Textile Stories 1: Manton De Manila
Originally published in the artist book Generation, which accompanied photographic reliefs of these textiles
A garment designed for movement in an era when women’s mobility was limited by everything from their clothing to their class. It is said that the women of Spain requested the fringe, and then demanded that it be longer and longer still… so that it would sway and ripple with each shift of their bodies, amplifying their movements. The shawls came from the East via the Manila Galleons, the Spanish trading ships that for 300 years, beginning in 1565, brought the material world of “the Orient” to Europe. The silk was farmed, woven and embroidered in China with images of frogs, fish and cranes. The shawls traveled from Canton, China to the Port of Manila, crossed the feral Pacific to Acapulco, were carried across Mexico to the Atlantic Coast, and then shipped to Seville (accompanied by the Navy to fend off pirates). But the symbols of frogs and fish were lost in translation. The women of Spain wanted blooming roses and songbirds and fringe so long that it fell like hair down their backs. The market spoke, and the Manton de Manila was born—a shawl which only ever passed through Manila, despite the name’s implications.
Movement. From one continent to another, from the upper-class ladies to the Flamenco dancers and the Romani caravans all across Europe. Eventually it adorned the pianos of anyone who could afford one. The knotted fringe, which lives much longer than the body of the shawl, was often torn from the fragile silk to be reused, stitched anew to scarves and dresses as fashions changed. Somewhere in this migration, the shawl’s swirling fringe became a symbol of bohemian abandon. So that by the era of my childhood it was draped over every mantel or curtain-less window in every hippy home in California, and Stevie Nicks was dancing, spinning her web, with fringe flying around her like a storm.