Sometimes books change the way you think about your craft. I thought I’d start highlighting some books and exhibition catalogs that reset the way I thought about the potentiality of textiles, or re-opened doors I hadn’t considered for some time. These are the ones that I keep within an arms reach at my desk or by the bed. (Yes, I keep some textile reading by the bed. I have an electrical wiring manual there too…)
This week, three books of textile exhibitions from Matilda McQuaid, Curatorial Director of Textiles at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum.
I’ll admit to being highly influenced by this product of the Extreme Textiles Exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Here functional textiles were the star of the show and innovation was on full display.
The book itself is a satisfying object, with a die cut cover that reveals a thick non-woven textile sample of mylar and aramid sailcloth. The book is divided into five areas of exploration: Stronger, Faster, Lighter, Safer, and Smarter. The focus is on textile technology used in sports, aerospace, nautical, architectural, geological and medical applications.
What this exhibition and book did was to take the functional textile and put it at center stage. This is not a book about fashion or art textiles or textile design as decorative art. This is about engineered textiles that change performance and textiles where form follows function but the objects and material on display are gorgeous in their own right.
Extreme Textiles cemented the concept that a textile can and does function as more than just a decoration. In fact it can be integral to the function of the product. It confirmed the idea that it is possible to use conventional production methods to create unconventional products. It showed the level of invention that is possible with simple threads and fabrics.
This one is at my bedside right now, if you need to know. Again, this is a companion book to a Cooper Hewitt Exhibition of the same name. This follows the investigation of the Extreme Textiles Exhibition, but mixes the performance and functional aspects of felt with the aesthetic and decorative potential.
Felt is a strange and intriguing material to me. Its so different from the constructive processes that I’m familiar with as a designer of woven textiles. Weaving and knitting deal in threads slowly building planes. Felt is a more aggressive process of heat and compression.
Depending on felt’s density, it can be loose and playful, graceful and airy, or solid and stoic. I personally respond most to the work that is cut from industrial felt and finds a way to be structural, soft and decorative in the same package.
This is the other side of textile design: Japanese high end distressed manipulated textiles that push techniques for purely aesthetic reasons. These beautiful textiles were part of the 1998 MoMA show of the same name.
Highlighted here are textiles that often walk a line between production and hand crafted. Many of them suffered through creases, heat, and chemicals to get to their beauty. In all cases the firm understanding of technique and process allowed the designer to go to the edge and make a sublime textile.