Texture: visual and tactile surface quality of garments

Texture is a very large subject. Passionate as I am about textile manipulation I have done many samples just to explore some of the possibilities, but just skimmed the surface.

In this context I’m limiting myself to a dictionary search of some types of textured fabric mentioned by Creative Arts Today (page 215): 

TWEED: Tweed is a rough, woolen fabric, of a soft, open, flexible texture, resembling cheviot or homespun, but more closely woven. It is usually woven with a plain weave, twill or herringbone structure. Colour effects in the yarn may be obtained by mixing dyed wool before it is spun.

Tweeds are an icon of traditional Irish and British country clothing, being desirable for informal outerwear, due to the material being moisture-resistant and durable. Tweeds are made to withstand harsh climate and are commonly worn for outdoor activities such as shooting and hunting, in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. “Lovat” is the name given to the green used in traditional Scottish tweed. In Ireland, tweed manufacturing is most associated with County Donegal. (From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tweed_(cloth)

HONEYCOMB: soft cotton f. with a geometric, relief surface, created by means of a loose honeycomb weavewith convex, deepened places with good suction capacity. Used in hand towels and bath towels, and also for some types of ladies’ fashionwear dresses. The name is given by the honeycomb weave used in its production. (From: http://en.texsite.info/Honeycomb_fabric)

MATELASSE’: Matelassé (French: [matlase]) is a weaving or stitching technique yielding a pattern that appears quilted or padded.[1] Matelassé may be achieved by hand, on a jacquard loom, or a quilting machine. It is meant to mimic the style of hand-stitched quilts made in Marseilles, France. It is a heavy, thick textile that appears to be padded, but actually has no padding within the fabric. (From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matelassé)

CORD: Corduroy is a textile with a distinct pattern, a “cord” or wale. Modern corduroy is most commonly composed of tufted cords, sometimes exhibiting a channel (bare to the base fabric) between the tufts. Corduroy is, in essence, a ridged form of velvet.

The fabric looks as if it is made from multiple cords laid parallel to each other and then stitched together. The word corduroy is from cord and duroy, a coarse woollen cloth made in England in the 18th century. The interpretation of the word as corde du roi (from French, the cord of the King) is a folk etymology. (From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corduroy)

VELVET: Velvet is a type of woven tufted fabric in which the cut threads are evenly distributed, with a short dense pile, giving it a distinctive feel. By extension, the word velvety means “smooth like velvet.” Velvet can be made from either synthetic or natural fibers.

Velvet is woven on a special loom that weaves two thicknesses of the material at the same time. The two pieces are then cut apart to create the pile effect, and the two lengths of fabric are wound on separate take-up rolls. This complicated process meant that velvet was expensive to make before industrial power looms became available, and well-made velvet remains a fairly costly fabric. Velvet is difficult to clean because of its pile, but modern dry cleaning methods make cleaning more feasible. Velvet pile is created by warp or vertical yarns and velveteen pile is created by weft or fill yarns. (From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velvet)

SEERSUCKER: Seersucker is a thin, puckered, all-cotton fabric, commonly striped or chequered, used to make clothing for spring and summer wear. The word came into English from Persian, and originates from the words sheer and shakar, literally meaning “milk and sugar”, probably from the resemblance of its smooth and rough stripes to the smooth texture of milk and the bumpy texture of sugar.[1] Seersucker is woven in such a way that some threads bunch together, giving the fabric a wrinkled appearance in places. This feature causes the fabric to be mostly held away from the skin when worn, facilitating heat dissipation and air circulation. It also means that pressing is not necessary. (From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seersucker)

A useful little glossary of textile terms is to be found online at:

A more complete Historical Fashion and Textile Encyclopaedia is to be found at:


Texture in fabrics can be created in different ways:

  • by the fibres used
  • by the design of the yarns in the fabric
  • by the techniques used to create the textile
  • by the finishes applied to the surface that can change the surface and tactile qualities of a textile and also influence its drape

Some finishes (Creative Arts Today, page 215):

For a general online article on finishing: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finishing_(textiles)

BRUSHING: Some fabrics like velvet have a naturally raised (fuzzy) surface and this is referred to as the nap. The term nap is also used to describe other surfaces that look like the surface of a napped cloth. In the finishing process of manufacturing textiles, after the cloth is woven, it goes through processes such as washing, fulling, raising, and trimming the nap. There are several ways to ‘raise the nap’, most of which involve wire brushes such as raising cards and involved special brushing machines to get the best finish. During raising, the fabric surface is treated with sharp teeth to lift the surface fibres, thereby imparting hairiness, softness and warmth. Flannelette is a well-known example of this type of material. Gateway finishers are specialists in this process. (From: http://www.gatewayfinishers.co.uk/textile-finishingservices/brushing-surface-raising/)

