Cloth

The making of cloth is an enchanting endeavor.

Somehow…with the simplest of ability and materials…something soft is created that warms and mesmerizes.

Enchanting cloth begs to be shared. Check out all the handwoven scarves/wraps I’m sharing in my shop!

Perhaps you’ll find something enchanting there. 🙂

**Dear Reader…Happy New Year! Ha! It’s a bit late, and I can hardly believe January has already flown by. Here in North Carolina we are having some wintry weather days and I’m always eagerly anticipating whether we will actually get some accumulated snow. Hope springs eternal in my heart for SNOW! I realize that some of you may be getting way more snow than you’d like. I’d happily take some of it off your hands (or rather, from your yards/driveways :).

Anyway…I am in the process of resuming my newsletter and blogging a bit more regularly. I sincerely hope you are all enjoying many creative endeavors from playing the harp, to mosaics, to sketching and drawing, to knitting, crochet, spinning or weaving! Here’s to a year filled with making! I hope to inspire and encourage you along the way!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

Growth

A tapestry grows much like a plant does, or a tree…from the bottom up. There may be rare times when a weaver might work a few passes of wool up higher on the warp. But most of the time we work from a foundation of warp-spacing weft and the building of over-under color, tamped down tightly, to create a strong fabric for the image to evolve. Sometimes the image a weaver creates is sideways, but they nevertheless weave from the bottom of their loom to the top. Different from painting, tapestry is the creation of the canvas and the painting at the same time. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me.

The first time I heard the word Ekphrastic, it was in relation to poetry written based on visual artwork. For this piece I was asked to create a visual work based on a poem. I relished the opportunity to imagine how words someone else had written might translate to a pictoral language. Familiar with the biblical story of the Root of Jesse and the new life growing from a cut-down family tree, I wanted to see if I could weave this image in wools, both my own handspun and mill spun.

What grabbed my heart in reading Randy Edwards’ poem, which is based on the Antiphon titled “O Radix”, was the idea that this new branch from Jesse’s tree grew into a cross. Of course this is far more subtly related in his poem, but I wanted to depict the idea of a new dawn, new growth, foreshadowing what is to come…a promise fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection. Advent holds all of these things in beautiful tension even as we await celebrating a babe born in a manger.

I used to love working with soft pastels to create images on paper. Unlike all other “paint” mediums, I could manipulate color and create images directly touching the medium, spreading color around, smooshing pigment into the slightly toothed surface. No need for a paintbrush or pen. Just me and the stick of pigment.

Tapestry has that same incredible feel of direct tactile enjoyment, but without the messiness and dust of soft pastels. I get to enjoy spinning the yarn, choosing the colors, and then building the image, one pick at a time, over and under the vertical warp. I may use a plastic hair pick to tamp down the weft, but most of the time I just use my fingers to do this. Tactile work at its finest!

I am only in the beginning years of learning to weave tapestry. I am learning so very much and relishing the process. There has certainly been growth thus far, but there is more ahead as I weave one yarn at a time. What once was created in paint or pastels, I now love attempting to create in yarn. It is a medium which, in and of itself, is one of the most enchanting and delightful substances around.

”O Radix”. Jennifer Edwards. 2020.

To end this slightly rambling post, I have taken heart in the image of a grand tree which has been cut down bringing forth new life and growth. I’m holding to this idea as 2020 has dealt us some pretty hefty axe blows and 2021 is slated to bring us a glimmer of hope . I must remember that growth , just like tapestry weaving, is very slow. The promised new branch, meant to save us from this devastating virus, will take a long time to bring about its desired effect. We must hold onto hope as we exercise patience in our waiting. That’s how growth happens…one pick of over-under color at a time.

Close-up detail.

Here is Randy Edwards’ poem on which I based the tapestry. This is taken from a post in 2016, when he first wrote the poem. You might enjoy following his blog as he is creating short videos of the art exhibit which includes artwork from several artists and voice readings of the poetry by Ed Pilkington. You can find the first of these posts here.

*****

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.”

Isaiah 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a
Branch will bear fruit.

There is nothing so hopeless as a tree’s
Stump whose root has been lopped of green
Cut down, left lifeless, without its leaves
To lie in lament, to sorrow only cling.

O Root of Jesse, the stump from which
Buds our righteousness, joy, and peace
Who makes the scorned, the cut off rich,
Who were despised, hated, counted least.

O how may hope from this lifeless wood,
This cursed, crossed tree raised above,
Hanging with death, certainly no good,
Could spring in new life, sing wondrous love.
Come quickly Root of Jesse, deliver and bring
The peace which the nations long and sing.

© Randy Edwards 2016This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.

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.