Infusing a Sense of Wonder into an Age-Old Tradition

“It’s the softness and tactility they can bring into your home — a way of giving comfort that’s gradually disappearing from this world.” – Nienke Hoogvliet

We’re speaking with Dutch designers Nienke Hoogvliet and Tim Jongerius, who are in the midst of an unconventional, boundary-pushing TUMO Studios atelier centered around textiles and carpet-weaving techniques. Nienke, through her own textile design-focused Studio Nienke Hoogvliet, and her partner Tim, an architect by trade, have long been driven by a personal fascination in textiles, making it their mission to focus on materials that contribute to a more broadly holistic world. Raising awareness of social and environmental issues in the textile, leather and food industries while creating innovative alternatives to standard ornamental carpets, rugs and textile pieces, the pair has brought their perspective-shifting approach directly to a young group of enthusiastic TUMO Studios students.

The atelier itself, geared towards the long Armenian tradition of textile-making techniques throughout history, finds both Nienke and Tim and their students spiraling off into several different disciplines and directions, from specific carpet-weaving methods to the prominent role textiles have played in architecture throughout history. Citing renowned German architect Gottfried Semper and his groundbreaking book The Four Elements of Architecture, Tim points to “the role that textiles and weaving have played within the enclosure of the home, giving a sense of lightness and personality that shifts from home to home, building to building.”

The students also dove into the subtle art of natural dyeing, with Nienke and Tim introducing the group to their own guide on natural dyeing techniques H.E.R.B.S. In the book, Nienke and Tim acknowledge the medicinal effects and positive contributions to health that herbs have long provided. But would herbs have this same positive effect on textile design? Citing the unhealthy and polluting effects of artificial dyes in the textile industry, the pair quickly show that natural dyes are the only way forward in terms of social responsibility and environmental sustainability. With a massive pair of pots perched atop one of the group’s workspaces, the group experimented with pieces of avocado, pomegranate skin and madder roots, boiling each substance to produce safe, chemical-free dyes that feed into the designers’ core philosophical approach to design. And with the help of an ordinary, unassuming iron, the designers even showed the students how to influence and manipulate their colors, transforming the deep, vibrant red of madder root dye, for instance, into a new and unique spectrum, pulsing and otherworldly.

Fresh off of working with a group of artisans from the Goris Women’s Resource Development Foundation to learn about wool-weaving techniques, the students began looking into prominent Armenian stylistic textile templates over the centuries to reinterpret those designs and techniques into a modern, forward-leaning fashion. Splitting off into small groups, the students let their imaginations run amok, producing prototypes that fuse Western and Eastern Armenian culture through a recreation of the different shades and hues of glistening pieces and chunks of indiginous tuff stone while reimagining lavash as an avant-garde woven textile piece. Speaking on her group’s lavash-themed piece, student Svetlana Amatuni cited the bread’s unique characteristics that drew her and her team to the concept. “Lavash is an interesting sort of bread that has an oval form and unusual texture, it’s very light and airy. We decided to capture this characteristic and it quickly became our inspiration. But we wanted to use different colors than typical lavash. During dye experiments with madder roots, we got two interesting colors and combined them with the natural color of wool. We think that three colors in the piece will properly reflect the three components (salt, water and flour) of lavash.”

Other groups dabbled in an equally experimental set of projects. “My group started weaving together a recycled batch of used jeans. I never would’ve thought to do that before. The biggest thing I’ve learned here, more so from any specific technique, has been how to create a unique story behind each and every product,” said student Mariam Emeksizyan.

Ultimately, it was this sense of limitless creative freedom, the process of untapping the wells of boundless imagination, that had such a gravitational pull on the students. Nienke and Tim, meanwhile, consistently stressed the need to challenge and shift perspectives, the core drive pushing the pair forward, be it in their studio in the Hague or on the streets of Yerevan. “It’s our role to reinterpret rather than just copy and repeat the old. It’s this idea of modernity over tradition. And the students really went outside of the box to put their own contemporary perspective on such an ancient craft,” says Nienke.

“All of these experiences will definitely help me in my future career, giving me further inspiration and more ideas for new projects. Most importantly, I learned how to translate my thoughts to an idea, and an idea to a reality,” says Svetlana.