Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The Least Weaver
I weave rugs made of rags. I am one among the class of rag weavers past and present, weaving humble rags on basement looms, under single bare bulbs, among stacks of old newspapers, and too many cats. The wind whistles across a bleak midwestern prairie. In front of the house, a handpainted scrap wood sign with the words Rug Weaver dangles from a fence wire.
Not that I aspired to this when I began to weave. With my barn loom, and a studio with a view, I was a handweaver. Never troubled by low self esteem, I was doing no less than designing and creating contemporary textiles.
My heroes were, and still are: Anni Albers, Pia Wallen, Marta Maas-Fjetterstrom, Ann Sutton, Reiko Sudo. But my other heroes were the anonymous rural basement and shed weavers, weaving the rugs like the ones my mother put on the floors in our house. Rugs I studied closely, cheek pressed to the weave on the floor, counting threads, trying to imagine how everything became so organized. I'd never even seen a loom then. I carried a rolled up rag rug to keep in my cubby for naps on my first day of kindergarten.
When I got my first loom, my first rugs were made of rags, and making them engaged every bit of my creative vision. To this day, it still does. I'm never so involved at the loom as when I'm working on rags. Which is to say, I never so forget myself as when I'm working with rags.
Silk rags shine, velvet rags pull in the light, plastic mimics mother-of-pearl. Knit rags draw in, woven rags stay put. The surface is sometimes thready, from fraying rags, which I like. Knits bubble up when woven between two rows of woven rag strips. Wool rags look rich. Wool rag rya knots are luxurious. Commingle rags and abstract designs emerge. Even the cut off rags on the floor suggest new rugs, new colors to combine.
Weaving rags for me is most like making a painting. I weave by eye, and am prepared to unweave. I know from my own experience that rag weaving with all its variable elements can quickly become a bad thing. I've practiced noticing this sooner rather than later in the years I've been weaving. It is a fact that some of my lesser 'lesser works' (the odd throw rug) have found use only as garden mulch. But, truly there are times, and many of them, when what happens on the loom between the beater and the front beam is pure delight. When a least moment of ecstasy causes me to skip a little dance, and sing a little song, disturbing the cat.