Tuesday, March 14, 2017

By Any Other Name....

A few days ago I was asked to write up the description for a new course that I'll be teaching this spring. It began with an email and then a Facebook conversation about some word choices and how we react to using different words. Although there was no final "right" answer, it showed me how each of us define what we do as artists and what we call the materials we use!

The title of the course will be: "Cloth, Collage and Composition" and although the alliteration works well, the word "cloth" seemed not to be a good description of the materials we use.... in the write-up I use the word "fabric" to help clarify how and what we'll be creating.

Then I went to my Facebook friends with the question:  

I'm wondering about the use of "cloth" or "fabric" when describing what we do as artists. Do you use one and not the other, or interchangeably? Does one conjure up different meanings than the other...

....and I was happily chatting with friends over the following few days about the choices we use. 

Here are some of the replies:

  • I use "fabric" consistently.
  •  I just say I'm a quilter. It's almost like a badge of honor, sometimes I'm almost daring them to say "how quaint" lol.
  •  It's a conundrum. My textile instructor used the term Cloth Constructions to describe her work. I tend to use Textile. To me, fabric sounds like something unrelated to art, as in sewing clothing. Each of us has a history of the word I think.

  • I think there is a place for each of these words. There are subtle differences in meaning. The best word choice likely depends on your message and your audience. For example, I'll call myself an art quilter when I'm speaking to a guild, but use the term fiber artist or textile artist when I speak to gallerists or museum directors. It's a guessing game to decide which term has the right meaning for the listener.
  •  I use cloth when it is exceptional. Fabric when it is merely fabulous.
  •  Fiber is so much more chic, you get more people enthused about fiber or textile art than cloth art. Hmmmmmm, something to think about.
  •  I think it depends on where you come from also, and your background! Growing up, we called it "material" in the 60's, i didn't hear the word "fabric" until i was in my 20's, and started using "cloth" in the last eight years. All are applicable in my vocabulary, but for whatever reason, "Cloth" sounds more intimate.
  •  I don't think I've ever used the word cloth to describe anything I do. When I was growing up, my mother always said material. But now, I use the word fabric mostly.

  • Fibre to me is the material from which we construct the threads, yarns, fabrics, whether they be natural or man made etc. textiles always sounds so industrial to me textile mills, schools of textiles etc.

  •  I like your use of 'cloth' and don't see it used often enough! I have moved to describing my work as mixed media, a term that seems more widely accepted by the art world and the general public.

  •  Here you go: Cloth is a fabric used to make a garment or anything that has a specific purpose. Thus cloth is just a type of woven fabric. All cloths are fabrics, while all fabrics are not cloths.
  •  Very interesting question that made me think...I use both fabric and cloth depending on what I'm doing with them...I dye fabric and probably use the word fabric most of the time...I use the word cloth if I'm making what I call complex cloth...to say I dye cloth or that something I layered is complex fabric just feels all wrong to me...
  •  Fabric is just more open-ended in terms of meaning. Cloth also carries a religious connotation as in "man of the cloth". I agree that textile is a good word as well.
  •  To me, cloth is related to clothing. I refer to what I purchase off the bolt, fat quarters, whatever, as fabric.

  •   I don't use the word, textiles, very often. I think of it as referring to museum collections, garments conserved for educational studies and occasionally in reference to the group of items I'm going to need for a mixed media project. I think the word textiles is used more in educational settings.
  • I like to use fibre as it is a broader term including paper.

  •  I use the word textiles. It incorporates different thicknesses, fibres, vintages. But I like cloth too - a very smooooth word.

So, from this I see a wide range of interpretations - no one word is the "correct" one and each of them have subtle differences. Part of the usage may be personal experience and history, part may be education - and it's a conversation I'll be sure to use in my course.....which BTW is here in Victoria in May-June on Tuesday afternoons, 2-5pm! The registration isn't up yet, but let me know if you're interested and I'll keep you updated.

What do you think? Let me know!


RachelA said...

HI Susan, very interesting article! I personally like the word "cloth" in your course title, but I have a question. Will you be offering this as an online workshop too?

Susan Purney Mark said...

Rachel, that's an interesting thought! If I do it'll be in a while as I need to develop and teach it in person first...but I'll definitely put it on the list!

RachelA said...

Thanks Susan, I think I can safely say two of us here in spain would be interested!

Susan Purney Mark said...

Rachel, sounds good! How about a personal lesson? I'm walking the Camino next year!

queenopearls said...

Like others have said, I believe it depends on who you are trying to communicate with when discussing art. Some think "quilt" = "blanket" and go no further. Textile art seems to conjure a bit more curiosity about the art than quilt art. Fabric art tends to link to craft which, in my understanding, seems to be often thought of as non-art. This is what tend to see through my filters.

Susan Purney Mark said...

All good points...I think one goal is to open a conversation with those who view our work, partly to educate and partly to share our passions. Words and phrases that are open ended will help.