The first part of this research point involves how many contexts of textiles I can find and taking photographs – this will be an ongoing point which will be upgraded over the course of the assignment due to practicalities.
It is interesting to consider just how many different contexts there are for textiles as we are surrounded by them in all areas of modern life.
The first example I photographed is in my local cathedral and is a beautiful bargello kneeler. Derby Cathedral has an abundance of different stitched textiles from these kneelers to quilted wall hangings to the altar cloths – many can be touched and are of course designed to be and they are also designed to be seen inside the building. I feel in the case of the Cathedral or any church or place of worship textile the location has a very direct bearing for these are designed with a view to reflect the holy aspect of the location. Some of the textiles are richly decorated such as a the clothing of the clergy or members of the choir and are made of rich yarns including gold threads or silks – there is almost a classical canon for these garments and textiles which dictate how they are worked and displayed.
A second location which has textiles in different contexts is my local stately home – Kedleston Hall. The textiles here consist of a variety of furnishings including chairs, fire screens and carpets – all equally fascinating in their own right but the one that was unexpected when I first visited the house last year is the silk damask wall coverings. In my photo you can see the carpet and wide, elegant chairs but you can also see the sheer beauty of those wall coverings – this room is one of the ones that has been fully restored and the silk damask custom made at huge expense and not surprisingly you are not allowed to touch!
A new addition to the house is the restored State Bed and again this has been done at huge expense and there are alarms surrounding the bed to prevent the public touching it. An interesting note is the gold braid that has been made locally in Derbyshire – it is intricately woven and captures the light in such a way that it sparkles and shows off a bed designed for a monarch but never actually used.
Other contexts for textiles that I can consider without actual photographs are those I see in on hospital visits – these range from the uniforms of the staff to the bedding and the surgical applications and as is mentioned in the course material the textiles use for space suits and travel which I have seen many years ago at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. I must add a photograph of my car interior – again mentioned in the course material but along with several others such as fashion you tend to overlook and take for granted. There is also the artistic aspect – the textile art which I have researched already during the duration of this course including that of quilts both in a traditional and contemporary art sense along with the exploratory textiles of my fellow students or contemporary artists.
Textiles are also used in the care of animals – horse blankets or dog coats are examples with some being for the care of the sick or injured and some horse blankets are used for use outside in the cold and wet of winter.
Textiles surround us in life in a huge ever expanding variety of contexts – as I write I think of the new developments in sports wear with fabrics developed to pull moisture away from the skin or to protect against wet or cold and there are also developments in military textiles too with regards to bullet proof clothing or new improved fabrics to protect the armed forces in the field. I consider the developments in motor cycling textiles – Kevlar jeans an example due to the strength, heat resistance and and impact tolerance and this is one I example of textiles I am grateful for due to having two motorbike mad sons!
The context in which we see textiles does have an impact – I have yet to see textile art displayed outside over a period of time but love the thought of how it would wear and deteriorate and effectively become new art but the textiles I do see that are designed for outside use are usually ones that can be touched and are for practical purposes. Textile art which is designed to be displayed in an interior location can be tactile and designed to be touched and handled or displayed behind glass due to either the materials used or techniques or just the hours that have been put into the making of it. I find myself drawn to the silk damask wall coverings of Kedleston Hall – not totally unexpected in the fact I have come across it before in other wealthy houses in magazines or on the internet but unexpected in how exquisitely beautiful it is when seen in person as it far exceeds expectations.
There is a part of me that would love to take a space suit or something similar and put it in an entirely different location to see people’s reaction to it as well as my own – a textile that is designed to be in one location does have a very different feel to how you would perceive it when it is seen somewhere totally different.
The second part of the research point is with regards yarn bombing – this is something I find hugely amusing and great fun as it concerns knitters and crochet workers literally decorating their communities of different locations with knitted and crocheted items …. tree trunks are covered, benches transformed or buses covered by single artists or groups of artists or any other object that takes someone’s fancy to decorate!
