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Brno University of Technology, WS 2021/2022
Brno University of Technology, WS 2021/2022
What direction would technology have taken if the skills that are normally attributed to women and other anomalies were given the attention they deserve?
In 1748, the Habsburg Monarchy was forced to cede Silesia to the Prussians and eventually chose Brno as its new centre for wool processing and textile production. The ancient fortifications were swiftly demolished and this heretofore impregnable fortress was forever changed. Raw wool arrived from all over the world, was carded, combed, spun and woven by women, and re-entered the world as cloths of many colours, weaves and grades. Brno was described as the, Moravian Manchester, in its heyday between 1850 and 1930. Very little has survived of this golden period, traces in bricks, mortar or machinery are just as difficult to find as threads.
Our studio this semester attempts to follow these Threads and Traces where they lead us and explore what we could we learn from pliantly immersing ourselves in their flows and forces. In a conscious effort to calibrate between conjecture and activism we will use our finest tool, our hands, to transform bales of wool which will arrive in much the same state as it would have done in Brno’s heydays and navigate our way through the threads we create and the traces we leave, following their forces and flows.
In “The Four Elements of Architecture” published in 1851, Gottfried Semper argued that the threading, twisting and knotting of fibres were among the most ancient of human arts, from which architecture was derived.
In the turn from spinning a thread to stretching it from point to point lies the ‘hinge’ between bodily movement and abstract reason, between the textilic and the architectonic, between the haptic and the optical, and between becoming and being. Perhaps the key to the ontology of making is to be found in a length of string.1
1 From Lines: A Brief history, chapter 2 Traces, Threads and Surfaces by Tim Ingold, ISBN 9781138640399, Published April 11, 2016, by Routledge
With the emerging textile industry in the 19th century and users' need for very fine quality, wool produced by common sheep breeds stopped being good enough. Wool from specialized breeds started to be shipped from all over the world. And in the middle of the 20th century, they started to make woven garments from cheaper synthetic yarns. The wool was no longer needed. This struggle of sheep farmers has remained to this day. Wool was a commodity that could be sold for some money before, but in the last years even that hasn't been paying off. Wool has to be thrown away or burned in incinerators and the farmers are paying instead of earning.
Fibre. Hand. Rotation. Intelligence. Technology. What once was a bunch of fibres becomes a line using intelligence of our mind and body. With the gentle pull of our hand, we allign few fibres and allow them to twist with the rotation of other hand, spindle or spinning machine.
By this specific movement, we coordinate fibers to form a yarn with desirable qualities. Thick, fine, smooth – qualities of yarn can change with different movement of our hands, but they also depend on given qualities of fibres. The breed, part of fleece, climate conditions are aspects that have direct effect on the fibre growth on the microscopic level.
The spun yarn is still unstable and has to be in tension to retain a certain shape. The trick for yarn, which is not twisting back is to overtwist it, catch it in the middle and let both ends to twist around each other. Thus, to form an entanglement of oposite equal forces which eliminate each other. This is also a process that gives us the ability to produce even more variables of the yarn.
Wool fiber and its qualities
Wool is a common and ordinary material with exceptional qualities. Its basic building unit is a fiber and it’s in them specifically where individual keys to all of the wool properties come from.
Wool is water repellent thanks to high wax content. But at the same time it can retain moisture up to 30% of its own weight and still keep itself dry. Thanks to this quality it can be a perfect insulation and it can control a humidity level in space. On top of the fibre are also specific keratin scales. They can range from 200 to 1000 per cm. The higher the scale count, the higher quality of the wool, the more heat it will retain, the more likely it is to felt and easier it is to spin together.
Felt is a mass of wool that is entangled and dense enough to hold a shape and show some qualities.
A very impressive process to entangle wool with a special carved needle. The needle takes a few fibers and pushes them deep into other ones to create a strong bond. It leads within the structure. Any possible shape can be achieved but on just a limited scale as both the tool and the basic building material – the fiber - are very small and it takes hours to hand felt just a little piece. The felt is firmed locally but very effectively.
The process enabled us to make a big piece of ‚felt fabric‘. We got inspired by multiple old traditions like Mongolian and Iranian. And by laying numerous layers of just a slightly loosened wool, pouring it with hot water with detergent to erect keratin scales on individual fibers, and then pushing, pulling, rolling, and stepping on the piece to make the felt as entangled as possible. The outcome was very dense, solid and opposite to a dry felt, very homogenous.
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