Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Style Files

Figuring out fabrics

The textiles people make speak abundantly about whom they are and their environment. Around the world textiles created by people of all races and cultures demonstrate and state their artistic expression of beauty. This is how it has been through the ages from ancient times to the present.

Even today we continue to explore the deeper meaning behind textiles. We evaluate that what is evident in different regions and what made them unique to their location and time. Various cultures are about belongings and boundaries that include or exclude developed styles and techniques that reflect their specific needs.

They work within their contexts and expand on those methods making something distinctive by following or breaking the rules. Textiles showcase a wonderful way to glimpse into the lives and passions of people who created and used the pieces.

Numerous aspects of history and culture are studied through production and use of textiles. Gender roles within a family and within a society or culture are usually played out when a cloth is made and worn. Beginning with the planting of a seed or the raising of an animal.

It is easy to look at a woman spinning or embroidering and think that textile production is exclusively a women’s work but there is so much more to the topic of gender and the production of textiles that tells a complex story of the people who made and used it.

On many occasions men and women worked together and were expected to do their parts of the process for example women often made the yarns while the men wove the yarns into strips of fabric. They played equal roles but not the same. Where women were secluded inside the household the needle arts have often flourished.

Making and embellishing textiles was a powerful tool of socialisation and a reflection of cultural values. Young girls in many communities learned to weave on a back strap loom quietly that was not just a learning skill but also a lesson to be calm and patient in compose. It was common to find a needle and hoop and a selection of coloured threads. It was all that was needed to create a beautiful piece that demonstrates a woman’s skill.

Portable embroidery has often constituted a social activity in many parts of the world for unmarried girls preparing their trousseaus many of who were prohibited from contact with the world of men.

Decorative textiles are produced by hand in many parts of the world. Embroidered samplers have a long history. Samplers were made by professional embroiderers to show clients the variety and quality of their work as well as to provide a visual reference for technique.

Needlework was considered an essential skill for a woman in the 19th century in Europe and North America as a hobby or for generating an additional income. Their purely expressive textile art had common themes, stories from the Old Testament, classical themes, and allegories illustrating the values and morals of the time.

These works were usually detailed, worked in several colours, types of stitches, threads, including metallic, that would create texture and reflect light to create an illusion of depth. The production of textiles is extremely labour intensive. In recent times, traditional skills with a needle have been put to use for economic development. As a result over the past century most productions are being manufactured today in developing nations and this is especially true for the hand made textiles.

There are many categories of handmade textiles in practice today as was in the past. Some of this include textiles for the home, or for commercial use, such as hotels, for places of worship and those that are purely ornamental.

I will share with you the process and stylisation of some beautiful decorative pieces from around the world some made in recent years while others that were made earlier periods.

Page 1201Embroidered Picture 1802
Sweden
Silk, embroidered, painted
Embroidered picture was very popular in Europe during the mid-eighteenth to nineteenth century. Silk cloth was sometimes painted as sky or landscape as their canvas. Figures also received a painted rendition. Birds and animal forms were almost always developed with masterful striking needlework where feathers were delineated using shades of thread and direction of stitches. The embroidery is three dimensional on the bird while it sits on a flat backdrop of building and ground. The trees and branches are all stylised with defined branches and leaves. The wheat fields sectioned in varied colours stitched to model shaved and harvested ground. The composition is in hyperrealism that succeeds to express a surreal composition. Oversized birds and a tree on a farm depicting the maker’s inner feeling.

Page 1203Page 1202Hanging 1925
Greece
Silk, wool, embroidered, painted.
The embroidered picture is enchanting. Showing a woman of that period spinning with a spindle, her sheep gathered around her. The entire background except for the sky is covered in stitches. Her hair and skin are painted. The picture portrays an island life in the early twentieth century.

Page 1204Hanging arpillera
Cotton, wool, jute, acrylic, appliquéd, embroidered and knitted
Chile 1978

The “arpillera” refers to the backing material on this piece. The work represents the protest of the repression of the people in Chile during the dictatorial government of Pinochet. Women in income generating projects produced these.   The women who produced them were in organised workshops that also functioned as their support groups. Arpilleras were sold in North America and Europe to raise funds for the women and publicise their oppressed living conditions.

Page 1205Mola
Cotton, appliquéd, embroidered.
Panama 1965
This is a reverse appliquéd textile technique. It is done by layering coloured fabrics, cutting out shapes in one or several layers to expose colour beneath and sewing down the cut edge to achieve it. Embroidery and appliqué is then added to enhance certain features such as the head or tail of a lizard or fish. Molas are used on blouses, panels and other accessories. Designs range from pure geometric shapes to birds and animals to popular culture imagery.

Hanging
Cotton, appliquéd
Gujrat India 1975
The art of appliqué has been practiced in India to make bedding, canopies, and other household textiles. These textiles are traditionally produced in Gujrat. This kind of design   application has evolved and today decorative and non-functional products are also produced. This piece depicting motifs of dancing women involves needlework and the composition is bold in appearance. The colours are vibrant and powerful.