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March 7, 2018

Fine Craft As An Art Form

By Toni Bouman

Fine Craft As An Art Form

Throughout history, in all cultures, the need for textiles has been a priority, providing clothing, utilitarian items as well as home goods. It has generally been the women in each society that created their textiles by developing various methods of textile design and dyeing to add color, symbolism, and many times self expression. Over the years these textiles have begun to be recognized not only as functional, but also as an art form or fine craft. Women, not being happy just creating basic textiles, began creating their own unique styles and designs and discovered ways to create dyes to incorporate color into their work.

I became fascinated with textiles at a very young age. After a very short and unfulfilling career as a clothing designer making mass produced garments, I searched for a way to express myself artistically. I began working in batik and from there silk painting which uses a “resist” to restrict the flow of colored dye on silk. While many textile artists excel in these mediums, I found them repetitive and restrictive. However, working with silk did lead me into the ancient Japanese textile craft of Shibori which is a method of manipulating fabric, creasing it, submerging the fabric in water, and then dyeing the fabric. Additionally, there are numerous types of Shibori. I work in Arashi Shibori, which requires that the silk is wrapped and stretched on a pole prior to dyeing; Itajame Shibori, which utilizes clamps and wooden blocks; and rope wrapping, whereby the silk is literally wrapped on a section of rope, and tightened with string.

The most exciting and challenging aspect of my craft is the fact that, unlike other art forms, there is only so much control that the artist has over her materials. At a certain point in my process, I have to “let go” and let the silk and the dye “do their own thing”. The textile artist must have an intimate knowledge of the type and weight of the fiber they are working with and what that specific fabric will and won’t do. They must also know how each fabric will accept dye. They must know the different dyes and how they interact with different fabrics. Some dyes take longer to absorb than others and some will need to be steamed in a water bath to “set”.

Recently I have been introduced to natural dyes and mordants and the world of botanical dyeing. This is the process of transferring the image of living plants onto fabric which results in breathtaking textiles with no two ever being identical. I am now incorporating this technique into my Shibori. There is nothing more satisfying than learning and honoring a centuries old craft and taking it into an entirely new realm.

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