This article, Barcelona Fabrics, is part of our Long Thread series and was written by Patricia Cleveland-Peck.
I am surrounded by finely woven lengths of silk and wool suspended from the ceiling, there are soft felted bags and twisted fibre necklaces on the walls and drawers full of multi-coloured bracelets, earrings and felted flowers. Once again I find myself in the magical Teranyina Textile Workshop in Barcelona.
Barcelona has a lot to offer anyone keen on textiles - which is not really surprising as Catalonia was the centre of an established textile industry and in fact much of Barcelona’s highly decorative architecture was financed by textile industrialists.
It is good to see that the textile tradition survives in such places as Teryanina which is owned and run by Teresa Rosa Aguayo, a very well known designer who has exhibited internationally. She was born in Cordoba where she studied applied arts after which she graduated from the Massana Art School in Barcelona. She wanted to become a textile artist but as it has always been difficult to live by art alone she created Teranyina, here in Raval.
Image: A loom at Teryanina
The attractive premises are spacious enough to contain 7 shaft looms and 2 table looms, all hand-operated, as well as a profusion of Teresa’s high quality works of art. Her aim is to transform her feelings into contemporary art using organic materials. Her signature pieces are a sort of soft sculpture using felted wool, sometimes coupling it with such unexpected materials such as porcelain to create, “a dialogue between the ductility of the textile fibres and the apparent fragility of porcelain.” The central theme in the last decade has been seeds, “small recipients which contain projects for the future.” She has recently developed a technique by which a real flower is incorporated into porcelain in such a way that on being fired the flower disintegrates leaving a floral space.
The joy of this place is not only what there is to see but also the courses available. They range from those for complete beginners to those for established artists who want to develop specific skills and learn new techniques Most are 8 hours split into 2 sessions and include; weaving, tapestry, felt jewellery, Nuno felting, ecoprinting, Kambucha, Shadaoui and Shibori.
Teresa’s work is well known within the textile world – people come from as far as South America and for certain courses there is a waiting list but for anyone wanting to learn these techniques in a wonderful environment in a fabulous city, this is the place.
Image: Interior of Estudi Tèxtil
Anna Vilfranca’s studio and shop Estudi Tèxtil in the Born area of the city is smaller and the products are entirely different but it is equally alive with texture and colour. Here mostly garments; skirts, jackets, shawls and scarves are to be found, all designed and woven by Anna herself.
The studio consists of two rooms, the one at the back almost completely taken up with Anna’s large Swedish countermarch loom and the front shop in which Anna’s creations are displayed, the rugged walls serving as a perfect foil for the tweedy hand-woven goods. Here too we also see knitted items including hats, scarves and gloves together with a tempting rainbow wall of wools and fibres.
Anna is an experienced and professional weaver and designer but in fact she studied psychology at university and took up weaving as a hobby. She showed such talent however, that when the atelier in which she was learning needed a teacher, they asked her to take over. Later she moved here and now most days sits happily at her loom in this little cave of colour, like someone in a fairy tale.
Walking round Barcelona taking in anew the city’s iconic architectural style, the Catalan Art Nouveau, known as Modernisme, as practised by Antoni Gaudi, Puig i Cadafalch, Domènech i Montaner et al, I began to wonder if this intensely decorative style, inspired as it was by Medieval, Gothic and Arabic motifs, had resulted in any textiles - and if so, where I could see them?
Image: Interior of Gaudi's Casa Batlló, Barcelona
The first place I visited on this quest was new museum hub, the Museu del Disseny at Plaça de Glories. There I was welcomed by the very helpful and knowledgeable, Silvia Ventosa Munñoz who is in charge of the textile and costume collections. Having learned of my special interest she lost no time in showing me pattern books filled with samples of fabrics of the period, and then actual costumes made from these fabrics.
She also showed me a dressing table and chair set which perfectly reflected the notion that the fashionable moderniste house was conceived as an entire work of art, all details harmoniously complementing the architecture. This set, which consisted of an ash wood dressing table and chair had great charm - and importantly for my quest, the chair was upholstered and decorated with, “warp-woven base and embroidered silk chain lilies with silk braids and tassels.” Not only was this a quintessential example of art nouveau design but it also embodied the concept of the ‘beautiful in the useful’ an adaptation of the dictum of William Morris (who had also influenced Catalan Modernisme) to ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’
Image: Sample of fabric by Benet Malvehy
The creator of the set was Joan Busquets i Jane, one of the leading interior designers of the time, but the fabric may have been supplied by a company manufacturing silks and tapestries started by Benet Malvehy, one of the designers about whom I was soon to learn more.
For this I took a short train ride to the important Centre de Documentation i Museo Tèxtil at Terrassa, where I met the museum’s director Silvia Carbonell Basté, co-author of the catalogue, Factories & Dreams – Moderniste Textiles in Cataluña”.
“I am a textile detective,” Silvia told me, showing me a picture of an exquisite blue fabric by Benet Malvehy which, after a long search she had just tracked down to a private collection. “There were of course, thousands of textiles created at this period - but unlike buildings, textiles are ephemeral.”
Image: Gaspar Homar textile
Modernisme in fact saw the blossoming of interior design, with textiles playing an important role. Domènech i Montaner adorned his buildings with a profusion of awnings and flags for the movement coincided with a rise in Catalonian nationalism and banners and flags offered scope for design. At this time too the first textile schools were established from which a distinctly Catalan style was emerging. Fine fabrics were being produced, especially silks and cottons worked on Jacquard knitting machines. The CTMT holds some 130,000 items all conserved in first class conditions. Silvia showed me a piece by Gasper Homar with pink appliqué flowers on a green base which clearly reflected the moderniste aesthetic.
Fashion also reflected the moderniste vibe, but slowly. The conservative Catalans in the main did not embrace the corset-free ‘Reform’ type dress of Mario Fortuny but still looked to Paris for more formal styles. The fabrics employed though could be exceedingly complex; that of one Catalan dress of the period is described as “ worked with a warp and a silk weft, a weft of cotton and a thicker one of wool at two ends giving a grooved and iridescent effect.”
I was delighted to have seen these textiles which illustrate what to me is the essence of Barcelona’s iconic style – but I was also glad to see that there were still practitioners in the city busy creating the textile art of today.
Written by Patricia Cleveland-Peck
Originally published 06/05/2021