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.

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*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!

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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.

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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.