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Exhibitions > The "Soft Logics" Of Pleating, Draping and Wrapping

The "Soft Logics" Of Pleating, Draping and Wrapping | Yael Taragan


"We live in an unstitched society that is suffering from the aftershocks of a severe economic crisis... It is time to pick up the pieces and assemble the scraps of overconsumption; to compose them into a quilt of substance, using human creativity to craft a blanket able to assemble variety within a single vision."(1)

In exploring the future of the design world, trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort examines a wide range of craft practices and strategies pertaining to the fields of textile and fashion design - including stitching, pleating, felting, quilting, wrapping, layering, embroidering, and knitting. The common denominator underlying these strategies may be described by the term "soft logics," which was coined by the French philosopher Michel Serre as part of his exploration of new models of thought and action (2). "Our philosophy lacks a good organum of fabrics," he writes, (3) relying on the qualities of fabric - its softness, flexibility, and the endless possibilities enfolded within it - to define a new paradigm of thought based on the logic of the material's structure.

What makes Edelkoort turn to "soft logics" in order to investigate the character and role of contemporary design? As she writes, "This is, therefore, a time for gathering, for bringing people together again in order to restore society and mend the fabric of our lives."(4) Edelkoort draws an idyllic picture of gathering as a concrete encounter or as process of assembling and enfolding the material to create new forms.

Yet what lies embedded in "soft logics," enabling us to delineate a new horizon of possibilities for thought and action? How is it tied to the restoration of order in human society? And what is it about it that may be related to the gathering of individuals as an act of assemblage, the creation of a patchwork?


"Let us learn to negotiate soft logics."(5)

Michel Serre is concerned with the distinct ability of fabric to respond to endless and even contradictory possibilities for movement and motion. Small boxes, Serre argues, may be squeezed into a large box, yet the inverse action is not possible; a large box cannot be squeezed into one of the smaller ones. A box is only flexible up to a certain point, and its rigid either/or logic enables us to think without excluding. By contrast, a woven sack can be folded and inserted into another sack, even if the second sack is smaller than the first one. This same sack may subsequently be spread out, and the smaller sacks may be folded and inserted into it. In contrast to the rigid logic of the box, the "soft logics" of the sack give rise to a range of possibilities: "They are the realm of the and/and, where anything can happen... Soft logics are to think without excluding.'"(6)

This either/or logic is characterized by the knit's tendency to return to its original form from a crinkled, folded or stretched state. The same is true of leather, which willingly takes on the shape and characteristics of the body it envelops, changing to take on the form of the foot even after being shaped into a shoe on the shoemaker's last. The same goes for the process of creating folds in a piece of cloth, whose material characteristics determine how it may be draped on the mannequin. These characteristics - the straight thread, its weight and the manner in which it falls, the degree to which it has been stretched, the quality of the pleating and folds - determine its final form.
This form arises from the encounter between the fabric and the body, a negotiation which has no preconditions.

The numerous possibilities associated with "soft logics" are thus based on the logic of the material itself: thought, like the material itself, is shaped by the logic of negotiation. This logic aspires to contain while simultaneously being contained; it is attentive to whatever comes into contact with it, continuously changing and forming itself, acquiring a new shape and rediscovering itself in every encounter. It is a logic characterized by flexibility and by modes of thinking that "twist and turn and stretch and fold." (7)

The idea of elasticity as a conceptual paradigm first appeared in the design world in 2008 in the context of the exhibition "Design and the Elastic Mind" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This exhibition, which was curated by Paola Antonelli, presented a series of collaborations between scientists and designers who jointly explored scientific innovations and technological inventions that are bringing the near future to our threshold. As Antonelli argues, "The by-product of adaptability + acceleration, elasticity is the ability to negotiate change and innovation [...] It means being able to embrace progress, understanding how to make it our own."(8)

Yet is the ability to negotiate change and innovation sufficient to expand the limits of discourse to spheres that allow for the inclusion of "both this and that," and where "anything could happen"? Does the ability to adapt to the changes wrought by progress exemplify the "twisting, turning, stretching, and folding" modes of thinking characteristic of "soft logics"? and will the longed-for encounter between the worlds of design and science adequately address the concept of "gathering" discussed by Edelkoort? A gathering of individuals as well as the gathering of the material as an act of assemblage, as the creation of a patchwork?


"We are continually being told these days, by scientists of repute, that the world is built from blocks: not just the world that we ourselves have made - of artifacts or the built environment - but the worlds of nature, the mind, the universe and everything. Biologists speak of the building blocks of life, psychologists of the building blocks of thought, physicists of the building blocks of the universe itself." (9)

The anthropologist Tim Ingold, who inquires into the logic underlying the creation of material objects, similarly distinguishes between two types of material logic - the logic of building blocks and that of knots - which I believe can be identified, respectively, with a "hard logic" and a "soft logic."

