by Camille Myers Breeze
I am naturally skeptical about small art books, especially when they’re part of a series. However, on a recent trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art bookstore I picked up Looking at Textiles: A Guide to Technical Terms by former MMA textile conservator, Elena Phipps. I made the $18.95 investment largely because of my familiarity with the author and her previous work including The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530-1830.
The compact nature of the book led me to read it before any of the large and shiny volumes I also purchased for our Museum Textile Services library that day. An approachable 95 pages long, Looking at Textiles has a 15-page introduction followed by 72 pages of fabric glossary illustrated with beautiful textiles, historic images, diagrams, and depictions of textiles in other forms of art.
I have read many, many introductions to books about textiles that aim to summarize the complexity and wonder of this medium in a few pages, and Phipps’ is as good as it gets. As the author puts it, “This book is a guide to help answer [questions] through a presentation of the vocabulary and ideas used in examining and describing textiles. Our aim here is not to present the whole story of textiles but to elucidate some basic and important terms that we hope will increase understanding of the materials and techniques used to create them.”
I learned and relearned countless details about fabric structures from this book, aided by the large and colorful illustrations. Anyone who writes about textiles on a daily basis will find the glossary an excellent tool to have on hand to help maintain the accuracy of terms and descriptions. Moreover, Looking at Textiles is an approachable and unintimidating volume for people who are new to textiles. It will now become required reading for everyone in MTS’s Intern Certification program.
This 2011 book is part of the Getty Publications “Looking At” series, which includes other titles such as Looking at Photographs, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, and Looking at European Frames.