April 26, 2011

Five Components of Textiles

According to Kay Wilson's A History of Textiles, "A textile is considered to have five components:" fibre, yarn, fabric construction, finish, and colour.

I hadn't really seen the components laid out like that before.  I find the list useful.

You can say that the first four are consecutive steps in textile construction, the fifth occurring at any time.  For example, a textile can be dyed in the wool.  Skeins can be dyed, or warp painted on the loom, or cloth dipped, painted, and printed.

You can also say that at, in times past and in sundry places, nations camped out on one or all of these components with high degrees of specialization and furthermore, whatever position they held (or failed to hold) affected history.  Take England, whose wool exports ensured they had a lock on the first component during the middle ages and the Renaissance, and who thereafter had to scramble to industrialize in order to compete with imported Indian cotton chintz.  England managed that by working backwards through the components, first importing plain fabric to dye in chintz patterns, then weaving, then spinning.  The fibre production was outsourced.  Maiwa's podcasts, The Cotton Road with Rosemary Crill, parts 1, 2, and 3 cover the change.  I had no idea there was actual prohibition against the import of chintz at one point in England.

You can also say that people in the fibre arts today specialize in a component, while keeping a hand in the rest.  The handspinners' guild I belong to has members who are shepherds, handspinners, weavers and knitters, and dyers.  No fullers, though, that I know of.

I haven't needed to do much in the way of fulling and finishing fabric myself because to date I have knitted items from my handspun.  From what I gather, finishing is necessary for woven cloth and quite transformational.  I like colour; I like it best when someone else applies it for me.  While I don't grow or raise fibre, I believe strongly in the power of a handspinner's skill in selection and preparation of fibre.  So you can place me squarely in the second component (yarn) with some overlap in the first (fibre) and third (cloth); that is, I spin yarn and in doing so I chose and if necessary prepare fibre, and then I either stow the spun yarn in a box or I make cloth with it.

You could say that every choice you make in each of the components along the way determines what you get.  I had a couple of opportunities the other week to talk to people interested in the fibre arts about how I choose wool from different breeds of sheep depending on what effect I desire in the final cloth.  To me this approach makes sense.  As an analogy, when I want to eat beef stew, I don't buy garbanzo beans to make it.

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