Ingold argues that despite the dominant view that the world is composed of building blocks, the logic of knots - which is given expression in processes of threading, twisting, and knotting, evolved much earlier. He quotes the 19th century German architect Gottfried Semper, who said that such uses of linear fibers were among the most ancient human arts, which formed the basis for the development of both buildings and textiles. According to Ingold, the metaphor of the world as made of building blocks, which is strongly identified with modern thought, only appeared in the mid 19th-century. During this period, the architecture of domestic interiors developed in new ways that included the creation of nurseries, while children's play first entered the interior of the home. Among the new forms of play that appeared following this shift were sets of building blocks, whose development and marketing was actively promoted by architects.

"Is making a matter of building up or of carrying on?"(10) asks Ingold in discussing the logic of building blocks as opposed to that of knot work. He notes that while building blocks involve the assembly of preformed parts into larger wholes, gathering and weaving threads in a gradually evolving process gives shape to the final form. This is what the knitter does by pulling threads out of a skein and looping them, or what the embroiderer does by translating the marks on the fabric into stitches that come together to form a new surface. In such cases, the gathering of threads gives rise to a new form that is molded out of the material.

What, then, asks Ingold, would a world be like that is knotted rather than block-built? Is there a connection between thinking and acting in accordance with "a logic of weaving" and between a "round," multilayered perception of the world, in contrast to the binary perception that has led to our conception of the Earth as a solid globe on the outer surface of which all human life is lived"(11)? Can the gathering of materials, furthermore, teach us something about human gathering?


"Indeed, very few people are aware that in each of our fingers, located somewhere between the first phalange, the mesophlange, and the metaphalange, there is a tiny brain. The fact is that the other organ which we call the brain, the one with which we came into the world... has only ever had very general, vague, diffuse, and, above all, unimaginative ideas... The brain-in-the-head has always lagged behind the hands... the fingers still have to summarize for it the results of their tactile investigations."(12)

We are used to thinking of acts of combining and assembling in terms of parts that make up a whole, as a way of expressing a predetermined set of components in accordance with a preplanned outline. Yet such an inflexible outline cannot give rise to a new formal paradigm that will continue to change and evolve. By contrast, an act of assembling born out of unmediated contact with the material, as is the case in hand crafts, can give rise to new forms.

As is the case with the knitter or embroiderer, the carpenter works according to "soft logics," combining pieces of wood and joining them to one another to create objects, furniture items, and buildings. Like the knitter and the embroiderer joining together threads, the carpenter is attentive to the structure of the wood and the logic of its fibrous makeup. He cuts, saws, and soothes the boards in order to reveal the material form that wishes to come into being. The manner in which the boards will be combined and joined together is not known in advance, but rather becomes clear through the physical contact with the wood and the attentiveness to the material during the assemblage process.

Can this process of assemblage, the gathering of the material, serve as a source of inspiration for human gathering? A gathering that will embody the ‘twisting and turning and stretching and folding' of "soft logics" and that of slowly intertwined threads that form one loop after another; a gathering whose boundaries will be defined by the act of assemblage, based on a flexible form of thinking and on a willingness to reshape oneself through the encounter; a gathering that will discuss the future of the design world in the context of scientific and technological innovations, while aspiring to gather and return to a long-forgotten archaic realm, in which we feel the fabric and have a tactile experience of matter. Then, we may realize, as Edelkoort suggests, how "soft logics" pervade everything that surrounds us: our fabrics, clothes, objects, furniture, and houses. This "stitched," "layered," "folded" "quilted," and "wrapped" logic will then be everywhere.


1. Lidewij Edelkoort, "Gathering: A Study of Domestic Design," summer 2014.

2. I first became acquainted with Michel Serre's conceptualization of "soft logics" thanks to Pennina Barnett's article (see f.n. 6 below).

3. Michel Serres, Rome: The Book of Foundations (1983), trans. Felicia McCarren, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 1991, 236.

4. Edelkoort (see f.n. 1 above).

5. Serre (see f.n. 3 above).

6. Pennina Barnett, "Folds, Fragments, Surfaces: Towards a Poetics of Cloth" in Textures of Memory: The Poetics of Cloth, Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, 1999, 26. 

7. Ibid.

8. Paola Antonelli, "Design and the Elastic Mind" (exh. cat.), New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2008

9. Tim Ingold, "Of Blocks and Knots: Architecture as Weaving", Architectural Review, 0003861X, Oct 2013, Vol. 234, Issue 1400, 26.

10. Ibid.

11. Ingold (see f.n. 9 above).

12. José Saramago,The Cave, New York, 2002, 66-67.

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