Entangled fibres: an examination of human-material interaction


Material's role in making has been previously tackled to understand practices, objects, and society from multiple angles. Recent research on materials challenges prioritising human perception, experiences and needs while proposing that materials actively participate in everyday interactions and experiences through their embedded agencies. This research examines the active role of material within the context of design and craft-making. The main research question is: how does human-material interaction occur, and how does material actively affect the making processes? This examination is carried out through the case of felt making via four studies.

The first study was conducted at expert craftspeople's studios and examined how through negotiation the material and the body become united during making processes. The second study examined the material in its own environment and at the design studio and focused on how material interactions affect ideation while making an artefact through a practice-led study on my own making process. The third study tackled how the early material engagements of novice makers might challenge their understanding of being with the world. By utilising first-hand experiences, this study challenged established human values to discuss coexisting with other entities in more responsible ways. The fourth study examined the field of felting and its material connections to reveal how material agency shapes the fluidity of the practice within the field.

The case study methodology provided meticulous analysis of a material's changing activeness in four research settings. By employing a practice-led research approach, human-material interaction was explored through the reflections and experiences of makers. Participant observation and reflective making were particularly useful methods of collecting data as they revealed the steps of direct engagement with the material. Examining felt making from the material's activeness perspective provided four theoretical insights: 1) the material's meaning can change based on how the maker is with them, and it can gain different roles for various processes, 2) making is a situated and context-dependent action and can gain different meanings under various conditions, 3) perceiving the material as active also requires activating the self by being more flexible, and 4) understanding the extent of the material's activeness in the material engagement can expand the boundaries of responsibility.

The findings stimulate cultivating new pedagogical models for teaching new skills and for building empathy towards existing with humans and nonhumans. The design of studies can inform new material development processes by valuing experience-oriented explorations over goal-oriented ones. By embracing the coexistence of human and the nonhuman, this research prompts an acknowledgement of other kinds of agencies and our dependencies on them. Realising that humans do not own or dictate but collaborate with materials generates more responsible behaviours and inclusive political actions for coexisting with nonhumans.


Bilge Merve AKTAŞ

Doctorate type

Doctor of Arts

Year of completion


Case study type

Research through design

Institution details

School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Department of Design