The Fabric of Somatic History

January 2, 2014


Photo: Rebecca Cross, Textile Artist

The substance and physicality of fabric…conveys multiplicity, temporality and complexity. Various processes contribute to the somatic history of the fabric and its multiple transformations…As sensuous materials suspended in space, casting shadows on the walls and floors, they confront the viewer differently from different perspectives as they subtly oscillate in response to the atmosphere, becoming ultimately, communicative memories…By creating line as well as openings, and by delineating positive and negative space, the edges frame information – or demarcate the lack of information – caught within, behind, or beyond the edge…The gossamer layers of experience, depending upon our perceptual vantage point, are transient, creating a mutable, translucent skin that keeps quietly changing as we proceed forward in time (Rebecca Cross, Artist Statement)

Textiles portray a sense of ritual, of making special everyday places through a quality of adornment and presence. Cloth enriches architecture, people, furniture and objects with significance. Binding, stitching, knotting, and layering thoughts into a weave of cloth evokes memory and the passage of time. The drawing of threads in and out of cloth, the mending of fraying edges, and the matting together of fibers are all physical experiences which translate a narrative into material form. Cloth is intimate, another skin, a boundary and a caress. It designates function, and also layers on a story. Cloth is a textural overlay, it wraps and drapes itself over and around personal interactions.


Within art therapy fabric can be embellished to make a variety of items:

Book Covers, Sheets, Curtains, Purses/Bags, Tablecloths, Scarfs, Cloaks, Tents, Pillow Covers, Veils and Quilts

Encouraging the inclusion of fabric within art therapy offers new ways of exploring stories as they are told not only through words, but through the rhythm of going in and out of strands of meaning.

Layering cloth, with words on paper, beads, thread, small branches, dried flowers and souvenirs, can enclose fragments and symbolic ‘findings’ within a wrapped collection of meaning. Stitching together memories of experiences, that are tactile and remembered through the senses, can be nurtured through cloth that tells the story of the body’s journey.

image  imagePhotos: Goat Hair Door Curtains, Morocco

A thread now most often means a line of conversation via e-mail or other electronic means, but thread must have been an even more compelling metaphor when most people witnessed or did the women’s work that is spinning. It is a mesmerizing art, the spindle revolving below the strong thread that the fingers twist out of the mass of fibers on an arm or a distaff. The gesture turns the cloudy mass of fiber into lines with which the world can be tied together. Likewise, the spinning wheel turns, cyclical time revolving to draw out the linear line of a thread. The verb to spin first meant just this act of making, then evolved to mean anything turning rapidly, and then it came to mean telling a tale (Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby).


Rebecca Cross quoted in Ann Futterman Collier, Using Textile Arts and Handcrafts in Therapy with Women.

Rebecca Cross Website

Gwen Hedley, Drawn to Stitch: Line, Drawing and Mark Making in Textile Arts.

Cas Holmes, The Found Object in Textile Art.

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby.

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