Treasures

A key feature in the Saori approach to weaving is the addition of “treasures”. Treasures are bits of leftover yarns, ribbons, and any other items one might wish to add into the woven fabric. Anything from candy wrappers to flowers, beads to buttons, sea shells to rocks can be added into a weaving for significance, meaning or just because.

In the pile of donated clothes and items for this woven project, I received shoelaces, hair ribbons, belts, embroidery threads, decorative trims and laces. It was a delight to add in these treasures once belonging to folks in our community of faith. But there were other treasures that I stumbled upon as I deconstructed fabric. Embedded in two of the donated t-shirts were words and a picture that stood out so starkly to me. I knew they were to be highlighted in some way. I’ll share two of these with you, along with a delightful serendipity and a last-minute donation from my husband.

One of the t-shirts was from our preschool. Grace House Preschool has been a wonderful outreach to families in our town, offering care for wee ones for many years. I knew I wanted to use the “Grace” word up in the sky portion of one of the tapestries, as this word is meaningful both to the preschool and to our church. Grace flows down to all of us. It is the backdrop of our common life together.

Another donated t-shirt was from a couple whose infant grandson had died just a few months after birth. His handprints were printed on the shirt for the foundation that had been established in his name. Permission was granted to use the cherished handprint in the weavings as a symbol of the foundation of our faith—a babe who came to earth many years ago, to die for his people. I placed this treasure in the center panel near the bottom as a way of visually depicting the foundation of this vast ocean of love.

In a beautiful turn of serendipity, I happened to rescue three shirts belonging to my daughter. She was getting rid of unworn clothes before she begins college. One of the shirts was mint green, with a section of gauzy fabric attached to the stretchy material tank top. As I was cutting up this fabric, my daughter informed me that this piece of clothing was given to her by a woman in our church, who in turn had been given it by someone else in our church. Both of these ladies have since moved on, even though they are both very dear and close to our hearts. I was delighted to know that this shirt had been worn by three different people in our congregation! I wondered if there were other pieces that had been passed around like that.

The last treasure I’ll share with you was plopped on my desk in the last week of weaving the final tapestry. A couple of years ago, one of our families had planted an almond tree behind the sanctuary. It was thriving and had produced many almond pods. My husband has been excitedly photographing their growth. That last week of weaving, one of the pods had cracked open revealing the case that houses the nut. He drilled a hole in it and asked if I could weave it into the panel.

All of these treasures add up to a richness in the woven tapestries which is not purely material in nature. They speak to truths and events that are memorable to those who are walking this grace-filled life. Each bit of fabric and every treasure tells a tale of memories which are now woven into a landscape of love. Those of us who make up this local community of Grace recognize that we are all nut-cases cracked open by the Grace of Christ and we long to be vessels of grace woven into the fabric of our town, nation and world.

*****

*To all who are a part of Grace Presbyterian Church, I thank you…for your clothing donations, your smiles and your sorrows, and for your unending grace to me and my husband.

**This is the third and final post on the process of making this woven artwork. You may read post one and post two , plus a previous post written while in process. Thank you dear reader for hanging in there with me!

Deconstruction

“I’m not sure I can do this,” I said to my daughter who was sitting nearby as I began the process of turning clothing into strips of fabric “yarn”. Sitting in front of me on the table was a little girl’s Little Mermaid nightgown, well worn, perhaps even passed down from a big sister. Poised with scissors to start cutting, I cringed at the thought of destroying this sweet little gown. Also in the pile of clothes donated by members of our church family, were green flannel boy pajama pants, adult shirts and t-shirts, teen leggings, another baby blue child’s nightshirt, and many other items. Clothes are meant to protect our bodies, to warm us, shield us (and others!:), and even define our personalities. It felt violent to be ripping the clothing into strips or cutting it up into ribbons.

