Living with lace (and other good design)


Having trained as a sculptor, with an ongoing interest in textiles, Gail Kenning began exploring the use of digital technology to develop her own exhibition work and pursue her interest in structure and process. She uses computer code to create patterns that are formed ‘stitch by stitch’. As she built her programs and talked to people about her work, Kenning began to see other possibilities; looking at ways other people could use the software to explore their own creativity. Rather than having to rely on the traditional patterns published in books and magazines, Kenning envisages adapting her software as a game or an application, tapping into a growing interest in ‘games’ that are meditative and contemplative.

Imagine having an ‘app’ that allows you to create your own three dimensional crocheted or knitted garment or sculptural form. You could play with the stiches and colours to create your own patterns. It also has interactive potential. Two or more people could work on the same piece. There are also possibilities for older people, who because of physical limitations are no longer able to crochet or knit to be able to continue to create in a virtual environment. It could also be used to introduce the creative potential of lace to people who don’t yet have lace making skills. This work is in its early stages, with Kenning soon to begin interviews with a range volunteers including lace makers in the Powerhouse Museum’s Lace Study Centre to see what people might be interested in and how she might further develop this software.

Designers, RinaBernabei and Kelly Freeman set up bernabeifreeman in 2003 after working together in 2002 on an installation (the Peony chandelier) for the Establishment Hotel. Today they create lighting, screens, rugs and other home wares, taking traditional decorative textiles as a reference point and using contemporary manufacturing processes, such as the CNC turret punching process used for Garden Party, the perforated metal and shadow wallpaper created for Love Lace. Using this approach bernabeifreeman have found a way to capture the beauty and intricacy of lace in a product that is durable and much less labour intensive to create, and therefore more accessible to more people. In an interview with Dana Tomic Hughes they describe their approach to design:

‘Probably like all designers it is some form of idealized beauty. Ours is a beauty in decoration, and in digital manufacturing. We try to capture a memory or emotion of decorative surfaces and textures from our domestic past, and we use modern manufacturing methods to further this language and to make it accessible to people through products. We believe that as designers we are story-tellers and our products embed stories that people connect with.’

The contrast between the design and the materials and manufacturing process surprises us. Garden Party taps into our memories of domestic interiors and perhaps stories from our past. It illustrates that we can combine the traditional and contemporary and make good design more accessible.

In a similar way, JoepVerhoeven, from Dutch design house Demakersvan, takes decorative motifs from a range of sources, including antique lace florals, and translates them using galvanised iron or PVC coated wire into ‘lace’ fencing and screens; successfully combining the ancient craft of lace-making with industrial chain link fencing. This work shows how something which is usually purely functional can also be decorative and enhances the environment. Lace Fence also shows the value of developing designs that are customisable; a trait that lace has demonstrated over many centuries. Lace ‘fences’ have been installed at a wide range of sites including sports centres and nursing homes and perform a variety of functions including balconies, screens and fences. They can be designed to prevent climbing, to hide or enhance its surroundings, or to deal with harsh weather. Examples can be seen at here.

As noted on the dezeen design magazine website:

‘This project takes an everyday, factory-produced product that performs an important function yet is rarely considered, and reinvents it as a lovingly crafted object. The concept represents a reversal of the usual process of industrialization, in which the culture of hand-made objects is gradually usurped by industrially manufactured products. It also asks why notions of beauty cannot be applied to banal objects.’

The work in Love Lace by Gail Kenning, bernabeifreeman, and JoepVerhoeven show how lace can be used in a great variety of ways to bring beauty and creativity into our everyday lives.