WOOL AND HOOF, warp and woof come together this weekend for an exuberant "Celebration of Textiles" at the Textile Museum at Dupont Circle. Through two days of workshops and activities, "kids can see the whole process, from shearing sheep to spinning to weaving," says Carly Ofsthun, the museum's education program coordinator.
By focusing on artistry, technique and culture, the museum offers a three-pronged approach to learning and having fun. Kids not only experience the beauty of textiles but can familiarize themselves with the how (skills involved) and who (people around the world who make and use them). At the 27th annual celebration, youngsters can make a tassel, weave a placemat, try knitting or learn about Arabian fashion and fabric. Especially prominent this year are Indonesian arts and artists, with a gamelan orchestra, dancers and workshops tied to "Textiles for This World and Beyond: Treasures From Insular Southeast Asia," an exhibit of weavings and batiks at the museum through Sept. 18.
Batik is an elaborate, wax-resist dyeing process, explains Kathy Strauss of Linthicum, who leads a batik workshop on Saturday with Laura Vernon-Russell of Baltimore. The parts of a cloth that are not going to be dyed are coated with wax and the dyeing process is repeated, sometimes numerous times, to build layers of color. When working with youngsters, the two fiber artists substitute cold wax for the traditional hot wax to avoid accidents. "The process is as much fun as seeing the finished product," says Strauss, who has been batiking silk gauze for 30 years. "You can really feel the materials." Her 8-year-old son, Harper Steinke, recently tried the activity and declared it "a blast." Those interested in the hot-wax technique can watch Indonesian artists Tantri Noor Nugroho and Amien Loetfi on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The museum's first-floor galleries display the richly patterned textiles produced by the batik process, which originated on the Indonesian island of Java. Practiced for more than two centuries, aspects of the intricate process may date to the 12th century, according to curator Mattiebelle Gittinger. My family and I visited the exhibit recently and saw how the patterns (flowers, leaves and stylized animals) established by royal Javanese courts were influenced over time by traders and settlers from China, India, Europe and Islamic countries. My daughter, Christy, and her friend Eileen Symons, both 61/2, were especially intrigued by "Flash Gordon" (circa 1940), a batik hip wrap incorporating the winged bird-men and horned villains of the comic. And they enjoyed gazing at the 30 eight-inch-high wooden figurines modeling Indonesian batik clothes, including the slendang (shoulder cloth) and kain panjang (hip wrap). One figurine, seated cross-legged before a cloth-draped frame, demonstrates batiking with a tiny applicator and wax pan. The exhibit also showcases the complex woven patterns of the ceremonial textiles and costumes of Malaysia, Borneo and Indonesia.
Celebration attendees still have time to catch "Beyond the Bag: Textiles as Containers," a small exhibit ending Sunday. Eileen and Christy got a big kick out of these elaborate vessels, including two from the early 20th century -- a large Pakistani saddlebag decorated with cowrie shells, glass beads and tassels, and a Burmese men's bag with noisemaking metal cones to scare off evil spirits.
No visit to the museum is complete without a trip to the permanent Activity Gallery. Here the girls began learning the "language of textiles" -- structure, pattern, fiber, color -- through numerous interactive displays. They used a loom, created a pattern of red and white squares and fingered the raw fibers of flax, sheep fuzz and silkworm cocoons and their processed counterparts linen, wool and silk. As for color, the gallery reveals the humble substances behind some of the richest hues. The tiny cochineal bug yields a deep magenta, the weld plant a lovely yellow.
From clothes to rugs to towels, textiles surround us. The celebration and exhibits may well jump-start a summer project in creating and using them in new ways. Though prepackaged kits abound, why not look for materials at home or take a trip to a local fabric or craft store so kids can choose their own? Youngsters might batik a scarf, decorate a tote bag or fashion colorful tassels, suggests museum educator Ofsthun. (For information on culture-related projects, click on "Common Threads" on the museum's Web site.)
The artwork of peers could even prove inspiring. From Saturday through June 30, the museum displays student art from three District elementary schools -- Ludlow-Taylor, Seaton and Thomson -- in the Myers Room. In a partnership that debuted this year, museum docents worked with students during the spring. The creative results, Ofsthun says, are banners and batiks with a unique kid twist.
27TH ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF TEXTILES -- Saturday and Sunday (schedule below) at the Textile Museum, 2320 S St. NW. 202-667-0441. www.textilemuseum.org. Open Monday-Saturday from 10 to 5, Sundays from 1 to 5. Free, suggested donation $5. Ending Sunday, "Beyond the Bag: Textiles as Containers" in the second-floor gallery. Running through Sept. 18, "Textiles for This World and Beyond: Treasures From Insular Southeast Asia" in first-floor galleries. Opening Saturday through June 30, artwork from "Museum-School Partnership" in the Myers Room.
Saturday 10 to 4 -- Batik, felting (pressing and matting wool fibers), weaving, tasselmaking, knitting, crocheting, rug restoration and spinning activities throughout the day in the museum and garden. Batik and Arabian fashion demonstrations. Indonesian food available for purchase. Activities include sheep shearing (garden, weather permitting) at 11 and 2:30, Indonesian gamelan music at 10:30 and 3, and Indonesian dance at 11:45 and 3:15.
Sunday 1 to 4 -- Weaving and tasselmaking activities. Loom, Arabian fashion, carpet design and batik demonstrations. All throughout the day in museum and garden. Indonesian food available for purchase.