LAMINATING: Laminated textiles consist of one or more layers of textile and component. The Textile Institute defines a laminated or combined fabric as: ‘a material composed of two or more layers, at least one of which is a textile fabric, bonded closely together by means of an added adhesive, or by the adhesive properties of one or more of the component layers’ (From: http://www.tikp.co.uk/knowledge/technology/coating-and-laminating/laminating)

FOILING: Foil stamping, (also known as foil application) typically a commercial printing process, is the application of metallic or pigmented foil on to a solid surface by application of a heated die onto foil, making it permanently adhere to the surface below leaving the design of the dye. (From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foil_stamping)
PRESSING: Pressing is the final opportunity to change the finish of a fabric. It is greatly influence by both the fabric fibre content, structure and end requirement. Some fabrics will require a clean, lustrous finish, but that same fabric can be manipulated to look fussy, soft and warm.

Processes include:

• Brushing is used to make a fabric’s handle softer. The fabric is run through a series of wire bristles that lift individual fibres from the fabric, making a soft nap.
• Calendering: the fabric passes through a set of rollers which can add lustre or an embossed effect.  

• Singeing: Heat is used to singe away any loose fibres on the fabric surface. It is a dry process, which can be used prior to washing.

Raising is a physical finish where fibres are lifted to produce a warm-feeling and soft fabric, such as flannelette.

• During emerising, a fabric is passed over a rotating emery-covered roller (or over multiple rollers) to give a suede-like or peach-like finish. It produces a very short pile (protruding fibres) that softens the handle of the fabric. (http://www.tikp.co.uk/knowledge/technology/finishing/textile-finishing/)

FELTING: Felt is a textile material that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. Felt can be made of natural fibers such as wool, or from synthetic fibers such as petroleum-based acrylic or acrylonitrile or wood pulp-based rayon. Blended fibers are also common. (From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felt)

All websites accessed on 19/08/2017

Research Point: Looking at fashion images

This first Research Point of Project 4 invites to look at fashion images by some important photographers and note down which textile qualities they wish to bring to the fore and how they achieve this. For every photographer of the list I have selected two images.


Irving Penn (USA, 1917-2009)

Photographed by Irving Penn, Vogue, May 1, 1947


Elegantly straightforward, glamorous style. Carefully staged studio photographs. Background kept very simple, all attention is focused on subject. Composition offers a detailed image of garments. Dramatic effect based on highly contrasted light/dark tones, sharp details. Still, frozen poses, no movement shown. Splendid isolation of silhouette-style lone mannequins, like sculptures or superhuman figures. Simple but very sophicated. Fashion as art. Drape and volume of the garments are exalted, silhouettes are clearly defined.



Mario Testino (Peruvian, born in 1954)




High impact images with strong, sensual, independent women who wear their clothes in very personal ways. Energetic colours and exuberant movement instead of static shots. The result is theatrical and full of personality. A very identifiable, sexy style that suggests how a dress can be interpreted to have a strong, decisive impact. In both photos the light, vaporous quality of the textiles is fully expressed.


Richard Avedon (USA, 1923-2004)



Avedon’s strong images tell a story, facial expressions are striking, poses are interesting. Models are full of life and vigour. Garments are shown in use and movement, within a compelling narrative, while the background is kept simple with all attention focused on the subjects. The effect is fresh and very innovative. These clothes are not for the shy, self-effacing wearer. The first image wonderfully shows the swirling movement of the rich woolen skirt, the second exalts the clean, sexy silhouettes of these cocktail dresses.

Terry Richardson (USA, born in 1965)



Richardson’s images are very different from the glamorous, opulent aesthetics of much fashion photography and they don’t take themselves too seriously, rather they adopt a street style that seems spontaneous, playful, almost casual. Models are sexy, provocative girls who enjoy themselves. The overall atmosphere is easy and seductively alluring. Light is natural, high key, if not harsh. Garments do not come to the fore, they are part of a living context.


