Why Textiles?

Why Textiles?

There are so many creative ways of artistic expression. So why did I choose textiles as a medium? Actually, I don't really feel as if I chose it, but I can explain why I like it. 

For one, We are surrounded by cloth in our daily lives. The largest accumulation of textiles we have is our clothing. But we also find textiles covering our furniture. We find them in our linen closets, on our beds, in our bathrooms, at our kitchen sinks, and in our living rooms.They are towels, blankets, pillows, dish cloths, among other things. Textiles are everywhere, and have been around for millennia. They are embedded in our cultures, and daily lives. This has created a deep connection to the fibres and textures of fabric. 

Fabric and fibre is more than just a visual experience. It is equally about touch. As a textile artist, I have a very hands on experience in the process of creating. I can tell the difference of between alpaca, silk, wool and cotton just by touching it. Whether knitting, spinning, embroidering, weaving, or sewing my hands are involved with fibre. The way textiles feel influences us on a profound level, even if we don't acknowledge it and it starts at a young age. As children we have a favourite blanket, or stuffie. For me it was a favourite pillow case. I loved the way it felt on my face, and when I traced my hand across its surface. 

There is a direct link from textiles to the linage of women in a family. My interest in textiles was influenced by the women in my family. I was surrounded by creators. The women in my family knit, sewed, crocheted, embroidered, quilted, and hooked rugs. I was young when I learned to knit and embroider. I didn't stick to handcrafts right away, but as I was continuously exposed to women working with fibre I found my way back. Continuing my exploration and practice in textiles makes me feel close to my female relatives and ancestors. 

There is the origin story. Even if we do not source our fibres locally, we can at least know where it is from. A lot of wool can easily be traced to the specific regions where it is grown. Traditionally, sheep breeds are identified by there origin. For example, Cheviot fleece is from the Cheviot Hills in the UK. Cotton and linen also have connections to where they were first produced, or are well produced. We know about the luxurious Egyptian cotton, or durable Belgian linen.

Textiles are steeped in history. There have been knitted and woven swatches found in Egyptian tombs. There have been centuries old fragments of tartans discovered in peat bogs in Scotland. These pieces of fabric allow us to learn how our ancestors lived, and created. Because textiles are made with such ancient skills, I often wonder how someone figured out that you could spin sheep hair into a continuous filament, or that when you have enough of it you can take two sticks and wind the filament above and below to create something to cover yourself. And then how did the knowledge travel?

The more I delve into the connections of ancient practice of textiles and our modern lives, I am drawn to the book The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made The World. In it we learn that chemistry was developed as people started recording dyeing recipes, techniques and results. The binary code was adapted from the workings of loom shafts. The zeros and ones are based on the opening and closing of shafts one and two that produce plain weave. 

All of these intersections of textiles seep into my practice, but the main reason I like to work with fibre is that I can be apart of every aspect of the process. I get to choose how deeply I am connected to what I am creating. I  have the ability to raise a sheep or a goat, shear it, clean the fibre, dye it, spin it and then choose to weave, or knit or embroider with it. I can decide to make something functional, or conceptual.

Textiles carry the story of where they came from, but they also develop a story of their own. I have quilts my grandmother, and great-grand mother made. There is the story of who created them, how they were made, the design chosen, the fabrics used, and who and what they were intended. I like having these quilts in my possession and continuing their story by mending and repairing them as needed.

In a time where most peoples' experiences with textiles is disposable, I like to imagine the textiles I create having long histories. I hope they live to be passed on to other people who love colour and texture and appreciate slow craft. I want them to have stories of their own. 

What creative process or item do you feel connected to? 

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