Weaving emotions

Social label is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a multifunctional version of a Dutch tea towel. Three metres of the fabric were taken straight from the loom to Milan for the launch at Salone del Mobile.

For ten years, Petra Janssen and Simone Kramer have asked well-known Dutch designers to design products that can be made by vulnerable people who face labour market exclusion. Based on the belief that the labour market can be more inclusive, these designs prioritise the maker rather than the product. The only condition is that people in sheltered workplaces such as Cello and Amarant or the Social label studios in Den Bosch must be able to make or co-create the product.


Tenth anniversary

Piet Hein Eek’s tables and benches were the first in a long series of design products that have consistently sold well in the Social label shop: from Edwin Vollebergh’s tableware and Kiki van Eijk’s hanging lamps to Dick van Hoff’s brooms and Borre Akkersdijk’s aprons. The items are simply called WOOD, BOWL, LIGHT, BROOM and APRON. A new product, HEART, was launched this week to mark Social label’s tenth anniversary. This time, the design is by Petra Janssen herself. Besides her work for Social label, Janssen is an independent graphic designer at Studio Boot, which she co-founded.


Designing in reverse

Last year, Janssen tufted a rug in the TextielLab with product developer Hester Onijs for the Venusian Collective. This year, she enlisted the help of the weaving department for this festive fabric for Social label. She brought along a small sample made by the hand weavers from ASVZ care centre, located down the street from the TextielMuseum, using different coloured warp threads. When product developer Marjan van Oeffelt said she could not recreate this with the white warp on the industrial loom, the design process was reversed. Together, Janssen and Van Oeffelt explored the lab’s yarn stock and started again, using the possibilities of the material and the loom as a starting point and the sample as inspiration.

Photo: Rene van der Hulst, art direction: Petra Janssen, Studio Boot


The result is a versatile variation of a traditional Dutch tea towel. “It’s a fabric for all occasions, happy and sad, but it’s also useful for wrapping or drying things,” says Janssen. HEART represents ten years of Social label by depicting all the emotions experienced during that time in the form of coloured hearts. It tells the personal stories of designers, makers, their mentors and everyone else involved in this social initiative. Each colour signifies an emotion: yellow for joy, lilac for sorrow, pink for love, red for anger, green for peace and purple for fear. “Some people in our target group can express themselves very well, but others really struggle,” Janssen notes. “For instance, the red heart was inspired by Lenie from Cello. Sometimes things don’t work out the way she wants, but then she’ll say: if I’m angry, I’ll come back tomorrow. Others say that the work brings them peace, so that emotion is included too.” If you look closely, you will see a golden heart to mark the anniversary and an orange heart (the Netherlands’ national colour) to symbolise the local production that Social label stands for.


Colour conundrum

After Van Oeffelt introduced her to the industrial loom, Janssen devised a colour scheme. The design drawing looks straightforward enough but was actually quite challenging to weave. Almost every row is different, and every third heart in a row is a blend of the colours of the preceding two hearts. Eight different yarns were used to create a fabric featuring more than 20 different coloured hearts. The fabric is made of organic cotton, with strategically placed lurex and acrylic yarns giving extra shine to the final two gold and orange rows. “It was so exciting to see how the blended colours would turn out. The process is entirely different from printing,” says Janssen. “What Marjan does is magical – she got it right the first time.”

The design drawing with Petra Janssen’s colour scheme (Studio Boot)

Positive activism

The woven fabric was taken straight off the loom to Milan, where Janssen is using it as a backdrop for her Storytelling talk marking this special anniversary year. She will also highlight the many stories embedded in the design, which represents Social label’s positive activism and the colourful mix of people who are given an opportunity to participate in the labour market through ‘slow design’. “Our activism is still very much needed, because the gaps between people are widening and the care sector is struggling to cope,” says Janssen. “In fact, my design could only have been this multifunctional, multicoloured heart fabric. It’s been a rollercoaster, and we’ve done and experienced so much together. What better way to honour the people with whom you’ve shared a decade of joy and sorrow than with all these hearts?”


Open house

In the meantime, the tea towels are being finished in Social label’s Craft studio in Den Bosch, and the weavers from ASVZ in Tilburg are creating a fluffy golden heart that will be attached to the label as a festive pompom. HEART will be launched on 16 May at a special makers’ event in Social label’s Lab. An open house will be held on Sunday, 19 May for anyone who missed the presentation in Milan.

“Our activism is still very much needed”

– Petra Janssen