Home Exploring Techniques Focus on Textile Art – what is it?
What is textile art?

Focus on Textile Art – what is it?

by Camilla

What is Textile Art? Types and techniques explained

Textile Art has spent a long time in the shadow of Fine Art, relegated to the supposedly inferior domain of Decorative Arts – now more commonly referred to as Applied Arts – because the pieces made and the materials used could also serve a practical purpose, in contrast to the pure aesthetic and intellectual values of Fine Art. Maintaining this clear distinction between the functional and the aesthetic/cerebral has enabled Fine Art to enjoy a more elevated, privileged status.

Textile Art has also battled against the artificial hierarchy of the “serious, professional and masculine” spheres over “domestic and feminine” crafts. This prejudice existed even at the Bauhaus, the radical hot-house of Modern Art and Design that produced two of the most famous textile artists of the Twentieth Century: Gunta Stölzl and Anni Albers. In one example, founder Walter Gropius, who on one hand claimed there was no difference between men and women (although the language he used suggested otherwise) and that all students had “absolute equality”, informed a female applicant that “it is not advisable, in our experience, that women work in the heavy craft areas such as carpentry and so forth”… ” and “for this reason, a women’s section has been formed at the Bauhaus which works particularly with textiles.”

However, the status of Textile Art is now steadily being raised, and pieces made from fibres are beginning to be talked about in the same conversations as pieces made with paint, ink, metal, stone and film. The recent high-profile exhibitions of Anni Albers at the Tate Modern and Sheila Hicks at The Hepworth, Wakefield in 2022 are two examples. Interestingly, in Hepworth’s publicity for Sheila Hick’s exhibition the gallery chooses to describe her not as a Textile Artist but as “one of the world’s foremost artists investigating colour, form and texture”. Perhaps describing Sheila Hicks as an “artist and sculptor” was seen as necessary to endow her with the gravitas necessary for a show of this scale; something that the words “textile artist” could not? Or perhaps the term “textile artist” was simply too narrow to contain the breadth of her work?

Featured image: Coastal Textile Art by Nerissa Cargill Thompson

What is Textile Art? Textile Art Types and Techniques

The possibilities, materials and techniques available to textile artists is vast. Although the common thread across all forms of Textile Art is that the pieces are made with fibres, these can be natural (from animals or plants) or synthetic (manmade fibres such as acrylic, nylon, polyester and even cellophane).

Textile artists also have a host of techniques at their disposal to make marks, investigate ideas and explore pattern, line and colour. And, like sculptors, they can communicate concepts and explore space, form and texture in three-dimensions through knotting, weaving and stitching.

Here are just some examples of techniques practised by textile artists. Scroll down to learn more about the different methods.

  • Weaving
  • Embroidery
  • Knitting
  • Crochet
  • Sewing
  • Felting and Needle Felting
  • Macramé
  • Quilting
  • Batik
  • Spinning
  • Appliqué

To create textile art in the form of:

  • Artwork
  • Sculptures
  • Vessels
  • Tapestries
  • Quilts
  • Wall Hangings
  • Dolls
  • Rugs
  • Hoop Art
  • Mixed Media Art
  • Embroideries
Felt Hare picture textile art by Elizabeth St.Clair
Felt hare textile art by Elizabeth St.Clair

If you’re unfamiliar with the many techniques available to textile artist, here is our condensed guide to some of the most popular, with links to pieces created by textile artists and makers on Folksy.

What is Embroidery?

Embroidery is the art of applying designs and motifs on to fabric using a needle and thread. The designs are composed of various types of stitches, such as chain stitch, feather stitch, French knot and fly stitch. Embroidery can be done by hand or by machine. Hand embroidery is a slower process that relies more on the skill and experience of the textile artist. It has a more organic feel than machine embroidery, which is more uniform. Due to the time it takes and the expertise required to create a hand-embroidered piece, these are usually valued more highly than machine-embroidered work and may be passed down through generations as heirloom pieces. Read more about the difference between hand embroidery and machine embroidery.

Embroidery can be used to create:

What is Macramé

Macramé is the technique of knitting string or rope in patterns. It can be used to create functional pieces, jewellery and works of art. Macramé is made entirely by hand, without the need for complex equipment.

Macramé can be used to create:

What is Needle Felting?

Needle felting is art transforming wool into creating 3D objects. Needle Felt artists use special barbed needles that agitate and tangle the wool fibres, causing them to lock together and become solid. Needle-felt artists manipulate the fibres in different ways using these sharp needles to create three-dimensional sculptures.

Needle felting can be used to create:

What is Quilting?

Quilting is a technique in which layers of fabric are stitched together using rows of stitching. It has been used throughout history to create insulating garments and bed covers. A quilt usually has three layers – two layers of fabric with a sandwich of padding between. The stitching together of these layers can be done either by machine or by hand, and there are multiple patterns that can be created, depending on the stitches and shapes of fabric used. Quilts can be functional as well as works of art.

Quilting can be used to create:

What is Batik?

Batik is a technique used to create patterns most commonly on fabric but also on paper, wood and leather. During the batik process, selected areas of the design are first blocked out using hot wax, before the fabric is dyed and washed. The areas that have been treated with the wax resist will remain the original colour, while the other areas absorb the dye. The process can be repeated several times to create colourful designs and elaborate patterns.

What is Knitting?

Knitting is the process of making textile fabrics by interlocking loops of yarn in consecutive rows. A variety of stitches can be used to create different textures and designs. The type of yarn used as well as the size of needles can affect the finish and thickness of the knitted fabric produced. Knitting can be done by hand or with a knitting machine. Hand knitting involves using a pair of long needles to form the loops, moving a set of loops from one needle to another, holding the stitches on the needle as you go.

Knitting can be used to create:

What is Crochet?

Crochet is the process of creating fabric by using a hook to lock loops of yarn together. Although most crochet is made using yarn, you can also use twine, wire or other innovative materials to create your crocheted fabric. There are many different crochet stitches and these can be combined to create complex patterns. In crochet, the stitches are more like knots. Crochet uses a single hook to knot the loops together directly on the piece, finishing one stitch before moving on to the next, rather than keeping multiple stitches on the needle as you would in knitting.

Crochet can be used to create:

What is Weaving?

Weaving is the process of creating cloth or fabric by interlacing two sets of threads (the warp and weft) in an over-under pattern using a loom. The warp thread runs lengthways and the weft runs horizontally across the fabric. A loom holds the the warp threads in place, while the weft threads are woven back and forth through the warp yarn. Woven cloth can be plain in colour and design or be made in more complex patterns. Woven fabrics are more rigid than knitted fabrics, as they are made from two yarns crossing each other, whereas knitted fabric is made up of a single yarn, looped continuously.

Weaving can be used to create:

Discover Textile Art being made today in the UK

Explore our Textile Art Guide on Folksy

Read more about our Textile Artists on Folksy

Hand-woven cushion by Clare Buchanan Textiles inspired by Mid-Century designs
Colourful hand-woven cushion by Clare BuchananTextiles inspired by mid-century patterns

Further reading around textile art and artists:

If you want to explore more textile art, or learn more about some of the textile artists mentioned in this piece, here are some recommended sources:

https://harvardartmuseums.org/article/women-and-weaving-at-the-bauhaus

https://www.wallpaper.com/art/sheila-hicks-off-grid-hepworth-wakefield

https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-bauhaus-master-anni-albers

https://www.textileartist.org/textile-artist-gunta-stolzl-1897-1983/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-15/the-false-equality-of-the-bauhaus

https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/anni-albers

https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/textiles

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/an-introduction-to-quilting-and-patchwork

You may also like