Posts Tagged ‘Thinking History’

Front and Back View

Front and Back View

Detail- Apron Pockets

Detail- Apron Pockets

Detail- Handwoven Belt and Apron Attached by Buttons

Detail- Handwoven Belt and Apron Attached by Buttons

More about this costume here.


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Costume Sketch with Fabric Swatches and Button Design

Costume Sketch with Fabric Swatches and Button Design

Here are the completed sketches for my Russian folktale costume design. To tell you a bit about the design: each element is inspired by a piece of traditional Ukrainian or Russian costume. I was really interested in working with pattern (check out the home furnishing fabric which was once used to upholster a couch I sat on as a little girl) so I decided to trade in the intricate embroidery for pattern overload. The shape and style of the dress is an updated/ modern take on the details and layering of a traditional Ukrainian woman’s garments: the drawstring is replaced by a pleated neck, the cut of the dress and differentiation between the body of the dress and the shoulders was taken from a layering of blouse and overcoat, the apron relates to the story (the pockets as a means of storage during a journey) and references the apron that was once worn to cover the opening of a warp-around skirt. I am opting to hand-weave the belt that attaches to the apron (via the most perfect buttons- they reminded me of patterns I saw in my Russian folktale/rituals class) as a tribute to the many references to weaving in the story and throughout Russian folklore and history, as well as to add my own personal flare to the costume. This past week I completed the mock-up of the costume (which I still can’t believe I actually pulled off) and coming up is the real thing. And trust me, there will be plenty of pictures.

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At this exact moment in time I am overwhelmed by choice.

There is an inherent problem in working as a fiber artist. The techniques that we use have been around for thousands of years; cultures have always woven, spun, and embroidered just about everything. And for the most part, there haven’t been a whole lot of changes to these techniques over the years. There are variations, to be sure, but the same processes, tools, and machines get the same results. Because of this, it is often difficult to separate historical associations with something such as a woven piece of cloth with the cloth itself.

Here is my problem: I’m sitting on my bed, my latest cloth draped over my door and my eyes twitching in a sort of frenzied panic. I just spent the past hour or so hemming the top and bottom edges so that they appear even and clean- but what of the sides? Truth be told, the edges are a little wonky in the way that the first scarf you ever knit is wonky; the edges undulate in and out like I was on NyQuil while I was weaving. So the question remains: what to do with this? Do I hem the edges so that everything is even from top to bottom, or do I accept the cloth as it was made and display it in all of its uneven glory?


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I almost walked into a busy Baltimore street today- right in front of a screaming ambulance. This tells me I need more sleep; however, to my delight my package arrived today- a cone of beautiful silver-gray bamboo for my color blog ikat project (see poems from previous posts below). Now I’m more motivated than ever to warp my loom and get started. Though I am a little intimidated threading from back to front- I’m a front to back kind of girl-  ikat pretty much demands the precision of lining up the threads. And with every beginning comes the choosing of a weave structure, and I’ve gone with a simple “seed” draft. I can’t help myself, I love simple patterns. I admire cloths with complicated overshot patterns, but it just doesn’t work for my art. The threading on this particular draft allows for some really diverse and interesting treadling sequences that I feel will really help to guide my narrative, from really simple, elegant patterns to something more bold and dominating. I don’t have any examples now, but I should be weaving by Monday so I will have pictures then.

In the meantime, I’m quite busy with a sculpture project, because I do more than just weave here at MICA. In my Puppets and Prosthetics class, we’re studying the tradition of shadow puppets and we were introduced to Lotte Reiniger (who created the first full-length animation) so of course I fell in love. I am embarking on an (ambitious) one-week stop motion animation adventure that hopefully won’t end in failure. As a writer, usually I prefer creating my own narratives, but in this case I simply couldn’t resist adapting one of Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories to my modest Art School screen. If all goes well, I should be posting the final result sometime Sunday. A sketch for the female character:


Confession: though the title suggests it, these two projects have relatively…nothing to do with one another. However, I love the idea of weaving and puppetry as being the perfect coalescence of my addiction to storytelling. I have a year to come up with the perfect thesis. Let the brainstorming begin!


My First Stop Motion Animation– May 2008

Ikat Poems to Date

(A brief explanation of the poems for anyone who is new to my blog: the Ikat poems will be used as a jumping off point to generate colors for thirty weft entries in a month long weaving project).

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Alright everyone. I’m done moping around my house after having that darn wisdom teeth surgery, and I’m ready to get back to work after a long week of doing nothing. My brilliant plan for a website is no more; I discovered I was wholly incompetent in that arena and I should just stick to the analog and non-digital machines I know best (not including my digital camera, which is slowly starting to earn as much respect from me as my 35mm slr). Blogging should suffice for now, I suppose.

