Pull of the Thread: Textile Travels of a Generation

Sheila Fruman

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Members Only

In this talk, Sheila Fruman will present highlights from her forthcoming book Pull of the Thread: Textile Travels of a Generation. These intrepid travelers combed the streets and bazaars of Central and South Asia finding, researching, collecting and selling antique Kashmir shawls, woven ikat and embroidered Uzbek textiles and robes, Anatolian kilims, Turkmen carpets and many other textile treasures to interested Westerners.

Their stories capture the post-World War II era’s free spirit that briefly coincided with economic prosperity and open borders. This generation of dealers and collectors all made important and even essential contributions to their fields, publishing books, staging exhibitions, and often gifting items to major institutions such as the V&A and MET. The indigenous designs and motifs popularised in the US and Europe by these textile travelers can now be found in anything from haute couture to high-end interior design to mass-marketed bedding, tableware and clothing. The dealers and collectors who spent their lives seeking these complex pieces of the past have intriguing stories to tell and collections of some of the finest textiles of their kind in the world. Taken together, their stories are an enlightening guide to understanding how we connect to the past, and how textiles connect the world.

Sheila Fruman’s travels overland in 1969-70 from London to Mumbai aroused a keen interest in textiles and carpets but she returned to her native Canada for the next twenty-five years to work in politics and government and to earn a Master’s Degree in Communication.
When she went to Algeria in 2001 to conduct workshops for political parties, it was the start of fifteen years working to support democratization in post-conflict countries for the Washington, D.C. based National Democratic Institute and the United Nations. Finding herself living in some of the countries she had first visited in 1969, including three years in the Balkans, a year as UNDP Head of External Relations for Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan, four years as NDI Country Director in Pakistan, and over a year as an advisor for the UN in Bangladesh, she pursued her love of handmade antique carpets and textiles. Further travel and study led her to author a book about fellow textile travelers.