The best books to get you hooked on textile histories

Who am I?

It seems I was destined to write about textiles. Long after I started documenting the tapestries of the Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh—over 45 years ago—I discovered that my great-grandfather was a cotton mule-spinner, working one of those machines that spurred on the industrial revolution. So it’s in my blood. I’ve interviewed dozens of people who’ve made similar discoveries, and have become a firm believer in the long-lasting inherited significance of textiles. We’ve made them and they in turn have made us who we are. Now more than ever, my hope is to entangle people into the wonderful web that connects every era and every culture.


I wrote...

World Textiles

By Mary Schoeser,

Book cover of World Textiles

What is my book about?

The history of textiles, more than that of any other artifact, is a history of human ingenuity. From the very earliest needles of 50,000 years ago to the smart textiles of today, textiles have been fundamental to human existence. Long a motivation for trade, the exchange of ideas and sometimes even war, textiles are a vast and fascinating subject for creatives, designers, textile and fashion professionals, collectors, students, and anyone interested in this history of humankind. I’ve explored how textiles are made, what they are made from, how they function in society, and the ways in which they are valued and given meaning, as well as reflecting on the environmental challenges they present today. Over 200 colour illustrations bring this global story to life.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Basketry and Beyond: Constructing Cultures

Mary Schoeser Why did I love this book?

If you’re interested in the origins of creative thought, this is the book for you. Baskets are key, it turns out, in the connections now made between humans and the tool- and nest-making birds and chimpanzees. Containing, yes, but holding so much more than “stuff”, baskets from around the world are holders of pattern recognition, histories, and even wisdom.

Book cover of Textiles and Textile Production in Europe: From Prehistory to Ad 400

Mary Schoeser Why did I love this book?

This excellent introduction to the latest archaeological textile studies should convince you that this is the most exciting field for new interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the past. There are 23 essays discussing finds from 16 counties, each telling intelligent but accessible stories about social, chronological, and cultural aspects of ancient societies. Well illustrated and with lots of further reading listed, you’ll end up wanting more.

By Margarita Gleba (editor), Ulla Mannering (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Textiles and Textile Production in Europe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There is evidence that ever since early prehistory, textiles have always had more than simply a utilitarian function. Textiles express who we are - our gender, age, family affiliation, occupation, religion, ethnicity and social, political, economic and legal status. Besides expressing our identity, textiles protect us from the harsh conditions of the environment, whether as clothes or shelter. We use them at birth for swaddling, in illness as bandages and at death as shrouds. We use them to carry and contain people and things. We use them for subsistence to catch fish and animals and for transport as sails. In…


Book cover of Fringe, Frog and Tassel: The Art of the Trimmings-Maker in Interior Decoration

Mary Schoeser Why did I love this book?

This masterful study of trimmings made and used in Britain and Ireland from 1320-1970 is a lesson in how to look carefully. Westman’s understanding of the most sumptuous elements in interiors, essentially the “bling”, offers insights into specialist working practices and the relationships between clients, suppliers, makers, and fashionability. Her forensic approach means that often the stunning images are paired with a detail of a tassel, cord, or fringe. You’ll never look at a painting of an interior in the same way again!

By Annabel Westman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fringe, Frog and Tassel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Trimmings are often overlooked as mere details of a furnished interior but in the past they were seen as vital and costly elements in the decoration of a room. They were used not only on curtains and beds but also on wall hangings, upholstered seat furniture and cushions, providing a visual feast for the eye with their colour and intricate detail. Sometimes more expensive than the rich fabrics they enhanced, trimmings are often the only surviving evidence of a lost decorative scheme, reapplied to replacement textiles or found as fragments in the attic.

This book, the first of its kind,…


Book cover of The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women's Lives, 1660-1900

Mary Schoeser Why did I love this book?

Small things have large stories to tell. Here the topic is a particular type of pocket: generously-sized containers tied on, usually hidden from sight beneath a skirt. Brought to life through surviving examples and depictions of their use, the passages from novels, diaries, court proceedings, and more are especially revealing (in every sense). Is the pocket the necessary accessory of the neat housewife, or an aid to duplicity and secret immorality? This thorough and attractive study has the answer.

By Barbara Burman, Ariane Fennetaux,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pocket as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Best Art Book of 2019

"A riveting book . . . few stones are left unturned."-Roberta Smith's "Top Art Books of 2019," The New York Times

This fascinating and enlightening study of the tie-on pocket combines materiality and gender to provide new insight into the social history of women's everyday lives-from duchesses and country gentry to prostitutes and washerwomen-and to explore their consumption practices, sociability, mobility, privacy, and identity. A wealth of evidence reveals unexpected facets of the past, bringing women's stories into intimate focus.

"What particularly interests Burman and Fennetaux is the way in which…


Book cover of Off the Wall: American Art to Wear

Mary Schoeser Why did I love this book?

Today’s freedom to dress as we like is the result of an ‘anti-couture’ movement that sprang forth in the mid-1960s. If you’re a fan of psychedelic rock, you’re already aware of the rebellious youth culture of the time. Hand crochet, stitch, knit, and/or dying gave us theatrical assemblages that made personal expression far more important than the latest catwalk styles. Now you can see the best of the garments that sprang forth to forever change the definition of fashion.

By Dilys E. Blum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Off the Wall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Exploring the origins and lasting significance of a dynamic, subversive, and interactive art form

This is the first publication to consider art to wear, also known as wearable art, as a discrete American movement that mirrored the cultural, political, social, and spiritual concerns of a generation that came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. Trained primarily in the fine arts, they adopted nontraditional forms, materials, and techniques to create works using the body as an armature. Collectively, these practitioners have had a significant but underrecognized impact on art making and education. Their legacy continues today among younger artists…


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An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

By Clifford A. Wright,

Book cover of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

Clifford A. Wright Author Of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Philosopher Historian Researcher Gastronomer Bibliophile and reviewer

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What is my book about?

An Italian Feast celebrates the cuisines of the Italian provinces from Como to Palermo. A culinary guide and book of ready reference meant to be the most comprehensive book on Italian cuisine, and it includes over 800 recipes from the 109 provinces of Italy's 20 regions.

An Italian Feast is a gastronomy about Italian culinary history and consciousness, about how Italians cook, eat, and how their food is an intimate part of their culture. It is the first book in any language to comprehensively explore the gastronomy and cuisine not just of Italy, and not just the regions of Italy, but all 109 provinces of Italy, linking each with each other in terms of history, agriculture, economics, and the material culture of creative food illustrated with recipes.

An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

By Clifford A. Wright,


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Interested in textiles, Ireland, and Europe?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about textiles, Ireland, and Europe.

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