Text: Alec Coiro
All Images Courtesy of Hiroko Takeda
Unless their designs involve a big logo of their name, I’m not sure there’s a designer out there whose work is as instantly identifiable as Hiroko Takeda’s. You walk into a room, you see her weave on the wall, you know it’s hers, and you can be assured it’s a cool room.
I was first introduced to Takeda when I saw her waffle styles weaves at the Colony showroom. These 3D art objects hang on the wall, rich with craft and geometry, breathing their spirit into a space. It is this effect of the weaves that is at the core of Takeda’s project; the careful craftsmanship that goes into creating this effect is a means to that end. As she puts it, “I have a craft background and technique. There will be a project, and I just use that technique to realize my idea or concept.” The same is the case for her materials. She starts off with a feeling or mood she wants to achieve “If I want something drier, or wet, or something cozy, or sheer,” and then she finds the material to match that feeling.
I visit Takeda in her studio at the Can Factory, right next door to Workstead, who I visited a few months back (and who, of course, have a piece by Takeda hanging on their wall — I spotted it instantly). Takeda settled into her studio at the Can Factory after bouncing around for a bit when she left her job with Larsen to start working on her own.
You can go to an industrial textile plants, and you can go by your friends house upstate who just got obsessed with weaving, but I don’t know how many opportunities you’ll have to see a studio quite like Takeda’s where the mastercraftswoman is at work in such a hands on way. She, along with three assistants, uses 4 looms. The main one is operated by foot pedals, another is automated by computer, but they all look like they could be straight out of the legendary workshop of Rumpelstiltskin.
Takeda traces her interest in weaving all the way back to her childhood growing up in Japan. “My mother was a dress making teacher, so I was surrounded by fabric all the time. My father was an architect, so probably I got the in-between. Weaving has planning, too. A mathematical element is involved.”
As a young person thinking about her future pursuits, she had thought of an design education as something that took place on paper or on the computer, not focused on the materiality. Until, while still a teenager, she snuck into the textile section of a local university during the autumn festival. “I saw lots of looms with student work. I thought: I want to study this.” So she went off to college to study weaving, which was not necessarily a traditional path at the time. “When I first went to college (which is not cheap), to learn weaving, my grandparents felt weaving was a farmer’s job when they don’t have anything else to do. My grandmother thought, ‘You need to go to college to weave?’”
I have a craft background and technique. There will be a project, and I just use that technique to realize my idea or concept.
Her undergraduate studies made an impression on her that is still apparent in her work today. The school proceeded from the philosophy that “beauty or art doesn’t need to be precious.” After finishing up, she continued with postgraduate work in England. She says she chose England because, like Japan, it is a craft country. In fact, the waffle weave I mentioned above is a traditional western structure that she learned while studying there. Instead of returning to Japan, she took a job with the textile company Larsen and moved to the U.S. in 2001. She worked with Larsen until 2008 when “they closed the studio. At that time I couldn’t find any job that I wanted to do.” So she went into business for herself, and as a result, she tells me, “I am totally free and have a place to show my work since I started working for myself.”
We end the visit looking at a shimmering new project she is on the verge of finishing. It is a study in color and light, a woven gold piece that mimics the reflections of precious metals. And while the piece is a brilliant replication of the shimmer that light casts on a metallic surface, she tells me that she “uses only 3 different threads for this entire piece, but 7 different combinations [of those three threads] exist in the piece.”
She shows me her weaving plan for the golden weave, and warns me “it’s very technical,” but it’s not technical in a sense that involves any type of modern technology. In fact it unfurls on a great paper scroll that perfectly encapsulates the marriage of mathematics and materials that formed her from childhood.
The golden weaves are for a client out of the country, but I’m confident that, as is often the case with Takeda’s work, it won’t be long before we see these golden style of weave hanging from walls all across New York.