It was 1998 in Morocco when I first saw this prism of pink and golden threads and got the puddle knees. There wasn’t a question about whether I would go home with this tiny piece of real estate, which I now know is a phulkari. An undeniable yes went slamming down down to my knees, through my pockets, causing my credit card to eject into the proprietor’s hands.
I’ve never been sorry. In fact, over the years, I’ve collected more of these dazzling threads, each one radiating more solar power through my house. They are a happiness to me.
My whole adventure with ibu started, first, with this hyperventilating that goes on when I am near a splendid, hand wrought textile reeking of a good story. Like this phulkari. The embroidery I love was cradled for years in the hands a young woman in the Punjab region of India or Pakistan, her needle guiding silk thread through common brown cotton, darning from the wrong side and covering it in its entirety, so that it could be worn with glimmering pride at her marriage ceremony. I know that she chose colors like most, in a palette of sunrise, and a design so vibrant it somehow escapes its two dimensions.
But in this cloth are also stories I do not know. I do not know which young woman penned this signature cloth, nor how she felt about it, day after day, nor whether she even wanted to marry. I do not know what flowers hung on her neck on her wedding day nor how the spiced tandoori lent its smells to the cloth, nor how the candle light flickered on her satin stitches. I do not know if she was proud of her skilled hands, or nervous about her new life. I do know that she left a story of herself behind, in thread, and I can feel the life in it, though I”ll never know her name.
At one time, I imagined a great mission ahead of me which was to decipher the language of cloth. I wanted to unearth the stories of women hiding in warp and weft and stitches of light. And in many ways, I still do. But now, I see that there are stories I will never know or understand, and that mystery is what draws me to them. The life in them I love is also the life which I will never be able to possess. Which is why this textile, this text of a life, takes me to my knees.
I’ve been digging through old treasures all last weekend at two Ethnographic Markets and a show-stopping Flea Market and have brought home a duffle of delectable goods. I even wrangled another phulkari out of a dealer who didn’t know what he had. While the work of ibu is new - artisans creating fresh takes on their ancient traditions - I believe that our work stands on the Old. Vintage is valuable in the way that history is valuable; out of these remnants of another time we create something vigorously of this time.
Rest assured that ibu is still growing its vintage collection. Just one old textile can change a room from a catalog look-alike into a real and storied home. Because it is utterly unique, human, imperfect, lived in, loved on; because it is a story to which you belong, but do not own.
All the best,
Susan Hull Walker
Here are some of our storied vintage pieces made new in pillows and hangings and throws for your home. Look for many more this fall!