Nearly all the clothing was perfectly good for continued wearing. I have a bit of my grandmother’s depression era mentality that you keep everything so you can continue using it, or pass it on to someone else to use. One ladies’ shirt in the donated pile was brand new and I briefly thought of keeping it to wear…but alas it was too small for me. One of the men’s college t-shirts was so worn and threadbare, I knew it was a beloved shirt for many years. How could I cut asunder these things which had been such an intimate part of the lives of people I know and love?

You see…right from the start…I was being granted help for what was actually occurring in my own life and in the lives of everyone around me and in the world. Collectively, we have been experiencing a “tearing asunder” of the fabric of our lives as we knew it. We have felt cut off from one another, livelihoods have been slashed, regular and normal ways of doing things have been completely rearranged, loved ones affected by the virus have been ripped out of our lives, and toilet tissue (that ribboned necessity) disappeared from sight. The process of deconstructing the clothing of individual human beings mirrored what was happening to us.

In my personal life I was also experiencing a cutting away of what was “normal life”. My beloved yarn shop where I had taught knitting and crochet classes for many years had to close at the end of June. Family stresses and emergencies tore at my heart daily, even as I tore fabrics into “yarn” to weave with. I could feel in my body, as I deconstructed the donated clothes, that this was necessary in order to create something new and perhaps more beautiful and lasting than the original pieces of clothing.

On some level we all know this truth. Suffering often gives way to beauty. Tragedy brings unexpected goodness. Pruning allows for new growth. Deconstruction leads to rebuilding. As an artist, most of what I have created in past years has not required destroying things in order to make something new. Paints, fibers, yarns…these all come to me as beautiful things in and of themselves and I don’t have to rip, slash, cut or tear them in order to make a painting, a weaving or knitted garment. This particular woven project required something more aggressive. To deconstruct first and then to create has been the greatest gift to me, even though I did not relish at all the deconstruction part of the process.

Here is the wincing goodness in all of this:

It is all of Grace that our Maker allows the deconstruction of our comforts, even the destruction of our loves, and then fashions them into something more beautiful and amazing than we could imagine. I’m not claiming that my three tapestries are that much more beautiful than the clothes which were graciously given. I am saying that whatever has been torn asunder, whatever we have lost or has been shredded or cut off in our lives…even these things will somehow, someday be displayed in a new and arrestingly beautiful manner! It will be woven together with that of your neighbor’s and friend’s losses and combined, will become an ocean of love, a sunrise over the mountains, a lovely thing to behold.

Friends we must hang onto this difficult truth. As these tapestries hang in the foyer of our humble church in Kernersville, NC, they remind us of the Master’s hand in the midst of what feels like a dismantling of all that used to protect us, warm us, define us. Something more beautiful is afoot. I’m hanging onto that!

*****

This is the second post in a three part series on the making of an art project titled Woven Together. You can read the first one here. Stay tuned for the third and final post. 🙂

Woven Grace

Every community of faith contains a wide variety of human beings. If we were to speak of them as clothing, we would see that some are a little frayed around the edges, some are trimmed neat and tidy. Some are colorful, perhaps even loud. Others are soft-toned and muted. Some exhibit dark broody vibes, while others seem light and airy. Indeed each person exudes all of these things in the course of a day. But for our purposes here, each one has a particular fabric…sparkly or dull, multi-hued or monotone, all are a significant part of a faith family.

I had no idea back in March, when I first asked folks in our congregation to donate clothing for an art project, what kinds of things I would receive. There was no way to predict colors or textures. I did ask for items other than clothing such as belts, ribbons, shoelaces…anything weavable. There was no way to plan for a particular image or result in the woven tapestry. Even as I embarked on making the clothing into fabric yarn, I couldn’t envision the final result. This actually is my favorite way to create—-allowing the piece to evolve in the process, listening to the materials as I go.

The Saori philosophy of weaving fits this approach beautifully. To weave with joy, without prior design or plan, letting the materials work together on their own was my original intention. And even though now the resulting triptych of woven panels has an overall design, it still retains this approach of freely woven fabrics and “treasures”.