I wouldn’t say I didn’t get anything done last week, actually. I finished knitting a small panel for my dollhouse project, “tapestries for small places,” and dug out the felt I made last year in foundation’s fibers for the applique work. Lot’s of embroidery to come.

Speaking of embroidery.


While I was in Maine I got a lot more work done on my embroidery project about personal folktales; I know it doesn’t look like a lot of progress but there are a lot of slow details going on. And no matter how hard I try to make the backs of my embroidery neat, it never works out that but, but I also never complain.


I have been talking a lot with my weaving teacher about the idea of creating something and not allowing it to be seen, that is to say, in a gallery setting. For our pick-up project, one of the ideas we were supposed to consider was the use of negative and positive images that were created on either side of the cloth, and I not only chose not to display the back, but I also concealed part of the front. That idea is still pretty heavy in my mind, especially when you think about all of the work that goes into a fiber piece; every process is so time consuming and labor intensive, the idea of doing all that work and then displaying it with the intention to conceal is rather destructive in a way, and a sort of paradox in a certain sense. I’m not literally taking apart the piece, but I would be destroying the content of the piece in the context of having an by choosing to only display the back, which can sometimes be just as beautiful. I mean- look at those colors!

There are several ideas that I’m running with here. One stems from a conversation I had about weaving regarding the precision and “correctness” of the craft.  Traditionally, I have heard of weaving classes consisting of mainly making yardage, and though the rigorous artistic content that was pushed in my class was far from foreign to me, it was apparently so for others. Weaving is an art. Ikat, when done to the point, is an absolutely beautiful, breathtaking form of image creation. And it all comes with rules, standards, and settings. The main point of the conversation I’m referring to was this: that weaving, in it’s purest essence as an art form, is nothing more than a medium through which an artist creates, and just like painting or drawing, the rules can only take you so far.

I am not interested in weaving a neat piece of cloth, and I never will be. Just like I am not interested in developing a perfect print (or even knowing all the darkroom steps) or drawing a perfect body, or making an imppecable piece of needlework that is as clear on the back as it is on the front. I’m not even sure I understand the appeal of making something perfect. I think the most amazing thing about weaving is that I can make a piece of cloth, but I don’t have to use any of the traditional steps to get there, and when I’m done with it I can wrap it around my neck, burn it to the ground, or hang it in a gallery, because it is not something precious.

Which is my other train of thought. As artists, we represent a certain class in society. There are the fine arts (the high arts) and the low arts, and everyone is always at war with each other, aruging and whining and trying to out-do everyone else. And whether your art is showing in the MoMA or your best friend’s basement which also happens to be the hottest spot in town, it’s still only accessible to a select group of people. And these days, with big name artists hiring other people to do their work (yeah, we saw DiVinci and the gang doing it with schools and studios – but it wasn’t really for the contemporary conecption of what art is today), the value of providing ideas versus actualy ability to create is hopelessly skewed. So what does it mean then, to see the content of the piece as it was made verus the content of the piece as it is displayed (front versus back)? Who is the real audience, and what then, is the significance of making, and being seen or unseen?

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And I just keep on falling more and more in love.

Yesterday we finished dressing our looms for the double cloth sample, the introduction to our next and final project. I spent a total of about eight hours on this sample including the time I worked on it outside of class. It’s a rough version, I haven’t finished everything off yet (though I did surge it)  and you can definitely see abnormalities in the warp; I had a few warp threads break, but my instructor told me to just keep going, and I decided to embrace the imperfections and now I think it’s really quite beautiful. I see it as something like a prayer cloth, with it’s many holes and pockets being comforting places for wishes and dreams.


Each colored section is woven differently. From the bottom up:

The first half of the turquoise is woven with both sides closed but is fully open between the edges. The second half of that section is open on both sides and the pocket extends below it. The green section is also open on both edges but is not connected to the tube below it. For the next two sections, the first is open on the right edge and sealed on the left, and the second operates vice versa. Next up is a hole woven in the center with sealed edges, and above that the cloth is joined in the center and open on both edges.

While that was all very exciting, and also magical, what was really fun was the pickup. Stuffed pockets, geometric shapes, and abstract imagery; now this sounds like my kind of weaving. I also had a lot of fun with this project because I had never woven something so tight and so fine before; I used bamboo in the Ikat project, which was very fine, but because I used a Sweedish Lace draft the cloth was a lot more fluid and draped more, where as this cloth is very solid and much heavier. I think I’m going to use a similiar yarn for my final project, because I plan on getting very pictoral, getting really frustrated, and pulling my hair out.

