Painting With Threads

By Fleur Chattillon

From the clothes we wear to the furniture, we sit on, via the bags that we use to carry around our things, all wrapped in material. Textiles and fabrics are things we come into contact with every day of our lives maybe we don’t always notice, yet it’s a craft that can be simultaneously beautiful and useful; from hand woven to machine-made. Besides the fact that it is an ancient practice, it has changed through centuries always reinventing itself through visionary creatives in art and design. Find out all about it in Painting With Threads.

What started as a very practical invention, to protect us, to keep us warm, or even to shade us from the burning sun, fabric has evolved into something beautiful and innovative.

All the way back in Roman times the term Textile came from the meaning ‘that which has been woven’, being derived from the Latin word ‘texere’, which means ‘to weave’.

Textiles have a long history also in China, with the earliest examples dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 222 CE). During the Han Dynasty, “the Silk Road” developed westward to the Roman Empire, transport links that brought Chinese wares to Europe. Later in these Roman times, the European population was clothed in these well-travelled wools and linens.

The actual development of spinning yards goes back to ancient Egypt, around 3400 B.C.E. The tool originally used for weaving was the Loom, this device is what holds the longitudinal warp threads in place as the weaver weaves the “filling” or weft threads through them. 

Weaver using the Loom, Image by Pexels

Yet in eastern Asia area, especially China 2600 B.C. onwards, silk was spun and woven. Japan also played a very important part in the development of fabrics. The first fabrics were made by the original inhabitants of Japan (Jōmon Culture) who wove cloth from plant fibre. Until the 1600s, the Japanese imported cotton goods from China and India, but cotton farming was founded in Japan.

Cotton crop, Image by Isaaack

Initially, textiles were still luxurious, since it was not easy to get the materials and make them. Fibres had to be gathered from plants or animals and then twist to make them into yarn, all created by hand. Eventually, fabrics became everyday products for even the common man on the street. Society ladies may well have crocheted, sewn and embroidered as forms of entertainment, but for most, it was back-breaking hard and laborious.

The Spinning Jenny

A big turning point for the making of textiles was The Industrial Revolution. With the invention of the Cotton Gin, Spinning Jenny, and Power Loom, all new spinning machines that were able to produce thread at a pace that outmatched the hand weavers. Creating fabric was now automated and could be produced on a massive scale.

Cotton Gin in action, Image by Bill Murray

This change resulted in many more ways and options to explore textiles; think of the likes of knitting, crocheting and embroidery.

Textiles were not just for the wealthy anymore; as prices dropped, they were available to more of society. It also meant that these materials were not as precious, and creative people could experiment with them in previously unseen ways.

This rather ancient practice saw other purposes besides clothing in the world of Art and Design. Artists began to see textiles and fabric as a ‘canvas’.

The rich history of textiles has laid the groundwork for contemporary creatives to make the most beautiful pieces of furniture, or art in many forms. It’s an endless train of inspiration since there are so many options in different techniques and fabrics.

Many renowned artists used textiles as a medium for creating works. Even 20th Century master artists that were famous because of their paintings often made pieces of textile art.

A recent exhibition presented by Gray M.C.A at Cromwell Place showcased a few of these artists called ‘Styled by Design: Modern Artist Textiles’. Works from Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Elizabeth Frink, Alexander Calder and many more, utilised fabrics as a drawing or painting base.

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) Toros y Toteros, Screen print on cotton, Signed in print Bloomcraft Fabrics, USA 121 x 112 cms

The exhibition has an amount of 20th framed Century Modernist Textiles, that brings together a collection of rare and limited edition works by these renowned artists.

Elisabeth Frink (1930 – 1993) Snowy Owl 1983, Screenprint on silk Edition of 225, signed in print Christies Contemporary Art 88 x 88 cms. small

Diverse fabrics such as silk, rayon, woven wool, linen and cotton provided a new medium for Modern artists, allowing them to experiment with creating vivid textures and colours that brought both new life and a new audience to their work. These textiles vibrant with colours and patterns consist of surprising joyous images.

Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976) La Mer 1947, Screenprint on silk twill Ascher Studio 1985, signed in print 88 x 88 cms.small

Another practice where textiles have been applied to create art is in the design world. The exhibition ‘Weaving the World’ which happened during the recent Salone Del Mobile, Milan Design Week (the biggest design festival in the world), featured a selection of Indonesian contemporary artists who were chosen to present their work, showing off their speciality in crocheted or woven art.

A contemporary artist known for his immersive crochet installation ‘Mangmoel’ made its first appearance at the Milan Design Week, with rather unique and large pieces.

The Mogus (2012 & 2023), By Mangmoel, Material Acrylic Yarn, Polyester, Dacron, Flannel

There were many collaborations you could find during this exhibition, including an art piece by visual artist Ayu Andiani and graphic designer Harry Purwanto and there were woven baskets by interior designers Rina Renville and Nuantika.

Pangkeng Basket 2020, Polkaa Goods, By Rina Renville & Nuantika, Material Bamboo, Batik cloth

Also on show were fashion-forward designers and brands who explored different forms and materials. Brands such as BYO by Tommy Ambiyo, Lyonono, KaIND, KAIT handmade, Rinaly Yunardi, RUEVERSE by Savira Lavinia and Threadapeutic.

Fugu Bag (FUGUKU) 2022, RUEVERSE, By Savira Lavinia, Material 100% recycled PET bottle plastic

Last but not least the Indonisian showcased a variety of furniture lines such as Djalin and Studio Hendro Hadinata were present. They each showed the timeless charm of Indonesian craftmanship in contemporary life and used textiles and fabrics to make them.

Grebeg Fruit Bolw, Janur Flower Vase 2023, By Studio Hendro Hadinata, Material Stainless steel, Brass

What started as a practical practice, used for utility purposes thousands of years ago, only for the wealthy, evolved into making and producing clothes and furniture, eventually turning into art and design. Artists began to see textiles and fabric as their canvas. It became a medium to be creative with and reinvent not only textiles but themselves.

The exhibition by Gray M.C.A at Cromwell Place ‘Styled by Design: Modern Artist Textiles’ from April 19th- April 30th, 2023

More information about the exhibition ‘Weaving The World’ here

For information on Salone del Mobile, Milan design week go here

If you enjoyed reading Painting With Threads, why not try Wearing contemporary art?

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