Sarah Moon (France, born in 1941)
Sarah Moon, Avril for Alaïa 3, 2009. From: http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-16-601-793-view-fashion-1-profile-moon-sarah.html



Sarah Moon, Monette for Comme des Garçons, 2007. From: http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-16-601-793-view-fashion-1-profile-moon-sarah.html


With this photographer the mood is totally different: her images are soft, dreaming, vague, models are fantastic, out-of-this-world, extremely feminine creatures. Garments on them have an unreal, enigmatic quality that arouses emotions, intimate thoughts. They seem atemporal, somewhat nostalgic of a world long disappeared, volumes are underlined with great imagination and delicacy.


David Lachapelle (USA, born in 1963)

Alek Wek photographed by David LaChapelle for French Vogue, 1997 From: http://www.hungertv.com/feature/seven-seminal-images-by-david-lachapelle/


Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow, photographed by David LaChapelle in 1996 and published in Vanity Fair’s March 1997 issue. From: http://www.hungertv.com/feature/seven-seminal-images-by-david-lachapelle/


Mix of hyper-realism, surrealism and pop in these very individual images. The settings are theatrical, rich with narrative tension and imagination. They are also fun and humourous. Clothes make part of a story, have a cultural context, models embody characters of a story that intrigues and makes one ask questions.


Drape and movement

Notes from Creative Arts Today, page 213-4
  • DRAPE is the way a fabric or garment hangs.
  • It is influenced by the structure and weight of the fabric. Excess fabric can be used to build folds, gathers and pleats.
  • The quality of drape is determined by its softness, rigidity and weight.
  • A fabric is said to drape well when it is fluid, soft and with a rounded handle.
  • Through draping a textile can be manipulated in a sculptural way.
  • The drape creates the movement of a garment, a kinetic energy, that comes to its full expression when a garment is actually worn on the body, like wonderfully exemplified by Avedon’s photograph of the ‘Veruschka’ dress by Bill Blass (1967).

The French designer Madame Grès is a superb example of a master of draping:


Notes from Creative Arts Today, page 212
  • If the silhouette is the overall shape of a garment, VOLUME addresses the space around the body.
  • Volume is created and greatly affected by the weight and thickness of the textile: heavy fabrics need room to fold and drape and can easily produce bulky volumes, light fabrics can produce subtle volumes or be layered to build greater volumes around certain parts of the body.


Example of volume created by a heavy foam: 

Memory foam pullover by Nadine Goepfert, photo credit: Sanna Helena Berger. From: http://nadinegoepfert.com/index.php?/work/the-garments-may-vary-/

In the example above by Nadine Goepfert, a Berlin based textile designer, volume is used to great effect.

In a recent online interview of 24/04/2017 from http://www.freundevonfreunden.com/interviews/nadine-goepfert-textile-designer-music-berlin/ (Accessed 14/08/2017) Nadine says: ‘I’m interested in body language, gestures and how clothing influences them’. Most of her designs can be considered works of art, but they can also be worn. The foam pullover above belongs to her collection ‘Garments May Vary’ and has been worn by Solange Knowles in the music video for her single ‘Cranes in the Sky’.



Example of volume created by a tulle net:

Balenciaga 1957 – Cocktail Dress 2013, possibly inspired by Balenciaga

From: https://dutchfashiondollworld.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/

(Accessed 14/08/2014)


Notes from Creative Arts Today, page 211

  • The SILHOUETTE is the overall shape of a garment and determines the outline of the form. It’s influenced by how a garment is cut and by the softness and fluidity of the textile.
  • The SILHOUETTE is related to the proportion, scale, balance, flow and composition of the shape in relation to the body.

Sewguide offers a practical introduction to the basic silhouette types for what concerns especially women dresses and/or skirts, but of course the same concept can be applied to all types of garments or accessories like for example collars, hats and so on. The web has an almost infinite number of drawings and plates which organize these silhouettes according to categories, places and historic times.

I had a look at Maiko Takeda’s millinery pieces that I did not know:




(all accessed 13/08/2017)

Maiko Takeda working at one of her head pieces, from: https://www.ignant.com/2013/09/27/maiko-takeda/

This designer creates ethereal adornments for the body that are difficult to define as accessories – maybe hats, maybe jewels or something in between. They are surreal and delicate, bold and subtle, like magical creatures growing on the body and transforming it, generating an aura around it.

Dream-like silhouettes are created by hundreds of coloured plastic bristles that ondulate softly around the wearer. She explains that she obtained the visual effect she was after by layering printed clear film, sandwiched with acrylic discs and linked together with silver jump rings – she learnt jewellery before millinery.

