Object of the Week

Check back each week to see new objects from our permanent collection!

Week 13: September 10-16, 2017

Links: See this sarape on our collections database; a great article on the history of sarape design from Smithsonian Magazine; and a cute bonus photo of a cat posed with a Mexican sarape (1866-1868) from the Lawrence T. Jones III Texas photography collection, DeGolyer Library, Souther Methodist University.

Sarape, T92.0016

Our Object of the Week is a Mexican sarape – a rectangular blanket worn by men – from the 18th century. Woven wool sarapes evolved as the European looms, wools and textile traditions of 16th century Spanish colonizers met the existing weaving and textile traditions of pre-Hispanic Mexico. In country areas during cold weather, men often wrapped themselves in a woolen sarape which was particularly suited for wearing while riding on horseback. They can also be worn draped over one shoulder and ones with neck-holes can be worn like ponchos.

This sarape is the oldest one in the TMC’s collection. It was made in Saltillo, a centre of sarape production in Mexico, and the rich red colour comes from natural cochineal dye made from carminic acid extracted from the body and eggs of cochineal bugs. The sarape features a diamond at its centre, a very typical design from this region and time period.

We've linked two later sarapes from our collection. This one, with a large circular motif at its centre, was made between 1865-1875 when the design of sarapes was deeply influenced by the European taste of Emperor Maximilian. Sarapes from this period were still hand woven but stray from traditional linear, geometric designs. This striped sarape is from around 1925 when aniline dyes, machine-weaving and even further diversification of design, largely influenced by the American market, changed the appearance of the sarape yet again. These three sarapes are representative of centuries of change in the production and design of Mexican sarapes.

Week 12: September 3-9, 2017

No automatic alt text available.

Image may contain: 2 people, outdoor

Links: See the poncho on our collections database; Canadian photographer, Obder W. Heffer took many photographs of the Mapuche during his time in Chile in the 19th century. THe Museo Historico Nacional in Chile has a large collection of these postcards, featured here.

Poncho, T92.0262

In anticipation of our next exhibition, Tied, Dyed and Woven, our Object of the Week is an ikat poncho from Chile, locally known as a trarikanmakuñ. The poncho was likely invented to wear while on horseback in the early 17th century by the Mapuche people, who live in south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina. The Mapuche are Chile’s largest Indigenous group and live across many geographic zones, including cold and rainy regions where the thick woven wool of the poncho is especially useful because it is warm and rain doesn’t permeate the fabric.
The trarikanmakuñ is the most valued type of poncho because the designs are made using the ikat dye method. They are woven in one piece on an upright loom. Women weave the ponchos for the men in their family as a gift to provide care and protection.

The red colour is symbolic of power connected with blood and vital energy. The main design is the stepped cross which represents stylized ancestor figures. Wearing the poncho during ceremonies can reinforce relationships with their ancestors. Similar variations of this design have been found in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.


Week 11: August 27-September 2, 2017

Links: Click here to see this bag on our collections database; check out some other salt bags from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection.

Salt Bag, T03.1.2


Our object this week is a salt bag from Balochistan. Salt bags were used by tribal nomads to carry rock salt and by shepherds to carry salt as a food supplement for their sheep and goats. Despite the name, the bags are also used to hold fruit and nuts. They are shaped like a geometrical bottle with a large body and narrow mouth to prevent salt from spilling out. This one is quite small, measuring 33 x 21cm. A plaited cord is often attached to a top corner which allows the bag to be hung in a tent for easy access while cooking. Salt bags usually have the same design on both sides and are often decorated with tassels, as seen here. All known weaving techniques are used to produce these bags including plain weave, knotted pile, interlocking and slit tapestry, supplementary weft and weft float.

This Balochi salt bag was made between 1930 and 1950 in the Balochistan region which extends from Afghanistan into Iran and Pakistan. Salt bags are only made in a small area of the world and, as a result, they look very much alike despite the ethnic diversity of the nomads who made them. Textiles of Baluchistan by M.G. Konieczny (1979) is a good resource if you're interested to know more.

