Textile Analyses 101. On the Velvet Highway PDF  | Print |  E-mail


fogo island quilt


Quilt work by Doris Budden  from Fogo Island , Newfoundland, from promotional material for “Tradition in Transition: Contemporary Canadians Textiles in France" 18th annual Carrefour Europeén du Patchwork September 13-16 2012 Photo taken by Yvonne Mullock*

On September 13 2012, in Ste Marie aux Mines, Alsace, France, “Tradition in Transition: Contemporary Canadians Textiles in France," curated by Sandra Reford, opens. Closer to home Wanderlust, an exhibition curated by Karie Liao, curatorial Resident at Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto, opens on September 15th. “Traditions in Transition” features the work of 35 Canadians working with fibre in the form of thread and cloth. Wanderlust features Canadian artists and designers working in collaboration with traditional techniques of dying and textile embellishments to create fashion and installation. In November, I am showing hand woven jacquard textiles in the Station Coffee Shop and Gallery in Brantford Ontario, and “Tradition in Transition" opens at the Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre in Oakville. In between, in galleries and other public venues around South Central Ontario, the work of over 350 makers from 12 different countries can be seen in what could be one big fibre festival -- but isn’t
Wunderlust Image
 Left: NorBlack NorWhite / centre: Jordan Bennett / right: The Color Collective

 September 15 - November 18, 2012
Textile Museum of Canada
55 Centre Avenue  Toronto, ON M5G 2H5, Canada
Opening Reception September 14, 6:30 - 8 pm

It takes time to learn how to look at a piece of cloth and be able to see the individual threads and recognize how the weft threads intertwine with the warp threads and create the structure which holds the whole cloth together.  It can be hard to see the whole cloth when you are responsible for or are only interested in one thread; it can take an outside viewer to see the whole.  People tend to find what they are looking for and don’t notice the rest. Quilters are interested in quilting and many artists, even some of those individuals working with textiles, often disassociate themselves from the history and process and don’t consider textile influences worth acknowledging. This is encouraged by curators who say that to identify the material and process makes the work "craft" and by not doing so that the same work can then be considered 'art". This of course is both understating and overstating it -- but you get the idea. While all but two of the exhibitions listed in this preview feature contemporary work by artist, craft practitioners, and designers, all are named makers working with fibre/ thread/ textiles as a medium, theme or are making textiles by weaving or felting. All are also presented out of context of textile history and, while situated into a contemporary art niche for the general public, it is perhaps time to ask the question “Where is the thread?”

fibreworks 2012
fibreworks 2012, invitation. Images on invite L to R Anne Devitt, Suspension of Disbelief (detail), woven woodcut print, 2011, Heather Cameron, Arbor Vitae (detail), 2012, Jolie Bird, Chair Wrapped in Gold Thread, Detail) Chair, cotton thread 2011, images courtesy of Cambrigde Galleries

With this many exhibitions happening in close proximity to each other this fall in south central Ontario, it is perhaps time look at them as a whole and get a picture of where this type of work fits into textile history. Another question emerging   from this idea of looking and analyzing  is  who is doing the looking and how. A very recent posting and thread of comments on facebooks makes this a revealing question. The posting was about someone misidentifying a technical process involved in the creation of a piece in the recent Oh Canada exhibition that was presented at the Mass Mocca; the piece was “Widow” by Janice Wright Cheney. Her sculptural work can be explained simply as “textile taxidermy” which could be unpacked for you right here but this is not the time though it is the place. The comments on the post were a mix of outrage, annoyance, and frustration with me trying to be conciliatory by suggesting that, considering how little coverage textiles receive, even though it was inaccurately described, at least it was written about.   This is  the  opposite  of what I actually feel as did most of those commenting  --  which is that if some one is going to write about textile techniques they should do the research so they can provide accurate information.   As Laue has argued: 

“ Anyone involved in textile art should not hand the genre over to the prevailing art scene, but should place it in the hands of cultural scholars. Just as we would never advocate this for architecture - or is it possible to imagine architecture lop-sidedly judged by fine art criteria (?)  - we should not surrender textile art solely to the current appreciation of art, which gives preference to the idea (concept) over material property (or Physical nature). We must find context more appropriate to the cultural standards of textile art then a “temple of art” atmosphere” 

Dietmar Laue “The international Lausanne tapestry Biennial 1962 -1995 an inconsistent Venture” Textile forum 3/2012


Fibre Content

  Let's tabulate some of the recent southern Ontario fibre/textile exhibits to see what potential there might be for creating something on the model of Fiber Philadelphia which has been taking place there in the spring for the last twenty years. Their Mission: To enrich the Philadelphia region by exhibiting innovative textile art from around the world, supporting the advancement of education and awareness within the field of fiber and textile studies and promoting community participation through city wide projects, workshops and lectures. As a result of their proactive stance, other organizations such as Surface Design Association and Studio Art Quilt Associates held their national conference there and the Friends of Fiber Arts International organized a tour for their members. This  is another story

Hard Twist 2012

Over the past two decades,   lovers of textile arts have been treated to a juried textile biennial exhibition, “fibreworks,” now presenting the 14th edition at the Cambridge Galleries in Cambridge, and more recently we have seen  “The World of Threads” festival in Oakville. In 2006 The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto organized a juried exhibition “Hard Twist” to coincide with the Textile Society of America’s symposium “Textile Narratives and Conversations”  which  is now in its sixth year and has become an official part of the “World of Threads Festival”   Another interesting exhibition that was organized around the TSA Symposium was “Small Talk”  showcasing   the work of students from fibre/ textile programs from 12 schools across Canada and which toured across the country. It was the opportunity to see and compare what the schools were producing. J.Penney Burton wrote a review of the Small Talk show when it was in the Montreal Centre for Contemporary Textiles while on tour. There has not been second edition yet but that is yet another story.

Ontario members of the Studio Art Quilt Associates are showing their work in the “Fibre Content” exhibition taking place in Burlington on October 27th and 28th. There are many makers showing through out these exhibitions which are part of the US based Surface Design Association-- not to mention local, provincial and international organizations, guilds and networks --but they are showing as individuals rather than as members. Many have been promoting their participation in the various shows on facebook, twitter, Linked In, personal blogs (see, for example, Lottta Hellebreg In Leaf Blog) and in organization news letters and the “World of Threads” website which has been publishing profiles of makers for the past 75 weeks.  

world of threads

Those of us that follow such things have been informed of these pending events. The galleries and event organizers have or will be sending out press releases to local media the promotional aspects will become apparent closer to the events, but the critical coverage from pervious years is lacking and this needs to change.  The question is how? National magazines such as MacLean’s, Chatelain, and Canadian Art, along with magazines that focus on Fashion and Interior Design,  need to be brought on board in terms of recognizing fibre work as a commercial and collectable commodity and as a creative/ cultural entity worth critical analysis and lifestyle media support.    


evite Contimuum
You can read the story behind this exhibition in  "The Julia Caprara Hons BA in Embroidered Textiles Middlesex University"
These exhibitions offer the opportunity to see the work of over 325 makers from 12 countries making or working with textiles over a three week period. As these exhibitions are spread over 4 different cities it will take some planning to see them all, but the time frame makes this easy. The press announcements,  coming out closer to the events, make the scheduling of editorial coverage haphazard at best, and reviews (if there are any) tend to come out after the event rather then during and this leads to a ‘why bother?” attitude on the part of editors. Freelance writers need a wide window in which to pitch stories and you end up hounding galleries and museums to get schedules and images in advance of their usual press schedules. In spite of having to search out the information for this cluster of exhibitions, I find this line up very exciting and plan to see all these shows. I hope you do also and if you think the press coverage is lacking, remember to share this Preview with your favorite magazines, reviewers, local and national media. After all, they, like you, facebook, tweet and who knows what else. Maybe the buzz will catch on.

  Hanging (palampore) (detail)  Mordant painted and resist dyed cotton   c. 1750  India for the Dutch market  2011.27.1

 Hanging (palampore) (detail) Mordant painted and resist dyed cotton c. 1750 
India for the Dutch market. ROM  2011.27.1 Gift of Louise Hawley Stone Charitable Trust Image provide by ROM and usedwith permission.
Patricia Harris Gallery of Costume and Textiles
the Royal Ontario Museum
Opening November 3, 2012

For a list of exhibitions happening in Southern Ontario this fall season see next page
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