Knitting, crochet, and embroidery are just a few of the ways one can transform thread and yarn into textile, and they’re techniques that have been around for centuries. An excavation in Egypt unearthed a knitted sock that dates to the 11th century CE; and today, museums around the world house similar examples of ancient knitwear that looks remarkably modern: chunky knit, multihued socks with playful color blocking in jaunty colors that one could easily mistake for a pair by The Elder Statesman. Given this long history during which time, quite frankly, very few innovations (apart from mechanization) have been made, it’s a treat when someone comes around with a novel approach. Here, we highlight three textile artisans doing interesting things with the humble needle and thread.
“By now, signs of the Anthropocene are ubiquitous. In Porto, beaches are crowded with trash that comes ashore, especially when there’s a big storm,” says Portuguese textile artist Vanessa Barrag?o, creator of awe-inspiring and complex tapestries. Hers are oceanic and naturalistic-inspired works that reflect themes of climate change, the perils of conspicuous consumption, and a celebration of the natural world. Barrag?o’s coral reef tapestries, for example, are crafted with blanched yarns (like the global warming-induced bleaching of our own coral reefs) and combine a layering of various textile techniques—latch hooking, felting, knitting, macrame, and crochet—for a three-dimensional effect that juts out in front of the viewer and commands attention. One piece features high pile shags that wilt downwards, knitted loops of bulbous barnacles, and macramé fringes every so often. All of these works begin with a plain jute canvas and all of her materials are deadstock, sourced from local factories. Formally trained with a degree in fashion design, Barrag?o credits her grandmother for teaching her almost every technique. Barrag?o doesn’t sketch; her technique is completely artisanal. “I create while I realize the artwork,” she says. And when she’s not at work in her studio, formerly a plumber’s workshop (“there’s a bunch of metal pipes left over”) she can be found playing the ukulele in Porto’s city park or by the sea. Perhaps getting more inspiration for her next series?