It’s Now or Näver by Emma Dahlqvist

It’s Now or Näver is a project developed by Swedish textile designer Emma Dahlqvist that investigates different ways of applying textile design to birch bark. Through processes of material manipulation, such as laser cutting, origami, and pleating, the birch bark, originally a solid and rigid material, is reinvented and transformed into a soft and dynamic textile.

The Beginning

Emma Dahlqvist: I started working with näver, the Swedish word for birch bark, during my masters in textile design at The Swedish School of Textiles in Borås. I wanted to explore what new types of textile materials and qualities could be created by combining local, natural materials, and digital technologies. I started experimenting with a range of different materials and techniques such as embroidery, wool, and natural dyes but after my first experiments with birch bark, I was hooked. Birch bark is a very versatile material that has been used for thousands of years in the northern hemisphere, but over the last decades, it has become a somewhat neglected craft with an aging group of practitioners. Because of its fantastic qualities such as being insulating to wet and cold, it’s a high current and sustainable material for contemporary design. The fact that it’s also a waste material from the wood industry doesn’t make it less relevant.

It’s Now or Näver

Emma Dahlqvist: The project explores ways of applying a textile design thinking upon birch bark craft, using the technique of laser cutting, origami, and pleating. The work position itself in the intersection of historical craft and new technologies – finding approaches of twisting with traditions connected to the birch bark, in order to explore new expressions and qualities for the material. Through processes of material manipulation, the inherent properties of the birch bark have been transformed into conventional textile notions such as being tactile, soft, and flexible.

Emma Dahlqvist: The result is a series of conceptual textile materials that reinvents the traditional craft material as well as widening the understanding of what could be considered textiles. With that said, the material design from this project doesn’t work as a functional textile at this point. However, the brilliant properties of the birch bark such as being water repellent and insulating are very interesting from a textile point of view and at the moment I am working ways on developing my materials to suit more functional applications. 

Main Challenges

Emma Dahlqvist: My working method for this project has been based on trial and error approach and throughout the process, I have encountered a lot of obstacles. The birch bark can be a sensitive material and sometimes it cracks very easily. It has also caught on fire in the laser cutting machine, so quite some drama. But it has been a good way of learning that you can’t always force a natural material into behaving exactly your way, sometimes you have to let the material speak to you.

Emma Dahlqvist: As an artist and designer, most of my processes start from traditional craft. I think a lot can be learned from ancient craft knowledge and that many new types of expressions, qualities, and functions can be discovered when combining that knowledge with digital technologies and an experimental approach.

Interview with Emma Dahlqvist | Photography Emma Dahlqvist.

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