Alice in Weaverland

Nearly three months ago, on the evening of the last day of a tapestry weaving workshop, I landed in the ER at Baptist Hospital and didn’t come out until three weeks later. Much like Alice in the story we all know, it felt like I dropped down a rabbit hole into a strange, albeit familiar, world of beeps and alarms, uniforms and white coats, pain and medications. Another hole opened up in my small intestine just a few days after extensive surgery to repair a closed loop bowel obstruction caused by adhesions from previous surgeries. The fistula (the medical term for this hole), though it has healed much, still has a ways to go. And if it does not heal completely, surgery (again) will be needed to fix it. This is a long, slow, tedious, and sometimes uncomfortable process.

The evening prior to slipping down the rabbit hole, I began a small tapestry to try to work on some of the concepts I was learning from Tommye Scanlin in her workshop on Design in Tapestry. I was so fortunate to be able to attend this workshop and learn from one of the masters in Tapestry Weaving today. I chose to begin an abstract piece based on paint explorations we had created in the workshop. Cropping and rotating what we have drawn or painted can offer interesting subjects to weave. I plunged in…warping the small loom with cotton seine twine, weaving a header, working a couple of rows of twining and establishing the first few rows/colors of the design. That was all I could do in an evening on the couch.

A couple of weeks after arriving home from the hospital, I picked up the little loom and tried my best to wrap my head around what I had been doing. I just couldn’t. Whether it was the fog of medications or the weariness of my body and mind, I just wasn’t able to hold in my head or in my hands what I needed to do to weave. I set the loom back in its protective bag with all the yarns for the project, and picked up my knitting which was simple enough to do. But I remember thinking that this geometric abstract design was not what I wanted to weave. There would need to be flowers…organic flowing shapes of design-heavy florals. Yes. This was certain. Some day.

About a week ago, I pulled out the loom to give it another go. I was feeling stronger and hoped that I might be in a place to tackle the small tapestry. I looked at what little bit I had woven and saw the beginnings of stems reaching up to flower heads, pink petals and green leaves growing from the square and rectangular beginnings. A small portion was unpicked as I knew the color would not be needed for this new design, and a cartoon was drawn incorporating the established shapes and colors. A total re-routing of an original plan. I liked it a lot and had the mental and physical ability to begin working on it.

It occurs to me that the healing I am undergoing is much like this tapestry and tapestry weaving in general. This health crisis has certainly been a total re-routing of an original plan. Healing from it is slow, very slow and tedious and even (when I sit at the loom for too long) uncomfortable. As I weave a small tapestry, the work is not linear as weaving cloth is. Tapestry rarely allows for a yarn to be woven straight across the warp, back and forth, back and forth. Rather shapes are being woven, section by section. Negative spaces between the shapes must be filled in before shapes are completed or new shapes begun. It is a like a puzzle…working a bit here, then over there, then back again to fill in and finish that area. Healing feels like this also. Especially with a fistula.

The surgeons speak of a fistula that is healing by saying that it “stutters”. It will seem like the fistula has healed for good and then it starts to leak again, and back and forth for a while. They say this is a good sign. My fistula has been stuttering a lot. The back and forth nature of tapestry, the leaving a leaf undone while I weave a stem, all of this seems a bit like stuttering my way through a design. It is a very different process from any of the other mediums I’ve dabbled in. And while I know that my design will be complete one day, the process of creating it is nevertheless full of fits and starts and sometimes unpicking.

(Morning light on work in progress…makes me so happy!)

I am trying to rest in the process of healing that my body is still undergoing. Nightly nutritional tube feeds and protein feeds during the day are all designed to aid the fistula in its healing. I must stay the course even though I can’t really tell whether there has been improvement lately. This too is like tapestry where at the end of a session of weaving it doesn’t look like I’ve accomplished much. I must trust the process, keep doing the daily work, in hopes that it will all resolve in due time.🙏

**Special Note: Many of you reading this have been sending healing thoughts and prayers my way and I am so very grateful for them all! This is a “marathon” unlike any I’ve experienced before and I’m so glad for comrades along the path. 💖

The Power of Play – Take 2

After the previous post went out, it occurred to me that I didn’t exactly get around to writing about how creative play has a subtle power to change, move, ignite and inspire us to more creativity. I became enamored with my new word SWOODLE, and well, that was that. I kept on swoodling in my sketchbook (swishing paint and doodling with pens, markers, and pencils) through last week, and lo and behold… I began to weave a little tapestry.

