The Bauhaus is possibly the most innovative design movement of the last century and the weaving workshop arguably the most progressive and successful. As Sigrid Wortmann Weltge writes (in Bauhaus textiles: women artists and the weaving workshop), the ‘Bauhaus weavers invented the concept of contemporary textile design.’ For three of the most influential textile designers of the 20th century – Gunta Stölzl, Anni Albers and Benita Koch‐Otte – and their Bauhaus masters – Johannes Itten, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky – weaving and art were intertwined.
Click the links to view the weaving designs and artworks referenced in this article - due to copyright laws we are unable to include all the images here.
Gunta Stölzl was one of the most notable weavers at the Bauhaus. On arriving at the Bauhaus she was already well-studied in art, but the teachings of the Bauhaus presented her with a new way of thinking – an exploration of the wonderful qualities of different textures and fibres that could be translated into design details. During the early Bauhaus years there was great emphasis was on artistic expression and Johannes Itten, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky inspired the weavers with instruction on composition and form, colour theories and rhythmic studies.
"Kandinsky made watercolour studies to explore the relationship between colour and form, in his work shown below "washes of colour applied in concentric rings flow into each other at their borders, transforming each other in the process" MoMA.org.
The weavers were creating individual pieces and textiles became Gunta Stölzl’s art form. She experimented with complex structures such as interrupted stripes woven on horizontal looms, and point symmetry where weave details are mirrored at diagonal opposites of the design.
Image: Gunta Stölzl, Bauhaus Dessau
Gunta Stölzl’s diaries recall how Paul Klee also had a great love of textiles and while the weavers were incredibly influenced by his use of colour, Klee’s paintings were also informed by the creations of the weaving workshop. He showed great appreciation for the craft and was particularly interested in the subtleties of colour that occur by crossing warp (length) and weft (across) yarns in woven cloth. In his own works he experimented with the effects of over-painting using washes of colour, mirroring this warp and weft effect.
"Klee used the musical term of 'polyphonic' (many voiced) in titles to draw attention to the simultaneous sounds created by the various pictorial elements... of his paintings." from Paul Klee: Painting Music, 1997.
Johannes Itenn shared this interest in textiles and had considerable influence on the weavers - not only with his instruction on materials, but also with colour. Itten believed in the scientific, spiritual and emotional qualities of colour. He, Klee and Kandinsky often used the language of music to describe colour, referring to harmonic sounds, chord variations and tones.
Benita Otte, a lesser-known weaver of the Bauhaus, experimented with Itten’s light and dark contrasts, and Klee’s colour theories. But it was Klee, especially, who would have a major and lasting influence on her work. She later adapted Klee’s theories on colour for her own teaching and offered instruction in the use of proportion, colour, form and composition, while also integrating intensive nature studies.
MoMA has a wonderful example of a Benita Otte Woven Wall Hanging, 1923-24 click here to view.
Perhaps the most well-known of the Bauhaus weavers is Anni Albers, whose work will be the focus of a full-scale retrospective at Tate Modern later this year, from 11 October 2018 – 27 January 2019.
Alber’s first interest was in the glass workshops but being a woman this was discouraged and she was instead steered, reluctantly, towards the weaving classes. Nonetheless, with Gunta Stölzl’s guidance Albers overcame her reluctance for weave and developed a love of the construction challenges presented by weaving and showed great skill. She developed many functionally unique textiles that combined properties of light reflection, sound absorption and durability, and minimized wrinkling and warping tendencies.
Examples of Anni Albers' incredible work are available to view at The Josef & Anni Albers Foundation website.
The weavers used a range of artistic skills to illustrate and develop their textile designs. Anni Albers produced numerous designs in ink washes for her textiles and these were translated into wall hangings, curtains and bedspreads, mounted “pictorial” images, and later mass-produced fabrics in cut lengths. Experimentation was not confined to standard yarns and fibres, however, and Albers’ weavings are often constructed of both traditional and industrial materials, for example combining jute, paper, and cellophane.
Gunta Stölzl was the Bauhaus’ only female master, and she created enormous change within the weaving department as it transitioned from experimental individual works to modern industrial designs when in 1925 the Bauhaus moved to Dessau and shifted its focus from craft to production. Undoubtedly influenced by the Bauhaus’ masters instruction on colour, she expanded the department to increase its weaving and dyeing facilities, and translated ideas from modern art to weaving. The Bauhaus weaving workshop became one of its most successful facilities under her direction.