Woven Words

Felt Corset, Sitting 2005
Felt Corset, Sitting 2005

By studying ‘Textiles’ at Goldsmiths College, University of London I walked the corridors that were once filled by the presence of Mary Quant, Bridget Riley and Antony Gormley. I feel humble that I can say I have studied where some of the greatest designers and artists first found their inspiration.

So here is a question for you, what does textiles mean?

During my time at Goldsmiths we were often critiqued about our practice and encouraged to explore the meanings and use of textiles. Studying textiles at Goldsmiths meant pushing the boundaries of what textiles was. Could textiles be the process to explore or rationalise an idea? Would the final outcome present a body of work far removed from textiles – an installation of thoughts presented in film or photography.

I often remember a particular tutor, pushing the boundaries of the word ‘textiles’ and breaking it down into ‘text’ and ‘iles’. Text – meaning the obvious a ‘word’ or group of words that might be printed or interpreted in a form that is read in order to explain something. Leaving ‘iles’ 4 letters floating alone, what do they mean? Mr Google tells me it could be a surname or acronym. So perhaps the conclusion my tutor was trying to get across was that textiles were a way of weaving ideas, to tell a story, to be read.

Away from the conceptual world,  ‘textiles’ in the simplest form are fabric or cloth, perhaps woven? The Latin word for ‘textiles’ is Textilis – a woven fabric, piece of cloth.

Textiles are made from fibres – natural or man-made. Natural fibres fall under 2 categories – animal and vegetable. Animal: silk or wool and vegetable: cotton, linen or jute. The methods of making a cloth or fabric have developed and evolved over time from hand weaving to industrialised looms. Man-made fibres such as nylon or polyester were produced commercially in the 20th century.

The world is made up of various forms of cloth or fabric which are then used to cover and drape. It may be woven, felted, knitted, printed, embroidered or embellished with beads or metal spangles. Perhaps a cloth or fabric reveal a woven or embellished history of its own heritage?

Textiles can be found in your home, museums or historic houses. Today, whether we see it or not textiles surround us in every possible way from our curtains, duvet, carpet, dressing gown, sofa, dress, tights, trousers, or shoes.

Textiles can vary in size and scale. They can be flat, 3-dimensinal or sculptural. Perhaps textiles are ubiquitous objects? Textiles may have a function or be a simple display of craftsmanship or aesthetics.

National Trust properties display thousands of examples of textiles from state beds, hangings, curtains, furnishings, samplers and are often eclectic or collected over several generations.

Waddesden Manor offers a stunning journey of embellished textiles, woven in every corner. The Rothschild family were keen collectors and when you see the house for yourself you will see why. The Manor is grand, yet for a moment you feel like you are peeping through the looking glass reflecting on the Rothschild’s family life. The objects appear in an aquatic half light, longing for daylight and to be used again.

Folded Beauty
Folded Beauty

Folded Beauty: Masterpieces In Linen by Joan Sallas on display at Waddesdon Manor until 27th October 2013, weaves the journey of textiles to the modern day.

This exhibition is a contemporary take on an old tradition of folding napkins, a tradition which originated in Europe 500 years ago. What we see on display is a work of art with the splendid backdrop provided by the Rothschild collection. Through out the Manor there are stunning objects made from linen napkins, sitting proudly out of place to make you stop and stare. At the end of your journey around the Manor you are even invited to make your own napkin.

If you hurry you have time to visit Waddesden Manor before the napkins are folded away!

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