Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Schira, Cynthia. “The Influence of Computer Technologies on Contemporary Woven Fiber Art.” Contact, Crossover, Continuity: Proceedings of the Fourth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 22–24, 1994 (Los Angeles, CA: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1995), pp. 127–137.


Copyright © 1994 Cynthia Schira


It is generally agreed upon, by both the participants in the field and those few who have chronicled it, that the fiber art movement as we know it today began with Jean Lurcat in France in the late 1950s. He was among the first, if not the first, to make designs or cartoons specifically for the medium of tapestry. Previously, paintings were translated into the medium of tapestry. As well as creating the design or cartoon, he personally oversaw the actual weaving process. This direct connection between the process and the concept or image, the manual and the mind, laid the groundwork for the fiber arts of today. In 1962 Lurcat founded the Lausanne Tapestry Biennale, the international exhibition whose contents have profoundly influenced the course of this field.

In fiber art, textiles are separated from function and, instead, focus on the maker's expressive need. In this pursuit, historic techniques and constructions are used in new configurations. These processes offer the artist new methods of effecting visual and physical form, scale, and content. In the sixties, the results of these manipulations and interpretations were massive, excessive, and often three dimensional. In the late seventies and eighties, this unrestrained exuberance was modified. Concern was expended on the quality of the cloth as well as on the subtlety and specificity of the expressive content. More recently, the visual expressions of the portion of fiber artists who are weavers have been influenced by the possibilities inherent within computer technologies.

The link between the computer and the loom is specific. They are both based on binary principles. It is said that the Jacquard loom was inspiration for the invention of the first computer. As Emily DuBois points out, "Thousands of weave structures are derived from two simple positions of the warp—up and down. In the same way, the computer performs thousands of tasks based on two positions called 0 and 1." In weaving, these positions are notated on graph paper by a filled-in or black square when the warp is up and a white one when it is down. The 0's and 1's become the machine language of the computer.