I’ve been racking my brains the last few weeks, trying to figure out how to execute my designs in the context of handwoven fabric. The problem is that shaft weaving, even multi-multishaft weaving, simply does not do the things I want to do without a lot of hand manipulation. If I want to weave my flowing phoenix design, I either need to turn to surface design techniques, or I need to do a lot of inlay. Which I don’t enjoy. Precise control over shapes and design requires thread by thread control, which is the province of jacquard looms and tapestry weavers. I can’t afford the first and don’t enjoy the second.
I’ve also wanted to make the handwoven fabric the primary focus of the piece, which has proved difficult since most of the techniques I might apply bring the focus onto the surface design (embroidery, beading, dyeing, etc.) rather than on the handwoven fabric. I’ve really been beating my head against the wall trying to figure this out.
Then I went to two eye-opening exhibitions. The first was the Fiberarts International show at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. Fiberarts International is one of the most prestigious shows in the country (and internationally), and it had never been to the West Coast before. I went as part of a tour with one of my weaving guilds (Loom and Shuttle, in San Francisco) and was blown away by the power of the designs. They were the most thought-provoking and interesting fiber art I’d seen. But what struck me was how multidisciplinary many of the pieces were – knitted wax transformed into knitted glass socks via lost-wax casting, handwoven fabric embroidered until the fabric was barely visible. These artists were focused on design, using whatever tools and disciplines suited their purpose, rather than trying to stick with a particular medium.
The second exhibition was a lecture at my other weaving guild, Black Sheep Handweavers. Anita Luvera Mayer, who makes fabulous artwear, showed us seventeen of her designs. And again, she used a dazzling variety of techniques and media – everything from discharge to dyeing to mosaic fabric to embroidery and appliqued doilies – to achieve her goals.
This is leading me to think I should diversify my toolkit. Instead of beating my head against the wall trying to make loom-controlled shaft weaving do something it does not, I’m going to use a variety of media to achieve my designs. Because I love weaving, they will inevitably include a considerable amount of handwoven fabric, but they won’t necessarily center around that handwoven fabric. Freeing myself from that artificial constraint will allow me to make the kind of art I want to make, instead of beating my head against the wall. If that means I have to find another venue in which to display my art, then so be it.
In that spirit, here is a design I cooked up this morning:
This one needs a ton of work, design-wise, but I like the basic idea – dead phoenix at bottom, gray flames, reborn phoenix rising out of the ashes. I could never do it as a single piece of handwoven fabric (at least, not without resorting to tapestry or jacquard), but it would work beautifully as a collection of fabrics appliqued into a wall hanging or a kimono. And I could certainly weave the individual fabrics by hand, if so inclined – in fact, I think the dead phoenix would be really neat to do in collapse weave.
So there we are: I’m going to diversify my toolkit. Am I still a weaver? I think so, but maybe not primarily a weaver. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this.
And, for those who have been patient with today’s maunderings, here is your kitten for the day: the return of Fritz the Shadow Kitty! This time, he’s playing with the cords on the blinds.