Posted by Marla Mallett on 08-29-2007 01:22 PM:

A few divergent thoughts

Hi Folks,

How much fun this peek into everyone’s rooms has been! Many thanks for sharing pics of your personal surroundings. I wish my place was in good shape, so I could post some photos too. It’s lots easier to just talk about it than to clean up the place. As a dealer, having bought and sold hundreds of kilims, bags, and textiles over 30 years’ time, my perspective seems quite different from that of my collector friends, my house much less “respectable” than most of yours. Our place has three quite separate spheres: a second floor attic “gallery” functions now mainly as a storeroom for my business inventory, the large daylight basement is a weaving studio/repair shop/photo studio/office, while our main floor living quarters are sandwiched in between—sort of an afterthought.

It’s a cardinal rule that dealers should not be collectors. Otherwise, one’s clients assume that they will only be offered leftover, second-rate pieces. Well, no problem! For years I operated a business on such a short shoestring that keeping the priciest items was never an option. It was indeed difficult to part with the best finds, however, and my customers gradually learned to dig to the bottoms of my piles to see what was hidden. Meanwhile, instead of a “collection.,” the textiles displayed in my house were a strange assortment of pieces for which I had odd attachments. They were unexpected “breakthrough” finds or mysterious things I couldn’t identify, they represented new aesthetic insights, they were mementos of quirky research projects or adventures, or they were gifts. Not many prime pieces, and they crossed all categories. The compulsion to KEEP the best from each major buying trip to Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and later Laos and Thailand, was truly difficult to deal with; for years I allowed myself ONE personal piece from each trip—not easy with around 150 to 300 pieces to choose from each time. So I soon changed the rules: I could keep TWO items, but only IF I deposed something from my walls and returned it to the business inventory. I conveniently neglected to include in my “rules” any objects that I acquired in other ways. Thus although I have had a constantly changing gallery/business inventory for 30 years, the emotional attachments to many of the textiles on my own walls means that they have stayed in place forever. I rarely “rotate” anything…just every now and then I decide that it’s silly to keep trunks stuffed full of personal favorites that there’s no room to hang, and I plunk two or three of those items back into the inventory.

I’ve sometimes bought and kept pieces for personal use that I would NEVER offer for sale. Both a favorite bedroom Kuba flea market rug purchase from 25 years ago and an Afshar kilim hall runner are “cut and shut” pieces (rugs on which surgery has been performed to remove damaged center sections). I can only giggle when visitors see these and grumble that “you of course keep the best things for yourself!” Since seeing inordinate wear on good Turkmen ensis caused by my son’s Tonka trucks when he was little, I’ve put humdrum, uninspired but sturdy pieces on the floor where there’s heavy traffic. My little Hamadan “mud rug” by the front door has been serving the same function for 35 years; it unfortunately won’t wear out. A nice enough long Karabagh rug on my basement studio floor has gotten far too much wear, but having it there is essential to my daily feelings of well-being and I haven’t come up with a suitable substitute—something that I can enjoy looking at daily but can tolerate wearing out. I perhaps should feel guilty, but I don’t. Someone is destined to “use up” that rug some day and it might as well be me. Heresy? This brings up the question of whether we should keep our things put away and “saved” for future generations (who might not appreciate them at all), or use them to enhance our own daily lives and those of our families and friends. I can’t justify abusing any textiles, but I think people who truly love them should use them—with care. That’s what the best pieces were made for.