The knitters or crochet artists take photographs of their creations and post them onto the internet for others to see or comment on – it is in effect graffiti but using yarn and was thought to have originated in the USA but has spread to Britain and other countries.
The bus photographed above has been done by one Magda Sayeg from Texas who is believed to be the originator of yarn bombing – initially it was just scarves or small items made to cover door handles or signs but one day this bus took her fancy and along with a team of knitters in the space of a week they transformed it. From humble beginnings the craze has really caught people’s imagination and has even got a 104 great-grandmother yarn bombing 46 locations in the Scottish county of Borders with a group of other like minded people – Grace Brett who proves to me that street art is not just for the young and hip!!
I just love this phenomenon or craze because it takes a traditional craft into new locations and reaches a much wider audience than would see it in a gallery and brings me back to the conceptual artists I have mentioned above of the Post-World War II era which wanted to take art outside of galleries and to challenge the traditions and ideas of the art world. Yarn bombing is challenging the traditions of the craft world in the same way that contemporary quilt art is challenging the more classical traditions of the quilting community. The craze is also bringing a bright and joyful new aspect to many urban environments and also encompasses bridges or other large man-made or naturally made objects – there are no rules of what can or cannot be covered and many yarn-bombers work secretively so that the object is found covered in its new blanket or scarf unexpectedly. Not surprisingly Facebook groups and websites have been set up to satisfy the creative ‘urges’ for want of a better phrase of those who want to join in this craze and literally go crazy with a freedom of expression using yarn – Craftsy.com which is a well known craft website even has tips on how to successfully yarn bomb which I fully admit has been bookmarked!!
My personal favourite image is this yarn bombed pink and purple tank …. the artist has my admiration and total respect because if there is one image that inspires me to want to yarn bomb myself at some point in the future then this is it!! From an artistic point of view someone has taken a weapon of war and turned into something non-threatening that makes the viewer smile or even laugh …. the only thing that would make this image better is to have a soldier peaking out of the top but the fact it is photographed near what appears to be a Victorian building (perhaps an old warehouse) which is obviously considerable older than the tank itself also just adds to the incongruous context. The yarn bombing makes the tank look so completely different and out of place it almost confuses the eye and brain and the yarn also almost completely camouflages the structure and outlines of the tank – the irony is not lost! What makes me laugh though is the fluffy pompom ‘bullet’ hanging off the end of the canon – someone is either making a peaceful protest or has one heck of a sense of humour. It turns out this is a protest piece of art – the tank is a World War II tank and it was covered in yarn as a protest against the Danish, USA and UK’s involvement in the war in Iraq and the knitted and crocheted squares were done by many people in many countries – because this is a protest piece I find it even more interesting from both an art history perspective because art has long been used for political or religious purposes and it is fascinating to see textiles cross into this style of art.
Personally I think is what I love most about this craze – there is humour and it makes people smile in what is at the moment a very troubled world. Yes the yarn bombing is challenging the traditional aspects of knitting and crochet as a craft and yes it is bringing the craft to a greater audience using bright colours and patterns but it does make people stop, look and smile or laugh – who could resist this pink motorcycle seen in a gallery setting? or benches that look like monsters? this style of knitting is completely crazy but it does require dedication and skill and a wonderful creative imagination which crosses boundaries between artistic disciplines or maybe I should say that I feel it is coming out of the craft lagoon into a new artistic realm that perhaps does not have its own name yet – it is not fine art in the traditional sense but it is fine art in the skill and creativity that it requires to produce refined results or in some cases results totally unrefined and rustic but humour filled pieces in totally unexpected locations. Lastly what I feel is important with this craze is that it is inclusive of all levels of skill and that does mean that the graffiti style of yarn bombing can reach all echelons of society – the older perception of the craft I feel can be somewhat fusty in truth but this craze changes it into something that everyone can enjoy.
