I’m about halfway through Virginia Postrel’s 2020 book The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, and the only reason I haven’t finished it is because I keep stopping to take notes, usually punctuated with exclamation marks. Postrel is a journalist and independent scholar who has written very good books about style and glamour; here she elegantly blends centuries of research and her own investigations (she learned to spin thread, spent a week at a traditional Indian dyeing school, and visited weavers of Guatemalan huipiles) into a highly readable and compelling history. The glossary alone is worth the investment in the book. As Postrel writes:
We drag our heirloom metaphors—“on tenterhooks,” “towheaded,” “frazzled”—with no idea that we’re talking about fabric and fibers. We repeat threadbare clichés: “whole cloth,” “hanging by a thread,” “dyed in the wool.” We catch airline shuttles, weave through traffic, follow comment threads. We speak of life spans and spinoffs and never wonder why drawing our fibers and twirling them into thread looms so large in our language.
Listen to an interview with Postrel on The Woven Road, a podcast about fiber arts.