Textiles are everywhere. The outfit you’re wearing right now is made of different textiles, and your home is filled with all kinds of textiles, from bedspreads to rugs to towels.
Thanks to their constant presence in our lives, textiles have taken on a great deal of meaning, and for each of us, there are probably specific memories that we associate with specific materials or textile objects.
Brooklyn-based textile designer and artist Anushka Divecha has a deep appreciation for the value and versatility of textiles, and her recent series of textile-based art pieces leverages deeply personal connections with both textiles and scents to evoke her home country.
Divecha also discussed with us how she got started with weaving, as well as sustainability concerns associated with textile creation.
This quickly became a fascinating discussion about art, creativity, process, and memory.
Without further ado, here’s our interview with Divecha.
Can you tell us about what textile design means to you? Why has this medium maintained your interest through the years?
I grew up in a family inclined towards the arts. My mother is a creative and used to be a textile designer. She always encouraged my creative side, and I knew from a young age that I wanted to pursue art and design.
Growing up in India, where there is so much respect for the hand-made and where textiles have a vibrant, deep-rooted history, I was lucky to be able to visit craft clusters to see how fabric was woven on various looms, how silk was spun, how different textiles were printed, and so on.
During my undergraduate studies, I learned how to weave on a frame and table loom, which I enjoyed immensely as it was a meditative, therapeutic process. After graduating, I worked as a graphic designer. However, I missed working with tactile material, which is why I decided to pursue a Masters in Textiles and Weaving at The Rhode Island School of Design. Textiles and working with tangible material is not just something I enjoy, it’s something that is embedded in the culture I come from.
After moving away from India and displaying my work in America, I have realized that textiles are universal. It is a doorway to connect with other people and for other people to connect to my work. What is amazing about textiles is that even though it is such an ancient tradition, there is still so much to learn because of new materials, innovations, and practices. This has always kept me curious and in a constant state of learning.
Have your artistic goals changed significantly since the start of your career?
The drive to make new and creative work still remains the same, however, as a textile designer in an industry that generates so much waste and pollution, I am now very intentional when I create something new, which I wasn’t before. Now I take the time to consider the materials I use and the amount I consume, and I try my best to not overuse or use anything that is unnecessary. Now, instead of throwing out my old t-shirts, I turn them into yarn!
In terms of my style, a lot of my older work is representational. However, my style is ever-evolving, and more recently, I am dabbling in work that is more non-representational, letting phenomena and texture lead the way rather than the visual. More recently, I am also leaning towards designing work based on personal experience that the viewer can connect with, no matter where they’re from.
Designing for industry is a valuable learning experience that I don’t take for granted, but I feel work has so much more meaning when it binds us. At first, I thought accolades or monetary gain made a design successful, but now any textile that someone will remember years later and think about fondly is a successful design in my eyes.
How do you go about selecting materials for each textile project?
My concept and the chosen technique usually guide me when it comes to choosing my materials. I always research the properties of the fiber I want to use to make sure that it does justice to what I want my work to convey.
I recently wove a textile on the handloom that emulates the coconut trees I could see outside my kitchen window in India. For this, it was important to choose earthy, natural materials like cotton, jute, and sisal rope. For my scented textiles that were filled with spices, it made sense to use monofilament for the pockets, as it is transparent, so the viewer can see the spices, and it buckles when off the loom, which creates a 3-D effect and makes a big enough pocket in the fabric that can be filled!
Does your weaving process allow you to make changes to a design while the project is in-progress?
Creating fabric requires a lot of skill and also technical knowledge. Since the loom has to be set up in a very specific way according to your design, it’s important to spend time planning and organizing, even though it can be an arduous process.
Once the loom is set up, it’s hard to make changes to the design in terms of the weave structure, but it is still possible to make changes to the material of the weft. What I love about the loom is how, with the change of a material, even though the weave structure is the same, the outcome can be completely different. I never get over how much the loom can surprise me, even after all these years of weaving!
We’ve heard you’ve been working on a series that combines textiles with scents. Tell us more about that.
The inspiration for my recent work stems from nostalgia and memories of the sights, smells, and experiences of my home back in India. Experiencing isolation during the pandemic, I wanted to create immersive textiles that bring warmth to a space while comforting the viewer and introducing them to a small aspect of my homeland.
Some of these fabrics are visually immersive, some are texturally immersive, and some are immersive through the magic of scent. Just the smell of a spice can trigger fond, powerful memories and transport you to a specific place and time.
These fabrics were woven on the Jacquard loom, where I used a complex woven structure to form a 3-D gauze weave. With this, pockets were woven into the fabric that could be filled with spices. Since the gauze was designed to be more transparent, by only using a third of the warp, one can clearly see and smell the spices inside the textile without getting too close to the fabric.
As dried spices retain their scent for a long time, the aroma always lingers in the air. However, it is heightened when the textile is placed in front of a fan or an AC or heating unit to disseminate the fragrance in the space. Now, these fabrics are not only meant for display in spaces but have become meaningful objects that can be folded up and transported as a reminder of home and the warmth it brings.
Of all the textiles in this series, is there a particular creation that you feel encapsulates the goals of the entire series?
In this series, my piece “Aromatics” encapsulates the goal of the series. It is filled with spices commonly used in my family recipes. It was made for a wall, to envelop a space with warmth and the aroma of spices, evoking nostalgia. When hung, this textile creates an immersive experience for the viewer. One can interact with the fabric through sight and through smell, and the 3-D gauze initiates the sense of touch. This was a union of technology & careful, detailed handiwork resulting in a sensorial, comforting, interactive textile.
What would you say is the most challenging part of your process?
Designing can be an emotional process. There is always a level of excitement about executing an idea, but there can also be frustration when something doesn’t work out. I always like to take a break when I feel frustrated and try to sit down and break down a problem. With weaving specifically, planning can be a long process, as it is so technical.
After planning, I like to sample. I test materials, colors, dyes, and use this time to figure out what works best for the final product. In textiles, this is a crucial step, as it ensures that every technique and material is tried and tested, to guarantee a smooth process when making the final product. Setting up the loom is also a long, arduous process that requires a lot of concentration and physical energy. However, after such a laborious process, it is always exhilarating to cut your fabric off the loom and have something palpable that was just yarn mere hours ago!
Are there any other upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
I am currently working on a series of smaller woven tapestries that I am weaving on a frame loom. Most of these pieces are woven on a spaced warp, which gives me a lot of freedom to move the weft in different, creative ways. In this series, I am focusing on using natural materials and fibers as well as upcycling found materials to use in my weaving. I am using indigenous Kala cotton dyed with Indigo, cotton yarn that I have dyed with tea, and sisal rope, among other materials.
I am aiming to generate as little waste as possible so that my design and creation process is sustainable. Once I have woven a significant amount, I hope to display this series in a show.