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A Matter of Life and Death

Macbeth, P (2019) A Matter of Life and Death. Textile, 17 (4). pp. 340-346. ISSN 1475-9756


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© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. The Paracas textile, dating from 300 to 200 BC and held in the British Museum, is one of our earliest examples of socially engaged or socially enacted cloth. It presents us with an insight into ritual, social value, and care at one of the most significant moments of a human life—one’s death. The highly intricate woven and stitched fragments form part of a mummy bundle, a decorative cloth swathed in layer upon layer of cotton fabric. This article will explore three moments in history across a timeline of nearly 2,000 years, beginning with the fragments that remain of the Paracas textile, remnants of an early Peruvian society. It will then move on to explore the patchwork quilts of the North American settlers and conclude with the signature textiles produced by civilian internees in the Far East internment camps in World War II. It will examine the active use of cloth and its ability to punctuate our human lives, drawing on archival sources and oral histories to explore this idea further.

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