The fabric effect hits you first in a heady mix of texture and colour. You then take in the charm of its flowing pages, when you get down to flipping through these cloth books. Finally, you give thought to the pictorial narrative of the book. Well, quite a rarely practiced art form, Louise-Marie Cumont’s cloth books are certainly intriguing.
More than stories, these books narrate concepts; like sleep, dreams, movement and the like. A far cry from what you would expect from cloth books, which have traditionally been identified with children. “They don’t tell stories, and most of them are not really happy books, I guess,” concedes Cumont who was here in the city for a conference on cloth books organised by the Alliance Francaise, and for a collaboration with Tara books, after participating in the Bookaro Festival for Children at New Delhi last month.
“I didn’t have a very pleasant childhood. Maybe, it is a reflection of that,” adds Cumont, a graduate of Beaux Arts, Paris, and Carrara, Italy. But the books are not gloomy either; just moody, with a huge dose of sweeping whites, midnight blues and blacks.
Before she started sewing, Cumont was a sculptor. “It was the birth of my first child that got me into the world of cloth books. With the baby around, sculpting was no longer an option, and I was looking for something softer to work with. I found marble too cold and hard suddenly,” she says candidly. She created her first cloth book for her son and says, “I found I could create a new language without using any spoken word.”
Twenty years later, her cloth books have made an entry into not just libraries but galleries as well, and Cumont has worked with Les Trois Ourses, the French publishing giant for 15 years by now.
Cumont manifests concepts by choosing the right shade and print of cotton fabric to go with it, and sometimes, painting a bit on it. She stitches together the fabric layers to create images using the bits of cloth like strokes of paint. Sometimes, she just puts in a trail of stitches to thread the outline of forms and creates threaded illustrations, as in the story of the man who wanted to chop of his house, but who eventually gets swallowed by the monster the house houses.
In some places, Cumont makes the books interactive, with the layers amenable to be flipped up and down to allow, for instance, a head to pair up with different poses of the shoulders and legs, to create movements. Lying somewhere between literature, craft and art, each of these cloth books is a unique creation.