Textile Design: Background

One of my earliest childhood memories is playing Legos with my (not so much) older sister on the floor of the “loom room” in our early family home. My mother is an incredible artist, and received her BFA in textiles, weaving, and fiber arts from Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana. Growing up, I have fond memories of watching her at the loom, weaving baby blankets for family and friends and carefully merging warp and weft yarns together to create exquisite wall-hangings and tapestries.

I realize now just how unusual this gift was, to be exposed to an artist in practice each day, watching her create something that has indelible roots in culture and creativity. My mother instilled in me a passion for art, for creating, and gave me inclinations towards self-expression through an alternate medium. How awesome, right?

Fast forward a few years and I’m off to University—an eager freshman—interested in cognitive science and art, yet unsure of how to combine or pursue these interests. The university where I studied has a robust freshman year program that allows and encourages students to take a broad range of classes in different concentrations, before they decide on a major. I eagerly entered a photography class, where I began to use my art and design skills to capture patterns of human behavior, and from there launched into a visual communication (graphic) design degree with a minor in anthropology and an eagerness to travel.

I hold the belief that most things in our lives come full circle, and so no surprise when a spot opened up in a textile design class at the same college my mother attended for undergrad. As my University didn’t have a textiles program, I eagerly enrolled in the course (the two happen to be across the street from each other) and so began my own personal journey with textiles.

While the artistic aspect of textile creation initially drew me to study, what motivated me to continue was coming to understand that most textile techniques are rooted in cultural tradition and are practiced to this day by talented individuals all around the world. Different textile techniques reflect specific cultural traditions and ways of life, and are an important reflection on our shared human nature and desire for self-reflection.

These interests led me to apply for an internship with an artisan cooperative in Nepal, and the summer after my junior year, I made the journey to work as a product and textile designer there. The cooperative where I worked outsources in the untraditional sense to 4,000 artisans all over the country, allowing the artisans to work from their homes, most in rural villages outside the capital of Kathmandu. I sought to bring insights from a western marketplace, and find ways I could learn from and teach the artisans there about new techniques.

What Nepal, and the people I met there gave me, was a deep-felt empathy in sharing experiences and the sense that we all are creatively inclined beings. I was able to lead a series of workshops while there that taught a textile technique to the groups that was not new, yet was to them. Many of the artisans latched on immediately, eagerly trying their hand in the creative process and coming up with some highly innovative designs. Exposure, like many of my experiences before, and in this situation to the creative process—was central to this experience. Sharing of technique, of ideas, and ultimately of culture, brought us together and formed a lasting impact.

I returned to school and continued to pursue these interests, taking more classes in textiles and anthropology, and crafting the groundwork for a yearlong thesis exploration that studied a specific textile technique from a unique vantage point (more on that later). Post graduation I worked with a social enterprise in Chicago—Piece & Co.—that partners groups all around the world with fashion brands and retailers.

Textiles are a medium that enables me to see and understand the world around me. Throughout the life of this blog I am sure you’ll see many posts from me on this subject, but I hope this first post lays the background for this interest and explains its importance to me.

Below are a few questions I hope you will reflect on. Do any specifics come to mind? If you are so inclined, I would love your answers and insights in the comments below!

Xo.
Rachel

What are some of your earliest memories? What ideas did they expose you to?
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
What would you hope to gain from the experience?
What is your own form of self-expression? How do you share your creativity with the world?