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Entangled: Fiber to Felt to Fashion

Start Date 08 May 2014
End Date 15 February 2015
Venue Kent State University Museum
Location Kent, USA
Curator Sherry Schofield, Sharon Kilfoyle (guest curators)

The Kent State University Museum is pleased to host this invitational exhibition of felted work by fifteen contemporary textile artists from the United States and Canada. Felt is legendary as one of the oldest materials from which garments have been made. Created primarily of wool fibers that have been manipulated with pressure and moisture so that the fibers interlock, traditional felt is non-woven. Although wool is not the only fiber that can be felted, the physical properties of wool fibers felt more easily to form a strong bond. In this exhibition the majority of pieces are made in the nuno felting technique developed by Australian Polly Stirling in the early 1990s. The word nuno is derived from the Japanese word for cloth. Nuno felting techniques are simple, and allow the blending together of fabric and wool in the felting process. It has inspired designers to create sheer fabrics that are easy to drape and to sew into elegant garments. Fiber artists and designers are experimenting with the parameters of this process, and the result has been an amazing array of fabrics, styles, and aesthetics, as well as surprising combinations of fabrics, wools, and synthetic embellishments. By hand dying both the felting fibers and the base textiles, the artists achieve imaginative patterns of color and texture and create garments unique in both silhouette and style. Our focus in this exhibit is the use of felt in elegant garments, using both seamless and sewn felt techniques, and showcasing both sheer elegance and sturdy construction.

The move away from the traditional suit has also moved out of the clearly defined levels of formality for clothing. The basic gray or navy suit is appropriate for the work place or dressy occasion such as a party or even a wedding. Tuxedos or even white ties and tails represent even more formal wear. However, society is moving away from these strictly defined codified clothing options. The punk or goth aspect to the designs of Rick Owens and Gareth Pugh stands as a rejection of the formality of society and the workplace.

All of the pieces in the exhibition are black which allows for a concentrated focus on details of cut, construction, proportion, and materials. In moving away from traditional silhouettes, many of these designers rethought the relationship between the clothing and the underlying shape of the body. Many pieces have unusual proportions with high waists, widened shoulders and exaggeratedly long sleeves that distort the normal silhouette of the human form. Unusual materials ranging from thermoplastics to pleated polyester further serve to transform how the garments fit and move.