Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


The vocabulary for talking about textiles has always been rich and evocative, but at the same time quite varied based on many different factors, such as the specialties, nationalities, geographic foci, and professions of those involved in textile conversations. Textile artists and practitioners often use different terms than academic textile historians; researchers of European historical textiles use different terms than researchers of ethnographic textiles, who often introduce foreign terms into the discussion; and, even within the English language, North American textile specialists often use different terms than their British counterparts.

This bounty of terms can be exhilarating, but when it comes to tracking a vast, global collection of textiles in a computerized database, it becomes downright impracticable. The Textile Museum in Washington, DC embarked on a project to standardize its cataloging in its collections management software in 1998. Supported by a grant from the Cotsen Family Foundation, we set out to maximize the value of our collections database as a tool for providing access to our collections to as wide a range of our constituents as possible.

The Textile Museum houses one of the most extensive and important collections of textiles in the world. Almost 17,000 textiles span the globe culturally and geographically, and range temporally from 3000 BCE to the present. Each of these textiles is represented in the Museum’s database, but we quickly found that tracking these textiles was no easy feat, due to the lack of a unified vocabulary that would cover the full range of our collections.