Curating Proteins and Fibers

Ferrite core memory as used in the Apollo Guidance Computer (MIT sample for testing), by Nova13, 14 September 2010. CC BY-SA 3.0 Deed

No 12
Challenging Threads: Weaving Gender and History into the Fabric of Fiber Narratives
How is it possible to reinvent the past of fibers and challenge the classical narrative?

During our last meeting of 2023, our reading group had the privilege of delving into a chapter from Daniela Rosner’s book Critical Fabulations (2018), who graced our meeting with her presence. Alongside this, we continued to look at Dieter Veit’s text Fibers: History, Production, Properties, Market (2023).

We began with a discussion focusing on the “History” chapter of Veit’s book, which provides a comprehensive overview of the development of fibers, tracing their journey from origins to contemporary advancements. The broad temporal scope of the text is noteworthy, though some members noted this approach as typical of works covering extensive periods of change in materials science. The group particularly noticed an evolutionist narrative that heavily emphasizes male and technoscientific protagonisms.

We were struck by the distinction between the research produced within the science of materials in contrast to “working” fibers: there is a clear gender dichotomy in which mostly male scientific fields define fibers while women historically do the manual work of fibers such as weaving. Rosner’s chapter “Fabulating in Practice” offers a refreshing view on how narratives on design serve to remove women’s specialty from the historical shadows. Rosner reshapes methods and margins to bring about new perspectives on everyday objects and technologies. During her conversation with us, the author traversed from her own experiences as an artist to the often invisible contributions of women in NASA’s computing for the Apollo projects, highlight manual practices and women’s weaving as valuable means of practical knowledge development.

Our conversation with Rosner entered around the differences in how each author approached fiber production. These differences were marked by a contrast between the texts: one is steeped in technological determinism, while the other recognizes marginalized agents, such as women’s labor.

These reflections sparked several intriguing questions:

1. How can we apply Rosner’s concept of critical fabulation to the historical and future study of fibers to unveil new perspectives and possibilities?

2. In what ways can the emerging trends and innovations in fibers, as explored by Veit, be reimagined through a critical design lens?

3. What alternative stories of fibers can be (or need to be) told to challenge and broaden our current understandings?

Our meeting culminated in a consensus: an interdisciplinary approach, weaving together history, critical design, and future projections, can profoundly enrich our understanding and appreciation of fibers, in terms of both their past and their potential future.

Isabela Dornelas


Rosner, Daniela. “Fabulating in Practice.” In Critical Fabulations: Reworking the Methods and Margins of Design, 102–167. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018.

Veit, Dieter. “History.” In Fibers: History, Production, Properties, Market, 9–39. Cham: Springer Nature, 2023.

Veit, Dieter. “Outlook and Trends.” In Fibers: History, Production, Properties, Market 1023–1027. 


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