I'm Doug Johnson.
I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. At craft shows and corporate headquarters
across the United States, you might see works by the artist B.J. Adams. She
makes extremely detailed wall coverings that often show flowers, trees, and
hands made from thread.
work "Variations on H" is made up of different colors of finely made hands
connected together to form a flowing cloth. How did Miz Adams make this work?
Today we answer this question as we explore the world of textile art.
For thousands of years, people have developed creative
ways to produce textiles. A textile is a piece of cloth that has been formed by
weaving, knitting, pressing or knotting together individual pieces of fiber.
Yarn is a general term for long pieces of interlocked fibers. Yarn can be made
from natural materials such as cotton, linen, silk and wool. Or it can be made
from manufactured materials such as nylon, acrylic and polyester. The paints
that give color to yarn are called dyes.
today might not think much about the shirt, pants, or socks they are wearing.
Manufacturing cloth is now a very low cost process. But this was not always the
nineteenth century, all cloth was made by hand. It took a great deal of time
and effort to gather fibers from plants or animals to make into yarn which
could then be made into cloth. Humans probably first made textiles to meet
important needs. These include textiles for keeping warm, creating shelter, and
holding goods. But cultures around the world also developed methods of making
cloth that were artistic, creative, and beautiful.
is one way to produce cloth.A set of
threads called the warp form the base of the cloth.Other threads called the weft are placed over
and under the warp. The device used to weave together warp and weft threads is called
a loom. If you look down at a piece of fabric as though it were a map, the warp
threads would go in a north-south direction. The weft goes in an east-west
A tapestry is a special kind of weaving method in which
the weft does not go continuously through the whole width of the fabric. A
weaver uses the weft threads to create individual areas of color. The designs
and images on the surface of a tapestry are woven into the cloth as opposed to
being only on the surface of the cloth.
famous examples of wall tapestries were produced in Europe, starting around the
fourteenth century. These include the seven Unicorn Tapestries that are part of
the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
extraordinarily fine tapestries were made in the early sixteenth century.They were thought to have been designed in
Paris and woven in Brussels, then part of the Netherlands.They are so detailed they look more like
paintings than weavings. The textiles tell a story about a group of hunters and
wealthy people searching for a magical creature.During this period, wealthy people used finely
made tapestries to bring color and warmth to their large houses.
Kilims are a kind of tapestry made across North Africa,
the Middle East, Turkey and the Caucasus. Kilims were often made by tribes that
moved from place to place. Kilims were made to cover the floors of tents or to
hold goods. In these nomadic cultures, women were usually the weavers. A mother
would pass down weaving traditions to her daughter. Kilims are woven with many
bright patterns and complex geometric forms. Each tribe or area has its own kilim
Another method for making floor
coverings involves tying pieces of yarn onto the warp. Unlike kilims, these
"pile" carpets are not flat, they are deep and soft because their surfaces are
covered with the ends of thousands of pieces of yarn. These carpets are often
called "Oriental" or "Persian" carpets. The National Gallery in Washington,
D.C. has several fine examples of pile carpets from Iran. One red and gold
carpet from the seventeenth century has complex patterns and animal designs.
are more methods for producing artistic textiles than we have time to discuss.
For example, in the United States the tradition of making quilts has a long and
rich history. Quilts are made by piecing together layers of cloth to make
colorful coverings. The Amish religious group is well known for their inventive
and bold quilt patterns.
also many different ways to change the appearance of the surface of a
textile.Embroidery work involves using colored
yarn and a needle to create designs on the surface of cloth. One famous example
of embroidery work is called the Bayeux Tapestry. This eleventh century work is
not actually a tapestry. It is a seventy meter long cloth covered in embroidery
The images sewn on the cloth tell about
the events leading up to the Norman invasion of England in ten sixty-six. The
work includes hundreds of soldiers, horses, boats, and weapons.
There are also many methods for coloring fabrics with
dyes. In Indonesia, the batik method of dying fabric involves using wax to make
complex patterns. In Japan, the shibori method involves tieing cloth in
different ways so that some areas of it receive the dye. What kind of textile
traditions exist where you live?
These textile traditions are ancient. Modern
artists use these methods and others in creative and inventive ways to make new
and exciting work.Artists who make art
from textiles are often called fiber artists. We visited the studio of B.J.
Adams in Washington, D.C. to see a fiber artist at work.
|Double click for full-size|
J. Adams uses a sewing machine and thread like a painter uses color. She guides
the cloth she is working on so that the machine makes stitches and slowly
colors the work. This is called free-motion embroidery.
B.J. ADAMS: "I started out with drawing and painting in
school. And, I always made all my own clothes. And one time, in nineteen sixty,
I started to see contemporary embroidery. And I'd never seen any embroidery
except what the Girl Scouts show you. And it was so good and so interesting, I
thought it was combining two things I love, art and sewing."
Miz Adams is always testing new
ideas and methods. For example, she recently used heat transfers to copy images
of paintings she made years ago onto cloth. Usually, she will cover the lines
of her drawings using a straight stitch on her sewing machine. But for this
series, she is experimenting with a zig-zag stitch that looks like a line made
up of angles.
B.J. ADAMS: "I'm doing the whole thing in zig-zag. Just
trying something new."
Many of her works are influenced by nature, trees, and
flowers. Some have a dreamy, surreal look. Others are very realistic. One work
shows a large embroidered white magnolia flower sewn onto a painted surface. It
is so detailed that unless you look up close, you would think it was a
B.J. ADAMS: "This is one from my drawings of the
magnolia, which we have in our backyard. The magnolias die so quickly when you
bring them in, so I had to draw it quickly before I started in on the
Below the flower,
Miz Adams embroidered leaves in a range of colors to show how they change as
B.J. ADAMS: "They started out this kind of dark kelly
and then they go to yellow, green, and brown. It's called "Catching the Moment"
because they die so quickly."
works by B. J. Adams are abstract. This means there is no image, just an
arrangement of forms and colors. One series is based on her time teaching in
New Zealand. She used very dense stitches that are very close together to make
flowing lines of bright colors.
B.J. ADAMS: "Now that one and this one are both results
of bungee jumping in Queenstown. And that's called "Bungee Attitude" and that's
works are influenced by gallery shows that have a set theme.
B.J. ADAMS: "This one is "Variations on K", because
this is the word kiss in every language, including sign language. And it was
made for a show that had the theme of kiss. And they required this size piece,
so that was the one I created."
Earlier, we discussed the work "Variations on H." It hangs
on a window in her colorful studio. It is made up of about forty drawings of
Miz Adams' hands. She made each hand as an example to students while she was
teaching a class on drawing using free-motion embroidery. She decided to piece together
the hands into one work.
B.J. Adams sewed the drawings onto special fabric which
melted away after she washed it. What is left is pure embroidery. This complex
work honors the artist's most important tool, her hands. And, it gives a good
example of the endless creative possibilities of fiber art.
This program was written and
produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus.
And I'm Doug
Johnson.You can see pictures of B. J.
Adams' fiber art on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.Join us again next week for Explorations in
VOA Special English.