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!

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. 🙂

The Gift of Weaving

Over the years of drawing & painting, knitting & crocheting, I have found insight and wisdom for daily living in and through the process of these endeavors. Much like trail markers, they offer direction and assurance for whatever I’m needing at the time, and they guide me in my personal life. Weaving is no exception.

When I draw, I start with a blank page. Nothing is there and it is up to me to begin to make marks on that page, wherever, how-so-ever I like, to create an image. With knitting or crochet it is much the same…only a hook or needles and some yarn to begin making a fabric. Yet when I weave, there is already a structure there. The warp is set in place. There’s really no changing the warp threads for the duration of that weave.

I am finding in my 50’s that weaving speaks so strongly to what I live everyday – the warp has been set. Indeed they were (and are still) matters of choice at one time. Husband, three children + son-in-law, home, faith, teaching, community. These are the vertical threads that set the structure of my life, over and under which I create. Yarns and fibers, threads and textiles of great or little beauty in and of themselves, are woven daily into the warp of my life. I do have choices to make each day, as to the daily weft. Yet some days I’m given a thread to weave that I may not particularly like. Somehow, and this is the glorious bit, somehow it is beautiful in the mix of a lifetime of woven colors.

I can weave with confidence, knowing that somehow all will be well in the end. I can receive the ugly, unwanted-in-the-moment threads or interruptions knowing that they will add their own depth to the overall piece. I can weave tapestries or cloth that display this truth – that the vertical, earth to heaven warp, is just as much a part of the tapestry, as the daily horizontal yarns and textiles. This has been a gift to me recently. I relish each creative outlet I’m granted for the wisdom it offers, and I look forward each day to the colors that will be woven.

Wishing you an Artful Day!

Jennifer

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!