Introduction to Project 4: Enveloping the body

Key concepts (Creative Arts Today, pages 210-211)
  • This final Project of Part 5 deals with yet another function/use/context for textiles: textiles in connection with the human body, either as FASHION (DESIGN) or ART or midway, for instance as craft.
  • All textiles have TACTILE, VISUAL, DRAPE,  HANDLE, PROTECTIVE and DURABLE QUALITIES that can be put to use in WEARING like in fashion or as EXPRESSION like in art.
Textiles as garments in fashion
  • Main qualities/issues/concerns to consider: AESTHETIC – FUNCTIONAL – COST – PRODUCTION CHOICES  – ETHICAL  –  SUSTAINABILITY
  • AESTHETIC CONSIDERATIONS: visual and tactile qualities, manipulations needed for wearability/functionality in different contexts of use, for instance evening wear, sportswear, knitwear. Subject to individual judgement.
  • FUNCTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS: comfort, durability, protection especially in sportswear, protective clothing, workwear. Less subject to individual judgement.
  • These textile qualities are obviously important also in contexts other than fashion such as interior and exterior applications examined in Project 3.

Research Point: Christian Boltanski – Personnes installation (2010)



From HLGfilms, at: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SXND1GZdBzM (Accessed 11/08/2017)

Not having visited the installation in Paris in 2010 I found really useful to look at videos on YouTube to get at least an idea of how it was.

1. I shall first try a schematic analysis using the terms set out at the start of Project 3.

Personnes is an ART installation set up at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2010, conceived as a TEMPORARY  grandiose anonymous memorial by Christian Boltanski (1944), a French artist, photographer and film maker (At: https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Boltanski, accessed 11/08/2017).

It was a LARGE SCALE visual and sound installation, which took up the enormous space of the Nave at the Grand Palais, the largest glass roof in Europe (At: http://www.grandpalais.fr/fr/evenement/monumenta-christian-boltanski-personnes, accessed 11/08/2017).

At the time of the installation the empty grandiose space of the Nave was TRANSFORMED into an imaginary regular array of encampments and/or collective cemetery of crowds of anonymous people symbolically represented by layers of discarded clothes and objects laid out on the floor. The installation was conceived as a deeply moving IMMERSIVE experience for visitors who were able to move along the areas which REPEATED themselves monotously throughout the space in a square PATTERN.

Laura Cumming in The Guardian has a review of the installation at the Grand Palais (At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/jan/17/christian-boltanski-personnnes-paris-review, accessed 11/08/2017)

Also Adrian Searle wrote a review of the exhibition (Accessed 12/08/2017).
2. Some thoughts about the installation

  • The echoing sound of human heartbeats, with its rhythmic and continuous thuds, never leaves the visitors during their moving across the vast space of the Nave. Boltanski even invites all who come in to record their own heart rhythms in dedicated booths, adding to an archive he is compiling of all the world’s heartbeats. I think that this is a very powerful idea that creates a strong emotional bond between the living and the dead, implying that we all share the same destiny: those who are dead were once living, those that are living shall be dead. We all belong together. This gives the work a universal value across places and across times.
  • All those discarded clothes, thousands of them lying down on the floor in grids, orderly so, face down, as if in anonymous graves of a cemetery or in some other somber disposition like corpses after a terrorist attack or another tragic event, are terribly unsettling in the absence of all those who wore them. As visitors we can walk around, looking at an old coat here, a  children’s sweater there, pick up a garishly coloured dress, or a skirt and tenderly wonder who wore it, imagining a person and a life behind it. So these forlorn clothes in all their emptiness stand for people, are those people, those clothes have more than a symbolic value, are more than symbols, and we look at them as if they were people, they are so to say a metaphor of people.
  • The installation title makes sense only in French, because ‘personne’ means a ‘person’ but also ‘no person’, ‘nobody’. So it indicates at the same time the presence of people and their absence. The absence is given by the anonymity that death confers to people. The mechanical grabber is a second powerful metaphor, that strengthens and confirms this vision of human absence: Boltanski has said that he equates the grabber  to the ‘indifferent hand of God’ which randomly picks up somebody like an old cloth and then lets it drop again, just as casually.
  • I associate this grandiose installation to the memento mori and vanitas paintings dealt with in Part 1 of this course. The scale is evidently very different and Personnes offers the visitors a multi-sensorial immersive experience involving them in several ways, but the inspiration has some elements in common. However, in Boltanski’s work there is also a human pietas, a compassion for our common destiny that seems to be absent from vanitas paintings. On a more emotional personal level, my thought goes to the crowds of migrants which cross seas and lands in search of rescue and survival, letting behind families, houses, belongings and often finding an anonymous death along the way.