Not a mistake, just something else
Name: Stephanie Bentum, proprietor & designer of Krafthaus, House of Wool
By: Social Fabric
Email address: socialfabricSA@gmail.com
WHAT IS SOCIAL FABRIC?
The project aims to help re-build the South African textile industry through building a design-led innovation pipeline. The main tool is a collaborative network of artists, designers and textile manufacturers. The materials focus is South Africa-produced textiles. The ultimate aim is to develop the design drivers to re-build the textile industry sustainably, and with that re-claim some of the many jobs that have been lost.
The project is a series that starts by connecting an artist with a textile manufacturer in a one month on-site followed by a one month off-site residency. The artist’s role is to think as an artist, outside the boundaries of thinking within the organisation, and ultimately to create work or research inspired by and using the host’s textile.
The outcome of this collaborative residency is then presented as a catalyst in a workshop for 25 local designers, thinkers and innovators, across different creative disciplines. The purpose of the workshop is to create a network of creatives who are inspired to develop new product ideasconnected to the textiles..
The DOEN Foundation is generously supporting four such artist-in-residences and the follow-up workshops. This Significant Change story is about one of the host of the artist-in-residence, home furnishings company Krafthaus.
Krafthaus is a small home furnishings producer based in Somerset West in the Western Cape province of South Africa, it specialises in products made from felt. The owner and designer is Stephanie Bentum, and she works with 2 previously untrained feltists.
We were attracted to Stephanie’s story of teaching herself (and then training her assistants) to felt. That she didn’t start from a conventional route, but through experimentation, resonated with us. Despite Krafthaus having grown out of experimentation, Stephanie explained that it was not always easy to make time to do so. She used to set aside certain hours in a morning to try new things but it became very easy to have that time claimed by the practical demands of the business. Moreover, the constraints of a small business meant she felt the natural pressure of being production focused.
Having an artist-in-residence has helped Stephanie regain her outlook on the value of experimentation. The artist was Paul Edmunds, who is based in Cape Town. Stephanie recalls how one day she was working on a commission and the felt shrunk more than expected. She saw this as a mistake, but Paul told her that it wasn’t a mistake, just “something else”. Stephanie describes the sensation of relief at the realisation that he was right. While she did have to make a new blanket for the commission, it also reminded her of the bigger perspective, whilst production is important, so was trying new things and sometimes that results in mistakes, and sometimes mistakes can lead to new ideas.
A mistake was certainly how Paul came to make his first felt. He misunderstood what felt was and what Stephanie was making on Paul’s first day. But even after learning of his error, Paul continued his line of making, because it didn’t matter what felt was supposed to be it matter what he could make of it. The images on the left hand side of Image 1 shows Paul’s experiment. Those who work with felt know that typical felt is flat and opaque, and Paul’s is neither.
After the residence ended, Stephanie continued with Paul’s experiment. Her design challenge was to turn Paul’s small piece into a larger – more practically-sized – pieces – and to develop a pattern for its making that enables her staff to make them to a certain standard and at a reasonable cost. She succeeded in making Koffieklip, shown on the right hand side of Image 1. Stephanie also injected her own aesthetics to make a contemporary and elegant yet still “African” style.
Stephanie also added that working with Paul she became “aware of possibilities beyond what we initially created – it opened up many new product ideas”. Perhaps one of these includes Veld. Unconventionally, the felting isn’t with processed and combed mohair and wool (which give the textile that smooth or sheen finish), rather it uses raw wool. Stephanie thought that besides modernising felt, it might offer an opportunity for feltists who wanted to work with the fibre directly from the sheep.
In a final interview, when asked about Social Fabric’s impact on Krafthaus, Stephanie says “[the] sharing of expertise resulting in creative process by changing methods of thinking and making. Re-looking at approaching a resulting image of the finished product or item.” That “Social Fabric … highlighted the use of raw materials and their sustainability. A social responsibility to the industry and an artistic value added to what could have become just another ‘product’ on the market.”