Returning to the Tactile

In response to an increasingly digital world, a textile renaissance is underway.

As we finally move away from the plastic culture that began in the late 1960s, with its emphasis on artificial materials and metal, textiles may once again come to the fore in our homes and work-places. The design curator Lidewij Edelkoort is predicting a renaissance in the next few years, and has been promoting this idea with her exhibition, Talking Textiles. She argues that designers are rediscovering textiles as a “reaction to the increasingly digital landscape of our lives, and a craving for tactility.” According to Edelkoort, “The near future will see the overwhelming return of them in our interiors. They will become the fabrics of life, narrating stories, designing patterns, promoting well-being, and reviving the act of creative weaving.”

Designers are not only using innovative techniques, they’re also revisiting traditional ones, such as embroidery, and pushing them beyond mere embellishment. Hella Jongerius’s Maharam textiles and Charlotte Lancelot’s work for Gandia Blasco both use traditional embroidery in new ways that make these products contemporary and relevant. Companies like Designtex, Robert Allen, and Carnegie Fabrics continue to innovate with patterns, materials, and techniques in the contract sector.

“Over the last decade, designers have been inspired by other disciplines and looked to incorporate new technologies,” says Matilda McQuaid, the deputy curatorial director and head of textiles at the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, in New York. “Some designers have taken to industrial production or rediscovered hand techniques for the purpose of twenty-first-century reinterpretation.” She sees textiles, with lightweight and foldable properties, as continuing to play a central role. They can also be embedded with special attributes, such as the use of stain resistance or nano fibers for medical applications. “One of the most interesting areas is smart textiles, where engineers and designers make them responsive to touch and temperature,” McQuaid says. On the following pages, we showcase some of the most innovative designers, manufacturers, and products that are pushing the boundaries of textile making today.

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