Craft + Technology = ?



I attended a presentation yesterday chaired by Sandy Black from London College of Fashion. She hosted two speakers Isabelle Risner and Umar Hassan Jan.

Isabelle Risner is examining the place of digital craft within the context of craft, art and design. Her PhD scholarship is funded through Autonomatic: a research cluster exploring the process and application of digital manufacturing technologies to create 3D objects. I found her presentation really inspiring and a fascinating field of inquiry. The presentation provoked discussion about the relationships between craft and technology and how one defines the other. It can be argued that as we begin to rely on technology our application of craft (making) is reduced – sparking debates about future generation’s practice. Will technology redefine craft?
I personally am inspired by new digital technology as it creates new opportunities and forces us to challenge existisitng practice. Through my undergraduate course I specialised in Woven Textile Design  – the subject field of the following speaker.
Umar Hassan Jan presented: Recognition and restoration of the fashion work in Pakistan. reviewing the supply and demand effects of Khaadi. He talked about how hand-weaving was re-introduced within a society where the trade was diminishing. Beautiful, light weight fabric swatches were passed around during the talk and I was amazed to discover they were handwoven when they had the handle of “mass produced” cloth. It was explained that the thread count was increased to achieve this effect. Umar was opposed to digital technology and talked about the authenticity of Khaadi – the value of the handmade, he explained the fabric looked mass produced but detailed inspection can occasionally reveals flaws and is part of the fabrics charm, something technology would prevent.
I have only presented a slight overview of two complex areas of expertise. The afternoon made me re-think craft and technology. I have experience of hand weaving and know the laborious characteristics and technicalities that can emerge forcing you to re-work your fabric structure or they way you operate the loom.
It made me debate why hand produced hand woven fabric that would involve laborious efforts when possible to produce it ten times faster using technology? Where does the value lie? It think its the narrative.
I went to visit an old silk factory in Stockholm last year that specialised in Jacquard weaving. The factory had preserved all of the equipment and exhibited it to break down the production process. I have only designed Jacquard cloth once using photoshop and a softwear programme – the data was then sent off to another institution who produced the cloth.
In contrast, I was amazed to learn the long process originally required to produce such complex cloth. I viewed a huge archive of intricately detailed organic hand drawings which were used to inspire the structure of the cloth. The designer then translated this into a grid system which allowed them to hand produce punch cards to allow the loom to operate the required liftings to create the cloth. The level of precision and accuracy required to complete this task is phenomenal!! A process which could take days, weeks and even months can now be achieved in many variations within hours using technology.
But, given the choice I would prefer to buy the traditional fabric purchased in Stockholm after the narrative was communicated to me.
I love technology and it inspires me in the way it presents new opportunities to change the world. I think craft, tradition and value are equally as important and that we need to find ways to engage with both to preserve skills and learn new ones.
I think Sandy Black summed up the session brilliantly when she said we think of digital as this (pointing to the computer) and then she held up both palms and said – it also means this!

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