Text/Textiles - Bo Breda

It is my contention that the meaning, the content of textiles is so deeply embedded in our language, and, therefore, in our way of thinking, that we do not notice it. Because it is so intimate, so everyday, so embarrassing perhaps, we do not acknowledge or are unaware of its depth in our being.

When we tell a tale, we spin a yarn. When we lie, we weave a tangled web of deceit. We knit our brows when we are worried. And when we are trying to uncover the innermost secrets about something, we must tease them out. You ask, "Tease them out, what does that have to do with textiles?" To tease comes from the teazel, a burrlike plant, similar to the ones that stick in your socks after a walk in the woods. It has been used for centuries to bring up the nap on a piece of woven fabric.

If I were to wave a magic wand and remove all the textiles from your room just for 30 seconds, you would be standing naked, cold, and without identity. Textiles protect us (umbrellas), shield us (window shades), comfort us (a blanky), beautify and heal us. The selection of textiles we wear as clothing is an indicator of societal rank, gender, financial status, and employment.

The textiles which cover our "private" parts and absorb our bodily secretions used to be called unmentionables. So we don't mention them much, even now after Madonna. Jockey shorts, brassieres, panties are sometimes naughty but as often comic. It is very difficult, unless you are a designer, merchant, sewer, or laundress, to be aloof and unmoved by these garments which carry the unseen evidence of our animal nature.

Now that we are modern, anyone can do his own washing. But once, it was a gender or status related task. Those who used to do their own washing, sailors, vagrants, the poor, and most women, were of the underclass. The stigma is not completely gone. Like maids, nannies, and all who by their hard work take care of our bodies, babies, homes and aged parents, the washer of clothes is regarded as an unskilled laborer.

Likewise, the maker of textiles, the weavers, knitters, basket makers, tailors (the men who sew), embroiderers, lace makers, and their ilk usually have no high place in society. The couturier, however, the one who dresses the rich and famous, uses the delicate and intricate output of these people to bring to life his elaborate visions, but most do not gain fame nor much fortune. The satisfaction of knowing one's work is beautiful, failing eyesight, and sore fingers are the commonest rewards.

The important place of the essential life-preserving fabric which shelters us from cold winds is ignored, denigrating its power and, thereby, those who make it. When babies are first born they are traditionally wrapped in long pieces of soft cloth - swaddling clothes - to protect them from harsh reality. But when we die, we are again wrapped in a long piece of cloth - a winding sheet - with which we are returned to the earth.