Sunday, March 26, 2006

Reading Textiles

Hi Everyone,

I'm thrilled at the comments that people have been leaving on my blog. It's great connecting with people all over the world about the text-textile connection. We fiber people are lucky because we have a language that connects us to other fiber people. How many times have you met another fiber person and felt an instant connection due to this common language?

Today I feel like writing about the reading of textiles. This topic just sort of materialized a few days ago when I began re-reading Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo. I had been interested in re-reading the book because I wanted to revisit the grandmother's working with the fringe of rebozos, which are Mexican multi-purpose shawls. (This definition is an oversimplification.)

As I began reading, I was immediately reminded of the lushness of Cisneros' text, and I noticed a few textile metaphors. For example, when the family is driving to Mexico, the dotted line on the road is compared to stitches produced by a sewing machine.

I'm not that far into the text yet, but one thing that has struck me is the grandmother's comments about the lower quality of current rebozos. This analysis by the grandmother got me thinking about how we, as textile people, actually have this knowledge to read textiles that most people in industrialized societies don't have. For example, a few years ago my boyfriend, Doug, bought a pile rug. A short while later he was lamenting the fact that the rug was flat so soon. I pointed out that it probably was because the pile wasn't dense enough, so the pile just fell over.

Have you found that sometimes you're treated like an exotic creature in society because you work with textiles and/or know how to read them?

A few years ago I took a surface design course with Ana Lisa Hedstrom, who focuses on shibori (in particular, arashi). Ana Lisa, who also has works referencing reading, said that after a while we would be able to read the shibori patterns.

This idea of reading comes into play in my current pieces. One piece I'm currently working on is a triple weave strip weaving with two layers of poly sewing thread, and a third layer of cotton sewing thread. The strips are put into a smocking machine pleater, and then dyed in blue fiber-reactive dye. The cotton is the only fiber in the piece that takes the dye, so the poly layers remain undyed. I'm pasting in an image of the first strip pleated & dyed. (This image is just a bunch of pictures pieced together, so it's a bit funky. I had made this image as a guide as I weave the next few strips.) The blue and white spotted areas were solid white cotton prior to dyeing. In addition to being able to read the shibori patterns, there are several other readings that can be taken. For example, why am I combining Ghanian strip weaving with Japanese Shibori? (I'll talk about my own exoticization of other cultures in a future blog.) Also, the pattern in square 17 on the strip evokes a tartan, which adds another layer of thought, but that's enough thinking for one day. (N.B. I typically wait to dye my strips until after all of them are woven, but in this case I thought I wouldn't be weaving any more since the first one took a long time to weave and I was sick of the process. After a break from the weaving process, I was rejuvenated to try again on the remaining warp.)

Here's a picture of the second strip on the loom, with the undyed white white cotton sections visible.

On a more literal take of the reading theme, another piece that I've been working on is the bible piece. Last year at San Francisco State University I took a surface design course with
Linda MacDonald, who is an art quilter dealing with environmental issues. For my midterm I decided to explore a traditional quilting block, called Bridal Path. I cut up passages dealing with the subjugation of women from bibles & decided to stitch them together with red thread. I'm not having success uploading these images (probably because I'm doing this at peak time on a Sunday & maybe I shouldn't be talking about cutting up bibles on Sundays???), so I'll have to post them next time.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Martyrdom of Saint Brendan the Bureaucrat

How did I ever become an office worker? I never really planned to be one. It just was an easy way to pay the rent, and here I am working as a bureaucrat years later. Fortunately I've had supportive bosses who acknowledge that my heart really is at the loom. On Friday I told my current boss that I wanted to return to grad school at UC Davis in fall of 2007, and he was very supportive. I feel lucky. (Now the trick is to get in.) In fact, my current boss, Dr. Marc Schenker, is an excellent photographer, and some of his work focuses on social issues.

One way that I've been able to integrate my textile-text passion into the office sphere is to get non-standard monograms on my dress shirt cuffs. Some of the monograms are things like TMI (too much information), FYI (for your information), 666 (an evil #), etc. Here's a bad picture of my most recent one with the initials WMD (weapons of mass destruction):

The whole idea of having monograms put on my shirts began with the fact that if I were to use my L.L. Bean visa card to buy L.L. Bean products, I could get free monograms. I just figured I'd have fun during the process. I realize that on a certain level I'm poking fun at the office culture, but I think there also is a statement about my feeling at odds with the whole office scene. A result of this feeling at odds is my chronic underemployment. Also, the mongrams are an interesting throwback to my 20s, when I was aspiring to the preppy socioeconomic class (which I never quite achieved).

Last semester at San Francisco State University one of my classmates, Rebecca Clausen (sp?) made a trapunto piece from an old dress shirt. She made a bleeding heart as a sort of testament to the martyrdom of office workers who get their souls sucked out of them. (Click here for a definition of trapunto.)

In a sense I've felt like a martyr over the years, but I realize that I've had an active role in my own fate, i.e., I haven't been an innocent victim. On Friday I mentioned to my boss that I felt as though I was watching others live their lives and that I wanted to begin living mine. He offered to help me in my quest to return to school. For this I'm very grateful.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Hi Everyone,

During the 2005 Conference of Northern California Handweavers at Asilomar (in Pacific Grove, CA),
Sara Lamb-sensei suggested that I start a blog as a means to get the word about fiber out there. At the time I was about to enter the graduate program in textiles at San Francisco State University. My life has since been relocated to Sacramento, and I'm currently on leave from SFSU; so now's a perfect time to start a blog. I think that the diary process blog will be a perfect medium instead of my expired website (which I didn't update once in 2 years). Thanks to Sara for suggesting this process.

The text-textile connection. What's that all about? During my senior year in college a hundred years ago, I took a linguistics course and became alive at the study of language and the social implications of language. On a whim several years later, I signed up for a weaving class at the Barnsdall Art Center in Los Angeles. Little did I realize that I would become hooked on textiles. Why am I fascinated by textiles? After all, textiles have such a humble, disposable position in our society. Textiles fascinate me not only because of their power to protect (or expose), but also because of their power to reveal social position and show religious affiliation, to name a few reasons. My love of textiles is similar to my love of language –– both are subtle, yet powerful.

The words “textile” and “text” come from the same root (Latin texere, “to weave, fabricate”). (See footnote 1 for the reference.) One can see examples of this connection through the textile metaphors in English (e.g., "spin a tale," "an interwoven tapestry of blah blah," "what a tangled web we weave," etc. Can you think of any others?

I am primarily a weaver and a dyer, and some of my pieces focus on text, integrating my two passions. On my piece Oh Kuso (2004), I stitched the word “shit” in Japanese on a doorway curtain in an attempt to jolt non-Japanese speakers upon learning the meaning of the script. How could this humble textile have such a foul meaning? (photo by Sarah Wagner) One thing I have to be careful about is not to move myself into a role as a smug commentator. I have also learned about my own role in exoticizing other cultures -- all will be revealed.

Anyway, this is blog is not meant to be a high falutin (sp?) intellectual exercise. It's just meant to get people thinking about text, textiles & process.

Next time I'll post some pictures of the bible piece & other things I'm currently working on.

Comments/thoughts/complaints are welcome.

Bye for now.

1. American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.