CTR in Jordan – University of Copenhagen

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In March 2014 a workshop was held at the Museum of Jordan in Amman, Jordan, to discuss and debate the questions which surround the roles of traditional textile crafts in the twenty-first century world. Scholars, practitioners and craftspeople from across the globe met to exchange ideas and learn from each other.

The workshop brought together archaeologists, anthropologists, artists, designers, heritage workers, conservators, business enterprise advocates and craftspeople to examine and better understand the varied approaches, uses, theoretical frameworks and the practical realities of craft creativity, labour and organisation.

The participants discussed the use of traditional textile crafts across time and space enabling exchange of knowledge and insights into the range of agendas which surround traditional textile craft and heritage frameworks.
While the workshop was focused on particular aspects of tangiblity and intangibility, two related issues ran as underlying themes: the interaction between the past and the present and the need for open and continued dialogue between the different interest groups.

Those who study textiles and textile production in the past gain knowledge and insight from traditional techniques practised in the present; and an understanding of the history and heritage of traditional craft can provide a framework for evolution in the future. The definition of traditional craft should be as wide as possible, encompassing historic techniques and modern innovations, ways of organising work and creativity, but retaining the sense of handicraft rather than industrial scale production. The four themes of the workshop were as follows:

Theme 1: Definitions of traditional craft-practice and the use of terminology

Today the use of traditional textile craft and design often equates with a high end handcrafted product, encompassing the notion of excellent quality combined with complicated techniques. It embodies time-consuming processes of production (the longer time it takes to make an item, the higher the value) and craft tradition.

On the other hand, a historically traditional design or craft technology can also be perceived as old-fashioned, expensive and conserving the old for its own sake rather than as part of a living, creative dynamic.

Traditional textile design might be considered conservative; textile crafts are often part of the identity of the community, and costume in particular is used to express belonging and exclusivity. The language we use to describe techniques can provide a semantic map of craft skills and evolution. The retention and re-use of traditional terminology and the invention of new terms can be used to track continuity and change. Terminology can also be cross-cultural and used to uncover shared cultural practices from the past.

Theme 2: The relationship of traditional textile craft to modern fashion studies

Today we are conscious of the importance of preserving craft objects and the need to record and retain craft skills for posterity. The tension between craft production, the status of craftspeople and their work, and the need to make a living presents challenges.

In the industrial world, textiles are cheap and mass produced, with the sad consequence that traditional textile craft skill and knowledge are not always valued, and often forgotten. It is time consuming to produce a textile by hand, and such textiles are expensive if labour is fairly prized. The market for such work thus becomes even more restricted with the result that it becomes less advantageous for crafts people to maintain their skills.

As old (traditional) designs go out of fashion, it can be difficult for craftspeople to use traditional techniques to produce new designs. There is a negative circle of cause and effect which results in the diminution of traditional textile craft and a loss of knowledge. This loss is often invisible. However, there is a shift in focus happening, which provides hope: Many designers are now exploiting the potential of traditional craft in their work and revitalizing practices often with very ‘non-traditional’ ends. Together with a concern for zero-waste and for re-cycling, a new dynamic is emerging between traditional crafts and the modern fashion and creative industries.

Theme 3: The use of traditional textile craft and craftsmanship in the interpretation of ancient societies

Textile tools associated with various stages of manufacture often constitute the single most important type of evidence for assessment of the scale of production and technology of the textile industry in the past.

By combining textual, iconographic and archaeological evidence with research on textile technology we have the potential to include textiles and textile production in general archaeological research, even when no actual textiles survive. Understanding living, traditional textile crafts allow us to better investigate the techniques and the textiles produced in the past, and also to understand the powerful, but often invisible, influence of craft on societies.

Theme 4: Preserving traditional textile heritage and making it visible

It is essential to preserve the knowledge and skills that lie behind traditional textile crafts, and to make their social, economic and cultural significance more visible. The workshop discussed ideas for collaboration between different interest groups in order to safeguard traditional crafts and to create new and exciting possibilities for making the intangible tangible.

Textile researchers, museum curators, textile conservators, craftspeople, textile designers and textile collectors, cultural heritage workers, co-operative organisations etc. need to create a platform for the sharing and exchange of ideas and information. We recognize the need for more dialogue that crosses the boundaries of economics, culture, heritage, design, tradition and the simple need to make a living.

CTR especially thanks Her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan for her patronage of the workshop.

Support and collaboration was furthermore received from:

The Jordan Museum, Jordan
University of Leicester, United Kingdom
The Wenner-Gren Foundation, United States
The Department of Antiquities, Jordan
Tiraz Widad Kawar Home for Arab Dress, Jordan
Iraq Al Amir Handicraft Village, Jordan
Bani Hamida Weaving Project, Jordan
The Museum of the Lowest Place in the Earth, Jordan
Safi Weaving Project, Jordan