The concept was to create a piece of artwork that exemplifies the weaving together of our lives as a community of individuals united by a common faith. It requires loads of grace to be a loving community. This grace can’t be generated on our own…we need God’s grace to continue to walk with one another, serving and worshiping in and through our daily lives. Grace is what brought us together. And it is Grace that leads us home.

Almost immediately, as I began to deconstruct the clothing into strips of fabric yarn, I was startled by the message inherent in this work. It began to take on a life of its own, a meaning far beyond what I originally envisioned (more on this in upcoming blog posts.) But this is the beauty of art and art-making. The artist is only a vehicle for what needs to be said or shared or displayed. The process of making these panels was not easy. Yet I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have been enriched by the creation of this work. It is as much a gift to me as it is hoped to be for our Grace family.

The panels now reside in the foyer of Grace Presbyterian Church. Though this photo does not show the color well, the colors of the tapestries really shine on the interior green wall. I wanted this work to be woven during Ordinary Time (reference to the church calendar), exhibiting how our ordinary lives are woven together in the ordinary days we spend as a church family. The fact that it was woven during the most UN-ordinary time of our recent history, makes this all the more poignant. Who of us can predict the outcome of this pandemic? I certainly could not have predicted at the outset how these weavings would turn out. It gives me great hope to realize that as we continue to weave our days together in the grace and mercy of Christ, something beautiful is being wrought.

*****

This is the first of three posts on the making of this woven project. I appreciate your gentle reading of its unfolding, and I pray you are enheartened by it.

Not Giving Up


A couple of years ago, I had this idea…

It was big. A bit unwieldy. Not altogether formed in my mind. Such are the beginnings of many ideas that traipse through my head and heart. Some of them stick around. Some of them don’t. This one did.

The idea just needed the Covid shutdown to set the wheels in motion for seeing this project through. I am not finished at the writing of this post. But I am well underway, having completed one of three woven panels, a special work for our Church foyer.

I won’t say much more about the overall concept nor will I share the completed panel…yet. That will come in due time. But what is interesting to note, is how these long term types of projects always seem to follow a pattern. Something like this:

Phase One: Idea lands in my head…it is rolled around to view it from as many sides as I can to get the scope of it…determine that said project is too big for the crazy full life I was living then…decide to put it on a way back burner until life “opens up”. Ha!

Phase Two: Years later, life does indeed “open up”, often due to difficulty of some kind (coronavirus this time)…energy is high for embarking on such an unwieldy project…break down the large idea into smaller more manageable pieces…begin with first small bite-sized work.

Phase Three: Deep into the project, where there is no going back but still a huge mountain ahead, I begin to wonder what in the world was I thinking??!…once again I must resolve to just take the next small bite-sized piece and work on that.

Phase Four: A light at the end of the tunnel is appearing and there is great joy and energy…but life has a way of interrupting the good flow of available time and energy to actually do the work…must once again resolve that even if life is whirling out of control in some areas, that I can devote small amounts of time to the project and in so doing, I will certainly arrive at the mountain top eventually.

Phase Five: Project complete…yet a flood of other considerations I hadn’t even thought of come into play…how to hang/display it…how to show/share it…Is it “good”? (That horribly unhelpful word)…will anyone like it?…etc…etc…

It is a process I am very familiar with but it surprises me every time! I really should just write the phases down on huge poster board to remind myself that these junctures along the creative path are normal and can be worked with and through by just taking those small do-able steps and not giving up.

Yes… Not. Giving. Up. 🙂

Tomorrow

More than ever before, we need to be making things. This is not merely to while-away the time or to keep our minds off of all the sad news and the what-will-happens. There is an inherent belief in creating something that says, if only in a small way, “Tomorrow will come. A new day will rise.”

