GW Textile Museum

My super amazing girlfriend reminded me to take a context photo.

I noticed this place when I went out to lunch with a former boss on the day that we saw Doug Emhoff. It is GW University’s Textile Museum! I am a fan of textiles, my super amazing girlfriend is a super amazing fan of textiles, so when we discovered there was a whole museum dedicated to textiles, we had to go! Unfortunately, it isn’t open on weekends. But fortunately due to my many long years of naval service, this great country of ours gave us a day off to celebrate the day that was 14 days before the first World War ended. So we went to the textile museum!

The textile museum was really good! I knew it was going to be good when we walked in and the guard explained to us that they “have a lot of textiles.” He then immediately recommended that we descend into the basement to let our textile journey begin. Down in the basement is I think their special exhibits space, and they had going a display where contemporary textile artists were taking inspiration from some older textiles to design new clothes and the like. It was pretty neat! Even neater though was the section in the basement they had that showed you how various textiles were made. They had a good chunk of hands-on things in this part of the museum. I liked the exhibit in the photo above, where you could touch both the raw materials that textiles were made of and then the finished fibers on the bottom. Pretty neat to see how various bits of trees, animals, or cocoons get turned into the comfy shirts we all know and love.

They also had a cabinet full of various textile samples, as is being demonstrated by my super amazing girlfriend in the photo above. That was neat to be able to put hands on all the stuff! So all in all a very cool part of the museum that at first glance I thought was going to be mostly for kids.

With the basement exhausted, we got in the elevator to skip over the ground floor and go up to the second floor, where the majority of the textile collection begins in earnest. It is quite the range of textiles from all over the world and from a huge wide range of time periods. If you wanna look at some textiles, do you have the right place for sure.

The two above textile examples are both from the Kuba people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and both from the mid or early 20th century. On the left is a Tcaka, which as the parenthetical on the plaque noted is a ceremonial dance skirt. On the right is a “royal belt or girdle.” Hard to tell from my tiny picture but it features shells from both the Atlantic and Indian oceans, meant to display the breadth of the chief’s control. So that is pretty neat, and a good example of how the museum certainly doesn’t take a narrow view of what a textile is.

Speaking of which I was pretty stunned to get up close to the piece right in the photo above, which at first I thought was contemporary art but turns out to be a 500 year old Incan khipu! I didn’t think I was going to see one of those up close anytime soon, and here they have it right on the wall. It is well documented on this blog that I like old stuff, and this museum had a lot of old stuff, with textiles thousands of years old. Besides the khipu, they had a notable collection on display of Incan and Inca-era textiles, and it was just stunning how fine those textiles were. If you want to see some old fabric from just about everywhere, this is the place to go.

Side by side with the ancient textiles they also had a huge range of contemporary textiles and textile art. It really let you see how this cultural technology spans the whole era of human civilization. I took an absolutely terrible picture of it, but my favorite art piece in the place I think was “Attitude” by Lia Cook, which you can see on the museum website here and her website here. It is a lot cooler to see in person because due to both the way she creates the image on the fabric, and the texture of the fabric itself, it has a very cool 3D effect that is fantastic to see when you can navigate your head around the piece.

One piece I did get an okay photo of is the below one, which is “Waterscape VI” by Shihoko Fukumoto, and is apparently “indigo dyed, hand woven linen and paper plain weave.” Like the Lia Cook piece, due to the texture of the textiles I think you really gotta see all these pieces in person to get the sense of how they are constructed, especially in the below example to get a sense of lighly the “waterfall” threads are woven in there to give a sense of how water flows in real life. It’s really great!

After getting our fill of textiles, we swung by the museum shop where you can buy, uh, textiles. And also some books on textiles. It is a very nice little shop! We didn’t get anything, but only because we have enough throw pillow covers for now I think. It is not a huge museum but it does have a fantastic collection of textiles defined very broadly, and the range of objects and the way they display them all together really makes you think about much of a throughline this technology has been to people everywhere. Check it out if you can!