We all text but have you ever wondered where the word “text” comes from? It comes from the Latin verb: texo, texere, textui, textum which means “to weave”. So when we are writing any kind of text whether an email or an essay we are “weaving” a story.
The word’s own story in the English language began in the late 14th century, when it meant “something written”. It came from Old French “texte”, or the Old North French “tixte”, which can be dated to the 12th century. It came into French from Medieval Latin “textus”, which had a wider meaning, including the Scriptures.
This in turn derived from Late Latin, where it meant “written account, content”. In Latin “textus”, was used as “style/ texture of a work”. However, it literally meant “woven thing”, and is formed from the past participle of the verb texere, meaning “to weave”.
You might be wondering how “weave” came to have this meaning. One theory is that it may have developed out of a metaphor. The Roman orator and rhetorician Quintilian wrote of the importance of choosing the right words carefully and joining them together in a “text”, a woven composition, a metaphor of words being like threads that could be woven into a fabric.
Words and symbols have been written on or in textiles for millennia. Silk was used to write documents in China as long ago as 770BC. Silk was light and could be cut into desired shapes and sizes and folded, the better to be kept and carried.
In medieval times people learnt the scriptures through tapestires hung in churches and cathedrals where the stories were told in imagery.
Image courtesy of Witney Antiques.
Literacy improved through the centuries and by the 17th century European girls learnt their alphabets together with moral values as they stitched their samplers.
Textiles have always been used to communicate messages. In the 19th and early 20th centuries women fighting social causes turned to sewing on cloth to get their message across, particulalry suffragettes and advocates of abolition and temperance.
Signature quilts with didactic messsages were often sold to support causes. One presented at the Women’s Christian Temperance Union convention in Baltimore in 1878 featured around 3,000 names. More informtion about the “Drunkard’s Path” quilt pattern and its association with the WCTU can be found HERE.
Textiles often express cultural views and beliefs and as printing technology grew it became possible to print directly onto fabric and communicative textiles expanded.
The 1970’s saw the arrival of the “message” T-shirt. They express everything, from political and personal views to advertising.
By communicating , whether through texts or textiles, we are expanding our horizons and enriching each others lives.
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