i’m not sure if i ever have written explicitly about sourcing fabric and materials. so this is the first part of a series of posts where i plan to document my sourcing process as well as the information i find around some of the fabric or thread i find.
textiles are a material that store history and stories really well. not only fabric our clothes are made from, but also the material itself. cones or skeins of thread, bolts of fabric before they are made into a finished product, they also store their history, the history of the people who made them, the history of the area and the landscape they come from, the history of whole industries, many of them gone and taken to areas of the world where human labour is cheaper and laws are less protective of human and environmental health. and to be honest, also the cheaply produced fabric and clothes we can buy from fast fashion chains, they also store their stories of human suffering and exploitation.
most of the fabric and thread i work with is sourced second hand, meaning i look for vintage or antique materials, mostly bought from private people who sell their own stashes, or stashes they inherited from their mums or grandmums, stuff found in attics, deadstock from shops,… this means i can’t really plan what to buy, but over time i have found out what i like in terms of fabric to work with, materials, colours, patterns. the appeal of vintage and antique fabric and thread to me is mostly haptic, often these fabrics and thread have a different feel to them, the way they were manufactured was different to more modern processes, the fibers were different, and all this translates into a different tactile experience i enjoy a lot. just touching these pieces gives me a lot of joy and comfort.
sourcing like this requires patience, constantly learning about materials, a good amount of guesswork and probablility management (often i rely on blurry images to decide if a fabric is worth buying, or what material it is, or its age and quality). a lot of my project ideas come from the interaction with material. i often sit for a while with a newly sourced length of fabric, i watch it, i touch it, i manipulate it, then i often store it for a while, until an idea emerges. and more often than not, i do have a piece of fabric and threads i need for this particular idea to work. i think that’s really because material mostly inspires me, and it mostly are materials i have touched and spent some time with. also, the pieces of fabric in my stash impose their own limitations – i can’t go and buy more of that thread or fabric, simply because it’s all there is; hardly ever do i find the exact same material twice with the way i source. and this limitation also helps to define projects. sometimes it’s frustrating too, of course, when there’s the perfect fabric, but just not enough. but honestly, this mostly doesn’t happen. the fabrics and threads find their projects eventually.
another decision i made a longer while ago is to focus on local textiles. the most wonderful antique fabric from basically anywhere in the world is available 24 hours a day via the internet. and i fall for many of them, there is endless beauty in antique textile material and skill. but i also realized that i knew more about some foreign textiles than i knew about the textile history of europe or austria or vorarlberg, where i was born. as i began to look locally, it connected me back to the textile history in my family, made me appreciate the story of textiles in my area much more, and i felt a much deeper connection to the textiles i work with. some are childhood memories, like certain kinds of fabric my grandmas or my mum used, certain colours or patterns i remember that were trendy when i was a kid, or already vintage but as my grandma used them they became part of my memories, the feel of some of the local antique linen that makes me happy every time i touch it – i think these aspects made my work much more connected to myself. i still cherish and work with some pieces of fabric that are from far away regions of the world, like a small gifted piece of vintage japanese silk, that is a joy to work with, but my focus for sourcing has totally shifted to vintage and antique local and everyday fabric, patterns that feel timeless or even modern when taken out of their historical context, and a crafting or production process that is still visible and tangible, like true selvedges or old weaving pattern.
this all to give you some context into my thoughts and process when it comes to sourcing.
one of my latest find is a bolt of flannel dating to the mid-50ies. it still had the tags on with price, dimensions and design name, brand and stock take notes, which in this case made the dating really easy.
the storage marks and yellowing are very visible on the close up photos, which means the cloth will need a good soak for about 24 hours in warm water with baking soda (sodium hydrogencarbonate). then i’ll put them in the washing machine, again adding some baking soda, to rid it of all yellowing, sizing and smells (wasn’t a problem with this fabric, but sometimes old fabric stores all kind of smells).
while unfolding for soaking i found pencil marks added every 5 meters, i guess they were left there to speed up stock takes.
i usually keep all tags and ephemera that come with some fabric i find. some comes with no info at all, sometimes the previous owners share some of the origins, and sometimes tags and scribbled notes help with finding out more.
this fabric was made by herrburger & rhomberg, most likely in dornbirn, vorarlberg; the name of the design is glocker-flanell. the company itself does not exist anymore, as far as i know; a daughter company produces polyfill nowadays.
i think i’ll hand sew something cosy and comfortable with this really soon, only need to find the perfect pattern. i can also imagine this fabric as one side of a quilt, one that is perfect to keep warm and safe when the world is cold and harsh.
i wonder – what materials inspire your work? how do you source it? what qualities are important to you in the materials you work with?