Category Archives: textiles

Hmong Textiles

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I’ve mentioned before that traditional crafts and textiles of various ethnic regions serve as a big source of inspiration to me. Above is a small tile collage I’ve pulled from an Etsy shop (of all places) that sells vintage Hmong fabric from Northern Thailand. I love the mixed use of cross-stitch, batik and appliqué. And the crazy variety of colors (even neon)! There is lots more at the shop if you want to check it out.

Quilt & Code

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I grew up with a sewing machine in the house. My mom taught herself how to sew at a very young age and became very skilled at just about any type of garment. Probably half of our family closet was custom-made — everything from bathing suits to fur winter coats. Following her example, I sewed a few outfits for my dolls but beyond that never managed to produce anything wearable in real size. Alas, I don’t make my own wardrobe. But my affinity for fabrics and threads persisted nonetheless and these days I will sew anything that has a straight edge — pillow cases, totes, curtains and, occasionally, quilts!

I didn’t actually know much about quilts until only a few years ago. Nobody in my family made them and their traditional aesthetic was never that attractive to me. But I gave them a closer look once I discovered that I have a slight obsessive-compulsive tendency for assembling big things from small pieces. After doing some research to see if there were any new modern trends in quilting I came upon Japanese textile artist Yoshiko Jinzenji and her work totally transformed my mindset about what quilting can be. I was instantly inspired and embarked on my first quilt back in 2008. It was lots of fun but also lots of work. I wasn’t sure how soon I would want to do another one.

Last summer I finally got the itch again and made two quilts at once! But this time I took a different approach. To be honest, I’m not so much interested in the patchwork aspect of a traditional quilt (which some might argue is the whole point!). Perhaps the most important part that was revealed to me in Jinzenji’s work was that fabric can be as much of a creative surface as paper or an oil canvas. Duh!

So for these quilts, I wrote a couple of geometric algorithms to generate the designs and then used Spoonflower to get them printed on large pieces of cotton. (Unfortunately one of the colours was too light and didn’t  come out but thankfully the designs still worked overall). Then came the quilting — 5mm apart — the most labour-intensive part of the process! With my first quilt I didn’t go for such frequency but I kept seeing it in Yoshiko’s work and wanted to try it. All I can say is that once the quilting was done, it took me another six months to attach the binding, haha. The final result is a rather stiff and heavy panel which works best as a wall-hanging or a mat, not so much as a sleeping cover. I’m quite pleased with the outcome. It’s confirmed to me once again that I like working with fabric and hope to continue using it in my future projects.

 

Kasaï velvet

Raffia Pile Cloth

Raffia Pile Cloth, Central Africa, 1940-1950 (source)

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Raffia Pile Cloth, Central Africa, 1900-1930, (source)

Raffia Pile Cloth

Raffia Pile Cloth, Central Africa, c 1950 (source)

Rafia Pile Cloth

Rafia Pile Cloth, Central Africa, early 20th century (source)

Raffia, cut-pile embroidery

Rafia Pile Cloth, Central Africa, early 20th century (source)

I’m a big fan of ethnic crafts and textiles. Whenever I travel, I always seek out local art offerings at the markets and souvenir shops. There is so much variety in different regions and sub-cultures that it’s an endless source of inspiration. A couple years ago I discovered the Textile Museum of Canada here in Toronto. It’s a tiny gem of a museum that usually gets overlooked next to ROM and the AGO, but it’s actually my favourite place to indulge in cultural voyeurism without getting on a plane.

Last fall I went to their exhibit called Natural Resources, which showcased handmade artifacts from around the world using traditional techniques and natural materials. Amidst the many beautiful pieces, I was most struck by raffia cloth panels made by the Shoowa tribe of the Kuba people. Known as Kasaï velvet (Velours du Kasaï), these panels are intricately woven using raffia palm fibers, which are then clipped to create a tufted surface. The most striking thing about them though are the geometric designs — irregular, spontaneous, abrupt — they completely defy the respect for symmetry and balance found in many traditional crafts. With my generative art brain I automatically imagined as though they were put through some kind of glitch algorithm. In my experience, a manually random design is not easy to create and I commend Shoowa for doing it so well without any software!

See more examples here, here and here.

Too bad that this book is out of print but even a used copy might still be more affordable than an original panel.