Weaving: Contemporary Makers on the Loom is a new book by Katie Treggiden, a journalist. She hands us a survey of the “contemporary weaving scene and an exploration of some of the themes that touch the lives of makers today.” (p. 5). I do think the book makes a good attempt at this goal. What follows is a few of my thoughts about it.
This hardback book is quite beautiful. The paper is rich and the photographs are well done. It contains 5 essays and profiles of 21 fiber artists, almost all of whom are weavers.
The book starts off with an overview of weaving. The book is not intended to be a historical review of weaving at all, but the essay is a good introduction to how weaving is done in various parts of the world and hopefully will get you interested in a deeper dive into this topic from other sources.
The weavers profiled are making many different kinds of woven work. The profiles are quite short and mostly leave me wishing that there was more detail both about their process and the thoughts behind their artwork. The photos of the artists in their studios are intriguing and there are many excellent shots of their finished artwork. The artists are from all over the world. Some are working professionals with large studios, some are weaving in their living rooms.
If there is one criticism I have of this book it is that the stories are very photo-heavy and word-light. I think each artist presents a vignette that starts to draw you into their world, but the information presented is brief and most of the pages are full of large photographs and large-font quotes from the artists. There are some intriguing details like Karin Carlander’s discussion of using linen in Europe as an environmentally sound choice instead of cotton and Daniel Harris’s six year restoration of historic weaving equipment to form the London Cloth Company. I did find some artists I immediately followed on Instagram and enjoyed revisiting the work of Rachel Snack and Erin Riley along with a few other weavers I was familiar with from social media.
The essays in the book seem a little random after the basic introduction about weaving history. The other essays are about weaving as a gendered craft at the Bauhaus, migration and the way weavers who are supported can change their communities around the world, whether weaving is art or craft, and the use of weaving and technology in the future. Of course each of these essays could be a fascinating book in itself and maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at the collection which is tied together by the basic weaving subject matter as the author is working on a Masters in the History of Design at Oxford.
I am mighty tired of the fiber world’s art versus craft debate, but I will admit that Katie’s argument in this essay is well-stated and worth reading. I have long struggled against the insistence of some white male tapestry artists who seem to think that the problem with our medium being recognized by the contemporary art world is one of scholarship. Sure, that it is true that there are no longer university programs in tapestry weaving and we do need better attention from historians and curators—so there most definitely is a problem with lack of scholarship. But I think the real problem is more basic than that. I believe the deeper reason in recent centuries has a lot more to do with the gender of the people who practice fiber art. Things made by white males are art, things made by anyone else are craft. This is the argument that Katie makes in this essay (which I have probably overly simplified here and if so, that is entirely my fault). She goes on to talk about how head knowledge is connected to art and hand knowledge to craft. Considering the huge tactile component of creating fiber art, this seems another valid additional argument to me. We live in a world that is still chock-full of misogyny and racism and that has a direct bearing on a profession practiced by a large proportion of women and people of color. Of course in addition to these reasons, we have to look at the history of tapestry which is something I won’t talk about in this post.
I enjoy books that make me think about my own process and even to compare it to other artist’s work. Their voices talk about why they make things out of fiber—from the wonder of creating a utilitarian textile that drapes just right to the challenge of maintaining old mill equipment. I applaud the artists here and recommend this book for some weaving inspiration. And for those of you who are traditional tapestry artists, know that this book is mostly full of people who are not that. But it is also full of fiber artists who are walking their own walk and “traditional” or not, this is an important thing to listen to.
The book is full of snippets, each of them fascinating but rarely giving me the depth I’d like on an artist or subject. Perhaps that is as it should be as the book does inspire you to dive into the subject matter both of the essays and the Instagram feeds of the artists for more information. And the more information we can spread around about weaving, the better.
If you’ve read it, let us know your thoughts in the comments!