We cast on a knitting project and in so doing is the stalwart belief that I desire to and will finish this sweater or hat or pair of socks in the future!

We draw in our sketchbooks to capture a small bit of something that caught our eye today so that we can remember it tomorrow.

We spin wool into yarn which is in itself a ball of possibilities either for you or for someone else to make into a thing of beauty another day.

We begin a tapestry weaving or some cloth knowing that it will require us to keep weaving tomorrow and the next day and perhaps even the next.

(Ok, so this isn’t a loaf of bread. I DID bake bread yesterday but I didn’t take a photo of it. I think this looks like a most delicious loaf, don’t you? :D)

We bake bread with the knowledge that it will be enjoyed for at least a day, maybe two or three.

Just as planting vegetables and flowers casts our net into an unforesee-able future…so too does penning a poem, molding clay, writing a song. As Julia Cameron notes in her book The Artist’s Way, creative people are like equestrians in an obstacle course. The rider must throw his or her heart over the fence in order to land on the other side. This is precisely what we are doing as we daily set our hands to making something.

Whether it is actually planting a garden, or baking bread, or beginning a large oil painting, I hope that you will make time to create something. For this will pull our hearts forward as we endure our current worldwide situation. If anxiety prevents you from that large commissioned piece, then make something small and manageable. Try a new way of creating like origami or simple watercolor doodles. You will discover your heart is a bit lighter as we leap over this huge fence.

Grace and peace to you all this Easter weekend and beyond!❤️

Change

There is something about our current state of affairs that feels like a suspension, hiatus, time-out, or an extended stay-cation. It’s as if the world has been put on hold and we are hovering in place, holding our breath, until we have made it over the bridge, or until we are told we can come up for air.

I’ve also thought of these days as being on a phone call in which I’ve been placed on hold, or a VCR tape which has been paused. I imagine that the tape is being stretched as it waits in suspension until it can roll again. None of these images of our present situation adequately describe what’s happening .

It may be nearer the mark to use Tolkien’s definition of adventure versus quest. We are decidedly not on an adventure, where we will return to things as they were when we left them. When this is all over, we will be changed. The earth is already changing, and we humans will live and think of our lives differently than before. We have certainly not gone anywhere as an adventure would call us to do. Rather we are on a quest, one in which we are pinned in place, endeavoring to do our part in a worldwide effort to stay home and stay well. The effort to do this is far greater and more costly than the freedom to go on grand adventures. Yet it remains true that we will not land on the other side of this the same. We are being changed. I feel it in my bones.

Shifts in life often yield changes in art making. I have found some difficulty in sticking to drawing a tree every day. The drawings I make are decidedly simple and shape oriented, as if I’m designing for a weaving or a stitched fabric piece. Despite being in love with oil pastels , I’m wanting to let go of the must-draw-a-tree-every-day and just draw as I like, or weave or stitch.

It is likely that in letting go of having to draw a tree daily, that I will continue drawing trees. This was true before I began the quest on January 23rd. Trees are ever a fascination and will always be. My hope is to maintain this focused attention to their physical details, personality and their likenesses to me…or the other way around.

We do not know yet what changes will remain with us once we have been allowed to leave home, roam freely again, breathe and press play. That too will likely bring a shift in creative focus and I’ll want to follow whatever is next. For me, merely the change in seasons always brings changes in mediums and color choices. It will be interesting to see how we are all led to create once the current crisis is in our rear-view mirror.

Are you sensing a shift or change in your creative work? Do the seasons affect you in this way? Is the current quest we are all on changing what you create or how you approach your work as an artist/maker? I would love to know!💖 Most of all, I hope you each are well and safe and able to receive whatever this time is bringing your hands to create, no matter how simple or seemingly inane it may feel. Just keep creating, keep making things, writing poems and stories, shaping clay, painting and drawing pictures, trees or not. It will steady us and see us through to the other side.🙏💖

All Things String


Following a line seems to be my favorite thing to do.

