Researching and experimenting are neglected areas in quite a few industries, fashion included. Yet there are institutions working hard to radically change things. The Tilburg-based TextielLab highly specialised in techniques such as embroidery, knitting, lasering, printing, and weaving, is one of them.
Launched in 2004 as part of the local TextielMuseum, the Lab has expanded throughout the years, turning into a buzzing creative and working space where artists, architects, fashion and interior designers and students work and develop their projects co-ordinated by highly skilled technicians and creatives.
Thanks to its equipment including knitting and weaving machines, computer-controlled Jacquard three-dimensional knitting machines and tools like the Easy Leno, specially developed for the TextielMuseum and ideal for high-tech and interior textiles, the Lab has proved inspirational for many different professionals and has so far offered endless possibilities to its clients in the field of materials and computer-driven, decorative and manual techniques.
Last year this unconventional atelier produced large interior design projects, textile sculptures and installations, while developing computer-controlled processing techniques for the graduation collections of many Dutch and European art students.
The TextielLab also includes study and work stations, a well-stocked library and archive, and a Yarn Bank that features traditional wool and cotton but also alternative materials such as banana fibre, horse hair, and rubber. These spaces offer visitors and designers the chance to discover more about the composition, durability and external and technical properties of specific materials.
Hebe Verstappen, the Head of TextielLab, considers it as a creative space where knowledge and technical expertise come together letting innovation take centre stage. Since 2012 the specialist centre has indeed put particular emphasis on innovation relating to techniques and materials, becoming even more selective with requests about weaving and knitting projects.
While the Lab is open to all the TextielMuseum visitors and tourists, a trip there would be highly recommended to all those students interested in learning more about alternative careers in the design industries.
How did the TextielLab Yearbook 2012 launch go during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan?
Hebe Verstappen: We go to Milan Design Week every year because there are a lot of people working in architecture, design and fashion who meet during it and this is the perfect situation to show what we have done in the last year and also do a bit of networking with other professionals. At the latest edition of the Salone, we had a book launch at the Dutch consulate and displayed highlights from the exhibition "Turkish red & more". We met a lot of representatives of academies and institutions, knowledge centres and the creative industries, making quite a few contacts. We are actually already working with a new client we met there.
Can you briefly introduce to our readers the TextielLab?
Hebe Verstappen: We are part of the TextielMuseum, but the Lab is a big space, a bit like a factory, but a very special one where different textile techniques, knowledge and yarns come together and combine. We have a workforce that includes technicians and creatives divided in different teams, and we also work with volunteers. All these people focus on one project and they are coordinated by a manager who does the planning. As you may guess, the museum is very quiet, while the Lab is always buzzing with machines, discussions and debates! There are always sketches and drawings all over the place and it can be quite messy at times, though it's a creative mess, like an artist's studio or a designer's atelier. Museum visitors are welcome to look over the shoulder of the designers and technicians, but they can't actively join in. We get roughly 8 new projects a day and we work every day with different techniques and clients. We call all the artists and designers working with us on a project "clients".
Your machines have been used to make the collections of designers such as Walter Van Beirendonck and Marga Weimans, but also for graduate collections. How do you pick the projects you want to work on?
Hebe Verstappen: It's a long process because it's vitally important to recognise the potential of a project before approving it. We usually have an intake meeting and the best thing for someone who wants to work with us is coming here and see how we work to understand what you can expect. The intake usually takes place 3 months before the project starts. Sometimes this may not be possible as the people involved may live far away, so we exchange sketches and discussions through the Internet. Every week we discuss new projects here and usually the criteria of choice is based on innovation.
What happens when you pick a project, do you have to match the designer with your technicians?
Hebe Verstappen: We try to match a product developer and a technician with a client, and pick them according to the type of client and type of assignment. We usually know from the start who's better at working with a specific client.
Does it ever happen that a project developed for one field is then applied to another?
Hebe Verstappen: Yes it does. Quite often a project developed for the fashion industry is then adopted in the interior design field. This is how innovative processes start. We don't have clothes or wardrobes, but we have samples and swatches and an architect may come here and see a fabric created for fashion and then translate it as interior design or upholstery projects. This is a sort of unique exchange between different disciplines.
The TextielLab has worked with professionals from different fields, from architects to sculptors and fashion designers, how easy it is for such professionals to enter the world of weaving and knitting once they step into the TextielLab?
Hebe Verstappen: The clients who come here immediately trust us, because we have the skills, the archive, a great portfolio and a lot of samples to work on. We invest a lot in education, we go to fairs, from the Pitti Filati to Filo, Expofil and Première Vision, these are all important appointments for us. You can't be here and not feel the expertise. For example, we did a big project, the wallcoverings by OMA for the Rothschild Bank in the centre of London and we worked with people who had no experience in the textile industry; it was an exciting project and the client was very satisfied.
Was it a difficult process to let design studios into the archive so that they could be inspired for their new pieces for the "Turkish red & more" exhibition?
Hebe Verstappen: Opening the archive is the most difficult part of the job since some textiles can't be exposed to light, while others can't be touched. Usually we open the archive to groups of students since it would be too difficult to do so for one person as you need to carefully arrange things with the curator.
At the TextielLab you have a variety of machineries to work with: in your opinion, are traditional looms better than computerised systems and what's the best solution between the two different mediums?
Hebe Verstappen: The best solution is actually a combination of both. The weaving department is the biggest, we have three professional weaving machines, and we have three knitting machines. We also have machines for decorative techniques like embroidery and laser cutting that we use a lot for educational projects. Weaving and knitting are very complicated processes and quite often not even students at high degree levels are able to master such techniques.
There is a lot of talk at the moment about smart textiles, but do you feel that new technologies will help us developing innovative garments in future?
Hebe Verstappen: We get a lot of enquiries about smart textiles and smart materials, but the funny thing is that we can't use these yarns on the computerised machines. So we employ manual techniques such as passementeries or handweaving looms, but employ with them smart materials. We are currently working with machine producers to find a solution for this sort of gap. We are also working on a European project financed by the government and there are a few people from smart textiles in that circle. We hope to reach some interesting and innovative developments by 2015. We would like to develop for this project a curtain with integrated sound.
What kind of new machine would you like to acquire for the TextielLab and what plans do you have for the future?
Hebe Verstappen: A 3D printer that employs fibres. I'm currently looking for a good 3D printer that can print in big scale and may be able to produce 10 metre long curtains. For what regards plans for the future, we organised educational programmes for young talents in Europe such as the European Textile Trainee (ETT) project to show the industry what we are doing and highlight that this is not a dusty museum, but a very stimulating environment. So it would be nice in future to maybe have a symposium, a sort of big international meeting and workshop. In the TextielLab Yearbook we featured all the people who worked with us last year but also listed all the spinners to show that our work is carried out together with other entities. This is also what we'd like to remind people in future, the networking aspect between our institution, product developers, machine builders and yarn manufacturers, this aspect is actually quite often neglected by industries such as fashion that too often tend to see these worlds as far away one from the other.
All images courtesy of the TextielMuseum
1. TextielMuseum, Tilburg
2.- 7. The TextielLab
8 -9 Library at the TextielLab
10. Illustrator and designer Merel Boers in the TextielLab
11. Design duo Studio Formafantasma visit the TextielMuseum Library
12. Studio Formafantasma, design for "Turkish red and more"
13. Design duo BCXSY visit the TextielLab archive
14. Working in the TextielLab. Photograph by Rene Van Der Hulst
15 -16 TextielLab - Exchange Hotel project
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