Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Textile Futures: Fashion, Design & Technology (Berg)



Textile Futures: Fashion, Design and Technology (Berg, 2010) by Bradley Quinn

Bradley Quinn is an author, journalist and independent scholar – rather than an academic. This distinction is an unusual departure for the publishers Berg, but a welcome one. Quinn’s snappy journalist’s tone is accessible and avoids the droning quality that makes much academic writing of invaluable content so very dull to read. Quinn is not dull to read, but sadly weak editing still manages to make this publication feel like the work of a harried academic.

Quinn’s books to date include Techno Fashion, The Fashion of Architecture, Chinese Style, Scandinavian Style and Mid-Century Modern. He is quick to establish in his introduction that the material for this book come from his journalism, workshops and speaking engagements. The downside of this breadth of independent experience is a rehashed feel to some of the content. The interiors section, for example, relies almost exclusively on Scandinavian examples. We all know how Scandinavian design has long cornered the market on a certain type of interior design, but the emphasis feels imbalanced and unintentional.

A book about textile futures will inevitably face a time lag from research to production not faced by journalism. This is compounded by the enormous range of content tackled within this modestly sized publication. Included are chapters on “Body Technology” and “Extreme Interfaces” but also “Contemporary Art”, “Interior Textiles” and “Textiles for Architecture”. By way of comparison, Suzanne Lee’s Fashioning the Future published in 2005 collaborated with illustrators to suggest a vision of future materials yet to be realised. The approach allowed for focused content on material that relates to the body, but accepted that much of the visual documentation would need to be suggested rather than depicted. A less is more editorial approach to Textile Futures could have expanded key areas, taking into account the difficulty in illustrating real future-oriented projects, and left other deserving sections for a follow up book.

Mary Schoeser, in her review of The Culture of Knitting written by Jo Turney and published by Berg [“Purls of Wisdom that Sadly Unravel”, Crafts, March/April 2010 page 56] comments, “The limited number of images is frustrating, and those that do appear are very poor in their reproduction quality… The disappointing production standards are paralleled by the lack of editing”. Schoeser concludes, “the result rather suggests that the publishers think a poorly crafted book is good enough for this field.” Textile Futures suggest that Berg has yet to learn its lesson.

Like Turney, Quinn too sets off to survey an ambitious range of material. His non-academic writing style is a curious hybrid of excess and absent references and readers may have been better served if his journalist’s style was simply maintained throughout. Typos have not been corrected and dense factual sections jar against the conversational tone of other areas. Admittedly, many of these comments will only trouble the reader who tackles the book word-by-word, cover-to-cover. Many more, I imagine, will read a section and pause to enjoy the images.

This makes the decision to publish Ptolemy Mann’s weavings (page 105 and 106) in black and white under a section entitled “Colour and Well-Being” an inexcusable oversight. Similarly, the reproductions of Carole Collet’s interactive print “Toile de Hackney” are done a huge disservice in black and white. In the current economic climate, it is understandable that a publication of full colour images may not be affordable. The irony here is that a number of the images printed in the centre colour section of the book would have faired better in a black and white reproduction than Mann and Collet’s: Demakersvan’s Lace Fence, for example, or Mark West’s textile mould of a cast architectural column in concrete. For the images that are included, captions do not contain any mention of the date or materials used – crucial to a survey of textile futures – and are at times a repetition of sentences lifted from the nearby body of the text.

Berg has commissioned yet another engaging project made mediocre by the absence of effective editorial oversight.

Crafts (Jan./Feb. 2011: 54-55)