Humans have been making textiles for thousands of years. Clothing, fabrics, baskets, and carpets are often practical as well as decorative and expressive. Because of their use as functional objects, textiles have long been seen as a "craft" rather than a type of fine art, but things are changing.
In the 19th century, British and American members of the Arts & Crafts movement started to challenge that distinction. The Arts & Crafts movement was a reaction to Industrial Revolution and mass production, advocating for a return to handmade objects and the employment of artists in creating household objects. Famously, British designer William Morris created furniture, wallpaper, tapestries, and fabrics that blurred the lines between art and craft. "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful," Morris once said.
A century later, textiles were used to transform the boundary between art and craft again–this time by feminist artists in the 1970s. Understanding that textiles and fibers were historically the domain of women, feminist artists reclaimed textiles in the 70s and pushed them into the realm of fine art. Now, we call this category "fiber art."
Fiber Art Techniques
Weaving involves an artist using a loom to intertwine threads. By threading different colors, artists can create patterns or images in the weaving. Contemporary artists are also increasingly exploring different types and thicknesses of thread to create dynamic, almost sculptural weavings. Some artists use lap-sized looms for small pieces, while others use looms the size of a room to create large-scale wall hangings. Chicago artist kg uses weaving and found objects to create pieces that play with dimensionality.
Knitting and Crocheting
These are two similar techniques, both using a hand-held tool to create stitches or knots. Knitting uses two needles, while crocheting uses a single hook, to form patterns. Often used to make things like scarves, blankets, and sweaters, knitting and crocheting are increasingly appearing in art. Artists use these techniques to interact with objects in novel ways. Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos creates sculptures by crocheting around animal figurines.
This is a new form of street art that has emerged in recent years. Artists "yarn bomb" by knitting or crocheting around an object in a public space, much the way a street artist might use stencils or stickers to interact with spaces. Polish artist Olek yarn bombed an entire house Finland in 2016.
Sewing is the act of connecting fabric or objects with a needle and thread. Sewing can be used to create garments, often exploring the boundaries between craft, fashion, and fine art. This technique is also used with a variety of materials to create sculptural pieces. Chicago-based artist Nick Cave is famous for his fiber work, called "Soundsuits" which are both wearable by dancers or static sculptures in galleries.
Embroidery and Quilting
Embroidery is another type of sewing, which create images and patterns on the surface of fabrics. Quilting involves sewing different fabrics and fillings together to create patterns. Pia Camil creates large scale pieces from different fabrics, as well "wearable paintings" in the form of ponchos. Learn more about Camil and other pioneering fiber artists on Artsy.
Collecting Fiber Art
There are many reasons to collect fiber art. Acquiring fiber art pieces for your collection can allow you to engage with new mediums. Fiber art can add texture to a space, complementing furniture and color in a unique way. Many pieces of fiber art are "2.5D" or somewhere between two and three-dimensional works. If you are looking for a piece that can hang flat on a wall, but still has three-dimensional elements and utilizes space in engaging ways, fiber art wall hangings are a great option to consider. Fiber pieces can also have excellent acoustic properties, dampening sound in large, echo-prone spaces. Fiber art pieces of all types can add depth and texture to your collection and space.
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