Fabric Works I begins the documentation of an extensive body of prints and illustrated books Bourgeois created in the last decade of her life.
Louise Bourgeois’s connection to fabric goes back to her childhood years when she helped out in her family’s tapestry restoration workshop. As an adult, she long associated the act of sewing with repairing on a symbolic level, as she attempted to fix the damage she caused in personal relationships. She even held a special regard for spools of thread and needles as tools that served this purpose.
Fabric took center stage as a sculptural element in Bourgeois’s work in the 1990s, as she began to mine material from clothes she had saved for a lifetime. She hung old dresses, slips, and nightwear in installations, and manipulated timeworn terry cloth into nearly life-size figures or eerie portrait-like heads. By 2000, she turned to printing on old handkerchiefs, and then constructed books of fabric pages. To help with this work, she hired a seamstress, Mercedes Katz, and set her up in a workshop-like arrangement on the lower level of her house, where two small printing presses also resided.
Collaborative work with Katz, and with printer Felix Harlan of Harlan & Weaver, proceeded on almost a daily basis for years, with Bourgeois fully appreciating the expertise of both. Later, when she wanted to match old fabrics, she availed herself of the specialized skills of Raylene Marasco of Dye-Namix, who she found through the fashion world. Bourgeois’s frequent use of fabric as a basis for prints and books indicates a desire to give these works a sculptural presence. In her late years, Bourgeois also added printed fabric elements to her unique pieces.