Memories Of A Kitchen Towel (2022)

Article in the Swedish Weaving Magazine

Issue 2, 2022


When I exhibit my works, I have more than once been told personal stories and memories that seem to be evoked by my weavings. The scale of the weave structure in my woven objects is often huge in comparison to the structure of domestic textiles. The combination of the scale and the materials I use in the weavings won’t make a very functional object at all. Still, people often refer to their dish cloths or kitchen towels at home. Others remember how they learned embroidery in school on fabrics that resemble my work. 

Texture / Structure

Texture is a silent and individual communication between material and skin. A language of its own that will be read differently by different people depending on their previous experience of materials and texture. Texture is what happens on the surface of a material, but it’s not always visible to the eye. It is, however, always present, but not always noticed. Texture can also tell us stories. 

I think of the structure of a weave, together with colour, as the maker of the visual pattern in the works that I make. The structure also influences how the woven piece will communicate with the space I decide to place it in. If the structure is loose, air and light can move through the weave and I might hang it so that all sides are approachable for the viewer. If the structure makes a pattern that is bold and needs some viewing distance, I might put it on a wall within a space big enough to view it from far away. In the process of planning and weaving I don’t usually reflect on the surface texture of the piece. Texture becomes more of a consequence of the choices I make in construction. Not as an accident, but not precisely planned either. Texture just isn’t something that I usually emphasize in my works. Perhaps that is because most of the time, I don’t make objects that are made to be touched, worn or used.

What is the difference between structure and texture then? The two concepts are closely related to one another and sometimes mixed together. Reading Anni Albers’ On Weaving (1965) helps me clarify how they differ from one another. (Note: Albers uses the French term matière that I would translate into texture). Albers writes:

Structure, as related to function, needs our intellect to construct it or, analytically, to decipher it. Matière [texture] on the other hand, is mainly nonfunctional, nonutilitarian, and in that respect, like color, it cannot be experienced intellectually. It has to be approached, just like color, non-analytically, receptively.

A physical reflection

As my main attention when weaving often is the woven structure, I now want to return to take a closer look specifically at the texture in two of my works. To do so I follow Albers’ words and approach the works non-analytically, but receptively. I roll out two textile objects that I’ve made in the past year on the floor in the project space in my studio collective. The pieces Complex Matter 1 and Lush /Lovikka differ from one another in their visual appearance, materiality, structure and technique. One could argue that they are complete opposites. I let my hands and body move across their surfaces, I pick them up and finally I hang them from the ceiling. In handling them, I try to approach them with closed eyes and an open mind. The closed eyes are meant to concentrate my attention to the tactile sensation.

Notes on Complex Matter 1:

A rough, coarse surface. Short fibers stick out like nails and itch my hands. A heavy linen warp sets the frame. The cotton and polyester weft is much smoother, but takes up less space. The weft threads pack tightly together and I hardly notice them as I stroke my hand over the textile. There are two different patterns to be read in the weave. If I slowly move my hand over the surface, I can feel beyond the coarse yarn and find the pattern of the weave structure. Small, evenly spaced out bumps are what I feel beneath my fingertips. Every so often a larger bump. Shadow weave is mainly a plain weave structure. Occasionally, when the pattern so requires, a thread floats over two warps instead of one. A small, but notable change. I open my eyes and take a look at the visual pattern in front of me. It’s a bold design that creates an optical illusion, a completely different pattern than the one I feel through my hands.

Notes on Lush /Lovikka

An opposite to the previous: soft and smooth against the skin. The texture is light, airy and warm. I really want to emphasize the importance of air. Despite the large format of the weave it is surprisingly lightweight. The air helps the threads to spread out and when the piece is to be rolled up, the air is pressed out of the textile. The woollen yarn is full of air too. It is spun with air. The fibers still manage to glue themselves to one another. Nothing will fall apart. A visitor to one of my exhibitions once said (about a similar piece): I would like to wrap myself in it, wrap it around me like a plaid. Viewers seem to be able to read the texture without touching the material. As if previous experiences of similar textiles are telling them something about my work.

A texture that to one person feels pleasant might to another feel awkward. In approaching my own works physically, the tactile sensation that I experience will differ from how other’s will understand them. Sometimes the vision will be enough to gather information about a woven texture. Other times viewing a textile will give a completely different experience than touching the same piece.

Texture as storytelling

I read the essay “Silent Text” (2019) by Burcu Sahin and begin to understand the power that lies within textiles’ and textures’ ability to tell stories. In her essay, Sahin explores the memories and histories following her family’s migration through textile objects that they’ve brought with them. Unfinished embroideries that to an untrained eye may seem like odd objects to keep become a key to unravelling untold stories of her relatives, as well of the materials themselves. Sahin writes (I have translated her text from Swedish to English): 

I began to imagine a language that could be felt, fiber and fingertips, beyond what was spoken and written. I understood that neither my mother nor my grandmother had access to education and that they were some of the many women in the world who supported, or still support, themselves by sewing at home or in the factory. I understood that their works were often the only place where they could document their history and existence. Their names were not in the history books.

The textile objects Sahin reflects upon have travelled distances in geography as well as through generations. Textile objects loaded with memories and stories of the women who made them, used them, brought them with them to their new countries and, later, the ones who inherit them. Objects that could speak of things that otherwise might be untold and forgotten.

My own personal memories of texture are most strongly connected to my grandmother. Her interest in weaving is the very reason I began to weave myself. I remember her large floor loom that always had a warp on when I came for a visit. It is the same loom that now lives in my studio. For Christmas and birthdays my siblings and I received crafted gifts of hand woven kitchen towels, cushions and blankets. Every day I have the privilege of using the textiles that my grandmother’s hands created. Her memory is kept alive through textures.