I don’t “decorate”, but I do enjoy contrasting dissimilar pieces—putting fancy, ornate Chinese embroideries or Japanese brocades alongside bold Turkish or Caucasian tapestry, brocade or soumak bag faces, primitive African Kuba cloths and Indonesian beadwork—finding unexpected connections between them. Textiles occupy most of the spaces in my house, but I try to give each some breathing room. I like grouping things, but thoroughly dislike seeing rugs or textiles hung edge to edge (even in dealers’ shops). My prime textile spot is the studio wall behind my computer, since pieces there get studied the most intently. Each small bathroom has it’s collection of favorites that benefit from contemplation. Over a second desk I have a collection of 50 or 60 tiny embroidered and woven purses—examples from all over the world. I love the cross-cultural similarities, contrasts, and constant reminders that creating beautiful objects is such a basic human compulsion and talent everywhere—no matter the style, no matter whether primitive or refined. In our dining room, I enjoy having small, intricate Coptic textiles alongside favorite Anatolian bags and kilims. Slit-tapestry, for me, is the premier structure/technique for woven fiber expressions, and these pieces, along with Pre-Columbian Peruvian tapestry, are high points in world textile history. I am fascinated by early European needle and bobbin laces, and have favorite pieces mounted and hanging alongside primitive kilims and Miao or Zhuang appliquéd and embroidered baby carriers. I like, best of all, having favorite small personal textiles interspersed among my yarns, repair tables, and looms where they seem to lighten the work load—little things stuck here and there in probably what others might see as totally random fashion. For years a favorite Qashqai bag face has hung over the wet-cleaning trays in my studio sinks; those cleaning jobs would be much less pleasant if that fanciful bagface were moved to a more “appropriate” location. A Tuareg woven and appliquéd leather bag and Chinese child’s tiny embroidered boots/pants hang right now from a rack of Paternayan and Appleton repair yarns. A ferocious but silly Chinese child’s tiger hat is ensconced on one yarn shelf, much as our grotesque “kiln god” overlooked activities from his perch atop the kiln in my pottery-making days. I guess we all have our ritualistic peculiarities. For me, integrating all these things with a smattering of 16th and 17th century furniture with amazing craftsmanship and audacious designing is pure delight (mostly objects that are sculptures to admire rather than practical furniture…we have a serious deficiency there…). To hell with “decorating.” I’ve always found any person’s house fascinating if it speaks of his or her personal interests. I much prefer an individual’s chaos to any bland, formulaic decorator’s showroom. Although for 30 years many of my clients have been interior designers, I really think they don’t belong in people’s houses, choosing the objects that individuals live with daily. I’d much rather see those folks concentrate on furnishing posh offices, restaurants and public buildings.

Since most of my visitors over the years have been artist friends, collectors, or textile customers, I’ve rarely gotten comments concerning my eccentricities. Visitors have thought it peculiar, however, that during the 20 or so years when I was doing intensive studio weaving, I NEVER hung any of my own wall hangings in our living quarters. They stayed in the studio between exhibitions. After struggling for hours with aesthetic and technical problems, it was usually a relief to LEAVE those problems in the studio, and not have to revisit them in the living room or dining room during hours of relaxation. My spasmodic “collecting” initially began—in 1960—when I started converting the proceeds of my weaving sales or commissions to antique or ethnographic textiles. It was tremendously rewarding to exchange my labor-intensive products for those of women from other parts of the world—instead of buying groceries with those dollars. It sounds hokey, but these ties were then strengthened when I began visiting nomad and village weavers in Anatolia—researching some of their technical methods, discussing attitudes toward their work, talking about their aesthetic values and what motivated their work. How I love having weavings from their cultures in my house. “Decorating” with these things? I have often had to help clients find pieces that fit nicely into their rooms, but for me, personally, NO. I don’t choose personal pieces based on where they fit or what they match. I want to present each object with proper respect, surrounded by compatible pieces, but I really don’t care whether anyone else approves of my house or not.

With thanks, and best wishes,


Posted by Janet Tyson on 08-29-2007 08:28 PM:

Your description of how you live with textiles was a pure pleasure to read. Thank you so much for sharing.

Posted by Marty Grove on 08-30-2007 10:15 AM:

Just the thing -

Thanks Marla; your evocation of your 'spaces' leads my thoughts to another wonderful exponent of similar weavings who recently passed along her work, Josephine.

Reading your passages is so very satisfying and somehow echoes much of what most of us here feel about our interests in the world of weaving.


Posted by doug klingensmith on 08-30-2007 11:38 AM:


Marla- Please just a picture or two- your prowess with a digital camera is second to none, and your descriptions are tantalizing.
Dont be cruel...
best regards, d.k.

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-30-2007 11:46 AM:

Hear, hear!

Copyright © Jelsoft Enterprises Limited 2000, 2001.