Updated: Oct 5, 2022
Modification/Manipulation Techniques in Textile Crafts
What are Textile Crafts?
Textile crafts comprises of manipulation of yarns or fabrics for construction of functional or decorative end-products. Since apparel is the most prominent products made of yarns and fabrics, this category is often used as synonym with textiles. It is important here to understand that textile crafts can be utilised to make a wide range of products that are either used as accessories in apparel or can be used for completely non-apparel purposes like toys, home décor and much more. Textile craft techniques can be broadly classified into two categories: Yarn manipulation & fabric manipulation.
Apart from classifying them in terms of yarn and fabric manipulation, these techniques can also be classified as constructional techniques and surface enhancement techniques.
Knitting is a process of yarn manipulation where a single supply of yarn is interloped to make a fabric. It is a constructional technique that can be practiced by hand-knitting or machine knitting. Hand-knitting is usually done by the help of two long needles and one or more supply of yarn. The interloping can be manipulated in various ways to ensure different designs knitted in the fabric. Hand-knitting has been traditionally used for making jumpers/sweaters out of wool yarn as the technique is gentle enough to be used for delicate yarns. Similarly, machine knitting is done on industrial frames and is one of the fastest techniques of fabric construction. Knitting is the most wide-spread alternate of weaving. Machine knitted fabrics are lighter in weight and open in texture thus more breathable. Machine knitted fabrics are also called Hosiery fabrics. These fabrics are softer and have higher crease resistance than woven fabrics. For this reason, machine knitted fabrics are frequently used in intimate wear and casual wear like t-shirts.
Macrame is a knotting technique where mostly 3 or more sets of yarns are required to achieve a knot. The constructional technique is completely based on clever manipulation of knots to produce patterned ropes or a wide network of knotted yarns that looks like an open fabric.
Since knots are rounder and 3-dimensional in nature, this craft practice is largely used for utility and garden textiles and less seen in intricate textiles. The technique is widely used for creating utility products with yarns and cords. The technique can be effectively used for creating patterned ropes and open textiles for made-ups like planter-holders, book-holders, wrist bands, keychains etc.
Crochet, Tatting/ Lace making
These interesting yarn-manipulation crafts are the mother of lace-work and were extensively practiced few decades back when machine-made laces and edgings were not widely available. While both these are yarn based constructional techniques, the equipment used, technique and final expression is different in both of them. In tatting, the yarn is first wound over a boat shaped shuttle and then manipulated into a lace. Similarly, crochet uses a bent-hook needle to loop the yarn over itself. The lace-maker then cleverly manipulates the yarn; winding & knotting it over itself by skilful movement of shuttle or hooked needle. The techniques produce beautiful laces and edgings that can range over more than 10 meters. The process is painfully slow and requires huge skill & patience on the part of the designer.
Sewing is the most wide-spread fabric manipulation textile craft practiced around the world. It could also be one of the earliest textile crafts known to human beings. The technique efficiently converts a fabric into a 3-dimensional apparel or non-apparel end-product. While sewing can be widely classified into hand-sewing and machine sewing, it is not uncommon to come across products where most of the sewing is combination of machine and some delicate finishing completed by hand. The technique is a combination of tasks where first the fabric is cut in required sizes and shapes and then stitched together with needle and thread using hand-stitches or sewing machine. Although, the raw material required is a fabric, the technique would still classify as a constructional technique. More aspects of sewing have been discussed in some of the other blogs at omemy.com .
One of the most widely used textile craft technique, embroidery is largely practiced on woven fabrics. Unlike, other techniques discussed before, this technique is largely used for surface enhancement. The process involves patterned movement of threads over a fabric where the threads are constantly alternating above and below the surface of the fabric.
This is achieved by threading a embroidery needle with the desired yarn. This needle then becomes the carrier and master of the thread movement along the fabric / design pattern.
Embroidery can be broadly classified as machine and hand-embroidery depending upon the mode of application. Interestingly, every culture has developed it’s native set of embroideries which reflect the design patterns and ethos inherent to that specific culture. The technique has huge potential in terms of outcomes and is rightly termed as ’painting with the needle’. Most reference books on textiles, classify embroideries either on the basis of stitches or cultures.
Most common embroidery stitches that can be found in almost every traditional and contemporary work are: running, back, stem, satin, blanket / buttonhole, cross, feather, herringbone, weaving and interlacement.
Speaking culturally; Asian embroidery stitches could be very region specific like Kanthas, Phulkaris, Kasutis, Sindhi, Kachch, Kashida and many more. Some of the prominent European embroideries are Black-work, Pattern darning, Pulled-thread work, Smocking & Cutwork.
Quilting is another constructional technique that uses fabric as raw material. It is an art of combining layers of fabric together which are then stitched over with patterned stitching lines. Quilting can be done by both hand or machine, however machine stitched quilts are more commonly available.
Since the process involves layering with a filling sandwiched between fabric layers and then pattern stitching, the process is most widely used to construct comforters for cold weather. It is for that reason that comforters became synonymous with ‘quilts’ at some point of time. It is important to note here that quilting as an art finds expression in various traditional textile crafts across the world. Kanthas of Bengal in Asia are traditionally always hand-quilted first before the surface embellishment. Similarly, quilting is widely used in home décor products like pillows, bed covers, table-runners, pot-holders etc. Latest edition to the quilting list are the knitted quilt patterns that have been in vogue for sweat-shirts for some time now.
Apart from the basic quilting techniques we can also find creative textiles constructed with stuffed quilting, corded quilting, sectional quilting and puff quilting.