Whether it is a line in my sketchbook pages…

…or spinning lines from wool…

…or weaving between the lines…

…my fascination grows as I go.

More on all of these things coming soon! Just didn’t want you to think my love of yarn had taken a holiday. 😍

A Warp Obsession

Whether I like it or not, life has a set-in-stone structure to it. We must sleep, eat, get dressed, keep our homes relatively clean, work, keep up the cars and yards, spend time with family and friends, care for one another and perhaps numerous other things depending on your particular needs and lifestyle. I am forever  finding great comfort in this structure or railing against it with all I’ve got.

The warp strings on a loom speak to me of this ongoing structure in my life. Once a loom is warped, be it a floor loom, rigid heddle loom or a small frame loom, it doesn’t change throughout the entirety of the weaving. With the exception of supplemental warps one might add in for effect, typically the warp threads stay put in whatever pattern they were set in the beginning. Such is life, both frustrating and beautiful.

I seem to be a bit obsessed with warps lately. Recent weavings on my Saori floor loom, a rigid heddle and now working tapestry on a smaller loom, I find myself enjoying the regularity and structure of those vertical lines around which to build something lovely. I even caught myself noticing the fences in and around our neighborhood and thinking I could weave something cool in and through the fence slats. Strange perhaps. But cool to think about.

The fascinating bit of all of this is that in weaving, the warp cannot stand alone. Without the weft, it would fall apart and become just string again. In painting you lay colors onto the surface of a piece of paper. This paper, or canvas, holds its structure no matter what you paint on it.  But in weaving, the “support” becomes something solid only once you add the colors and textures of the weft. Without the regular and methodical over-under work in and around these established structures, there would be no real substance, no beauty, nothing really to hold. It is the addition of wool, cotton, ribbon, wool locks, sari silks, etc, that holds the warp together in a cohesive work, whether it be for cloth or tapestry.

It is a painfully beautiful thing to watch a life unfold. Whether it’s my own life, or  that of loved ones, we are all weaving over and under, in and through established structures of life and living, beliefs and choices, and the inevitable hardships and suffering that come our way. Each of our woven lives are unique and hold a preciousness and beauty to them that we often cannot see at all.

In classic tapestry weaving, one often weaves with the backside facing. I weave with the front facing me so that I can better understand what to weave next and exactly where the yarns need to go. But in life, I only see the backside of the tapestry … it looks like a crazy mish mosh of loose ends.

One day I’ll see it from the front side. For now, I must trust that as I work alongside my Maker in the over-under of daily life, something beautiful is underway. And I can take comfort in the structure of the warp, even though their taut regularity may be maddening at times. They are guidelines, guard rails…a path through… so that I can continue to weave.

 

 

Notice & Observe

Here we are…again…at the starting gate of a New Year! All the hopes and fears of all the years (or at least those of 2018) seem to gather together in a clump as we look ahead, hoping the New Year brings less difficulty than the one before, and fearing that it might not. The temptation for me is to rally all my best efforts to keep things running smoothly, without wrinkle or wrench. I know by now this is an exercise in futility. Life brings to us each day a panoply of blessings and challenges…both of which I want to be in a position to notice and observe.

The lovely thing about a New Year is this turning of the number, or page, on a new vista of days, weeks and months. It can feel fresh and clean, unfettered by previous months’ busyness, waiting with anticipation for us to walk through it, holding promise and positive outcomes almost as carrots to lure us into the days ahead. I love this fresh feeling and the excitement of good things to come. Yet I also know that 2019 may very well hold some difficult, painful and confusing things for me as well. I neither want to blindly march into the year with a pasted grin on my face, nor do I want to wallow in future castastrophising (dreaming up all manner of trials and tribulations that may or may not happen). It would seem that “Que sera sera” might be a good tack to take…whatever will be, will be. Though helpful in some ways, this forward thinking version of “It is what it is”, doesn’t carry me through a New Year in the way I wish to experience it.

