Language is such an integral part of our lives that it’s not often that we stop to think about it. It’s been in my mind recently whilst I’ve been doing some background reading for my masters degree. One book I was reading (Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, Edited by Stuart Hall) referred to language not just as the verbal and written communications we have in a specific world language (such as English, French, Spanish etc) but also the language of art, the language of performance, the language of culture, the language of music, and so on. This got me thinking about the language of textiles.
The language of textiles is one that we are brought up with and absorb from the moment of our births until the minute we die. Occasionally we verbalise it, but textiles are associated with emotional moments in our lives, and also emotional stability – think about a child’s comfort blanket (whatever form that might take). Think about the significance of a prom gown, a wedding dress, funeral clothes, casual clothes. We make emotional and rational decisions about textiles our whole day, and our whole lives. We are surrounded by them wherever we go, whether that be clothing, or furnishings in our house, the textiles we use for doing jobs, and now of course, textiles which have added value and usefulness – the protective clothing used by the armed forces and emergency services which let you know if your core temperature is too high, whether there is toxicity around you, some even have soft switching which incorporates electrical circuits into them for many and various uses.
This weekend, I was showing a student how to read weaving drafts and we had a discussion about drafts being a secret language known only to weavers and how unlocking the secrets of the langauge through its code opens up a whole new world to a new weaver.
I’m a teacher who expects my students to use their brains and I give them the tools to be able to make their own decisions as weavers, right from the start. To me, unlocking the code of weaving through the ability to read and understand drafts, so that you can relate what you are seeing on the page to what you are doing on the loom, and the relationship between how you thread the shafts and the lifting order you use, is the most important part of my job when teaching. The wonder and excitement that lights up students’ faces, and the knowledge that they can create their own patterns and share those with others through this coded language is a huge reward to me as a teacher.
As weavers, we may have a secret language known only to other weavers, but the results are there for all to see, in a language which means something to everyone, whether they like what they see or feel, or not. Textiles is a wonderful field with direct connections to every living person. The versatility of techniques in textiles, and also the huge variety of techniques within weaving alone, gives us a wonderfully expressive langauge to use to communicate what we wish. Let’s talk to each other through textiles!!