That last statement might not mean much to you. Might seem a bit like “duh”…of course you would Jen! But here’s the beauty (and power) of it all – I had been, prior to playing in my sketchbook, in a creative slough. Now there’s a word for you: slough. Pronounced sloo.

The word slough has two listed meanings. 1. Swamp. 2. A situation characterized by lack of progress or inactivity. Both are apt to describe how I was feeling as an artist in the “middle” of her life. I cannot say that playing in my sketchbook has completely pulled me out of this swampy bog and set me on a sparkling new path. But I can say that swoodling in the swamp sparks something within me akin to embers glowing and cool spring breezes. The very unstructured, unabashed, free of restraints, trying-new-things playfulness shifted something in my brain, enabling it to open to so many ideas for small tapestries. The even greater benefit of it is less in the plethora of ideas (which I often seem to have aplenty, bordering on too many!) but rather in a “why not” attitude heavily doused with “let’s just see what happens if…”

Here’s a little secret…shhh…I might chicken out before I type it here for you…there’s a little voice inside my head that says I’d really like to be a tapestry weaver. <gasp> When I watch videos about the Australian Tapestry Workshop or the French Tapestry tradition or Dovecot studios in Scotland…I begin to slobber. Oh wait, let me say rather…I start to swoon. There it is again…Swoodle, Swamp, and Swoon. If you find yourself in a Swamp, Swoodle for a while and soon you will Swoon into action! Ha! OK…I’m digressing again!

What I want to leave you with is the idea that creative play, the kind that makes you feel all giddy inside, or feel like you want to skip down the sidewalk or draw with chalk in the driveway…it will do something in you. It can unlock what has been stowed away for a while, namely a child-like sense of wonder. I want to maintain that wonder as I weave tapestries…to keep weaving images that my inner serious-minded-artist says are juvenile and childish. I want to weave with all kinds of fibers instead of restricting myself to only one type of yarn. I want to weave lots of luscious colors instead of forcing myself to use “grown-up” colors, whatever that means. I want to weave colorful shapes and not feel pressure to always have form and shadow. I want to just place colors in between warp threads and watch a picture grow. Like a garden. Perhaps that is actually what I want to be when I grow up…a Yarn Gardener. Spinning wool into yarn and Weaving yarn into pictures. Maybe at my age it isn’t too late! Maybe, just maybe I could do that.

I think I already am. 😃 At least I’m at the beginning of that journey. I lose my way sometimes. Life has a way of weighing in and swamping me. My sketchbook is a life raft…a place to hang onto and swoodle whatever I want with no rules, no pressure, no drama or trauma. Just play. It’s powerful.

*******

Hey! Did I also mention that one of the first things I did in between sketching sessions, was to pick up a spindle and start spinning bright colorful wool? Yep. Toys are so fun…twiddling a whirly-gig that makes wool become yarn is just way too fun! One thing leads to another and to another. Keeping it fun and free!

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.

Loose Ends Meet Warp

Recently I’ve been diving into the chaos of my snippet jar. So many yarn ends from past knitting projects and weavings, piled in a glass bowl, whisper possibility.

Life can feel much like this. Loose ends. Chaos. Disorganization. Bits of this and that which don’t seem to add up to a whole lot of anything. This niggling sense that very little of what we are doing will have a lasting impact, or that there is a desired end in sight, may largely be due to the resurging pandemic. Yet even before this mask-wearing, Zoomed relationships, semi-lockdown life, I am often plagued by an overwhelming sense that the end result of all my efforts is just a chaotic pile of fluff and string.

Futility is heavy. It can weigh and wear us down to where we think that letting our hands hang limp would surely be better than trying to make something of this crazy time. Here is where a warped viewpoint is helpful.

