Ready to blossom and overgrow the past
In an increasingly high-paced world, the intricate and painstakingly handcrafted textile artworks of Klaas Rommelaere seem all the more exceptional. Consciously stepping away from the fast and furious fashion industry, his unique pieces can take several months to complete. With his eclectic designs and contemporary themes, Rommelaere demonstrates that traditional crafts like embroidery and crochet are anything but boring.
Interview by Yente Vaneerdewegh
Photos by Tiny Geeroms shot in Antwerp
I’ve teamed up with a group of senior citizens for about five years now. I see them every week for a whole afternoon
You have a background in fashion. What made you switch to textile art?
After graduating, I did some internships with Raf Simons and Henrik Vibskov. They showed me that fashion and art are not necessarily separate entities but can also be intertwined. But at the same time, I felt like everything in fashion had already been done before and became aware of its restrictions. Say you have to design a sweater. You can get creative and put a hole in it, but that’s about it. Your creations are always confined within the boundaries of wearability and commercialisation. It’s all very practical. I also found it difficult being dependent on others. I prefer to work alone, at my own pace, with Netflix or a podcast playing in the background.
Can you tell us about your creative process?
I start from drawings in my sketchbook, which are simple outlines without any colours or details. Because it takes so long to finish a piece, while working on one I can think about what do to next so a drawing is just a thing to reference. I then transfer them on to fabric and work piece by piece. It’s a slow process but it gives me time to reflect and reconsider, and allows me to make new decisions day after day. This is why my works are always very detailed and profound, but without over-doing or -thinking it. Nothing is premeditated, it just kind of grows organically.
I integrate events from my personal life my work. Recently there was a finissage where I was asked to explain my work and it felt like I had to read my diary out loud to strangers
So how do you manage all the meticulous manual labour that goes into your work?
Since everything is handmade and I refuse to use machines, it’s impossible to do everything on my own. So I’ve teamed up with a group of senior citizens for about five years now. I give them a piece of fabric; they decide on the colours and work their magic. It’s fantastic. We’re still making stuff together; I see them every week for a whole afternoon.
I can imagine it might be difficult to entrust your own creations to the hands of others, no?
There’s a great amount of mutual trust. When they hand me back a finished piece it’s never the way I would have done it myself, but that makes it such a refreshing and spontaneous interaction. I’ve had a few interns in my studio and noticed that they really want to make something beautiful or fashionable, like matching pastel tones. I understand that, when I was an intern I did the same. The seniors I work with have a completely different vision and taste. They aren’t concerned with what’s ‘hip’ or ‘trendy’ but simply and sincerely go with what they like themselves. And I find it interesting to see my drawings – which can be a bit odd – being interpreted by others.
Does your work revolve around any specific themes or subjects?
There are many references to films and television shows that I grew up with. As a 12-year-old I used to make scrapbooks about Tim Burton or series like Friends, that’s how fascinated and fanatical I was. So I think of it as a tribute. I also integrate events from my personal life. Recently there was a finissage where I was asked to explain my work, but it felt like I had to read my diary out loud to strangers. I’m also inspired by ethnic cultures, but in any case I make sure to only incorporate elements that are coherent with the message I’m trying to convey. Each piece really has to tell a story.
What have you been working on recently?
There are currently about 60 pieces of my work on display as part of the exhibition Soft? Tactile Dialogues at the MoMu in Antwerp. I’m also creating two large pieces for the German-based Galerie Zink, which is relocating from Berlin to the small town of Waldkirchen. The new site is still under construction, but it’s scheduled to open in April this year. In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep working the same way I’ve done before. I’m completely content with what I’m doing at the moment.