of Coast Salish weaving by museums, as well as interest in the contemporary work of former professional snow boarder and Kwakwaka’wakw Meghann O’Brien. Perhaps the most gratifying examples of cultural heritage are those that are alive and well today, such as the handknit gloves from Sanquhar Dumfries and Galloway, or the Irish aran sweater, that have travelled the world and gained favour with Hollywood stars and the political elite. We also turn to societies with an ingrained respect for their material history such as Samurai warriors, and the Ainu people of Northern Japan with their beautiful graphic robes. Finally, in this issue we explore the needle as a narrative tool, telling the story of the Glasgow Girls, Ireland’s Ros tapestry, and the camaraderie of stitching in Tracey Chevalier’s new novel A Single Thread."


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