- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2004

What’s in a piece of cloth? Much more than first meets the eye, according to the Textile Museum in Northwest.

Textiles can be “art, say something about a culture, show history, tell a story and serve as clothing,” says Theresa Esterlund, director of education at the museum.

Quilts, for example, can be viewed as works of art or tell a story while they also provide warmth. Untailored clothing, such as wraps, can show a person’s status, gender and age in certain societies, depending on the wrap’s pattern, color and length.

In Bhutan, a country between China and India, the way in which the kira (a type of draped clothing) is worn reveals whether a person is a member of the royal family or simply a villager. A kira touching the ground indicates status, while a short one is a sign that the wearer belongs to the lower ranks.

Aside from quilts and untailored clothing, the museum also features an exhibit of Navajo blankets, which Southwestern American Indians used as clothing, cloaks, baby wraps, bedding, furnishings, saddle pads and trade goods up to the 20th century.

The exhibit features 16 blankets and shows visitors how they were made and how certain patterns, materials and structures can tell historians the age of a blanket.

The textile museum exhibits also feature the importance of textiles for economies and culture. For example, the poncho worn by the Chilean Mapuche people, who long were successful in fending off the Inca and the Spanish, came to symbolize the tenacious culture and spirit of its wearers. The Navajo blankets were an important source of income for American Indians of the Southwest.

If all this seems a tad advanced for a young child, the learning center on the museum’s second floor may be the place to go. The learning center features many hands-on activities that children of all ages enjoy, Ms. Esterlund says.

At one activity station, visitors can learn about the various fibers used to make textiles. Some, such as silk and wool, come from the animal kingdom, while others, such as cotton, come from plants. A third kind, such as rayon, is man-made.

Examples of the different types of fibers are highlighted, and children can touch and see raw cotton, linen and wool. Rayon is made from wood pulp, which looks like sawdust.

Another activity station shows where the colors with which yarn and fabric are dyed originate in nature. Deep blue indigo, for example, comes from a plant, while the beige lichen color comes from a combination of fungus and algae.

The center also provides an opportunity for children to try their hands at weaving and spinning wool. They also can learn how structure is created in a material through braiding, sewing, knitting and weaving.

“It’s very hands-on, and I think children really enjoy that aspect of the learning center,” Ms. Westerlund says.

The museum also offers family programs several times a year. The next one will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 5, when the museum and its gardens come alive with a Celebration of Textiles Day. This daylong festival features hands-on activities and textile demonstrations led by local artists. Children and adults are invited to see sheep sheared and learn how wool is prepared for weaving.

WHEN YOU GO:

LOCATION: The Textile Museum is located at 2320 S St. NW, Washington.

Directions: Approaching from the north, travel south on Connecticut Avenue to S Street. Turn right on S and proceed two blocks to the museum on the left. Or travel south on Massachusetts Avenue to S Street, turn left on S and proceed one block to the museum on the right. Approaching from the south, travel north on Massachusetts Avenue to 24th Street. Turn right on 24th, right on S and proceed one block to the museum on the right.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: Free; suggested contribution of $5.

Parking: On-street parking is limited. The Dupont Circle stop on Metro’s Red Line is close; it’s a 10-minute walk north from the Q Street exit of the Dupont Circle Metro stop to the museum.

Note: The museum does not have a cafe, but the Dupont Circle area has plenty of eatery options. Introductory tours of the museum and current exhibitions are offered at 1:30 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday and 1 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month September through May. No reservations are required. For group tours, make a reservation by calling 202/667-0441, Ext. 65. Group tours must be scheduled at least four weeks in advance.

More information: 202/667-0441 or visit www.textilemuseum.org

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