How to blur the scope of textile art in your work

Ellie Artist (Studio & Countryside)

There are so many artists using so many different techniques, materials and processes that the scope of what’s considered ‘textile art’ is starting to blur. More and more artists are using mixed media techniques to create their artworks – you can too!

 Attitudes to textile art from the (not so distant) past

Textile art isn’t a new concept – humans have been using weaving and stitching techniques throughout history. One of the most famous early examples of textile art is the Bayeux Tapestry (which isn’t actually a tapestry at all, it’s embroidered cloth). But textile art hasn’t always been well-received.

Weaving, knitting and sewing were traditionally seen as ‘women’s work’, because these were the tasks women could do while looking after their children. In 1769, the Royal Academy actually banned embroidery from its exhibitions, so women felt that if they wanted to be taken seriously as artists, they had to reject textile art.

Even the Bauhaus art school, which prided itself on ‘equality’, reinforced discriminatory gender roles. Founder Walter Gropius said ‘a women’s section has been formed at the Bauhaus which works particularly with textiles’. Oskar Schlemmer, Bauhaus painting master, had a similar, small-minded view of female artists’ capabilities and said, ‘Where there is wool, there is a woman who weaves, if only to pass the time.’ Charming!

Despite textiles being around for millennia, the idea of textiles as an art form didn’t happen until recently.


Times are changing

Nowadays, textile art is so much more than the medieval tapestries, old mills and dismissive ‘women’s work’ attitudes people used to associate with the medium. New younger artists are interested in process, expression and experimentation, and the choice of material is of little significance. There’s a feeling of freedom around textile art, as artists are pushing and blurring the boundaries.

I think people are moving past the idea of thinking ‘that can’t be art’, and instead seeing the work as simply a different choice of materials you’re using to express yourself.

 Why is the scope blurring?

Textile artists are moving away from the ‘twee’ and becoming more accomplished in the way they translate textiles into art, so people are starting to take it more seriously.

Some textile artists work solely in embroidery, experimenting with the idea of incorporating slogans and touching on ideas of feminism – I think that’s quite interesting, especially since it was always considered a ‘women’s craft’.

It’s also interesting to see that, as well as the younger generations, more men are starting to embrace textile art. I was really lucky that my A-level art teacher happened to be a textile designer, because she encouraged mixing art and textiles (I don’t even think my college offered textiles at the time!).

How to blur the lines in your own work

Don’t just look at textile artists for your inspiration. You’ve got a whole array of artists to look at, from abstract painters to impressionists – find whatever inspires you. From there, you can think about how you can bring in that textile element in a way that works for you. That’s where the blurring of the line is!

Maybe you’ve painted but never thought to add stitch? Or maybe you’re a textile artist who wants to bring in that art element?

Try out some of the techniques I use with my embroidery:

  • Painting
  • Spray-painting
  • Stencilling
  • Printing

You don’t have to box yourself in or feel restricted by any techniques, materials or processes. Enjoy the freedom to experiment and play with your work!


Why it’s important to keep experimenting

You never know what interesting outcomes you’ll come up with until you try.

Embrace the curiosity of thinking, ‘If I now do this, what happens?’ without always needing to try and achieve something. (And it helps to be happy to throw it away and start again if it doesn’t work.)

My main advice to you is just keep exploring!


Interested in learning more about my work?

If you’d like to see my latest pieces, check out my art website. Browse my full collection and enquire about commissions today!