June 1, 2011
Hella Jongerius’s new fabric collection was inspired by the traditional weavers of Mexico and Guatemala.
Hella Jongerius may have only two textile collections under her belt, but with them she set a high bar. “Repeat and Layers are both iconic,” says Michael Maharam, the creative principal of the eponymous company that produced them. “They’re in MoMA’s permanent collection, and they’re unlike anything else that previously existed in our world.” Due to its unusually long patterns, Repeat (2002) results in one-offs when put to use. And Layers (2006), which combines decorative stitching, felt, and cutouts, brings handicraft intricacy to the industrial process. So one might assume that the Dutch designer’s third outing for Maharam would involve another innovative feat. Instead, her latest project offers something much subtler: an homage to a centuries-old method of hand weaving.
“Borders was based on fabrics that we saw in traditional parts of Mexico and Guatemala which are woven on these very small back-strap looms,” Jongerius says of her new collection. Consisting of little more than six sticks, the technology is inexpensive and simple, yet artful weavers produce intricate designs on back-strap looms—with one significant limitation. Because the weaver must be able to reach from one side of the warp through to the other, the end product usually measures less than 30 inches wide. “To use it for wider applications, they attach two or more pieces together with embroidery,” Jongerius says. “It’s not only a good solution, it’s a very good design idea.”
Launched last month and appearing at NeoCon, Borders features embroidered strips of houndstooth, vines, and flowers that run the length of the fabric, just as they would when forming a seam. Here, however, the stitches play a purely decorative role, and though machine-made, they bear small imperfections. Each houndstooth check differs from the last, its shape flattening or tilting slightly. “It’s not that the machine is doing something wrong,” Jongerius says. “Having lines that aren’t straight gives the pattern some blood.
I really like misfits, some strange element that makes a project fresh or rare.” Her choice of colors reflects this thinking, with a “very strange green” stitch that stands out against a pale blue and gray background. (Borders also comes in natural, walnut, and charcoal colorways.) Borders may not exhibit the technical daring of Jongerius’s previous collections, but neither is it slavish to tradition. Jongerius and Maharam spent a long time developing the right ground fabric to juxtapose with the stitches. “I didn’t want something nostalgic,” she says. “This is crispy, even though it’s a natural alpaca.”
As for sheer innovation, there’s always Jongerius’s next act: Maharam has essentially asked the designer to reinvent herself. “Now that she has figured out how to do beautiful, interesting, and expensive things that can be used in a limited way by our audience, we’ve commissioned her to do a dozen patterns over the next several years that are more commercially accessible,” Maharam says. Jongerius admits this could prove her toughest assignment yet. “We have discussed ideas for a half a year already,” she says. “I couldn’t quite grasp what ‘commercial’ was. You don’t want to have a cheap version of yourself—that’s