Both/And: Textiles’ Fluid Dynamics

Detail of Stitched Canvas, Yelavich, from “Echo Chambers: David Young and Susan Yelavich, 1053Gallery, Fleischmanns, NY 2022

How to account for the attraction of textiles?  For me, it’s their interdimensionality. Both three-dimensional structures and two-dimensional planes, textiles, from the most simply knotted nets to the most technically advanced carbon-fiber weaves, hover between those states. A textile (even one as dense as felt) invites the eye to see its strands and, at the same time, see it as a field. This dynamic becomes further complicated when it is draped, folded, or otherwise attached to some thing or some body. Then thread, fabric, and scaffolding become a trinity of interdependence.

However, the corporality of a textile doesn’t end there. Examined under a microscope, its fibers resemble tree trunks and layers of bark. The resemblance can’t be a coincidence, as trees and plants are also fibrous1 as, of course, are we. Fibers are intrinsic to our bodies; they are embedded in our nervous systems and muscles.2  Though when it comes to bodily fibers, we more likely to think of hair since it’s visible and ready to hand. It can be shorn like animals’ fur, or for that matter, harvested like plants. Birds are especially adept at weaving both plant matter and whatever natural and unnatural fibers to build their nests. Insects like silkworms can produce fibers of astonishing strength to build their cocoons, which in turn are used to make silk. What’s especially interesting about silkworms is their dependence on trees—mulberry trees whose fibrous leaves are the source of their nourishment. So it would seem that the inter-relatedness of fibers—whether of individual strands we can trace with our eyes or in the less apparent fibrous systems that operate in and between animals and plants—is the definitive quality of the textile. Finished or in-progress, a textile is both form and performance. 

Installation shot from “Echo Chambers: David Young and Susan Yelavich” 1053 Gallery, Fleischmanns, NY, 2022

What of embroidery or stitching which depend on a textile as a foundation? They are qualified textiles that come with adjectives, e.g., embroidered, appliqued, and stitched. This type of hybrid also includes velvets and brocades that integrate one or more supplementary warps or wefts into a basic weave. Unlike these structurally complicated textiles, whose fibers respect a predetermined order, embroidered and stitched textiles don’t necessarily conform to the structure they are grounded on.4 Instead, the threads and filaments offer a counterpoint, sometimes completely obscuring the fabric that supports them. That was the dynamic that operated in the last series of stitched canvases (above) for  “Echo Chambers,” a collaboration with artist David Young and his AI/machine learning programs.

Initial images for “Screens and Screening” (The center image taken by artist Joyce Haut was the catalyst for this series.)

Our next project, tentatively titled, “Screens and Screening” explores equivalences between figure and ground, between surface and structure, using a wire mesh screen as a point of departure.  A series of digital images were shot through three screens—the analog mesh of a screen window (and in some cases a kitchen sieve), the camera’s grid (a Bayer filter5), and the computer screen’s grid of pixels.  

The resulting composite image (below) is then printed on fabric mesh (the fourth grid) for me to stitch back into a jittery analog state, a.k.a., a new textile.  The ambition is to capture an intrinsic quality of all textiles, namely that of being in tension between states of open and closed that mirror the ones and zeroes of the digital.  

First “Screens and Screening” print to be stitched, courtesy David Young and AI/machine learning


1. Plant fibers are found as structural elements in all higher plants. Botanically the fiber is considered to be an individual cell, which is part of sclerenchyma tissue and is characterized by a thick cell wall and a high length-to-diameter ratio (reaching 1000 and more). The basic function of sclerenchyma is providing mechanical integrity to the plant. Spindle-shaped cells with tapered ends are considered to be a characteristic feature of the fiber cell. According to this definition, cotton (Gossypium spp.) fiber – probably the most well-known plant fiber – is not a fiber, but a trichome, the extrusion of epidermal tissue. CELL WALLS AND FIBERS / Fiber Formation J E G van Dam, WUR, Wageningen, The Netherlands T A Gorshkova, KIBB, RAS, Kazan, Russia Copyright 2003, Elsevier Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

2. Kamrani P, Marston G, Jan A. Anatomy, Connective Tissue. [Updated 2022 Jan 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:

3. Which isn’t to exclude geotextiles or synthetics; even a nonwoven fabric is bonded together by entangling fibers or filaments.

4. An example of an embroidered textile that does conform to its fabric ground is the stitched sampler. In fact, it was a lesson in order for young women in centuries past—the stitched equivalent of penmanship on lined paper. However, most traditional embroideries were meant to animate a plain fabric, not to submit to its discipline. 

5. The Bayer filter is a thin plastic film inside a digital camera that enables color imagery. It filters light through a grid of blue, green, and red squares.

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