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Craft Histories, Textile Futures: The Emotional Affectivity of a Quilt...

Catherine Harper

From Marge Simpson's family quilt to my Northern Irish paternal grandmother's patchworks; from 19th century US homesteaders to rural Ulster farmers; from traditional salvage frugality to the new eco-sustainability; from poly-cotton duvets washable at 40 degrees to 'smart' and intelligent textile technology... my paper examines the emotionally-rich content captured in the fabrication, materiality and design of textile quilts, and indicate how their combinations of cerebral and 'felt' substance and affect provides a template for emotionally meaningful textile design within a 'craft futures' scenario.

Functional, utilitarian and decorative, quilts mark the commonplace rituals and universal emotions of bed, and the momentous and miniscule events and significations of life. Those quilts are embedded with human experience, an interface where a human subject performatively meets and merges with a designed object.

Conventionally, the future for textile design is described as hi-tech / ‘smart’ (wearable computers, bio-mimetic fibres, electronic and digital fabrics, geo-textiles, engineering textile composites…) and ‘eco’ (sustainable, biodegradable, recyclable processes and products). Where does emotional design fit in?

My paper advocates a fresh examination of the very particular traditions, characteristics, processes and outcomes of hand-crafted, fabric-salvaged, highly-functional, labour-intensive, emotionally-invested, collectively-stitched, pre-industrial, domestic quilts both in the US and in my family. I will indicate how those aesthetics and materialities might allow a redefinition of ‘textile design futures’. I will disclose one practical aspect of my vision of how technological textile innovations and advances might allow emotionally-rich, quality-measurable, poetically-valuable designed future living.


memory, quilt, fabric, textile technology, scraps, salvage, signification, narrative, history, home- spun, function, puritan, craft, utilitarian, pre-industrial, myth, domestic, colonising, tradition, feminine, thrift, metaphor, meaning, smart, intelligent, experience, stories, comfort, affectivity, conceptual, material, magic, genealogy, hand-work, time-investment, contemporary, electro-technology, e-broidery, conductive circuitry, wireless, communication, temperature-sensitive, micro-electronic, light-emission, optical, nanotechnology, shape-memory alloys, digital, sensory, tactile, artefact, ritual, poetic, thermochromic, hybrid, engineered, performative, interface