- Authors: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood
- Photographer: Various
- Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format & layout:
- 214 x 279 x 48 mm (8.4″ x 11″ x 1.9”)
- 704 pages
- ISBN 978-0857853974
- Text and images on a white background
Photos, Illustrations & Diagrams:
As any good encyclopaedia should, this book contains many photos, illustrations, maps and diagrams. Images are mostly in colour, but a few historical photos are in black and white. Most images are informational and technical showing textiles and garments either in full or partial details.
I love a good map, and this book contains several. The textiles discussed here are all related to place and culture, making maps an essential tool in ‘putting them in their place’ and anchoring the text.
The author included many diagrams, stitch layouts and sketches to explain and analyse the embroideries from different regions. They are simple, clear, easy to read and a great addition to the book.
This is an encyclopaedia in the full meaning of the word. It is a reference book, but instead of being academic and dry, it is rich, informative, accessible and readable.
As the author explains: “The original intension was to produce an academic study. However, it soon became clear that an in-depth study for a much wider audience was needed. It was decided to look at the concept of embroidery from various angles, including types, techniques, uses, regional styles, as well as historical, social and economic contexts. It places embroidery in the widest sense of the word, into the broader context of the general cultural life of North Africa and the Middle East, rather than being a ‘how-to’ book or a book about the social or economic role of embroidery in a specific period or associated with a particular group. Little did we know what the ‘simple’ decision would entail.”
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood is the director of the Textile Research Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands. She is a textile archaeologist with many years’ experience – both practical and academic – in the Arab region working with textiles from these cultures. She is assisted by contributors Widad Kawar, Layla Pio, Caroline Stone and others who are all specialists in their fields and powerhouses of knowledge and expertise in their respective culture’s textiles.
in 2017 it won the international and prestigious award, the Dartmouth Medal (American Library Association), which put the academic study of Arab textiles and more specifically embroidery on the academic map.
This is not lightweight reading. But neither is it a textbook or a highbrow academic work. This book is relatable, practical, easy to read and packed with information.
The book is divided into four sections.
- Background information. Setting the scene, this section gives a brief introduction to the people, their influences, the materials and equipment, techniques and their use of colour and design.
- Embroideries from Archaeological and Historical sources: This section look at textile discoveries and artefacts coming from Egyptian tombs, Mesopotamia, the Levant, the Byzantine empire, the Ottoman era, and other ancient civilisations in this region.
- Regional embroidery from North Africa and the Middle East. This section makes up the bulk of the book and contains 27 chapters looking at historical and modern embroidery from different regions and cultures within the wider Arab world.
- The last section contains appendices (including comprehensive stitch diagrams), bibliographies, glossaries, and an index.
Each chapter is richly illustrated with photos, diagrams, illustrations and maps. The text is written in easy to read language and divided into short chapters with subheadings.
At the end of each chapter, there is a list of suggested follow up reading. The author makes it clear that the book is not meant to be read in a linear fashion. It is meant to be browsed. The reader is encouraged to jump around between chapters, following different threads of interest, whether it is a time period, a culture, stitch types or historical timelines.
Conclusion – My experience and opinion of the book:
My first impression of the book was its physical presence. This is a heavy book with almost biblical proportions. Just holding it, you can feel the impact of this book. It is more than just a book, it is a portal to another world.
My second impression of the book was how accessible it is. It is well laid out, easy to navigate, and easy to read. It is filled with facts, but these facts are presented in a personal and understandable way. You can feel the author’s obvious interest and delight in the subject matter, her genuine interest in, not only embroidery but in sharing her knowledge and love of the subject with the reader. It has a lightness about it – like a thread.
My third impression was how colourful and visually pleasing the book is. Books with lots of history tend to be drab and boring, with poor quality black and white images. This is not true of this book. The images are bright, good quality and very informative. And, my personal favourite – it has good maps. I love a good map. I want to know where I am when I read about cultures, people, history, and place.
Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World reminds me of a finely embroidered tapestry. Made up of different strands of fine fibre, each meticulously spun, coloured and threaded. Each one from a different place, representing a different story. Woven together, worked one on top of the other in intricate stitches, they create a tapestry, a stitched story. The finished product is heavy. Heavy from the sheer weight of the fibre, but also heavy with history, with culture, with effort and love.
This is not just a book. It is a legacy.
Get your copy here.