I do my best brainstorming in my sleep, or near sleep, so this morning when I was either coming out of slumber or tenatively wandering into it I started to think about how I should approach this next project.  I have a lot of things to think about for this project after our frist crit in terms of how to approach weaving so it’s seen as an art object, and not as yardage hanging on a wall. How do you transform that experience for the viewer so that they are able to see the cloth as something more than just a piece of cloth? (“I don’t want someone to think I just tacked a scarf up on the wall.”) Of course, a lot of this has to do with display- how does that change a viewer’s expectations. What is the balance between craftsmanship and the intricacy of illusion? I could go on and on, but I’ll only exhaust myself.

That being said, I began to think not in terms of a weaver, but of what inspires me as an artist. I immediately jumped to storytelling, which seems to be my theme for my life, and I started thinking about Sandra Brownlee (an incredible weaver who does pickup with sewing thread- I couldn’t find a solid website for her, but you should look her up) and historical cloths; tapestries, tribal costumes, and back to Ikat. All of these things have such history to them, whether it be of a consciousness or a culture. And all of them tell a story.


These are sketches I did regarding a personal folktale I told late one night and decided to write down and illustrate. It’s called “Lana and the Spool of Thread” and it is about a little girl who can never get enough sleep, but finds comfort in the magic of a hammock woven from her hand. What better subject for pickup and my passion for storytelling is there in this world!? I plan on doing more illustrations by hand and using them as loose reference for my weaving. I know there will be little panels running up the length of the cloth, but I can’t decide in what direction I want it to be read. In any of case, I have plenty of time. Time to order more yarn!

Speaking of, some yarn arrived yesterday morning, so I just thought I’d share the additions to my small but happy stash:


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I am relatively new to weaving. About two months new. To be truthful, I am new to fiber arts, having only declared my major last spring after really discovering the medium in the fall. There is no doubt in my mind that I need to be making fiber art right now, but I have to say it’s both frustrating and interesting being in this line of work on a student’s budget with limited space and only a random menagerie of resources with which to work.

When I was primarily painter, it was easy to spend a few hundred dollars over a short period of time; new brushes, stretcher bars, rolls of canvas- it all adds up, and quickly. I remember my drawing teacher last year showing us her $75 or $100 dollar brushes for her watercolor work, and while those kinds of tools are great if you have the money to spare, a $20 brush, or even a well made $10 brush goes a long way. Hell, I use the brushes that come in a $5 multi-pack for my acrylic and watercolor work and I do just fine for myself (though I may spend some unnecessary time picking hairs off of masonite board).

But let’s talk about fiber equipment. Here, not only do we look at spending hundreds- or thousands- of dollars on equipment and machinery, but it’s not a gradual buildup of material inventory; it’s a whole lotta money all at once. When I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival, I figured that the prices were inflated for the festival going crowd and that I would be able to find much better deals on the internet. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but I’ve found that this isn’t so. I find it interesting that a craft that has such a beautiful history for women, for cultures, that used to be so common place and so expected, has become relatively inaccessible for the everyday person. I look at other artists and crafters and I marvel at the tools they have to work with, but I’m a firm believer that it isn’t the tools or materials that make an artist great, it’s what they do with what they have.

That being said, I am in college, and while I can’t afford my own equipment ($75 for a pair of hand carders- are they serious?) I do have access to an excellent fiber department (ahem- one of the best in the country I do believe) with almost everything I could ever need. However, I know I’m not going to have that forever, and I know that once I get out of college there is no way I’m going to be able to access those kinds of things on my budget. I’ll have to do things the creative way so I might as well start now.

I spent a good portion of last night cutting apart and de-tangling my heddles, bumping my head on my concrete ceiling, and doing calculations for how to make the dent reed, which is fixed on the loom, work for my super fine perle cotton warp.

Then I was really, really itching to get my warp started, but not having a warping mill, pegs, or board I had to consider my options. There was the old turn a chair upside down trick that I used to make sekins for my Ikat project, but I reasoned that it would be a headache trying to keep the tension seeing as I would need several chairs lined up to make the process most efficient, thereby not being efficient in the least. Then I remembered I had some left over plywood from my infamous box project (the only project I completed in Intro to Sculpture before I dropped out after seeing all the sparks fly at the plasma cutter- seriously, how does one NOT catch on fire?!) and I dug some nails out of my supply drawer…et…voila!


Homemade peg board, I can add or remove nails whenever I want, and it’s a great portable size and stores nicely away against a wall for whenever I’m feeling that dorm room claustrophobia and need more space. Not only that, but it cost me nothing to make and totally gets the job done.

The green you see is the warp for my first project on my first loom, which I’m starting today. Just some basic dishtowels; getting a head start on Christmas presents for everyone. I have a sewing circle meeting today, so perhaps I’ll post some embroidery later in the afternoon.

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