Spinning The Wheels with Anton Alvarez and his Signature Thread-Wrapping Machine

Armed with a self-made invention that wraps furniture with hundreds of meters of colorful thread, Swedish-Chilean designer Anton Alvarez skips traditional nails and screws to bind his furniture from a spindle. Upon his graduation a year ago from London’s Royal College of Art, Alvarez embarked upon a creative experiment that led him to invent the thread-wrapping machine—now intrinsic to his process—where a wheel spinning by power of a foot pedal invites objects to pass through (and to exit, bound in thread). Alvarez, who works with the machine every day, took a break from the studio for a chat with Artsy to fill us in on his invention and the process of wrapping, and best of all, to whet our palettes for the new phase of work he’ll unveil at Design Miami/ Basel. We’re at the edge of seats—ones we now wish were wrapped in thread.

Artsy: Can you talk a little bit about how you discovered the process of thread wrapping, and how your practice continues to evolve?

Anton Alvarez: For me, and in my practice as a designer, it is very much about following a process and seeing where it takes me. When I started this project, I really didn’t know what would happen. It started with a 120-day experiment without any goal, and after that I understood that I needed a tool to continue my experiments, and that was the thread-wrapping machine. I’ve been practicing this craft for a year now, and what I’m going to present with [Gallery Libby Sellers] in Basel is a nice evolution of what I did in the beginning; I’m going to present them as bigger structures. All of the individual pieces of furniture become part of something bigger, so that they kind of connect to each other to create these structures that we’re going to show in her booth.

Artsy: Can you elaborate on these larger structures? Essentially, you are now creating sculptures from the individual pieces of furniture.

AA: Exactly. The thread-wrapping machine, as you know, is a tool to bind pieces of wood and metal, or plastic together to a solid joint; I’m creating furniture with that now. The next thing I’ve been exploring for this exhibition is that the pieces of furniture themselves will become a part of another structure. So first, it is the pieces of wood that connect to become furniture, and then the pieces of furniture connect to each other to create something bigger. Maybe in the future it is going to be on the magnitude of architecture; now, it’s still smaller scale, but it’s still something that is much bigger than a piece of furniture. For example, two benches come together with a stool on top—it’s like a man-size structure; it’s beyond just the pieces of furniture that I was making in the beginning. And of course, all of the individual pieces of furniture are for sale in pieces; one stool, one bench, and so on, though my thoughts are in the bigger structures.

Artsy: You invented the thread-wrapping machine, which is now a main component of your process. Can you tell us how you built this tool?

AA: It is a relatively simple technology, one I started in my CAD program, from the center, like the rotation of the motor, and then I slowly started building up all of the pieces. I did it myself. I’ve asked some friends, engineers, but unfortunately they haven’t had much time to help me. So it’s been a very self-driven thing. It’s nothing fancy—it’s just a big wheel that I needed to make spin. It worked the first time, so it was a good feeling.

Artsy: How does the machine work? Can you walk us through the wrapping process?

AA: First, I take two pieces of wood that I have in my studio (or pieces of plastic, or anything) and I put them together. When I press the pedal of the machine, the big circle starts spinning and it winds threads around the pieces that we’re holding in the center of the machine. While it’s rotating, the thread gets coated in glue at the same time, so when it starts wrapping, it simultaneously covers the thread with glue and creates an outer layer. Instead of using a screw or a nail or anything, I use this machine to bind the pieces together. It is always me and an assistant, we’re kind of collaborating, and they are following my moves and trying to understand what I want to do. Eventually, we get quite nicely connected to each other and they understand what I want to do in the wrapping process. So I guess it’s almost like dancing: one person has to lead and the other one has to slightly follow in the middle of the machine there.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your use of color? To what extent do these objects serve as color studies?

AA: I have a palette in my studio, and in the morning I usually pick out four colors that I think will work well for the day. It’s quite unthought of. I try to understand my choices, but there’s no plan there. I pick out colors that I find work well together. For the show in Basel, I’ve tried to respond to the other pieces that will be exhibited with Gallery Libby Sellers to create a good overall exhibition.

Artsy: You’re a craftsman, through-and-through. What is the best part of being in your studio, working with your self-made machine?

AA: I think it is to see the development of my skills in this process, a process that I in a way invented. Every day, there are small steps forward; improvements in how I understand the ways I can use use the machine. It’s the joy in my progress—it’s very nice to see how the pieces come out because of improvement.

Behind-the-scenes images by Märta Thisner; additional images by Paul Plews.

On view at Gallery Libby Sellers, Design Miami/ Basel 2013 - Design Galleries, Booth G27, June 11th – 16th.