Straying and Fraying

As we approached the end of the spring term this past academic year, I was assigned a final project in one of my design classes. The prompt included a brief statement instructing me to essentially make something out of nothing. In more specific language, I was to make a work of art from found objects – stones, sticks, plastic containers, pencils, fabrics, newsprint, and the like. So that narrowed it down to just about everything… or so I thought at first.

It is easy to rely on what you already know as an academic. We all want to succeed and excel in our endeavors, and for lack of better verbiage, “make the grade.” That’s exactly what I found myself doing pondering the project back in my ceramics studio. I kept asking, “How am I going to incorporate clay or ceramics into this project?” I thought for a while and came up with a few “solutions” to the problem, but none that really excited me, and I find it is a lot more difficult to start and complete a project that I don’t have my heart in. So I took a different approach…

I had recently stumbled upon our fibers studio at Marywood after helping out at an open house for prospective students (a great way to get involved on campus, by the way). It is actually located in the Insalaco Center for Visual Arts directly above the ceramics studio, with two glass walls that let in brilliant natural light (a favorite feature of mine.) I had also heard a bit of talk about fibers and a fibers course taught at Marywood as well, but only here and there throughout my time in the ceramics studio. I had always known a fellow ceramics student working for her M.F.A. began her ceramics journey with a background in fibers instead of in clay. And what’s more – when I was young I would weave small trivets and potholders for my mother on a child’s set I had when I was around eight years old. I loved it, and couldn’t put the thing down for ages, that is until my mother had accumulated a stack of trivets that was taller than myself at the time. After that brief period, I didn’t give weaving much more thought…

Until this project. I thought I’d really like to take that fibers class and spend some time in that space, Eva Polizzi (aforementioned and fellow ceramics student) might be able to get me started, and who doesn’t love warm, intricately woven rugs and table runners? I think it would be fun to do a project like this… but what would I use as my “found materials?”

I had a pile of clothing ready to be dropped off at the nearest Goodwill Store or Salvation Army, and nearly thousands of plastic shopping bags I had accumulated from the inordinate amount of art supply and grocery shopping done throughout the year, and thought that was as good as anything, and I set out to weave a small rug with what I had on hand. After all, that was our assignment.

After doing some research and seeking quite a bit of Eva’s consultation, I thought I was ready, and as it turned out, weaving is A LOT more complicated than I had imagined. It is all very calculated! I grossly underestimated the amount of plastic I would need to span the width of my warping board, and I failed to account for shrinkage when the piece is taken off of the loom, but it was a wonderful experience, and I’m glad I decided to embark on a project that was outside my wheelhouse.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I am not afraid to consider the profundities of art, especially ceramics. It’s like I can’t go one post without using the word “therapeutic” or “transcendental.” Well here it comes again… Weaving put me in the same frame of mind. It was such a simple motion of “over, under, over, under” (you get the idea) and I found I would get lost in it. It still required plenty of focus; heaven forbid you skip a strand of fabric and mess up the pattern, but before I knew it I looked up and saw half of my piece was finished (granted it was much smaller than I had anticipated, but I was still impressed).

I really loved how the finished pattern looked, but I wasn’t totally satisfied. I am a true believer in refinement and tweaking techniques and approaches until all potential avenues have been exhausted and the best final product is created. So with that exciting all or nothing kind of attitude, I set out just last week to make my own loom at home to create my own traveling “fibers studio” wherever I go, and so that I could attempt take two at weaving with a little bit more knowledge than I had started with.

With some help from my father, I think we engineered a pretty cool makeshift warping loom. We bought a 16″ by 24″ discounted picture frame from the craft store, some scrap wood for reinforcement, six screw eyes, two threaded rods, nuts, some extra screws, and a lot of nails. We decided to remove the backing and the glass from the picture frame to provide a perfectly square, hollow rectangle as a scaffolding for the loom. We then reinforced the 16″ sides with the extra scrap wood; we thought the original wood would surely split if we hammered 40 nails side by side into the thin frame. We also reinforced a small section of the 24″ side directly in the middle. Next we drilled holes for the screw eyes in the four corners of the reinforced rectangle and in those aforementioned small sections so that on the 24″ side of the frame, we could slide the threaded rods through the eyes. (For my loom, I wanted these threaded rods to be removable in order to slide them and release my finished work if, when weaving, I decided to wrap fabric around the rods to keep my work taut.) Then, I very, very carefully drilled 40 holes into the 16″ sides with a very very thin bit to prep for all of the nails I would hammer in halfway that would serve to hold my warping fabric (the fabric used to create the vertical lines that you go under and over). Pictures to follow…

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Now I don’t claim to be an expert in weaving, making looms or anything involving fibers for that matter, but I am quite anxious to embark on this new project! I think it is important to deviate from one’s chosen medium to keep a fresh eye, and to even draw inspiration from other areas. So a big thank you to Eva Polizzi and my professor Dennis McCormack for igniting in me a passion for something new and fresh. Here’s hoping no fraying comes from my straying from the beaten path. Wish me luck, and thanks for the read!

If you have any additional info for me about weaving, warps, making your own loom, or fibers on the whole, don’t hesitate to leave me some comments! Maybe some books or other publications that have good explanations for beginner weavers, or a website that gets you really inspired… whatever it is, please share! We would love to hear from you!

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