Alumna Morgan Bajardi Weaves with Metal and Hand-Dyed Threads

From Bridget Riley to Gustav Klimt to Vivienne Westwood: What could they possibly have in common, you might ask? All are fodder for the active imagination and globe-trotting practice of textile artist Morgan Bajardi (Textiles 2009).

Bajardi's latest projects include woven suits of armor (yes, actually woven with metal!) that she imagines might have been worn by ancient gods and goddesses; they are intended as a kind of social commentary on modern relationships and celebrity worship. And of course she also works with thread: dyeing, hand painting, and weaving it into intricate patterns, from elaborate geometric designs to detailed representations of faces and human bodies. "For me, optics and illusion are ways to pull the viewer in. I use the chaos of the patterns to share my experience. It's always a joy to see people look at my work and be totally confused at first, and then amazed when they finally 'see it.'"

Bajardi spent the summer of 2008 (between her junior and senior years) at Fondazione Lisio in Florence, whose mission is to keep alive traditional techniques of Jacquard design and hand weaving using silks and precious metals. She took a course in Jacquard weaving with professors Julie Holyke and Eva Basile, and she learned the intricate skills involved in weaving velvet, damask, gros de tour lisere (the technique used to weave gros grain ribbon, it translates as "two woven as one") and lampas (a loom tie-up technique). She hand punched her own Jacquard cards and wove her own designs, which were featured in the Fondazione Lisio magazine and added to the institution's permanent collection. In one project she even used leftover yarn from a batch that had been used to weave a robe for the Pope!

Bajardi began weaving with metal in a CCA course that she took with Lia Cook in 2006. "For my final project, I designed and wove bracelet cuffs out of wire, using the properties of the metal to shape the jewelry. My fascination with armor began when I saw an amazing armored suit in an art history book. It was clearly designed for a man, but to my modern eyes it was incredibly intricate and feminine. I had had no idea that a suit used for physical protection could be so glamorous and delicate, so I was of course intrigued. When metal fabric is very tightly woven, it appears to be solid, creating a glamorous (yet fragile and delicate) illusion of protection."

Jacquard cards, for those unfamiliar with the textiles term, are thick cardstock punched with holes, for use in a Jacquard loom. The system was invented around 1800. The holes contain the "code" for the design of the final piece; they are laced together and hooked up to the loom. Where there is a hole, a thread is lifted, creating the structure of the fabric. Whereas looms previously had been threaded in a fixed, unchangeable manner, Jacquard cards can be moved from loom to loom, simplifying labor requirements and allowing for mass reproduction of complex designs. Thus they represented a significant technological jump forward, much like movable type in the history of printing.

"The Jacquard loom uses the binary system," explains Bajardi, "so you can think of it as a very early computer! The newest Jacquard loom, the TC1, is digital, and allows for incredible freedom and creativity and complexity. Now I can even base my weaving designs on digital photographs. I have gotten to the point where I feel able to see 'inside' the fabric and understand the true structure of weaves and threads the way an engineer would. And this has in turn greatly enriched my design aesthetic. For a weaver it's the equivalent of being on the moon.

"CCA gave me tremendous liberty as an artist. The Textiles curriculum allowed, simultaneously, for cross-pollination of technique and total concentration. Anne Wolf's Intro to Textiles was the course that made me decide to switch from Architecture to Textiles! From there, Lia Cook's class Zeros and Ones gave me my first taste of the Jacquard loom. I ended up taking that course three times. I learned the basics of repeating patterns from Richard Elliott's Digital Textiles course. Kathleen Larisch taught me screenprinting, and M. C. Escher's principles of tessellation."

After she graduated in 2009 Bajardi embarked upon a four-month internship at Zenith Exports, an international woven-textile design company based in Bangalore, India, to whom she'd been highly recommended by Fondazione Lisio. She served as an assistant textile designer, creating Jacquard fabrics for American and European interiors. At Zenith Bajardi learned a lot about "the biz" of the textile industry. "I discovered, to my dismay, that what makes a mill and its designs successful is not amazing original artwork, unfortunately, but copying designs from books, working with clients, and modifying your ideas to fit the boss's ever-changing moods. The experience marked my transition from 'artist' to 'designer.'

"The trip was an all-encompassing experience; everything I knew to be true was literally turned on its head. I was deeply affected as a person and as an artist by Indian culture: their struggle for progress, the immense luxury in the midst of extreme poverty, their competition with other burgeoning countries."