Week 10: August 20-26, 2017

Links: Click here to see the sash on our collections database where you can zoom in to see details; Link to François Simard and Louis-Pascal Rousseau's article in Material Culture Review (Vol 59, 2004) [article is in French]; Monique Genest-Leblanc's book Une jolie cinture à flesche (2003) [book is in French]; The Quartier des Art de L'Assomption has an interesting ceinture fléchée tutorial on youtube [the video is in French - skip to 8:00 to see the fingerweaving in action!]; the Canadian Encyclopedia also has an interesting article on ceinture fléchée [available in English and French].

Ceinture Fléchée, T89.0158

Our Object of the Week is a ceinture fléchée, made in L’Assomption, Québec between 1875 and 1925. The history of the development of the ceinture fléchée has been much debated. According to a paper by historians François Simard and Louis-Pascal Rousseau (Material Culture Review, 2004), the origin of the ceinture fléchée lies with the French-Canadians in the late 18th century. The sash was part of the outfit French-Canadian fur traders wore on trading missions; an intricate and beautiful object, it conveyed the power and prestige of the wearer and was amongst the most frequently traded objects. Finger-weaving was used by Indigenous people long before the arrival of Europeans and was essential in the development of the ceinture fléchée, as was the introduction of wool yarn from Europe. The Assomption style ceinture fléchée took form from these influences in the 1840s; the first Indigenous-made ceintures fléchées have been dated to the mid-19th century by Marie-Berthe Guibault-Lanoix. Simard and Rousseau argue that the ceinture fléchée can be seen as an intercultural North American object: a merger of Indigenous and French finger-weaving techniques and materials.

This ceinture fléchée’s dimensions are typical: 20 cm x 2 metres. A sash like this takes between 200 and 400 hours to make.

The ceinture fléchée holds distinct social, cultural and symbolic importance in the Métis, Indigenous and French-Canadian communities. In the past, a sash could also be employed as a functional object: it could be used to tie around a blanket coat for warmth, as a back-belt for labourers, a rope, an emergency bridle and more!

Week 9: August 13-19, 2017

Links: Click here to see the bag in our online collections database where you can see alternate views and zoom in to see details; see Ishiuchi Miyako's stunning 2015 photographs of Kahlo's belongings; check out Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress: Frida's wardrobe, featuring images of restored clothing from Kahlo's wardrobe paired with historic photos of her wearing them and painting in which the garments appear.

Otomi Bag, T88.0107

Our Object of the Week is an Otomi bag made in the 1940s in the Mezquital Valley in Hidalgo, Mexico. Otomi weavers are known worldwide for their beautiful and lively textiles.

This bag was featured in the TMC’s 2015 exhibition Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray. Kahlo wore traditional Mexican clothing as an expression of her personal politics: a statement of solidarity with labourers of Mexico and a celebration of the indigenous craft involved in its production. After her death in 1954, Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, shut her possessions in a locked bathroom at their home in Mexico City, to remain there for 15 years after his own death. The room stayed locked much longer and was finally reopened in 2004 revealing Kahlo’s deep admiration for indigenous textiles and her appreciation of the sophisticated, centuries-old skills used to create them.

In Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray, TMC curator Roxane Shaughnessy selected indigenous Mexican garments from our collection that were representative of those in Kahlo’s wardrobe. This Otomi bag was included as Kahlo owned several shoulder bags woven from wool and cotton made in the Mezquital Valley. 

Week 8: August 6-12, 2017

Links: Click here to see the mask in our collections database where you can see alternate views and zoom in to see details; learn more about funerary masks from the TMC's digital project, In Touch; watch a UNESCO World Intagible Cultural Heritage video about how barkcloth is made in Uganda.

Funerary Mask, T90.0124

Our Object of the Week is a funerary mask known as a ya-ko-ko-su-ti-ro, worn by Tukano men from Brazil. The large, cone-shaped masks cover the wearer’s body to the knees. They are made throughout the tropical lowlands of South America using one of the oldest methods of textile production: the beating and decorating of bark cloth. This technique is practiced in most tropical regions, but is especially important in the eastern half of South America, where there is no indigenous loom technology. The bark comes from the Tururi tree and is then painted with vegetable dyes. The faces painted onto the masks may represent a forest spirit or another human-shaped creature. The top, bottom and small sleeves are stiffened with cane hoops, and palm fringes are tied to the bottom hoop to conceal the wearer.