I love the look of a freshly warped frame loom! Something about those evenly spaced, straight, taut lines of cotton seine twine invite a sense that no matter what is woven over and under the warp strands, something lovely can made. A snippet of yarn here, a leftover bit of handspun there…the warp provides a structure on which to drape whatever loose ends I might have. Chaos is brought into order. Beauty is made from cast-off, insignificant bits and bobs. What might have been trash becomes something worth saving, even displaying on the wall, to remind us there is always Beauty underfoot no matter how dire or chaotic things may seem.

For now, as we weave with whatever bits we have each day, it may not appear to add up to anything. In fact, it may continue to look like a vast year of mess and uncertainty. But someday, we just might look back on all of it from a different perspective and see what has been wrought with what little we had to work with. We must continue to dive into the chaos and work with whatever bits we have at our fingertips to make this day worth living.

“Remembrance Day”, 3.25” x 3.25”, mixed fibers, cotton warp.

This week I’m thankful for the snippet jar. I want to remain grateful for all that I have, even if it feels like a crazy mess of leftover attempts to make something useful and beautiful here in 2020. Whatever we put our hands to create today, may we cast off futility and pick up a bit of fluff to weave into the strong, albeit warped structure of family, friends, and an abiding faith.

“Bloom Today”, 5.5” x 2.5”, mixed fibers, cotton warp.

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!

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. 😍

The Summer of Weaving


There once was a girl named Jenny

Whose interests were varied and many…

Crochet and knitting

Stitching and spinning

Drawing and painting aplenty.

***

To choose only one of them filled her with gloom.

There must be a way to give all of them room.

So lines and colors

Fibers and textures

She wove all together on a loom!

***

Her sketchbook remained like a song’s refrain-

The common thread keeping her sane

Through all explorations

Ideas, iterations…

Her sketches were the heart, that was plain.

***

But her loom was a canvas, creativity rife-

Weaving fibers she’d spun without tears or strife.

Over and under

Back and forth.

Learning to see through the warp of life.

-jpe

In April, as I anticipated summer’s arrival, I began to think of it as My Summer of Weaving. It seemed crazy and began quite suddenly when a friend shared with me a book she had of amazingly colorful weavings created on a rigid heddle loom. Thus began what has been a delightful foray into weaving cloth!

I have also enjoyed making some tapestry weavings, tried a few bracelet/cuff thingys, and am now dreaming of a larger rigid heddle loom (wider…24″ or 32″…ooooohhhhh:).

I have also gathered the supplies I need to try backstrap weaving. My next step is to warp the sticks and have a go at this amazing style of weaving that truly has me in awe. I was mesmerized by this video of Guatemalan women working magic on such a simple loom. And I found an amazing blogger who shares how to make your own backstop loom. I’m not as interested in weaving a tiny strap, so my sticks are wide and will hopefully allow for a wider cloth. Ideas, ideas, ideas….my head is quite full and happy.

 I have even been offered a Leclerc Floor Loom to bring home and give it a try. I’m not settled about that one, as I simply do not have the space for it. But boy does it seem fun to try out. Well, not the warping part…that completely overwhelms me… the thought of warping a big floor loom. My 16″ Ashford Sample It rigid heddle loom is so accessible and easy to understand. I’m not in any rush with this weaving path I’m on. Slow and steady wins the race and will allow me to relish and savor the learning and enjoyment of weaving.

Spinning goes hand in hand with weaving, as I so love to create yarns to either weave or knit with. For now, I seem to want to add into the weavings all kinds of yarns with lots of texture and color! So I haven’t woven with purely handspun wool yet. Perhaps I will try that in future. But my recent excitement was in discovering how to ply two handspun yarns together! My family can attest to my crazy delirium over being able to do that!

Of course, there are project bags in the works filled with knitting and crochet projects! And though I am no longer doing my morning #100DayProject pages, I continue to drawcument life, often doing so in the mornings and evenings as a way to greet and end the day.

Heart full. Hands open to receive. This artful life continually calls to me. I am consciously working to slow the pace of making so that I can just relish living artfully. I don’t know if this makes sense. But I’m finding goodness in just sitting for periods of time WITHOUT MAKING ANYTHING. Just to be in the presence of the One who made me. Just to be present in my life with wherever it is I am at the moment. It feels restful and slower than my usual. It is summer. And I am so grateful for this Summer of Weaving!

