Tribal Repairs

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Posted by Marla Mallett on April 15, 1999 at 08:28:54:

Marvin and others,

The question of whether to "restore" or just "conserve" that was touched on at the beginning of this discussion takes on a slightly different meaning when we deal with tribal flatweaves. I often must decide what to do about crude tribal "repairs." Even in Asia, pile rugs have normally been restored by city folks in repair shops quite removed from both the place and time of the rugs' manufacture, but flatweaves made for use within a nomadic environment were often patched up and holes stitched together quickly by the same folks who made the objects. Thus the indigineous repairs on an old Anatolian ala cuval, for example, are an intimate part of that storage sack's ethnographic history. Sometimes these tribal pieces have been patched with fabrics from old garments, sometimes even old wool socks. Other times holes have been crocheted shut in a circular pattern. (I've shown an example of this on my web site:

The attitudes of nomadic weavers which condone such crude work on exquisite weavings were hard for me to understand until a few years ago when my friend Josephine Powell put the matter into perspective: Knowing that I sew many of my own clothes, Josephine asked what I'd do when I ripped a hole in one knee of my best wool gaberdine pants. Would I "reweave" that fabric, or just make a new pair and perhaps patch the torn pants in some simple way and use them for gardening or cleaning out the basement? Likewise, it made sense for a weaver to extend the useful life of those intricately decorated storage sacks in the easiest way possible, but not to fuss over them if she could make replacements for display. Josephine insists that this attitude has prevailed among the Turkoman weavers she refers to as "my ladies." I've found the same.

It's not always possible to acquire such pieces in "original condition," but when they do appear, if we value them as ethnographic objects, shouldn't we accept all aspects of their history? Patches, scars and all?

My attitudes on this question seem to be slowly changing--partly, I must admit, as my stacks of textiles that need some work are growing. I'm wanting to do less and less before offering them for sale! And the chances of finding old saddlebags, storage sacks, covers, and other utilitarian objects in mint condition are decreasing daily.

Any thoughts on this subject?


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