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My Research On Textile Arts - Worn

Updated: Feb 16




In recent years, I have spent a lot of time trying to better understand textiles, their formal vocabulary, their manual production processes and their cultural and sociological backgrounds.

It started in 2015 with an invitation to Felicity Brown to talk about her work in my studio in Frankfurt. I met her in Dubai and have dreamed of working with her ever since. I am very grateful that my dream has come true.


Since then, I couldn't stop researching textiles and trying out the processes. My library grew, as well as my collection of tools, weaving frames, hand spindles, needles, fibers, yarns and fabrics and attendance at workshops.

In retrospect, I wonder why I ever lost sight of textiles as an artistic material - after all, that was my initial interest.

After school, I wanted to become a fashion designer and even then I first had to learn the craft. During my men's tailoring apprenticeship at the award-winning Schmidt bespoke tailors in Sauerland, I changed my mind and decided to become a costume designer at the theater and opera. My path first led me to Dortmund, where I worked as a men's tailor and then as a costume and stage design assistant. Then, during my time at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where there is a stage design class, textiles disappeared from view as an artistic material. Nobody was sewing, weaving or using it for artistic processes. And I completely forgot about it.

 

Today, it seems to me that my research time was completely justified. Especially after reading the fantastic book Worn by Sofie Thanhauser from 2022. She describes the history of clothing in a way that made me realize why, although we live in clothes, we hardly know anything about their economic and cultural-historical significance and also why we have left the processes of production to industry, with the enormous consequences for us as humans and for nature.


In any case, I am very happy to have found this book! The big picture of the facts is clearly set out. If a year ago I thought I couldn't afford to spend my precious time on less important and interesting things, now I know why I couldn't have invested my time better.

 

Since the Stone Age, textile production has taken place exclusively at home and was dominated by women. The decline in appreciation of this textile handicraft in the western world began in the 13th century with the introduction of the guilds. Over time, the guilds made the suggestion that the usual textile home production was of poorer quality than the goods distributed by the guild. Then, little by little, everything that women did was seen through these eyes. Eventually, they were no longer allowed to work at home to earn a living. Thanhauser impressively notes that this development took place in the age we call the Age of Reason!

 

When I combine these observations with my experiences in the art world, I am no longer surprised that the textile arts have fallen out of the canon of fine arts. It is also not surprising that we consequently think that the domestic sphere is not relevant and does not provide content for art. They also provide a possible answer as to why we value fashion design above all else, but not the ways and means of production and why we are therefore hardly inclined to pay the people who make textiles a fair wage for these complex work processes.

 

In general, I find thinking about how the individual observations form a whole exciting and inspiring at the same time.

Another observation I make is that, fortunately, women have never really stopped working together and sharing their knowledge with the next generation. Usually it happens outside of the collective attention. The joy of working with your hands and the feeling of togetherness and empowerment is the power behind it.

 

My greatest source of research on these traditional crafts today is to be found among the indigenous peoples who have never stopped practicing and passing on these often ritualistic and important methods of making clothes and jewelry.


Imagine using a backstrap loom. It consists only of a series of wooden sticks and a belt around the hips. The warp is tied to a tree, for example, and the other end is tied around your hips. Your body feeling determines the tension of the thread, which, the more evenly it is maintained, creates an evenly woven piece of fabric. To do this, you need a particularly precise sense of your body. The slightest change in your posture is recorded in the fabric.


Imagine your grandmother showing you, when you are 8 years old, how to draw your dreams in patterns and how these patterns become the designs for the molas, a reverse appliqué form that originated in Panama. And then dress yourself in your dreams!


Imagine wearing a scarf with a long fringe and not thinking anything. We have been wearing fringes since the invention of string. The first surviving item of clothing is a fringed skirt. It was worn by young women for around 20000 years, a symbolic garment that neither warms nor covers the shame. Archaeologists assume that it was intended to symbolize fertility, fertility that is associated with hair and pubic hair. Fringes originated in this context.


With the knowledge of how to twist a cord, i.e. with the organized making of long and durable fiber organizations by twisting originally short and less coherent fibers, everyday life would become easier. Things could be connected to each other, like arrows to wood. They served as a means of transportation and as a knotted net for fishing. It was a revolutionary invention. The flax plant was cultivated.

If textiles were better preserved, like stone or bronze, we would probably be talking about the string age. From there, it took centuries of years before weaving was invented! This does not mean that mankind was less intelligent, but rather points to the complexity of the concept of warp and weft.

If you want to know more about this, I recommend the book by Elisabeth Wayland Barber: Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times



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