Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


An eighteenth-century book of woven samples can be considered as a seminal link between the production of raw materials in one cultural context and clothing or furnishing in another. In bringing images of such samples from Norwich to Hawaii for a twenty-first century conference on Textiles as Cultural Expressions I am also conscious of mapping an openended dialogue which engages the historical and the contemporary. This perspective is recognized by anthropologist Arjun Appadurai when he says that ‘from a methodological point of view it is the things-in-motion that illuminate their human and social context.

Thus, although consideration of books and cards of samples from late eighteenth century Norwich (UK) form the material evidence informing this account, it is the notion of ‘textilein- motion’ that most appropriately highlights textile as cultural agency, enabling a fuller understanding of ways in which textile systems and visual semantics intersect with economic, social, political, technical, linguistic and personal interests. Cultural expression is as pertinent to the historian as it is to the material traces of the history that is studied, and as Appadurai and others demonstrate in The Social Life of Things, textiles are particularly potent as agents and signifiers of cultural formation. Perhaps it is as an agency of formation rather than as ‘expression’ that textile holds greatest sway.