A Return to Weaving

It was a year ago, just after finishing a series of nine tapestry weavings for Lent through Easter, that I packed up my weaving supplies and had no intention of revisiting them. I remember wondering why this was so. What had begun in January of 2017 as a total and complete love of weaving  (which I had never done before) simply seemed to vanish into thin air. I also remember carefully putting away all the handmade frame looms, the rigid heddle loom that was given to me by a friend, the yarns, ribbons, lace and wondering if I shouldn’t gift it to someone who might be able to use them? I stowed all the bamboo stalks, the driftwood, the wooden dowels (fun stuff for hanging weavings upon) in the garage and felt it was just taking up space.

But there was something that kept me from getting rid of these items. Whatever that was, I am so glad! I now have a small frame loom warped and already growing nicely into something which remains in my head with only a rough sketch in my sketchbook. I just dove in. Once again.

This time I gathered some of my handspun yarn. Yummy colors spun on my drop spindle or on the wheel I acquired for my birthday last summer and promptly painted. Just the colors of the wool  gave inspiration for a whole stack of weavings! My hope and intention is to slowly work on them, one by one, bringing them to life.

I truly get so excited about things like this! A fresh direction, a new path. Even if it is a medium I’ve explored a little before, it still seems so new to me. I had only scratched the surface of what can be done with tapestry weaving,  during those few short months in the spring of 2017. I have a few things I’d like to try now. Some things I want to do differently. The number one thing being to keep it light, slow, easy going and always always, from henceforth, to weave with colors I love.

I have often wondered, in considering why I abandoned weaving so abruptly, if I didn’t just burn myself out. I loved creating the concepts, the ideas, and bringing them to the warp of my looms for that series. But there was a time frame involved, deadlines for hanging them each week. Even though I did work ahead of schedule, the final week, with three tapestries for that week, was crazy. For a few of the weavings I felt I needed to use colors and textures I wasn’t very excited about in order to convey the idea and message I wanted to come through the fibers. This perhaps took a heavier toll on me and my artist child within. I probably don’t need to tell you how much I love bright, happy colors.

Well, whatever the reason for not weaving, I am a firm believer that these things are often good for us. A break from a particular technique or method of creating, or exploring a new medium, can usher in renewed vision for when you return to something you have loved in the past. The crazy thing is that I almost feel prepared for this return to weaving. It’s almost as if flower petals have been dropped along the route in this past year that I can now pick up and follow back, or off in a new direction with the tapestries. One of these “petals” is finding an artist on Instagram who draws and weaves. Her name is Sarah C. Swett. I followed her a few months back delighted by her “comic drawings” as she calls them, and the mini tapestries she weaves, marveling at their compact and lovely simplicity. I am only now beginning to visit her website and read her blog, which is jam packed with incredible tapestry artworks and how-to information. I am truly inspired by her work!

Another “petal” along the way was found last week as I went to lead one of the knitting workshops I have at a local yarn shop. The same friend who gave me the Rigid Heddle Loom put in front of me a small but delicious looking book by Alison Crosthwaite, titled Fibrefrenzi Artweave. I’m not sure where to obtain a paper copy of this book, but I will be searching for it soon as it too is packed with gorgeous tapestry and garment weaving and know-how. Alison’s color palette is bold and saturated…so much to love!

So when your heart is already being tugged back to the loom, and such beautiful petals are pointing the way, the sane response is to begin. I’m a bit farther along on this first-return-to-tapestry than you see here in these photos. But I shall save further reveals for another post. I love the fact that so many of my creative loves come together with weaving! Drawing, spinning yarn, even crochet and knitting have come into play with some of my tapestries. Color, line, texture and shape are all employed in these in these artful fiber works.

Feels a bit like I’m weaving my sketchbook. And I like that. We shall see what’s in store in the coming weeks. And I am glad of your company, as always, on these creative adventures.

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

P.S. We had a gorgeous day for the JDRF Walk for the Cure in High Point, NC! A couple of lovely friends joined me to walk 3 miles in honor of my daughter Maddie who lives with T1D. We have almost raised our goal amount and are so grateful for all who have donated to this worthy cause!

Thank you!