Textile Imagery

The final topic in Mary Schoeser’s book Textiles: The Art of Mankind is Imagery .

Pictorial imagery is an element of textile art the viewer expects to find, despite the fact that it is only one aspect of this enormous field….[O]ne of my essential points is that textiles are three-dimensional objects within which structure, texture, insertions, additions, manipulations and movement can interact.  In fact, it is more accurate to describe textiles not a s a visual art, but as a sensory art, one that calls into play all of the senses…  (p. 463)

Schoeser divides this section into three parts:

  • Identity – textiles like plaids and paisleys — pattern designs that have come to be associated with certain cultures or eras; also “subtle or overt markers of cultural allegiance that are often as dependent on the textile as on the tailoring.” (p. 464)
  • Narrative –  textiles that allude to historic events or well-known stories that the viewer understands.  “Other stories are more current and often contested… Many such contemporary myths reflect concerns about power and its impact on gender stereotypes and relationships, and about the nature of existence.  Using textiles to direct attention to life’s struggles with these issues has an added frisson, given that textiles are so often a source of comfort.” (p. 471)
  • Of Time and Place – textiles that show isolated scenes, like traditional copperplate-printed toile de Jouy, or that relate to mapping – of places, memories, or even cell functions.

There are so many nuances in imagery that we become aware of by osmosis.  Think about looking at a woman’s dress or a man’s tie, and knowing whether the prints are “appropriate” or just “too loud.”  Or looking at two plaids and knowing which one would be worn by a working cowboy, and which one would be worn by a preppy college student.

Imagery in textiles is a challenging area for me. Schoeser talks in the paragraph I quoted above about all the elements that interact in a piece of textile art.  For me, aspects of the imagery affect me more than any other element.  I am not critical of workmanship or materials, but with just quick impressions of the imagery, I turn into Goldilocks– this piece is too minimal to suit me, that piece is just a mishmash of crystals and glitter: this piece is too purposefully primitive, that piece is too prissily perfect.  Little things that feel “off” jar my attention and I quickly move on to find a piece that feels “just right.”

Using imagery in creations of my own is even more of a challenge.  Generally I just want textiles to bring a little color, pattern, and texture to a room, and that’s it, their job is done.  That’s fine most of the time, but as I think of my goal of making quilts that teach about nature, I think I need to use actual imagery, and I want to find fresh ways of doing that.

An area that intrigues me is abstract imagery drawn from visual reality.  Here are three examples I liked from the book:

Reflections by Jane Freear-Wyld is a tapestry based on buildings in Paris.

Letter from Indian Whispers by Jane McKeating (2011) is an interesting work with transparent layers, digital printing, and stitching.   This quote from the artist speaks to me: “Cloth has a way of holding images differently from paper.  Very naturally old pieces become part of the new, just as the mind blends time, and presents images affected by the past and possibilities for the future.”

Shingle One and Shingle Two by Elizabeth Brimelow (2007) to me is stunning strong image inspired by nature, but not copying nature completely.  (In the book, the Brimelow piece is called Sole Bay.  I can’t tell if this is the exact piece or a similar one, and also, I can’t get the image alone to link to it, so you have to scroll down to the sixth and seventh images on the page.)

The perfect example from my collection is Inspired by a View by Sheila Frampton-Cooper, which I wrote about here.  It is rich and detailed, and yet readable at a glance.  It goes back to the first concept in the book, impact.

Inspired by a View by Sheila Frampton-Cooper.  I am privileged to own this piece.

Inspired by a View by Sheila Frampton-Cooper. I am privileged to own this piece.

I returned the book to the library today.  After six weeks with it, looking at textiles in new ways, I am ready to go in some new directions.