I don’t normally dress boldly, I prefer the convenience of having an easy-to-match wardrobe, but I have a secret love for loud colours and complex patterns. Perhaps because of this, the textile object that has a fond place in my life is a bright blue mantón de manila, embroidered with flowers and bordered by a long fringe.
The mantón de manila emerged from a traditional Philippine shawl, its fabrication was developed in China (due to their tradition of using silk) and its design evolved to cater to European tastes. It can be traced through colonial routes of the 18th and 19th centuries, finding a place in aristocratic Philippine fashion and making its way to Latin America, before becoming an established element of flamenco in the south of Spain.
Ever since I first encountered these shawls in Spain, I loved them.
They’re square but are mostly folded into a triangle and worn draped over the shoulders. I purchased mine while I was in Singapore being taught flamenco by a Philippine teacher, although it was sourced from Hong Kong by a flamenco colleague as they were cheaper than the ‘authentic’ versions in Spain. I’ve now brought it to Spain where, ironically, I use it much less. It reminds me that global cultural influences are much more fluid than they first appear.
In spite of its colours and seemingly purely decorative function, the shawl is comfortable. It has a cosy weight, like a friendly arm draped over your shoulder. When I dance with it, it feels like a partnership – the material catches the air and makes its own loops and cuts. Its weight makes my arms ache as I guide its path around my own steps and hear the whip as it skims my ear.
The fringe is a bit tatty now, from all the times it’s become tangled with another shawl due to a miscalculated flick or been dropped on a rehearsal floor. But this handling has turned it from a decorative ornament to an extension of the dance, expressing the energy of an alegria in the jump of the fringe or the depth in a siguiriyas as it folds around the body. More than just a garish prop, this piece of square material becomes movement.
Claire Rosslyn Wilson is a poet, researcher, and freelance editor based in Barcelona. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals and in 2014 she was a writer-in-residence at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. She co-wrote Freelancing in the Creative Industries (Oxford University Press, 2015) and has authored a number of publications on art and sustainability. She has appeared at various writers’ festivals and her videopoems have been exhibited in Australia, Spain and Greece. Find Claire on Twitter.