Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Callen Zimmerman.


“A textile is not simply a binary system of spun, twisted or spliced fibres, but first and foremost a result of complex interactions between resources, technology and society.” Eva Anderson Strand The crash of metal on asphalt as the back of a truck lowers its lift, a grunt of exertion, a buoyant step on the platform, the shuffling of work boots in calculated motion, the crumbled sigh of fabric folding falling on itself. This observed situation is typical to the daily ins and outs of the moving blanket, a complicated dance to aid objects of importance in transit. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve seen it, perhaps even admired a neat stack of colorful blankets flanking the open back of a U-haul, providing visual respite amidst the labor and chaos of transition. If you count yourself among the 50 million Americans who will move this year, perhaps you have found aid in a moving blanket or two. Moving blankets, known by many different names, elevator pads, moving pads, are most commonly found in an ultramarine blue paired with a requisite white zig zag top stitching and a ¼” polyester binding. While living abroad in France, I found myself entranced by a stack of them while traveling the streets of Paris. I stood, mouth agape, eyes fixated on simple column of red blankets in the open back of a truck. This moment of recognition, although personally striking to me, is not unique, but rather a common experience; admiring something simple in a new light, partaking in the pleasure of reflection on that which we did not consider before. This moment allows the viewer to encounter the frame and lense with which they view the world. What do we notice, what fails to catch our eye, what do we care for and why? The study of materiality is at once a compounding of these moments, and a delving into the deep work of unearthing how material “works as a mechanism for social reproduction and ideological dominance” as Daniel Miller writes in Material Culture; Why Some Things Matter. Culturally, humans understand the affective power of textiles, through the development of individual relationships with material goods, perhaps we have favorite shirts, inherited family heirlooms, or we have stood too long ogling at blankets. I am moved to consider ubiquitous textiles because they are often located in a utilitarian context, noticeably absent from the holdings of museums they are tasked with polishing, protecting, and reinforcing. Used domestically and in the workplace by those who ensure safe passage of art objects, by musicians who sound proof their garages, by filmmakers wrapping their equipment to travel to the next set, moving blankets exist outside purview for “care”. Serving as a modern day utilitarian quilt, moving blankets are often taken as unremarkable. They exist in a canon of ubiquitous textiles, akin to common objects one might find in a dollar store; the white crew T-Shirt, assorted white athletic socks, cut-end cotton wet mop-head, size 24. The aforementioned goods are defined only by their basic product type, belonging to sub-set of consumer textiles I will refer to as non-specific textiles. These textile items lack defining characteristics from each other, thus transgressing common categories and definitions.