March 26, 2010

“Who we are arises directly from what our bodies can do,” writes Richard Sennett in his recent book, The Craftsman. In his spirited defense of how making material things can enlarge one’s life, Sennett reevaluates the place of the handmade in the digital age. Certainly in design we are familiar with the idea that touch is often a necessary antidote to high tech, and that the ether of the electronic world has honed our appetite for the tactile and material. Heather Bush agrees. A designer at Carnegie Fabrics, she considers ways in which to apply craft technique to hard-use textiles. She was also willing to rethink the notion that handwork is exclusively about limited production, high costs, and the imprint of individuality. Tuned in to the embroidery that was so ubiquitous in fashion a few years back, Bush decided it had a place in high-performance wall coverings and upholstery.

Xorel embroidered fabric

Embroidery, like other forms of needlework, has always been a source of innovation in American decorative arts, and Bush has simply continued the tradition by updating its materials and application. Her Xorel Embroider brings decorative stitchery to places we’re not accustomed to finding it, like hospitals and office buildings.

The highly durable wall covering and upholstery fabric appears to be embroidered, but the yarn, like the surface it has been stitched on, is polyethylene—–utilitarian, washable, and enduring.

It is, of course, not couture work, but the yarn has a delicacy and decorative detail, and its single, double, and more intricate stitching riffs on high-end handwork. Bush says it was her hope to bring a sense of craft, a genuine texture and surface interest, and a graphic quality to a high-performance surfacing material. “It kind of has a tattoo-ish feeling,” she says of Sway, an oversize, slightly off-center pattern that leaves a lot of negative space. Other designs with botanical motifs resemble improvisational pencil drawings. And the more recent Xorel Stripe takes its cues from men’s dress shirts, a source Florence Knoll might have looked to herself.

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