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A Textile Vocabulary – “Textiles”

What is a textile? What does the term mean to me? 

Well, before I expanded my interests from knitting and cross stitch I would have said a textile was something to do with fashion, it was a printed or woven fabric usually used for clothes or soft furnishing. Then through a process of synchronicity and a desire to increase my stitching skills I found a world of stitch and fibre art that I didn’t even know existed. I found myself learning about dyeing fabric, making surfaces for stitch, learning about embellishments, using found objects as surfaces and basically learning about how embroiders, quilters, fashion designers and artists are pushing their imaginations and experimenting to create amazing pieces of textile art. 

There continues a thriving interest in traditional methods running along side this more contemporary and experimental work.  But how do you categorise this new work? City and Guilds were still separating hand and machine embroidery when I took my level 3 course even through the two methods of stitch were being seen more and more together on pieces of embroidery and then what about quilting? The world and traditional views of quilting are changing every day. Art quilts are pushing the boundaries around the globe and the divide between embroidery and quilting is blurring more all of the time. We are using unusual surfaces more and more and many Textile Artists are not just stitchers they are also art journallers,  felters, potters, painters, sculpters and inventors. Artist’s like Grayson Perry are blurring the lines by producing stunning embroideries and tapestries. Beautiful pieces of fashion design; kymono patterns, Kylie Minogue’s outfits including those gold hot pants and wardrobes designed and made for film and theatre are on display in museums. Then how about that meat outfit of Lady Ga Gas’?

This all makes it very difficult to give a clean and tidy definition of what a textile object is.  At first it brings to mind cloth, something soft, with a drape. Something woven, but then felt is a textile but its not woven and what about synthetic materials like crisp packets and hard substances like metal and stone that are often used in textile pieces.  Is the carpet in my home a textile? Are leaves stitched through a textile? Is the definition then about purpose rather than content? Purpose I think? Are we taking about decoration? Are we talking about the intent of the maker? But then many textile pieces have very practical purposes and their design / invention was the driver for the maker.

So is it content? Must a textile include fabric, thread, pattern? But what about textile artists who work with stone, metal and found objects like bottle tops and newspapers. Well, what the heck how about it being a combination of the 2 and more besides? 

The umbrella term I use for all of these skills and different aspects of creativity is ‘textile’. I call myself a textile artist, how else can I express how my interests stretch across so many different genres. This definition lets me leave the door wide open, it lets me explore lots of different techniques, surfaces and subjects. 

So that’s it for me. I could list all the items I think are textiles, I could list all the substances and implements used to create textiles and all the methods by which textiles can be made but wouldn’t that just limit our imaginations? This doesn’t mean that I don’t look at textiles, or research materials or makers but all that information is recorded on my Pinterest boards and I think there are more than enough words here as it is!


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