What I need this coming year, and what I intend to uphold as often as I am able to do so (no goal setting or resolution here), is to meet the New Year moment by moment by Noticing and Observing. To Notice is to say “oh look here at this little (or big)  thing”. To Observe is to pick it up and to ask questions like “I wonder how it got here?” or “look at the colors within” or “see how the shape is so lovely” or “does it have a purpose or is it simply a gift to enjoy?” and so on. Though I have had a good many years of Noticing and Observing, I still need this practice of meeting each new day with space to consider the small moments of my life. A sketchbook is a wonderful tool for Noticing and Observing.

On the 20th of December 2018, I began a new sketchbook which was given to me by a dear friend. To be sure I had not finished the 2 or 3 other sketchbooks I have going, but I had been wanting a book of days, one without a spiral in the middle, one in which to drawcument the days as I notice and observe them. It was also to be an anchor for me as I faced the craziness of the holidays. It has indeed been that anchor.

It is perhaps not a proper watercolor sketchbook, as in having the precise paper on which watercolor shines. But I love the almost cloth-like feel of this paper, and the handmade look of it with fabric cover and twine stitching. It is made by Anthropologie and I do hope they are still making these when I finish this one. Another will surely be in order. The very best thing is that my favorite markers, both fat and thin ones, do not bleed through the other side, thus allowing me to draw on all sides of the woven pages.

To Notice & Observe, is like dancing in puddles. When life gives us rainy days, as it has in abundance here in central North Carolina, it is best to notice where the puddles are and dance in them. Drawing and painting are perfect puddle activities, as are any other creative endeavors. Knitting, spinning, weaving and the like are all beautiful ways to notice what’s going on in your life and to observe it from a place of beauty. Writing is also excellent…I write every morning all the noticings and observations of both my interior and exterior worlds.

There is something amazing that happens when we Notice & Observe. Somehow, our hearts are lightened a bit. Perhaps it is in the lines and colors of pen, paint and wool that weaves into our eyes a renewed palette for the day. We also receive insight when we Notice & Observe. There is a direct connection between the lines on the page,  the strands of yarn and wool, to our minds and hearts. We receive hope, clarity, lessened anxiety and so much more in the act of making something with our hands. I look forward to this blessing today and on through the New Year. I wish it for you as well.

Happy New Year to you!

May it be filled with many moments to Notice & Observe!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

Not Much & Everything

I’m popping in to say…well…not much. I just want to post. To touch base here on my blog, to any and all who might be visiting. To say life is grand when making things is heading in directions you love. To say that even when life isn’t so grand, making things makes it more tolerable, adds joy, soothes the rough edges. I’d like to blog more often… just to make it a habit, to touch base, to be present here as I am ever so full in my heart with many things I am making, many things I want to make, and many things I may never have the time or resources to make.

On the other hand, I feel I have so much to say. Not today perhaps. But so much is bubbling and brewing, percolating and stewing. It may not come to any sort of viable, sellable product. This bothers me. I wish it didn’t. I hold at bay a nagging thought that plagues me nearly daily – “What is all of this for Jen?” To what end are you spinning fiber with drop spindles? Isn’t this a kind of fool’s errand? To what end are you weaving segments of cloth, one after the other? Will you sell them? Will selling them make it all feel “worth it”? Is there some other creativity, some other medium, some other thing that will give you that sense that Ahhhh THIS! THIS is the thing! With everything I set my hands to, I have a sense that it is indeed the THING! And with everything I make, I have a nagging sense that it isn’t. How can that be?

In every creative act there exists simultaneously a sense of fulfillment and futility. I’m learning to let this be. To just go with it, make space for them both to exist in the atmosphere of my making world. I’m learning to ride the waves of creativity wherever they take me, whether it is to shores of selling or islands of learning new things or into deeper waters of what I already love to make.

‘Til tomorrow then…

Jennifer