Behind the scenes at the The Pitt Rivers textiles collection

I have had an amazing morning with an opportunity to go behind the scenes and see examples from the textiles archive at The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. As part of their ‘textiles in focus’ weekend they have had a number of textile events on over the weekend, with this behind the scenes tour being the most exciting.

The morning was spent exploring their Sheila Paine Collection including a talk by the Joint Head of Collections and curator of Stitch of a Symbol, Julia Nicholson. A fascinating look at textiles ranging from Borneo, Asia to Europe including Slovakia.

Slovak costume 

One of the oldest examples of textiles in the collections. From Peru this piece shows a tribal image with a man holding the head of an enemy!

Stunning woven piece with goat hair tassels wrapped in orchids stems. 

I love the unusual use if materials in this piece. The orchid stems have been used to add such a vivid and precious detail. At first glimpse they look like gold ribbon.

It also included porcelain buttons, see image below. Buttons were an important addition to pieces as these are likely to have been imported which would have made them very valuable.


The loin cloth below was stunning. The black detail is painted on using a mixture of sap and carbon. The red detail is woven into the section of cloth and it is thought that the metal elements may have added weight to save the modesty of the wearer.

Again materials to hand have been adapted to a particular use. Sap and carbon used to great effect. Would probably work as a resist too.

In our modern world too much emphasis is placed on an exact product for a particular job. We often over look simpler solutions.

Overall a really wonderful opportunity to see examples of some historic pieces of textile work.

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