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Better with Age

Written on February 5, 2010

It seems with folk art–or with certain old textiles–it’s not just its age that burnishes the piece with a rich luster, it’s also the wear to the piece by its former owners or its maker that lends it character.  It’s this warmth from human contact that endows a piece its soulfulness.SquareRalliBlog1Today I am showing a piece that exemplifies this idea.  It’s a Pakistani ralli, it measures 27″ x 26″/ 68.5 cm x 66 cm, it most likely dates to mid-last-century, and it’s probably a sitting mat.  It is stitched together from old, cotton cloth which has been layered and secured with many tight rows of running stitches.  The face of the cloth, seen in the fifth photo below, shows applique and some fancy embroidery work.SquareRalliBlog1aFor me, the beauty of this piece is in its abrasion and fading,  both qualities working in concert and leaving behind some kind of  strange and beautiful delicacy.SquareRalliBlog1cYears and years of soft and steady wear have created a kind of translucency to these layers that is inimitable.SquareRalliBlog1d

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SquareRalliBlog1gNotice how the fancy embroidery stitches remain very much intact as the cloth around them has sloughed off over time.  It’s almost like we are seeing soft, geometric fossils.SquareRalliBlog1h

SquareRalliBlog1iThe color palette we see here today was never meant to be seen: how could the maker know that in fifty years time the cloth would reveal its layers in a tight spectrum of pale hues?  What we see today is not what she saw when she stitched and composed this ralli.SquareRalliBlog1k

SquareRalliBlog1lI can’t imagine that this piece looked better when it was new.  I am sure that the many hands that touched this piece and the flow of decades that have nourished it have elevated this piece from a simple sitting mat to a textile eloquent in subtlety and resonant with new beauty.SquareRalliBlog1m

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11 Comments

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  1. Comment by leilani:

    This is truly one of the most beautiful textile pieces I have ever seen. The composition is perfect and to think, it all happened serendipitously. How wonderful!
    Thanks for posting and sharing. A lovely way to start my day.

    February 5, 2010 @ 8:23 am

  2. Comment by Chesley:

    This is so very beautiful, it brings to mind raw burled wood and somehow the low color contrast is making me think of Mamluk carpets, this ralli is just as rich looking.
    As always,
    Thank You!!!!!!!

    February 5, 2010 @ 8:52 am

  3. Comment by Jean:

    Thank you for sharing this piece. It is truly beautiful. Takes my breath away.

    February 5, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

  4. Comment by Edith:

    I have discovered your site recently and it is enriching my life.
    The photographs today brought tears to my eyes. I have always
    loved old fabric and old paper and your photos are some of the
    most beautiful I have seen. Thank you.

    February 5, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

  5. Comment by shane:

    hi stephen… this is so beautiful. thank you.

    February 6, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

  6. Comment by annalisa:

    That is so beautiful. It reminds me very much of the patterns that are created by erosion on stones or wear on wood, I really wonder what the maker would think if they saw it now?

    February 8, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

  7. Comment by Eliza:

    Tremendous. It’s like sedimentary cloth.

    February 10, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

  8. Comment by Lindsey anderson:

    absolutley breathtaking so much life in every inch .. love your collection must make it in to see your studio sometime

    February 13, 2010 @ 11:58 am

  9. Comment by Victoria:

    I am fascinated by things old and worn, and this is truly one of the most beautiful textiles I have ever seen… if only it could speak, the stories it must hold. Thank you for sharing it.

    February 14, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

  10. Comment by Sharon:

    Hi I would just like to say I love your photos, the ralli has worn in a similar way to many old Durham quilts which I have seen.

    February 15, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  11. Comment by Eva:

    When I bought an old kelim in Turkey, my mother-in-law had no understanding whatsoever that I bought that old, moth-eaten stuff. Possibly, the seller of these felt the same. Well, we see these things in a different light!

    November 15, 2010 @ 1:15 am