Textiles are fundamental to clothing: they determine a garment’s color and texture and contribute to its silhouette. They have the power to convey messages, from social rank and status to gender to cultural identification, as well as individual preference and taste. Handmade fabrics, in particular, often have special resonance for the wearer as the product of human labor and technical expertise.
The decorative fabrics presented in this exhibition, all part of the museum’s permanent collection, were specifically intended for clothing and meant to be worn in a particular way or made into a certain type of garment. Indeed, some of the works on view are fully realized articles of clothing. They were created by a range of communities and by individuals, both professionally trained and self-taught, who come from a spectrum of economic classes and are often unidentified.
While a number of techniques showcased in this presentation—such as dying, embroidery, printing, and weaving—are practiced globally, other materials and methods are more closely associated with particular cultures: Indian cotton, Chinese silk, French embroidery, West African indigo, among them.
As the works in this exhibition demonstrate, the textiles used in clothing can serve as a powerful means of personal and cultural expression, inviting visitors to contemplate what their own fabric choices say.
Fabricating Fashion is curated by Melinda Watt, Chair and Christa C. Mayer Thurman Curator, the Art Institute of Chicago.
Lead support for Fabricating Fashion is generously provided by The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation.