Sunday, July 25, 2010

Textile Science and Friendship Bracelets

Arrived home from a trip to Canada on Friday, and although I don't have time for an in-depth post this week, I thought I'd give you all some nice summer "fluff" which, interestingly enough, is quite relevant to my studies in the most fun of ways.

Friendship bracelets are a traditional summer camp past time. On long bus trips, I usually break out the string box, have the kids pick their colors and either teach them the patterns, or macrame them myself. If it had been any other summer, I wouldn't have regarded the bracelets with any sense of wonder other than "wow, those colors look cool together." A summer after my first year of grad school however, has caused me to examine even something as simple as a Chinese Staircase - how would the great textile scholars classify this adolescent form of art?

Looking back on my notes and materials, I discovered that these patterns are not woven or knit structures. According to Irene Emery's The Primary Structures of Fabrics: An Illustrated Classification, macrame consists of "...inter-working the free-hanging elements of a single set into a fabric" it is considered to be inter-knotting, not inter-looping (as in knitting or crochet, which uses a continuous element) or regular weaving. Macrame is also different because it is formed " knotting elements round adjacent elements, first to one side and then to the other."

For those unfamiliar with Emery's work, elements are objects used in the process of weaving, knitting or knotting. Typically these are threads, but can be anything - hair, metals, plants, etc. These often form the base of textiles; things like beads, sequins, and embroidery are considered "applied elements" because they are added post-process and are not integral to the weave, knit or knot structure.

The pattern I use the most often is the Cobra, which happens to be your typical macrame knot all the way through. From this closeup, it is clear how this pattern is inter-knotted, not just looped (as many often think).

Friendship bracelet enthusiasts have developed their own patterns very similar to those Emery and her contemporaries use to visually describe structures. Again, knotted and woven patterns should not be confused; rather, these are examples of how people interpret these techniques.
Todd's Knitting Blog

Fiber to Fabric (Potter and Corbman).

This is why I love grad school; I readily apply knowledge from the classroom to simple, everyday activities such as making bracelets for campers. I never call them out if I over hear them say "and then you weave it like this" - they are too young to really comprehend the difference. But it does make me feel intelligent to know and recognize the difference (insert smiley emoticon).

Further Reading

Alderman, Sharon. Mastering Weave Structures: Transforming Ideas into Great Cloth.

Earnshaw, Pat. Identification of Lace.

Watson, William. Advanced Textile Design. (just for fun!).

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fashion as Art: Footwear Designs of Marloes ten Bhömer

It's been a busy summer so far! I've been non-stop working since the school year ended, with the CSA conference and some of my own independent research churning along (yes, I'm still on the Czech denim kick). It's been a while since I've had the luxury to write a post however, so here is a little something to mull over until I can get back on a normal schedule.

One of the reasons I became interested in fashion studies is so that I could explore the divide (or is there one?) between fashion and art. Growing up, I recognized that fashion was a form of art - after all, the methodologies of designers are similar to those of artists. They have inspirations, they sketch or conceptualize their craft and most of all, they create. Yet despite the increase of fashion, dress and textile exhibitions in museums both art historical and non, many people deny fashion as an art form in favor of its capitalistic, seemingly vapid industry image.

Guilty as charged, there was a time when I criticized the work of runway couturiers. I couldn't fathom why someone would create an ensemble that couldn't - and wouldn't - be worn by the average person, or even the celebrity at that. But when I looked at each piece like it was a painting or sculpture, it made more sense. Fashion doesn't necessarily have to be worn - it has to be seen, it has to be innovative, and it has to make the viewer think, just like any other work of art.

I'm sure I could dedicate another post to theorizing about "what is couture?" - but I won't do that now. However, I would love to bring to light the designs of Marloes ten Bhömer, who's pieces blew me away. I'll be the first to admit that I am not "up" on the fashion couture fashion scene, but Bhömer is clearly a woman who can be understood by fashionistas and art enthusiasts alike.

Her collection consists mainly of unique shoe designs that challenge the viewer to process the design and wonder, "can people really wear those?" Not to the same extent as Alexander McQueen's outlandishly gawdy chopine-like footwear - Bhömer uses geometry, physics and utilitarian materials like paper, fiberglass and steel to create shoes that are actually functional and visually captivating. She is constantly experimenting with technology, producing unconventional accessories without overwhelming buyers, curators and the common person.

Bhömer, in my opinion, has successfully straddled the line between what makes fashion, fashion, and what makes fashion, art. Below are some of my favorites; I'd love to find more designers like her, so if you know of any good ones, please comment below.
Rotationalmouldedshoe. Materials: Polyurethane rubber and stainless steel.
Noheelsleathershoe. Materials: Leather.
Carbonfibreshoe #1. Materials: Carbon fibreShoes constructed from carbon fibre.
The heels are placed on the side of the shoe, forcing the weight of the body to distribute of from side to side when walking.

All photos courtesy of