BY: EMILY WINTER
I don’t remember when or why I started collecting envelope security patterns—the generic-seeming zigzags, crosshatchings, and spots that obscure the contents of an envelope—but over the last couple years I have gathered a nice pile of them. There is a lot of diversity in these patterns, once you start looking for them. And interestingly enough, though there are plenty of people who collect them and use them in their work (Jodie Mack made this supremely satisfying short film, artist Elizabeth Duffy used security patterns as surface treatment in a number of installations, Sarah Nicole Phillips uses them as collage material)—I haven’t found much written on their origins, permutations, or design methodology.
In spending time with these pattern swatches, I came to realize that it wasn’t exactly the breadth of their permutations that was interesting to me, it was more their role as a sort of ur or placeholder-pattern. Literally pattern for pattern’s sake. They are an active pattern, pattern as a device, pattern which does in fact do something—like dazzle ships, the pattern forces the viewer to see it first, meanwhile detracting attention from that which requires discretion. You know there’s something in there, you just don’t know what.
In weaving, I’m interested in playing with sensations of scale, space and time through simple graphic manipulations: where a line sits in relation to a form, where a form sits in the plane of the weaving. I often work iteratively, creating a series of weavings which have the same base template but transform in some small way from frame to frame. I’ve played with these ideas in scroll forms, in separate pieces displayed in sequence, and in digital animation. The Weaving Lab residency offered the chance to experiment with the form of a woven book, constructed as a triple-layer cloth on the Jacquard loom. The sequential nature of pages allows for the experience of something in time, creating a sense of movement in a very basic way. Small becomes big as you move from front to back. A book is an interactive object, as the reader controls the pace and sequence of their experience. It’s a way of inviting the viewer to feel something physical (pacing, movement and momentum) through the combination of graphic and material.
The envelope patterns allowed me to play with the relationships between surface, form, and weave structure without thinking too hard about the pattern itself. It’s liberating to think, “ok I need a graphic pattern in order to manifest this idea and create this experience of movement through scale shift, of sequence and timing and the creation of momentum” and to pull a pattern out of the filing cabinet. In scaling the patterns up on the photocopier, the logic of the pattern breaks down and through the continual analog zooming in, new patterns are created. Areas that were solid black in the original pattern crack open and reveal new areas of white—there’s a sense of the binary breaking down through this repeated expansion.
The Jacquard is most exciting to me when it’s not just creating graphic pattern on a surface but when the pattern and surface come into some kind of three-dimensional form. I think of weaving and woven fabric as essentially a system building practice, putting elements into relation with one another through the systems you create while weaving. That idea of system building gets emphasized for me when there’s some kind of form-building happening in the weaving—the warp and weft threads become structural in new way. The threads are always structural but their structural role kind of hits you over the head when you use them to build multilayer cloth. As each page of this book represents a zooming-in, the patterns on all of the pages are different. Because the three layers are woven simultaneously, the pattern graphic is essentially what you would see if the pages were transparent. When the weave file is programmed, the three meshed-together layers of the graphic separate out into discrete layers of cloth with distinct patterns.
PATTERNBOOK is a book that you can read, that you can look at, page by page, and relate to it, in time and space and material.
Emily Winter is a weaver, artist, and teacher who lives in Chicago. She is co-founder and director of The Weaving Mill, an experimental weaving studio in Chicago which blends design, fine art, textile education, and research-based practice.