Funerary masks are worn to represent the inhabitants of the spirit world during mourning ceremonies for the recently deceased (called óyne, or weeping). While wearing the masks, men dance, sing and mime animal or spirit behaviour. At the end of the ceremony, mourners burn the bark-cloth masks to drive away the soul of the deceased.

week 7: July 30-August 5, 2017


Image may contain: shoes

Links: See these shoes on our collections database T92.0168ab; TMC Conservator Hillary Anderson presented about rehousing Chinese Children's festival hats at the joint Canadian Assocation for Conservation and the American Institute for Conservation's Annual Meeting in 2016 - see the poster here!

Chinese Children's Shoes, T92.0168aB

Our Object of the Week is a staff pick! Hillary Anderson, the TMC's Conservator, chose a pair of mid-20th century children's shoes from China as her favourite object in the collection:

"Like many of the staff at the TMC, I started working here as a volunteer. In the summer of 2004, I volunteered to work with the collection to get work/study hours for my fashion degree at Ryerson University. Our project that summer was to re-organize the Chinese collection. One afternoon, we placed all of the Chinese shoes on one shelf. We made sure they were stored properly by supporting them with tissue paper and finding boards to accommodate all the shoes. It was so satisfying! It definitely sparked my interest in working with collections. I picked these shoes because they represent the project that I did that summer."

In China, children’s footwear was often made in the form of an animal. It was believed that animals had protective powers and were able to bestow health, longevity and good luck onto a child. They were made of red cotton or silk, and were brightly embroidered on the upper part, sometimes even on the padded soles.

Week 6: July 23-29, 2017


Image may contain: 1 person

Flora MacDonald Needle Packet, T00.11.5

Our Object of the Week is The Flora MacDonald Needle Packet! The needle packet features the image of Flora MacDonald (1722-1790), a Jacobite heroine, celebrated for her role in facilitating the great escape of a Prince in the mid-18th century!

In 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart initiated a Jacobite uprising to restore his family to the thrones of England and Scotland (Outlander, anyone?). The uprising was unsuccessful and the Prince hid in caves, and the huts of shepherds and fishermen in the moors of Scotland, seeking refuge from government officials. Supporters eventually hatched a plan for his escape. A small team travelled to the cave where the Prince was hiding, and gave him a newly-made dress and identity as Flora MacDonald’s Irish spinning-maid, Betty Burke. They travelled in a small boat across stormy waters of the Minch which were being scoured by government vessels searching for the Prince. Despite the treacherous journey, they landed unharmed on the Isle of Skye. MacDonald was imprisoned in the Tower of London for her involvement but was pardoned in 1747. 

Week 5: July 16-22, 2017

No automatic alt text available.

Links: 2010 mola exhibition Drawing with Scissors: Molas from Kuna Yala

Mola, T2010.1.68

Our Object of the Week is a Mola (blouse) panel from Panama! Molas are made by the Kuna people from the Kuna Yala islands off the coast of Panama. In the Kuna language, mola means “cloth,” and is traditionally worn by women as decorative blouse panels. Originally, Kuna women would paint their bodies with geometrical designs, but when the Spanish colonized the area, the women transferred their designs onto textiles. However in 1903, due to a law that said the Kuna had to lead “civilized lives,” the mola was banned, only to be made legal again after 1925 when the Kuna gained back their rights to practice their traditions. They are hand-sewn using a reverse-appliqué technique, which involves stacking the coloured pieces one on top of another and cutting through the layers to reveal the cloth below. Mola imagery is inspired by traditional Kuna symbols and stories, and from imported popular culture. The characters Pikachu and Ash Ketchum are depicted here from the popular series Pokémon. In 2010, the TMC held a mola exhibition- Drawing with Scissors: Molas from Kuna Yala, where over 170 molas were displayed. There are about 300 molas total in the TMC’s collection. Guess we had to… catch em’ all…

Week 4: July 9-15, 2017

No automatic alt text available.