After this assignment was submitted my tutor’s feedback suggested looking at textiles used in space exploration and also personal protection garments and medicine – the latter I have done a separate blog for regarding the work of Wendy Moyer due to a very personal resonance.
Research into space garments has produced an interesting result in that I was unaware of the use of fabrics in circuits and antennas and also wearable electronics or e-textiles as they are apparently known. On Nasa’s website it points out that these textiles are already used for firefighters, soldiers and also in medicine for monitoring the vital signs of a patient but space produces different challenges which have meant there have had to be further advances in technology to allow the operation at radio frequencies. It seems there are a variety of uses from fabric-skinned aircraft and balloons to clothing based electronics and antennas to battlefield communications, surveillance electronics and much more and it is Johnson Space Centre that is applying for the patent for this advancing technology.
I confess to having long held an interest in space exploration due to in part the science fiction television series particularly of my teenage years and also due to having visited Kennedy Space Centre on 2 occasions due to my parents living on the west coast of Florida – I have stood on the front doorstep of their house and watched a shuttle launch from across the state! I am obviously aware of the fact NASA is at the very forefront of many technological advances but hadn’t really given much thought to the textile side except for the obvious space suits and garments that have to be able to stand very different conditions to what clothing would normally be subject to so these new electronic textiles are of great interest.
Further research has told me of Raul Polit Casillas who is a systems engineer at NASA and at the forefront of textile development with woven metal fabrics for use in space – these are literally printed in a 3-D style but with a development his department describe as 4-D printing due to being able to print not just the function of the material but also the geometry …. I confess the process lost me entirely but understand the process is done on an industrial scale. The fabrics are intended to be eventually produced in space, or at least that is the hope, but in the meantime the main functions that include tensile strength, passive heat management (as I said it lost me entirely!), reflectivity and also foldability. The printing process itself involves literally printing layers of material to build the desired fabric and this in turn reduces cost and also produces unique materials. I will be interested to continue to follow developments in this process through the NASA website. Oh the link to fashion is the fact Mr Casillas’s mother is a fashion designer in Spain and hence he grew up fascinated with the use of fabrics in design.
With regards to the use of personal protection garments I feel the use of e-textiles has in effect covered this aspect but there is also the development Kevlar fabric for body armour which has crossed over into wearable protective clothing for the motorbiking community – kevlar was developed by the military and it has made its way into everyday life. There is also the reflective clothing that we take for granted that is worn for health and safety reasons along with other protective types of clothing such as fabrics that have been developed to protect against the cold which are also being subject to on-going developments, kitchen textiles which involves Nomex which is the fireproof fibre layer and this is also part of fireproof garments around the world. One of the websites my tutor suggested looking at incorporates reflective fibres to tweed when it is woven – the fabric is also waterproof and the garments made are aimed at the cycling community to enable them to go out at night smartly dressed looking rather dapper rather than resorting to the more traditional reflective clothing. I do feel I have barely scratched the surface on protective garments because so many are part of our everyday lives which we take for granted and these are also subject to ever advancing technological processes.
My tutor recommended I look at a blog that stated about how textiles can be used in medicine – rotator cuff repairs or small knitted vascular grafts plus in the news recently surgical mesh which has been used for gynecological repairs although this is now somewhat controversial due to some women having suffered considerable pain through some of the mesh coming apart and penetrating soft tissues. There is also the obvious use of textiles for bandages and plasters which come in numerous variations.
As a final note – another suggestion by my tutor was to watch a video on Gore-Tex …. this is a fabric we almost take for granted but of course it has been developed through extensive research and testing and was the world’s first windproof, waterproof and breathable fabric. Now I am going to admit now I cannot even begin to understand the science behind this fabric but it has extensive uses from clothing to the above mentioned vascular and surgical grafts.
I do feel this is a blog that could be added to even more over a considerable period of time and it is clearly worth me either keeping a separate notebook for textile uses or in subsequent modules adding a small blog to add further research to – this will continue to improve my knowledge on the wide variety of textiles and how they are made as well as providing inspiration for future work.
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