It strikes me again and again that the person who benefits most from fibre art is the maker. To my mind the overwhelming reason for using fibre, cloth, thread, etc. is because of the feel of it – and yet once it is made art it must no longer be touched. It is often admired and judged by photograph – a two dimensional reduction of a whole body experience which can powerfully include smell in the case of huge sisal weavings, rope crochet, oiled wool knitwear, dried grass baskets, even paper …. I love combining ideas, thinking, drawing and digital collage, and the two dimensionality of printmaking – those intellectual pursuits – with the haptic pleasures of working the needle through the cloth.
Of course it is not just fibre which gives this pleasure: the handling of clay, slip, wood, stone, – the holding of a pen, etching point, a knife, a chisel as well as the wielding of a needle and scissors all bring their particular joy. But perhaps because fibre deteriorates first, after the piece is completed, if it is deemed to be art rather than artefact it is handled less.
How lucky we makers are to handle, to feel, to manipulate, to stroke and be stroked, to use the fine nerve endings to distinguish the subtleties of soft, to gauge just the right amount of strength, pressure to use to turn, to fold, to pierce (and be pierced!), to pull – not simply to use those fingers to point. Handling fibre helps us to see in fine focus as well as in broad perspective, and in making by hand we make time for ourselves as well, gradually building our self portraits. When I handle one of my basket collection I feel an urge to be making a basket. When I see a weaving or tapestry I admire, I feel the urge to be weaving in order to appreciate it more. It is the fantasy of handling the materials which is seductive.
How much my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts all enjoyed the social stitching of items for family and friends. My Scottish grandfather too, the tailor enjoyed the feel of a good tweed or twill in his hands. And now I have the added exciting challenge of trying creatively to combine intellect and emotion with the haptic pleasures in the repeated attempt to express myself artistically in such a way that the two dimensional representation of the finished article will somehow convey not only a meaning but also the story of the making.
Are we makers not fortunate indeed!