Craft and/or Technology in Textiles

Craft practitioners are universal and infinite in time. All of us interested in textile study have been practitioners in some form or another much of our lives. Quite likely, within our childhood and local neighbourhoods, in whatever country we have come from, we were surrounded by people who used craft to make something, whether to be worn, to decorate, or in the wider domestic-based crafts of carving, carpentry etc  creating objects from hand-based tools. We created in the past for necessity but because our human instinct was involved, the creative process encouraged beauty and form as well as function. The question of whether industry and manufacturing processes can weaken this instinct for individuals to create or to touch/own a created piece of beauty has been posed since the Industrial Revolution. I believe this powerful creative process can be supported by technology. I question whether technology and industry can control and manipulate craft to become a low-impact, lesser-valued product. However, I also debate whether the individual will truly be acknowledged.

We can consider the development of mass-production in the manufacturing process during Victorian England. As a result of increased productivity and a simplified design process, fabric and furnishings were churned out at a profitable and consumer-desired rate. However it was not long before this industrialization created a backlash within the creative spirit, and we can look to the Arts and Craft Movement as a reassuring and formative reaction to mass production. William Morris was one of the founders of this movement, and his words are still relevant today. He argued that the life of the actual worker would benefit from creating beautiful objects , rather than ugly utilitarian mass production. Because: their production would give pleasure to those that used them and those that made them: since if such works were done, all work would be beautiful and fitting for its purpose, and as a result most labour would cease to be burdensome. In the same article he continues to say that an artist works for the purpose of creation, not for the market.:To the commercial producer the actual wares are nothing; their adventures in the market are everything. To the artist the wares are everything; his market he need not trouble himself about; for he is asked by other artists to do what he does do, what his capacity urges him to do. I cite this comment because I believe that creativity cannot be destroyed by industry, but I do think that industry needs the craftsperson to make and design objects that will be sold, used (and therefore make profit!).

130 years on from William Morris, the same questions are on the agenda. As my adopted home is in Canada, I also looked at articles from Canadian background and I was interested in the Craft Ontario website. Last year they launched a programme called Citizen of Craft. —

Defining craft is a global challenge. A noticeable increase interest into ‘buying local’ and “DIY projects’ has attracted the attention of large corporation retailers and pushed them to create their own ‘craft’ products – beer, food products, house décor, and accessories, among others. At the same time, products promoted in this way are often completely disconnected from the realities of values associated with craft through their existence as mass-produced objects created within unsustainable systems of exploitative material and labour practices. Citizens of Craft is a movement to seeks to answer the questions: What is craft? How do we define it? How can we broaden its appeal…..

There is a British Museum blog on the role and value of crafts today, where Teleri Lloyd-Jones, assistant editor of Crafts Magazine , affirms the power and the value of craft in contemporary life. He too alludes to the political and social aspects of creativity. Items which have been touched by craft, by individual creativity are valuable to us and have additional meaning:

Craft is a language of material, provenance and making. It is learning the value of things. Sure, handmade, well-made things aren’t cheap but their value isn’t solely monetary. It’s political and social – to know how and where something came into being makes us more invested in it, so much so we become more responsible consumers.

 These examples of political and social commentary show that we aspire to acknowledge and give value to craft, to art and design, and its worth and position will be continually promoted. However, I do wonder about true acknowledgement of the individual. Of course this is just a conjecture and there are many examples of both possibilities. However I visited a beautiful exhibition of textile artistry here in Bahrain, which on the global stage, and not local or artisanal, makes me question the real value given to individual creativity.

There is much that can be discussed within this topic and my first practical inspiration of fabric and textile craft and production seems to be summed up in the exhibition current at the Bahrain Museum, entitled Magnificent Maharajah Splendor of Indian Royal Costumes. This beautiful collection of royal costumes is from a private collection of Deepak and Daksha Hutheesing, and the quality of fabric design, weaving and embroidery is simply outstanding. It was an absolute privilege to look at these garments and to wonder at the creative process to produce such wonderful detail. The second part of the display was devoted to modern revivalist garments, using the craftsmanship of the antique pieces in a more manufactured process which are therefore available to wider consumers. Visitors were forbidden to take photographs at the exhibition, and research on the whole exhibition has proved to give limited scope, which therefore leads to some interesting conclusions. However I found some photographs online, from when the exhibition was at the Paris Foundation Pierre Berge – Yves Saint Laurent, courtesy of the Hindu Times

 

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The introduction to the exhibition from the Museum website says that “The exhibition displays a collection of historic royal costumes from the private collection of Deepak & Daksha Hutheesing, alongside revival pieces made using millennia-old techniques by Umang Hutheesing, in a bid to ensure the continuation of a rich textile heritage.’ The styles and techniques and skills are Indian in heritage and it was interesting to just explore in my own time afterwards on YouTube etc the ways that the rich zardozi work, the gold weaving and intricate designs are currently produced in India today, both in mass production and in workshops of artisans and crafters. However, I am talking about this exhibition here to pose a question that maybe the work of William Morris, and the more contemporary movements still needs to monitor and fight for. This exhibition was quoted as having contemporary designs, which are ‘revival pieces made using millennia-old techniques by Umang Hutheesing”. I searched extensively to find information of the techniques, the design, the process of crafting that Umang Hutheesing has used. What I have found out is that he runs the Foundation and Art Centre. He is a cultural and heritage ambassador for antiques, textiles etc. He lobbies for heritage. In other words, he is the named person and ambassador for the unidentified individual craftspersons who create, weave, embroider. This is rather a sombre reflection on what craft and industry is today. I am not in the least criticizing his role, and I can see the value. However, do we as a society really allow the textile or fabric artist/craftsperson to be acknowledged or rewarded? I really do not think this is the only example that I would find.

I think this reflection on why craftproduced textiles maintain a place in society could become a very long piece of research, to effect a real conclusion. I truly believe they do and they always will. Creativity can not be destroyed, we will always want to create. We will always want to aspire to beauty too, and as a result we will always desire to admire human craft and creativity . However, whether the individual will receive a proper acknowledgement is still debatable. I am not so sure of this.

References:

http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/discovering-sartorial-splendour/article474045.ece

http://culture.gov.bh/en/theevents/current_events/Name,12682,en.html#.Vs1871Lff8s

William Morris, The Arts and Crafts of Today https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1889/today.htm

Citizens of Craft:

https://www.craftontario.com/membership-programs/citizens-of-craft.htm

Teleri Llloyd-Jones:

http://blog.britishmuseum.org/2011/08/17/what-is-the-role-and-value-of-crafts-today/

 The impact of technology on tradition: the role of craft in our lives today, Nicole Ottwell

https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/handle/10355/8083