Talking about: How Textiles promote primal wellbeing

Talking about: How Textiles promote primal wellbeing

BA (Hons) Textile Design student Theo Lusty explores how the world of textiles promotes our wellbeing.

Cocoons and comfort objects

Textiles are a constant presence in our lives; cocooning, clothing, and comforting us from birth until death.

This simple connection between body and fabric is often overlooked within the world of wellbeing textiles in favour of more complex, tech-focused innovations.

The sense of wellbeing that simple cloth objects provide is that of a calming and comforting tactile presence, helping us to process emotions and feel safe and held. 

The use of textiles as a source of comfort is ancient, and the ways in which we navigate our modern lives are still very much led by this primal need for the physical comfort it provides. 

The importance of textile objects

Comfort objects are a prime example of how cloth can boost wellbeing, and one we can all relate to. Most of us have a well-loved teddy bear, doll, or blanket that stayed with us throughout the highs and lows of childhood.

This is not just a reminder of simpler, more-carefree days. It can be the key to becoming an emotionally healthy and well-adjusted individual.

In the world of child psychology, these items are known as “transitional objects”. Their presence has been shown to ease the journey from childhood to adulthood, as well as to understand and process emotions or cope with difficult situations.

This dependence on textile-based comfort objects is seen throughout history.

The earliest known fabric dolls are of Roman origin, like this one (pictured above) in the British Museum archive. It is made of linen and stuffed with rags and papyrus to form the shape of a person.

Not just us, monkeys too

Older dolls are likely to have existed, but not survived. Indeed, this innate need to seek comfort in fabrics is even seen in the behaviour of monkeys.

In the 1950s, psychologist Harry Harlow found that young monkeys would seek comfort in a fabric object rather than a metal one, even when the latter provided them with food.

Cloth as a provider of comfort is seemingly an innate phenomenon that exists across time and species.

“Perhaps being huddled up in a cosy bed-nest is the natural evolutionary progression. After all, where else do we retreat if we have had a bad day or do not want to face the world?”

Seeking safety blankets

As well as comforting us in the form of loved objects, cloth can promote wellbeing through the creation of warm, cocooning environments that make us feel safe.

Philosopher Wilhelm Worringer thought that man had a ‘physical dread of open places’ and that this is a leftover from a time when our understanding of a space lay within what could be physically touched.

Being holed up in a small, warm space was what kept humans safe from predators and sheltered from the weather in our first homes – caves.

Perhaps being huddled up in a cosy bed-nest is the natural evolutionary progression from this. After all, where else do we retreat if we have had a bad day or do not want to face the world?

Textiles as time capsules

Textiles can also help us through difficult times by evoking memories of loved ones. Objects become imbued with sense of place and time and can remind us of a particular person or event.

With textiles this connection is particularly strong. They have the ability to preserve smells and to show the passage of time in a way that more sturdy objects cannot.

They provide a map of the ways they have been loved or worn. Therefore, objects from loved ones can remind us of them, which can be particularly poignant when the item is from somebody who is no longer around. They help people to process their grief in a healthy way.

During a time when we may not be able to physically speak to our loved ones, and when looking after our mental health is paramount, we should all explore the importance of textiles within our lives and how they can comfort us and boost wellbeing.