/ Malcolm Cocks, Howard Asher and Digital Technologies in Textiles (2016)

While the world of digital technologies might seem to be at odds with the tactile craftsmanship of textiles production, the relationship between textiles and technologies is deep-rooted. The archetypal example of this is the Jacquard loom from 1801, with its punched cards and binary system providing an important stepping stone for future computer technology. While in the early days of digital technology, clunky software may have struggled with translating three-dimensional surfaces onto the flatness of the computer screen, these digital technologies still proved impactful, allowing designers in the 1990’s to explore and celebrate the intersections of traditional weaving, printing and knit with the new forms of technology available. The relationship between digital technologies and textiles continues to grow, providing ever more opportunities for innovation and experimentation, not only in textile production but also in design. And while digital technologies can make traditional textiles techniques such as dyeing and printing easier, quicker and more sustainable, they also allow techniques from other industries, such as laser cutting to be appropriated. As today’s world is saturated with softwares and constantly updating technologies, the next wave of upcoming textile designers will have entirely new technological possibilities through which to create innovative and exciting material works.

Malcolm Cocks acted as one of the early ambassadors of using digital technology in textiles design within Central St. Martins. As part of the two year T3 (Textiles, Techniques and Technology) research project, which led to major exhibitions in both New York and Sweden, Cocks and his team of researchers explored the many potentials of new technologies in the production of printed, weaved and knitted textiles. Cocks’ works make use of the latest digital technologies in their production, through the utilisation of atomised spray and heat transfer, but also in their design. Created using Photoshop, Cock’s works are made of bold contrasting colours, visually deconstructing traditional patterns of stripes and tartan to celebrate the early possibilities of digital design.

Howard Asher’s body of work covers multiple decades and spans many areas of the textiles industry. Beginning his career designing textiles for fashion and gradually easing into the home furnishings industry, Asher designs work which is primarily made on graph paper of millimetre squares, where graphic designs of zigzags, stripes and checks, are produced with absolute precision and attention to detail. With hints at both the geometric abstraction of optical art, as well as the more traditional craftsmanship of cross-stitched embroidery, Asher’s designs traverse a wide spectrum of colours and patterns. While as a practitioner Asher initially expressed a robust scepticism toward computer aided design, the work is surprisingly consistent with the geometric repetition of early digital design softwares.

Originally written for the  Real Dirty Blue exhibition at the Lethaby Gallery, London.