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Manila Manton Shawls – Early Global Textiles

April 12, 2018 2 min read

Today, many of the branded tech products we use are designed in one place, headquartered in another and produced in a third. Today we live in the global village and this idea of ‘nothing’s completely local’ is commonplace. But imagine going back 200 years or more – when even a letter took days if not weeks to reach a city that was just 100 km away! In that era, we had a global textile – the Manila Manton.

Their lives covered 3 regions: China, Philippines & Spain. Produced  in Canton, they were named after the trading port Manila and finally used and coveted by women in Spain (and later other Spanish colonies) a few centuries ago.

In light of the excitement around fringed shawls from the Berkeley exhibition, I’m sharing some that I love.

There are various types of antique Manila Mantons – floral, figurative, light, heavy etc and different styles were preferred in different locations or periods.

The ones that attract me are the ones that tell the stories of their Cantonese Makers. The illustrations add a cultural layer to the palimpsest and make it interesting.

Here are some visuals that explain my love:

Click to view slideshow.


Click to view slideshow.


Click to view slideshow.

Click to view slideshow.

Some with extremely dense work:

Click to view slideshow.

A shawl with warriors

Click to view slideshow.

Shawls with legends of little princes:

Click to view slideshow.

And finally one with ivory faces


The culture and the art are very soul satisfying.

But the most amazing part of these textiles is that the embroidery is double-sided!  Unless one examines the piece very very minutely it is often difficult to tell the front from the back of the textile.

How was this double sided embroidery done? No knots in the embroidery? How does the thread stay in place if there is no knot? These complexities make the craft within the textile as powerful as the cultural story contained within it.

The art attracts the eyes, the cultural story attracts the soul and the craft attracts the mind.

In Sanskrit we’d call this “Sarvaguna Sampann” a  term used to describe one that has alllll the positive qualities one seeks! [used most commonly for prospective grooms & brides]

This amazing type of work is similar to the Parsi / Zoroastrian jhablas and Gaza sprees.

Enjoy more photos of each of the pieces (some available for acquisition) on woven souls.com linked here. 



April 2018


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