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Constructed Textiles Techniques

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever looked closely at the textiles around you, like the carpet you walk on or the cushion on your armchair? How were they made? In this lesson, learn about different techniques for making constructed textiles.

What are Constructed Textiles?

We use textiles for many reasons. We wear them, sit and sleep on them, and hang them on our walls. But how were many of those textiles made? Chances are many of them are constructed textiles.

A constructed textile is one that is built or assembled, either by hand or by machine. Threads are connected in many different techniques to make a fabric. Examples of constructed textile techniques include familiar ones like knitting and weaving, as well as less familiar methods like tatting, knotting and tufting. People have made textiles for centuries, and new textile fibers and processes have been invented over time. Artists also construct textiles. Today, many Fine Arts colleges offer courses in constructed textiles, and people like textile designers and fine artists are experimenting with combinations of unusual materials to create new and unique ways of constructing textiles.

Before we discuss methods, let's review some basics about textile fibers. There are two basic types of fibers. Natural fibers come from plants or animals, such as cotton, wool, and silk. Synthetic fibers are man-made materials that might come from plastics or fossil fuels. These include fibers like acrylic, polyester, rayon, and nylon. How you choose to construct a textile might depend on what kinds of fibers you're using because different fibers react in different ways to being manipulated. Groups of these individual fibers are spun together to create threads that are then used to construct textiles.

There are many ways to make textiles, and we don't have room to discuss them all, but let's look at a few ways to make constructed textiles, both common and unusual.

Weaving

The process of weaving has been around for thousands of years. It's one of the oldest and most used ways of constructing textiles. Basically, you use a piece of equipment called a loom to intersect two kinds of thread. Warp threads run vertically and are held in tension on the loom. Weft threads run horizontally and are interspersed with the warp at right angles. The weft going over and under the warp is what results in a woven fabric.

Weavers at work on a loom,
Weavers at a loom

The loom holds the warp threads in tension while the weaver works the weft threads through them. Many kinds of patterns, called weaves, can be created by varying how the threads are worked. For example, woven textiles include twill, which has a diagonal pattern running across its surface caused by skipping a certain number of warp threads during the weaving process.

Knitting

Knitting is a process of making textiles using a series of one or more long threads to make a whole series of connected loops. The crosswise loops are called courses and the lengthwise loops are called wales. Scholars think nomadic Arab cultures probably invented knitting around 1000 AD, and eventually, it spread around the world. Knitting is done with needles, either by hand or on knitting machines. These devices may be flat or circular, and they contain many needles that mechanize the process, producing textiles much faster than someone could create them by hand. Common knitted goods include things you wear every day like sweaters and socks.

Series of photos showing how to knit
Series of images showing how to knit

Other Methods

Knotting, as the name implies, is the process of making a textile by interlacing and tying a whole series of knots. Knotted textile processes include macramé, which uses heavy threads called cord, and tatting, a sort of combination of knotting and knitting which uses very fine threads and needles to create a kind of open lace.

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