Text partially published in the MA Textile Futures Degree Show Catalogue,  London, 2008

guipure imprimée 72dpi

Guipure, Jacob Schlaepfer

This article, entitled Textiles’ Boundaries, the Paradoxical Story of Paper and Lace and exploring the boundaries between textile and respectively paper and lace, was originally published in the MA Textiles Futures Degree Show 08 catalogue under the title “Materials & Innovation”, combination of two entries by Jenny Leary & Aurélie Mossé. Here you have access to the full article on the Paradoxical Story of Paper and Lace

Is textile only restricted to its definition: a piece of flexible material, usually made by weaving, felting or knitting, as defined in the common sense? Lace, the textile of transparency, the fabric of the veiled and unveiled by excellence, undoubtedly challenges this preconception. However, upon examination, and as the cultural dictionary of textile suggests: “lace is not a fabric because it is not woven on a loom. It is neither an embroidery in the sense that it is not embroidered on a medium pre-existent to itself” *. But who can pretend this “adorned void” , metaphor of Renaissance is not a textile?

It is not a textile in the original and conceptual sense of a material made of the regular inversion of yarn’s crossing. Indeed, lace transforms yarn into an openwork surface, without relaying on permanent mediums and frames. This new process –that frees the yarn from regular crossing constraints- was so different at the time from other techniques of yarn processing, that it has generated its own aesthetic. Nevertheless, lace, following the example of weaving, can still be accepted as a textile story, in the sense that it remains a story of the yarn’s transformation. Lace’s ambiguity challenges our perception of what textile can be and remind us its sometimes paradoxical alchemy.

Conversely, paper is not considered to be a textile. But what’s the difference between felt, the first man made fabric, and paper? Usually, paper and non-woven are not considered as textiles because they refer to two separated sectors of the industry. However it does worth noticing that we define felt as a non-woven textile made from wool fibres. Non-woven on its own, refers to the specific way fibres are directly processed to produce the piece of material, without intermediary steps as spinning, weaving or knitting. Yet, both paper and felt are the result of fibres’ tangle. So where is the paradox coming from? It deals with the fact that the paper industry processes the fibres in a ‘dramp’ way whereas most of the non-woven textiles, except felt, are usually made on a ‘dry’ way . So, it is far from being an euphemism to say that the boundary between paper and non-woven textiles is really thin. An emblematical example would be the one of Tyvek©. This non-woven from the Dupont Company, declined under hundred of qualities and applications is targeted as much as a paper as a cloth. Actually this example reflects a general movement of the non-woven industry, -usually not considered as part of the traditional textile sector but, nevertheless one of the most proactive in the field-, toward a textile appeal. As the fate would have it, non-woven are more and more trying to imitate the tactile properties of cloth.

It would be impossible to conclude about current textile boundaries without mentioning the growing importance of soft technologies and intelligent fabrics. Most of these new technologies are encouraging the invisible integration of sensors and actuators into the environment by taking a textile shape. They extend the limits of where computation can operate and reshape the modalities of interaction with our environment. But where start the technology, where ends the fabric, smart textiles seems to ask us? No doubt here at Central Saint Martins that is textile that will make the difference.

*Quote translate from the French, lace’s definition from the « Dictionnaire Culturel du Tissu », written by Régis Debray and Patrice Hugues, édition Babylone/Fayard, 2005, p66-69

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