Milgram, B. Lynne & Roy W. Hamilton: Material Choices

MILGRAM, B. Lynne and Roy W. HAMILTON (2008). Material Choices: Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibers in Asia and the Pacific, Los Angeles: Fowler Museum Textile Series, no. 8. ISBN: 9780974872988, softback, 188 pp., fully illustrated in colour, endnotes, bibliography, index. Price: US$ 19.28.

This book is based on a major exhibition called “Material Choices: Bast and Leaf Fiber Textiles”, which was held at the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, from August to December 2007. The book consists of a series of academic essays about the use of bast (stem) and leaf fibres from a wide range of plants from Asia and the Pacific regions. It quite deliberately does not include bark cloth from the region.

The plants producing bast and leaf fibres described include banana (Musa sp.), hemp (Cannabis sativa), kudzu (Pueraria montana), lemba (Curculigo latifolia), mulberry (Broussonetia sp.), pina (Ananas comosus), ramie (Boehmeria nivea) and wisteria (Wisteria brachybotrys). As will be seen these were, and still are used to produce a wide variety of loom-woven textiles for personal, as well as household use.

The complexity of production techniques, the range of textiles actually created and how they are used are certainly thought provoking and take the (general) reader far past the fibre plants that are commonly associated with European, Middle Eastern and Indian textile traditions (such as cotton, flax, jute and nettle).

The various chapters look in detail at the production of fibres in Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, as well as Micronesia and are written by specialists in the field. The chapters are well illustrated with colour pictures that depict various aspects of the making and use of the relevant textiles.

Recommendation: this book is another example of a book that should be in any serious textile library. It presents a view of textiles, their production and use that will probably be unknown to many readers. It should also make museum curators think about the fibre identification of items already in their collections! The illustrations in the book are well presented and certainly add to the value of the book and its information.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood



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