Links: This rain cape is featured in Diligence and Elegance: The Nature of Japanese Textiles

Rain Cape, T2011.1.1

On this cloudy and rainy day, our Object of the Week is a rare and unique piece from the TMC’s collection. This is a man’s formal cape called a date-gera from the 1930s, and it’s currently on display in the Diligence and Elegance: the Nature of Japanese Textiles exhibition. In Japan, capes for work, travel and formal occasions were historically made from local plant materials such as grass, straw, seaweed and bark. Similarly, this cape is made with a grass called mige, dried and softened, and decorated with linden tree bark. Strands of seaweed are attached to the surface and wrapped into the neckline. Date-gera capes were made for formal occasions and were embellished with a combination of colourful plant fibres, thickness, and structure. This formal cape would have been worn for the New Year and other celebrations. Learn more about this cape and other beautiful Japanese textiles when you visit Diligence and Elegance!

WEEK 3: July 2-8, 2017

Souvenir Pillow, T90.0037

This week we're featuring a Canadian souvenir pillow. Souvenir pillows were particularly popular in the mid-20th century on military bases where soldiers would often buy pillows with rhyming love poems to send to their mothers. This printed pillowcase features ten provincial crests; the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, though part of Confederation when the pillow was made, were not included. In the 2011 exhibition Cold Comfort: New and Improved Souvenirs of Canada, the TMC collaborated with DodoLab to expand the vision of Canada represented in the Museum’s historical collection of souvenir pillows. DodoLab and visitors to the Museum created new pillows for the exhibition that represented places not previously included and contemporary social and political issues.

week 2: June 25-July 1, 2017

Links: TMC Collection; This rug was featured in Max Allen’s exhibition The Mysterious East; Lecture on Tuduc rugs by independent rug scholar of Oriental rugs Stefano Ionescu, published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the lecture get’s going around 4:30); Handbook of Fakes by Tuduc by Stefano Ionescu

Prayer Rug, T04.19.10

Here is a prayer rug from our collection to commemorate the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr celebrations. This one has a sensational story, so read on! This prayer rug is an imitation of a 17th century Ottoman rug made by Teodor Tuduc (1888-1983), a Romanian rug restorer, dealer and the world’s most famous rug-forger. Tuduc created such skillful forgeries of Ottoman, Persian and Caucasian rugs, artificially aged through ‘antique washing’ procedures, that even scholars, curators and rug dealers could not tell the difference between an authentic rug and one of his forgeries, the TMC included! When the TMC acquired this Tuduc, it was believed to be an authentic Ottoman rug. Max Allen, one of the TMC's founders, realized it was a fake after handling real ones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At the time, there was almost nothing published about Tuduc's fakes but Allen noticed that it did not have the clear, bright colours and floppy feel of the real ones; it has resolved corners whereas real ones almost always have incomplete pattern units in the corners; and that the selvedges look like they’re “stapled” on. Tuduc's fakes have reportedly made their way into the collections of museum like the Met and the Museum for Islamic Art in Berlin, and one hung on display, undetected, in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum for decades. Tuduc’s imposters have now become highly collectable.

Prayer rugs like this one are used by Muslim worshippers to cover the ground while they pray. Prayer rugs will usually depict a niche at one end of the rectangle, which is meant to represent the Mihrab found in every mosque. The Mihrab is a directional point that guides the worshipper in the direction of Mecca. Eid Mubarak!

Week 1: June 18-24, 2017

Links: TMC CollectionNarrative Threads postLe-La-La DancersMuseum of Anthropology Dance Apron

Dance Apron, T04.30.1

To celebrate National Aboriginal Day, the first object we’re sharing is a dance apron from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. Aprons like this one are worn by Kwakwaka’wakw dancers during traditional ceremonies such as the Tła’sala “Peace Dances.” This apron, made in 1970, has a design created with plastic buttons; bells and thimbles are used to make noise when the apron is worn. Older examples often feature buttons made from abalone (aka sea snails) and noisemakers made from other natural materials. On our Virtual Museum of Canada site Narrative Threads you can also see a Kwakwaka’wakw dance apron from Takus, BC (from the collection of the Museum of Anthropology) made from moose skin, porcupine quill, metal, deer hoof and fibre. Swipe right to see a photo of the Le-La-La Dancers, a group of traditional Kwakwaka’wakw dancers based in Victoria, BC who wear dance aprons and button blankets in their dances and who have been performing across Canada and in countries as far away as New Zealand since 1987.