The next big thing in fiberarts
At the fading end of the 1970s I made my first quilt. I was twenty years old, in college, and hoped to make a postmodern trousseau for myself when I graduated and married my hippie poet boyfriend. Although this union never came to pass, I continued making quilts despite the fact that quilting was at that time a very under-appreciated art form. My friends saw no point in what I was doing and ignored it as unworthy of their notice. But I stubbornly continued quilting for almost a decade because its very un-coolness made it seem somehow cool. I made boldly colored geometric quilts that resembled retro-modern artworks, many with deep, rich Amish-inspired colors. But the only quilting group that existed in my community during that time was made up of old ladies rather than young wenches like myself, and they had no idea what I wanted to do with my projects. I had no support either among the elderly or the young, and my fingers ached because of hand-stitching. So I quit quilting and turned my attention to knitting.
Knitting, like quilting, was also at that time largely the domain of thrifty housewives and old women, although the first tentative colonizing was being made by younger people like myself. Because I had also learned to spin my own yarn, I made four or five sweaters from fleece to finished garment. Disdaining thick yarns, I made and used finer and finer yarns. I knitted a sweater without a pattern to prove to myself that I understood the theory. I knitted a fine cabled vest using size-zero needles and superfine yarn, and made socks on increasingly smaller and smaller needles in order to show off my workmanship. I knitted for so many years that I was able to do it while watching television or reading, simply by the feel of the needles and yarn in my hands. But just as the first tentative modern knitting groups began forming at the local yarn shop, my hands began to ache just as they had done with quilting. So I quit again.
Now I’m exploring weaving, a fiber-art I learned in the early days but waited to pursue. I took a refresher class at Yarns Unlimited, and purchased a Kromski rigid-heddle loom to make sure I was really committed. Weaving turned out to be the only fiber-art that did not fatigue my hands. Weaving is effortless and the process seizes my imagination. As I had done with knitting, I am using finer and finer yarns for a finished fabric with a higher thread count. I have no interest in weaving placemats and scarves; my object is to make textiles sufficiently light enough to be made into clothing. And I want to investigate what’s known as “complex weaving”, the applications of unusual patterning, structures, and shapes. I grew up during the 1970s, the era of ugly crafts, and my goal is to become a fine craftsman rather than just a crude practitioner. (See my related blog post, Thoughts on bad crafts of the 1970s.)
I love weaving and will never give it up. I am moving on from my Schacht “Mighty Wolf” loom and recently invested in a new Louet Spring loom which will allow me to raise my level of weaving technology to new heights. But the thing that is particularly exciting is that there is finally support for what I’m involved in. There is a longstanding spinners’ and weavers’ guild in Bloomington, but better yet is the terrific new group that calls itself the Rebel Weavers and Spinners. Each meeting has abundant show-and-tell of projects that are home-spun, hand-woven and hand-dyed, and the monthly meetings are so dynamic that new people keep showing up, alerted by friends who are already in the group. There is obviously a real hunger for this kind of engagement about weaving and spinning.
As a longtime observer and participant of all the major fiber arts, I believe that weaving and spinning are poised at the edge of a huge rebirth. Quilting and knitting were both under-appreciated activities that evolved into highly skilled areas of expertise enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people nationally. I feel confident in predicting that weaving is about to explode in a similar way. Large looms will never become widespread due to their size and cost, but inexpensive rigid-heddle looms are portable and quite affordable, and offer increasing degrees of sophistication. Spinning, being more affordable and accessible, is already ahead on the path to new recognition and popularity, but weaving is close behind.
Take it from one who has been paying attention to yarns and fabric for more than 35 years: the next fiber-art to experience a renaissance will be weaving, I have no doubt. And you read about it here first.