Exercise 1.1 Defining ‘traditional’ materials

This first exercise asks me to consider what materials are available in the marketplace and also by what exactly we mean by the word ‘traditional’?

My first point of call is an online thesaurus which suggests the following with meanings of words I was unfamiliar with noted in brackets:

  • long-established
  • authentic
  • historical
  • old-fashioned/old-school/old-time
  • ancient
  • common or habitual
  • orthodox
  • antediluvian (meaning: ridiculously or extremely old-fashioned or belonging to the time before the Biblical flood)
  • hoary (meaning: very old or familiar/overused or unoriginal or grey or white (i.e. in relation to a person or object])
  • ancient
  • ancestral

For me personally I find the terms ‘long-established’, ‘orthodox’ or even ‘ancestral’ when used in a textiles concept project a positive impression that speaks of cultural identities that have been down through generations even if those materials have been used in contemporary as opposed to traditional techniques/processes. However, I find the terms ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘antediluvian’ create feelings of negative connotations that speaks of something that is looked upon with disdain – depending on the context of how the materials are used however this may be the narrative the maker or designer seeks to portray so this needs to be borne in mind.

With regards to what materials I consider traditional I come from a quilting, embroidery and in my late teens/early 20’s a home dressmaking background and hence what immediately comes to mind are cotton yarns and fabric of various weights and weaves plus linen, silk or wool yarns or fabrics. These yarns have been used throughout the ages to create fabrics for differing industries including fashion and interiors and are also widely available either in local shops, at stitch related events or online.

The coursework asks a question whether traditional textiles always use natural fibres – for me the answer is without question a yes with the fibres being plant or animal derivatives depending on the location of the community or makers. Traditional textiles speak of historical beginnings and therefore I personally feel hark back to what was available or in the country/culture of origin whether it is wool, silk, cotton or linen – in the future historical textiles will no doubt include manufactured man-made fibres due to the developments of the 20th and 21st centuries.

A final question in the course material:

Does the use of traditional material imply traditional processes or design?

This answer both depends on the context in which the traditional material is used i.e. is it being used in a traditional or contemporary design? or the cultural considerations in which it is used.

Royal School of Needlework – Whitework

As an example whitework embroidery uses white thread on white fabric as the name suggests -there are differing styles such as Hardanger, Mountmellick or broderie anglaise with each having their own variations of differing weights and weaves for the background fabrics and threads used which my research indicates are primarily cotton or linen.


Oaxacan embroidery – Pinterest

A further example lies with the Oaxacan people of Mexico whose work I first investigated during my previous course – the materials, motifs or symbols and colours vary throughout the communities within the region and also according the style or purpose of the specific garments. The traditional fabric used is locally grown cotton which is then dyed, along with the threads with available natural plants, insects or minerals. Although there has been the introduction of rayon through commercialisation or industrial growth the traditional materials and processes still survive including the use of back-strap looms or more commonly traditional treadle looms.

With these two examples I do believe strongly that traditional materials do imply using traditional processes or designs – without the use of both traditions within communities and cultures the resulting textile designs are not passed down through subsequent generations which would eventually result in the loss of both the materials and the processes as well as the cultural identify of the people.

However, I also believe that traditional materials can be adapted to be used in more contemporary designs with modern processes with a prime example being the quilting industry – quilts are traditionally made using cotton fabrics and hand pieced and quilted with cotton thread with batting (or originally for absolutely purists old blankets or similar for utilitarian quilts). However, advances in technology brought first the sewing machine and then the long arm machines which are capable of producing intricate and repetitive quilted designs that are worked from computerised patterns or specialist rulers – for domestic sewing machines or hand quilting designs are still marked on using chalk, hera markers or washable pens.

The quilting industry demonstrates that traditional materials can be adapted to modern times through the use of contemporary methodology or developments in the various processes including dyes, printing or weaving but whilst also still keeping the essence of its origins intact and thriving. It is vitally important that traditional materials and processes or designs do continue to thrive and be passed down the generations with each making its mark on the textiles they wear due to the most simple reasoning that without doing so we would loose the actual word ‘traditional’.

As a final point it has become obvious in recent years how the design world has sought inspiration from differing traditional crafts and techniques throughout the world and by using these crafts in innovative new ways it brings them to a new generation of crafts people who can then further develop them. My only issue with this aspect is cultural appropriation – this is not a term that sits easily with me due to the damage done by big corporations or design houses who do not credit the cultural origins and therefore endanger the very survival of traditional arts, crafts and skills and in turn livelihoods and communities whose rich history developed and defined the techniques, style and aesthetic of the particular craft over countless generations.   


Morelli, L. (s.d.) Oaxacan Textiles: What You Should Know. At: https://lauramorelli.com/oaxacan-textiles-what-you-should-know/ (Accessed on 20 June 2019)
Oaxaca: A Textile Journey (2017) At: https://theweavingworkshop.com/2017/10/04/oaxaca-a-textile-journey/ (Accessed on 20 June 2019)
Traditional Synonyms, Traditional Antonyms | Merriam-Webster Thesaurus (s.d.) At: https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/traditional (Accessed on 20 June 2019)
Whitework | Royal School of Needlework | Embroidery Technique Courses (s.d.) At: https://royal-needlework.org.uk/courses/embroidery-techniques/whitework/ (Accessed on 20 June 2019)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s