Applique is a technique of sewing small shaped pieces of fabric over the main fabric for design formation. Applique scraps could be hand-stitched or machine stitched on the fabric. The idea behind applique is to create a scenic representation of the conceived design where scraps of fabric are cut in appropriate shape and patched over the main fabric to represent different elements of the scene.
The shaped scraps could be stitched flat over the base fabric with raw edges being covered by blanket stitch (hand applique) or zig-zag stitch (machine applique). Felt is the most commonly used fabric for this technique as the fabric doesn’t fray. This technique is widely used for complex shapes where edge folding is not an option.
For simpler shapes, the applique scrap could be turned inside at edges (if the applique fabric is prone to fraying) and then stitched in place by hemming or machine zig-zag. Pipli art of Orissa in India is a perfect example of tribal art manifested in hand hemmed applique technique.
Another interesting category of applique is the reverse applique, where a shaped window is cut out of the main fabric and then applique fabric is attached from the backside and thus peeps out of the window. In this case, the window is cut in the required end-shape and not the applique fabric.
Patchwork as a technique is often confused with Applique. While both the techniques extensively use patches and scraps of fabric, patchwork is essentially referred to a larger fabric created by joining smaller pieces of fabric in a definite pattern.
Patchworking is a traditional technique practiced in most parts of Europe & Asia. Patchwork designs are largely geometrical and achieved by joining small squares of fabric. The trick is to first divide the large design into small squares and get the individual squares ready. These small squares are accordingly joined into a bigger piece to complete the pattern. Patchwork has been traditionally used to make heirloom quilts all over Europe and enjoys heritage value as these quilts are often constructed as gifts for younger generation, signifying security and warmth.
Another interesting category of patchwork is Scrap-work. Here, unrelated patches of fabric are stitched together in abstract or random fashion to achieve a large sized fabric. This patched fabric is the cut and stitched into utility products like cushion-covers, table-runners etc.
Fabric & Yarn Dyeing
Can we think of textiles without colours? Fabric and yarn dyeing have been inseparable part of textile crafts. In fact, colour is one of the primary selection criteria while choosing a yarn or fabric.
While textiles are solid dyed at various stages of production, i.e., fibre, yarn, fabric or product; craft enthusiasts are more interested in patterned dyeing that enhances the aesthetic appeal of the end-product. Patterned dyeing effects can be achieved on textiles in innumerable ways. However, most of these categories can be classified into resist dyeing or reverse dyeing.
In resist dyeing technique, some areas of fabric 'resist' dye intake with the help of strategically placed knots, twists, folds, gathers, thread binds , clips, mud prints, wax etc.; while rest of the fabric soaks in the dye-bath.
The technique has been further curated with local flavours in different cultures like Bandhej in India, Mudmees in Thailand, Plangis in Indonesia & Shibori in Japan. The age-old process of fabric resist dyeing has roots in almost every major Asian country. Each of these cultures have provided their signature resist techniques to the art, enriching the fine play of colours and patterns. The technique has unlimited possibilities in creating colourful, flowing surface patterns!
Additionally, Asian textiles have a rich heritage of yarn resist dyeing like ikkats, patolas & bandhas where the fabric pattern is manifested by resist dyeing the yarns and then carefully weaving it into a patterned fabric.
Another interesting Dyeing craft category is Reverse dyeing. This process involves, bleaching a solid dyed textile in a patterned manner to achieve white or light coloured patterns on coloured backgrounds. The technique can be extensively seen in contemporary fashioned textiles especially denims.
Known a localised dyeing, printing is a process of applying dye on fabric in a controlled manner so that only specific locations on the fabric intake colour. One of the most commonly used surface enhancement technique, fabric prints can be achieved in multiple ways. While most traditional textiles were hand-printed with wooden hand-blocks, modern textiles are largely machine printed. However, from craft point-of-view, hand-block printing has been one of the favoured techniques as it can be customised for small fabric areas.
Technology has added multiple dimensions to fabric printing like screen printing, stencil printing etc. However, the printing technique most extensively utilised by textile craft enthusiasts is sublimation or transfer printing. The process involves, printing an image on a heat-transfer paper first and the transferring it on to the fabric by applying heat. Like other printing processes, this process does not involve localised dyeing of yarns as a transparent film is transferred and binds on to the fabric surface.
Fabric painting surface enhancement technique is a specialised art that has seen its opulence since ancient times. In India the art of fabric painting has manifested in multiple dimensions. We see examples of these in Story-telling temple paintings (Kalamkaris and Patachitras) and also in tribal art forms like Madhubani. European style naturalistic shaded painting patterns on apparel and home furnishings have been the most identifiable form of this art worldwide.
It is interesting to note here that while painting is also a form of localised dyeing like printing, the mode of application (paintbrush) provides additional freedom to the artist that makes the end-product different than printing. Therefore, painting as a technique provides wider possibilities for personalisation but is more time-consuming at the same time.
Flowers, Frills, Fringes & Braids
The discussion about textile crafts would be incomplete without a mention about the constructional & surface enhancement techniques of flowers, frills & braids. These miscellaneous techniques can be manifested in scores of different ways and effectively utilise scrap fabrics for design enhancement.
While frills & fringes are largely used for edge-finishing, they can be achieved by deconstruction / unravelling the fabric edges or adding pleated, gathered ruffles to the same.
Braid ropes can be achieved by plaiting cut-strips of scrap fabric and can be used for surface enhancement or constructional features like bag handles.
Similarly, scrap fabric flowers can be constructed in multiple techniques and have been a source of design enhancement in kid’s apparel & accessories.