Material Thinking

Social Fabric

Can mohair inform architecture?  Can architecture inform mohair?

Textile designer Anni Albers said "To circumvent the NO of the material with the YES of an inventive solution, that is the way new things come about - in a context with the material". Social Fabric believes that cross creative thinking can help find that YES. This iteration sees artist Liza Grobler, mohair company SAMIL SA, and architects and fashion designers participating in the workshop explore mohair.
Liza Grobler is based in Cape Town.  In her art-making, she often employs craft techniques as the tangible qualities of the materials are important to her. She has used materials as disparate as pipe cleaners, the orange-coloured puffy maize snacks known as Niknaks in South Africa, and false finger nail extensions, as well as more traditional mediums like paint. Understandably, we wondered what she might be able to do with mohair…  

Pink Mexico

The artwork is a pipe cleaner drop/nest/space, made in the national colour of Mexico and installed under a pedestrian bridge in Maravatio, Mexico. This is one in a series of nests made in various locations during Grobler’s travels, including Soloturn (Switzerland), Johannesburg (South Africa) and New Delhi (India). Each time, the colour is selected in response to the quality of the specific place.�

No more worlds to conquer

No more worlds to conquer is made from woven ropes typically used in the mining industry. The mining industry is an important source of employment and capital for South Africa. At the same time, some companies are charged with exploitive practices of labour and the environment. Grobler's installation comments on this complex web.

Cat Tail

This is a performance still from Cat Tail, 2015, in Maravatio, Mexico.

The artist is weaving with cat tail, a now invasive species that is taking over bodies of water. Its growth had previously been kept in check when it was used to weave baskets. Today the local populace prefers to use plastic bags instead. Grobler is also dressed in the clothes worn by Quinceañera, a local folklore figure, so her artwork also alludes to the fairy tales - of Mexico and elsewhere in the world - of a girl in distress having to sew/weave/labour to redeem/save herself.

Liza was artist-in-residence at SAMIL SA, an important South African mohair company.  We asked Liza, can she help us (re)think mohair? In answer, she starts with mohair and spray paint ...

and she makes a floating mohair "jellyfish" (our description). In this clip, Liza Grobler explains how she came to make it.

The "jellyfish" goes on to inspire new work.


The melting softness of the mohair jellyfish is transformed into hard edges of mosaic, through pixellation of the image, in Flotsam.

other new artistic possibilities

Draping the "jellyfish" over found mannequin legs changes its context, repositions it and in this way opens up other new possibilities ...

a traumatized landscape

Before describing the next work, it is important to explain that a great fire burned for weeks through thousands of hectares of nature reserve lying between Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope the year before the work was made. Burnt indigenous plants, proteas and fynbos left blackened carcasses. Burning may well be a natural cycle for the plants, generating new life, but many animals were injured or killed.

The traumatised landscape and the natural protective qualities of mohair came together in Liza crocheting mohair around the scorched protea stems. The tenderness of the resulting object is strangely compelling.


The use of pristine white yarn was intentional, and Liza remarked how the charcoal surface of the sticks came to rub or draw on the yarn. It led to Liza wanting to use them to draw with as part of a performance work - as she noted on her studio wall with the word "draw" on her studio wall.

What remains

Participatory drawing
Mohair, charcoaled fynbos


Putting her sketches and thinking together, Liza makes a nest from crochet mohair and a geo-textile (see off-cuts). In it is nestled a musician.

Using the material to help think is the end goal of all our workshops. In the mohair workshop, we asked can fashion inspire architecture and architecture inspire fashion, via mohair? Here are 3 concepts that came out of this cross collaboration.

Using mohair's qualities to think about architecture

John Andrews, architect, starts with an umbrella stripped of its cloth covering. It serves as a frame to which he weaves mohair. This weaving reflects the weaving of thoughts in his mind...

...among his thoughts, he is asking himself how can mohair be light and strong at the same time, and can this help make architecture robust yet light at the same time?

Fashion designer Amy Cox merges the clothing of the body with the "clothing" of space to ask an abstract question. Can clothing space with something like mohair help the visually impaired know where they are by changing the air's "feel"?

Play and creativity

Adults, like children, need to play in order to discover and find creative joy. Here, a participant plays with mohair by combining it with incongruous materials such as wire fencing and thorn branches.

Perhaps it is the mixing of the rough and sharp with the mohair that reminds us not to take the softness of mohair for granted. Besides the hair itself, its oil or lanolin also lends itself as a softening agent - this is why angora goat farmers have surprisingly soft hands!

This may have led to the idea of using both the lanolin and the mohair to make an all-encompassing spa experience.

Find out more about the mohair iteration via this outcome book, please click the image to view. The book is also available for download from our website.

Social Fabric is a not-for-profit project. We would like to thank the DOEN Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Fashion Department, this iteration's tertiary partner.

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Credits: Story

Credits and Links

Liza Grobler
Mexican Pink
2015, pipe cleaners, dimensions variable

No More Worlds to Conquer
2016-17, mining nets, crochet, performance
installation for Women's Work a group show at Iziko South African National Gallery, December 2016 to April 2017

Cat Tail
2015, performance

2017, Performative installation (mohair, spraypaint, hoola hoops and polyester with clarinetist)
210 x 120 x 120 cm

All photo credits: Liza Grobler

Find out more about Liza Grobler

Films of Liza Grobler
Videographer: Yasmin Hankel
to see the full films of Liza in conversation with Pierre Fouche about their respective experiences at their residencies
and the ideas that came out of the residencies

Find out more about SAMIL SA

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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