Research point – Textile artists


The Work of The Textile Artist

I feel that textile artists and designers/craft-people approach a piece with a different outcome in mind. For example, when making a quilt to go on a bed, historically the quilt would’ve been a functional piece to keep people warm. The craftsperson would’ve used whatever materials were available to them, finding pieces of fabric and holding them together in layers for extra warmth. To prolong the life of these early pre-industrial fabrics which were very labour intensive to produce, they would’ve been patched and repaired, hence creating a more decorative patchwork quilt. The main function of the piece though would’ve still been to keep people warm. Even after people started designing simple geometric decorative patterns for the quilts, and using them to make their surrounding more beautiful or show off their wealth, the people making them never considered themselves to be artists and the items they made were still functional.

A textile artist however, would’ve approached the quilt from a more aesthetic point of view. Many of them have previously used other media like paint, printing, or weaving before moving in to quilting. This means they often bring new ideas and ways of making things to projects, and may use unusual textiles or combine the quilting with other media they have used before. Whilst this may make the quilt more beautiful, it can also make it less functional as an object to keep someone warm. For example, some fibers may be too fragile to wash or handle on a daily basis, and some dyes and paints may fade in strong light, so the quilt may end up hanging on a wall to be viewed rather than used. To an artist this may not matter though, as the decorative effect may be more important than the usefulness of the item.

Regardless of weather a quilt is made by a textile artist or a craft-person, the main method of construction will be the same, as essentially a quilt is just layers of fabric held together with stitches. The creation of the fabrics may be quite different though, as a craft-person would be making use of whatever they have available to them, whilst a textile artist could be painting, embellishing and assembling their work of art in fabric, however, as with most things at times boundaries between the two get blurred.

Textile arts on Wikipedia 
V & A Introduction to Quilting
Quilting in Great Britain
America’s Quilting History

Internationally Known Textile Artists

Emily Jo Gibbs

Emily has produced 3 distinctly different types of textile art over the last 20 years, starting by making unusual, luxury handbags, before moving on to vessels and baskets, and finally embroidered portraits. It is this final body of work that interests me most as I enjoy painting portraits myself. Emily recreates photo’s of her family and other children using linen, silk organza and mercerized cotton thread. She appliques layers of silk organza on to a linen background before embroidering over it with cotton thread – often adding a written message. The layers of silk organza used combine to produce pieces with a muted and delicate colour scheme. Her pieces of work are small – generally A4 or A3 size, this enables he to work without a frame. The subject of some of her embroideries feel deeply personal, you can feel the time she has spent observing her loved ones to create their likeness, the soft layers making them seem fragile, and the embroidered words pass on important lessons she feels they need to know to navigate modern life.

Gizella K. Warburton

Gizella makes both wall hangings and sculptural pieces using cloth, thread, paint, charcoal, wood, slate, in fact any media which produces the effects she wants. The pieces are fairly big with some measuring over 1.5m across, and made in natural muted colours like greys, indigo’s, and dirty whites. They have a raw and emotional quality to them, different elements are collaged together to create an expressive scrap-book of the artists emotions and experiences. All marks are made expressively to invoke a feeling or memory in an abstract manner, leaving the pieces scarred, stained and pierced charting a journey through life.

I view textile art in the same way I view any art, the fibers and threads used can tell a story in much the same way as paint and sculpture, it’s just a different media to use. I feel traditional textile art has been widely accepted for a long time, for example large tapestries and woven wall hangings have been used to decorate homes and buildings for hundreds of years. Abstract and unusual pieces may be less accepted as fine art but then I suspect painters and sculptures may face to same problems as well.


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