Anna Hergert, Art & Design

Fiber Art – A Definition


It’s time to answer another question posted in the comment section on March 31st.

Eva posted this: I really like the variations in the design you have in the picture. I have some beginner questions since I’m not familiar with fiber arts. What are all the types of materials you can use in fiber art?

The simplest definition I was able to find is on Wikipedia: “Fiber art is a style of fine art which uses textiles such as fabric, yarn, and natural and synthetic fibers. It focuses on the materials and on the manual labor involved as part of its significance.”

The answer in itself is simple but may not shed enough light on the topic, especially if the person who poses it is new to the genre. Yes, fiber art revolves around the use of fiber and/or textiles. It also encompasses countless techniques. These range from quilting, embroidery, collage, weaving, spinning, knitting, crocheting, macrame, distressing fabrics to achieve specific textures, recycling fabrics, and even incorporating paper (handmade and commercial).

As long as the work conceived and created is rooted in textiles it can be considered “fiber art.” The discussion veers off from here: What is the difference between craft and fiber art? Visions of macrame plant holders from the 1970s come to mind… I am going out on a limb when I state that “not all work with fiber and fabric is considered art.”

It is the age-old debate of craft versus art… and it will continue for as long as the world goes round. My statement that not all work with fibers and textiles is art stems from my personal experience: I consider art an object that may or may not be functional. Since we are talking art, I will use the quilt as my main example. I consider a functional quilt finely crafted, but solely deemed to cover a bed not art. I believe that the functional item can be finely crafted, but I would not label it fine art.

What about a piece of wall art that is created with quilting and embroidery techniques? I can hear your question now. A textile piece solely created to hang on a wall is art. I go as far and call it visual art. Let’s analyze this: It hangs on a wall, and its only function is for the owner to delight in its color, shape, composition. It will never be used to cover a bed, warm a child or your cold knees on a chilly winter night.

I did say that functional pieces can be considered art. A finely embroidered and embellished fabric box can be considered sculptural and art. Let’s open this topic up for discussion: What are the readers’ thoughts? I am curious to hear from you, as I am sure Eva is as well.

Don’t be shy: Weigh in with your comments below. Looking forward to hearing from everyone!


This entry was published on April 16, 2013 at 7:00 am. It’s filed under Art, Creativity Update, Design, Journaling and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

13 thoughts on “Fiber Art – A Definition

  1. Pingback: Time for a Discussion: Art vs. Craft – Textile vs. Fiber | Anna Hergert, Art & Design

  2. Dianne on said:

    This discussion was in 2013 and I am just now finding your site, mainly because the question of the difference between textile and fiber is unclear and has just come up for me. Per they are so intertwined; is it “Fiber: a threadlike piece, filament, filaments collectively, material composed of filaments, etc.” or “Textile: any cloth of goods produced by weaving, knitting, or felting; a material as a fiber or yarn; woven or capable of being woven, etc.” So, is it left up to us to decide how we use it? Do you call yourself a textile artist or a fiber artist?
    The difference on the second question of the difference between craft and art is that craft is a mastery of the tools you use and art is the original, personal interpretation of what you produce. In other words, if you produce something that is solely what the buyer or employer wants, isn’t that commercial art? And if you produce something for yourself, not with any attachment from another person, or influence from anywhere on what is liked (not with any intention of how it is used), then isn’t that a personal interpretation and thusly art? For instance, native American Indian pottery that was very used, don’t we consider that art?
    I would love to see more opinions on the difference between textile and fiber art – I don’t know what to call myself. I do embroidery, mixed media on a surface, and felting.
    Interesting website.


  3. How about a functional item that is decorated with art?
    Examples: a functional glass bowl by someone like Chihuli or our BC native art where a functional cape used in dance is decorated with artistic motifs and is often hung on a wall for display? I don’t think the definition can be ‘cut and dried’.
    And, then there is ‘performance art’. It might be functional or just made for enjoyment. Now there is a ‘can of worms’!


    • Of course the definition is not cut and dried, Vivian. And I intended to focus on fiber art.
      I do not believe that Chihuli’s bowls are functional – they are much to dear in price for anyone to use them as functional items. When it comes to BC native art – most of the authentic “functional” pieces are ceremonial – a whole different factor to consider.
      If someone who is not Aboriginal uses these motifs they are not considered original, they are derivative and the person must be granted permission from an Elder to use such a motif.
      I will not even touch on the topic of “Performance Art”…


  4. I wonder if the expression should be “art is in the eye of the beholder regardless of where, or how it is displayed.”


  5. The next level of this conversation is ‘Mixed Media Art’. Of course this can take the form of a 3 layered quilt, bur not all the time. I hate it when the word ‘craft’ comes up, but you are correct Anna, it will be around forever!


  6. Margaret Guest on said:

    Met this lady, Jen Swearington,at the Fort Myers Art Show and loved her painted fabric. New book by her just published. I received mine today and thought you might be interested


  7. Leona Larsen on said:

    Isn’t a quilt that has been quilted in a very intricate pattern that has been designed by the maker without a pattern considered a form of fibre art? I wonder about that when I consider the quillting that is done by some of the women who have long arm machines and do design these quilts. Some of them are hung on walls and viewed as art. Designing a pattern in the form of quilting takes time, artist talent and imagination. What do your readers think of this, it is art? Leona


    • Great point – I knew it would generate some comments and discussion.
      My view is this: If the quilt is original in pattern design and quilting stitches and is hung on a wall it may certainly be considered as art. If it is designated to be used as a bed quilt I will argue that it is a functional item. It is an ongoing debate that will always generate healthy discussion…


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